Wisdom's Kiss: A Thrilling and Romantic Adventure Incorporating Magic, Villainy, and a Cat
- ISBN 13:
- ISBN 10:
- Edition: Reprint
- Format: Paperback
- Copyright: 01/15/2013
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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A LIFE UNFORESEEN
The Story of Fortitude of Bacio, Commonly Known as Trudy, as Told to Her Daughter
Privately Printed and CirculatedTRUDY’S SIGHT revealed itself one warm summer night when the child was no older than three.
The Duke’s Arms had been lively all evening, denying Trudy’s mother even a minute to put her to bed, for Eds made it clear that customers always came first, and Mina was the inn’s sole server. Trudy, however, was an easy child, happy to play in a kitchen corner with her yarn doll and tattered little basket, her head a halo of auburn curls streaked with gold. So settled, she did not observe the stranger’s arrival or his demand for a meal and a room, and right quick with them both. Nor for that matter did anyone else pay notice to this rawboned traveler missing half an earlobe, for dusty foreigners stopped there daily. Mina was just beginning to serve him when Trudy wandered in from the kitchen, caught sight of the man, and began to scream.
The room quieted at once, and Mina rushed over to take her away. Yet Trudy stood unbudging. "Go!" she shrieked, pointing at the stranger with one small shaking finger. "Go away! Go away! Go away!"
The man flinched at the clamor, and more so at the two dozen pairs of eyes now focused upon him. He flicked a hand toward Trudy and demanded that Eds take the brat from earshot; this place was supposed to be an inn for God’s sake, not a damned madhouse.
That may have been the man’s gravest mistake, for while Eds readily agreed about the racket, he abided no criticism of his beloved Duke’s Arms. He also knew, with the innate discernment of a successful host, that though this fatherless child meant little to him, she was a favorite with the locals, unlike, say, the miller’s youngest son, who—everyone agreed—was a rascal through and through. The regulars who kept the Duke’s Arms solvent during the lean summer months were now muttering among themselves, uneasy about this stranger who so distressed their wee sweet Trudy.
Eds thus, without another moment’s consideration, ordered him to leave.
"Ye can’t toss me out!" the man spat back. "This is a public hostel, it is, and I’ve nowhere else to sleep!"
"It’s my establishment, and I operates as I please," Eds replied coolly. "Besides, I hear tell the heavens make a very fine blanket"—a riposte, it should be confessed, that he had wielded many times, always to widespread mirth. His patrons laughed now, but smiles faded as the stranger cursed Eds and with cold viciousness described his imminent and painful demise. It was only Eds’s girth, and cudgel, that got the stranger past the threshold, and no one objected when Eds slammed the door behind him.
Trudy’s mother by this time had managed to carry her up to their attic bed, though her wails reverberated through the building. The public rooms emptied soon thereafter, the locals heading home in twos and threes, and in twos and threes they searched their barns and outbuildings before locking every door, so unnerved were they by the child’s reaction, and by the stranger’s ruthless air. Trudy continued to sob about the awful man "out there" until Mina finally took her outside to see the empty road for herself. The girl peered through the moonlight in every direction and, inexplicably calmed, fell asleep on her mother’s shoulder.
Oh, how tongues wagged the next morning, and, oh, how the inn’s patrons were teased. What was Eds adding to his beer, the wives asked, that made men fearful old maids? Did a child’s tantrum turn Bacio into a village of milksops? Sheepishly the men shrugged, unable themselves to explain their spooked reaction to one ill-tempered customer. Vindication arrived soon enough, for not halfway through morning chores a squad of soldiers rode into town—imperial soldiers, not the duke’s preening guards, and their weapons were polished from use, not show. Halting at the Duke’s Arms, they asked if anyone had seen a lone traveler, a gaunt man with a severed ear. Eds had only begun to answer when the soldiers wheeled and galloped off toward the pass.
Well. Chores now stopped outright, and pigs and children whined unfed as the good folk of Bacio clustered to gossip over this unprecedented turn of events. Henpecked husbands stood tall, pointing out that their women were right grateful now. Little Trudy, muzzy yet from lack of sleep, received numerous kisses for being the first to notice the villain in their midst.
