Keon and I walked wordlessly along the slippery streets as a thin layer of ice and slush crunched beneath our steps. It was not long before I realized how dangerous the stillness was for my fragile state of mind.
“You seem awfully quiet, for once,” my words billowed out in puffs of foggy breath.
“Yes, dear. It’s my new tactic for trying to get you to speak.” He glanced at me sideways with his trademark smirk. “It’s working.”
I stopped talking. Perhaps I was thankful for the silence after all.
“I want to know what was in that letter, of course.” Keon continued undauntedly.
“You couldn’t hope to keep up your ‘tactic’ for long, could you?” I sighed.
He smiled. “You know me, dear.”
Denying him the luxury of eye contact, I regarded the iced-over stones before my feet. I took a moment to consider my next words. “The letter doesn’t concern you.”
“What if I’ve come to feel that what concerns you concerns me?”
Whatever did he mean by that? I felt alone in my tortured thoughts. Keon, on the other hand, had always taken life in stride.
“Then I think your feelings ought to get out of my business,” I replied at last. I tried desperately to change the subject, my lips quivering, and not from the cold. Now was the time to look him in the eyes again, to prove my strength to myself, to regain my composure by necessity. “I would like to see Fia, now. Will you show me where the stables--”
I lost my footing on the slippery street, but Keon tried to grab me before I fell altogether. As a result, we both faltered and were bruised on the cobblestone.
Keon laughed until he saw that I found no humor in the situation. I felt a wave of discouragement covering my form, and I sat frowning at the cold road before me.
“Are you alright?”
I tried to answer, but found that I could not speak for risk of crying, my mind once again dwelling on those I had lost. I shot him an expression of misery and turned my face away.
He rose gingerly, offering me a hand. I took it with barely a glance and found my feet beneath me once again. We strode onward several paces in renewed silence.
“Fia is safe and sound in her stall. And you’re not doing anything before you get a good meal in you,” Keon insisted. “Jalin makes an excellent stew.”
I nearly objected before realizing that I was, in fact, famished. A nice warm meal did sound wonderful at a time such as this, and Fia could certainly handle herself. We headed back to the Crabbit Rabbit, and I now managed to distract my mind effectively with the idea of eating.
The public house at the bottom level of the inn was a dimly lit yet cozy retreat warmed by a large stone hearth. As the day was still quite young, the place was nearly empty, so it might have been a pleasant atmosphere were it not for a certain cacophony. As the bearded dwarf behind the counter hailed us, we were met by the droning of a drunken man singing out of key and stumbling near a back corner.
“Their souls were naught but borrowed dust, littered ‘cross the laaaaannnnd-ohhh!”
I winced, all but skipping formalities to raise my voice in complaint to Jalin. “Sir, I believe your bard is drunk.”
The dwarf looked me sternly in the eyes, unamused. “He’s no’ a bard, lass. Or if he were I’d 'ave fired 'im a long time ago. No, that there, that’s just a regular drunk with no vocal talents.” He raised his voice in the direction of the nuisance. “Say hello, Sigdan. And while you’re at it, get the hell out ma inn!” Something in the mention of the drunk’s name must have caused him to lose his balance, for not a moment later, he and a nearby stool both tumbled to the floorboards.
I turned back toward the bar and snorted in disgust.
“Didn’t I tell you you’d like this place?” Keon quipped.