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Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by Rayne, Sep 30, 2016.
Claire couldn’t have been more excited. This was it, her first adventure, one that she had longed for. Two weeks earlier her father received a request for him to send one of his children on a perilous quest, with another unknown hired hand to retrieve a magical item. Of course the request was meant for one of his sons, but Claire was the one who accepted.
Her father, full of frustration, could not contact any of his sons soon enough for the job. What was he to do? Claire entered his quarters hesitantly, “Father…?” She paced into the room slowly to find him rustling through scrolls. He glanced up at her “Claire my dear, what is it?” Her face dressed with nerves, and her palms clamming up, she spoke, “I know the recent mission that came in is puzzling you. The boys won’t be back in time to fulfill the request, and it’s one that you made seem somewhat urgent… I don’t know if you had noticed, but the mission requested a child of the Brighton family… And well… I am in fact a child of the Brighton family...” As his gaze fell upon her chills ran through her spine. She couldn’t read him. There was a long pause. He stood up straight and walked over to her, the sound of his shoes tapping against the wood floor echoed with each step. When he reached her he smiled, pushed the hair out of her face, tucked it behind her ear and placed his hand on her shoulder. “You aren’t a little girl anymore. You’ve grown into such an incredible woman. You’re strong, loving, skilled in so many ways, your mother would have loved to see the amazing person you’ve become. I know I may regret saying this. Claire, will you accept this mission as a child of the Brighton family?”
So now Claire was on her first quest into the world. It was exciting and scary all at the same time. She was still in disbelief her father let her go. Without asking questions she gathered her things for the journey. The mission requested her to meet her companion in front of a specific tavern in a village a few days ride from her home. So this is where she stood. Her light weighted armor glimmered in the sunlight, her sword was strapped to her side. She held the request in hand to be sure she knew where she was suppose to be. When her eyes made contact with strangers she averted them away. Looking to the sky, she noticed the clouds were beginning to become more dense as they rolled in. “I hope it’s not going to rain,” she muttered under her breath. Where was this other hired hand? Claire was too excited to get moving, it was hard for her to stand still and wait.
"Listen, kid, haven't you had enough to drink?"
The rather rotund barkeep rested his hairy elbows upon the bar just inches away. He was close enough for Jarek to smell the stale ale and salted sweat from the man's pores. The barkeep was bald, but had such viciously thick, darkened eyebrows that Jarek swore could shield him from attack. He knew the barkeep was only doing his job by ensuring the patrons in the tavern wouldn't get too rowdy from too many mugs of ale, but he was sick of being treated like a child. Despite his rather youthful appearance, Jarek was older than he looked. Much older. And he was about to lose his temper.
"Your job, dear sir, is to ensure my mug does not experience a moment of even near emptiness. For it would become far too lonely to carry on amidst your banter."
The barkeep's eyes narrowed a bit as his head tilted slightly in confusion. "What?" He grunted.
"I said keep them coming until I say stop. I've ridden much too far and far too long to have some putrid oaf telling me when I should and should not be drinking. Now, take your coppers and do your job." Jarek's blue eyes seemed to almost glow within the dimly lit room. His patience had already run thin. He was a mere four drinks in and was only now hitting that magical point where his muscles were no longer awkwardly tense from his travels.
The smelly man before him grunted and poured him another while mumbling something under his breath. Jarek had ridden for hours on horseback, and the journey wasn't exactly a pleasant one. And the first thing he needed upon entering this forsaken town was a stiff drink. Or seven.
His mission was to obtain some sort of ancient relic in some ruin in or around the kingdom of Rovaria. He didn't have the map. But he was supposed to meet up with someone that did. Outside this tavern in fact.
