The trip was long, but that was most likely because we were'nt really sure where we were going. We were travellers, after all. People looking for a place to go, knowing nothing more than that they hadn't found it yet. Hoping that eventually they would, and yet not fully disliking the journey itself. Every now and then we'd run into a city where we could settle down for a few months and make the money so that we could travel longer.
Now and again I'd begin to wonder if either me or Rolf was really expecting to ever find the place we were meant to be, if we hadn't in fact given up on the prospect alltogether. But it was one of those things we did not question, and one of those questions we did not speak. All we did was move on.
I was sitting by Rolf again, and as always he was holding the reigns. The scenery had barely changed oer the last fortnight and I was beginning to grow tired of the endless dieing grass and almost-tan brush. Sighing I leaned back to rest myself on the carriage behind me.
"Don't ya tell me yer tired already?" Rolf lulled, humor in his eyes.
I shrugged, "Not tired, just bored out of my mind."
"Well get comfortable then, why don't ya, 'cause it's not about to change."
"Right. Will do." I retorted dutifully. Ugh, I could really stretch my legs about now. Sighing I looked back over at Rolf, "Hey, I'm gonna sit on the back for a while."
He looked over at me for a second as if about to say something, but seemed to decide against it, waving me off frustratedly. Getting the point I jumped off onto the side ledge and climbed to the back of the cart where the leather covering was attached to the small ledge that I would sit on as we continued our ride through what was now turning into a terrain of a light forest. Either way, I would be able to watch out just in case we were faced with an ambush from something or other, so I kept my eye out.
Waving my legs in a bored fashion, I held on as we bumped our way down the beaten path (ah, to be a traveler could oft be quite tremulous) when I noticed a rustling in some bushes nearby. Frowning I pulled a lever which would let Rolf know with a small bell up front that there was something off behind us.
The horses were reigned to a quick stop and I jumped off the carriage to inspect what was going on, my hand on the hilt of my sword. I heard Rolf exit the carriage as well as his boots let a deep rumble ring out from the ground at his landing on the dirt path. I could hear the sound of sliding middle, he was drawing his sword. I motioned back with my left hand, letting him know that I hadn't seen immediate danger, and not wanting him to cause trouble if it were someone innocent who would take badly to being threatened by the hefty hand-and-a-half sword which the burly man carried. I sensed a nod of understanding as I heard the metal slide back into its sleeping place, and continued to walk forward.
"If there's someone there than you'd best come out. We are not known enemies, yet would prefer not to be ambushed by someone either-not too fond of suprises and all that."
At that I sensed Rolf rolling his eyes, I could not count the amount of times he had joked at the fact that as a woman in this world it was rather hopeless for me to try to threaten anyone.
At that point, though, a low voice echoed out from the woods in a tone of bitter irony, "Well, thats all well and good, toots, but frankly I would be out there if I could manage the trip. But well, not all people are quite so well prepared on their journeys and come prepared for troubles in the woods."
I scowled, "Well then, show your hands at least, stranger, else I would let our swords discover you."
"Damn woman!" The voice called out, obvisouly frustrated, "Have you no ears! I told you, 'I would if I could', but I can't, so how about you come over hear and get me out of this blasted bushery like the good samiratin I'm sure you think you are. I promise I won't bite!"
"Well if it's help your asking for you won't find it like that!" I had moved closer to the bush now and had raised my voice in utter frustration, "I've no will to help an ungrateful whelp with no taste for propriety!"
"'Propriety', eh, Toots? I'll be given that when I'm faced with a lady, yet as far as I know, there are none for a long ways now."
I scoffed, why what a-
Yet before I could send yet another retort at the direction of the brute within the bushes Rolf pushed past me and with a swift motion cut away the brush with a fluid sweep of his sword, showing the top half of a rather thin and mildly injured man behind it, his back to me showing a head of roughly cut chestnut hair and a coat of lightly tanned skin. His arms were behind his back...and then it hit me.
I raised an eyebrow at the comedic nature of it all and grinned, "Well, you have quite a sharp tongue for a man who seems to be tied up and all, my friend."
Walking over to him I saw the back of his neck grow crimson with what I supposed was probably a delightful mix of anger and shame. Rolf attempted to stop my progress, but I ignored the motion and continued ahead. " Now if you needed help so bad you could have just explained how pitiful you were straight up, and-"
Walking in front of him it took me a moment to take in the fact that this man had indeed been stripped of everything...or almost, he had a wonderful patch of cloth protecting his most precious parts. Staring at the man, who I now saw to be young (not more than a few more summers older than me, I guessed) I immediately burst into laughter.
"Well would you look at that-you're even more pitiful than I thought, oh vile traveller!" I said through my laughter. Ah, the simple things in life that entertain us.
"Well, Toots, when you've had enough it would be wonderful if you cut off these blasted ropes, you know." He said through his teeth, his eyes narrowing vehemently at me now that he felt the strength to do so.
"Aye, Aye, c'pain, and don't worry, I'm sure I'll cut the right ones, after all, I think if I saw any more of your overly boney carcass I might find myself losing my breakfast!" I said jollily, pulling out a dagger to cut open the ropes that held his hands and feet, "Now stand up would you, and give us your name and where your heading, maybe if we feel charitable enough, Rolf here might just let you sit on our carriage and serve as the local serving-boy."
