Knight's Hunt (BellaSage x nyther)

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  1. 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.
  2. Chester's hooves slowed to a walk as they entered the castle walls. Edward pulled him to a stop as they reached the stables and a dirty waif of a child ran out and grabbed he reigns from Edward. He dismounted and patted his horse's black and white coated neck. He reached into his belt pouch and produced a single golden coin that he gave to the child. "Take good care of him now." Edward said as he strode off towards the barracks.

    There were a few knights milling about outside as Edward approached and they eyed him suspiciously. His dress and mannerisms were peculiar to them. He had no helm to protect his messy short hazel hair in battle. His face, though stubbled, had only a single scar from his chin to his ear, which his stubble hid well. His green eyes were hard and distant, though his face appeared quite the opposite. A sly grin seemed to always adorn his lips. He also didn't wear any metal armor, quite the opposite in fact. His armor seemed more suited for movement and speed than protection. He wore a simple banded leather vest over his long black tunic. Other than his leather greaves, he wore no protection over his thick cloth pants. His double short swords clanked rhythmically against his sides as he entered the barracks.

    As he strode towards the captain's room all eyes were on him. "Calm down boys. Daddy's here to set things right." He smirked waving his hand towards them. Edward loved what he did, he knew that he wanted to become a hunter at an early age. He wasn't a particularly big guy now, standing just at five foot eight inches, he was short as a kid. He was picked on mercilessly as a child by all the other children who were destined to become knights. That's where his disdain for them stemmed from. Then, when he learned he could get paid for hunting down errant knights, he jumped at the chance. Throughout his adolescence he trained and honed his body to become a hunter of men. Now he was the one who could look down on them.

    Edward looked up and saw a knight leaving the Captain's room. He caught Edwards gaze and stood, cross armed, in front of the door. Edward approached him cautiously. "I have business with the Captain." He said to the man. The man replied to "treat her well" when he captured her before walking off. Edward ran a gloved finger over his scar and smiled. He had only hunted one female knight. He smiled as he remembered back on Charrolette. He hoped this hunt would be as exciting as that one. Although he hoped it wouldn't end with another scar. He opened the door and went in, shutting it behind him. He saw a man he assumed was the Captain pouring over papers looking worried. "Captain, hunter Edward here at your service." He extended his hand to the man. Despite Edward's cocky attitude, he adhered to the chain of command as best he could. "Let's get right down to business."
  3. Captain Rylin traced the looping signature at the bottom of the paper in his hand. She always did have quite excellent handwriting as compared to the chicken scratch his men called writing. He frowned a bit, shaking his head. She should have been a scribe instead, not have played at being a Knight.

    Usually there was such a din in the commons that it was difficult to pay attention, whether or not his door was closed, so the utter silence outside was telling. The Hunter must be here.

    His suspicions were right, as the door swung open and shut once more. Rylin glanced up, setting the paper back in front of him, steepling his fingers over it as the Hunter approached.

    At Edward’s insistence to get to business, Rylin nodded. “Yes, let’s.” He stood halfway, taking the Hunter’s hand. He gave it a quick, firm shake before he settled back in his chair, and motioned to another. “Sit, if you want, but this will be quick.”

    Rylin made a show of rearranging the papers on his desk, surreptitiously slipping the one with her writing back into one of the stacks, somewhere near the very bottom. With luck, he would forget it was there until it was too late.

    “I apologize for the mess,” he said with a fleeting smile, pulling another sheet from another pile. Kinios’ file, as it was. It was limited to a single sheet of paper, which was simply the letter she had come with recommending her for the Bonded. He laid it in front of Edward, jabbing at it with two fingers as he spoke.

    “Melaina Kinios is who you’re looking for. She’s Bonded, of course, six months shy of tenure. Abandoned her watch two days ago and hasn’t been seen since. The…men are in a bother. She’s the only woman in the company, so her absence has already gone noticed. She was quite the—how do I say this and remain a gentleman—loose woman. Pretty little thing, though…” He smirked a bit cruelly and gestured to the door. “I’m sure you’ve already met Tomas. The girl charmed him senseless.”

    Rylin shook his head. “As to where she’s gone…Her patron was Lord Jonas of Ionian Pass. She’s fleeing back to him, you can be sure of it.” He lowered his voice as if in confidence, “Lovers, no doubt,” and pushed the letter to Edward as evidence of his claim.

    Lord Jonas’ recommendation was glowing, but spoke mainly of Melaina’s skill with a blade, her dedication and utter determination to become Bonded. Nothing that would indicate anything untoward had transpired between them. It talked a bit about her family; they were low-born farm workers on Jonas’ land, and her father had been a Bonded Knight in service to the previous king. When he was tenured, he came back to the Pass to have a family, and took up farming.

    “She’s Ionian through and through, despite what she seems on paper. Beguiling and false, just like the lot of them. She’s worked her wiles on every man here, myself included.” The Ionian Pass was notorious for being rife with ne’er-do-wells. As the passage from the capital to the sea, it was overrun with smugglers, thieves and slavers, despite the nobility’s efforts to maintain a presence there. Lords Jonas and Sinclair owned land within the Pass. Jonas was of military stock, Sinclair of merchants. It was always believed that one or both nobles were responsible for the proliferation of corruption in the pass, but the claims had never been proven. Rylin shrugged, and fell silent, settling back in his chair once more.

    “I won’t keep you longer than need be…Edward.” Rylin said as a manner of dismissal. “I’m sure you’re eager to begin your hunt.”
  4. Edward stood, cross armed, as the Captain began to give him the briefing over this escaped knight. He grinned as the Captain fished the knight's paper from amid the clutter on his desk. Edward had noticed over the years that the neater the desk of the Captain, the farther removed he was from his men. Those that were more at ease on the battlefield seemed less at ease with paperwork and those were the men Edward liked working for more. They seemed to understand what he did, or rather had to do, more so. The paper work junkies were more caught up in pomp and circumstance than doing the job.

    He gazed down as the Captain pushed a single paper to Edward. He picked it up and began to skim the contents for anything important. It was a simple recommendation letter, but the information on it could still prove invaluable. He listened to the Captain as he poured over the letter. Edward's eyes glanced towards the Captain briefly as he heard the term "loose woman". A grin curled on his lips as he went back to the paper. "Charm and good looks will make this an interesting hunt indeed." Edward muttered. He said it so matter-of-factly you would have wondered if he was talking about a person or an animal.