"Shit..." That part of the assignment nearly alluded him. He was ordered to rendezvous with this new partner of his outside of the tavern! Not in it. Was he out there right now? Waiting? Jarek lifted the copper mug and kicked back his head, downing the ale in a few gulps. He gasped for a bit of air after he slammed the mug upon the oaken bar before him. "Thanks, chubby. Here are a few more coppers for your time.." Jarek stood up from the stool and carefully slid the coins forward. As he approached the door, he casually rearranged his ebony cloak, so that the hood rested behind the wide shoulders so commonly found amongst fellow blacksmiths. Dusk was just about to set in, but the rays of the setting sun beamed into the musty tavern, illuminating the patrons inside, as he gave the door a casual shove.
Before him stood what he immediately knew was his future partner. A partner that he didn't need. For all he knew, this little man would be nothing, but a detriment to the mission itself. The Brighton crest so carefully pinned upon this figure's cloak reflected those same rays of the sun that had lit up the tavern just moments ago and shined brightly before him. "So, you're the one that's supposed to help me on my way to retrieve the you-know-what. Listen, kid, it would just be in your best interest to just hand over the map and let the adult take care of this quest." The person that stood before him was rather frail for a man. Scrawny even. Of all the people in Rovaria, they sent some skinny warrior that could barely hold up a sword? What were they thinking? Was Rovaria making a mockery of his home? Of Azathoth? Were they even treating this mission seriously?
And then the figure turned around. Jarek's eyes widened. "You... you're a... a girl???" He managed to blurt out as his mouth dropped ever so slightly.
After waiting a bit impatiently, a voice approached from behind her, the voice of the man she would be traveling with, the one she had been waiting for. She listened to his words before slowly turning towards him.
Before her was a man with icy blue eyes, eyes that were somewhat mesmerizing. They were the first thing she noticed. He was also much taller, so she was forced up look up at him. He had a robust look, which made her feel as though he was a lot more experienced than she was.
What was it he had said? Did he call her a kid!? And let the ‘adult’ take care of it? How dare he. Claire knew she might have some issues with her partner not being able to except the fact she was a woman, but she hoped they would have been at least a little understanding. This man was just arrogant, it did not matter if she was a woman or not, and it made her fume. Her fists clenched and she gritted her teeth. Claire decided to completely ignore his surprise at her being a girl. She didn’t want to make a scene, but her blood was boiling.
“Excuse me, sir? I don’t believe that is the appropriate way to approach the partner in which you will be traveling with.” Claire's glare made it evident she was less than happy.
His scent hit her… a strong smelling ale. “Are you drunk? Have you been here drinking while I have been waiting?!” She hadn’t even noticed that she was yelling.
Claire quieted herself for a moment. Loosing her temper so easily was not the way her father raised her. She is a noble woman, born and raised to keep her composure, and to portray respect for other people. She had to remember she bared the crest of the Brighton family, and could not put that name in a bad light. Her eyes closed as her body drew in a deep breath of air and let it out. This was to be her companion for the duration of the journey, maybe not the companion she had hoped for, but she had to make it work. Who knows, maybe he wasn’t all that bad.
She spoke in a quieted, angered tone. “Although you may have the confidence that this is a journey you can face on your own, we WILL be traveling and completing this mission together, as it is stated on the request. I am the one who holds the map, so you are not going anywhere without me. If this is an issue for you, you may take it up with our employer when we are done.” This was her first adventure, she wouldn’t let him ruin it.
Claire turned slightly away from him as she took out the map. Her fingers delicately unrolled it to reveal their route towards this magical item. Her mind drifted into her frustration and she had a hard time focusing on the directions. While she carefully rolled it back up and slid it back into its place, her eyes peered up at the sky. It was getting late, but they could get a nice head start if they started moving now. She pulled out a small sack of coins and tossed it towards him.
“If you would like to make yourself useful… you can find us some horses."
Despite his slightly inebriated state, Jarek still managed to catch the coins with relative ease.
"Find us some horses?"
His mind played back her words a few times. Who was this little firecracker? The entirety of her retort amused him, however. And he was just in the perfect state of mind to be amused. It was a welcome distraction to boredom. The smile lines upon his face became noticeably larger - giving way to a grin that could hardly be contained.
