Heads turn to stare at the woman who limps into their village; they can’t help it. Theirs is a small community, and many are poor, yet some of them look like kings compared to this stranger.
Her dress is torn, ragged, some pieces of it trailing on the ground, and crusted with a large amount of dried blood and mud. The same is on her face and in her hair, though less of it – it’s still possible to make out an odd-shaped scar under her right eye, though none of them can be sure what exact shape it is.
One of the men walks to her, looks her up and down, and makes a suggestion she doesn’t seem to like; there is a chink and a scrape of metal, her hand travels to her hip, and, in less than a second, she has a simple, roughly-smithed dagger at his throat. She’s breathing heavily, blue eyes gleaming in heavy contrast to her dark hair. She’s a wild thing, covered in blood, muck and danger, and he’s very still, staring at her like a cornered animal. The women are watching in horror, because they don’t do that, but a few of them feel a small, sinful admiration, wish they had a dagger at their hip, too.
The stranger’s words are quiet, through gritted teeth, but a few manage to make out the words “tavern” and “now”.
Women don’t do that, either.
The man seems about to nod, then, the dagger still at his throat, thinks better of it. He points, arm and hand shaking; she stands there, follows his arm with her eyes, and, after a long, tense moment, nods. Another beat, and she removes the dagger from his throat and walks briskly onwards.
She doesn’t even seem to have noticed the frozen, open-mouthed villagers.
List is going through the boxes of old files when he scrapes his hand on something, and, hissing in pain, brings the offending item out to scold it.
It’s a jagged piece of something that might once have been metal, blackened beyond recognition, and he considers it, turning it over in his hands and examining it, before shrugging and tossing it in the “to throw away” pile.
He hears footsteps behind him, and the sound of several pieces of paper being knocked over, sheets fluttering. He curses, remembering his careful filing, but hears the sound of them being hastily gathered up again. There’s a small “oh”, and he knows it’s Melinda standing at the door.
A rustle, and then she’s stepping in front of him, holding the hunk of metal, examining it as he did. “I… haven’t seen this in a while,” she murmurs quietly, and he frowns. She meets his eye, asks, “What pile is this for?”
“The throwaway pile,” he answers, gesturing to it.
She nods, and her eyes – now back on the chunk – are far away. “Yes… yes… good.” What he’s said seems to register after a pause, and she beams at him. “Excellent.” He notices, as he always does when she smiles, that the scar under her eye stretches slightly as her eyes crinkle.