    He listened more and his eyes fell upon the name Lord Jonas as the Captain said it. "Weather lovers or not, he is more than likely a safe haven for her." Edward replied to the Captian. Edward secretly hoped that they were lovers, that would provide him with excellent leverage to use on either one of them. That was what made Edward so good at his job, he saw people in terms of what he could get out of them. It was a cold way to view the world, but was a necessary mindset in this line of work.

    As Edward continued reading he noticed the words "skill with a blade" and "determination" peppered throughout. Edward felt assured that he could handle most "skilled" swordsmen, it was the determination part that gave him pause. Hunting someone determined not to get caught, is almost as dangerous as attacking a wounded or cornered animal. He would definitely need to keep his whits about him on this one. He repeated this thought to himself as he heard the Captain mention her ability to work her charms on the other knights as well as the Captain himself.

    He put down the paper as the Captain dismissed him. "I'll bring her back, of that you can be certain." Edward said, meeting the Captain's gaze. He turned and walked out of the room, shutting the door behind him. As he closed the door behind him he stood and gazed out on the few knights that were around. "I need to speak to Tomas." Edward announced. The knights just looked at him for a moment. "Tomas. He's a knight. Like you fellows. You do all realize that you're knights, correct?" He scoffed. One of knights shot him a disdained look before pointing him in the direction Tomas had gone. "Thank you. You're a credit to your company." Edward mumbled as he made his way to find Tomas. Edward had found that love struck people always knew the most about the objects of their infatuations. He would simply ask Tomas to tell him what he knew about Melaina and then simply pick put the valuable information amid the myriad of useless ones.
  5. Tomas was in the training yard pummeling a hapless dummy with one of the squire’s practice swords. It was once grass, but the scores of men training on it had worn it down to dirt. Patches of grass still clung to the shadows, near the walls of the barracks that surrounded the yard. Archer’s targets hugged one end of the yard, a ring occupied center and the training dummies lined the other end. Tomas had discarded his tabard and most of his armor, and simply wore a linen shirt with the sleeves pushed up past his elbows.

    He had stormed out the moment the Hunter arrived, ignoring the others who tried to pump him for information. The Bonded seemed to thrive on rumor, just as much as they thrived on ale and women. But Tomas wasn’t in the mood to spread rumor, least of all rumor about Melaina.

    Perrin found Tomas hacking away at the dummy, and stopped to watch. Tomas’ swings were more in anger than precision and straw erupted from the figure as he pounded on it. Perrin whistled low to announce his presence, crossing his arms over his chest. “It’s Kinios that Hunter’s after, isn’t it?” His voice was low, and his words could almost be taken for concern, but when Tomas glanced his way, he caught the glint in Perrin’s eye and the slight curl of his lip. “Good. She made me stand two nights watch to cover for her.”

    Tomas readjusted his grip on the sword, holding it more tightly than before and kept his face neutral, like a mask. If he showed no emotion, maybe Perrin would give up and go away. “Shut up, Perrin.” He said quietly, and went back to his steps.

    Perrin didn’t take the warning. “She’ll be hanged, you know, once the Hunter drags her back.” He grinned, touching his hand to his hairless chin. “Remember Richard dangling? That fat bastard danced like a tavern girl on the rope. I wonder how Mel would look. I might enjoy seeing that.”

    Tomas grit his teeth as his jaw tightened, and took a mighty swing at the dummy’s straw-stuffed neck. The head flew through the air and landed at Perrin’s feet. He stared at it for a moment, and was taken by surprise when Tomas’ hand was suddenly on his collar, shoving him against the wall. “I said ‘shut up’!”

    Perrin’s face was in shock, but it quickly faded away and was replaced by one of his trademark smirks instead. “Defending her has gotten you no closer to her bed, has it, Tommy-boy?”

    Tomas looked as though he’d been punched. His anger melted away, replaced by something indeterminable. He relaxed his grip, but kept Perrin against the wall. “Melaina’s is not like that.”

    “Of course she is. She’s one of ‘em Ionian whores. She’d’ve been better servicing us at the Goose than pretending to be one of us.” Perrin spat, and then glanced behind Tomas. “Oh, here comes the Hunter now. Probably wants to speak to Kinios’ ‘lover.’” Perrin took the opportunity to pluck Tomas’ hand from his collar, and slid away from him. He passed the Hunter with a smug grin on his face and disappeared back into the barracks.

    Tomas still faced the wall, the practice sword held loosely in his hand. His breathing calmed for now, but his face was still bright red with anger. He turned to face the Hunter after a moment, and stalked back to toss the sword onto the weapon rack, retrieving a towel to mop away the sweat. “Whatever the Captain told you and whatever you’ve heard from the others…” Tomas started in a rush. Then he sighed. “Melaina would not just leave. Not without a good reason and certainly not without permission from the Captain.”
  6. Edward arrived at the practice area just in time to see Tomas with his hands around another knight's neck. Edward could tell by the expression of the knight being choked, that Tomas was not attempting to kill him. Either way, it was none of Edward's concern. The other knight broke Tomas' grip and strode out of the area with a smug grin on his face.

    Edward stopped short of the practice dummys and looked back at the knight then turned his attention to Tomas. "I love watching such comradery." He said as he watched Tomas put away his sword and towel away the sweat from his brow. He let Tomas say what he wanted before speaking. "Whatever the reason she left, that's none of my concern. I am only interested in the fact that she did leave." He strode forwards towards Tomas, stopping once they were close enough that he could read Tomas' expressions. Right now, he showed concern for the escaped knight. Nothing betraying that Tomas had anything to do with the escape.

    "Look," Edward continued. "I know you care about this girl and that's fine. Honestly, I don't want this to go badly. I want to go pick her up and bring her back here without incident. I'm sure you'd love to see her again yourself. Ask her a million questions. So, just tell me what you know about her. Anything would help really and the more I know about her, the less chance of an incident when I go to pick her up." Edward tried to sound as sincere as possible.

    He listened as Tomas spoke about her at length. It was mostly her personality and different stories about when he was with her. The only thing that stuck out was the fact that Tomas painted her as an excellent knight. Very observant of the rules and procedure of their order. Edward nodded his head as Tomas continued speaking. Thinking that if she was a by-the-book knight as Tomas portrayed her, she wouldn't leave without a strong reason. Especially knowing what fate would befall her if she was caught. Edward sighed to himself, this was going to be quite the hunt.

