Chapter 3: The Old Man

Pontru drew his sword and Kysti grabbed a large kitchen knife. Both held their weapons at the ready and kept their eyes on the old man.
"Who the hell are you and what are you doing here?" Pontru demanded his voice so cold, frost should have been coming out of his mouth.
"I'm here seeking the hero from the prophecy." The man replied.
"Then you're here on a fool's errand old man. There's no hero here."
Kysti rolled her eyes. "It's him." She said pointing to her brother.
Pontru went so far as to glare at her. "I am no hero."
"You fit the prophecy perfectly."
"And we went through this already today. There are probably a thousand men who fit the prophecy. That doesn't make them a hero anymore then it makes me one."
"You're just being difficult again, brother."
Pontru snorted. "I am not the hero. And further more, if I was I wouldn't do anything because as far as I've seen all these idiots here deserve the Dark King."
Kysti sighed. "You keep pretending that you're all evil and heartless, but you're not. You're a really kind and good person you just won't admit."
"I'm not kind. I'm not good. The only person in this entire cursed world I care for is you. The rest could die and I wouldn't shed a tear. In fact I'd be much happier that way."
His sister sighed again. "If you were truly evil you wouldn't love me and I know you do. Just as I love you."
Pontru smiled at her. "I know you do. That's the only reason I haven't killed everyone I meet. I know you wouldn't like that. Now neither of us is going to agree, so can't we just agree to disagree? I don't want to keep arguing. Especially in front of some strange old man who still hasn't told us who he is!" He hissed the last part, once again turning to face the old man.
The man bowed. "My name is Zaran and I've come seeking the hero. I believe you, Pontru Sien Ashland, are that hero."
Pontru glowered hearing his hated full name. "I am not called Ashland. I will not keep the name of the bastard that abandoned us."
"Regardless of your name or whether or not you believe you're the hero, the Dark King seems to believe you're that hero and has sent men to come and kill you. Along with your family. I suggest you come away with me if you and your sister wish to live."
"And how do we know you're telling us the truth?"
"You don't and can't, but I offer you the chance to live. Whether or not you take me up on my offer is your choice."
"Pontru, I think we should go with him. Even if he's not right, everyone here and in the surrounding towns believe you're the hero and eventually the Dark King will send someone to kill you. Let's go now."
He was going to refuse outright but what she said made sense to him. "But. . ."
"Please?" Kysti asked, her eyes filling with tears. "I don't want anything to happen to you."
Pontru could hardly refuse her when she used that tone and was almost crying. He sighed. "Alright. But we leave in the morning. Both the horses and us need rest. You can sleep on the couch."
"My name is Zaran."
"Whatever old man."
Kysti and Pontru went to their rooms and their beds and so worn out by the days events they were both asleep almost instantly.

The next morning, Kysti packed all the food that would travel well as Pontru packed blankets, flint and tinder, bedrolls, a tent and their winter coats, in case the weather turned nasty.
After they had the general packs assembled they both went to pack their own clothes. The two of them both picked their sturdiest sets of clothing along with on set of really warm things. Finished, they went out to the stable and got the horses ready. Each of the horses carried four packs. Dark was carrying the heavier stuff, as he was bigger and stronger then Star.
Zaran had come out with them and was readying his own mount a large grey gelding named Fog. Dark was taller then Fog by a bit, though Star was slightly smaller.
Once ready, the trio mounted and headed to the west, the opposite direction that Kysti and Pontru had gone the day before.
They rode in silence, Pontru because he was in a bad mood about leaving, Kysti because she didn't want to bother Pontru and Zaran because he didn't know the two of them at all.
The three of them stopped for a mid-day meal at the side of the road and then continued on. After that, Kysti decided that Pontru had sulked long enough. "Where are we going?" she asked Zaran.
"To a town where there's someone I want you to meet. As for today, I'm hoping we'll reach the Laughing Jester inn before dark. Now I'm curious, why are you so certain that your brother is the hero when he won't say so himself?"
"Because he matched the prophecy perfectly. He had a flame-shaped birthmark on his shoulder, he has never told a lie in his entire life and he's the best swordsman in our entire village. He even has a new sword he designed himself." Kysti said the last but proudly as she was still quite impressed with the new blade.
