They chose to honor Cros de Goslin, Bankol de Goslin, and Tamir of Kormar for slaughtering dozens of people and injuring hundreds! They rewarded this devastation because of the faux history of the game imitating war and not a sport! This is a game, not a bloodbath of epic destruction.
Hours later, Linsan was exhausted, burned, and covered in debris. She had blood caked across the fingertips on her left hand and her right wrist ached. Her boots felt like stones as she struggled to made her way over the ridge.
Behind her, Brook was equally tired. She groaned as she clasped the branches of the bushes that grew wild over the ridge. Her dress was ruined and her gloves shredded. They had lost her hat somewhere in the field along with yards of lace that had torn off her outfit.
Linsan reached the top and turned around.
Brook gasped and strained at the bushes.
Grabbing onto a thick branch of a nearby tree, Linsan inched down and held out her hand.
Brook looked at it for a second. For a moment, Linsan didn't think she would take it. Then Brook shrugged and grabbed Linsan's hand. With a grunt, she pulled herself up the steep embankment.
As soon as they were closer, Linsan slipped her arm around Brook's waist and helped her up to the top of the ridge. With the more voluminous parts of Brook's dress gone, their hips bumped together and she could feel her companion's body heat against her skin.
“Fine,” Brook said in a weary voice, “the heels were a bad idea.”
“They were pretty.”
“Right up to the point you missed and burned the laces.” Brook held up her bare foot. Flecks of dirt fell from her wiggling toes.
Linsan cringed. She had bruises down her right thigh and shin from the same mistake. “That was not our best practice round.”
With a gasp, Brook snatched her hand from Linsan's and turned away sharply. She leaned away from Linsan's grasp but didn't break out of the grip. “Not as bad as the time you set fire to your case.”
Linsan glanced at her case. It was scorched and dented. She had forgotten to seal it shut but fortunately the white flames from their musical attack didn't last long and the violin wasn't inside the case. She made a mental note to check the money her parents had secreted inside it to make sure the bills were still usable. Her mother's award pin was also in the case.
Then she realized her arm was still around Brook's waist. Slowly, she relaxed her grip and stepped away. Her fingers ran along the lace before they parted.
Brook looked at her, an unreadable expression on her face. Her cheeks were smeared with dirt and her makeup had run. It gave her eyes a smoky appearance, a hint of black and blue dusting underneath her eyes.
Linsan blushed. “What?”
Brook shook her head and looked away again. “Nothing.”
Feeling uncomfortable, She let out her breath in a long shuddering gasp as she looked around. The public house caught her attention, there were a dozen wagons pulled in front of it and at least twenty people sitting in chairs between wagons and the front of the inn. “Brook, look at that.”
“What's going on?”
“I don't know.” Linsan watched another wagon pull up. “You got your room before we did this, right? I don't think there are any openings left.”
“Two of them. One for me and another for you. Both of them were the best the place had to offer, plus hot bath services, and full meals. They don't know how to handle cars here, so I also paid for two horses.”
Surprised, Linsan could only stare. “Not the cheap room for me?”
“We're in this together, aren't we?” A ghost of a smile crossed Brook's face. “Come on, I really could use a bath and a dress that isn't utterly ruined.”
When Linsan noticed Brook limping, she held out her hand.
Brook stared at it. Her cheeks colored almost immediately. “No, I'm good.”
“Come on, I'm tired and not walking well either. A little support would help both of us.”
Brook's jaw tightened.
“It doesn't mean anything other than we're helping each other.” She shook her hand once.
Somehow, that made the blush only hotter. Brook looked down to grab one of the strands of ruined lace. She stared at it as she toyed with the end.
Linsan pulled her hand back. “Sorry.”
The gesture didn't seem to help Brook's sudden change in attitude.
“Come on,” Linsan said in a soft voice.
After Brook nodded, the two of them walked out from behind the mayor's house and up to the inn. Their footsteps were ragged and unsteady. Every step dragged Linsan down.
The front of the inn had tables set up along the wall for the entire length of the walk. There were more clustered around the base of the stairs on each side. Each table had a couple chairs around them.
The inn's guests appeared to be local farmers, hunters, and workers. Most of them had a strange symbol on them, a blue shield with two white lines down the middle. Linsan caught some of the conversations about a ball game between Saint Gaveil and Tercar.
Brook drew even with Linsan. “What is crashball?”
Linsan leaned over. “A rather violent game in these parts. Two teams try to get a ball to the opposite end using fists, kicks, and magic.”
“How do you know that?”
“The Widow of Balls, a short-lived play based on the final days of Cros de Goslin.”
“Oh, your mother.”
Linsan shook her head. “No. She doesn't like that type of play. Actually, a playwright named Tabil in town.”
“I know Tabil, he went to a lot of Daddy's parties. Always has a new girlfriend.”
“You mean he's a leech and keeps trying to bed my mother. H-He also owned the Sterlig my grandfather made. They borrowed it.”
Brook's jaw tightened. “Your mother's pride?”
Linsan nodded. Then she slowed as she noticed that conversations had died around her. The other customers were staring at the two of them, their eyes scanning them from head to toe. She could imagine what they were looking at, two women who looked like they gone through a battle.
With a blush, she hurried to the door and through the open door.
Inside, the main room was packed with more people wearing the blue and white. Almost as one, they looked up at the two women and the conversations trailed off.
With her cheeks burning, Linsan headed toward the side where there was a bar with bottles behind it.
