The Endless Horizon

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 5 (v.2) - Another's Company

Submitted: June 17, 2019

Reads: 153

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Submitted: June 17, 2019

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-5-

Another's Company

 

 

With the visions of that night still fresh in my mind, I tethered my horse much deeper into the trading outpost. As for myself, I finished my slumber in a sleeping tent towards the village's center. It held more occupants than it was truly able, but the snores of fellow men were vastly more desirable than the hot breath of whatever apparition had haunted me before.

Now that it was morning, I needed to seek out that woman before she found someone else willing to pay her fare. After a quick breakfast, I carefully stepped past the drunkards still knocked out on the floor and headed in the direction of the mercenary tent.

Along the way I experienced the most acute sense of deja vu. I couldn't shake the feeling that this was my third trip to the same tent when in reality I had only been here once before. This said, I was more than a little hesitant to raise the flap of cloth concealing the inside of the tent. Fortunately, I found the place as crowded as it was in my last visits, only this time it was no less jovial than the first.

Before I approached the bar I saw that all of the stools had already been taken by customers, the escort not being among them. Hoping that she would eventually show her face I drifted towards the center of the room where another argument was unfolding. These men were hunters from the looks of it.

A heavyset man with a patchy beard and a thinning scalp currently had the floor. “Just the other day I came across a lurk of goblins, must've been at least a dozen of 'em,” he said between long drinks from his tankard. “I had the critters scrambling after only minutes.”

“Please!” cried a bearded man from across the crowd, throwing his arms up in rebuttal. “You sure you didn't mean that they had you running?”

Hearty laughter broke out from the surrounding patrons. It probably wasn't the best of crowds to get myself involved with, but I couldn't recall the last time I had shared a laugh with someone. What's more is that I was still curious about what had attacked me before.

Fishing for an answer, I injected half in jest and half in curiosity, “Just last night I woke to a writhing shadow, gave me the most terrible of nightmares. This was of course before I altogether extinguished it.”

The same balding man now chuckled, “How do you get yourself attacked by a wraith? Haven't your parents ever told you to stay inside at night?”

Not backing down from a chance at my own fun, I retorted, “Not once. You see, I no longer live with them.”

There were a few boisterous howls in response. For what must've been hours I sat and listened to more of their stories, even telling a few of my own. At some point I realized how long I had been there and stood up to leave. After doing one last quick survey of the establishment I turned and nearly ran into someone a head shorter than me.

“I'm so sorry si-” I stopped short of a full apology when I saw that it was, in fact, a woman; the very person whom I'd been looking for. I shook my head at the inconceivable odds.

“What?” she asked in regards to the look of shock on my face.

“I've been looking for you in particular.”

She drew away from me defensively. “Excuse me?”

Her accusatory tone painted my face a warm red. “You've misinterpreted my intentions, I'm merely in need of your services.”

Now it was her eyes that widened with surprise. “Truly? Well then, perhaps that's not the best way to introduce oneself?”

From there we had decided to go over the details in a more private setting. Under the light of day I could better make out her appearance. Her ashen hair fell just past her shoulders, accentuating her sharp features and tan complexion. She was really quite sightly, exuding confidence in droves.

“I'm sorry to assume something heinous of you, it's rare that you meet anyone with decency in a place like this. Those damn oafs just don't know when to quit.”

“Think nothing of it. I need you to get me to Kelworth as you had told the bartender.” For a second it looked like she was devising a price. “You'd be well compensated,” I quickly added.

“No, it's not the money that I need. I'd actually like to request a favor as payment. As you may have heard from the job manager, I've struggled with finding someone to agree to my terms.”

“Fair enough,” I said preemptively. I was anxious to resume my travels, so whatever her request I'd have to fulfill it with haste. “And what would you have me do?”

She showed hesitation in voicing her demand, “Could you accompany me for a short time after our arriving in Kelworth? I promise to be of no great bother.”

My confusion showed in the curve of my eyebrows. As unorthodox a trade, nothing barred me from consenting. I agreed and held out my hand to signify our deal.

Her face was flooded with relief as she took hold of my hand with both of hers. “I can't begin to tell you how thankful I am! And your name would be...?” In the hurry to work out our arrangement we had forgone simple introductions.

“Kaiser Arrowood, and you are?”

“Cordella Dumont. Now for how long do we plan to gather supplies?”

“No more than a few days,” I surmised, my lack of surplus provisions having a heavy hand in my answer.

“Alright then, we'll pool our resources when next we meet.” She discretely slid a number of coins into my palm. “I must tend to other business before our departure, so you should go ahead and purchase enough for both of us. This should more than cover my share of rations.” At that very moment, lady fortune shined upon me in the form of loose change. With my prayers answered, we continued discussing some of the finer details.

For the rest of that day we were both to start gathering the supplies needed for the oncoming days of travel. As soon as we had separated I realized how curious the terms of our agreement were. I was still unsure as to why she needed my accompaniment in the first place. Though it was ultimately I who had requested her services, it seemed that she had asked of me a much heftier favor. Her escorting me was merely her form of payment.

