Laurelyn braided up her thick auburn hair before turning to pack up the few belongings in her rented room.
When she had finished packing she gave back her key, shouldered her saddlebags, pulled her hood up, and stepped out onto the street. Laurelyn had spent some long months in this river town just outside the borders of Seldez and League alike, and the constant struggle between the townspeople’s conflicting loyalties (Seldez, League, wholly independent) had proven dangerous – she still bore a wound to her right shoulder from the last blow-up in the town square. The fight had been decided, clearly, for the League. But it gained only half the town, for the rest had burned and the stable with it – along with the horse she had rode into town.
Bad enough to lose the mount, the last gift her father gave her before she set out. On top of that she still faced her “good byes” with Thomis, and no sword could have wounded her more. But the calls of the sea and of “The Star Dreamer” were too strong. It was almost to make her cry, how alone she felt.
Laurelyn made her way through the town, noting how different it looked, on her way to the partially re-built stable. The blacksmith came out and greeted her. Like most blacksmiths he was massively muscled, but he looked drawn and haunted. Laurelyn was afraid to ask what became of his son, who last she had heard, had been part of the local resistance to the League. Before the town had burned. Instead she asked, “Do you have any horses for sale?”
“Ya owe five geld pieeces for ya ho’rs,” he said, holding out his dinner-plate sized hand.
Laurelyn gaped at him for the span of several seconds, and finally whispered out, “My horse….?”
“Yea,” he said, “That will cover feed and roof, and treatment for hurts it got when the roof fell.”
“Is she still rideable?” the storyteller asked, digging in her belt pouch for the coins.
“Aye,” the blacksmith answered – his brown eyes showing indigation at her questioning his abilities. “Come,” he signaled after she handed him the coins. He led her to a temporary pasture, which was behind the half-finished stable, and there, grazing, was a big bay hunter.
The storyteller eased down her bags and took the dry apple the blacksmith offered her. Then she went out into the pasture.
The horse raised her head, and Laurelyn could see a healing scar down the animal’s neck, marring the glossy bay coat. “You too, Beast?” she asked. She might have cussed this stubborn, irritable equine across most of the countryside, but now the sight of her moved Laurelyn to tears. She held the apple for the animal to lip from her hand. “The gods have strange senses of humor, don’t they?” she asked while stroking the equine’s neck, and the storyteller had the distinct impression that Beast was happy to see her, too, by how gently the horse took the apple. There had been no attempt to nip her fingers off.
When she had finished tacking Beast up, and settling her belongings behind the saddle, she led the horse around to the front yard of the stable.
Before Laurelyn rode out the blacksmith stopped her. He looked up at where she sat, and said, “Miss…., did ya see me boy? Amengst the resisters, I mean.. He wes with them. He never ceme heme.”
“I don’t know,” she answered him honestly.
The blacksmith nodded and Laurelyn rode Beast down the road, outside the town walls. The road was mostly deserted, as if everyone knew League forces would be coming up soon from the south. She encountered few on her ride to the outlying Leastholder farmhouse, where she would wait to say farewell to Thomis.
The storyteller had been gone when he had arrived, packs thrown across his shoulders. But Mary Leastholder had assured him Laurelyn would return to the farm before departing finally. Not that Thomis Parch had doubted it—she had told him herself that she would not leave without seeing him one last time.
So Thomis took a seat in one of the rocking chairs Bernard had placed on the wrap-around porch and propped his feet up on the railing. And that was where she saw him when she and her horse (about whom he had heard much dire muttering) rode up into the yard. Thomis ran his fingertips over the scar on his nose as his eyes met hers, but he did not rise to his feet. He wasn’t quite sure what to say to her – that if she were bound to hare off to unknown parts on a mad quest, he was bound to go with her? That with the League on its way to solidify its control of the area, it was best all around for him to absent himself, and with nothing better to do he had thought to take a cruise?
Mesani, if she had been there, would have smiled slyly and suggested that he say he could not bear the thought of being far from Laurelyn Hillrover’s blue eyes. The very thought made him touch the scar his old friend had given him and smile to himself. And hope that Laurelyn could look at the packs stacked neatly next to his chair and figure things out without much prompting on his part.
Laurelyn had been working at soothing a skittish horse; the skittishness surprised her – usually Beast was too hardheaded to be nervous, but she decided that, like everyone else in the town, the horse was battle shy. She started to say, “It’s okay gi…..” when she saw a lone figure on the porch.
She swung down from the horse, and took a few more seconds to quiet the animal and her own racing heart. She didn’t want to say good-bye – to the point she would have fought the compulsion to leave. “Have to do it,” she told herself, in regards to both duties, and ground-tied the horse. The storyteller slowly walked towards the porch, and when the packs by Thomis’s chair registered on her mind she stopped and stared. Any words she had thought fled on the morning breeze.
“That the Beast about which I have heard so much cursing?” he asked conversationally, and recrossed his legs at the ankle. Thomis’s dark brown eyes studied the large bay from a distance, and eventually he added, “She has a fine form, even if her temper is a bit unpredictable.” The Oath-bound turned his gaze back to Laurelyn, to study her in turn. “I hope we can manage to endure each other’s company.”
The girl almost looks struck speechless, he thought to himself, then realized he himself lacked proper words. To give himself time to think, he lowered his feet from the railing and rose slowly from his seat, crossing to the storyteller to take her hands in his own calloused ones. “You need a better traveling companion than a contrary horse,” Thomis told her evenly. “If you would have me.”
Laurelyn managed to close her mouth, but that was the only movement she could summon. Her fingers closed over his, and her eyes drank his presence in. “I…,” she started, stumbling over even that simple a sound. She tried again, “I had been thinking that it was going to be quiet trip.”
Her hands held tight to Thomis’s, and she said, “You would be more than welcome.”
Thomis had not doubted what her answer would be, he had known she would not turn him away. Still, to hear her say it made him smile, slowly, the smile moving from his lips to his eyes. And he squeezed her hands back in response.