Free Novel Saturday: Star Song, Chapters 3 & 4

Simple Star Song artIn the spirit of Christmas generosity, today I’m posting TWO chapters of Star Song. Coming in in the middle? The whole thing starts here with Chapter 1 and an explanation.


Star Song

By Edward Willett

Chapter 3

The rain soaked Kriss to the skin before he had gone twenty steps down the road that seemed to lead most directly to the inviting sounds. Shivering, miserable, he hardly noticed when a passing groundcar splashed him waist-high.

I should have spent more time with the lieutenant, he thought, his teeth chattering. All night, maybe. He hoped his backpack and the leather wrapping were at least keeping the touchlyre dry.

He finally spotted the inn a short distance down the first side street he came to. Laughter and warm yellow light spilled into the rainy night as someone entered. Kriss broke into a splashing run and a moment later pushed open the front door.

Thirty or forty people, all Farrsians, filled the cozy stone-walled common room, along with smoke from the huge fireplace in the far wall and a savory smell of roasting meat that drifted in from the kitchen, somewhere off to the left. Kriss asked a passing waiter where he could find the innkeeper, and gratefully accepted the offer to wait by the fire. He threaded his way across the sawdust-strewn floor and stood as close as he could to the blaze, steaming.

After a while he turned to give his back a chance to dry, too, and took a better look at the room. Nothing in it gave a hint that ships leaped to the stars from only a quarter of a mile away. The smoke-blackened beams in the ceiling, the furniture of golden farssa wood, even the clientele, could have belonged to the little inn in Black Rock.

“What d’you want?” said someone to his right, and he turned to see a bald, wrinkled man a full foot shorter than himself squinting up at him suspiciously.

“Are you the innkeeper, sir?”

“I am. What of it?”

“I’ve just arrived in Stars’ Edge, and I’m looking for work. I wondered if—”

“Forget it.”

“But I’ll do anything,” Kriss said desperately. “Wash dishes, wait on tables, make beds—”

The innkeeper snorted. “Kid, there are a thousand like you rattling around this city. They come from the villages to make their fortunes. The smart ones go home.” He squinted at Kriss’s blond hair, plastered to his skull. “You’re an offworlder,” he said accusingly. “Why do you want to work in a Farrsian inn?”

“I grew up in Black Rock.”

The old man turned away. “Then go home. I’ve got no work for you.”

“Can you at least point me to another inn?” Kriss pleaded.

“Kid, I can point you to Salazar himself, if you want me to. But even he can’t give you a job when there’s none available.”

Kriss looked at him blankly. “Salazar? Who’s Salazar?”

“Anton Salazar? Controls half the town?” Kriss shrugged, and the innkeeper shook his head. “You really are new, aren’t you? All right, I’ll tell you where to find another inn. But it won’t do you any good.”

“I have to try.”

“Suit yourself.” He gave Kriss brief directions, then had a waiter usher him out.

Kriss set out in the wind and rain again, thoughts bleak, his hope leeching away as quickly as the warmth of the inn’s fire did when the door closed behind him. If all the innkeepers felt the same way…

Three hours later he knew they did. He visited eight inns. Some were as rustic as the first. Some were as modern as the police station. It didn’t matter. At two they threw him out at first sight. At the remaining six he heard a variation on the first innkeeper’s theme. The city was glutted with cheap labor, young people who came to the city to escape the villages. Most of them went home. Some of them starved…or worse.

At the eighth inn, one of the old-fashioned ones, the owner, though she didn’t offer him work, at least took pity on him and fed him soup and bread at a table near the fire. As he ate, he asked her, as he had asked all the others, what other inns he might try. He’d already been to all the ones she named.

“Well, then, you’ve tried them all.” She paused, frowning. “Except…”

Kriss paused with his soup spoon halfway to his mouth. “Except?”

“Andru’s. But that’s not a Farrsian inn. Andru is an offworlder. He caters to shipcrews—offers all kinds of outlandish food and drink, and a place to sleep off-ship. None of them ever stay in our inns,” she added bitterly.

“An offworlder?” Kriss felt a stirring of renewed hope. “Why didn’t anyone else mention him?”

The innkeeper raised her hands. “Now, wait a minute, lad. You may both be offworlders, but Andru is still a poor bet. He’s a strange man, with a whipcrack temper.”

“I have to try, unless there’s somewhere else…”

“There isn’t. Not for you. There are other places, south of the spaceport, but you’ll stay away from them if you know what’s good for you.”

