Garwen looked at the placid mount Ven had picked out for him with distaste. There had been no way around telling the old man he wasn't the best rider in the world, but he'd been shocked to see that Ven had been surprised to find that he could ride at all.
"Most who come here can't ride," he told him as he paid for the black and white paint gelding Garwen held.
His uncle had owned a couple of horses, and Garwen and Gomun had stayed with him for a couple of months once while their parents spent some time together to celebrate their anniversary. During that time, Garwen had learned the basics of riding, but that had been almost four years ago. He wasn't sure how much he remembered.
Ven held the reins of a bay gelding with a white face and four white stockings and swung on. Garwen figured he couldn't put off the inevitable any longer and swung on himself. The paint gelding snorted and stood still, as if to say, "Here we go again," which made Ven laugh.
"Come on boy. Let's go."
The ride to Farlan was not exactly what Garwen expected. The land around Iilane was mostly dirt – great for farming, but sparse of grass for reasons he hadn't figured out yet – but as they rode across the country, he started seeing the subtle changes in the land: the tall green grass, the gently rolling hills, the bubbling streams. If Farlan was anything like the land around it, it would make Iilane and Javisa look like the desert.
Ven told Garwen they would be entering Farlan by nightfall, but before the sun even started to set, he found himself starting to catch a glimpse of the city. Tall spires rose high above the ground and forced Garwen to tilt his chin higher and higher in order to see the tops as they rode closer.
"We'll stay at an inn in Farlan and go to Zhil in the morning," Ven told him as they rode towards the gate of Farlan.
The city was larger than Iilane, the buildings several times larger, the number of people three times higher. Surrounding the city, keeping thieves and bandits at bay was a wall. Garwen saw it was made of the same black rock as Javisa, but he said nothing to Ven about it. He knew that he'd probably find out more about the way the buildings were made if he read his history book, which he still hadn't managed to open yet. Luckily, Ven had had too much on his mind to question him about his studies in Genisercian history.
There were two guards at the gate – large reptilian lizards that kind of reminded Garwen of iguanodons with small horns on their snouts that curved back slightly. Each beast stood at least ten feet tall on all four legs – Garwen was afraid to know how tall it was standing on its hind legs alone – and was a muddy brown with black stripes crossing its back on either side of its body. A similar stripe scarred its muzzle just below the halter that banded it. A saddle sat on its back where a rider held a pair of reins attached to the rings on either side of the halter's bands. The riders were each armed with spears and wearing light leather armor.
"Halt!" the guard on the left said and rode closer to Ven. Ven stopped his horse and waited for the guard. It was obvious the horse was afraid of the beast the guard rode as it fidgeted and danced in place. Ven seemed oblivious to it all though as he watched the guard.
"State your name and your business here," the guard demanded.
Ven bowed his head to the guard.
"Ven, Javisa's Riyahd and Garwen, apprentice. We wish to seek an audience with Zhil's Riyahd, Jaclyn, in the morning. It's been a long ride, and my apprentice isn't used to it."
The guard's attention swiveled to Garwen for a moment before he returned his gaze to Ven. For several moments, he looked like he was going to say something to Ven, but then he changed his mind and fell quiet. He nodded once and said, "Proceed," before he used a crop to tap his mount's shoulder. The beast let out a loud bellow that must have echoed inside Farlan's walls.
Ven's horse screamed and went up on his hind legs, causing the guard to chuckle. "Iilane must get some better beasts to ride. Horses are too nervous to be riding these days."
Ven did not reply as the gate was opened. Instead, he righted his horse and rode through, Garwen close behind. The gate slammed shut behind them.
Unable to quell his curiosity, Garwen rode up beside Ven and asked, "What were those creatures?"
"Adolins. They are hardy reptiles able to stand the most extreme temperatures from sweltering heat to freezing cold, but they are also expensive and require a lot of care. That's why Javisa doesn't own any. We have the space for them now that we don't own any more horses, but we don't have the extra help to care for them."
"Do they all look like that?" The adolins burned curiosity into Garwen's mind.
"No. The males have a pouch hanging below their jaw that puffs out when they bellow and turns a vibrant orange. It's how they attract mates. The brighter and bigger the pouch when they bellow, the more likely a female will mate with him. Farlan only rides females because they are less likely to start fights and stay calmer. Maybe I'll find someone to take you by the stables while I meet with Jaclyn."
Garwen hoped so. The adolins were another alien creature he wanted to learn more about. He'd never seen anything like them. Their size alone inspired a slight fear in him, but it also allowed fascination to slip through. He was still deep in thought about the adolins when Ven stopped outside a tall building that looked about seven stories high. He shook his head and looked at the sign hanging outside the door.
"The Gentle Lion?" he asked Ven.
"I always come here when I spend the night in Farlan. It's a quiet inn, as the name portrays."
Garwen shook his head and followed Ven's example of dismounting. A boy much younger than Garwen took their horses and led them around back where Garwen was sure there was a stable hiding. Ven didn't even pause as he paid the boy a couple of coins and strode inside the building. Garwen took a step forward and stopped as he almost fell down. He hadn't realized how shaky he was at first, but it now hit home as he realized how sore his legs were and how much his legs felt like jelly.
Slowly, he made his way inside the inn, biting the inside of his cheek to keep himself from crying out in pain. He knew the inside of his legs would be rubbed raw and he didn't even want to think about other sore muscles that he knew he'd probably have. All he wanted was a hot shower and a warm bed.
Ven was standing at the counter talking to a balding man who wiped glasses clean when Garwen made his way over to him. The barkeeper looked at Garwen and nodded to Ven, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth. Ven also seemed to be laughing.
The barkeeper returned a moment later and handed Ven a set of keys.
"Thank you," Ven said and motioned for Garwen to follow him up two flights of stairs to a small room with two beds and a bathroom. A window on the opposite side of the room from the door looked over the stableyard behind the inn as Garwen had guessed.
"Take a shower. There should be some salve in there that will cool the ache and a set of sleepwear. I'll get us something to eat."
Garwen nodded and did just that. When he opened the door to the bathroom, he found Ven sleeping and a tray of food resting on the bed meant for him. He sat down and started tearing into the large chunk of meat and pile of green beans on his tray as he realized exactly how hungry he was. There was a glass of water with it as well, which he gulped down while he was eating and then set the tray on the ground because he didn't know what else to do with it.
He crawled into bed then, feeling the length of the day catching up with him and exhaustion creeping up on him. He hadn't had his head on his pillow for five minutes before sleep closed his eyes for the night.
Ven woke him early the next morning and handed him a new tray with eggs and half a loaf of bread on it.
"Eat and let's go," he said a little gruffly. Garwen nodded and ate quickly. He had learned that Ven wasn't really a morning person long ago and didn't talk more than he had to.
He dressed as soon as he was finished eating and followed Ven out the door and onto Farlan's streets.