    He briefly thanked Tomas as he took his leave back to the stables. He retrieved his horse, made sure the saddle and bags were secure, and mounted up. He spurned his horse forwards. They shot out of the castle proper with blazing speed. Edward knew that Melaina had at least a day's distance between them and hoped to make it up. He would make his journey towards the Ionian Pass. If he did not find her there he could at least question Lord Jonas for a further lead.
  7. “What do you mean ‘two days’? You’re not crossing for two days?” Melaina’s tone of voice was a little more than exasperated. She was hungry, exhausted, and frankly, she could use a quick washing. But she still had a long way to go to get to the Pass, and time was not her ally.

    Melaina stood on the bank of the Redfall River, Eurus’ reins in her hands, considering her options. It had taken her another day of riding to get here. The Redfall was wide and deep, and prone to flooding when the storms came through in the summer. She’d remembered a bridge here six years ago, but apparently, as the ferryman had told her, the last storm had washed it clean away. Now, there was little more than a temporary landing jutting into the middle of the river to hold the scaffolding for the new bridge, and a few stone pylons jutting from the water. The ferry itself was not a complicated operation, only a warehouse full of cargo to be shipped, a few bare wagons standing beside a goat pen and a wide, empty barge tied to the lone pier. A small group of men—the wagon drivers, no doubt—were gathered around a makeshift table with cigars hanging from their mouths and cards in their hands, waiting for the ferryman to conduct his business with the interloper and come back to his turn.

    The ferryman nodded his huge head, folding his hands over his barrel sized chest. “Right, as I said, I cross three times a week, off on Sundays, and I take cargo and their men,” he gestured to the warehouse and the card players in turn, “not passengers. The passenger ferry be upriver where tis smoother for them with weak constitutions. And until them laggards finish the bridge-”

    “I can’t wait that long.” Melaina interrupted. “Please, it’s an emergency. Can’t you go sooner?”

    The ferryman growled, turning his head to the other men. “Jack, wasn’t yer wife due with them bairns?”

    “Aye,” the driver called Jack drawled. “Probably already had ‘em.”

    The ferryman grunted in response as he looked back to Melaina.“I don’t move for Jack’s bairns, I don’t move for ye.”

    “Isn’t there another way?”

    “There’s a crossing half-day upriver. Too deep for wagons, but yer horse could wade across.”

    Melaina glanced back to Eurus, and shook her head. “He doesn’t swim,” she said softly, defeated. Some warhorse…he’d charge headlong at a mountain cat, but a puddle made him twitchy. Eurus’ eyes were wide even now, as he stared at the water like it was about to snap off his leg.
    She scanned the riverside once more and then pointed to a small rowboat tied to the dock. “What of that?”

    “Fisher’s boat. Ye can have it, but-” the ferryman snorted, “-won’t be getting yer horse in it.”

    Melaina shook her head once. “No, of course not. He’ll cross with you on the ferry in two days. I’ll take that in the meantime.”

    The ferryman looked from Melaina to the rowboat to Eurus and then back again. He shook away his incredulous expression, shrugging and held out an oar-sized hand. “Suit yerself. Have ya got-“

    She sighed and plunked a heavy purse in his hand before she could stop herself, cutting off his inquiry. “For the horse and his feed and whatever other kind of hidden tariffs you can come up with.” She smirked. There was near two week’s wage in that purse, more than sufficient for Eurus’ well-being. “Once he’s across, just let him go. He’ll find me.” She nodded back to the horse, slipping her helm from her head. The sable curls cascaded around her face, and the ferryman gaped for a moment until she shoved the helm at him too. “And for the rowboat. It’s pure steel, nary a dent. Will fetch a fine price, I’m sure.” She tilted her head at the ferryman who was still dumbstruck. “What?” She snapped, a bit of irritation creeping into her voice.

    “Dinna ‘pect a woman to have so much coin. A boy sure…” His voice sounded like he was contemplating something indecent. She glared at him, resting her hand on the hilt of her sword. Whatever had come over the man passed and he tucked away the purse. “Ye sure ye can row that by yerself?”

    Melaina resisted the urge to roll her eyes, and lifted her hand from her sword. “I’ll manage.”

    The ferryman shrugged, holding his hands out for Eurus’ reins. She dropped them in his palm and went to grab her pack. She shrugged it on, giving the grey gelding a gentle pat and a kiss on his nose. “Thank you.” She said going to the rowboat.

    By all rights, it should have only taken her a few hours of rowing to get across. She’d started out fairly strong, but when the current picked up near the center of the river, the lack of sleep and food caught up with her. Her strength was all but gone.

    It was near dark when she finally made it to other side of the river. Her arms were leaden, and her feet refused to move. But somehow she forced herself to tie the boat to the landing, taking her chances to wade through the shallows rather than try to hoist herself up. She collapsed on the shore, foregoing a fire as she dug into the pack for some food. It would be slow going without Eurus, and she would need her strength if she were to walk to the Pass. Perhaps she could catch passage in the next town. She ate a hunk of cheese and an apple, and let sleep take her.
  8. Edward rode on through the day, pushing his horse Chester harder and harder. The only rest he allowed either him or his horse was to slow down to a trot every now and then. He used the time to think about his quarry. He didn't have a lot of information to go on. He knew she was Ionian, which only meant her manner of speaking and appearance would be slightly more noticeable to him. However, the one thing he took solace in was that she was portrayed as the epitome of knighthood. That bode well for him if they were to get into a physical altercation. For knights fought in a very distinct, yet predictable manner.

    Dusk began to fall as he saw the outline of a small town up in the distance. He slowed Chester down to a walk and patted him on the neck. "Good boy. You can rest soon." He cooed at him. They arrived at the town just as the last rays of light were fading out of view. The townsfolk were slowly clearing the streets and heading to their homes. He stopped to ask a local where he and his horse could stay the night. The man pointed to a small building with a stable attached. Edward thanked him and rode to the inn. He dismounted next to the stables and called out the stable hand who was busy tending to the other horses. Edward handed him Chester's reigns and pulled a coin from his purse. The man looked at the coin in his palm and grunted. Edward looked at him in disbelief. "What?" He said. The man placed Chester's reigns back in Edward's hand. "Ok, ok." Edward said exasperated and pulled out four more coins. The man smiled as Edward placed the coins in his hand and he took the reigns back. "Take good care of him." Edward called back as he was walking to the inn.

