Darkness was slowly but surely approaching. All chirping of the birds fell silent and there was hardly any sign of life scurrying in a grassy field abundant with trees and shrubs. In between many of these plants, there was a dirt path specifically for travelers so they wouldn't lose their way from one town to the next. It was easy to lose track of in the night, though which proved to be an inconvenience to a frustrated rogue of a woman.
Instead of letting herself walk in plain sight, she shuffled through the thicker areas of the grassland. The town she was walking away from wasn't safe for her anymore. A failed attempt at robbing a grocer got her chased down by an angry mob. Melody would be enjoying her dinner if she wasn't discovered by a very loud, very energetic child turning away from his Mother.
Then again, she wasn't the best thief in the world.
As the temperature dropped, she wrapped her thin cloak around herself, doing her best to store more heat. All the rest of her belongings were left behind in her hideout. The hideout she wasn't safe to go to anymore. An optimistic voice told her this was an opportunity to start fresh, while a more negative voice hissed about how much she was a failure. She had no idea which one to agree with...
The cold of the evening was beginning to bite at his cheeks and nose, and he periodically had to clench his fists to keep away most of gentle numbness that was settling in across the back of his hands and fingers. He disliked the cold, and the encroaching darkness made him wary. Now that he was setting for home the comfort and extravagance of an inn seemed much more appealing... Enough!You don't get anywhere by spending money to soothe every discomfort, he thought. He was the stubborn sort, and frugal otherwise, he'd simply dig in his heels and forge on.
He clenched his fists again, his right hand wrapped around the reins of his pack animal. Being a traveling healer wasn't the most extravagant life, but it provided ample coin, if a little too much excitement for his blood. Still, he had a chance to help people and no amount of bad people, bad luck, or bad weather could take away that feeling. Seeing his breathe linger in front of him only brought a wry look and shoulder shrug as he gathered his cloak and hunched forward a little. He could be reading a book at the inn with a warm cup tea right now.
He stifled a yawn after a particularly dark and monotonous stretch of path. I should make camp, at least, he considered, no sense traveling blindly, who knows what ready nuisance lay ahead. Crime wasn't so prevalent this close to the town, but it's there. One doesn't survive long being an idle optimist.
"Well, Panos...", he said to himself, "let's get to it."
With that he angled his animal off to side of the path towards a small clearing. Suitable, he thought to himself as he began to unpack his gear for the evening. After settling himself in and gathering firewood, he had a comfortable blaze, set a little lower in the ground than usual, steadily burning away. He sat cross legged with a pestle and mortar, grinding herbs to sell in pre-measured packets for his and his customer's convenience. With him life was about work, and any spare moment was devoted to it.
Now that it was completely dark, there was no telling where she was headed. She slowed her footsteps so she'd not foolishly bump into a tree or trip over a rock. Melody was nimble, however as of late, she's not been at her best. The change of scenery would hopefully cure her of that. Remaining in that one town, hiding from the public, was a sign of laziness.
There were footsteps not far from her, as well as a masculine voice. She immediately fell silent so she couldn't risk scaring them off or just getting threatened with something. Whilst behind a berry bush, she peered past the leaves so she could get a better look at whoever this was. There was nothing but shadow until flames came to life, illuminating the figure of a man sitting cross legged.
Melody wasn't interested in him, though. She was interested in his things. Her dark eyes locked onto the luggage his traveling companion was carrying. 'I might not starve after all!' she thought excitedly. This was a loner in the wilderness, so there was no way she could ruin this opportunity like she did the last one.
The bush made a shuffling noise when she stepped away from it. Most would assume an animal or the wind caused it, though some were more alert than that. All of her hair was tucked farther into the hood of her cloak so none would stray to her face. Then, as quietly as she could, she crept out of the thicket of greenery, keeping herself low against the grass.
Once the mount was within reach, she stretched her arm towards whatever her hand could wrap its fingers around. In this darkness, she had no idea what anything was. If what she snatched was food, at least she could put it to some other use, if not sell it. Hastily, she grabbed a cloth sack filled with something surprisingly light, then sprinted away from the little campsite.
