The young minstrel turned out to have no greater story of his origins than what Kiri had predicted. He regaled them with the tale of his early life as they walked to the village below, telling them of his family of moderate wealth and innumerable children – the number turned out to be five, which even a servant girl like Kiri found easy to count to – and of his great dreams to become a bard of the Guild, and play in ornate palaces around the world. She always found minstrels more than a little silly, and Arryk Tentales was no exception.
Of course, he was quite handsome and only two years older, so when he spoke to her, her tongue tied in knots. The storyteller seemed to find this more than a little amusing, so even though she did not force the girl to speak, Kiri could see a small, amused smile on her lips whenever Arryk directed a question to her.
The storyteller talked little and Kiri spoke even less, but Arryk talked more than enough for the three of them. The grand story of his life and times over his fourteen years lasted well into the village, and even when the storyteller bought them sweet rolls to munch on, the tale still emerged from between his bites and around his food.
"Do you only have ten tales, then?" the storyteller asked innocently, although there was a mischievous gleam in her eyes as she did so.
"Excuse me, lady?" Arryk said, looking confused. He took another bite from his sweet roll.
"You last name – I suppose you were not born with it. It sounds like no Durran name." She hesitated a moment. "Though I suppose it sounds like it could come from the Gate of Fire. They always did love making up their own surnames."
Arryk blushed. "No, Lady, I was not born with that name. I am from the Cresent – Tieras, actually."
"That's a pity," she said with a shrug. "You'd like it in the Gate – a dramatic people, they are. Some islands more than others of course." She shook her head. "Verras is far too close to the Dark Elves to have anything resembling a sense of humor."
Both Kiri and the minstrel stopped dead in the street and stared at her with wide eyes.
She smiled at them. "Now, I believe I was asking about your name, then. Tentales?"
"I – no, I know far more than ten tales, my lady," he replied, still seeming a bit shocked. He and Kiri fell into step beside the woman.
"Did you have some reason for choosing it then?"
Arryk blushed again, looking particularly sheepish. "Not really, my Lady. It just sounded like a name a bard would have."
Kiri thought a bard would have a name more like 'Hundredtales' or 'Thousandtales,' but she figured that the minstrel probably would not appreciate her input. After all, she was just a serving girl, and he would some day be a bard.
"Where exactly are we headed, my lady?" Arryk asked, peering around the marketplace as if he would be able to tell where their destination would be simply by looking at it.
"Patience is a virtue, child," the storyteller reminded him with a gentle smile, but Kiri could see an anxious tightness around her eyes that belayed her light tone.
She was not surprised to see that they stopped at the public stables, but Arryk wrinkled his nose.
"Why are we here, my lady?" He made a face. "This is where all the gossips spend their time."
"I am waiting for a message," she explained vaguely as they walked through the old women who watched them with curious eyes. The women turned away, feigning disinterest, but Kiri knew as soon as the door closed they would be pressed tight up against it to hear what was said within.
"When will it come, my lady?" Arryk pressed.
She frowned. "I do not know."
Softly, Kiri raised her voice to ask, "How long have you been waiting?"
The storyteller's face grew somber as she turned to face her. "A very, very long time."
The postmaster waited behind a counter inside, asleep on a high wooden chair. The postmaster – formerly the stable master – had worked in Haddenfordshire since before many people could remember. They said he had some old elf blood in his veins, but to Kiri he looked all human, just ancient. His face held vestiges of smiles long since gone, and his white hair had grown wildly out from his head. She liked the old man, although she never could quite remember his name, as he had always been kindly to her, even when she had caused mischief in the stables as a young girl.
The storyteller slapped the counter loudly, jolting the postmaster out of his slumber. He looked around, alarmed, until his eyes fell on the pale blue of the storyteller's cloak.
"I see you're back," he remarked with a wry smile. "Isn't it in your people's teachings that patience is a virtue, my lady?"
Arryk made a pointed choking noise.
"Yes, well, I never was quite good at that one." She quickly turned to the minstrel, giving him a quelling sort of glare. "I suppose nothing has come from the Crescent, then?"
"I'm afraid not, my lady," he said with a shake of his head. "Nor that lad either. Are you sure he was to come Haddenfordshire-way?"
"He was quite clear about it," she assured the old man.
He grinned. "I suppose he would be. You sure he ain't lost, my lady?"
"Actually, I'm quite sure he is." Her lips twisted wryly. "Just don't tell him I said so when he arrives."
"I take it you'll check back tomorrow." The postmaster regarded her seriously, the corners of his lips tugged downwards in a frown.
"Yes, of course."
"And if he does not come?"
"Then I will wait," she told him testily. "I am in no hurry. I have a week before I must move on."
"And then, if he has not come?"
"He will." She lifted her head haughtily, and motioned for the children to follow her out the door. "Come, it is past time for me to head back. I feel…weary."
The storyteller stayed silent as they walked back to the inn, leaving Arryk's incessant chatter to be her only companion. When they returned, the woman asked to be escorted to her room. She did not emerge for hours. Kiri told all who asked that she was resting – after all, she was quite ancient, the girl reminded them. Everyone, even Arryk, seemed to accept the explanation. Time wore on and the storyteller still did not emerge from her rooms.
There was a distinct restless feeling in the common room when the candles began to wear down and show the hour. Kiri wove through the tables, hearing their talk that perhaps she had moved on without them knowing, or that she had died in her sleep, or that she tired of telling them the tale of the Companions of the Geal. She too worried for the storyteller, wondering what kept her to her rooms.
It had been dark for nearly three hours when the storyteller emerged from the stairwell, looking far more fatigued than she had when they had returned from market. Arryk seemed not to notice, asking her about the story she would tell, pleading with her to recount the story of Elishaveth of the Wood, as he always did. She smiled patiently at him, and promised him nothing, instead saying, "All in its own time, child."
The boy looked as if he would like to sulk, but Kiri came up behind him and gave his head a subtle whack. "Let the woman tell her story, Arryk."
Kiri kept her voice low, but the storyteller gave her a knowing smile as if she had heard.
"Now let me see," the woman said as the children rushed to sit at her feet. "Where did I leave off?"
The children before her all spoke at once, each naming a different moment in the tale, or confusing it with another from other stories of the Geal that they had heard over time.
"No," Allenard said clearly, face wrinkled in concentration over his mug of ale. The children looked at him with wide eyes. "You left off with the red head. The scout girl."
"Adara," Arryk offered, smiling brightly at the storyteller.
"Ah yes," she said, a faintly amused expression on her face. "Yes, I remember now."
The woman spread her fingers wide of her lap, discreetly stretching. "The tale continues half a continent away, in the harsh peaks of the Warrior's Arm, where the fallen son of Jhannon makes his way towards the sea…"