Kriss nodded thoughtfully, thanked the innkeeper, and finished his meal. Then he set out into the cold and wet one more time, following the directions she had given him.

Andru’s was a mile distant, close to the spaceport. Plodding along the all-but-deserted streets, Kriss had far too much time to ponder what he would do if Andru turned him away, as predicted.

“I can always take up begging,” he muttered. “Or…” He swallowed, thinking of those “other places” the woman had mentioned. He wouldn’t go there, he thought. Not ever.

But he couldn’t help wondering how many other kids had once made exactly the same promise to themselves—and broken it when they got cold and hungry enough.

The warmth he had soaked up with his soup and bread was only a pleasant but hard-to-recall memory when at last he stood in front of Andru’s. To his surprise, it looked as rustic as the first he had visited: two stories, wood and plaster, with a steeply sloping slate roof and two tall, red-brick chimneys. Blue smoke rose and faded away into the wet black sky above the streetlights’ glare.

Kriss mounted the weathered wooden porch and stepped through the big steel-bound door into the common room.

At first sight it, too, was pure Farrsian. Its polished wooden floor glowed orange in the light of the fire crackling in an enormous stone hearth to his left. Rough black beams spanned the ceiling, and a long bar made of black stormwood, matching the tables and chairs, stretched across the opposite wall, a brass rail gleaming at its base.

But the room was lit not only by the fire, but also by glowing white spheres suspended on almost-invisible wires, and behind the bar red, blue and yellow liquids bubbled and frothed in convoluted tubes of chrome and glass. As Kriss watched, the barkeeper, a gray-haired giant of a man, drew a tiny glass of smoking green fluid from the machinery and handed it to a thin, black-skinned woman.

A strange quiet also gripped the room; the dozen or so patrons, all offworlders, sat talking to one another in low voices. The only other sounds were the crackling of the fire and the gurgling of the bar machinery. Kriss felt like an intruder, though no one had even looked up when he entered.

He wiped his feet and walked across to the barkeeper, who was pouring something from a golden can into a funnel in the machinery. “I don’t sell liquor to children,” he said without looking around.

Caught off guard, Kriss said nothing, and the big man turned to face him. “Well?”

“Uh—I’m looking for Andru.”

The barkeeper crushed the can with an easy squeeze of his hand. “You’ve found him.” He tossed the crumpled container into a chute in the wall.

Kriss blinked and examined the man more closely. Even for an offworlder, Andru was tall, as well as broad-shouldered and deep-chested. He returned Kriss’s gaze with eyes as silver-gray as his hair, set in a furrowed, dark-tanned face, and leaned forward, splaying his massive, calloused fingers on the wet black wood of the bar. “State your business or get out,” he growled. “I’m not here to be stared at.”

Kriss drew a deep breath to prevent stammering, then explained what he wanted. Andru was shaking his head before he finished.

“Not interested.”

“But I’ll do anything—”

“I said I’m not interested.”

Kriss thought of the cold streets. “How much for a room?” he asked desperately.

“Ten feds.”

“I have three quarter-feds. Can I at least sit up the night in your common room?”

For answer, Andru held out his hand. Kriss slipped his arms free of his pack straps, then thumped the pack down on the bar. His first day in Stars’ Edge was going to finish off his resources. Then what?

At least I’ll have one night off the streets, he thought. Opening the pack, he began digging for the small pouch that contained the coins. He removed the touchlyre and set it aside, noting with relief that the leather wrapping was still dry. Then he started pawing through his clothes. When at last he found the coin pouch and pulled it out, he glanced up to see Andru fingering the touchlyre’s covering.

“What’s this?”

Kriss grabbed the instrument and shoved it back into the pack. “A musical instrument.” He held out the little pouch. “Here’s your money.”

Andru ignored it. “Can you play it?”

“Why?” Kriss asked, still extending the pouch.

Andru gestured at the small crowd. “Business is slow. Maybe I need entertainment.”

The notion startled Kriss. Play in public? After all Mella’s warnings about keeping the instrument secret? After telling himself the best way to honor her memory was to continue to honor her wishes?

Mella is dead, he thought harshly. Her reason for telling me that died with her. And what will I do if I don’t take this chance? Starve in the streets? Take Elcar’s advice and become a farm hand? Or try those places “south of the spaceport”?

He made up his mind, but he still felt guilty as he met Andru’s gray eyes. “I can play it.”

