Shardwood planks and trusses have been used to construct these stables, which have dirt floors and triple haystacks for feeding the steeds that are housed in the stalls. Vassals often can be seen grooming the horses, cleaning their stalls, pouring water into their drink troughs or refreshing their hay supply.
Althea stands near her horse Flax, brushing him gently with a brush. "Not long dear," she whispers. "I'm sure His Excellency will arrive soon."
Pash Cobble walks into the stables, wiping the sawdust-peppered palm of his right hand off on the front of his tunic. He's got a familiar burlap sack of tools slung over his shoulder as he makes for a wagon drawn behind the horse called Blazing. He stops, spying the woman grooming her horse, and calls to her with a faint smile. "Mistress Weaver."
Althea stops her brushing at the sound of her name and turns toward the voice. Recognizing the able Pash Cobble, she turns full around with a smile. Pushin back a stay red strand, she says, "Good Eve, Master Cobble. How nice to see you. Have you been working for Baron Jafron? I'm here to make a delivery."
Pash Cobble grins, heaving the sack of tools into the wagon. "I just finished constructing a set of furniture for Lord Jurus Seamel, a relative of the baron's. I await his approval and payment."
Althea juggles the brush between her hands and nods. "They do seem quite busy, these Silkfield Seamels," she comments. "I've been debating on returning to my shop and trying again another day." Flax nudges her gently with his nose.
"In this weather?" the carpenter asks, shaking his head. "Personally, I wouldn't risk it. By light of day, with clement weather, perhaps. But on the Shadow's watch, with this chill upon the land, one never knows when a storm might gust. The Seamels keep a warm fire. I intend to take advantage of their hospitality."
Althea nods and sets the brush on a shelf outside Flax's stall. "You are right, of course," she says. "I was not thinking of tonight, but rather in the morn. I've just been here two nights already and feel like itchy to return to my shop." She hauls a bucket of water into Flax's stall.
"I know the feeling," Pash replies, taking a grooming brush from Blazing's saddlebag and tending to the horse's neck. "Hope you're incorporating fees for the inconvenience into your charges."
Althea straightens and puts a hand to her hip. "I hadn't ever thought of that," she says. "Hmmm...good idea." She takes a loaf of bread from her pack and gestures with it. "Would you like some?" She breaks it in half and begins munching on one portion. "I very much like the trunks you made for me," she says between bites. "When you've got a break, I'd like to to build some things for me at my house."
Pash Cobble accepts a portion of the loaf, nodding approval. "Thank you." He takes a bite of the ragged twist of bread, chews and swallows. "Glad you liked the trunks." He scratches his chin. "Anything particular you've got in mind that needs building?"
Althea continues to chew her snack, a thoughtful look on her face. "I'd like a new table and chairs at my house, and perhaps a wardrobe and bed," she says. "Nothing pressing, mind you. I'll have to get the wood first anyway." She points with the remainder of her bread. "But you," she says teasingly. "Have profited from my work, yet have not ordered clothing or cloth from me." There is a question in her green eyes, humored, but still a tad pointed.
The carpenter chuckles, nodding. "Yes, well, I'm not much of a follower of fashion and my tastes are admittedly dull. I've owned the same pair of shoes for nearly two years." He glances down at the battered-looking footwear. "My father would vigorously disapprove."
Althea eyes the man's shoes and nods. "Yes," she says. "I can see that." She shrugs. "But there's little I'd be able to do for you there, since I can only do cloth. Perhaps a new tunic for the Spring?"
"My tunics are even older than my shoes," Pash replies with a sigh. "They benefit from the fact I do not walk upon them quite as often as I do my shoes. Still," he shrugs, "I will consider it."
Althea inclines her head. "I find that craftkin who are dedicated to their work tend to overlook their own needs," she says. "That sort of focus makes their work true pieces of art." She smiles. "Let me make something for you, and when you come to my house to make my new furniture, we'll see if it pleases you."
Pash smiles faintly. "You honor me." He nods, affirming it. "Very well. Thank you." His smile broadens a little, and then he unties the harness binding Blazing to the shardwood wagon. He takes the horse by the reins and begins leading the animal toward an empty stall.
Althea turns away to hide her blush. She busies herself with checking Flax's stall once more for items she didn't actually have with her when she bedded her horse. Seeing nothing, she wipes her hands against each other, shuts the stall door, and pats her horse good night. Every so often she glances over at the carpenter, watching him care for his own horse. "You've a fine one there," she comments.
Pash Cobble nods, closing the gate on the stall in which he's boarding Blazing for the night. The horse chuffs, thrashing his tail and grunting a bit as the carpenter pats his snout. "Not the fastest horse in Fastheld, but strong and reliable. And he doesn't argue. Much." He plucks a slice of apple from a pouch at his hip, feeding the fruit to Blazing.
"Apples," Althea says, arms crossed over her chest. "Now there's something I've missed this winter. Flax and I ate ours up too early and we've none until the Fall." She shakes her head. "Nothing satisfies quite like a fresh apple off the tree." She sighs. "I'm anxious for Spring Master Cobble. This winter has worn me out. Too many cold happenings in our world."
The carpenter takes a coarse blanket from a hook jutting out from one of the stall support pillars. "Wildlings care even less for the cold than we, thank the Light. But, I must say, if someone were to offer me a choice between a chill Wildling-free world and a perpetually warm world with the constant threat of Wildlings, I'd be hard pressed to refuse the warmth, despite the price. Even in Aegisport."