"Soft, milky skin that may as well have never seen a moment of sunlight. Perfectly braided, well kept and washed hair. Not a single scratch or smudge upon the face." His eyes continued to probe her entire body as if his stare could penetrate what lay hidden underneath her armor.. and more. He continued, allowing his voice to resonate softly as if he was reciting a poem.
"Soft, moistened lips perhaps trained for years to indulge upon milk, honeyed wine, and other delicacies unknown to those of humbler backgrounds such as myself. From the looks of things, I would assume there is hardly a callous upon the hands as well. How soft they must be! A neck so delicately chiseled. One that would be far more fitting inside of a dress instead of such ornate and intricately decorated armor. And the frame? So narrow. So fine. So wondrously petite! I'm now sure my quest is far more than mere artifact retrieval! I am being paid to watch over a fair maiden of indisputable beauty and fragility!"
Jarek really did think she was beautiful.
"From the looks of things... wait, don't tell me. At the very least, you must be the daughter of some noble!" The young looking blacksmith overextended himself with an exaggerated bow. "Yes, oh famed princess! Your order is my command! I shall fetch thee the most elegant of horses - nay - Stallions befitting that of a lady of your stature! Steeds bred for royalty such as yourself! Please allow this humble servant known as Jarek to be of service to you."
A small crowd had gathered some feet away to witness this exchange. Men, women, and even children could be heard chuckling in the distance. Jarek cast a small wink upon his future partner. "Please use me in any way your heart...' He paused long enough to allow his eyes to linger upon her breast plate in obvious fashion.
"In any way your heart... desires."
His smile never left his face.
At first Claire blushed from flattery, but as he went and prattled on of her features she became a bit self-conscious. She wondered if this was what people really thought when they looked at her. When his eyes scanned her body she cringed. It was like he was analyzing her every feature. Well, he was. Was he complimenting her? No.
He was making a mockery of her! A mockery of her name! This was humiliating… Claire’s face burned to a crimson red.
Keep it together. You bear the Brighton sigil.
He was pin pointing ever little thing about her, but why did this embarrass her so? It was all true.. A sinking feeling weighed over her. She felt vulnerable, weak. How could she allow such a man to tear her down for his own amusement… Who was he to make her feel this way? She was not just some fair fragile maiden or a princess, she was much more than that, she knew that. It was like he knew how to get under her skin.
Her ear caught the sounds of chuckling and mumbling of bystanders. This was unacceptable.
As his eyes lingered upon her breastplate and he spoke with that cheeky smile, she couldn’t take it anymore. In a swift motion, her hand reached up and struck him across the face, like she was harshly disciplining a child. It had a surprising bit of force behind it and attracted even more attention from observers. A quiet gasp was even heard from the small crowd that formed. Her body slightly tilted in towards him.
“Wipe that frivolous smile off your face. I will not allow you to make a mockery of me you impudent child. You know nothing of me.” She wouldn’t admit it, but he was right about almost everything he had said. “At least I have the decency to treat people with respect regardless of their appearance. But if I were to? It seems as through you were raised in a barn, and now spend your time drinking away in your sorrows trying to fill some void within you, never able to fulfill you life long dream. I will not submit to your juvenile behavior. I expected more of a man."
She snatched the sack of coins back from him. "I will find us some horses. Perhaps in the mean time, you could make an effort to clear your mind so that we may get moving.”
Claire abruptly turned away and began tromping towards a place that she had remembered seeing upon her entrance into the town. It was an establishment near the gates that would most likely allow them to take a couple of horses on their journey for an acceptable price.
Forget him. Just focus on the quest…
The force of the blow shifted Jarek's face to the right - his left cheek now numb from the impact of a padded leather glove. The speed at which Claire's hand came across his face had actually surprised him. Caught him off guard even. He was well aware of what he was doing - verbally jabbing at her pride. He knew it was only a matter of time before she had enough. What Jarek didn't expect, however, was for her to resort to physical retaliatory action so... so very quickly. "I must have touched a nerve," he thought to himself while gently caressing a cracked lip.
