Chapter 6A Chapter by Kate P. Lamb
Adel found Erika standing by the pool the nymph had occupied, staring into the glassy surface. Moonlight filtered through the trees, casting a bluish glow to everything. Her hair glowed like embers in the dim light, and her skin took on the moon’s bluish hue, giving her a rather ethereal look. Adel stayed out of sight for a while, just watching her. His eyes followed her as she went to sit on a nearby rock, slouching slightly so she could rest her head in her hands. She seemed so unhappy, but at the same time, almost peaceful.
“Idiot,” She said suddenly, tossing a smooth stone the size of her palm into the water. Adel frowned slightly, wondering about to whom she was referring. He watched her shake her head slightly and observe the rippling water. Silently, he slipped from the cover of the trees into the moonlit clearing, though she still didn’t see. Eventually, when she did turn, she jumped up, and quickly distanced herself to the other side of the rock.
“Easy, it’s just me.” Adel said quietly. When Erika registered his identity, she scowled and crawled back up onto the rock, crossing her legs with her back turned to him, staring out across the pool again, and vehemently ignoring him. Adel sighed, watching her a moment longer, before turning his gaze to the water.
The silence between them dragged on. Starlight twinkled through the trees’ night-darkened limbs, and the night air promised frost in its crisp flavour. They stayed quite awhile, and soon they could see their breath puffing out from their noses. Adel watched Erika, seeing her breath furl out in quick, short breaths. She was upset, he realized, not just angry, but actually upset. He felt a sharp feeling in his chest, as if someone had stabbed him, once this knowledge dawned on him. The imaginary knife twisted mercilessly, causing pools of guilt to seep into his stomach, swirling and solidifying into a mass heavier than stone. He awkwardly shifted, moving to put his hand on her shoulder, then thought better of it and held it stiffly at his side. “I’m sorry…” He muttered after a minute.
Erika still refused to look at him. He sighed, and moved over in front of her, barely balancing on the thin scrap of land between the rock and the water’s edge. Gently, he took her hand, gazing at the thin scar that matched his.
“I’m glad it’s healed.” He said lamely. Erika slowly looked down at their hands, and then sighed in seeming defeat.
“You don’t have to pretend to be nice to me you know.” She said, pulling her hand away from his. The invisible blade in Adel’s chest twisted again. He caught her chin under his finger and tilted her head to look at him.
“I’m not pretending.” He murmured softly. His hand dropped, but Erika kept looking at him this time. “I just wanted you to talk to me again…” He muttered guiltily, running his fingers through his hair.
“Next time just say something, instead of insulting me.” She replied. Adel looked down at the shirt still clutched in his hand.
“I didn’t mean it. You did a good job… On my hand too.” He said, holding it up for her to see. Erika looked at it and then sighed, sliding down off the rock.
“Come on, I’m cold.” She muttered, helping him from the precarious waterside ledge, and then walked slightly ahead of him back to the camp. Adel watched her silently. She was talking to him again, at least.
Seeing her shiver, Adel wondered why she hadn’t taken her cloak. Untying his, he sped up to walk behind her, and gently draped the cloak over her shoulders.
“Be more careful, you’ll catch cold if you wander around dressed like that in this weather.” He murmured softly into her ear. “Winter’s coming, can you taste it? The further we go into the mountains, the colder it will get. So be careful, okay?” Erika shivered involuntarily and nodded, pulling away from him, although she tugged the cloak more securely around her.
“Thanks…” She murmured, her voice barely audible. Adel came up behind her once more, though he made no move to be closer. He watched her with a gentle smile, though he quickly masked it once they reached the fire. Cyrus glanced up, and then looked back at his food with a soft chuckle.
“We should make Powys within two weeks. That’ll give us enough time to get down the mountain and restock.” He said once they’d settled back around the fire. “When we’re in the city we need to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible. The Prince will not have forgotten that we stole his ‘prize’ back from him.” His gaze flickered to Lana, who blushed and fidgeted with her skirt. “We’ll be off the mountain within the next few days, granted that there aren’t any delays.” He added, just as Erika opened her mouth to ask.
Although they made good time across the rest of the mountain, by the time they reached the base, the air biting with the promise of autumn, and the rains that drowned them nearly every day chilled them to the bone. Leaves had begun to bleed with the colourful array of their death-throes, and the air held a clear crispness that made Erika fill her lungs with the wonderful cleanness of it every time she stepped outside. Her travelling mates thought this to be another peculiarity, although her mood was alarmingly cheerful.
