Autumsreach Farmlands Eurus pounded over the turf, his heavy hoof beats creating a soothing melody that would have lulled Melaina to sleep. But she was gritting her teeth and glancing behind her every few steps.. The great emerald forests that surrounded Orian were far behind her, rapidly disappearing on the horizon as she fled over the grasslands of the interior of Autumsreach. Something felt…off. As if she had forgotten something back at the capital. But she had a long way to go yet, and no time to turn back. Green sheaths of grass and golden fields of wheat spread out as far as she could see in front of her, and windmills turned lazily on the breeze. Just beyond them, the river, and beyond that, the peaks of the Amaranth Range and the Ionian Pass, her destination. Home. At this pace, it would take a week to get there. She aimed to get there in less than a week, which meant sleeping and eating were luxuries. Melaina was blissfully alone for the first time in years, but she could not take the time to enjoy it. She had a mission. She slowed the grey horse at last, letting him take a break from the hard gallop she had him in. She had been riding for a day already. She left just after supper the night before. Now the sun was again sinking behind the trees, Eurus was white with sweat, and she needed rest. She glanced back once more, scouring the fields as best she could in the glare of the setting sun. She stopped Eurus under a lone tree beside a pond. It would do for now, and she could get a few hours rest before she started on again. She took two apples from the saddle pack, offering one to Eurus who gobbled it greedily. The other she bit into, grimacing to find the texture mealy and the taste oversweet. She could do without tonight. The horse didn’t wait for her to offer the other apple, merely nipping it from her hand. “Stupid horse, “she said affectionately, rubbing his nose as he chomped away. She went back to the pack that was secured to her saddle her armor and weapons chiming along with her step. She still felt very much like one of the Bonded, though she eschewed the Bonded’s tabard. Anyone would recognize it, even here in the countryside. And she was supposed to do this without attracting notice. But, dressed as she was, no one would recognize her with the chain mail shirt, thick leather arm guards and heavy navy cloak that hid her feminine curves. She had tied her sable locks away under a helm rather than letting the curls frame her face, and her sword and knife belted at her waist completed the illusion. Perhaps she was simply a fair-faced squire whose beard had not yet come in rather than a seasoned female solider? Her decidedly androgynous attire would certainly garner less attention, though she wished she had decided on leather armor instead. It would be so much lighter, quieter and less cumbersome, and frankly, it would hug her form in a more pleasing way. Melaina sat in the grass at the foot of the tree, letting Eurus graze where he would. Just a few hours sleep, and she would move on. ***Bonded Knight Barracks, Castle Orian “Captain, where is Kinios? She never came to take her watch yesterday night, and I haven’t seen her all day.” Sir Tomas stood just inside Captain Rylin’s door, leaning on the frame casually. As all the other Bonded Knights of Orian, he was dressed in chainmail, with deep green tabard bearing the crown and shield of Autumsreach embroidered on the upper right. Rylin's office was off the common room of the barracks, lined with thick bookshelves situated behind an imposing desk that was usually beyond cluttered with mounds of paperwork. Rylin glanced up from the stacks of papers that sat on his desk, glaring at Tomas. Watch bills, orders from the Crown, Free Knight’s requisitions all sat in a jumbled mess on his desk. And now Tomas with his too-big nose and his exasperating infatuation with the only female in Rylin’s company was keeping him from exacting order on the mess of papers. The knight straightened up under Rylin’s withering stare, clearing his throat nervously as he moved to a more dignified manner, feet slightly apart, and hands at a neutral position by his sides. The Captain looked away once more, satisfied with the change in Tomas’ demeanor. He tried to concentrate on the papers in front of him, but felt compelled to humor the young man. “Perrin complained, did he?” “Of course he did." Tomas said quickly. "And I had to hear him grouse about his double watch, and how he missed drinking at Strangled Goose with the lovely Rianne. Who I've heard has moved on to Isaac instead.” Rylin looked up again, his brow furrowed. “Isaac over Perrin? The woman is--bah! I don’t care.” He said gruffly, irritated at once again getting caught up in the rumor mill. He changed the subject abruptly. “Kinios has already been reported to the Office of Free Knights for her absence.” His papers caught his attention once more. “Already?” Tomas was surprised. “But Sir, aren’t the Hunters a little too—zealous? Richard was gone a fortnight before you called them, and that bastard was…well a bastard.” Melaina had never been a minute late for watch. In fact, she was annoyingly early, always sober, and never complained, even when the summer storms brought down the torrential rains and soaked them through. Tomas hated her as much as he liked her, and it seemed the general consensus of most of the Bonded. “I don’t recall asking your opinion on the matter, Tomas.” Rylin said, squaring his jaw. “Sir, it’s been two days. And Mela—Kinios has never been irresponsible with her--” “Dismissed!” Rylin barked. Tomas stalked out, slamming the door behind him. He paced in front of Rylin’s door, getting strange looks from the others loitering about in the barracks’ common room. This wasn’t right. This—she would never—why didn’t she say something? Tomas was likely to wear a hole in the floor if he kept pacing. But someone caught his attention, and he stopped suddenly. He didn’t belong there. And it wasn’t just the out of place uniform he wore. Everyone else stopped too, conversations ceased, and an uneasy silence filled the barracks. Then the whispers started; the speculations on which of the Bonded the Hunter was after. Tomas didn’t have to speculate. He knew. He waited, his arms crossed over his chest just before the door to Captain Rylin’s office. “When you catch her…treat her well. There's something...wrong.” He said to the Hunter quietly before slipping down the hall.