A Year in Review

A Year in Review

This prompt marks one year of weekly story-telling. As such, my writing partner and I agreed that we should do something a little special. The ‘prompt’ therefore came to include as many references to past prompts as possible in the scene. We both had very different approaches and agreed it was a fun exercise. I have linked each of my references to the appropriate prompt. I hope you enjoy it ;)
. . .

He should have known better than to start at the Forgotten Shore. They served good beer, but their crowd was boisterous at the best of times and downright rowdy most of the time. It was difficult to eavesdrop with drunkards drowning out the ambient conversation. After all, he collected rumors, set them aside like a small mound of stones to be retrieved later. One should never underestimate the power of an overheard remark, especially when one planned on committing a crime.

After a paltry pint – he would never dream of wasting beer – Silkfoot retreated to his other favored haunt; the Raven and Elk. The beer was slightly bitter, but the crowds were top notch. And higher class crowds meant higher class targets; more money and more risk were his favorite combination.

Sunlight streamed through the wide windows, illuminating swarms of dust drifting lazily toward the floor like the first snowfall of the year as Silkfoot settled back into the padded seat of his booth. The walls were made of golden wood and decorated with paintings of muted colors. Though he let his eyes roam, he didn’t notice much of the décor. It was the conversations he was interested in. They washed over his ears like waves breaking on shore.

“I swear, if I have to say ‘please stop petting the test subjects ONE more time… It doesn’t seem to matter how many…”

“…seriously need a vacation. A winter holiday would be nice, don’t you think?”

“…don’t understand. Why do you keep pretending you’re happy with that ass…”

“Like yeah, in a different universe maybe…”

“It’s clearly a memory related to his profession. He’s repressed it so deeply, I’m not sure it would be safe to drag it back to the surface.”

Boring, boring, boring… Hello. He focused on the woman’s voice, picking her conversation out of the fragments of the rest.

“Isn’t that the entire point of his sessions with you?”

“Look, I’m just taking care of a sick friend. How will it help if I make everything worse?”

“It can’t be THAT bad, he’s only a nurse…”

Not so interesting after all. Silkfoot let the conversation slip away. He certainly wasn’t going to blackmail a nurse.

The pub’s main door creaked open. A woman stood in the entry way. She scanned the visible patrons before she stepped inside and scuttled instantly to the far wall where she was farther from anyone’s center of focus. Her eyes lingered on the paintings before they fell on a dull, reflective surface. For several seconds, she studied her face in the mirror. Then, satisfied, she settled into the nearest available table.

Odd. Is she here to meet someone? He’d have to keep an eye on her while his ears were elsewhere.

She seemed nervous, fidgety. The frenzied rise and fall of her shoulders suggested shallow breath and the wringing of her hands suggested sweaty palms. She clearly wasn’t the only human in the bar, so it couldn’t have anything to do with that. Unfamiliar territory? Or a dangerous liaison?

The woman ordered herself a drink. Nothing else happened and Silkfoot’s focus drifted.

“Listen, I’m super excited to tell you about my latest idea for a novel. I think I’ll call it ‘I have a Girl’s Courage.’ What do you think?”

“It was such a strange incident in the first place, but when you consider what she found under the snow…”

“And you’re sure it has nothing to do with how they relate to their race? We don’t want to skew the study results…”

“Well, we were getting ready to go out together, you see, and it happened while she was getting dressed…”

“I still think he’s responsible for his actions, even if it was his first time getting drunk.”

Silkfoot drew a deep breath and released it as a sigh. So many personal problems today, and none of them carried an ounce of interest. He was starting to wonder if he should relocate when the door opened so hard it almost flew off its hinges. A giant brute of a man stood in the doorway, eyes frantically searching the room as if he’d recently lost a small child. They riveted on the fidgety woman who sat nursing a glass of lemonade one tiny sip at a time. When her eyes met his, they gave each other the kind of look star-crossed lovers might exchange in dreams.