Then there was that familiar taste of blood. Jarek so meticulously licked his lower lip while locking eyes upon Claire's, one could have sworn he was doing so seductively. "Now now. I didn't mean to get you so frazzled, m'lady." His voice remained cordial and steady, and his words seemed slow, deliberate, and crafted with purpose. "They were merely words after all. And, if I did indeed offend you..." His irreverently crooked smile grew. "I can assure you that I fully did not intend to do so in such a short amount of time. Especially so soon after having just met someone of such noble lineage as yourself. It truly was my mistake, and I apologize completely. I was... ill-prepared for such a fragile ego. I dare assumed that someone of your upbringing could endure the rather crass belittlings of the drunken child now standing before you. You must forgive me. I seem to understand very little when it comes to social graces outside of my own... barn-born class."
With that, he gave Claire a quick wink and took one large step back. Jarek didn't exactly want to get slapped again. At least not so soon. The young blacksmith turned around and began to walk towards the northernmost entrance of town. "Don't worry about the horses, miss!" He cried out. "I know a guy who knows a guy! And he owes me quite the favor!" Within moments, the hooded man disappeared into the crowd.
* * * * * * *
By the time Claire arrived, Jarek was sitting at the front of a wagon, casually holding some worn reins in one hand while waving with the other. "Well, it's about time you got here! Hop on up. We don't have much time before those murderous bandits start roaming the roads."
There probably weren't any bandits anywhere near here - let alone the road before them.
The two horses attached to the reins were almond colored, patchy, and old. But they were also thick and muscular. It didn't take a trained eye to see that they were more than able to handle the journey that lay ahead of them. The wagon was covered by a thick fabric made from hemp. Storms weren't all too uncommon this time of year within Rovaria, so Jarek made doubly sure the fabric was also treated with linseed oil to ensure a nice, weatherproof adventure.
He began to pat the empty space next to him just as a gust of wind blew through the town. Night was drawing near, and the temperature was steadily decreasing. "We've got quite the trip planned, but never fear, m'lady. We barn animals are quite the cozy bunch." He smiled warmly from above while politely extending a large, calloused hand - perhaps the first gentlemanly thing he actually did since meeting his fellow traveler. "Here. Let me help you up." He bent forward to extend his reach further. "By the way, the name's Jarek. I don't believe I introduced myself."
Slowly - almost shyly - the moon began to rise on the horizon, illuminating the purple-hued sky with an orb of red. The Harvest Moon had arrived.
It was not an appealing apology, yet it was one she expected - full of flagrant remarks blanketed under forged sympathy. Alas it was still all true. Claire really had a fragile ego, one that grew from years of living in the shadows of her father and brothers. For once, she wanted to be looked up to, the one that received gratuities and rewards for her doings. This was her first chance at that, at least a place to make her own name known.
While Jarek was getting the wagon and horses, Claire hoped to find out more with regards to what their quest was really in search of. She inquired information from commoners around the town. Where as most of them gave her little guidance, others told her legends and myths of a specific magical item, although each story had a different twist. Most of them were regarding a magical item called Requiem. It was said to have been crafted by the mages of the catholic church long ago. Its purpose was to turn the tides in favor of the church in an ongoing war at the time. The item was deemed too powerful for man to wield, leading to its concealment deep within a cavern. Of course these were just tales and the item could have been something completely different, but it was a start. What Claire failed to find out was what kind of item it was. Was is a weapon? A stone? Perhaps a small trinket? It would help an awful lot if they knew exactly what they were looking for. Maybe Jarek knew more…
Claire was surprised he was able to get a wagon and horses is such little time. He sat there, waving to her in a way that was almost like they were long time friends who had not seen each other for awhile. It was odd, but it was a nice change at least from what had went on before. As she approached the wagon she scanned it her hazel orbs.