“This is wonderful! Does the air always get this clean?” She asked exuberantly after they had set up camp, eyes glittering. She merrily cracked the ice that had formed a crust over the running water of the stream and didn’t see Cyrus and Adel look at one another, and then simultaneously shrug.
“This is always what it is like here, why? Is it different where you come from?” Cyrus asked, starting a fire as Adel went back to struggling with his tent. Erika nodded, delving into the explanation of what her world was like. Cyrus and Lana listened with their brows furrowed in bemusement. Adel, once he poked his head out of his tent, voiced what they were thinking.
“Why would anyone want to live in a place like that?” He asked belligerently, expecting a glare or a snide remark. Erika just laughed.
“I honestly have no idea.”
The next day, Erika woke to a weaker light, frowning slightly. Something’s different… She mused, sitting up groggily and pushing her hair out of her face before poking her head out of the tent. What she saw made her eyes widen and a smile blossom on her lips.
The earth around their camp was dusted with a light frosting of cotton-batten snow, clothing the trees with glittering horror-frost. Erika quickly got her cloak and put on her shoes, then crawled out of her tent and stood up, taking a deep breath of the smell of newly fallen snow. She went over to the campfire, surprised that she was the only one up. She coaxed the flames back to life, grateful that Cyrus taught her how, and sat on one of the logs they had rolled up to it, tugging her cloak around her. She got some water from the nearly too-frozen stream and set it over the fire, huddling in her cloak as she waited for it to boil, not really sure what to do with it once it did.
“What are you doing up so early?” A voice asked behind her. In spite of herself, she smiled, looking up at the redheaded vagabond who had come up behind her.
“I just woke up and decided to come outside.” She said. “I got the fire going again.” She added, looking at the slightly steaming water, then down at her lap. “Isn’t it beautiful?” She asked suddenly, looking around. She watched Adel as he looked up and looked around, and then chuckle as he sat beside her.
“You really get excited by the strangest things.” He commented, then shifted and watched her warily; as if afraid that he’d get smacked. Erika tilted her head and watched him.
“So what? It’s what makes my life interesting, I think.” She said, licking her lips and shivering. “Where’s the stuff you guys keep for tea?” She asked, and then watched him as he got up to get it.
“In the saddle bags; we don’t really have very much storage.” He came back and dumped a handful of dried herbs into the pot, reducing the turbulent boil for a fraction of a second. Erika drifted off into her own realm of thought, gazing unseeingly at the flicking firelight around the boiling pot. Adel sat down next to her again, keeping his cloak tight around him. They sat in what was, for once, a comfortable silence, only stirring from their individual contemplations when the smell of the tea finally roused them. Then they sat silently, steaming cups in their hands.
When Cyrus and Lana finally emerged from their tents a couple hours later, Erika got up to help Lana prepare their meagre breakfasts, glad that they’d be able to restock soon. The group ate quickly, and then drained the remaining tea into a fur-insulated water bag. It was a regular waterproof animal stomach; however, it was wrapped in a warm fur to insulate the liquid within. The air was cold enough to chill them, and the tea would be a welcome relief. They broke camp with an efficiency only gained by repetition, and by the time they had turned to leave, it didn’t look as if anyone had camped there.
They travelled with determination in their steps, eager to reach a settlement before the temperature dropped anymore. As they went, Cyrus explained to Erika that around this time their tribe would settle into their winter home, and spend the winter making tools and clothes and other things that they had worn through that year. He told her that after sunset, the older children and the adults would all sit around the central fire and listened to the elders tell stories. Erika listened attentively, a gentle smile playing on her lips. As foreign as everything sounded, she was aware of the sense of community that even came through the way Cyrus told his stories. She rarely interjected questions, content to just listen to the stories that seemed so much like fantasy tales to her.
The group of travellers reached the town just as the temperature dropped and winds began picking up in the threat of an early-season snowstorm. Holding their cloaks tightly around them, they sought out the local inn so that they could request food and a place to sleep. Erika and Lana both hurried over to the warmth of the fire, with Adel close by to keep an eye on them while Cyrus made the business transactions. By the time he joined them, the three were sufficiently warm and very aware of their growling stomachs.