Panos worked diligently, a pace committed to memory from hours of practice. Some would have called it monotonous, but he found a calming pleasure in simple tasks. His mechanical action allowed his mind to drift to other things, usually something needing to be maintained, herbs and chemicals needing to be bought, in all it was fairly monotonous. However, on occasion, his mind drifted outside the doldrums of everyday and he saw himself as a mighty warrior running down field with an army, setting forth to face an equally brutal force of hellish others, to live and hold glory and fame or die with honor an-- What was that?, he though as he looked up. He had heard a rustling earlier but animals usually moved away... less it was a bigger animal.
"Should'a stayed at the inn...", he grumbled softly.
Laying his mortar and pestle down gently he reach for a thick length of wood, as wide as his wrist and as long as his arm. His own personal history had taught him not to be without some measure of defense. Hand slowly gripping the cudgel, he made ready to stand when he noticed that his pack animal didn't startle. Not at all odd, of course, if you're a person... or a thief! He rose quickly, forgetting all preamble and hoping to catch them in the act. His over eagerness cost him as the blanket he had sat upon twisted around his boot. Angery, and a little hurt, he rose up, shucking off the blanket and running over to his animal. The distance wasn't far, but it was far enough, by the time he arrived he caught only a faint glimpse of someone moving fast and low. He glanced down at this packs and saw a single pouch hastily yanked open... Oh, my pocket watch!
Bounding in the direction of the moving brush, he used the cudgel swat away branches and weeds, clearing a path as much as this other was intent on not leaving one. With a lucky break the chase lead them to the well worn path, allowing him a few more precious feet towards the thief. In an act of desperation he hurtled the stick at the thief's feet.
"Got you!", he yelled as the stick hit the thief in the back of the legs. He felt satisfied with himself, until he heard her yelp. Now he felt just a little guilty.
Quickly walking over to to the downed would-be thief, he took no chances and held her down firmly with a knee to her back. His cudgel was nowhere in sight and she didn't appear to be holding weapons, but then she didn't appear to be a thief, either. He patted her down quickly, unused to manhandling anyone, let alone a woman, in this fashion. Nothing. She must be hiding it, he knew, but he didn't feel right about invading a woman's space that way, thief or no.
Clearing his throat, he used his deepest voice, "Where is my time piece? Do you know who I am? I could have you arrested and hung for this!". He hoped she bought the act. He had nothing to back up the talk, nothing even to bind her with, save maybe a rabbit snare he often kept on his person. Letting free another wry look he grabbed her arms to try and seem like he was binding her for arrest, as if a rabbit snare ever held anything but a rabbit.
"Well? Speak, girl. Maybe I'll be lenient.", his seemed steady, but goodness only knows if she'd believe him.
Fortune seemed to be smiling brightly at her when she realized that what she swiped happened to be a pocket watch! It wasn't edible, nut she could trade it for a fair amount of coins. Settling on that fact was lifting her spirits up.
That uplifting didn't last very long, though...
With a loud swear word, Melody crashed onto a patch of grass when her feet got tangled with a stick. Not much sooner, she heard the words "Got you!", which she instantly groaned at.
There was no time for her to properly react, either. A knee was planted into her back so escape would be impossible. Scarlet instantly rushed to her face as he pat her down, either searching for items or enjoying himself with the shape of her body. Neither assumption settled too well in her mind. 'This is the worst day of my life.'
The squirming movements she made went still when she noticed just how trapped she was. His grip was tight; she should have known. With the way her day was going, she couldn't steal from anyone easy to take advantage of! With an irritated sigh, she blew upward as her hood sagged down over her eyes, some strands of hair joining it. One thing she hated was not being able to see. Her agitation only grew when the hair and fabric fell right back on her face...
There were rewards offered for Melody's capture, so obviously he didn't know who she was, either. That was a relief. "If you want it, you'll have to let me free. I'd rather your hand didn't go in my clothes," she answered truthfully, though doubted he'd believe her. Any fool who followed those instructions wouldn't get their goods back, because the rogue would sprint away at the first chance. Melody didn't have the energy for those tricks tonight, though. The watch would just be returned and they'd go their separate ways!
"I'll die of starvation before you can hang me. Sorry, stranger," she told him in a bored voice. Melody wasn't even making any attempt to fight him back; it was as if this already happened numerous times.
