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   Chapter 16 Rabbit A Talent Mark Novel

Rabbit: A Talent Mark Novel By Valerie Gaumont Characters: 27930

Updated: 2018-03-13 12:16

Chapter 16

The view outside the window did not change much. At times the road was wider, and therefore dryer as the puddles of melting snow evaporated in the sun. At other times the road narrowed and the trees formed a thick canopy overhead, blocking most of the light. It was in these tunnels of interlocking branches that the temperature dropped and the first carriage invariably found a patch of mud in which its wheels became imbedded.

These stretches were filled with sudden stops and starts between which Harmony and the others would have to climb from their carriage while the drivers got the wheels moving again. At such times Rabbit, Robin and Mouse would remain quiet and away from the windows. They figured it was only a matter of time before Harmony realized they could change places and then the three of them would have to climb in and out as the second carriage marked where the first one stuck and avoided the patch.

"Of course, " Rabbit thought to herself, slightly nauseous from the jerky motions of the carriage. "They might not realize the second carriage isn't getting stuck. They might figure that we are stopping as well. Since we are behind them, they wouldn't have to stop when we got stuck."

She noticed that when it came to the narrower sections of road, their driver slowed and put further space between them and the lead carriage. She had the sneaking suspicion it was to prevent their coachmen from having to assist the others in getting the mud bogged carriage free, but it would also promote the illusion that they stopped just as often as the first coach.

Gradually, the shadows began to lengthen and Rabbit shivered. She huddled into her cloak, thankful for its extra warmth. She felt a little guilty, but the others did not seem terribly cold. The sky turned the red of sunset and then faded to black. The carriages pushed on and Rabbit wondered how far they were planning on traveling in the darkness.

The carriages began to slow and Rabbit wondered if the lead carriage was once again stuck. She looked out of the window and realized that they were slowing to a stop in front of a large wooden building. It was similar enough in appearance to the building they entered the night before that she guessed it to be the Inn they were staying in that night.

This inn, however looked larger and more prosperous than the first one they had visited. The wood of the walls was still gray but the trim looked freshly painted. She couldn't tell what color it was in the dark. Wind chimes danced in the breeze, providing a delicate and decidedly friendly music to the air. The carriages rolled to a stop and the footman leapt down, placing small staircase beneath the door and opening it for them.

"There's a bit of mud here, " He cautioned them as they stepped from the carriage and on to firmer ground. He pointed out the muddy patch and helped them over it. Those in the first carriage did not fare so well and Rabbit could hear the squelch of their footsteps as they stepped down.

"Although at this point I can't see that it really matters much." She thought, trying to swallow her own grimace. All four of the passengers in the first carriage were spotted with mud from their many trips out of the carriage that day. Their boots and cloaks would need to be cleaned before being worn again.

The coachmen looked in much worse shape, showing their exertions throughout the day. Even though she had not been required to climb in and out of the carriage, Rabbit felt tired. It was the particular tired that she always associated with long travels; the many hours of forced inactivity somehow seeming more tiresome than actual activity would have been.

"It's too bad there were no games or books in the carriage, " Rabbit thought to herself, remembering the battered box Lady Rosalind always insisted on dragging with them on trips. The last trip she and her brothers had declared many of the games too childish to endure. "Who knew I'd miss them, " she thought with a sad smile. But as Tessian and by extension his staff believed that none of them could actually read, there would have been no reason to include such items. The group gathered and Badger eyed the lack of mud on Rabbit and the others with a frown.

"Mistress Harmony, " a man standing in the doorway said. He was a very round man. Everything about him seemed round, from his bulging belly to his shiny bald head. Even his cheeks seemed puffed out, as though he were a squirrel with too many acorns in his cheeks. Those cheeks had small circles of red on them and his round eyes sat behind a set of round lens spectacles.