One of the men in the chairs stood up. He was an older, balding man with weathered skin and rough hands. Dense, swirling tattoos reached out from his stained clothes to his elbows. Most of them were flower and leaf patterns. The designs reminded her of Old Gab's. “Hey, Har, you said the good rooms were taken by a pretty lady? That her?”
A man behind the bar looked up. He looked annoyed. “Yes, Cal. What's your point?”
“I just have to convince her to give me my room back?”
Brook stopped. She straightened and planted her fists on her hips.
The bartender spoke first in a sharp tone, “If you try, you'll upset the dame and she paid far more than you ever had. Not to mention, there is only one of her and she doesn't insist on jamming six in one room and never cleaning his shit.”
“I can't even ask?” Cal said. He glanced down at the people at his table and then back at Brook.
The bartender glared. “I'm going to kick you and yours out for the season. Given that every pub and inn is filled for ten leagues around Gaveil, you're going to either be sleeping in that wagon of yours or driving a long time and will miss the game.”
Cal looked at the bar. “How could you say that, Har? I come here every game, every time. You know I'm good.”
Har gestured to Brook. “Not tonight. She got the room first. You're going to have to share your cousin's room like everyone else. Why do you think I'm not serving beans tonight?”
A ripple of laughter filled the room.
Linsan cringed and glanced around.
Cal cracked his knuckles and looked over Brook. “Well, that all said, welcome to our humble little village, Dame.” He took a deep bow to her.
Brook nodded curtly.
“Though, I'd be honored if you be willing to share your room with me,” he said with a grin. “I'm a considerate lover. Just me, though, none of these—”
“Shut your mouth, Cal,” Har said with a warning tone. “She's a lady and you are not.”
Brook held up her pale hand. “Additionally, I'd rather sleep with a venomous snake on a bad day than get anywhere near you. I find those…” She gestured to his hands. “… markings to be disgusting and wouldn't deign to have them anywhere near my body.”
Linsan cringed at her sharp tone.
Cal looked down at his reddish brown skin and tattooed elbows. For a moment, there was a silence, then he laughed loudly. It was a booming laugh but no one else in the room had joined him.
A man at his table patted his hand. “Just sit down and shut up. You're going to get us kicked out.”
The laughter stopped. Cal looked around while his smile dropped from his face. “Shit,” he muttered.
The bartender pointed to the door.
Cal's face darkened. “I'll come back when I've sobered.”
“That would be best,” said the bartender.
No one else said anything.
Pushing himself away from the table, Cal walked past them. “My apologies,” he said curtly before leaving.
Brook strode past Linsan and headed straight for the bar.
Linsan didn't know if she should follow or remain in place.
At the bar, Brook spoke the bartender for a few moments before coming back. “Do you want the hot bath first? There is only one tub upstairs and it takes about an hour to heat.”
Linsan looked at Brook's ruined outfit. “No, you. You need it far more than me. I can wait.”
“Thank you.” There was something else she was about to say. Linsan could see it in her eyes. Brook closed her mouth and sighed. Shaking her head, she finally said, “I-I should go.”
Linsan waited until Brook headed upstairs for the bath before she looked around. The room was crowded. Even Cal's seat had been taken by someone else.
Holding her violin case close, she headed outside to find a table to wait for one to open inside. The tables outside were just as crowded except for the furthest one where Cal sat on the edge of the lights.
Linsan toyed with the idea of taking a walk but then decided she was tired of trails or sitting in the Glasscoaster. She headed to the table with Cal.
“Don't worry, I won't say anything else,” he said in a low voice. “I've been coming here since I was a boy, I'm not going to make myself any more of a horse's ass.”
“It's been a long day for both of us. A lot of travel and then….” She had no idea how to explain their practice.
“We heard.” Cal chuckled. “We could also feel it through the ground. Whatever you were doing behind the mayor's place was pretty loud.”
She didn't know how to explain or even respond. She sat down gingerly and set the case in front of her. Without trusting Cal, she rested one hand on the surface after wrapping the strap on her other hand.
“That a music maker?”
“Yes, a violin.”
“I don't know what that is.”
Linsan shrugged. “It's used in plays, orchestras, and other music. Think of it like a fiddle.”
“Plays? You known what? Tomorrow you should head over to the north side and look for an old goat on a hill. Not a real one, just a cranky old woman in a cabin.”
He smiled broadly and nodded. “Ah, Gab. She is the sweetest woman in the entire world.”
Linsan gave him a hard look.
“Of course, she is also wrapped in a thick layer of thorns, poisonous berries, and thistles,” he ended with a snort. He turned his shoulder to show his tattoo. “I take you met my aunt.”
Linsan could help but smile also.
Cal rubbed his belly. He was stocky but there was still muscles underneath his hairy arms. “I'll tell you what, Mum was happy to leave this town. We may have started here in town, but now the only family I have left here are Old Gab and Mis. Everyone else blew away in the winds once we lost our roots.”
“My cousin, the blacksmith.”
When Linsan didn't say anything, Cal spoke up again. “You play?”
“I'm learning how to busk.”
“It's been a long day.”
He reached back and pulled something out of his pocket. He pushed it across the table to her. It was a money clip with a bundle of orange cards. “Please? Show me what Old Gab hears? She's been talking about music for years but I never understood. I never had the ears for it, but I have a feeling you do. Maybe, if I could understand, then maybe I can see her smile again.”
Linsan stared at the money clip for a long moment. She was exhausted and tired, but the lure of music called to her. She didn't care about the money as much as feeling the bow hum in her hand.
She unlocked her case and pulled out her instrument.