I rubbed my eyes to regain focus and thus prevent any unfortunate blunders as I walked past the countless shoppers roaming from tent to tent. With Cordella not desiring any form of payment, I had somehow come out of the exchange with more wealth than I had entered with. Ironic that in the end, I hadn't any need of the escort I had set out to find.

“Take your pick from our fine selection of fruits,” began the vendor as I came to their stand. A kindly old woman was situated behind the counter.

I quickly looked over her stock, making sure to get enough food to last. “I need a half-dozen apples, a large cut of boar meat, and whatever you have in the way of fresh bread.”

Each of the sullied silver coins made a plinking sound as I dropped them into the elderly woman's hands. With a warm smile she handed me what I asked for in a couple of thin burlap sacks. In the few steps I took from the cart I brushed shoulders with an armored man.

“Truly sorry sir, my bad,” he said in apology.

I dismissed his worry with a shake of the head. “Pardon my asking, but where do you hail from?” I asked, taking notice of the elaborate crest emblazoned upon his armor.

“I've been stationed from Kelworth, yourself?”

“Abdera, west of here.'

“You don't say,” he remarked, “Seeking refuge from all the strife? Dire times that city finds itself in from what I've heard.”

I donned a false, sheepish grin. “Aye, couldn't have left at a better time.”

“I'll get to see it for myself here soon,” he sighed, “I work here as an intermediate between our cities, I often have to travel to and from Abdera for diplomatic business. Speaking of, would you happen to recognize any of these individuals? This is a common hiding place for all kinds of criminals; any help you could provide in identifying them would be much obliged.”

I flipped through the papers to humor him, but I nearly dropped the stack when my own caricatured face passed under my fingers. “Afraid none of these faces are familiar to me,” I told him with a forced frown, all the while pulling my own sheet from the stack with as much subtlety as possible.

“Shame,” he cursed, causing a bead of sweat to roll down my flushed cheek, “Do have a fine evening though.” He turned and strode off.

An ancient and stagnant breath fled my lungs. When he had all but vanished from sight I tore the paper from my pocket and examined it more thoroughly. Kaiser Arrowood, the name read plainly. By way of magic, word of my escape had already traveled further than I had. It hadn't occurred to me before, but my status as a wanted man would still influence me long after I fled Abdera. If this was any indicator, there was no chance of me peacefully residing in Kelworth; I'd do best to leave this outpost sooner than planned. I didn't know what to tell Cordella about the matter but I knew I had to tell her something.

While searching the ins and outs of the marketplace for my guide I held my head at a downward angle. Now keenly aware of the bounty perched atop my head, the papers that bore my likeness seemed to be plastered at every which turn. I spotted Cordella when passing by an open plaza, her finger to her chin in deep contemplation of her purchase. As I approached she turned and waved. Before she could open her mouth I spoke.

“We can't stay here any longer.”

“For what reason?”

I tried to think of a fitting excuse but none came to mind. “Th-they,” I stuttered before handing her the paper crumpled in my fist.

Her eyes widened in disbelief. “And you had thought it best not to tell me this until now?” she said, angrily biting her lip. “Then we leave at sundown.”

“You’d still help me?”

An apprehensive sigh followed, “Unless you give me another reason not to.”

At a brisk pace, I returned to where my horse had been bound. I threw all of my goods into the saddle bag and sat in the dirt to pass the time. I waited there for what felt like an eternity, but dusk did eventually greet me with its cloak of impending darkness flowing closely behind.

At the eastern outskirts the two of us met with the large tents at our back.

“Do you not have a horse?” I asked.

“I had told you that I had things to tend to in the coming days, finding a mount was chief among those.”

I cursed under my breath. “It's too late to worry of such things, let's get moving while we're able.” She climbed up and onto the saddle behind me with a sizable bag in tow.

With white knuckles I led the horse away from the outpost. Once we had picked up speed I loosened my hold of the ropes and felt the wind jostle my dirty mane. “I expect to hear more,” I heard her say.

“How do you mean?”

“I'm taking a risk by even continuing to travel with you. The least you could do is tell me that I made the right decision.”

“I snapped is what happened. No matter what I did I couldn't convince the Duke of what I saw. He denounced me as a drunkard simply because I told him what he didn't want to hear.” She waited for greater detail. “In my anger I attacked a man in cold blood.” In telling her this I expected the worst from her response. When none came, I brought her calmness into question. “How can you remain so composed? You don't seem the least bit disturbed that I could have killed someone!”

“Perhaps I'm not the greatest judge of character, but you just strike me as a decent man. You aren't evil or immoral for having made a mistake Kaiser, not so long as you resent having made it. What I'm far more intrigued by is what you could possibly have told him.”

“I told him what happened to our allied villages. Crodmill, Cornika, Thorwell, all burnt to the ground by a wyvern.”

At the mention of such a beast I had expected a gasp, a raised brow, some kind of reaction, but instead she remained outright subdued. “For what it's worth now, I believe you.”


© Copyright 2020 Ignis Vulpes. All rights reserved.

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