Well, this might be the stupidest thing that I’ve ever written but what the hell. A Valentine’s Day inspired short about Nenn and Galharrow going speed-courting. Like the Christmas special, this is probably not canon…

“I can’t believe that you dragged me here for this. It’s the worst thing ever,” I said.

Nenn showed me a blacksap-stained set of teeth, her grin telling me that my intense suffering was probably the highlight of her night.

“How’ve yours been so far?”

“Not good,” I said. “The second one said she liked my crow tattoo.”

Nenn fell about laughing. The bottle of whisky we’d necked before we started speed-courting had gone down about as quickly as it usually did. The bottle that had let her convince me that it would be funny had gone down even quicker. She laughed hard enough that she nearly fell off her chair. The smartly dressed hotel attendant rang a little bell. The break was over, and it was time to move on.

“Who’s that man they’re carrying out?” I asked. A pair of lobby attendants were half-dragging a finely dressed young man, who appeared quite comatose, from the party.

“Oh. That’s Count Don. Maybe the count’s son, I forget. Anyway, try not to smile at anyone and just don’t be yourself. The most important thing is to make sure they don’t realise what you’re actually like until they agree to go for a drink with you. Chin up! I need to get back to my table!” She staggered off back to the other side of the room while I fretted and felt like beetles were crawling up my arse. This was, without doubt, my absolute nightmare. Worse than the Misery.

A finely dressed woman with hair stacked up on her head like a beehive. She was attractive in a classic, ‘don’t touch me, look at me, or deign to speak to me’ kind of way that I found about as alluring as a kick in the balls.

“Three minutes!” the attendant called.

“Well,” I said. “Good evening. My name’s Ryhalt.”

“I see,” she said. She looked at the clock on the wall. She was already looking at the clock. Eight seconds in. I’d been entirely reluctant to come and do this but spirits of fucking hell, this was humiliating.

“What should I call you?”

“Saphia Delonde,” she said. She gave me a smile of unbearably white teeth. “But my friends just call me Saphia.”

“That’s a lovely name,” I said. It was the same thing that I’d said to the last three ladies that had rotated around the room. Awkwardness filled the air with a heavy, uncaring silence.

“I didn’t choose it,” she said. “What do you do?”

What was she asking? Did she want to know if I made a lot of money? Because I didn’t. Did she want to know if I lived a glamorous life in high society? Because I definitely didn’t do that either. I didn’t think that telling her that I spent my life hunting down traitors, hanging deserters and hacking monsters apart was going to do much to defuse the awkwardness. I had no interest in talking to these women and the whisky had made me morose. It wasn’t that they were bad people, they just didn’t have what I was looking for. Whatever that was. If I was even looking. Which I most definitely wasn’t.

“I’m in the hunting business,” I said.

“Oh,” Saphia said. “How very rural.” She glanced at the clock again. “Isn’t it funny how time goes so slowly during these things. One would think that it would go quickly, would one not?”

“I suppose so,” I said. If Crowfoot decided to burst out of my arm just then, it would have been a happy distraction from the humiliation.

Once, two days into the Misery, Nenn had decided that it would be funny if we took it in turns pretending to be asleep to see how close we could get a gilling to come before kicking it into a gully. It had not been a good game, but things had taken a turn for the worse when Tnota had actually fallen asleep and a gilling had bitten him, leaving his leg numb for hours. We’d found it pretty funny – Tnota less so – but it had been a fucking terrible idea.

Speed-courting, I had decided, was Nenn’s worst idea ever.

“So . . . what would you normally be doing tonight?” I said, clutching at straws.

“I like to be entertained,” she said. “There was a travelling band here recently. They claimed to have used a magical sword to cut a hole in the fabric of reality and come here to entertain us. Saga, I think they were called. They were somewhat wild, and I didn’t believe a word, of course. Do you follow bands?”

“Err,” I said. Did watching travelling minstrels count? We didn’t get many of them in The Bell. Sometimes someone banged on a pan and chanted the words to a song, usually getting most of them wrong, and that was about it.

The appearance of one of the hotel’s attendants was like a gust of incredibly fortunate wind. Although he looked a bit blood spattered.

“Master Galharrow, I’m afraid that there’s a problem. Would you mind coming with me for a moment?”

“To my regret, Miss Delonde, please excuse me,” I said, absolutely thrilled to be getting out of my chair. My relief was short lived.

“Am I right in believing that you arrived with the lady with the interesting nose?” the attendant asked in the hallway. Balls, Nenn. What had she gone and done?

“Yeah, she’s one of mine,” I said. A sinking feeling dropped from my throat all the way to my feet. “What’s she done?”

“Well she did pay the fee, so we have tolerated what we can,” the embarrassed attendant said. “But we must ask her to leave the premises.”

“So why haven’t you?”

He squirmed a bit. There was a large red wine stain on the front of his coat. I imagine that he probably had already. I sighed.

“I’ll talk to her,” I said.

Nenn lounged back in her chair, grinning her shit-eating grin. The seat opposite her was empty so I took it.

“Go on then,” I said. “Tell me what you did.”

“I didn’t do anything,” she said. I raised an eyebrow and waited her out. “Fine,” she said. “The first one was an arsehole. He was entirely improper. He’s an actor anyway. It’s not like he needs his fingers tomorrow anyway.”

“And the second?”

“He asked me how many guys I’d been with.”

“And his fingers?”

“He played the piano.” She grinned. “Don’t need your cock in working order to play piano though.”

“You didn’t…”

“He’ll be fine once the swelling goes down,” she said. She snapped her fingers at the closest, terrified barman. “Oi! More wine!”

I didn’t need to ask about the third man because I was pretty sure that I’d seen him being carried out not long ago.

“The last one?”

“Oh. He said he was rich and that he’d be happy to take care of me. Fucking arsehole.”

He was probably the man in the corner, crying and nursing basically everything.

“Can we get out of here?”

“Oh, fuck yes. I’m done with this shit.”

I felt bad that Nenn had broken at least a quarter of the male patrons, so I offered the organiser a bit of money but he was happy just to see the back of us. We headed off to the wall and looked out at the Misery, listening to the cracks in the sky and watching the light playing across them. Nenn had brought the last of her bottle of wine, so we shared that and then threw it out over the crenulations.

“Ah, Ryhalt, we’re never going to find anyone are we?” she said.

“You don’t even want to. You don’t like people,” I said.

“I do like some people,” she said. “Listen Ryhalt. There’s something I’ve been meaning to ask for a while.” She looked away and lowered her eyes. “Did you ever think . . . ever wonder . . . if me and you . . ?”

Her words hit me like a charging buffalo. I stared at her for a moment, mouth open and working without being able to make words. Hurt showed on her face, brow creasing, eyes wide.

“Nenn,” I finally managed. “I think – you know – you’re like a – I don’t – ”

Nenn erupted into gales of laughter. She laughed so hard she doubled over. She laughed so hard she cried. Then she laughed hard enough that she threw up all the wine and whisky that we’d drunk.

“Hilarious,” I said. “Happy Spirt of Love day, Nenn. You’re an arsehole.”

But she was too busy laughing to care.

Ravencry covers