“We’ll see.” The innkeeper walked the length of the bar to Kriss’s right and into a short hallway. Kriss grabbed the pack and followed.

Two doors opened into the hall from the left; at the end a stairway doubled back, up to the second floor. Andru opened the first door and motioned Kriss through.

He stepped into a small room paneled with dark wood. Rain spattered the tiny square window in the back wall. Andru closed the door, then walked around Kriss and sat down behind a battered computer interface atop a wooden desk, the room’s only furnishing except for two straight-backed chairs. “Play,” he commanded.

“And if I play well?” Kriss asked, setting his pack on the desk and opening it.

“Board and room and fifty percent of whatever the audience gives you.”

Kriss didn’t know if fifty percent was a fair offer, and didn’t really care. All he cared about was the board and room. “Agreed.”

He took his time unwrapping the touchlyre. What should he play? What kind of music did offworlders like?

He drew the gleaming instrument from the white leather, and, as Andru leaned forward with interest, sat down and touched the copper plates, closing his eyes. A faint, singing chord filled the room as the silver strings stirred to life.

I’ll play “Red Meadows,” he decided. One of the first folk songs Mella had taught him, it had a simple but beautiful melody.

Maybe too simple. He hesitated.

Andru shifted in his chair. “Play!” he ordered again, but Kriss hardly heard him. Weary, warm again at last, eyes closed, he floated almost on the edge of sleep, yet he had to play something. All his hopes might depend on it…all his hopes…

His mind drifted back to that moment beside the trail when he had seen the starship leap into the sky above the ridge overlooking Stars’ Edge, and his heart filled again with the awe and joy he had felt then—and the strings spoke. Just as they had the night of Mella’s death, they played, not a tune he consciously shaped, but a song drawn from his deepest thoughts and emotions. They sang out his story, sang of the years of isolation and longing, of Mella’s death and his long journey, and above all of his longing for the stars, for his unknown past, for the family that might be waiting out there somewhere; and somehow all the shattering events of the past few days intertwined with the longing and his vision of that star-bound ship to end the music with a joyful chord of hope he would not have believed possible.

Utterly exhausted but content, he opened his eyes as the final ringing of the strings died away. Andru sat with his head bowed, his gnarled knuckles white against the dark wood of the arm of his chair. Finally he took a deep breath and looked up to meet Kriss’s gaze. “You’re hired,” he said, his voice rough. “You’ll begin playing tomorrow night.” He stood abruptly, strode to the door, and jerked it open. “Zendra!”

Hurried footsteps approached and a plump middle-aged Farrsian woman appeared in the doorway. “Yes, Andru?”

“Take Kriss to room six. He’s been hired to entertain.” He started to leave, then hesitated and turned back. Coming to Kriss, he reached down and almost reverently touched the smooth black wood of the instrument. As he straightened, his eyes met Kriss’s for a brief moment, then he wheeled and was gone.

Stunned by the sudden shift in his fortunes, Kriss stared after him. Had he really seen tears in the innkeeper’s eyes? “I’m imagining things,” he muttered. “I need sleep.”

“Follow me and you can have some.” Zendra’s voice from the door startled him; he’d forgotten she was there. He got up and returned the instrument to its wrapping, then followed her, getting a friendly smile. “You look like a drowned rat,” she commented as she led him up the stairs.

Barely even conscious, Kriss didn’t answer. He tripped twice, unable to lift his feet high enough to clear the steps. Zendra steadied him with a firm hand, and led him to a room close by the head of the stairs. “I won’t bother calling you for breakfast,” she said just before closing the door.

“G’night,” he mumbled. Stripping off his wet clothing and letting it lie where it fell, he crawled into bed, and into sleep.


Chapter 4

Kriss opened his eyes and blinked at the bright rectangle of sunlight on the white plaster wall. Mella will be calling me for breakfast soon, he thought sleepily; then frowned. The sunlight had never before struck his bedroom wall in quite that place or in quite that shape…

An instant later all the memories of fires, journeys, storms and spaceships came rushing back, and he closed his eyes for a moment, wishing it had all been a bad dream—and then suddenly felt guilty, because that wasn’t quite true. He didn’t wish it had all been a dream. Oh, he wished Mella were still alive; but having a job in Stars’ Edge, almost within sight of the spaceport, and working in an inn that catered to offworlders—he couldnt wish that was a dream. But not wishing it made him feel disloyal to Mella’s memory, just like revealing the touchlyre to Andru had the night before.