The stranger crossed the room with surprising grace for a man of his considerable bulk and lowered himself into the chair across from her as if he thought it might break. Their voices were so low, Silkfoot had to strain to hear their conversation through the buzz of others, but years of honing his senses for this very purpose gave him an advantage.

“We should have waited,” the woman hissed. “It’s too soon. Much too soon.”

“I couldn’t wait any longer. I was going crazy as it was.”

“Sounds like an unhealthy obsession to me.” Her voice momentarily dripped disdain.

With the man’s back to him, Silkfoot couldn’t see his reaction, but from his tone he guessed it had been a pout or a wince, something to express shock or hurt at her tone. “You know my life is made up of seconds, and the one without you in them have become more and more like hell-”

“But this will be the last time. The very last time. It has to be.”

Silkfoot knew better than to stare. His eyes were on his dwindling glass, and his glee was safely hidden. It wasn’t that he meant to pry into the personal lives of others. There was no money in it. But there was a certain thrill to knowing secrets, even if they belonged to strangers. A man never knew when one stray tidbit might come in handy, especially if he knows the right people, and he usually happened to.

It was hard not to imagine wild scenarios for the obviously distressed couple. Were their families estranged? Was one of them promised to another? Was it a torrid affair? Was there, perhaps, a death involved? If they fled now, would they return every year to lay flowers at the spot their love had bloomed over some shared loss?

They were talking about schedules now. Ships coming and going by air and sea. What it would cost to take the train if they could reach the mainland. What day they could go.

Silkfoot’s interest waned. His fantasies seemed far more vivid than the couple’s reality. He ordered himself another drink and scanned the room once more with his ears.

“Now, just close your eyes and listen. What does the music tell you?”

We have something in common, you and I-”

“Oh balderdash! Stop speaking in clichés!”

She woke to birdsong the morning she died. Such a sad, sad story…”

“I didn’t mean to be so pushy about it, but it was a piece of time sensitive mail, you see…”

“Stop acting like this is all nothing!” his mystery woman hissed, once again piquing his interest. “Can you see yourself for what you are? This situation for what it is?”

“Stop! Calm down,” her companion insisted, waving his hands as if in surrender. “I’m only trying to help.”

“Well you’re not. In fact, you’re making everything worse. I haven’t even slept since my attempt to… acquire a copy of the Torgar Codex fell through. It would have solved all our problems.”

Tiny alarms tingled in the back of Silkfoot’s brain. Interesting after all! Perhaps he would order himself some dinner while he waited for the rest to reveal itself. He flagged a waitress, asked for the special along with another beer and shifted into a more comfortable position. To an outside observer he seemed to be pissing his night away, letting the warm atmosphere and booze mix until, to his drunken eyes, all images are blurred. He might have been sitting at the table with the hissing lovers, so intent was he on catching every nuance of their interaction.

“I think you put too much stock in that silly book.”

“It isn’t just any silly book, stupid. Not everybody knows it’s worth seventy thousand gold if you can find an original edition.”

“If it’s worth that much, why did you let it slip through your fingers at the last possible moment?”

The woman’s companion may have spoken more sharply than he meant to. Without looking at his face, it was hard to tell. But the resounding smack of the mystery woman’s hand against his cheek was enough to broadcast her ire. Neither of them spoke for several seconds while they waited for the rest of the patrons to lose interest in the scuffle. The woman glanced at her lap when a waitress hurried over to check if everything was okay.

That’s gunna leave a mark, on their relationship if not on his face.

For awhile after the waitress departed, the whispered conversation was too quiet for Silkfoot to decipher. He doubted they were talking about anything relevant to his interests at the moment anyway. It would take time for their fear of discovery to pass.

Beside the hearth a grizzled old man sat with a book propped in his lap. His fluid voice had attracted a small audience and his tale momentarily cut through the pub din. “He crossed the brittle bridge of bones,” said the storyteller, “With him, he carried a book infested with ghosts…”

Slowly, other conversations crescendoed as the speakers’ interest in other pub activity waned.