He wore the same style apron as the inn keep the night before and she wondered if there was some sort of uniform amongst inn keeps or if similar work simply made for similar modes of dress. While Rabbit was studying the inn keep, Badger managed to sidle to Rabbit's side. Once realizing that Harmony's attention was taken with the inn keep Badger turned to her.

"Think you are too good to get dirty, " she hissed. Rabbit turned to her as she felt the larger girl shove her hard sideways. Unprepared for the move, Rabbit had no time to brace herself and fell directly into a patch of mud. She almost bit her tongue trying to contain the gasp of pain as her hip found the edge of a rock concealed by the mud. She managed to avoid making any sound as she fell, however she doubted it would have been heard if she had. The inn keep let out a gasp.

"Oh no little miss, did you slip?" he asked. He stepped towards her, but turned his words towards Harmony. "I told Jacen to spread sand on the muddy patches, they get slick as ice this time of year." He split his worried glances between Harmony and Rabbit as the driver from their coach helped Rabbit to stand. Harmony darted a dark glance towards Badger, who had stepped away from Rabbit and was trying to look innocent, and Rabbit realized that neither she nor the inn keep had actually seen her fall and there would be no proof of Badger's involvement. Harmony's eyes narrowed before she turned away from Badger.

"I'm sure it will be fine. Rabbit are you all right?" Rabbit winced as she put her full weight on both her legs but nodded to Harmony. The inn keep wrung his hands.

"No, no this won't do, " he said. Rabbit realized that the mud had not only covered the back of her cloak but slithered under it as well so that her dress was muddy as well. The wet fabric clung and she could feel the moisture soaking into her shift. She shivered as the cold night wind chilled her. "We must get inside out of this cold, " The inn keep said, seeing Rabbit shiver.

"On that we agree, " Harmony said. "Come, " she said somewhat imperiously, leading the way inside. All of them followed, the driver followed hesitantly behind Rabbit, in case she needed assistance. Rabbit limped a little, but tried not to wince. She was sure that she would have a deep bruise in the morning. The inn keep noticed her limp and again pursed his lips. Rabbit smiled at him and tried to shake the mud from her dress and cloak before stepping into the inn so that she would not drip on the floor.

The set up of the room was the same as the inn the night before, however it was a great deal larger and had three separate fireplaces, each with a fire burning merrily inside. A group of men was clustered around one of the fireplaces and they paid no notice to the newcomers.

Harmony's group was led towards a second fireplace where a table had already been set. A small woman, bent with age, her gray hair tied back into a bun, wheeled out a tea cart as they walked towards the table. She stopped the cart and began collecting the mud spattered cloaks from the group.

"We'll give these a good brush down don't you worry. And later we'll collect the boots so they'll be clean and fresh for the morning." The older woman told the group. Badger looked pleased by the development, especially when the woman made no move to take Rabbit's cloak.

"Mistress Harmony, " The inn keep said. "My wife is a dab hand at dealing with injuries. Perhaps, she could take a look at the young miss and make certain she suffered no more than a bit of a scrape."

"After all, " the older woman said eyeing Rabbit. "The mud's soaked into her dress as well, she'll be wanting to

Sanab tilted the tub so that the water could pour into the hole. The sloped backrest that Rabbit had enjoyed reclining against acted as a sort of funnel, pouring the water down the hole the same way a teapot's spout poured tea unto a cup. Sanab winked at Rabbit.

"Not everything is always as it seems now is it?" She said. Rabbit shook her head. Sanab's grin widened. "Of course, I suspect you already knew that." Sanab lowered the tub and re-locked the drain cover so that it looked like just a section of floor again. The tub, now empty was light enough to carry and Sanab picked it up easily. "I'll leave you to your rest, " She said. "Miss Mol'll be up in a short while to check on you. Sleep well."

Rabbit nodded politely as Sanab disappeared into the hallway with the tub. Rabbit puzzled over her comments and thought that the woman might be referencing her garments being nicer inside than out. She didn't have long to wait before Molly reappeared. In her hand she held a jar of filled with a white cream specked with bits of green.

