1. Chapter 1

    Taryn

    On a cool autumn night in her nineteenth year, Taryn found herself in a black and seething mood. She walked through the door of Cirrain’s only tavern, where the smells of wood smoke, ale, and road-weary travelers greeted her. She made eye contact with the barman, who nodded. His eyes clouded, and his mouth puckered beneath his bushy, black moustache. She figured he probably didn’t approve of her drinking, but he had never said anything to her about it.

    He poured her ale and she took it without saying anything, leaving enough coin on the counter for three drinks; she wanted him to keep them coming. She took her cup and shoved her way through the crowd until she stood before her usual table, one where she could sit with her back in the corner and watch everyone else. There were two short, grey-skinned goblins sitting there already, but they moved away when she approached.

    She sat and surveyed the crowd as she began swigging her ale. There were three elves in long traveling cloaks, with their lengthy, straight hair tied back so their pointed ears and cat eyes were visible. Two chaats sat with their hoods up, trying to look inconspicuous by hiding their furry faces and high-set ears, but they looked around so often that they failed to conceal their identities. In the center of the room was a huge, rowdy group of townsmen drinking and eating. They were all familiar faces from around town, but one man in particular held her attention.

    He was slender, with a patchy beard and ruddy face and went by the name of Percy, and he the reason she was in such a dark humor. Earlier that day he had come to her family’s forge to have a pair of horses shod. Since Brogan, her adoptive father, was busy with other orders he had delegated the task to Taryn. When Percy found out she was the one to shoe his horses he insisted they could not have been done well because they were done by a woman and refused to pay. Later Brogan had assured her it wasn’t her fault, that the horses had been shod perfectly, and that she should be proud of her work.

    Now she glared at Percy from across the room. When he finally felt her eyes on him and looked up, he grinned with pride – he had been able to get two horses shod for free that morning. Tightening her jaw and narrowing her eyes at him, his smile faltered. Instead of getting up and starting a fight, she raised her tankard in a mocking toast to his accomplishment and proceeded to finish it off. When she slammed the empty mug on the heavy oak table, it caused a sharp, resounding thud to ring out and Percy averted his eyes, returning to his companions’ conversation, although he was now more reserved than they. The barman broke Taryn’s line of sight as he stepped between her and Percy to replace her empty tankard with a full one. She nodded her thanks without looking up.

    By the dregs of her third drink she was still just as angry as when she’d come in, but by then Percy had relaxed and taken his cup back up. Before much longer he was boisterously regaling his mates about his dealings earlier that day.

    “I just know those shoes will be thrown before the week is out! They’re barely flat and the nails are sticking out in every direction.” he exaggerated.

    Calmly Taryn stood, drew the knife from her belt, and walked to where Percy sat. She drove the blade into the table just inches from his hand.

    “Would you like to test my steel yourself, then?” she asked as first the table went silent, followed by the rest of the tavern.

    Percy slid his hand off the table slowly, thoughtfully. He must have been feeling his ale, because he stood and looked her straight in the eye while drawing his chipped and rusting sword.

    “Why not? Maybe I’ll cut your ego down a bit while I’m at it.”

    Drawing her sword, a gleaming double-edged blade that was the exact length and balance for her, like an extension of her own arm, she eyed Percy menacingly.

    “Wait!” bellowed the barman, “take this mess outside,”

    Taryn backed out of the door and into the street where she took a wide stance and held her sword defensively in front of her body. Percy rushed her with his sword above his head, intent on cleaving her in two. With some effort, she parried the attack and slashed him across the chest, just deep enough to bleed. Angered further, he roared and spun, swinging his blade as he went. She hopped out of his range. Once the blade passed her, she thrust forward. Her sword sank into his right shoulder. He cried out and grabbed it, his brow furrowing and lip curling, then ran at her once more. Too slow to stop her, she knocked the blade out of his hand and put the tip of hers to his throat. He shot her a look of pure loathing.

    “If you continue to sully my name, our next match will be much more public,” she told him in a voice just loud enough for him to hear.

    Momentarily cocky, she pushed her sword into his neck to drive her point home without breaking the skin. She turned, picked up his sword, and smacked the flat of the blade against the corner of the tavern causing the brittle blade to break in two. She barked one short, sharp laugh and walked off into the darkness, ignoring the men’s reaction.


    Godwin

    Watching from the crowd, Godwin Shepard saw the whole affair. After the woman had made her point and marched off into the night, he moved back inside where his eyes fell on her knife, still sticking out of the oak table. When he pulled it out, he was surprised with how deeply it was buried in the wood. Once removed, he inspected the blade. Despite it being driven into the table, the cutting edge was unmarked and still sharp enough to shave hair. It was polished to a shine and the handle was a work of art, with swirling patterns etched into the grip and a horse head on the butt.

    The man stroked his beard in thought, then slipped the knife into his belt. He approached the barkeep, the only person who hadn’t rushed outside, and couldn’t help but notice the deep lines of weary concern around the man’s eyes.

    “Does that happen often around here?” Shepard queried as he straddled a bar stool and tapped the bar, wordlessly ordering an ale.

    With practiced hands, the mustached man pulled a fresh mug from beneath the counter and filled it under the tap of a barrel behind the bar. Sliding it across the bar, he wiped his hands with a rag and sighed, “All too often, I’m afraid. She’s not well liked by many of the townsfolk.”

    “If you don’t mind me asking, why is that?”

    “I don’t mind. You see, she was taken in by the blacksmith, Brogan, and his wife some years back. For some reason, they saw fit to take her into the smithy and train her up – unfortunately all the folk around here have got it in their minds that she’s forgotten her place. They don’t agree with her working in there, and most are taken aback by her lack of decency.”

    “Decency?”

    “The girl never wears a dress – only men’s pants. She drinks more than most men and fights more too. She also hardly speaks, and when she does she is usually short and callous. The likes of such a girl, I’ve never known.”

    “But you don’t seem to mind her.”

    “She’s a better customer than most of the men around here. Though I do hate being her enabler.”

    “I see. Can you tell me where I might find her? I’ve found something of hers.”

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