The Nature of the Beast - Page 1

Astrid looked over in my direction as soon as I put my silver on the table. Just the sound of the coins hitting the wood told her more than I'd intended; the size of the pile told her the rest.

She turned her attention back to preparing breakfast for a moment, then asked almost casually, “So . . . not planning on coming back from this one, are you?”


Still languid from the pleasures of the previous night, I had momentarily forgotten that the girl could read coins with the skill of a seer. Truth be told, in five years time I could have her shaping up into the makings of a first class runemaster, if only her warmth and other natural talents didn't make that life unappealing to her.

She placed two wooden bowls filled with steaming hot porridge on the table and joined me for a last meal together. Her tableware was even more worn than I remembered, but Astrid's sentimental heart wouldn't let her replace anything unless it was beyond repair, which tended to leave her simple hut in a perpetual state of clutter. Knowing she could afford better and do with more room, I had once suggested she relocate, but she'd only smiled and said she could fill up a palace with junk given half a chance, but a palace would only put off her clients, which was true enough, but it wasn't the entire truth.

Partly it was sentimentality that kept Astrid where she was, but mostly it was because that she accepted payment for her skills primarily because it was expected of her and gave the givers pleasure, and helping others feel pleasure was Astrid's reason for being. Her simple hut gave the illusion of increased generosity on the giver's part, which only increased their pleasure, and Astrid, like many artists, needed little beyond her art to be content.

On the alert for any unnoticed splinters protruding from the wooden spoon she had handed me, I brought the hot porridge to my mouth and savored the sweetness that only Astrid seemed to be able to find and bring out in such otherwise simple fare – it was one of her talents.

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