"I'll die of starvation before you can hang me. Sorry, stranger"
She looked nonchalant, bored even, with the situation. Yet what sort of person makes light of death in such a way? Perhaps she was desperate... maybe she was only desperate. He could have gotten the whole situation all wrong. She could be in need of help for all he knew. On the surface of his mind he told himself to just retrieve his pocket watch and let her go. But beyond that he felt the need to help, as he always did, and as before, he would not betray that feeling.
...but he wasn't going to untie her either. Not yet.
After helping her up and into a sitting position, Pathos sat directly in front of her, giving her a look over as he assessed what he wanted to do next. She looked worse for the wear and definitely hungry. He could forgive the whole event if she was only hungry. He may not be the most personable of fellows, but he was no monster. He sat and thought for a moment longer, betraying himself by letting his considerations dictate his facial features. With a shake of his head he banished his thoughts to the back of his mind and focused on the girl again. He let out a long, low sigh and nodded his head to himself, finally making his decision.
"You'll come with me. I have food and maybe a blanket instead of this...", grabbing at her meager cloak he spoke simply, intending to imply nothing but what he said, "I'll also have my time piece back. And that part is non-negotiable. After that, we'll see about taking you back to town... or something...".
Thanking him for at least letting her sit would have been kind. Melody was stubborn, though; she was also in a foul mood. At first sight, she could tell he was pondering on what to do with her. Rather than stare and keep guessing, she turned her head, staring grimly at the dark distances. This situation was much more fortunate than getting caught in public, she thought optimistically. There weren't hundreds of people around to humiliate her! Penalties for theft were harsh, especially if you were a woman. Melody didn't take kindly to the idea of being a housewife, though. There wasn't any husband or children to please, anyway.
"You'll come with me."
At those words, she slowly turned her head until she could see his eyes. That statement was so... Foreign. As a person unused to such generosity, could she be blamed for her surprise? He was even offering a blanket so she'd not freeze overnight, as well as assistance to civilization. Melody's eyebrows rose for a moment, her mask of disbelief a very priceless sight.
"I, uh..." The right way to respond wasn't coming easily. Hastily, she let statements run through her mind. She couldn't even remember the last time she actually talked to someone. Life was lonely; she, herself and her. Interacting with strangers was dangerous, so she rarely tried!
Something of a defeated sigh passed through her lips before she gave her answer: "Very well. I'll keep my hands off your belongings, I promise. Your competence is higher than the imbeciles my hometown calls guards, so I shan't challenge you."
His willingness to feed a criminal was intriguing, but above all she was grateful for it. If she could, she'd of properly thanked him for it. Sadly, she had nothing valuable on her. Except for his 'time piece', of course. Which she intended to return once her hands were free.
Panos gave her a critical look before deciding she meant what she said. with a nod, he carefully proceeded to undo her binds, not wanting to waste a good snare. Now his gamble started, would she hold to her word? She had made a promise, after al, but not everyone held to promises the way he did. We'll have to wait and see, he thought.
"Okay, you're free, girl. Now I'll have my time piece back, if you please.", he insisted. As singularly tracked his mind may be, the watch was all he had of an old life he didn't quite want to forget. Not yet, at least. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Oh, eh... I don't want to call you "girl" this whole time. My name is Panos. Panos Samillisus Frond. Um, just call me Panos. What are you called?".
Somewhere between his hollow threats and standing before her now he had lost the deep bass of his voice, replaced now with a softer tone that seemed to sway from assertive to uncertain in the span of a breath. His face had a perpetual wry look to it, as if he was ready to believe nothing unless it was proven true twice over. He spoke with his body, his shoulders alternatively pushing back as his voice expressed confidence and hunching forward when unsure.
I hope I'm doing the right thing here, he thought.
Melody immediately straightened herself when she was released from the snare. A relieved sigh passed through her lips, followed by a quick smile. She really did luck out... Had he been anyone else, she probably would have been taken to prison!
The man then politely demanded his time piece be returned. An index finger was held up to signal he should be patient for a moment, then that same finger went to the material that hugged her bosom. In one movement, the stretchy fabric was tugged back while her other hand reached in, pulling the object from the safety of her cleavage. The material made a quiet slap against her skin when she let go of it, the other hand holding his treasure in front of him. There was a cheeky expression on her face, followed by coquettish batting of her lashes. There was no way she could properly make herself look innocent, but that made her mischief all the more amusing for her.
