Deepwoods - Honor Raconteur

To Darby Ann – a faithful friend and companion for many years.

You will be sorely missed.

The only way to make a man trustworthy is to trust him.

-- Henry L. Stimson

Siobhan leaned back in her chair, propped her boots up on the table, and sighed with ultimate contentment. Truly, today couldn’t be going better. She sat within her guildhall, enjoying the peace while it lasted. Sylvie had pulled one of her trading schemes that borderlined magic and found a small bag of chocolate. Siobhan had promptly confiscated it and volunteered herself as a taste-tester. Just to make sure it wasn’t poisoned, of course. For the sake of the guild.

A sizeable bowl of warmed chocolate sat at her elbow, another bowl of fresh strawberries next to it, and she dipped the fruit liberally before popping it into her mouth. No signs of poison yet, but it might take three or four strawberries before the poison took effect. These things took time after all. Easing back even further into her padded rocking chair, she snagged another strawberry and coated it nice and thick with chocolate.

“Siobhan!” Sylvie called from the front of the Hall.

Siobhan paused with the strawberry halfway to her mouth and cautiously looked toward the door. The sunshine outside was strong enough to make the room look dim, casting Sylvie and a strange man in shadow, so she couldn’t make out much. It didn’t look like any sort of trouble to her, though. “Yes, Sylvie?”

“Someone wishes to speak to you!”

Well that certainly left the door of possibilities wide open. “One or two?”


Four? Eyebrows quirked, she called back, “Bring him to me.”

As Sylvie escorted the stranger inside, Siobhan popped the strawberry into her mouth and chewed, watching the man carefully. He didn’t pay much attention to her at first, his eyes roving over the Hall instead. He took in everything from the high vaulted ceilings with their wooden rafters to the stone tiled floor, square oak tables, chairs, and the rounded bar in the far corner. She’d bought the two-story building ten years ago cheap from a failing guild and it was twice the size they actually needed. She kept thinking they’d grow to fit it, but it never seemed to happen.

His perusal of the Hall gave her time to study him without being caught staring. He didn’t look like much. Of average height and build, he was far from physically imposing, and nothing about his features really stood out. Slightly shaggy blond hair, oval glasses that masked his eyes, clean-shaven fair skin, and an air of harmlessness. The only thing distinguished about him was his clothes. That thick wool sweater, dark suede jacket, and black trousers all said money from the way they fit him so well. His polished half-boots alone probably cost as much as her monthly salary. Now, what was a rich boy like him doing in a small guild like hers? Escort service? Men of his wealth normally went to the larger guilds. Actually, men like him didn’t make their own travel arrangements at all but had one of their servants do it for them.

His eyes finally turned toward her and took her in from head to toe in a quick scan. He didn’t look surprised by her dark auburn hair, green eyes, or fair skin—all of which were somewhat unusual in this corner of the world. It made her think that he’d done some asking around before coming here. She took her boots off the table as he stopped in front of her and stood to give him a proper greeting, hand outstretched.

“Siobhan Maley, Guildmaster of Deepwoods.”

“Markl Hammon,” he responded in a surprisingly pleasant tenor, grasping her forearm in a firm warrior’s clasp. “Light and peace upon you, Guildmaster Maley.”

“Likewise.” Just plain Markl Hammon? No mention of guild or family connections? He couldn’t possibly be related to Nuel Hammon, founding Guildmaster of Silver Moon, could he? The way he politely responded to her with Winziane greetings made her think so. No wonder Sylvie had said four. “Sit, please. Might I offer a strawberry?”

“Ahhh…” he paused and glanced at both bowls. “It looks very inviting, thank you. I saw you dip one into the chocolate. I’ve never seen that done before.” His statement tilted up in tone, making it into a question.

“A habit of my own making,” she admitted cheerfully. “It’s quite divine that way. Try it,” she encouraged, and not just out of generosity. Much could be learned by offering people food, but it also went against her culture