From Haruspex 3: A Walking Shadow - by E.M. Swift-Hook.
The big man, with his little dog trotting at his heels, walked out of the Tavern quietly and without waking anyone. Which was probably just as well, Archanbor decided, as Ritter wasn’t in a good mood. He didn’t like being locked up. Outside the streets of Keran were mostly deserted and Archanbor moved with silent speed avoiding those few who were up and around.
“No point startling folks is there Ritter?” Archanbor observed as he opened up the low shed beside the workshops attached to the space port. The small dog seemed to agree and watched as his master rolled the heavy felt cloth back over the body of a PTV.
“Well, if he’d not locked us up I’d have offered him a fair hire price – but he doesn’t bloody deserve it now – that was so not a nice thing to do.”
“What isn’t nice, Drum?”
Archanbor spun on his heel and would have fired if Ritter hadn’t barked a sharp warning and run over to sniff at the figure standing in the door, his tail wagging happily.
“Pan? You look as beautiful as ever,” Archanbor opened his arms to offer her a hug. She didn’t move from the doorway, just stood there arms crossed all disapproving.
“You borrowing Gernie’s PTV then Drum?”
Archanbor lowered his arms sheepishly and tucked the energy snub away out of sight. He nodded.
“Oh aye. I was planning on it. Me and Ritts we need to get to Tabruth and it’s a bloody parlous long walk and swim if not.”
Pan nodded agreement.
“It would be. Not at all safe,” she agreed. “So what business do you and Ritter have in Tabruth? I hear that’s where the Overlord has his capital – you got trade with him, Drum?”
Archanbor rubbed his nose a few times and glanced down at Ritter for inspiration.
“Of a sort,” he said eventually.
Pan looked almost stern.
“You mean – your old trade? The one you promised Ritter you’d give up?”
That was so not fair. Even Ritter growled.
“What’s it bloody matter to you?” Archanbor demanded.
“To me? Not much. But to you it could matter. I know for a fact the Overlord has visitors right now and they are a bit out of your league for nowadays, Drum. I just wouldn’t want to see – see Ritter get hurt.”
Which showed what little she knew.
“If I don’t go Ritter will get hurt. And it’s not like I’m going to drop anyone. Just borrow – like I’m borrowing Tavi’s PTV. It’ll all be fine in the end.”
Pan was shaking her head.
“You go borrowing people you could wind up breaking them, Drum. You don’t want that. We’re all getting too old for it. Why don’t you come have a cup of tea with me before you go, at the least? I got a biscuit for Ritter too.”
He looked at the little dog who was standing head on one side.
“He’s not been eating biscuits recently. I think he’s off them,” Archanbor shot a worried look at Pan. “You think he might be not so well?”
She looked anywhere but at the dog, her face considering.
“He might be. If he is, taking him off out to Tabruth won’t help him get any better. Why not come have that tea and let him curl up by my fire for a few, Drum? Maybe that’ll help him some.”
Ritter barked and showed what he thought of that idea. Archanbor laughed. He wouldn’t be sorry to have some tea, it might help settle out his hangover.
“Alright, lass – and thank you.”
Pan’s domain was always a mix of the domestic and the workaday. She scooped a mug of tea for each of them from the pot and then stirred the embers of the fire to life and put a small log on to burn, before joining him and allowing a space for Ritter on the small rug before the hearth.
“A fine brew this, Pan,” Archanbor told her.”You know if you had not up and bloody married I’d be making you a proposal myself.”
“You’d be in the queue then Drum,” she said, her tone good natured. “But you know, you could always settle down here – find someone nice who’s local. You know you have a lot of friends here, people who’d be glad to see you stay. And Gernie would appreciate the help you could give – he could probably even get you on the official payroll. It would be steady for you – and Ritter, of course.”
She meant well. She always did. Heart of gold – like Gernie. He shook his head.
“Bit late for that now.”
Pan shot him a strange look, like he’d said something rude.
“It’s never too late, Drum. You just stop running, sit down, put your feet up and root in. It’s what I did. And how many other places have you got good friends? People who will look out for you?”
“I have Ritter,” Archanbor told her, smiling slightly at the little dog.
“Of course you do – and you’ll always have him. But maybe he’d like it if you settled down? No more running all over the galaxy.”
Archanbor thought about it and looked enquiringly at the little dog. Honestly, sometimes it was as if Ritter could read his thoughts.
“What you think Ritts? Should we take Auntie Pan’s advice? She’s bloody right you know.”
The small dog yawned and stretched then stood up and put his head on one side.
“What does Ritter think then?” Pan was asking, looking towards the fire.
“I’d say that looks more like he thinks we ought to be getting going,” Archanbor said, feeling just a touch regretful. It would be good to be able to sit here, drink the tea and then maybe spend the day working on mending or building something. He’d enjoyed that in the past. “Maybe when we get back. Maybe then. What you think to that Ritts?”
The wagging tail said it all.
“It might be a bit late then,” Pan said quietly. Archanbor laughed.
“Make your bloody mind up, lass. First, you’re telling me it’s never too late and then you’re saying it will be.”