“Barn animals.” He’s not going to let that one go.
Jarek smiled so warmly, it almost made her feel less precarious about the journey. Such a change in demeanor - he was behaving differently from before but still seemed to have a hint of teasing attitude behind his words. Claire wasn’t one to hold a grudge, but she also did not let certain things go so easily. A gust of wind blew strands of hair in front of her face. Her hand delicately and graciously tucked them behind her ear before accepting the hand he offered so politely. She felt how rough his hands were the moment they touched. As she was hoisted up onto the wagon, their bodies became very close in contact. His warm breath was felt lightly upon her neck - it made her feel tingly and generated a dusting of pink across her cheeks. She plopped herself down quickly, still holding his hand. Her eyes connected with his oceanic gaze.
“… Claire, my name is Claire.” Her hand slid from his and she averted her attention.
Was she suppose to make small talk now? No. Claire was still a bit aggravated and had little desire to learn about him at the moment. Her eyes rolled at the thought as her hands reached to her side. She slipped the map out of its canister and gently unrolled it, laying it flattened out on her lap for both of them to see. Her fingers danced across the paper before stopping on the town at which they currently were in.
“If we head north and take the path here…” Her finger slithered upward. “… We should have an easier time. Although the alternate trail is shorter, it could potentially be more dangerous. Best to play it safe."
Jarek leaned in closer, his right arm pressed up against his newfound companion's side, and his face a mere breath away from her's. He eyed the map carefully, noting the path Claire had traced with her finger. As he shifted his gaze from the map back to her, the tip of his nose grazed her cheek. Her blushing features weren't lost on him, and he secretly took comfort in knowing she may not be completely immune to his charms. He could feel the heat rise from her body, and that, too, was a comfort amidst the chilly winds blowing from the North. He knew this journey was going to be an arduous one, and the days were only going to get colder from here on out.
She was right though. The more direct road before them was a bit too traveled. But bandits were the least of his worries. Jarek understood the weight of their mission. While it was a shot in the dark, if this artifact truly existed...
And that was a big if.
If it did, in fact, exist, life as they knew it would forever be changed. The kingdom that held something so powerful could very well rule the entire world. Their enemies would be ground to dust and gathered to the winds - if the legends were to be believed. And while Jarek was never quick to believe in fairy tales, his life along with Claire's would be at peril if they were to somehow succeed. He had his own doubts whether any of these tales held even an ounce of truth behind them, but legends were legends for a reason. Secretly, he prayed this mission was merely a wild goose chase. For both of their sakes.
Jarek's face relaxed as he gave Claire a warm smile. "You're the boss." He glided back to his original seated position, giving his companion a bit more breathing room - what little they had afforded to them on the wagon that is. The path she had chosen before them would set them back a number of days. Weeks if that looming storm above those damn mountains kept its current pace.
He held the reins tightly in one hand as he shifted his cloak a bit, allowing it to cover his vulnerable neck. The air around them continued to grow cooler. Jarek's eyes wandered back to Claire as he did so. This fragile girl of noble birth was to be his companion for the days to come. Despite her seeming frailty, he knew she must have been chosen for this mission for a reason. And looks were often deceiving. She did have some spunk - this one. But she needed more than that to survive out in the wilderness - especially where they were headed. Still, things could be worse.
At least she was rather nice to look at.
Just then lightning shot across on the horizon like a glowing, intricate cobweb painted into the sky. The night briefly lit up, igniting a hue of blue all around them. One of the horses grunted as Jarek didn't waste any time slapping the straps across their backs. The wagon jerked forward suddenly, causing his companion to lose her balance...
The lightning made Claire jump and sent chills down her spine. The sudden jerk forward caused her to quickly grab Jarek’s shoulder to keep herself from falling off the wagon. Her body shifted itself to stay balanced before releasing his arm. Claire wasn’t exactly afraid of storms, but the looming clouds over the mountains in the distance made her a bit uneasy. Perhaps the storm would pass in a different direction and they wouldn’t get stuck in the rain. It seemed to be heading east anyway. All would be fine.
