Saturday, 9 June 2007

An extract from TRAV ZANDER...

Tor is working undercover in Carl of Thrales's palace, disguised as a maid. Jervaid, whom she knew before, happens to be there in the Palace Guard.

Given his packed social schedule, Tor was surprised that Jervaid continued to find time to see her. She supposed he enjoyed a challenge, but she thought it was also because they had first got acquainted in Tarragon when she was disguised as a man. Tor had been bored by her captivity there, he had welcomed a break from standing on guard outside her door, and their friendship had flourished. Normally Jervaid was too busy seducing girls to get to know and like them. Tor was the exception, his one female friend.

This evening after their meal, Jervaid had suggested a drink, overriding Tor when she said she really should be getting back. He was now regretting picking this tavern. The place was packed; they had got seats with difficulty, and a raucous group behind them made conversation impossible. Nearby a man carried a hawk on one hand while he drank with the other, and every so often it baited with a frantic flurry of wings before he lifted it back on to his wrist. The stir from its wings blew out their candle.

Jervaid reached to relight it from the one on next door’s table.

‘Tor, this is ridiculous, we can’t talk here, I can barely hear you. Come back to my place.’

‘Here’s fine. I’ve got to go in a minute, anyway.’

All the frustrations of his recent dealings with Tor, with the unsatisfactory end to the evening imminent, came to a head. He knew she liked him, he was certain she found him attractive, why was she being so evasive and difficult? He let his irritation show.

‘You really are the most exasperating woman I’ve ever known. It was just the same at Kallarven, you were always rushing off, or there were too many other people around.’ Jervaid’s sense of humour went missing briefly. ‘Do you realize any of the other maids would give their eye teeth to be with me now?’

‘Why don’t you ask them then?’ Tor said, standing up. ‘I’m going.’ She pushed her way out of the crowded tavern. Jervaid half rose to his feet, then gave up and subsided back into his seat. Morosely, he waved at the serving girl to bring him more wine.

When the flagon arrived, he filled his cup and drained it. As he put it down, he saw a man sitting where Tor had been, staring at him. His face was familiar; after a few moments Jervaid placed him. Back in Tarragon he used to materialise around Skardroft’s palace like a dark ghost. The Palace Guard had orders to let him in to see the King at any time. He was thinner, gaunter, older than before, his skin yellowish and dry like parchment.

After about a minute, Jervaid met the man’s stare and raised his eyebrows.

‘That was a striking-looking girl who just left,’ Corfe said. ‘Do you know her well?’

‘Not as well as I’d like to,’ said Jervaid with complete accuracy.

‘She comes from Tarragon, I believe,’ said Corfe. ‘Where you come from. Did you meet her there?’

Jervaid was disconcerted that the man seemed to know who he was. Why should he recall one guard out of so many? What was he after? He was tempted to tell him to clear off, but decided against it, and said instead, ‘Yes. Do you know her?’

‘What was she doing in Tarragon?’

‘Exactly what she’s doing here, turning me down,’ said Jervaid moodily. ‘Women.’

‘Was she working as a maid?’

‘That’s what she does.’

‘Did she work in Skardroft’s palace?’

‘I met her there. Why do you want to know?’

‘I thought I recognised her, but couldn’t quite place her.’

There was a small silence.

‘Why did she come here?’

‘To find a job. To give me a hard time. I don’t know. You ask a lot of questions.’ I need to tell Tor about this man, Jervaid thought, I don’t know what he’s doing here but he seems to be on to her. ‘I know one thing,’ he added, ‘I shan’t be wasting any more of my time with Hettie. There are plenty more pretty girls in Ravendor.’

He got to his feet and shouldered his way out. Once outside, he found a dark doorway from which he could watch the tavern. He waited patiently for five minutes, and was rewarded by Corfe emerging and walking down the street. Jervaid followed him at a distance until he was sure he was headed for the palace, then he doubled back to Tor’s lodgings and knocked softly on her window.

Tor opened it. She was in her nightdress. ‘Jervaid, I can’t believe you came here,’ she said in a fierce whisper, afraid of the landlady hearing.

‘Tor, I had to see you…’

‘I said no and I meant it. How difficult is that to understand?’

‘Let me in, I’ve got to talk to you. Someone will see me standing here.’

‘Then go away.’

‘I think you’re being watched.’

Tor saw he was serious, opened the window wider and he climbed into the dark room. She wrapped herself in her cloak and lit the candle while Jervaid looked around him.

‘It’s a bit basic here, Tor. It doesn’t compare to your room in Tarragon.’ He sat on the bed, the only seat available, and leaned against the wall, his hands behind his head, smiling at Tor. ‘Sorry I got miffed back at the tavern. It’s because I fancy you rotten, I always have, you know that.’

He patted the bed beside him. ‘Why don’t you sit down?’ She looked at him suspiciously.

‘Who’s watching me?’

‘A tall thin man, long face, slightly stooped. I’ve seen him in the palace at Tarragon. Quiet voice. Difficult to guess his age. Has a way of looking at you…’ Tor’s eyes had widened. Without thinking, she sat on the bed, staring at Jervaid.

‘Corfe was watching me? What happened?’

‘Who is he?’

‘He was my grandfather’s undercover agent. He got hold of Pom and tried to make him say where the Knights were, he tortured him. Gwenderith broke a chair over his head. He’s here now working for Carl, I’m surprised you haven’t seen him. What did he say?’

‘He was asking about you, where I’d met you. He went back to the palace.’

‘You’re the second person he’s talked to that I know about. I don’t know why he’s interested in me if he doesn’t know who I am. He saw me one time with Skardroft, but if he recognised me why hasn’t he had me arrested?’

‘He didn’t seem to remember you. Maybe he’s got a terrible memory for faces…’ Jervaid’s attention was wandering from the conversation. He wound one of Tor’s curls round his finger.
‘I like your hair a bit longer…’ His warm hand slid round her neck giving her a pleasant frisson. It was true she found him attractive. ‘So do I get a reward for coming and warning you?’ he murmured, nuzzling her cheek and pushing her backwards on to the bed. There was a brief not unfriendly tussle then Tor succeeded in standing up.

‘All you get is my undying gratitude, I’m afraid. I’ll have to chuck you out now.’ She spoke with reluctant firmness, opened the window and stood by it.

‘Goodnight, and thanks a lot, Jervaid.’

Jervaid went off into the dark, a handsome figure striding along the quiet streets, his natural optimism in the ascendant once more. Too early to abandon hopes of Tor; she liked him; they were alone in Ravendor; she could not, surely, resist him forever. Meanwhile, there was that serving girl from the White Boar, Jenneth; she should be getting back to her lodgings from work about now, and he had no doubt she would be pleased to see him.

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