He lay there, trying to sort out his feelings (and failing) until hunger finally drove him to his feet. The only other door in the room besides the front one proved to open into a bathroom, and twenty minutes later, clean, dressed in fresh clothes from his pack and feeling well-rested for the first time in days, Kriss made his way downstairs, wondering how to get breakfast.

Or dinner; a clock above the fireplace informed him he had slept past noon. Only three men sat in the common room, talking together in low voices at a corner table; they didn’t even look up as he entered, but Zendra, wiping glasses behind the bar, did. “Hungry, are you?” she said before he could open his mouth. “Sit anywhere and I’ll see what I can find.”

“Thank you.” He looked around and picked a table near a window that was thrown open to the cool air, washed clean by the night’s rain. The clatter of wagons and whine of groundcars drifted in from the bustling street. He found it hard to believe it was the same rain-swept, deserted route he had trudged the night.

Zendra returned through the swinging kitchen door and crossed to his table, banging a platter loaded with bread, meat, corn, and a glass of ice-cold frenta juice down before him. “Sleep well?”

“Umph,” Kriss replied around his first mouthful.

Zendra laughed. “Does me good to see you dig in like that. A compliment to the chef, you might say.”

He swallowed and reached for the juice, taking a big gulp before asking, “Where’s Andru?”

“I don’t know. Out somewhere. Why?”

“I want to know what my duties are.” Kriss put down the glass and cut another slice of meat.

“Oh, I can tell you that,” Zendra said with an airy wave of her hand. “You’re to entertain—that’s it. And that’s not until tonight. Until then, do whatever you like. The day is yours.” She winked one dark brown eye, then turned away with a sigh. “Unlike some of us…”

Kriss emptied the plate at a more leisurely pace than he’d begun with, then got up, stretching, and went out onto the sunlit porch, where he stood surveying the street, thinking how nice it was not to have to carry his blasted backpack, now locked safely away in his room. The day was his, Zendra had said, so where to first?

He grimaced. Unfortunately, there was only one answer: the police. He had to tell Lieutenant Elcar where he was staying. “Not that Elcar is going to do anything,” he muttered, but even that couldn’t dim his enjoyment of the new day. In fact, as he walked toward the spaceport under the rainbow-hued shop awnings that lined the street, he thought Stars’ Edge looked ten times cleaner and brighter than it had the day before.

Even the stark black-and-white vestibule of the police headquarters seemed cheerier, Kriss thought. He smiled back at the pretty young woman who had replaced the bored gray-haired dragon of the previous night.

His new address safely ensconced in the police computer, Kriss stood on the steps of the headquarters and gazed around. Where to start exploring? Though he had been over much of the city the night before, it was one thing to see it in a rainstorm while drenched and miserable and another to see it warm and dry in the sunshine.

Another easy question: he couldn’t take his eyes off the spaceport. He watched an enormous transport being loaded with cargo from one of the starships, and decided the rest of the city could wait. Down the steps he went, and a few hundred feet around the perimeter to the nearest gate, where a green-uniformed man in a glass-walled booth stopped him. “Port pass,” the man demanded.

“Uh…I don’t have one.”

“Then you can’t go in, can you?”

“But I just want to look around… “

“No pass, no entry. Now step aside; you’re holding up everybody else.”

Kriss glanced back and saw a line had already formed behind him. Shamefaced, he retreated, and plopped down on the steps of an empty tower across from the gate. Resting his chin on his fists, he gazed moodily across the spaceport.

A girl about his own age descended the ramp of the smallest starship and crossed the field to the sprawling customs building. Kriss watched her with envy. What strange worlds had she visited while he was stuck in Black Rock? She’d been across the galaxy, and he couldn’t even get onto the landing field.

He straightened. “I will get into space!” he declared, banging his fist on his knee for emphasis—then winced and rubbed the place.

For the rest of the afternoon he wandered around the spaceport fence, but he had no better luck getting through any of the other three gates, or at the main building. Finally he started back to Andru’s through lengthening shadows. Maybe the innkeeper could tell him how to get a port pass. He had to see those starships up close…

The first flutterbees began tumbling in his stomach as he approached the inn in the sunset light. He had never even played in public before—how could he hope to entertain a roomful of people who had traveled across the galaxy? What if they laughed at him?

Finding the common room almost full didn’t help his nerves. Zendra and a thin, hard-faced woman he hadn’t met moved among the offworlders, serving food and drinks. Last night’s quiet must have been due to the late hour, Kriss thought; tonight loud talking and raucous laughter made it hard for him to hear his own voice when he asked Andru, “When do I, uh…?”