    Edward entered the inn. Inside it was just a normal sized building with a few tables squeezed together in the corner and a small bar with a few stools lined the wall. The was a hallways leading back to the few rooms for rent and a small kitchen was attached right behind where the bar stood. There were only a few locals milling around either eating or with mugs of ale in their hands relaxing after a busy day. Behind the bar stood a very tall broad man whom Edward took to be the innkeeper. As Edward approached him he could see that the man had a blacksmith's apron on.

    Edward plopped down on a stool and address the man. "Are you the innkeeper?" Edward inquired. The man looked at him confused, then looked down at himself. He smiled sheepishly as he realized he was wearing a blacksmith's apron.

    "Excuse me good sir." The man said as he turned around and took off the apron. "The curse of working two jobs I'm afraid." He smiled as he turned back to Edward. "What can I do for you?"

    "I would like food, a good drink, lodging for the night and information." Edward said setting down a handful of gold coins on the bar top.

    The innkeeper eyed the coins. "I can do the first three for you good sir, but this is a small place here. Nothing much goes on worth knowing."

    Edward lifted his hands from the coins and leaned in towards the innkeeper. "Let me be the judge of that, but first, the food and the drink." Edward smiled broadly as he leaned back and watched the innkeeper greedily scoop up the coins and disappear into the kitchen. Several minutes later the innkeeper reappeared with a bowl of warm stew, a mug of ale and a key to a room. He placed it in front of Edward and stood back to watch his reaction. Edward took a large spoonful of the warm broth and slurped it down hungrily. He nodded at the innkeeper approvingly. It wasn't the best stew Edward had tasted, but it was satisfying. He took a big swig of the ale and gave a satisfying "ahh". He then looked up at the innkeeper and smiled. "Very well made." Edward smiled broadly. "Now, for the information. I am on my way to see Lord Jonas in the Ionian Pass. How far am I and is there anything I need to be made aware of when traveling?"

    The innkeeper scratched his head and leaned back in thought. "Well sir, you're about two day's ride or so from the pass. There's a barge that ferries across the Redfall River about half a days ride from here, but it don't travel every day. If I recall correctly, it should be in service tomorrow. You can skirt the ferry and ford the river yourself, but that'll add a good while to your trip. That's about all I know good sir."

    Edward nodded and lifted his mug to the innkeeper. "Here's to you and your fine establishment." Edward toasted the man and took another large swig of the ale. He hoped that his knight had been delayed by the ferry not running today, or at least added time to her travel if she decided to ford the river. Edward finished off his stew and ale quickly, not realizing how hungry and parched he was. He grabbed the key and left for the room. As he began to doze off he felt certain he would catch his knight within the next few days.
  9. She hated walking.

    Traveling with Eurus, while taxing, had been easy on her. Now she was parched, exhausted and her muscles were sore from walking with her armor. She woke on the bank of the Redfall in the midmorning and cursed herself for sleeping so long. Not wasting any more time, she shouldered the pack and started down the road. There was a little town ahead; she’d remembered it when she’d traveled to Orian to begin her training as a Bonded. Once she was there, she’d spare some more coin on a wagon to the Pass. It wasn’t too far, but when she had come the first time, she had had Eurus.

    The walk took her nearly a day to finish. When she got to town, it was late afternoon, and she was staggering, hungry and weak. She stumbled to the first wagon she saw. “Jonas’ land.” She said in a voice that was barely a whisper. “I need to…”

    The waggoneer knew she was an Ionian by her look, and by her destination. No outsiders ever asked to go to the Pass. She may have looked weak and ill, but she was armed and dressed well enough for the driver not to question her. He mutely held out his hand for money, and once he was satisfied with what she placed in his hand, he thumbed to the back of the wagon.

    Melaina tossed her pack in first before gripping the rope handles to pull herself in. She groaned as she hit the bottom of the wagon, and pulled her aching legs up, settling, if not precisely comfortably against the wall. She was met with two sad pairs of eyes, a woman and her child, and a few crates of squawking chickens. The woman said nothing, but scooted aside to make more room, and hushed her child when he began to whisper to her in the familiar drawls of Ionian. Melaina smiled, trying to appear at the very least friendly, but the two just looked at her speechless.

    The wagon lurched forward as the driver flicked the reins, and clattered over the streets back into the woods. Melaina ate and drank, and finally won the child over by offering him an apple, her very last. He chattered to her in Ionian, and she responded well enough using the few phrases she still remembered.

    At some point, she fell asleep, lulled by the monotonous cadence of the horses’ hooves.

    She woke to shouts, distant and muffled, and opened her eyes to see the woman and her son huddled as far to the back of the wagon as they could go. They stared back at her wide eyed, the woman’s hand over her mouth to muffle her sobs. Melaina jerked up, stopping when she saw the tip of the sword pointed at her throat, and followed the length of it to the group of men standing at the back of the wagon. Bandits, of course. Had they gotten to the Pass already? She thought, fleetingly about the purse she kept in her bag. It was a wonder they had not taken it yet. There were five or six of them, dressed all alike, but for the one who held a sword at Melaina; he had a wide red belt and a feathered cap.
    He motioned to her weapon, with a wicked smile. “A fine sword you have there, kore. It would be a shame to cut yourself on it, would it not?”

    Were she alone…were she not still tired and sore…

    She smiled back, in spite of the niggling of fear that crept along her spine, and answered him with a surprisingly steady voice. “It would be. Which is why I have practiced with it for so long. But if you are that concerned for my well-being, then it might be best if you take it away. For my own protection, of course.”

    He laughed. “I like you! You talk back.” He motioned for her to give up her sword, and she did. The man passed it back to the others. “All the rest, scream, plead, beg. Like those two.” He flicked his sword at the woman and her son. “They’ve not stopped whimpering and crying, and it’s beginning to irritate me.” He nodded his head to the others who started toward the back of the wagon.

    “No.” Melaina said, dropping her smile. “Leave them, please. They have nothing.”

    “Tsk.” The man sounded. “Suddenly so serious. And here I thought we would have a good time.” He shook his head, and held up his empty hand to the ones advancing on the wagon. They stopped, confused. “She asked nicely, boys, didn’t she? After all, we don’t hurt our own.” He gestured to Melaina’s pack then. “But we do take everything they have.”

