Anyatka opened the door even as the fist on the outside pounded on it again. She blinked into the darkness and focused on a figure squinting into the brightness of the Tenorbekk’s front room.
“Lina? What are you doing here?” She stepped back to let the girl in and noted her flushed cheeks and breathlessness. “Are you quite well? What is it?”
From the dinner table, Eirikr looked up and his visible eye narrowed beneath the bandage wrapped around his head. Abiorn, Anya’s younger brother, looked incredibly interested in what interrupted their dinner. As Lina brushed past Anya, he grinned and leaned his chin on the palm of his hand.
“Anya, beg yer pardon, but I need yer help an’ it’s gotta be quick!” Lina turned in a whirlwind and leaned back against the couch. She crossed her leather-clad leg over the other. “Yeh got a bedroll an’ some campin’ supplies I can borrow?”
Anya nodded and strode forward to take the girl by her arms. “Lina, slow down. Are you in trouble? Why in such a rush? We can help you; you do not have to run.”
Lina’s slender neck stretched as she leaned her head back to laugh. “Oh, no! I’m not in trouble. The Missus gave me permission an’ everything. I just told ‘im I’d meet ‘im in an hour and goin’ by the Mantle took up near half. I gotta get supplies an’ meet him, or he’ll think I stood ‘im up.”
Not one to remain silent on the sidelines, Abiorn asked, “Who’s that, Lina?”
Grinning at the boy, Lina answered, “Rush. We’re goin’ ta Trestlebridge. Maybe farther north, who knows. But I’m gettin’ outta Bree fer a while, and that’s all tha’matters.”
Anya and Eirikr exchanged a concerned look. She nodded to her brother and he stood to fetch the supplies she’d need for the journey.
“Lina, who is this Rush?” Anya asked with measured politeness. “What does he do?”
Flushed from her rush, Lina ran a hand through her short hair. “Jus’ a boy. My age. My real age. Have I told yeh my real age? I’m not nineteen, I’m seventeen. But he doesn’t do anythin’ really, and tha’s why he wants to go to Trestlebridge. He’s done all sortsa jobs, but doesn’t like a one.”
“Does he know what you do?” Abiorn blurted.
Lina nodded. “Mhmm. Doesn’t phase him. Actually, he bartended at the Mantle for a bit. Didn’t last. He’s a decent fella, just kinda listless. Needs a kick in th’arse, prolly.”
“And you intend to give it to him?” Eirikr asked as he dropped a bedroll and a woolen blanket on his bed. He didn’t look at Lina as he rolled it into a compact bundle for her. “Where’s your pack?”
Lina thrust her pack at Eirikr. He took and pulled it open and then started adding things to it and taking some things out.
“Nah, look, it’s just a chance t’get outta Bree fer a while. I trust this fella. He’s got lots of brothers an’ sisters an’ just needs ta get out on his own a bit, tha’s all.” Lina bounced on her toes. “Yeh almost done? Don’t mean ta rush ya or anythin’, I just don’t want ‘im ta think I stood ‘im up.”
Eirikr knotted her pack and held it out to her. “Yes. You’ve said that.” Looking over her head to his sister, he cocked a critical brow. Anya shook her head and shrugged.
“Lina, promise you’ll write when you get to Trestlebridge? Especially if you intend on staying for an extended period of time, or leaving to go somewhere else, please?”
Lina took the pack with an appreciative grin and raised it to Eirikr. “Thanks, big brother,” she said. Looking at Anya, she wrinkled her nose. “Anya, yeh know I can’t write.”
Anya sighed. “Well, maybe this Rush can. Have him take dictation. Please.”
Lina shrugged. “If I remember. Can’t stay, though. I’ll bring yer things back when we return!” Quickly, she left in a flurry.
Abiorn watched the door for a moment after it closed behind her.
“You think she’ll make him pay?” he asked with a grin.
Eirikr slapped him on the back of his head. “Abiorn. Not appropriate.”
Anya blushed and frowned as she resumed her seat at the dinner table. “Yes, really, Abbi. That is none of your business if this man is a client of hers. Or just a friend.”
“Ever heard of him? Didn’t she say he was her age? She’s not that much older than me. How could a kid like me afford Lina for a week?” Abiorn stuck his finger into his mashed taters and sucked it clean.
“Ugh, Abbi.” She tossed a cloth at him, but he only laughed when it hit his face. “That’s none of your concern, anyway. What Lina does is Lina’s business.”
“Who Lina does, you mean.
Ow! Damnit, Eirikr.”
After dinner, Anya knelt by the fire and scrubbed the fine china dishes Eirikr and Abiorn brought back from Dale in a tub full of lukewarm water. “Don’t you think we should have stopped her?” Eirikr grumbled as he brought her his and Abiorn’s plates.
“It would have done no good. She would have found the man and ran off with him anyway, Eirikr, you know that as well as I.”
“She’s your friend. Anya. I hardly know anything about her except that I should usually be concerned for her. What if this lad hurts her?”
Anya’s dishrag slowed for a moment. “Don’t underestimate Lina. I know she looks thin and helpless, but I doubt that she is. She had lived in Beggar’s Alley for quite some time before I met her. And before that… she rarely wanted to talk about before that, Eirik. Somehow, I think she can handle herself better than I could in her situation, that’s for certain.”
Eirikr picked up a dish from the line Anya was leaving along the stone hearth. “I hope you’re right, sister.”
Anya nodded. “I know. Me, too.”