“Eat first,” Andru said. His voice carried through the din with no apparent effort. “They’ll listen better when most are drinking instead of eating.”

Kriss nodded, mouth dry, and found a seat at an empty table near the bar. The hard-faced woman served him without a word, but he could eat only a little and, once the plates were cleared away, couldn’t have told anyone what had been on them.

All too soon Andru came over. “It’s time.”

Kriss nodded and went upstairs to his room. He felt a little more confident as he took the touchlyre from its leather wrapping, but the feel of the smooth wood also brought back Mella’s repeated warnings to never let anyone see it. Showing it to Andru had been bad enough; now he intended to reveal it to a hundred strangers, and offworlders at that. Feeling guilty again, he stepped into the hallway and locked the door behind him.

Andru awaited him at the foot of the stairs, and led him through the crowded room to a chair on a low platform by the fire. Kriss sat down, feeling naked, and the innkeeper stepped up beside him. “Guests!” Heads turned, but the murmur of conversation continued. “Guests!” Andru said again, and this time the note in his voice caused the gathered offworlders to set their drinks down and fall silent.

The innkeeper’s gaze traveled around the room for a long moment before he spoke again. “You have seen little entertainment in my inn over the years, for I have seen few entertainers suited to my guests’ tastes. But tonight is different. My guests, I present Kriss Lemarc, minstrel of Farr’s World.”

A handful of people applauded politely, but most, after a glance at Kriss, simply resumed their interrupted conversations. “Begin,” Andru told Kriss, and stepped down from the platform.

Kriss looked down at the instrument and touched the plates with trembling fingers. Infected with his nervousness, the touchlyre sounded a weak, frayed chord. Andru frowned, and the nearest offworlders glanced up, then looked away, shaking their heads.

Kriss ran his tongue over dry lips. Could he repeat what had happened the night Mella had died, and what he had summoned again last night when he auditioned for Andru? It hadn’t really felt like he had done anything at all, except…

…except remember. And feel. He closed his eyes, and pictured himself sitting on the gray rock ledge by the still lake where he had so often gone to play the instrument…

…the place he had been when Mella died.

He heard the music, the real music, begin, and it strengthened and steadied as he built the remembered scene detail by detail, pushing Andru’s out of his consciousness. He forgot the offworlders and played only for himself, sitting in the sun with the cool, clear water lapping at his bare feet. The incredibly vivid image seemed to both invoke the music and be evoked by it; and because he had been thinking of Mella, her death and all that came after it replayed itself in his mind and, though he was hardly aware of it any more, in the music, until once more he saw the starship leaping into the sky and his song ended with a dream, his dream, the dream of rediscovering the contentment of the little lake by Black Rock—only this time, discovering it with his true family, somewhere among the stars.

Slowly Kriss surfaced from wherever the music had taken him, and heard…nothing. The room was so quiet he snapped his eyes open and looked up, convinced everyone had walked out.

But no one had left. Instead they sat, improbably still and silent. A few stared at him, but looked away when his eyes met theirs; others gazed downward, or at the fire. Many had their eyes closed. One silver-haired woman cried silently, body shaking, fire-lit tears on her cheeks.

Kriss stared at them in amazement, then looked down at the silver strings of the touchlyre, shining red in the firelight, remembering Andru’s reaction the night before. What did others hear when he played the touchlyre in this strange new way?

Someone set a large wooden bowl by his feet and he looked up, startled, into the innkeeper’s gray eyes. “No more,” Andru said in a low voice. “But stay put until I signal you.” He returned to the bar, leaving Kriss feeling drained and bewildered.

The woman who had wept suddenly got up from her table, dropped a coin into the bowl, and then hurried almost blindly from the room. As if the clatter of the fed-piece were a signal, others came forward; only when they returned to their tables did they begin to talk to one another again, so that the murmur of conversation gradually returned.

When no one had come up for two or three minutes, Andru waved, and Kriss carried the bowl to the bar. The offworlders glanced up as he walked by; some smiled, then looked away almost shyly, as though uncertain how to react to him.

He gave the bowl to Andru, who overturned it, spilling thin plastic bills and ceramic coins across the wet, dark wood of the bar. He counted quickly. “One hundred and seven feds. That’s fifty-three and a half apiece.” He pushed Kriss’s share over to him, then moved to the far end of the bar to serve someone.