How much of a villain they did not learn until late that afternoon, when the soldiers returned grimly bearing two bodies: one of their own, who in searching an abandoned shepherd’s hut had drawn his weapon too late, and the mangled-ear stranger, whom the squad then set upon and killed at last. This man, the soldiers explained, had robbed and murdered his way across the empire, seeking in particular backwoods inns, and as evidence they displayed the wealth of a dozen victims found in his pack. How had the villagers known to turn him away? For otherwise they’d be burying, not chattering, this sunset.
All eyes turned to Trudy playing tag with the miller’s boy. She could provide no explanation other than that the man had "looked bad," and shyly she asked if she could pet the ponies. Smiling, the sergeant hoisted her up to stroke the nose of his majestic warhorse, and over her copper curls he informed the villagers that they owed this child their lives.
Needless to say, the residents of Bacio began observing Trudy, and so noticed that she had a talent for staying out of trouble (unlike Tips, the miller’s boy, who would dance on the rooftops like the very devil himself). She was always elsewhere when Eds flew into one of his great rages, and often would coax Mina away as well before the man began seeking targets for his ire. When one day Trudy happened upon Tips and two other boys taunting Lloyds’s prize new ram, she begged Tips to play with her instead—to which he readily acceded, for they were the dearest of friends—and therefore the lad was (for once) innocent when the enraged ram burst from his pen, never to be seen again. Yet when young women asked Trudy to prophesy their true love, or Eds sought her opinion of an odd-looking customer, she could only shake her head sadly. Soon, ashamed that she provoked such disappointment, she took to hiding herself away at the approach of any would-be supplicant.
So, they concluded, the girl did have a talent. It was not magic, to be sure—there was no such thing as magic, and any fool claiming otherwise would end up in an asylum, or worse—but a certain limited gift. Tips in his inimitable fashion put it best: "It’s simple, really: all the feeling most folks get after something happens, Trudy just happens to feel before." Phrased that way, then, yes, the girl could often see the future, but only her own, and the potential futures of those she loved—sometimes the near future, sometimes not for days hence. But she could not always see enough to avert trouble, and certainly not when it mattered most.
The day the beggar woman limped into town, Trudy, now aged ten, was hanging sheets to dry and so did not observe the woman pass from house to house seeking aid for her sick baby. Nor would Trudy speak, ever, of what her sight revealed when finally she laid eyes on the pair. But from her hysteria, and the sobbing manner she clung to her mother, the residents of Bacio knew it could not bode well. In the days that followed, the deadly fever claimed one life after another, and while some survivors muttered that Trudy should have done more to warn them all, the compassionate pointed out that the girl suffered as much as anyone, and praised how she had nursed her mother without respite until the woman left this earth.
But in truth they rarely paid much attention to Trudy at all. The girl’s sight was her own private blessing and her own private curse. The villagers had grief and toil enough, with no time for needless woolgathering. Yes, Trudy was an orphan now with nowhere to go, but others had it worse, others without a pretty face or that mass of Titian curls.
So alone, Trudy had no option but to remain at the Duke’s Arms as servant and drudge, her only solace in Tips, who had lost his father in the fever. Such was her life, its cramped bonds of village and labor, and such her life would doubtless have remained forever, were it not for the thunderbolt of upheaval that the world now knows as Wisdom’s Kiss.
Memoirsof theMaster SwordsmanFELIS EL GATOImpresario Extraordinair—Soldier of FortuneMercenary of Stage & EmpireLORD OF THE LEGENDARYFIST OF GODFamed Throughout the Courts and Countries of the World&The Great SultanateTHE BOOTED MAESTROWritten in His Own Hand~All Truths Verified~All Boasts RealA Most Marvelous Entertainment,Not to Be Missed!
THIS DAY I WAS TRAVELING SOLO. My latest endeavor had failed, and the great campaigns for which I would become universally renowned were as yet only a promise, though a promise that burned in my breast with unwavering fire. Retaining a powerful memory of the reprobates I had encountered at Devil’s Rift, I chose prudence over valor and crossed into Farina via Alpsburg Pass. This route I found delightful in the extreme, for the alpine valleys in the heat of summer present no hardship beyond the cicadas, which crowd the forest treetops in such numbers that their screeching threatens to deafen the hapless traveler. Hardened by the cacophony of war, however, I greeted the buzzing uproar with a cheery smile and, doffing my hat toward their arboreal realm, wished the creatures success in their amorous pursuits.Thus it was that I entered the village of Bacio lost in my own thoughts and ambitions, and thus would I have departed had I not paused to rinse the dust from my brow in a tributary that flowed aside my route. The residents of Bacio, industrious as ants, had dammed the stream with rocks and earth, creating a pond that fed a mill, the wheel of which turned with inexorable solemnity. I was descending the bank to dip my cravat, my weathered boots almost touching the dark water, when all other notions were chased from my brain by a most extraordinary sight.