Claire grabbed a cloak from the back of the wagon before it started to rain, but unfortunately it offered little protection now. She was already drenched and cold. The rain came upon them so suddenly in a downpour. The horses' pace slowed since the path before them was becoming muddy. With each trot their hooves sunk into the pasty soil. Puddles formed along the path - they rippled violently as the raindrops filled them.
Small clouds of hot air escaped her lips with each breath. She thought about taking out the map to see how close they might be to the next town, but feared the rain would ruin the frail parchment. Her mind began to wander. She drifted back to her warm toasty home. The fire was burning bright and fueling the boiling soup than hung above it. She sat comfortably in her nightgown, wrapped in blankets as she watched the flames dance. This was often how she spent cold nights at home. A bright flicker of lightning and the shattering sound of thunder blew the daydream from her mind. She slipped her damp gloves off, brought her hands to her mouth, and allowed her hot breath to warm them.
At this moment she was glad that Jarek was smart enough to secure such a protective cover for their wagon - it was something she never would have thought of. Her eyes peered at him around the edge of her hood. He didn’t look so cold. Perhaps he was withstanding it, or maybe he was just used to this kind of weather. Her eyes lingered upon him for a while. Jarek was still a mystery. He must be pretty skilled if he was requested for such a journey, or at least equally as strong as her brothers. Although… he didn’t appear to be some extra ordinary swordsman - he seemed pretty average. Then again she hadn’t seen him in action, and maybe she never would have to. The lightning disturbed her thoughts once again.
Claire looked up to see their path was becoming even more gloppy and narrow. As she turned to look back, she could see the wagon wheels leaving deep tracks in the sludge. Although the wagon was sturdy and in excellent condition, it probably wasn’t best to be traveling in these conditions.
Claire attempted to speak over the rain. “Perhaps we should wait for the rain to stop before we continue on?”
Jarek eyed his travelling companion curiously. They had been travelling for the better part of the night already and hours had gone by without a word spoken between them since they departed.
"Perhaps we should wait for the rain to stop before we continue on?"
He didn't notice back at town, but her voice was melodious. No, it was more than that. The soothing undertones behind her words were mesmerizing. Hypnotic. If words could hold some kind of power over a callous man's heart, they would have sounded a bit like this. Like a Siren. If Jarek could explain what her voice was like, he would have brought up hearth fires on a cold winter's night. A full, weeping willow tree, gently cooling you with its shade against a hot summer's day. It felt like... home.
The young blacksmith caught himself staring and quickly cleared his throat. He didn't exactly know how long he was staring for, but he hoped Claire didn't yet take notice.
Her over privileged and haughty nature had previously put him a bit on guard - back near the tavern they had originally met at. But maybe... just maybe... she was more than a spoiled girl born unto a silver spoon. Only time would tell. And throughout his travels he had come to know one thing.
Never trust a book by its cover.
Jarek cleared his throat before speaking. "Maybe you're right." He looked at the wet road ahead of them. It was well paved, but it didn't take an expert carriage rider to know that the wheels were starting to sink in dangerously low into the now muddy path. The only problem was that the nearest town was still miles away. And what stood before them and that town was a forest that held untold dangers.
He sighed. "We'll pull over to the side of the road under those trees." Jarek gestured to the right. "We can dry off back in the wagon. That tarp will keep this bloody storm off our backs." And, with that, he pulled the horses off the muddy path. The small patch of trees were thick and tall enough to provide decent cover for the horses as well. Once the wagon stopped, Jarek jumped out and carefully tied the two horses to a nearby tree. As he did so, he pet them both gently across their necks and nose while examining their present condition. "You've both ridden well tonight. Get some rest," he assured them in such a familiar way it was obvious he held some experience tending to horses in his past.
