“Making friends with our stranger, eh?” Dolmar said. He shoved a large piece of meat into his mouth and chewed through a smile.
“We were just-” Aphella began, before being interrupted by her father, talking through a full mouth.
“I already talked to Hamon.”
Frey cleared his throat. “That is well, but I Aphella and were actually negotiating terms of a trade, independent of that particular offer.” He took a long drought of wine.
“Really,” Dolmar said, not really posing it as a question.
“Indeed,” Frey went on. “Aphella offered me a rather lucrative bit of business information. Most useful, and given in goodwill, but now we must come to terms with how I shall repay her.”
“What were you offering?” Dolmar said, and filled his own glass full of wine. Aphella reached for the same pitcher, but pulled her hand back at a subtle raise of her father’s brow.
“Well, it seems that your daughter destroyed her focus in the butchering of this very well-cooked meal.” Frey raised his glass.
Dolmar mirrored the action. “To which you should also be obliged.”
“Ah, another debt on the table,” Frey said. “Well, given such, I should like to offer Aphella a focus.”
“We have extras here,” Dolmar said. The two men were now leaning forward over the table, leaving Aphella to lean back and away from them.
“But not the same,” Aphella said, pushing herself between Dolmar and Frey. “And not nearly as good.”
“Certainly not of similar form and material I should guess,” Frey said. “It was dragonbone, was it not?”
Dolmar scratched his chin and pursed his lips. “No such thing as dragons.”
“Spoken like a true man of the city,” Frey said, “but I would certainly not classify you as such. Where else but from a dragon would you get a span of solid bone taller than a man, which holds an edge, no less?”
“It was my great-grandmother’s,” Aphella said. “She got it from-”
“Aphella,” Dolmar said, his voice rising in a chastising pitch.
Frey smiled. “I see. I just so happen to have acquired a bone or two in my years on the road, and seen many more, though sometimes the owners and sellers would scarcely believe what they held.” Dolmar and Aphella both stared at him in stunned silence. Frey caught the look and said quickly, “Not that I am carrying any with me now. I do, however, possess a certain skill in the bending and welding of materials, bone being but one. I can fix your focus for you, provided you still possess all the pieces.”
“I know of nobody that has such a power,” Dolmar said. “Dead bone cannot be remolded like steel.”
“But it can be unbroken,” Frey said. “I admit it is a rare skill, and I shall also admit, only because I trust you by extension of your daughter, that it has yielded me a great portion of my wealth. People often throw into the refuse pile that which they cannot fix themselves.”
“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Dolmar said. “You can settle your debt with gold.”
“I have saved the pieces,” Aphella said, ignoring her farther. “I saved all the pieces, even the ones I pulled from the dreadtusk.”
“Excellent,” Frey said with a nod. “But let us save the magic of light for later. Now let us savor the magic of taste.” He lifted his glass again, and took a deep draught.
The night wore on, and the venom wine flowed. When glasses and jugs ran dry, families flew back to houses and cellars to retrieve casks and bottles secreted away in wait for a feast. Warka and her husband, at the request of many young ladies, produced their instruments, a delicate grand harp and many-stringed lute, and proceeded to play such dances as they knew. Fueled by the venom wine and driven by the beats and ancient melodies, the townspeople danced. Cheer replaced the fear of the previous day.
The young men, led by Ty and his arranged date, were the first to start. The dim caravan guards, those who were not left to guard Frey’s wagon, were soon asking widows and wives alike for dances. Shaenyll found herself dancing with Frey, her perpetual seriousness like a dark pool failing to reflect Frey’s infectious smile. Nonetheless, they danced, not for just one song, but several. Even Master Hamon was dancing, taking to partner whoever was willing.
Aphella found herself watching, not dancing, sitting idly by the warming hearth of glowing stones, one of the few not making merry. Her father, near at hand in a low metal chair, was content to sip on a century-old draught of wine he had convinced Hamon to finally loose the cork on.
“I was talking to Hamon earlier,” he said in a low, almost sleepy voice. “About Ty.”
“I don’t care about Ty,” Aphella said.
Dolmar laughed. “Zyteus is pushing for an arrangement with, ah…”
“Yes, the girl.” Dolmar stared whistfully into his goblet, his eyes sullen. “I always liked you being friends with Ty. He’s a good boy. I had hoped…” He sighed.
“That he would marry me?”
“It would have made an easy life for you. Easier, at least. And he’s a good boy. A good…” Dolmar took a deep breath. “Boy.”
“Everyone is always trying to decide things for me,” Aphella said.
“I never decided anything. Just a hope, but of course Zyteus… well, he’s Zyteus. No reason to forge alliances with a lowly husbandman.”
“Did you ever consider that I may not feel that way about Ty? Did you ever ask?”
“No, I suppose not. But then again, friendship is a better basis for a good marriage than torrid love. You would come to love Ty.”
“Did you love mother?”
“Still do. What I would worry about with you,” Dolmar said, hastening his speech as if to run away from the discussion of Aphella’s mother, “is that a simple, functional marriage wouldn’t suit you. I worry you would be bored. Will be bored.” He held up his hands and looked around at the many-colored crystal lamps near the open square. “By this place. This life. You remind me of your mother, in more ways than your hair. Settling doesn’t satisfy you.”
“I’m happy here, father,” Aphella said.
Dolmar went on as if Aphella hadn’t spoken, his words slowing back to his half-drunken drawl. “You’ve always pushed yourself. Pushed ahead of others. But for Shaenyll, you’d be the strongest lightweaver in Twillanya, maybe in the whole province, since Shaenyll is actually the best I’ve known. Another year of practice, and she would have nothing to say for you. It’s not just raw talent either, though you have plenty of that. It’s your drive. I’m afraid this town won’t hold you, marriage or no.”
“You actually want me to go with the trader?”
“You should consider it,” Dolmar said. “I’m not passing out my blessing just yet, but think about what that opportunity means to you, will you?”
“I won’t end up like mother,” Aphella said.
“Bah,” Dolmar said, and drained his cup. Standing up, he said, “I’m going to ask a lady or two for a dance. You should find a lad. Feasts aren’t so common that you should spend one sitting out.”