Some uncertainty then planted in her mind. He gave his name, but should she give hers? The gesture seemed fair, since he did offer some kind services a couple moments ago.
"Melody Hyland," she answered calmly. "If we're ever in public together, try not to use my name too loudly. The next time I'm captured, I doubt I'll be set free."
A smile touched her lips, though this time it was sheepish. It had something to do with the way he was looking at her, as if he'd be able to see if she ever lied, right off the bat. Melody didn't let herself feel only a foot tall next to him, though. She kept her good posture, the stare of her dark eyes dauntless. "Pleased to meet you... Panos."
He caught her smile and instinctively smiled back, not his usual response, but it didn't seem out of place to do so either. He liked her eyes, and her smile. He noticed there was much of her appearance he liked, but he quickly dismissed it with a shake of his head, letting his mind settle back on the tasks at hand.
He spoke almost to himself at first, "Melody...Hyland...", he said slowly, drawing out her name as if examining it, "A secret name... so you are a thief? Don't suppose it matters much here and now.". He rubbed his chin and thought on it some more before he realized they were just standing in the cold and dark for no reason at all. "Pleased to meet you too, Melody Hyland. Let's get going, I have a camp and I'm uncomfortable as I imagine you are, too.".
He lead the way back, assuming she'd follow and hoping she wouldn't try anything too tricky. He doubted it though, if her recent actions were any indication, and he didn't think she carried any weapons. But what about those eyes of hers and that pretty smile? Weaponless, indeed! He usually kept stone faced around such flirting, ladies of all manner tried their best to may weasel the his prices down. A cheaper tonic here, a free poultice for a minor ailment there, before you know it your prices and standards are in disarray all for the want of a few warm smiles and honey dipped words! This girl wasn't after that though and aside from their brief grievance, she had asked for nothing. Just keep your head about you, he thought, and everything will be all right.
"We've almost arrived. It's that faint light there...", he gestured towards a faint flickering light that looked low set in the ground.
Melody looked in the direction of his campsite once he pointed it out to her. Just from staring at that distant fire, she could feel herself warm up. She had no bad intentions and that was highly noticeable in the tired way she looked, as well as walked. There wasn't even a rush in her steps because of how relaxed she felt. For the first time in months, she didn't have to be paranoid about someone finding her and attempting to arrest her. Well, not as much, anyway. Being out in the open, there were many things that could jump out to get her.
"So..." She wanted to say something; something friendly. There was no reason for him to feel uneasy around her, if he was. Plus, she disliked silence. Melody was often alone, with no one to have a conversation with. Passing up that opportunity when she finally met someone made no sense! "You seem to travel with lots of goods. Is that how you make your money?"
When she finished her question, she looked to him for a moment whilst making a smile. Seeing him was easier since they drew closer to the fire. The man consistent traveling was noticeable in his healthy figure, from what she could see. Melody didn't stare for long, though to avoid being labeled a creep of some sort. The warm flames had her attention, anyway. Once she stopped in front of the warmth, she sat herself down and let her body absorb it.
"Hm, well I guess it's pretty obvious I'm no soldier... uh, yes, I sold herbs at first, but then people weren't able to make proper measurements and mixtures, so I became a bit of a chemist. After that, people wanted to me wrap their wounds, maybe a few stitches here and there, so I became a bit of a surgeon...", he spoke casually, as if she weren't a stranger. He was used to talking to people that way, he had to in his work. He scanned his campsite as he neared it. His blanket he was sitting on was bundled in the dirt and some of his herbs had spilled, but mortar and pestle still stood, his mixture undisturbed. He bent down instinctively to pick up his belongings.
"Thank you, again", she said. She sounded pleased.
"It's nothing... I mean, if you are only hungry and cold, I don't see why I can't help. Um, let me get you a blanket. I'll assume you've not eaten yet?", he looked up at her from clearing the spot where he had been sitting, putting away herbs and small squares of paper he used as packets. Without waiting for her answer Panos rose and rummaged through his belongs in search of what was going to be his breakfast in the morning, an apple, some cheese, and a bit of dried meat. Hardly a meal for a king, but he rarely ate heavily while traveling and he could always purchase more. He gathered it all in a round, hardwood bowl along with a water skin and a spare blanket he rarely used but always carried.