"Hmmm. That is a lot better then what some of the other would-be heroes have said."
"I am no would-be hero. I do not want to be a hero. I do not want to save people. I do not want anything but to live as far away from everyone as possible. The only reason I'm here is because Kysti insisted, otherwise I would have beaten you and then left you outside old man."
"My name is Zaran, not old man."
"To me you're an old man. I don't call people by their names unless I like them or need something from them. Neither applies to you, so you're just an old man to me."
Kysti grinned. Pontru was feeling better or he wouldn't be arguing. When he was really upset about something he just wouldn't say a word.
"Who do you want Pontru to meet?" Kysti asked Zaran.
"A man by the name of Rellip. He' staying with a friend of mine."
"Where?" Pontru demanded.
"Quinle." Zaran admitted rather reluctantly.
"Quinle? Really? I've always wanted to go there!" Kysti exclaimed.
"The mage town. The only town the Dark King doesn't control. You are crazy. That's the worst place in the world to go! It'll be completely filled with the Dark King's agents. It's a deathtrap."
"Not for us. I can keep us safe. I know a secret way into the city. It leads right into my friend's backyard."
"And how do we know we can trust your friend not to give us away?"
"She wouldn't do that! She hates the Dark King. She'll do anything to destroy him."
"That can be faked. Easily."
Zaran gave Pontru a hard look. "And you know this how?"
"None of your damned business old man." Pontru said before spurring Dark ahead.
The old man looked at Kysti for an explanation.
Pontru's sister sighed. "It's part of the reason he refuses to trust anyone. Remember how I said there was an old mercenary who lived in our town? Well Werlin trained Pontru and my brother actually grew to like him and trust him. However, shortly before he turned ten, the mercenary tried to kill him. For years he'd pretended to hate the Dark King when in reality he was one of his agents sent to root out any would-be-heroes or revolutionaries. Pontru killed him. He had no choice. For weeks afterward he wouldn't leave the house and refused to speak to anyone. I had to tend to his wounds. I had to tend to his wounds. He has a huge scar across his chest from the fight. He almost died. After that Pontru trained even harder and stopped trusting anyone except me. It was hard for him. He'd begun to look at Werlin like a father, as our own had run off shortly before that. Now he's had two fathers who've betrayed him."
"He beat one of the Dark King's agents before he was ten? With not even four years of training from that very same agent? I think you're right about your brother. For all his hatred and coldness, he might very well be the hero."
"Don't tell him I told you. He's very touchy about it. Hates being reminded about the Werlin. Bad memories. He still has nightmares about it. I can hear him screaming in his sleep for Werlin to stop acting crazy."
Pontru was up ahead waiting for them. "So what were you talking about?" he asked, suspiciously.
"Cloth." Kysti lied smoothly, used to keeping things from her brother when she knew they'd upset him. "Zaran was telling me about some of the kinds they have in Quinle."
"Really? And what kind were you most interested in? We should pick some up when we're there."
"I really liked the special scarlet leather they have there. It would make a lovely riding outfit."
Zaran gave her a strange look while Pontru asked. "So where do you get this leather, old man?"
"From our tanner. He found out how to dye the leather by accident. Spilled some chemical on it and it turned red. It's very specialized though. He won't tell anyone else how to do it and only sells it in our city. It's in high demand and we end up with all sorts of merchants and nobles looking to buy some."
"How much is it?"
"Well it depends who's buying it. He'll probably sell it to you for two silver a metre."
Kysti whistled. That was expensive.
"That's quite a lot for leather."
"It'd be even more if you were a noble."
"How much more?"
"For nobles he charges five gold a metre." Zaran said a little smugly.
Kysti's jaw dropped. "Five gold a metre?!?!? Who would pay that?"
"Rich nobles who like to show off. Everyone knows how expensive the stuff is, so when one of them wears an outfit made of the leather, the others know how much they spent. It's just another way the nobles posture to one another. Not that I mind all that much. Because of them, we're one of the richest cities in the known world."
Pontru snorted. He had no interest in the richness of a city or nobles. They were just things that irritated him, like everything else did except Kysti, Dark Foot and Bright Star.
The rest of the ride passed uneventfully with Zaran and Kysti chatting and Pontru needling the old man every now and then. The sun had just begun to set when they reached the Laughing Jester inn.