nano excerpt

(My apologies if the names are hard to keep straight. It makes complete sense in context.)

Merrily took them to the town’s bar first, shrieked and tried to tackle the bartender as soon as she passed through the doorway. He caught her in one arm without spilling the drink he was pouring. “Gamble!” he roared, slid the drink down the bar counter, capped the bottle, and gave her a hug. Leo was beginning to see why she had grabbed him that morning in the woods. He had hardly been able to bring himself to talk to her since then.

“Trouble!” Merrily called, entirely louder than needed. Her brother set her gently on the ground. “Trouble, listen. We got an artificer.”

Her brother’s head snapped up, and he looked beyond the bar at Maxwell and Leo. After a moment’s consideration, he stepped forward and offered Maxwell his hand. “I’m Matthew Soarin,” he said.

Maxwell didn’t shake his hand. He tried to stare Matthew down.

Matthew stepped close. “You think you’re better than us, don’t you?”

“Don’t you shoot my brother, Mister Gallows!”

“I don’t think his hand could get to his holster in time, Merrily.” Matthew’s eyes did not move from Maxwell’s. “Mister Gallows. Welcome to Rathberry. I can tell that you don’t want to be here, so I will be brief. My mama means the world to me. You are going to take very good care of her. Is that clear?”

Maxwell nodded.

“Good.” Matthew stepped away, returning to a polite distance. He looked askance at Leo.

“Leo Gallows,” Leo said, and was quick to offer his own palm.

Matthew shook it. Leo noticed that he kept a blade in his sleeve. “I’m very pleased to see you. I hope the farm is to your liking.” Matthew returned to the bar and hugged Merrily again. “You have a way to get home?”

“Not yet.”

“I’ll pass word around the patrons that you’re looking for a ride. Stick around for two hours, and I’m sure I can get you the back of a cart at worst.”

“I’m visiting Joel and Marc first. Send them on over.”

“Right.” Matthew turned and grabbed a bottle and a short glass. “Before you go…” he poured one drink in, then a bit of another, handed it off. Merrily grinned and poured it down her throat.

She started choking almost immediately. “Gah!”

Matthew laughed. “That’s what you get!”

“Trying to poison me…”

She was still rubbing her neck when they left the bar, muttering uncomplimentary things under her breath about Matthew’s sense of humor.

Maxwell cocked his head to look back at the tavern. “I like him.”

“Why do you call him Trouble?” Leo asked.

Merrily made a face. Her mouth was still burning. “Why do you think?”

“I very much like him,” Maxwell said. “Fine gentleman.”

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