    She shook her head. “No. I’ve already given you my sword; I’ll not let you take my pack too.”

    He held up his hands in resignation. “It’s the pack or those two. I’m sure she will come in handy for the needs of my men. And he…scrawny as he is, might fetch a good price at the Mines, no?”

    The pack had her purse in it. She needed that purse. It contained every bit of salary she had earned for the past six and a half years. She hesitated, and heard the gasp of the woman behind her, and the keening of the boy. Finally she shook her head again, tossing the pack to the ground beside the man.

    “Now, was that so hard?”

    He ordered them out of the wagon, and they complied, having no other alternatives. Melaina took the boy in her arms and helped the woman down and they stood off to the side as the men loaded themselves into the wagon, with Melaina’s pack and sword and took off down the path.
  10. Edward awoke slightly before the sun reached the horizon. He stretched as he sat up out of bed and blinked the sleep from his eyes. He slowly got dressed and collected his belonging before leaving out of his small room. The tavern area was still dark and devoid of any movement or motion. He heard a small commotion in the kitchen as he passed by, glancing in the direction of the noise. He could see the figure of the innkeeper bustling to prepare breakfast. Edward thought briefly of waiting to eat before taking off, but time was always a factor, even though he felt confident he would catch his knight any day soon. He stepped out of the door and breathed in deeply the crisp early morning air before heading to the stables to collect his horse.

    The streets were near barren as only a few people were to be seen. More then likely farmers headed out to tend to their fields and livestock. He arrived at the stables and glanced around, the stable hand was nowhere to be seen. Edward searched for Chester and found him after only a few moments of looking. He patted his horse awake, who seemed just as groggy as he was. He grabbed a handful of hey and held it to Chester, who took it from him greedily. "We've got a good ride ahead of us boy." Edward said stroking Chester's neck. He slowly opened the gate and led Chester out to the dirt road. He allowed Chester a few trots around him to wake him up before jumping into the saddle. They took off towards Redfall River as the sun rose up to greet them.

    They rode on for several hours before they came upon a small group of men busy loading cargo onto a small barge. "This is the 'ferry' the innkeeper spoke of?" Edward thought to himself as he rode up slowly to the men. "Excuse me good sirs? I was told there is a ferry that crosses this river. Might this be it?" There was a single man that seemed to be presiding over the others, giving them directions on loading, that turned his head slightly towards Edward.

    "If you have coin, you can cross with us." He said flatly, turning back to his men.

    Edward dismounted, grabbed Chester's reigns and walked towards the man as he fished a few gold coins from his purse. He dropped them into the man's already waiting hand. The man looked down at his hand and grunted loudly. "One more handful should do it."

    Edward sighed heavily. "Is there another way across?" He said exasperated.

    "Half a day or so's journey there's a ford. Good luck with the crossing." The man replied, getting ready to hand the coins back to Edward. Edward sighed again and plunked another handful of coins into the man's hand. "Once we're done loading, if there's room for you, we'll let you on." He said, pulling his hand back and stuffing the coins into his pocket.

    Edward walked over to a small tree where there was another horse already tied up and hitched Chester to the same tree. "Beautiful horse." Edward remarked to the man as he finished tying Chester up.

    "Not mine." Replied the man. "A woman came by here not two days ago and left him for us to take across. She took a boat across herself. Must have been in an awful hurry."

    Edward turned swiftly and walked over to the man. "What was this woman wearing, if you happened to notice by chance?" Edward inquired studying the man's face intently.

    The man briefly turned his attention to Edward and scrunched up his face in thought. "Don't recall really. I do know she was armed for business and had a good bit of coin on her. Said the horse would find her, just get it to the other side." He turned back to face his men and continued to organize the loading of the barge.

    Edward couldn't help a smile as he turned back and sat under the tree next to the two horses. He watched as the men finished their loading and beckoned him to bring himself and the horses on the barge. It was all falling in place for him now. Once across he would just follow the horse towards the Pass, if indeed that was where she was heading. If it wasn't, the horse would lead him right to her.
  11. Melaina stood stiffly, but bent down the sweep up the little boy and pull his mother to her feet.

    They had broken camp just a few moments ago, and would begin the day as they had the other two days, by walking. They should have at least passed a farm by now, but it was slow going with a child in tow, as he tired easily, and they stopped more frequently than Melaina would have liked. All the while, Melaina was following the wagon tracks down the main road. If she found the wagon and the bandits, she would find her belongings. They could keep the sword and her pack for all she cared, but she had to get that purse back.

    The trio possessed nothing of use for camping, save Melaina’s cloak, which she had given to the woman to share with her son, while Melaina kept watch at night, shivering in the cooler temperatures. The first night she’d managed to find some flint to aid her in making a fire, and she knew enough about the Pass’ flora to forage for some edible berries. It was barely enough. Their steps were heavy and slow, and even the boy’s youth exuberance had dwindled so that he had to be passed between Melaina and his mother so they could keep walking.

    Between Melaina’s elementary grasp of Ionian, and the little boy translating for her, she’d learned that the woman had been on her way to Lord Sinclair’s estate to find work. Melaina sought to warn her against it; Sinclair was infamous for being a particularly cruel man, perhaps even a slaver. But the woman’s mind was set, and she would not listen to reason.

    At some point, the wagon tracks veered off the main road. Melaina told the woman and boy to stay where they were and darted off down a cart path that wound through the trees. In the heavier brush, the tracks disappeared. But if she went down this path she could find them. She heard her name called from the main road. It was the boy, and he sounded scared. She darted back through the trees, coming upon the woman and child just as riders approached from the other direction.

    “Melaina Kinios?” One of the riders pulled up his horse just short of the trio, throwing back his hood. He wore the familiar livery of Jonas’ estate, blue and silver, and a grizzled face beamed down at her. “It’s been some time since you’ve been in the Pass.”

    Melaina sighed in relief, happy at last to see a friendly face. “Rhigas.” She smiled, perhaps for the first time in days. Rhigas was Lord Jonas’ right hand man, one of his trustworthy followers, as well as one of her father’s oldest friends. She reached her hand up to him.

    He clasped his hand around her forearm in greeting before dismounting, slipping his gloves from his hands. “Who do you have with you, Melaina?”