With the horses secured, the blacksmith made his way to the back of the wagon and pulled himself in. His cloak dripping wet from the downpour surrounding them, Jarek proceeded to remove his clothes. The interior of the wagon was deceptively roomy, and the treated fabric continued to shield the companions against the storm outside. He first laid his well worn cloak down. Then came off his boots. His drenched shirt was then lifted and removed. And he did so with such familiar efficiency. He was clearly a well weathered veteran of this sort of weather. His naked shoulders and chest showed scars above lean, taught muscles. His shoulders were broad and exuded the strength that could only be achieved through countless hours of hammering metal within a forge. Jarek's chest was thick and shapened - as if he had been chiseled by an artisan of stone.
It didn't dawn on him that he had been undressing in front of a lady this entire time. And not just any normal woman of lesser means. A daughter of a powerful noble!
Jarek's draw dropped a bit when the realization hit him. The last thing he wanted to do was to offend his travelling companion again. They had only just started exchanging words since they first left, and they had barely even begun their travels together. The blacksmith noticed Claire's blushing face and quickly grabbed one of the few dry blankets within the wagon. He quickly wrapped it around his shoulders with a flourish. He cleared his throat.
"I'm. I'm sorry. I'm not used to travelling with someone. It's... It's been a while."
The blacksmith stared down towards his feet, embarrassed and not daring to lift his head to make eye contact.
He starred at her for an awfully long time, which made her wonder what had caused him to be so lost in thought. When he finally answered her she was relieved. The cold was starting to nip at her toes and she desperately wanted to pry off her boots.
As the wagon slowed to a stop, Claire swiftly slid into the back of the wagon without saying a word - she needed to get out of the rain. The first thing to come off was her soaked cloak which was quickly tossed aside. Then her boots came off and casted onto the floor. She unstrapped the leather belt holding her sword against her hip and placed it at her side. reached for a dry blanket and casted it around her shoulders. Her legs crossed close to her body and she wrapped her fingers around each foot. She took in a deep breath of the crisp air. The warmth now transferring into her toes from her hands was relieving. Claire hadn’t realized how tired she was until she got into the wagon. Through the slips of tarp she noticed Jarek talking to and inspecting the horses. It was almost endearing watching him care for them. Suddenly this cold hearted man seemed a bit warmer than anticipated.
As he approached the wagon she avoided looking in his direction. She gazed down at her nicely groomed toes. They were rather red, but they were warming up in her palms, slowly but surely. It came to her attention how frizzed her braids had become from the weather. Her hands took a break from her toes and she began unsnarling her hair. As she did so, she watched Jarek begin his undressing. He did so in such a manor like no one else was around - so casually.
Her attention was drawn to his chiseled features and then to the scars that were torn across his muscles. They must have had some sort of a story behind them. Some part of her wanted to reach out and touch them - to feel where pain had been healed over to create lasting stories. Is it odd that some part of her was jealous? That some part of her wanted scars of her own. Scars that would remind her of adventures and hardships. She had never experienced anything challenging. Her skin silky and soft, no blemish or mark to display privation that she herself had been through.
It had occurred to her, she had never exactly seen a man naked before. Part of her somewhat hoped it registered in his mind what he was doing before it got to that point, yet the thought still made her blush a bit.
Claire knew he realized what he was doing when his jaw dropped. She tried not to smile, but it was so amusing how embarrassed he was. “It is fine, Jarek. It will be something we have to get used to... changing in front of one another that is.” Her braids were finally untangled but her hair was left damp and wavy.
For a few moments she listened to the rain hitting the top of the tarp. She allowed her eyes to close and rest for a bit. For some unknown reason, the sound of the raindrops patting on the tarp was a bit soothing. Maybe it was just because she was feeling dozy.