Kriss stared at the money in awe. Over fifty feds! He’d never seen that much money in his life. “Maybe I’ll buy my own spaceship!” he breathed, then gathered up the coins and bills and dropped them into his pocket, where they made a pleasantly large lump. He tucked the instrument under his arm and went up the stairs two at a time. So that was all there was to it; play the instrument a few minutes, pocket the feds, and take it easy the rest of the time. Even if he never got off the planet, he had it made.

But he would get off the planet. In fact, he intended to start working on the problem right away. Strike while the iron was hot, and so forth. Some of those offworlders looked like at the moment they’d do anything he asked, and it just so happened he had something to ask. He locked the instrument in his room and headed downstairs again, where he took a seat on a barstool and surveyed the crowd. Three offworlders in particular caught his eye, and he sat up straight to see them better.

They sat at the table where he had eaten: two young men, a few years older than him, and a girl close to his own age. She looked familiar, and suddenly he remembered envying her as she crossed the spaceport that afternoon.

The fifty feds in his pocket had erased a lot of that envy; he fully expected to be jauntily descending from a starship into an alien spaceport himself before too long. But his curiosity remained, and they seemed as likely prospects as any, so he straightened his vest, smoothed his shirt front, ran his fingers through his hair, then casually walked across the room to the trio’s table.

“Mind if I join you?” he asked, trying to sound suave.

The girl’s mouth quirked slightly, but she glanced at her two companions, who nodded. “Be our guest,” she said, and Kriss pulled out the fourth chair at the table and sat down.

He took a closer look at the girl, who watched him steadily with hazel eyes. Slim, with short-cropped light-brown hair, and at least half a foot shorter than him, she could almost have passed for a boy if her face weren’t so pretty.

One eyebrow lifted. “Do you approve?”

Kriss started. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to stare—”

“Oh, I don’t mind.” A smile lit up her whole face and showed dimples. “As long as you answer the question. Do you approve?”

“Uh…yes.” He glanced at her male companions. The one on her right, a well-built young man with hair and eyes the color of the girl’s, watched him without expression. Kriss smiled tentatively, but got nothing in return.

“Well, I approve of your looks, too,” the girl said cheerfully. “Now that that’s out of the way…what ship are you from?”


“Ship. You know, the tall things at the spaceport?” She stared at him, and her smile began to fade. “You are off a ship, aren’t you?”

He cleared his throat. “Not exactly. My parents were offworlders—but I grew up on Farr’s World.”

The man on her right stood abruptly. “It’s time we returned to the Thaylia,” he said coldly. “Come, Tevera.”

She nodded and stood, as did the other man. “Peace be yours,” she said formally, then her companions escorted her out.

Kriss stared after them, bewildered. What did I say wrong?

He glanced around the room again, but the strange experience had soured him on approaching any more offworlders. Instead, sorely puzzled, he returned to his room, took a shower and went to bed.

In the middle of the night he woke and shot upright, unsure if dream or reality had disturbed him. He listened. At first he heard only the pounding of his heart, but as he took a deep breath and started to settle back, a door opened down the hall. Instantly his own door, which he had closed and locked, slammed shut across the space of an inch or two. Footsteps pounded away and someone shouted.

He threw back the covers and dashed to the door, opened it a crack and peered out in time to see an offworlder in a bathrobe picking himself up off the floor.

“Who was that?” he spluttered, glaring at Kriss.

“Where did he go?”

“Downstairs and outside—after knocking me over first! What’s going on?”

“I wish I knew.” Other doors opened up and down the hall as awakened guests looked out to see what was happening, but Kriss closed his own and locked it again. Someone had been trying to break into his room—someone had broken into his room. Only the other man coming unexpectedly into the hall had kept that someone from walking right in and…what?

He turned on the light and looked around. Almost at once he saw the pile of bills and coins he had emptied from his pocket onto the table by the bed, and could have kicked himself. Everyone in the inn that night had known he’d made that money, and he’d just left it lying in the open. He had to find a safer place for it or he’d be asking for another break-in.

Another thought made him pause. Andru would want to know what had happened…but not tonight, he hoped. “He would have been in here by now if he wanted to see me tonight,” he murmured, then yawned, his wakefulness fading with the excitement. Still, he paused and looked at the door before returning to bed. “This is silly,” he muttered, but took a chair and stuck it under the doorknob anyway.

Despite that precaution he slept fitfully, listening, every time he woke, for someone at the door.

On to Chapter 5…

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