Iric’s heart thundered in his chest as he strode to the cafe. Hunter hopped along at his side. Seeming to notice his apprehension, the dog rubbed her head reassuringly against his leg.
The young watchman stopped in his tracks. A thousand emotions and thoughts fought for center stage in his mind. He stared at the object in his hand. It was a utility knife, with a secondary hooked blade that ran off the guard in the same direction as the main edge. He thought it would make a good apothecary’s tool. It was a gift. It was for Runa.
Iric had had it custom made, used his expanding web of relationships to find a smith who would forge it for cheap. He wasn’t a rich High-Towner, after all. He still wasn’t sure what mistaken instinct had led him to believe the girl would appreciate a knife as a gift.
Will she like it? The question pestered him as he walked. This would be their first date. A million things could go wrong. All it would take was one.
It felt strange walking these streets without his watchman’s breastplate on. He felt naked. His trained eyes scanned every person and every corner for danger, looking for anything out of place. It was a reflex he could not turn off. He hoped it didn’t interfere with his time with Runa. He hoped no one caused any trouble.
No one else knew about their meeting. He felt a bit like a spy, moving around in the shadows. Had Sergeant Vott heard about Iric’s romantic adventures, the big man would probably have laughed himself unconscious.
We haven’t actually spent much time together. What if she doesn’t like me?
Iric approached the café, which was located on a busy block of Market Street. The building had a large terrace, which was filled with flowers and green plants of all sorts, giving it a lively appearance. It was covered by a colored shade that cast a myriad of shadows of different hues. The place was busy today, most of the tables on the terrace were occupied by energetic young couples, or solemn groups of widows. He recognized Astrid and her two gabby friends, regulars here. The he saw her.
He could only see the back of her head, since she was looking south, expecting him to be coming from the direction of his watchhouse. But he would know the flow of her untamed brown hair anywhere. It frizzled and curled of its own accord. Her attentive gaze jumped between the different people coming up the road; at times she leaned forward expectantly only to be disappointed.
Noticing his reflection in the polished copper tip of a nearby banister, Iric looked down and fixed the collar of his dark blue shirt. He had been told it accented the bright color of his eyes. Another bit of advice he could thank Astrid for. That and for encouraging, dead near ordering him to ask Runa to come to the café.
When the wind caught Runa’s hair, she turned and eyed the young, frozen man. She smiled. Iric blushed. She waived for him to come over. Iric struggled to move his feet. Eventually, he found his way to her table. He knew he should be the first one to speak, but the words wouldn’t come.
“Hi,” Runa said with a stunning smile.
“Ah, um, hi,” Iric managed to say finally.
Now that he was close, he could finally get a good look of her. She was not dressed in her usual green coveralls, nor were her hands and face covered in dirt. It was, in fact, somewhat surprising to see her so clean. She wore a leaf-green dress that billowed as she stood to greet him. He reached to grab her hand, forgetting he held a knife in his own.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“This? It’s for you.”
He offered it to her. She pulled the main blade from its sheath. The steel shined in the dim, multicolored light of the covered terrace.
“What’s this hooked bit for?” she asked.
“I thought, with all the work you do with plants and herbs and such, that something like this might be useful. The hook is for cutting stems. The blade you can use for anything else.”
“I didn’t know they made knives like this.”
“They don’t. I had it made special. For you.”
Does she hate it? Gods, I’m so stupid. Who gives a girl a knife?”
“It’s great,” Runa beamed. “I love it. I really do. I’ll use it every day.”
She set the knife down on the table and hugged him. Iric felt like he was hit by lightning. He was paralyzed.
“Are you okay?” Runa asked, still holding him by the arms but leaning back to look into his eyes. The green of her irises was like the purest emerald. Or an endless expanse of the freshest spring grass. They pulled him in.
“Iric,” she said.
“Oh, sorry. Shall we sit?”
Iric took his seat, but Runa leaned down to give Hunter a friendly pet. The dog yelped and licked her hand. Then she sat, letting the dog take up its post at the watchman’s side.
Finally sitting, his hands free, Iric grabbed hers in a solid grip. He didn’t want them to slip away. He did his best to force away his instinctive anxieties that wanted to watch every person in the area. He wanted all his attention to be on her. They smiled in silence. As he leaned closer, he could smell a new, flowery scent in the air.