The duration of their trip had been drowned in silence. Now here they sat, with little words spoken. Perhaps it was time she learned a few things about her companion. Where to start though? What to ask? Her lips parted and she took in a short breath, as if she was about to say something. She was at a loss of words. Her hands moved back to her reddened toes that had grown colder from lack of heat. It would be dreadful if she grew sick from this.
“So Jarek… Where are you from?”
Such a basic question. She really couldn’t think of anything better to say?
Within the shelter of the wagon, Jarek was now able to see his travelling companion without her armor. Literally and figuratively speaking. And what he saw made him uncomfortably nervous. She was disheveled from the torrential downpour outside. Her almond colored hair was dripping wet and lay tangled across her milky white shoulders. She didn't seem like the same spoiled brat he had first met back at town, overly concerned with how prim and proper she had to appear to the masses. Suffice it to say she wasn't exactly prepared to make an appearance at any royal ball. But...
She was beautiful.
And then she spoke, "So, Jarek... where are you from?" That question sobered him up quickly. He didn't normally speak of his past. Quite the opposite - he didn't really tell anyone about it. Much of his past was kept locked away for a reason, and he had thrown out that key long ago. The young blacksmith sadly learned at a young age that much of the world should not be trusted. And that was especially true concerning people. Sure, he had come to trust a handful of folks during his life, but most of them were dead. Such was the life of an adventurer during these parts. Yet, he knew Claire was making a valiant attempt to break the silence and to get to know her travelling partner - something that caught him completely off guard.
This definitely wasn't the same girl he had met that afternoon. She hardly seemed interested in his life story immediately after their first meeting. But that, by in large, was his own damn fault. Jarek specialized in keeping people at a distance early on. After all, what was the point of getting close to anyone? That always just... complicated matters.
Jarek rested his eyes upon Claire's wet, soaked figure and took in a breath. The damp, cool air around them smelled of wet grass and roses. Perhaps she was wearing some sort of perfume. Funny how he hadn't noticed all this time until now. Plus, she really was pleasing to look at. Perhaps he could at least share a little about his background with her. After all, what was the harm in that?
And so he told her about his homeland, Azathoth. How his village was surrounded by such gorgeous, ice capped mountains that looked a bit like frosted scones - another delicacy of his home. He told her about the secret meadow he often napped in - to avoid his family - which was surrounded by tall trees that seemed to reach out towards the very sky itself. He told her about his many, many sisters. How they would constantly tease him throughout his childhood. How it was difficult to not feel like such an outsider at times. How the weight of his family's forge fell upon his shoulders to maintain. About his many years spent learning the craft of blacksmithing.
He even teased that he could make a better suit of armor than the one she had brought for this particular journey and that perhaps someday he would do so... if they came out of this adventure alive together... and if they didn't hate each other's guts by the end of it.
They both laughed.
Before either of them realized it, hours had flown by, and the night was growing increasingly cold. Jarek's eyes were steadily getting heavier, and he could only assume Claire was staying awake from sheer willpower alone.
"Here... wrap yourself up in this." The blacksmith placed another thick blanket across her shoulders. "It's probably a good idea to get some shut eye." With that, he grabbed a hold of his sheathed sword and rested it between his legs as he laid his head comfortably against the tarp. "I'll take the first watch." He gave Claire a warm smile. "I don't need much sleep these days. Don't worry." And before his travelling companion could protest, he held out his hand, "If bandits or anything come around our wagon, I'll wake you and not take them on myself. I promise."
He paused, and his eyes glazed over as if suddenly remembering something from his past. "As of right now, we're companions. We'll need to learn to trust each other. And, Claire..." He smiled once more. "It's good to have you along the ride." With that, he breathed in the cold air deeply into his lungs, readying his mind for the long night ahead. "You know... even if you're a princess, and I'm a mere farm boy," he mumbled under his breath. But those words weren't said out of spite. This was obvious from the way his lips curved upwards. Claire would soon have to get used to that irreverent smile of his. Secretly, Jarek didn't tease folk that he didn't like.
And she was beginning to grow on him.