He walked over to her, placing the bundle at her feet, "It's not much, but it's what I have. Go ahead and eat all you want, I ate before I left town earlier, so it's no problem.", he turned back to his crumpled blanket and straightened it out before sitting down with a grateful sigh. "And you, Melody Hyland? What do you do...aside from all this business, I mean?"
Melody tilted her head to the side as she watched him gather some items, her eyes shining with curiosity. She promised to not snatch anymore of his belongings, but that didn't stop her from wondering what all he had packed up. All things shiny and all things tasty were of interest of her. Some of what she saw didn't look too valuable, though. To her, at least. She knew little about medicines and herbs, except that they could heal you or herbs could be used in cooking. Using those things properly was impossible without first being taught.
A grateful smile lit up her face when he set down a wooden bowl with food, as well as a blanket. Melody hadn't seen such a good looking apple in a long time. The last time she received one so healthy looking was a lucky steal from a man with a local fruit cart. Pulling off that stunt too many times caused him to change his location, sadly. At the same time, that amused her.
After taking a large bite from the round fruit, she paused mid-chewing when he asked about what she did, thievery aside. The piece was then swallowed, her thumb flicking at her lower lip where a drop of juice trickled. "Ah, well... Right now, nothing," she answered, looking down at her lap. "I used to be in a guild of thieves, but authorities found our hideout some time ago. I'm one of the few that avoided capture."
The memory brought sorrow to her heart, her frown disappearing when she decided to distract herself with the food. In all her starvation, she bit that apple to the core surprisingly fast. None was going to waste; she ate every little amount she knew was edible.
"I don't even know where to go now. I fled my hometown because I came close to being arrested too many times. I've gotten rusty since my companions are gone," Melody told him, then swallowed a piece of cheese she tore off of its whole.
The blanket he set on the ground for her was then unfolded and draped at her shoulders, her body curling beneath it to help trap the warmth. A side of her head rested on one of her knees, though her eyes stayed on Panos. "You're a chemist and a doctor. How interesting," Melody said, thinking back to what he told her. Friendly conversation sounded nicer than dwelling on her past, plus talking helped to sort out her mess of thoughts. "My family had a candle making business I used to help them with. Maybe someday, I'll open one of my own. That's the only community friendly skill I have, I think."
Panos listened patiently as he sat back down on his blanket. Watching the remnants of his breakfast being devoured, his mouth began to form in a slight smile. She is hungry, he thought with well contained amusement.
Sitting cross legged, he began to reengage in his nightly routine as she spoke. He nodded and listened closely, keeping steady eye contact with her, he did what he normally did with people he spoke with and began paying as much attention to what she said as how she said it. He noted her slight frown and her eagerness to cover it. He also noticed how much she preferred to change subjects and felt no need to press her about her past.
"A candle maker, hm? Aye, that is a good skill to have and it can make you a decent life. Maybe not extravagant, but comfortable to be sure.", he spoke thoughtfully. His face scrunched up in thought. His brows furrowed and his mouth curved down sharply. After a moment he asked, "Why not do that now? Apprenticeship costs nothing. Eventually you could earn your way into having your own shop. You obviously have skilled hands...". He let a smile run across his face as he spoke those last words.
"What I mean is, why all of this?", he asked with a flourishing wave of his arm, meaning to convey both their surroundings as well as the situation that brought them together. He looked down at his lap, finding packets already filled and his mortar nearly emptied of its recently ground contents. Because his routine was so engrained within him, he often worked out his daily needs several days in advance simply through rote labor.
Looking back at Melody while absently filling his mortar with more ingredients, Panos rethought his words and felt them too invasive. "I'm sorry, I-I shouldn't pry... that isn't my business.", he lowered his head and frowned at his own foolishness,"I don't know you and I couldn't know what brings you here. It's not my place, forgive me."
Feeling the heat of embarrassment on his face more so than the fire, Panos added a few stout lengths of wood to the pile deciding that a larger flame couldn't hurt, feeling that the worst of the evening was over. Provided he could watch his words, that is.