“So I told him,” someone murmured, “not everything has to mean something.”

“Work, work, work. I feel like it’s all I ever do anymore. What’s the point if you never have a chance to enjoy the life you’re working for?”

“I don’t know, my friend. There are things you just can’t escape.”

I did the right thing,” his mystery woman insisted, voice choked with tears. “Yes, it would have solved our problems if I had succeeded, but if I got caught it would have ruined us. That man has enough power and influence to make both our lives miserable for a very long time.”

“I misspoke, okay? I said so, didn’t I? As if this was actually going to work in the first place. I don’t know why I thought-”

After the door shuts and the footsteps die, we still need to be able to live with ourselves.”

“I’m not giving up.” Silkfoot imagined the mystery man setting his jaw.

“Nor am I. I just don’t know what to do anymore.”

From the corner of his eye, Silkfoot saw the man’s arm snake across the table to catch the woman’s hand. “We’ll find a way. Together. Anything else would be a nightmare.”

Their conversation seemed to be winding down. The woman was in a hurry to leave and the man kept glancing at the clock hung over the mantel as if he had somewhere he needed to be. Silkfoot wouldn’t get any more pertinent details out of them, but he had enough. Someone near here, or who had passed through recently, had access to an expensive rare book and his mystery woman knew who it was and how to find them. He took special care to memorize her face, just in case he decided to revisit this scenario.

Other movement caught his eye. The familiar midnight of his trusty first mate. He thought he was being sneaky, edging up while Silkfoot had his head turned elsewhere. Well, let him think he had mastered stealth. There was nothing wrong with having a little fun. He let the man slip all the way along the table and onto the seat across from him while he pretended to take great interest in two sales clerks ranting about the twelve hours before the end of their business opportunities.

“And then I looked him in the eyes,” Kestrel said to announce his presence, “and said ‘you need to stop leaving bodies in the kitchen’.”

With a snort, Silkfoot dissolved into a fit of giggles, slapping his leg as he straightened and turned to his companion. “I’ve been working on it, I swear. Very few are left.”

Kestrel grinned, a quite, dignified gesture that pleased his captain to no end. “You haven’t gone and had all your fun without me, have you?”

“Not even half, my friend. The night is young. We will linger until we have no more laughter to fill the midnight air.” He made a grand sweeping gesture with one hand before he downed the last of his beer and motioned for the waitress to bring another round.

The mysterious lovers had disappeared into the night. The doors were slow to close in their wake and a chill wind swept briefly through the pub. The air smelled of the coming storm. He wondered if the nervous woman would manage to hide her illicit meeting and if the man who had been so desperate to see her would make it back to wherever he’d run off from before it was too late. It wasn’t hard to imagine what kind of trouble they might be in and what lengths they would go to in order to change it. Silkfoot knew better than anyone how a dream changes everything.

Kestrel’s shoulders shook with a single mote of silent laughter. “I take it things are going well then.”

“Indeed. Say… you don’t happen to know of any rare book collectors do you? Have we encountered any recently? I’ve lost track.”

“Rare book collectors? I guess there’s always someone to collect anything.”

“Of course, of course. But we’re more interested in the book collectors at the moment, Kestrel. Try to stay focused.”

“Of course, Captain. I forgot myself. I don’t think you know any rare book collectors, but I’m pretty sure some of your friends do.”

“Excellent. Excellent. What would I do without you, Kestrel? Don’t change for anyone. Don’t even change for me.”

“Hadn’t planned on it.”

It seems I managed to miss one prior prompt when I did this (drat!) and didn’t realize until I lacked a place to link it. That was “I have a smile for every occasion,” and it’s weird I missed it considering this is Silkfoot :p but ah well! There still manages to be 52 actual references in there (we did a couple extras on the way).

Anywhoo! Please check out what my writing partner did with this one, as it was an equally epic undertaking and quite a different approach.

If you’d like to join our weekly prompt writing, send me a link to where you post and I’ll feature it every week ;)

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