A forbidding man strode down the center of the street, his body language expressing arrogance and determination. His dark hair was untidy and given to curling, matched by a black beard and black eyes, made more unfriendly due to a barrel chest and thick, scarred limbs. He wore a léine and dark trews, a wide leather belt supporting a purse and two swords – one an average sword, the other a two-handed claymore. His dark eyes settled on the slight form of a young girl, his mostly silent tread not marking his approach. As if sensing his stalking presence, she began to turn, only to release a small shriek as he lifted her and nearly tossed her upon his shoulder. Her breath rushed out upon impact, making her ensuing giggles faint and full of gasps.
“Wandering off, lass?”
The man released a snort of derision and tugged on her calves, letting her fall into the cradle of his arms and then setting the girl down on her feet. He seemed to tower over her, though he was hardly over six feet. His body curved round hers, eyes restless as they swept their surroundings. The wizard leading James and his daughter stood nearby, talking with another wizard official. Wizards, he thought incredulously, the hands on his only daughter’s shoulders tightening reflexively. He was a mere man, trained in the art of the sword – what was he against witches and wizards and who knew what else? Now they wanted her, and after two intense days of talking to the wizard and discussing everything that would happen, he was still unsure.
“We need to go now, sir…”
“Aye, doona I ken it?” His voice was almost too smooth and pleasant to form a growl, but he managed it alongside a surly glare. Catching the girl by her arm, James pulled her into the alcove outside a shabby pub and knelt down before her. As he brushed back the dark curls that tumbled jauntily round her face, James tried to impart the solemn nature of their parting. The normally flighty girl was pinned by the eye contact, smile fading as she waited for his words.
“I canna follow ye, Isolda. I trust this man, and ye do take after your mother with her uncanny ways. Recall what I taught ye?”
The girl responded by touching her eyes, ears, nose, solar plexus, kidneys, groin, and throat. James had been adamant about the girl knowing basic defenses, but the first three movements spoke also of being self aware. He gathered her small hands in his own once she was finished, struggling to find the best words that might find purchase and stick with her. He then reached into his boot and pulled forth his Sgian Dubh. It was small, almost a skinning knife, with only one sharpened edge. The blade was Damascus steel, the hilt a work of Rosewood, Cairngorm stones, and worn carvings; the sheath held the Sinclair clan’s crest and motto but was otherwise plain. He pressed it into the folds of her dress where there was a discreet pocket, wanting her to have something more real to defend herself with than some wand. He covered the movement by handing her also his purse, save for what he'd need on the return journey.
“No trouble, no cowardice. I will see ye verra soon.” Pressing a rough kiss to Isolda’s brow, James gave the girl a crushing hug that she unabashedly returned. The wizard envoy came up to the pair with only a faint hint of impatience creasing his brow. She spoke in a voice that didn’t lilt quite as much, peering over her shoulder as the wizard led her into the tavern. She was pale with fear, her freckles dark ink spots across her cheeks.
“Aye – blink and you’ll miss my return!” Her watery grin faded into the gloom of the establishment, voice swallowed by the din of the other children and several wizards. As she followed the beckoning voices through to the back and into a narrow alleyway, Isolda twisted around to stare wide-eyed at the muttering men. The gasps of a couple other children drew her attention, followed by a friendly voice somewhere above her. Glancing up, Isolda caught the warm brown eyes of a middle-aged man. He pushed the papers into her hands, mentioned something green, and vanished. She had the luck of a stubborn father, so there was a vague understanding of what she needed to do. First was to exchange the purse of currency her father had provided into whatever witches used.
“I doona suppose anyone knows where the… Gr-gre- the bank is?” She fought to keep a scowl from puckering her expression at the elusive bank’s name, peering around at the many strange faces. Her posture was rigid with tension as the environment bombarded her senses, lower lip rolling under teeth as she fidgeted away her nerves.