Crouched on the opposite shore on the edge of the mill race were two children perhaps of twelve years, a redheaded girl and a boy with hair as sleek as an otter’s, each sporting an expression of profound anticipatory mischief. The boy, nut brown with only a scrap of cloth about his middle, kept his eyes locked on the girl’s face, his body taut with expectation. The girl in turn focused on the window of the great stone mill abutting the pond. Though I could perceive no activity within the structure, she shook her head slightly, and the boy settled back on his heels. Within a few heartbeats—and much to my surprise at her keen foresight—a scowling young man appeared, his hair dusted with flour. He glared out the window at the children, who feigned ignorance of his presence. The man lingered, doubtless hoping to witness their disobedience; the girl, I noticed, kept watch from the corner of her eye, and after a bit made a slight hand gesture to her companion. What she observed I could not tell, but the sullen man soon after disappeared from sight. Without warning, the boy leapt from his crouched position and landed, balanced as a cat, on the water wheel. As the massive wheel rose, dripping water like a leviathan, the boy effortlessly adjusted his footing on the mossy boards, his arms spread wide; reaching its apex, he launched himself into the air, arcing arrow-straight over the pond. He flipped twice and plunged into the dark water, scarcely raising a ripple.
Breathless as a maiden awaiting her lover did I watch for that black hair to reappear. Never in my life had I witnessed such capability, such physical acumen, in an individual so obviously untrained. That a village imp could conduct himself with so much strength and power left me dumbstruck. Once again, destiny had led me to my El Dorado.***
The boy—christened Tomas Müller, though in this small hamlet known by the curious sobriquet of Tips—had sprung from a family of loutish millers much as a glorious rose might bloom, most remarkably, in a thicket of thorns. Indeed, the contrast between his talents and his two sulking older brothers reminded me so much of myself at that age that I redoubled my commitment to rescue the boy from this dismal hinterland and present him to the world and the acclaim that were so clearly his due.
Unfortunately, the brothers considered Tomas not so much sibling as slave. The eldest son, who had recently inherited the mill, demanded in no uncertain terms that Tomas remain in their service indefinitely. Emulating in every way the ass that was the second brother’s prize possession, the two young men stubbornly declared that he could not depart their workplace for even a day.
Yet again, my singular powers of persuasion were put to the test; polishing my silver tongue, and recognizing all too well that descriptions ofglorywould only set their heels more firmly in opposition, I appealed to the young men’s patriotism—and to their purses. Would not the career of a . . . soldier—guardian of empire, defender of justice, well compensated in victory—serve the family fortunes? Observing the attention paid my talk ofcompensation,I pressed the point by offering remuneration for their brother’s labor. Haggling commenced. For a few gold coins it was determined I would take the boy for my apprentice—as I at that point bore no knighthood, he sadly could not serve as page—for a period of eight years. His future beyond that day would lie in his own two hands. Having no regard whatsoever for the boy’s talent, the brothers left the table convinced he would then return to their service, a misconception I made no effort to rectify, as it would have only magnified the price of Tomas’s indenture.Our conference concluded, I stepped outside to find the boy awaiting me, his few possessions in a sack that had quite recently held flour. How he learned of our negotiations I cannot say, as the room was quite preserved from eavesdroppers, but learn he plainly had, for he was now outfitted in stout boots and traveling clothes, a worn cap on his damp locks. His companion, her sweet face marked by tears, clutched his hand, and well could I understand her pain: the boy was already as handsome a specimen of humanity as ever I have observed. Attracting benefactresses, I could see, would not be a problem; the challenge would lie in the delicate deflection of female admirers.Tomas proffered the girl his goodbyes with a maturity and tenderness that moved my heart; with his every gesture I rejoiced further on the brilliance of my acquisition. Verifying that he would be able to correspond regularly with "Trudy"—indeed, demanding my word and handshake on this matter—he gave her a final embrace and set his pace to mine."I am ready," he announced with a most charming gravity, "to begin my adventures."