"You will need to apply this tonight before you get into bed and then again when you rise, " she said handing Rabbit the jar. "You will need to do this for about three days or until the bruise starts to turn yellow." Rabbit nodded her understanding. "I've included more than you need so you will have extra in case you acquire other bruises." Rabbit nodded again, wondering at the stern tone in Molly's voice. Molly reached for the wrist that had Rabbit's Ghada mark on it and turned it upward. She stared at the mark for a moment and then shrugged.

"You won't be able to make more then, " she said. "And there are some tricks to the blend that I would have to show even another earth worker." Molly released Rabbit's arm and reached for the cuff of her dress. She unbuttoned the long sleeve and folded the cloth back and extended her wrist towards Rabbit. There on her wrist, as brown as a freckle was the mark of an earth worker. Rabbit blinked at her in surprise. Molly nodded, rolled her sleeve back and buttoned the cuff.

"How?" Rabbit asked before Molly could turn to leave. Molly stared at her for a full minute before answering.

"The caravans pass through here on a regular basis. The man who ran the inn when I was small, found me in one of the cages. He got me out and snuck a family of raccoons in. As the caravan had been calling me Raccoon he thought it more than fair. Trading one raccoon for several."

The edge of Molly's mouth turned up in a sardonic half-smile. "He hid me until the caravan was gone, and again when they returned looking for me." Her lips turned down. "Of course they couldn't say it was me they were looking for. Slavery being illegal in these parts and those who put little girls in cages intending to sell them tend to be frowned upon you see. That's why they give all of their prisoners animal names." Molly smiled again.

"He offered to help me get home, but as the raiders had killed all of my family when I was taken, there wasn't much for me to go back to. So I stayed, and he raised me as his own. I helped him free several others. When I married, " she continued. "My father turned the inn over to me and my husband. We've been doing much of the same ever since." Molly's eyes dropped to Rabbit's bruised hip.

"Unfortunately, that only works when traders can't admit to cargo. The fact that you are already a member of Lord Tessian's household makes it complicated. If you were to disappear there would be an inquiry and a search. Several of the others were like me and had nothing to go back to, so they stayed, often living with locals as children and then marrying in when they were old enough."

"Making everyone in the village an accomplice of sorts and a search would reveal the others as ghada, jeopardizing both them and you, " Rabbit finished. "You would be unable to help any others if you help me, " Rabbit said softly. Molly nodded slowly. "I understand, " Rabbit said. Molly exhaled as though she had been holding her breath and waiting for Rabbit's anger at not being rescued.

"Do you have a way of getting people back to the ghada if they want to go?" she asked.

"Yes, " Molly said, her eyes clouding, "But with Harmony…" Rabbit held up a hand to stop her.

"Not now, " Rabbit assured her. "Possibly soon though, depending on how far Tessian's estate is from here and if I can get away from it." She bit her lip, "We, " she corrected herself. "Some of the others might come as well."

"There is a way and if you can get back here we will help you. Lord Tessian's estate is a hard day's ride from here. Harmony will definitely try to make it in one at least. We might be able to arrange something, I will speak to my husband, he knows the pathways around her better than I do. Before you leave we will at least have a map with directions for you." Molly glanced to the window and listened for a moment. She smiled at the sound.

"Although I doubt you will be leaving in the morning. When the rain sets in at that pace it plans to stay a while. I doubt many of the roads will be fit to travel by morning." Molly grinned. "Or at least that is what we will tell Mistress Harmony. We'll help you as best we can without jeopardizing the others." Molly turned to go, but stopped, her hand on the latch of the door.

"They call you Rabbit as I was to be called Raccoon, may I ask what your name actually is?" Rabbit stared at her for a moment, and deciding the risk was worth taking.

"Norah, " she said. "My name is Norah."

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