Althea's face darkens. "I had a friend once who chased after Wildlings in the North country," she says. "They sound quite fearsome. I certainly have heard enough tales of them to be concerned, yet--" She shrugs. "I think given such a choice, I'd agree. Perhaps that is why things are as they are. I was born in Aegisport but left when I was a child, so I remember very little of the town. And I haven't had the occasion to visit longer than a day for a delivery. You must like it very much to make it your home."
"It's my home," Pash says with a shrug, settling down cross-legged with his back against Blazing's stall and cloaking himself in the barn blanket. "I didn't choose it. It's where my family always has been. But I like it well enough, and there's some use, I suppose, in being from the Emperor's hometown." He smiles. "Another 'porter, then, eh? You seem right at home in Vozhdya." He scratches his chin, then shrugs. "Of course, I'm not much of an expert about people or where they belong. And I haven't known many workers of the cloth. Truth be told, I've never really known *any*, but I have made the acquaintance of a few." He studies his hands for a moment. "A few months back, a couple of women, weavers, they said, stopped by my shop."
Althea becomes markedly more animated as she closes the gap between herself and the Carpenter. She settles in across the aisle from Pash and leans forward, her hands cycling the air. "What did you say?" she says, excitement in her voice. "Two women? Visited you at your shop? Did they say their names?" Anxiety and hope mingle on the tailor's face.
"Threadbare? Threadwear?" The carpenter grimaces, shaking his head. "A mother and daughter, I think. I'm not always good with people. But I remember very specifically that they needed three faceted birch spokes and a mended spindle for their wagon. The shoreline of Fastheld River gets rather rocky and unforgiving for wheeled vehicles."
"Finethread?" Althea prompts. "Alana and Jessa Finethread, perhaps? Did they seem well to you?
Pash Cobble lifts his eyebrows. "Finethread? Could have been." He nods, more confident. "Alana and Jessa. I think so. They didn't seem *unwell*, but, as I said, I've got a bad habit of paying more attention to things that need fixing than people. They came in, told me their wagon wheel was damaged, and hired me to fix it. Paid me to, how did the old lady put it? Oh, yes: 'Expedite it with all possible haste.'"
Althea shakes her head. "This is truly amazing," she mutters. Crossing her legs beneath her and gathering her thick cloak around her shoulders, she leans forward, elbows on her knees, hands gesturing in time to her speech. "I've been looking for these two women for months, Master Cobble," she relates. "I'd all but given up hope, but that I received a misdirected letter a few days ago, saying they were well in Wedgecrest. I rode there not long after to see if they had wintered there, but to no avail." She frowns as if calculating a long column of sums. "What month do you think it was they visited? I've been trying to trace their path, but haven't had much luck."
"End of Lightfading, maybe early Shadowreach," the carpenter replies. He narrows his eyes, reflecting quietly for a few moments. "They had a fully packed wagon, if that tells you anything. I had to unload it all before fixing the wheel. I remember commenting on it, and the younger one - the daughter - said they'd provisioned for a long journey. I asked where, the girl said 'North.' And then the old woman gave me a nudge and told me the wheel wouldn't fix itself." He chuckles and shrugs. "So I took the hint, shut up, and fixed the wagon. Packed 'em back up and off they went."
Althea's eyes become distant. "North," she repeats. "Always North." She lets out a long breath. "Jessa Finethread was the Weaver's Guildmistress up until a few months ago, when she decided to retire and pursue a long standing project of hers. A secret project, the details even her daughter Alana didn't know," she explains. "Alana became the Guild Mistress for a short time, but having little desire to lead and more than enough worry for her aging daughter, she too resigned and set off to find her mother, then missing four weeks. I accompanied Alana for a time, until our path took us to LIght's Reach, where she sent me back to tell the Guild of her resignation." She leans back and looks to the ceiling. "I've been seeking word of them both since then, from my clients as well as others I've met on my cross-Fastheld journeys. A tavern keep at Lightholder Crossroads said she'd seen them perhaps on their way north, but couldn't say for sure." Her brows knit in a puzzled expression. "I hope they are well, but wish I could touch them and hear their tale to know they truly prosper."
Pash Cobble nods. "Well, it struck me as odd, packing a wagon so completely for a trip north from Aegisport. It's not all that far to Road's End or Northwatch, and then you hit the Aegis. Maybe whatever they sought was east along the north Aegis wall."
Althea nods. "Perhaps, perhaps," she says, then falls silent. She leans forward again. "You said their wagon was damaged though, as if they'd gone, what over? Or do you think, /along/ the Fastheld River?"
"Along, I suspect," the carpenter answers. "The river's too deep to ford from the south shore at Aegisport."
Althea shakes her head. "I can't imagine why they'd take the River Road," she says. "Why not the main road, I wonder." Her eyes narrow, the tips of her fingers tapping her knees gently. After a moment, she looks up at the Carpenter, a look of pure gratitude on her face. "Thank you, Master Cobble," she says. "You've given me great hope as well as another clue to my mystery. You are a man of varied talents - furniture /and/ hide and follow!"
"Well, I can't say I hid and followed all that well," Pash replies with a shrug. "I hadn't even thought anything of it till just now, really. But, if it helps you somehow, I can say I'm glad." He smiles, sinking a little deeper under the blanket. Blazing turns around a few times in the stall, then settles down in a pile of hay.
Althea sighs contentedly. "Sleep well, Master Cobble," she says. Then getting to her feet, she walks toward a high window near the door and looks toward the moon and stars. "North, ever north," she whispers.