Lily Palintus hummed softly as she wiped the bar in the common room of the Dancing Swallow, cleaning yet another day’s spills away until the bar shined and was ready for tomorrow’s drunken patrons to undo all she did. Fill a glass, glass gets emptied. Clean a bar, bar gets dirtied. At least Ariane didn’t shrink again after she spent a day caring for her – though feeding her seemed to get undone with startling speed.
Her father, poking at the fire, spoke. “Headin’ out, Halzad?” That startled Lily, who looked up to see the dwarf, bags packed and halfway to the front door.
“You know me, Tyler. Never stay in one place long.” Halzad tipped his hat to Lily. “A pleasure as always, Mistress of the Swallow.”
“You’re always welcome back, Master bard,” Lily replied, though she frowned. “Are you going after the group Badger headed to Quesquaton with?”
“Ah, yeah…” Her father blinked. “Your girl did run off with the Ylari and that tiny drunken giant. You pickin’ her up on the way out? I doubt they’ll appreciate the interruption.”
Halzad brought a hand to his eye, and for a moment Lily could have sworn she saw him wipe a tear. “She’s the first apprentice I’ve taken since you took the bar, Tyler… you don’t know.” He tugged a chair out, dropped his bag to the nearest table with a loud thud, and sat in the seat, straddling it. “There’s a way my kind does things… not dwarves. Members of my tradition. Older than song itself, they say, started when the elves and dragons were trying to split the world between them. Apprentice is ready, they’ve got to go out on their own, right? But sometimes they don’t know they’re ready. Sometimes they’ll never know they’re ready. They’ve got to find out for themselves. So you send them out, and make sure they can’t come back to you easy.” He sighed, lifting his hands. “Right hand over here, showing something shiny.” From between his middle and index fingers, he pushed out a Thyatian gold crown, twirling it from finger to finger. “A new song, a treasure fit for a king, or at least an Archduke, an adventure for the ages. And the shiny’s real. But the real thing’s going on over here…” He opened his left hand, and in it was the necklace that had, a moment before, been around Lily’s neck. He passed it to her with a smile of professional pride. “The apprentice’s master’s sent her off on her own, and he’s gone off on his own. She’ll find him, or the College, soon enough, but it breaks off the apprenticeship right quick. I’m not sure it’s right, but it’s how it’s done.”
“Don’t you want to leave her a note?” Lily fastened her necklace back around her neck, giving Halzad a disapproving look that managed to make the dwarf wither a little in his seat.
“What’s there to say?” Halzad spread his arms. “Seven years, we’ve walked or ridden the roads from Vestland to Darokin. We’ve played Thyatis, Glantri City, Rhoona where the Slayer slew the Dragon. I’ve sung for Hulite war-chiefs while Badger lit their ale-tents with song and magic. Seven years since I took the girl from a place I wish I could forget and I’ll never forgive myself for the fact that she remembers. What needs saying’s been said. All that’s left…” He tossed the coin to Tyler, another to Lily, and lifted his bag. “Is the road.” He tilted his head. “Tell her…” He looked to Lily. “You’ll know what to tell her, for me. And make sure she’s got friends. The road’s only a friend when there’s more friends waiting at the next town.”
Then he was gone, into the night.