“Do you smell that?” he said, sniffing.
“Like flowers, but sort of minty.”
“Oh, that,” Runa said, blushing. “That’s my perfume.”
“Wow…it smells…really nice.”
“Thank you. I made it myself.”
“You made it? How?”
“Some of the herbs we use for making poultices have a pleasant, sweet scent. So I blended some with a little rose oil and made this.” She reached out a hand for Iric to smell. The scent was indeed pleasant.
“Why oil?” Iric asked.
“Oil helps bind the mixture to the skin, so it doesn’t rub or wash off easily.”
“Oh…” Iric returned to his happy stupor.
Hunter started to growl softly. From the corner of Iric’s vision, a figure entered the terrace. The manner in which the figure moved had his instincts screaming in his ear. Without thinking he rose to his feet.
Suddenly, the leather-clad man had another by the collar. “You can’t hide from me anymore, Erling,” the man yelled. “I want my money.”
Iric glanced over at Runa, whose face was colored by shock. The young watchman tried to resist the urge, but failed. His hand grabbed the weeding knife and his legs dragged him towards the assailant. The man, seeming to notice Iric’s approach, grabbed a meal knife of the table and brought it to Erling’s neck.
“Stay back! This is between me an’ him.”
“Put down the knife,” Iric said, trying to sound stern. “I’m with the Watch. I can’t let you threaten this man.”
“Erling an’ me are goin’ for a walk, watchman. Git outta the way.”
Iric sensed movement from behind.
“Can’t a girl just be courted in peace!” Runa screamed, throwing liquid in the man’s face.
He screamed and released his grip on his victim. Iric tackled him to the ground, landing a few clean blows on the man’s wet face, until a number of bystanders joined in, holding the rogue down.
“Send somebody to get the Watch duty sergeant,” Iric said to one of the café’s hostesses. His hand was red from the punches, and covered in oil. It smelled like lemons. He rose to his feet.
“Ahh, my eyes. They burn!” the man screamed, writhing underneath his captors.
His sense of danger clearing, Iric rushed over to Runa, and grabbed her by the shoulder with his clean hand. She was panting and still gripping a water glass in her hand. She looked more furious than frightened.
“What did you throw at him?” Iric asked.
“Lemon juice…” she said between breaths. “Mixed with salad oil to make it stick.”
Iric laughed. “You’re kind of vicious.”
“Nobody interrupts a girl’s first date. Nobody.”
They both smiled, standing there in their own little space, for a long moment.
The rest of the day passed without incident, and the young couple enjoyed a steak dinner on the house.
*Author’s Note: It has been a long journey. This series of stories began as a whimsical spin-off while writing my first book, In the Valley of Magic. Iric was a character who only had a small part in the book, but left me with so many questions. I felt giving Iric his own flash series would be a good practical exercise, and a fun way to start developing my fantasy world. Doing so helped significantly with the revision and expansion of the book, opening new cultural areas to explore in the world of Marudal, the City of Magic.
Sadly, I think the series has come its end. In this volume, I have tried to close the narrative loop of Iric’s growth as a watchman and character. He is now primed for his small, but important role in In the Valley of Magic. The manuscript for the book is complete and I am currently querying agents. I hope, when the book is finally released, that you join me to celebrate the true end of Iric’s story.
In the meantime, I intend to continue to try to publish the Iric flash stories externally (several have already been published or accepted for publication already). I also plan to collect the 20 volumes here into a single anthology and either self-publish it, or maybe publish it in concert with the main book if I can convince the publisher to take it too. That process will, of course, involve revision and editing, so the anthology will be a more polished and unified piece of work than what is available here.
I humbly wish to thank you for joining me in this quirky journey of adventure and discovery. This will not be the end of my flash stories, nor will it be the end of my posting things here related to my Valley of Magic fantasy world (unless my publisher prohibits me). There are still many characters to meet and stories to tell in that world, and many other worlds to explore.
I hope you will join me in traveling those worlds in the future.
**Thank you for reading. The previous volumes of “The Adventures of Iric” can be found here: