Salacial slowed her pace, keeping close to the right wall, looking for the door with the circlet marking. The fog had grown even thicker, now blanketing her booted feet, so heavy it parted around her rather than swirling away. A movement from behind sent her spinning, but before she had time to see the cause, massive arms surrounded her and lifted her off her feet. She was carried forward and through an opened doorway.
As Salacial felt her feet meet the ground and the arms about her release, the door swung closed revealing the leathered chest of a fierce ostre warrior. She turned as the door closed with a distinct click. The ostre beside it reached over and slid a heavy bar into place, locking it. Whoever had carried her in here had stayed outside. She looked at the ostre. He stared at a point over her head and crossed his arms over his chest. Apparently he intended to stand guard at the door and nothing more. Her suspicions were confirmed when she noted the circlet emblem on the medallion securing the leather straps crossed just above his arms. The tension in the pit of her stomach abated. She turned back toward the dim room.
Even here, the fog seeped in to lightly shroud the contents. Light came from a large fire crackling in the great hearth on the back wall, its smoking logs no doubt adding to the dimness of the interior. Stone stairs rose along the wall to her left. The right wall held wooden benches with pegs above, hung with a variety of cloaks and hats. In the center of the room were broad swords, cleavers, hatchets and bows neatly stored on racks.
A gnarled mestrin female, shrouded in layers of cloth, entered through a small door beside the hearth. She shuffled closer and stood in front of Salacial, studying the healer's face a moment before speaking. "You have come to tend the child?" Her voice was high and grating. Salacial nodded. The bent female turned and headed toward the stairs. "This way," she said.
At the top of the stairs, they went through a heavy wooden door that led into a long narrow hallway running toward the back of the building. Salacial waited as the old mestrin closed the heavy door behind them, then rapped twice on the first door on their right. The door was opened by an ostre matching the one below. "She is here," the mestrin said before stepping aside and nodding at Salacial to precede her.
Salacial entered a room twice the length of the room below, the stone chimney rising from below through its center. The ostre closed the door behind her, then stood with his back to it. Wooden coverings were drawn against the windows set in the stones along the front of the building. Light from sconces along the sidewalls splayed along the polished wood of the window coverings and floor boards.
She walked past the chimney and approached the couple seated in chairs beside a large grate in the floor. Heat rising from below warmed her dampened cloak as she paused over the grate. The heavy smell of omvak wool mixed with the smell of pemella smoke. It was the smell of comfort, of finding warmth and safety from the chill and damp.
"Please sit," the male said indicating a chair to Salacial's left, against the warm stones of the chimney. Salacial sat and pushed the cowl from her head. The male leaned forward resting his elbows on the leather covered arms of his chair. Salacial decided that he must be a humostre, half human, half ostre; not quite as massive as an ostre, but with the same small dark eyes and tough, ruddy skin. A thick shock of hair, not quite as coarse as a full-blood ostre, protected his scalp.
The female seated beside him, Salacial was surprised to see, was a human, one coarse of feature and large of frame. She studied Salacial with curiosity, and a touch of pity in her deep green eyes. "The Indigents know that you are in the city," the female spoke, her voice deep and fluid.
"You must leave," said the male.
"Where is the child?" Salacial asked.
"You are not concerned with capture?" the female asked.
Salacial did not pause before responding. "You sent for help. I am here to help you. When I can help you no more, then I will leave."
The female smiled and Salacial was struck by the transformation to near beauty. There is much love and understanding beneath that coarse frame, Salacial thought. The female nodded in approval and stood. "I am called Vera," she said. "My mate is Cleve." She turned a look of such admiration on her mate that Salacial felt a prick of longing pain in her chest. Would she ever find a mate to look upon that way? "When you are ready to leave, he and his men will see you safely out of the city. Now," she said taking Salacial's hand and lifting her from the chair, "let us see if you can help our daughter."