    She explained briefly what had happened to the wagon, but neglected to tell him about missing her pack and purse, or even how she came to be in the Pass in the first place. But she assumed he knew; after all Jonas kept nothing from him. “She was looking for Sinclair’s farm for work.” She said, gesturing to the woman. “Do you think…perhaps Lord Jonas could take her on instead?”

    Rhigas snorted. “Of course.”

    “Can you…convince her? My Ionian isn’t as good as it should be.” Rhigas nodded, speaking to the woman. Melaina caught words here and there, but by the time he was finished the woman looked a great deal more relieved, and the boy was chattering away with one of the other men. The woman came to Melaina, hugging her tightly, whispering “Thank you, thank you” again and again.

    He looked the three of them over, frowning, and waved his arm to one of the men behind him. He tossed over a water skin to the woman and child. They snatched it up, drinking thirstily. Rhigas passed his own skin to Melaina and she drank deeply. When she tried to hand it back he shook his head. “If he knew the request came from you, Jonas’d give her a room in his mansion.” He smiled, touching her shoulder gently, and lowered his voice. “Perhaps you should go and ask him yourself.”

    Melaina’s face colored and she shook her head, wiping her mouth on her arm. “I can’t.” She mumbled. “You know I can’t.”

    Rhigas shrugged. “It was worth the try.” Rhigas pulled Melaina aside. “Jonas misses you, Melaina.”

    “He has no right to.” She said, suddenly defensive.

    “I suppose not. Lady Cecily does get quite perturbed still when you are mentioned.”

    “I’m ‘mentioned’?”

    “Often and fondly, but by him of course.” He tugged on his gloves, considering a moment. “But if you weren’t here to see him then why-“

    “I have something I have to do.” His face wore a question, and she shook her head. “I can’t tell you Rhigas. I just—I swore to keep it secret.”

    He held up his hands in surrender, backing away to his horse. “Alright, alright. Then if you aren’t coming along…” He unhooked his sword belt from the saddle, and rooted around in the saddlebags, withdrawing a small pouch. “Food…and protection. A lady should not be alone without them.” He handed both to Melaina. “If you decide to come home…find one of us. We’re always around the Pass.”
    She nodded, and Rhigas gave the order to mount up. The woman was pulled onto a horse and Rhiags lifted the boy up with him, settling him in front before he mounted as well. “Adio, Melaina.”
    #11 Wisterian, Feb 20, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 24, 2015
  12. Edward stood between the two horses and the current buffeted the small barge. After a few minutes of jerking both side-to-side by the current, Edward leaned up against a box of cargo to steady himself. He admired the what was possibly the hunted's horse. It seemed very strong and able-bodied. Edward could tell that the horse was well cared for. He smiled as he thought this, for a well cared for animal will always try to return to its owner.

    After what seemed like hours of violent rocking back and forth, the rocking of the barge stopped. Edward cautiously stood up and peered over the box he had be using as support. They had arrived at the other side. Edward led both horses to shore as he thanked the captain who was already busy directing his men to unload. As soon as the hunted's horse touched dry land, it sniffed the ground and took off in a full run. Edward quickly mounted his horse and gave chase.
    They followed the horse for a good while. The path was pretty well worn and was, as far as Edward knew, was the only real path to the Pass. So it was fairly certain his prey had passed this way. The sun was low on the horizon when Edward spied a small town in the distance. "Perhaps she stopped here. Maybe she's still here." Edward hoped to himself.

    The horse he was following slowed to a walk. It had obviously become confused with the direction to head due to the extra traffic around the town. Edward quickly sidled up next to the horse and grabbed its reigns. As soon as the horse realized Edward had it's reigns, it began to panicked. It whinnied and bucked wildly, causing Chester to panic slightly. Realizing he didn't have time to break this horse and calm his horse down, he released it quickly. He cursed to himself silently as he watched it take off in the distance.

    He cursed silently at himself as he spoke softly to Chester to calm him down. After a few moments, Chester's eyes returned back to normal size and he stopped pacing around. Once the situation was resolved, Edward looked around the small town. It looked like a small village more than a town. There was no one in sight. Edward thought about trying to bed down here for the night, when a voice in the far distance caught his ear.

    Edward peered off to where he heard the voice and saw a man, almost crawling towards the town. Edward spurred his horse forwards and was quickly upon the man. Edward lept down and helped the man to his feet. The man appeared only slightly roughed up, but was exhausted from his trek here. "What happened?" Edward inquired.

    The man breathed heavily, trying to catch his breath. "Ban...bandits." The man finally got out. "Took...the wagon."
    "Where were you attacked?" Edward asked.

    The main weakly pointed. "Towards the pass."

    Edward stood up and looked in the direction the man had pointed. "In your wagon, was there a woman, possibly dressed as a knight, or something of the like?" He said still looking off in the distance.

    The man paused and replied, having about caught his breath. "Yes. Yes, a strong looking lady was headed up towards Jonas’."

    "Ionian?" Edward continued his questioning.

    The man nodded weakly.

    "Can you take me to where you were attacked?" Edward looked back down at the man.

    He shook his head emphatically. "Just follow the wagon tracks. Please, I don't want to go back there."

    Edward patted him on the shoulder as he mounted his horse. It would be dark soon and he needed to make up for some lost time. She might have been captured by the bandits. He smiled at himself. More than likely the bandits were dead. Edward spurred Chester forward. After a few minutes he noticed wagon tracks leading the direction the man had pointed. Suddenly Edward heard a noise in the distance. He craned his head to hear better and thought he could hear hoof beats off in the distance in the direction he was headed.
  13. Melaina crouched low in the brush, holding Rhigas’ and one of the sentry’s swords in her hands, peering at the camp in the clearing. The men sat around a central fire, some playing at dice games, some drinking from a cask. The empty wagon sat nearby, the horses unhitched and tied to trees near the periphery of the camp. Its contents, including the cages of chickens, were nearby, stacked in a haphazard wall between the tents erected around the fire. There were other crates and barrels in similar walls between each tent, possibly hauls from other travelers and merchants the crew had hit. This was no mere stopover for the night. This was the bandit’s main, if not temporary camp.

    The three sentries they posted offered little resistance. They were spread out rather far from one another, so when Melaina clocked one on the head and dragged him into the brush, the other two were none the wiser. But she was more cautious approaching the camp itself. There were at least ten men milling around the sizable camp, and no telling how many more were still in the tents. She had not yet seen her pack, or her purse, but they were doubtlessly in one of the tents rather than sitting out in the open. There was no honor among thieves after all. Coming across a purse that weighty would have the potential for a permanent change of leadership, and so had to be carefully hidden away. She was unsure she would find it at all.