The question he gave her and the mannerism of his arm was conspicuous, her eyes watching and learning his habits. That was something that came with her past life, when there was nothing to do but people watch, or register the routines of her enemies to her mind. By no means was she feeling invaded. This person had been nothing but kind to her; perhaps he just wanted to know more.
With a lopsided smile, she too looked at her lap, leaving him to his work without her staring. There was noticeable redness in his face, too. Normally, she would poke fun at such a sight, but Melody didn't want to risk her chances of staying here with him. "A person can be driven to extreme measures when there's nothing to lose," she told him simply, not wanting to bore him with details. "And, I cannot go back to where I came from."
Feeling the drowsiness settle in her eyes and in her mind, she looked to her left and right to see where would be the most comfortable to lay down. Melody decided on her left, since there were fewer stones to be bothered by. Slowly, she lowered herself in that direction, folding her arms under her head for added comfort. Her long, black hair kept behind her shoulders, a few strands wandering over her face. No mind was paid to it, though. In sleep, she'd forget all about it.
"I'll repay you someday, Panos. I will," she promised, to him and herself. Likely, he would say she wouldn't have to. One way or another, she would return this favour to him. That would be the first act of kindness in a long time, too.
Panos looked up from his work in time to see her lay down. She promised him probably more than she could give, but it still made him smile again. He watched her for a moment, allowing his mind to wander on tangents. His moment was drew to a close and he looked back down at his once more nearly empty mortar. Deciding that it was enough for the evening he packed up his accoutrement and herbs, placing them in a tough canvas sack reserved for such things. Though he made no outward sign, his mind held much at the moment.
Can't say for certain that she'll be fine once I part ways, he thought, for all I know she could have trouble in nearly every town from here to Maclon! Couldn't just leave her to her own devices. Hell, she's probably more trouble than she's worth. Could be lying, even, but it doesn't seem so.Doesn't seem to have much, would even hazard to guess that she has nothing at all. Well, no uselosing sleep over it now...
"I'll just have to wait and see.", he said half to himself, only realizing soon after that he spoke out loud. He quickly recovered, "That is to say, we will wait and see what happens. I suppose if you're fixed on repayment I can find something to make us even. But that will come later. Now, we should sleep. It makes the trip to Tryys all the easier if we can get there before dark."
With that he wrapped his blanket around him and settled in. He stole glances at Melody now and again, thinking about what to make of her and her situation. Of their situation. The cynic within him felt that he should be be as painless and easy as possible and simply find a place to leave her. Yet another, more human, part of him felt the urge to help her, set her on a better path, and leave her world better than it was before.
Melody slept peacefully throughout the night, much to her surprise. Usually, she was troubled with nightmares, or felt too anxious to sleep. There was always a reason to be paranoid, too. Guardsmen patrolled the streets professionally, ever watchful for criminals. This night wasn't like that, though. She might have been sleeping near a dirt path, likely considered nowhere, but there was an ally nearby. At least, she thought so. Panos was kind; the kindest person she'd ever met. That was more than enough consolation to let her slumber without interruption.
The woman opened her eyes fairly early in the morning. Up above, the sky was a mixture of pastels, signaling that it was dawn. Whilst making a soft yawn, she sat herself up, the blanket falling from her shoulders. There was a slight pain in the side of her head from sleeping on a rough surface. That would go away soon enough, so she dismissed the thought to focus on something else. Fingers combed through her black hair; it was the best she could do to keep it untangled.
With the blanket in hand, she stood up and began to fold it so Panos could pack it with the rest of his belongings. It was set down beside the bowl she used to eat last night's meal. Afterward, she dusted off her clothes and adjusted her cloak, finally feeling ready to get on with her day.
Melody went to the animal carrying all of Panos' items, but had no intention of stealing. After all, she made a promise! Instead, she was just looking it all over. Now that there was more light, she was able to see what else he carried. It most definitely looked like a traveling shop, along with camping supplies. Without a doubt, he was a traveling merchant. 'I wonder if that's exciting at all,' she thought to herself, trying to imagine what it would be like.
Eyes went from the belongings to the sky. She admired the colours and liked to watch creatures fly up above. There was a flock of birds, actually, about to pass them. She turned around to keep watching them, her lips curving into a small frown because they came and left so quickly. Melody was very interested in animals and often times wished they would trust her more, so she could study them.