Adel looked around cautiously, feeling that something was out of place. He frowned and moved closer to the women, hovering protectively. Erika frowned as well, but that was simply because his closeness was unnerving her.
“What’s wrong?” She asked irately. Adel blinked, then scowled.
“Something isn’t right.” He muttered. Erika sighed, taking another bite of the bread that she’d dipped in her stew. She didn’t want to think about danger, especially if that danger would kick them back outside.
Off in a far corner, wearing a hooded cloak that had been dyed black, a figure sat, watching them. One pale, slender hand toyed with the handle of a mug of the inn’s best brew, and although it was nearly empty, the figure did not seem affected. The shadow caused by his hood shielded his face from unwanted identification, and masked where he was looking, to a point. Presently, his head was turned toward the newly-arrived group, specifically on the petite brunette sitting between the two men. When he turned his head, the firelight caught his outline in such a way that his mouth could be seen, a slight smile curling his lips.
Adel scoured the inn to see who was setting him on edge, and his eyes finally rested on the figure. At that moment, the cloaked man stood, and simply disappeared from the building, decidedly daring to contend the winter storm. This didn’t make the rogue feel any better but he didn’t want to distress the rest of his group. He got up anyway, and muttered that he’d be back, before sweeping around the bar and taking the back exit, just in time to see the man disappear into the swirling darkness in the direction of the Capital. When the rogue went back into the inn, his expression alarmed his brother, and the two went over to the far end of the inn to speak quietly, leaving the two bewildered women to finish their food.
The next day, they set out toward the city, which, as the morning mist cleared, was visible. The castle in the city’s centre loomed ominously, growing ever larger as they drew closer. The rest of the city was hidden by the large walls that shielded it from the outside world. Erika had opted to walk, since the path they were on was well worn enough that even she wouldn’t stumble. Lana rode astride Romaro, her expression unreadable. Erika couldn’t blame her; they were headed to the city ruled by her kidnapper.
Adel was jumpy as well. He did not like the idea of blatantly entering Prince Camber’s city with his two ex-hostages. He lingered close to the women, which both thought was sweet, if a bit overprotective. Despite their misgivings, they continued onward, until they finally reached the gates. Large, heavy oak doors and a wrought-iron gate barred their way in, along with two heavily armoured guardsmen, who nodded at them as they passed. Adel moved even closer to Erika as they passed the guards, as if they were going to reach out and grab her right there. Erika was equally wary, and hurried into the city.
As the gates of Powys opened, Erika’s mouth fell agape. Instead of the filthy, desolate gloom she was expecting, like what so many history books depicted, Erika found herself in the centre of a bustling metropolis. The doors through which they entered led into the marketplace, which hummed with hundreds of voices. People bartered and squabbled over a cornucopia of merchandise, from fabrics and precious jewels to livestock and food. Erika wished that she had more eyes so that she could take it all in. She and Lana both forgot their reservations about entering the city, and immediately hurried off to go browse the stalls, crooning over silks and jewellery. Adel and Cyrus both watched, Adel with bemused curiosity and Cyrus with amusement.
The rogue watched Erika as she lingered over a bracelet that glimmered with mother of pearl and opals. When the merchant noticed her interest, however, she hurriedly explained that she was only looking. She left after a final, wistful look at the bracelet to go and join Lana in looking at some spices three stalls away. Neither she, nor the disappointed-looking merchant noticed the bracelet disappear into Adel’s tunic, and although Cyrus’ brows arched at his brother, he made no comment.
It was difficult to keep together in the crowd. Erika found herself buffeted by a throng of people, and in the process, she was pushed to the other end of the market. In the midst of all the confusion, she saw a struggling, terrified Lana being hauled away by a gruff looking soldier. She yelled at him to release her, and struggled to get toward them. Her yell alerted Cyrus and Adel, but it was to no avail; Lana had already disappeared into the sea of startled faces.
© 2011 Kate P. Lamb
Added on July 4, 2011
Last Updated on July 4, 2011
Kate P. Lamb
Calgary, AB, Canada
AboutEnjoy reading and spending time with Nature. Studying for my BA as of Fall 2012, then hopefully onto graduate school to become a Naturopathic Doctor. Published poet, working on a fiction novel and ano.. more..