    While she contemplated an avenue of attack, the leader of the bandits swaggered from the central tent, holding her purse aloft. “We’ve hit upon a treasure, boys.” He said, dumping some of the contents into his hand. The gold clinked together, some of the pieces spilling from his hands as others bent to snatch it up. Melaina almost started at that. She needed all of her gold. Every last bit of it, and he was squandering it away. But she set her jaw, tightened her grip on her swords and waited. There were too many to take on alone. She could, if pressed, but the chance of getting herself deep in an inescapable situation was too great the risk.

    “Sinclair will want that,” said one of the men.

    “Of course he will,” the leader replied, “which is precisely why we won’t give it to him.”

    “But our contract-“

    “To hell with the contract.”

    They were bonded, just as she was, but whereas she had made a contract with the King, they had made one with Sinclair. For Sinclair’s protection, equipment and free rein over the Pass, they paid a portion of their stolen wealth. But why anyone would do such a thing was beyond her.

    “Half that could buy my families’ freedom,” said one of the bandits.

    “And mine,” another chimed in.

    A chorus of agreement came from the rest and the dissenter, for now, was silenced.

    No. No, no, no. Of course they would happily turn to banditry to free their families from enslavement. Melaina closed her eyes sighing, and banging the back of her head on the tree she was pressed to. Half of her considered giving up, and letting them use her hard earned wages to free their families. But she could not relent, not now, not when she had come so far.
    And now, now she had an idea of how to approach them.

    She tightened her grip on both swords, pushing away from the tree, and then strode confidently into the camp. A few men sought to bar her way, drawing their weapons, but at the leader’s command they stopped just short. She walked right through the camp, the dual swords held in neutral positions at her sides. When she got to where he stood on the other side of the fire, she threw down both of the swords.

    “Well, well, welcome to our home away from home.” The leader snickered, spreading his arms wide in greeting. Two others crept up, taking the swords away and then closed in behind her. “How many of my men have you killed?”

    “None, yet. But I make no promises.”

    “You are disarmed.”

    “I was disarmed before too, but I seem to have managed just fine.”

    The leader barked a laugh, wagging his finger at her. “I knew I liked you, kore.” He put the purse securely on his belt and noticed when Melaina’s eye went to it. “Ah, so it is what you hope to recover. Why does a woman carry so much coin?”

    “Why do you take others things? A contract, no?” His face was surprised, but only for a moment. “To purchase a contract one needs a great amount of gold.”

    He shook his head slightly, understanding. “Who do they have, kore?”

    “My mother, brother and his family.”

    “Bastards. But I’m afraid I cannot help you, kore. Or, with this much gold shall I be calling you kiria instead?” She stood with her arms crossed, with an unreadable face. The leader of the bandits nodded to a man to his right, “They have Yacob’s wife. And,” he pointed to another, “Gregoir’s children. Do these not have greater need?”

    “Certainly. I am sure they would not care if their need was paid with stolen coin. Nevertheless, it is mine. Everything I have sacrificed for six years is there in that bag, and I will not leave until I have it back.”

    He sighed, his hands resting on his weapon. “I will not give it back. And you will not take it.” He gestured to the others, who also reached for their weapons. Melaina sighed as well, but did not move just yet, waiting for the perfect opportunity; for the one man to give her an opening.

    She saw it at last, turning sharply to one side. She knocked into the man coming up to flank her. He had not pulled his sword, so she did, right from his sheath. She leveled it at him, glancing to it for a moment. Rhigas’ sword. The gods must have smiled on her. The bandit leader had already given the order to attack, and Melaina took to the wood. She could fight them better in the cover than in the open, since there were so many.

    A bandit cut off her escape to the wood, brandishing a broad-axe that was twice her size. She glanced behind her, seeing six men rushing at her. A grey beast thundered from the brush, startling everyone at once. “Eurus.” Melaina breathed.

    The horse reared up at the sight of the axe, setting the man off balance and tumbling to the ground. Melaina dashed to the horse. She managed to get a foot in a stirrup, and pull herself up as he cantered into the clearing. She swung the sword at three who tried to stop Eurus, and aimed him directly for the fire and the bandit leader. If Eurus feared water, he felt no such for fire. He leapt clear over it without hesitation. Melaina tucked her body close against his for the jump, rising up and slashing her purse away from the leader’s belt as they landed. The purse clinked to the ground.

    Melaina pulled Eurus up, hopping from him, and battled her way through three more men back to the purse. As she reached it, the leader barred her way. She heard Eurus scream in anger; someone had to have grabbed his reins seeking to hold the beast from causing any more havoc in the camp. “What will you do now, kiria?”

    “Take what is mine.” She replied, lunging at the man.

    He was skilled and powerful in most of his movements. But she could tell that he had learned swordsmanship from being forced to learn, and his fluidity was nonexistent. She caught him in the side with her blade, and he fell, the shock registering on his face as his knees hit the ground.

    When the men saw him slumped over, Melaina fully expected them to attack. But they did not. Those that could flee did so. Eurus was let go. He trotted back to where Melaina stood, puzzled. She held Rhigas’ sword at her side, bending on one knee to collect her purse, and looked to the bandit leader. He was still alive, breathing shallowly.

    “Where’ve they gone?” She asked.

    “They are cowards, kiria.” He laughed, and then winced. “The ones you’ve already killed are the brave ones. Or the stupid ones.”

    Melaina smiled. “They won’t die, probably. They will bleed a lot, but they are strapping men with something to live for. Like you.” She reached for his red belt. He tried to avoid her, and then surrendered, giving her a rakish grin. She rolled her eyes, slipping the cloth belt from around his waist to his side and pressed it to the wound, tightening it to staunch the blood flow.

    “Why?” He asked in a quiet voice.

    “’We don’t harm our own,’ remember? I have what I came for.” She held the pouch aloft. The leader reached for it, but she shook her head. “Uh uh. I’ve earned it now, twice. I’ll not part with it again.”

    “As you say, kiria.” The bandit leader said. She took Eurus’ reins, leading him to the tent to collect her pack and her sword as well. When the pack and the swords were secured on his saddle, and the coin purse was once again deep in her pack, she headed for the trees. The bandit leader called out again. “Though be warned the next time we meet, I might kiss you. Or kill you. Depends on the scar you leave me with.”

