Benor woke up slowly. He was home or at least lying on the deck under the overhang of the cabin roof. This was where he had taken to sleeping in summer. He crawled out of his blankets and looked across the estuary, the tide was in. Hastily stripping he dropped a bucket over the side of the boat and allowed it to fill with sea water. He poured it over himself, and then took another bucket of river water out of a barrel and used that to wash the salt off.
He wasn’t in fact refreshed but he felt somewhat cleaner. He dressed and made his way into the cabin for breakfast. Tallis was staring dully at a mug of coffee. In silence, Benor poured himself a mug and cut a thick slice of bread for his breakfast. It was stale so he dunked it in the coffee before eating it. Feeling a little more human, he went through his pockets and pulled out a piece of paper. Scrawled on it were the words.
Tarrant Beck House
Five alars a week.
“Tallis, where’s Tarrant?”
“How the hell would I know, I’m the poet, you’re the cartographer.”
Benor sat in silence a little while and asked, “It was a long night.”
Tallis groaned. “I should have made my excuses and left.”
“Do many of the soirees and suchlike you attend end up like that one?”
Tallis drank his coffee like somebody taking medicine. He put the mug down. “No, thank all the gods that might be.”
Benor had long ago learned that the only way to get Tallis to open up when he was like this was to ask him for gossip. Give the poet half an opportunity and he’d wile away the time with a string of anecdotes.
“So, who was the lady in the coach with Grayer Thirsk?”
Tallis rallied a little. “Bunta Feelview. Forget her; she’s out of your reach.”
Benor wondered if Tallis had noticed her wink at him. “Oh, I hadn’t considered setting my cap at her.”
“Good, she’s Grader’s mistress. I think he’ll probably marry her if she’ll have him.”
“She looked too expensive for me anyway,” Benor commented.
“She’s a wealthy lady in her own right. I’ve organized a soiree or two for her over the years.” Tallis paused. “And I still don’t know where Tarrant is, Partann somewhere probably.”
Benor finished his bread and coffee in silence and quietly slipped away. There was a large map on the wall of the Harbour master’s office. This he studied, eventually going to the extent of getting the magnifying glass from his pouch, but finally, he found Tarrant. There was even a river marked running nearby which joined another, larger, stream before running into the sea at Slipshade. He assessed the distance; he should be able to walk it easily enough in two days. He sketched that part of the map and then thoughtfully made his way back to the barge. Tallis was out, so Benor fastened the scabbard of his long knife to his belt and rooted about under the bench seat until he found his backpack containing the tools of his trade and such clean clothes as he possessed. He left a note for Tallis and Shena explaining where he was going. This he placed on the table, held in place by the unwashed coffee cup Tallis had abandoned there. Then taking his staff, hat and cloak he left the barge. He crossed the estuary at the Roskadil ferry and in Roskadil he purchased bread, cheese, and ground coffee.
He took the Avitas road, following it for some miles before it forked. Checking his sketch map, he took the right fork and headed into rolling farmland. The road seemed incapable of following a straight line. It switched abruptly right or left for no real reason and Benor reckoned he’d traveled twice the distance he needed to. By late afternoon he decided he needed a break; ideally, he wanted somewhere to refill his water-bottle and beg some boiling water for coffee. As he walked along he noticed an indistinct track which led towards a copse. He stopped and sniffed carefully. Somebody had a wood fire. He turned off the road and followed the track. Even as he approached the thicket he could see a low hut screened by bushes and behind it a large vegetable garden.
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