Continuing to glare at me, the man turned around to be faced with Rolf, standing tall at his full size, his sword slung over his shoulder. "Well, I daresay I understand how you've survived with that mouth of yours, Toots, this man's got quite a look to him, doesn't he?"
Needless to say the bite was not quite so sharp that time.
Now clothed and decent, the man sat where I once had on the back of the carriage. We had decided that he could ride with us until the next town as charity, but if he wanted any more of it he would be needed to earn his keep. His name, though, he had not yet given us, and though we had pried mildly, we had no wish to go deeper at the moment-there was no point in crashing down too hard in places such as this. It's not like he would be able to take on the both of us, anyways.
I was about to attempt another interrogation, when Rolf called out from the front. "Town's appearin' over the hill, we should be there within the hour."
Beside my our hitchiker sighed, and looked around. "Hey Toots," I glared at him, but he had grown used to my looks, it seemed, "Why is it we don't just ride in the carriage? I'm fairly certain it would be more comfortable."
"Two pairs of eyes on the road's safer than one."
He scoffed, "Don't bullshit me. Or if you do, at least try a bit harder."
"Says the one who won't even share a name." I gave him a coy look, my voice bitter.
"Touche. All the same, it does make one curious."
I shrugged. Curious or no something told me not to tell this man all of our secrets so easily. The road could be a harsh place, and while I was sure he had no reason to attack us regardless, it was safer usually to keep as much unknown as possible. As if echoing the warnings in my mind I was suddenly jolted into motion by our cart swerving to the side, as a pack of yelling riders canteres past us, coming from out from the town. Standing up, I climbed onto the ledge of the carriage so that I could see above it, and couldn't help but grumble at our bad luck as I saw a group of five or six guards each fully armoured and on their own horses, spears in their grasp. I noted that while their armour was not nearly so polished as that of a high guard, they were most certainly more than the usual ones on the seat. Prison guards maybe? I hoped not.
"Shit!" I yelled as one hurled a spear that very nearly took off my head, "Where the hell do you think you're aiming? Did they teach you that in the academy?"
The guard glared at me as he passed, and I watched moderately annoyed as the convoy made their leave down the road. I noted that the chances didn't look too grand for the guards. Our own carriage had stopped and I leapt off the convoy to take a look at the spear. The boy travelling with us jumped down as well, watching me as I picked up the hefty weapon.
"Do you intend to take it?" He said with a tone of mild amusement, I could sense a raised eyebrow and a scoff that I was unable to completely notice given my turned back.
"I intend to see if I can identify the ruling family of this town." I said bitterly, turning to give him a cold look. Returning my attention to the spear I took a good pull and pried it out of the ground. I turned it over so that the tip was pointed to the sky and then pulled the cloth emblem firm so that I could look at it better. It was a diamond with an eye in the center, and two swords crossed behind. It itched the back of my mind but I couldn't quite remember.
Rolf's heavy footprints rumbled on the loose dirt road. "Well, ya certainly dun see that ev'ry day, adds a shine ta the journey if ya ask me." I rolled my eyes at his giddy optimism as he walked up behind me.
"Do you know this insigna?" I asked him. The older man took the spear from me and pulled off the small piece of cloth before studying it closer.
His brow furrowed with thought before he admitted that it wasn't one he recognized. I shrugged, "Damn it. It's nice knowing what you're going into, especially with that sort of welcome."
"Its the House of Inryd." The voice of our new companion sounded out from behind us.
"The what?" I questioned, incredulous.
"What? I'm not allowed to have my own ideas about things?"
Rolf inturrupted with a clearing of his throat. "So this Inryd House...?"
The younger man continued, getting a comfortable position, and turning his attention to the both of us. "The House of Inryd. You probably don't know of it as it split from the council basically as soon as the war started. The leader, Rishnan Ynari, wanted no part of the war, and thus spent the majority of the time training people rather than fighting-you know, so that if the other houses ever felt like dragging him into it he would be able to defend himself. Rumour goes that he had a previous relationship of sorts with the Royals-in fact the young princess Etarri was set up to marry his elder son, and while the war began before the time for the marriage it was still against his 'code', you might say, to help in the rebellion."
"That's all quite interesting. However all the same...deciding not to fight yet growing ones own army? That sounds testy, are you sure that it's a safe place to wander into?" Sometimes I tired of this land's politics.
The man shook his head."Lord Ynari is a strict ruler, and you'd do well to not show any trouble, but he will not actively do anything to hurt another house. He only wishes to raise his people in peace."
"In peace huh?" Rolf's voice was quiet but harsh, "A little late for that. You seem to know a lot about politics my friend."
The young man swallowed, and turned back to return to the carriage. "I have...played my part in such things. However, it is getting late, we want to get there before nightfall right? C'mon toots, lets get a move on."
I glared but something in his tone stopped me from doing anymore. Rolf and I met gazes before he gave me a swift nod which meant it was, in fact, time to go. I hoped that here we might find a clue to the medicine which we seeked. Yet somehow I felt it was unlikely. We rode into the town in silence, going to sleep early after only a quick drink of sweet honey ale, and not even one full minstel's song by the fire.