    Melaina shook her head again still smiling, and walked Eurus down the cart path she had come from.
  14. The sun was just setting as the wagon tracks veered off the path and into the forest. Edward sat there on his horse for a few moments trying to decide his next move. He could follow the wagon tracks, possibly find his quarry and effeminately find some bandits. If she was not with the bandits, they may have information to where she went, but that would mean dealing with the bandits. He could follow the hoof beats he heard off in the distance, possibly catching up to the unknown rider before long. There was no way of knowing who the rider was and even if they had anything to do with finding the knight he was hunting. He grumbled to himself slightly as he dismounted and follow the wagon tracks on foot. It was the safer of the two choices, but he hated not having a sure thing.

    Chester followed at a distance as Edward crept along the bent blades of grass that gave away the direction they had taken the wagon. After several minutes he crested over a hill and saw the bandit camp laid out before him. He motioned for Chester to stay as he drew his swords and crept forth. He became increasingly more nervous as, as he crept, he neither heard nor saw any signs of the bandits. Even more cautiously he crept forward as he reached the perimeter of the camp. Up ahead, almost in the center of the camp, he was the wagon. What lie around it filled him with both delight and a bit of disappointment. Several bodies lay strewn about the camp, all dead, more then likely bandits. The knight had been here for sure. He relaxed slightly, but kept his swords drawn as he strode into the camp.

    He did a quick search and found nothing at first. He was about to call Chester to him and take off back into town, when he heard a soft groan come from inside one of the tents. Swords drawn, Edward strode into the tent to see a man, sitting on a bedroll, clutching at his side. Edward leveled his sword at the man as he entered, their gaze meeting each others. The man smiled slightly as he spoke. "Figured one as skilled as her would have a hunter on her trail." He said weakly, holding his side.

    "Good then." Edward smiled crouching down at the man's level. He prodded the man's wound with the tip of his blade. The man winced in pain. "She took off to the pass I suppose?"

    The man looked at Edward and spat. "That's on you hunter."

    Edward rubbed the side of his face and sighed heavily. He sat down and touched the tip of his blade to the man's wound and kept it there. "Listen, I'm pretty sure she's headed for the pass. I just need conformation, anything really would help greatly." He smiled broadly as he slowly began to push the sword into the man's wound.

    The man yelled in pain and quickly changed his tone. "Curse everything you do!" He said as Edward stopped the forward motion of his blade. "Yes! The pass! Not long ago! Leave me now!"

    Edward smiled at the man's pain riddled face. "I'm going to take a lantern and head that way then. Much obliged." Edward said as he thrust the sword deep into the man's belly. The man's eyes winded with surprise as he slowly fell over, clutching his side as he bled out. Edward stood up and sheathed his sword as he exited the tent. "Don't need any loose ends coming back on me." He thought to himself as he grabbed a lit lantern and headed back to Chester. He felt closer to capturing her as a smile crept across his face. He would find her tonight, he felt, but didn't dare engage her until daylight.
  15. Melaina guided Eurus as he loped towards the Pass. She had taken the cart path until it came to the main road again, an out of the way detour; taking the main road would have been more prudent since time was of the essence. The forest had gradually thinned out as the rocky slopes of the mountains rose up on either side of the road. Melaina could see the faint ridges through the ever-present mists of the higher elevation, just barely visible in the light from the dying sun.

    She would need to stop soon to sleep. She had taken the advantage of riding to polish off the contents of Rhigas’s pouch, a few pieces of dried meat, and hard cheese. It was hardly enough to be considered a full meal, but it filled her stomach quickly, since she had not been eating well since beginning her trek to the Pass. She forced the food down until it was gone.

    The road passed under the ruins of a stone gate that kept the borders of the Pass. There was no one else on the road to the Pass. If they knew better, as most who dared cross the threshold did, unless you were Ionian, you did not travel at night. Once, long before Melaina’s father’s the Pass and all the land east of it to the sea was a part of Ionia, a separate sovereignty. The Reacher king had taken the land after a terrible battle in which many Ionians including the Ionian king and his entire family were slaughtered. The Pass and all the land with it was given to the Reacher king of Autumnsreach, which accomplished his goal of greatly expanding Autumnreach’s control of trade. Certain Ionians and Reachers had never forgotten this injustice. Reachers were not welcomed in the Pass as Ionians were not welcomed beyond it.

    The path split on the other side of the gate, one traveling along the stream that split the Pass in two, the other along a ridge to the south which would go through the mountains to Jonas’ land. Melaina glanced down each in turn, lingering on the way up the ridge.

    She could return Rhigas’ sword to him. She could check on the boy and his mother. She could ask to see Jonas. He would help. He would trip over himself to do so if she asked.

    Eurus snorted, tossing his head, and Melaina realized she had stopped him at the fork in the path. With a heavy sigh, she tugged his reins to the stream and pressed on.

    She stopped just after dark, sliding from the saddle. Although it felt good to be on horseback, she was still stiff. She let him graze where he wanted and took the pack from him. After rooting around a bit, she tossed a roll of clothes on a stone near the stream, slipping off her armor. Without the heavy chainmail weighing her down, she felt a deal lighter and smaller, more like a woman, and less like a knight. Melaina doffed her boots and long stockings, wading into the water in breeches and a thin chemise until she was up to her knees. She tugged out her braid, combing with her fingers to loosen dirt, leaves and tangles from her dark curls and knelt at last, letting the cold water wash over her and carry the weeks’ worth of grime away. She did not linger long and hurriedly left the stream to redress, squeezing the excess water from her clothes and hair.

    She kept her hair loose so it could dry, and plaiting a few strands near her crown as was the fashion. She left her armor, tucking it away in her pack and slipped into a simple navy dress, one of the few she owned. It was modest, but form fitting and still loose enough for riding. With the change in dress and the few phrases she remembered from snippets of conversations between her parents, she could pass relatively well for an Ionian peasant, rather than a knight. She kept her swords belted on her hips, however, to discourage unwelcome advances. Most would not bother someone who was armed, woman or not. At least, it was the hope.

    She repacked her belongings, fashioning a pillow of sorts, and pulled her legs under the dress to keep warm while she slept, foregoing a fire for tonight. She would not sleep long, just enough to recover her strength and ride out before the dawn.
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