She was back again, with her braid of hair on the cusp between blonde and brown hanging down her back, quartering the early morning pine forest with her eyes on the ground. After he’d seen her the first time he’d taken greater pains to hide his traces but, despite her bow and trousers she did not seem to be a militiaman but simply a mushroom gatherer. It was the time of year for it, autumn full of morning mists, and she carried a solid, square-based basket with cloth bags for the different varieties to carry her collection.
There were a number of things he could do about her but she hadn’t found his small camp yet and she didn’t seem to have noticed his presence so there was nothing he had to do, yet. Besides, he liked the look of her. She gave him thoughts he hadn’t thought he would have, carrying out his mission on this side of the mountains.
“Infiltration,” the voice inside his head reminded him. “One of your goals is infiltration. By the look of her, she’s old enough to marry and you like the look of her. Depending on how this mission ends you can either carry her back to Ergo with you over your shoulder or you can be her clever husband who’s made his peace with the new rulers, if you still want her by then.”
The geas had a point. Even as a suitor he’d have a reason to find out about the town she lived in. He was black haired but he wasn’t obviously a Wussan, otherwise he’d never have been selected for this job. As long as his accent was convincing, his cover story should hold.
“So speak to her, thick head! Or are you scared of some little rim-realm wench?” The geas’ job was to prod, he got that but it would help if it didn’t talk to him as if he were an idiot to do it.
He swarmed quickly down the tree and then stepped out from behind its trunk. “Hello.”
She turned quickly on the spot, her hand going straight to one of the little knives she used to cut the mushrooms. “Who are you?”
“My name’s Anensis. I came up here from the south looking for work in a warmer climate over winter. I can’t afford an inn until I get work, so I’m camping out. You?”
“I’m Damson.” She seemed to be judging the distance between them. “I’m a forager. This is mushroom season and this pine wood is one of my picking grounds. I don’t suppose you’ve seen any violet-blue cups anywhere have you? There are some in here but they don’t seem to have cropped yet this year.”
“I can’t say as I have,” Anensis admitted. “Violet-blue doesn’t sound edible.”
“They’re not,” Damson agreed. “They do have other uses and I have a buyer.”
“Come back to my camp and have a mug of something hot with me?” It was worth asking.
She stepped back. “Thank you but I don’t know you, so no thank you.”
He shrugged. “Ah well, you can’t blame me for asking. Perhaps I’ll see you in town sometime?”
“Perhaps, now if you’ll excuse me I have work to do. Goodbye.” She turned and didn’t quite flee to another part of the wood.
“Goodbye,” he called after her.
“As a beginning, that could have gone worse,” commented the geas in his head. “Later today we go into town I think, don’t you?”
“Yes,” agreed Anensis quietly but aloud. “I think I’ll give her knives as a love gift when we get that far, proper knives for dealing with two-legged predators like me.”