Kera gratefully accepted the sailor’s outstretched hand and jumped down onto the pier. After a few weeks at sea, it was a pleasant change to stand on ground that did not rock beneath her feet.
“I hope you had a good voyage, miss,” the sailor told her.
“Actually that was my first time,” Kera smiled. “The constant rocking was…well, a pain.”
“Never been on a ship before?” the sailor asked with a smile.
“I have, but only for a few hours at a time,” admitted Kera. “Never had to sleep on one before.”
“That was a relatively calm trip,” the sailor said. “You picked a good time to travel.”
“Calm?” Kera exclaimed. “What about that storm last week?”
“That wasn’t a storm,” the sailor laughed. “A month or two more and storms like that will be common out there.”
“You below!” someone yelled from the ship. “Get a move on! We need to unload cargo before nightfall!”
“Better go,” the sailor sighed. “Gotta make room for new cargo. Enjoy your stay here, miss.”
“Thank you,” Kera called as the sailor rushed off. She walked up the pier to the dock and stopped, looking both ways. A board-walk much larger than the one at Dargon stretched both ways as far as she could see. Rien said that The Tipsy Dragon, the bar she was to deliver his message to, was on the north shore of the Laraka, about a league from the docks. She turned right, adjusting her pack, and went towards the river.
Kera wished she had her horse, but as Rien predicted, she had to sell the animal in Armand. The ship’s captain refused to put up with the horse on a three week journey and there wasn’t the time to travel by land. She dreaded having to sell the horse, as it had been her constant companion for the last few months, but there was no other choice and Rien promised her she would be provided a replacement in Sharks’ Cove.
After some walking Kera came to the end of the dock at the north end of the Laraka river delta. On the island ahead of her rose a large stone castle that caught her eye. It wasn’t as tall or magnificent as Dargon Keep, but a single silver tipped spire pointing up into the sky over barely visible stone walls covered by a multitude of trees forced her to stop and look.
Never having been more than two hours beyond the gates of the city of Dargon, Kera found everything to be a wondrous sight, even the ship she sailed in on. This castle, the second she had seen in all her life, was easily one of such wonders and she remained on the board-walk admiring it for a long time. She had heard the sailors on the ship talking about this castle, Quirin Keep, and about its owner, Baron Morgen Roderick, whose reputation matched that of Sharks’ Cove, the so called “hind end of Baranur”.
Kera finally turned to the road leading upriver, deeper into the city and began looking for her destination. There were many beggars wandering the docks and a lot of drunken men slept by the walls of the buildings near the pier. The other people, who Kera imagined to be a little more respectable, were not as friendly as the folk in Dargon. When she asked for directions, most simply ignored her as they wandered by and those who did stop to shrug their shoulders did not even dare to smile. The entire atmosphere of the city was rude and impersonal. One young man even walked up and pinched her behind. She turned around and whopped him one so hard that he slunk away with a bloody nose and a fat lip. Then for a whole block people got out of her way, which kept her immensely amused.
By late afternoon Kera found a two story building facing the river with the words “The Tipsy Dragon” painted across a sign board on the front, right below an overweight dragon reclining lazily on the letters. The crowd in this part of town appeared to be a little wealthier, better dressed and somewhat more friendly.
After a brief hesitation Kera entered the tavern. Inside it was murky and loud, but Kera was surprised to see that no drunk people slept on the tables and, on the whole, it was a lot cleaner than most places in Dargon.
A large bouncer looked down at Kera. He must have been over seven feet tall! She must have missed him because he blended in with the furniture so well. Everything appeared a little imposing. Feeling a little self conscious, Kera slipped by him into the large main room. Three musicians played on a raised platform in the far corner and a young woman sang in front of them. Kera tried to catch the words to the song, but realized they were in a foreign language. She wasn’t that far from Dargon, was she? In either case, both the melody and the words were pleasant to the ear. Finding a seat at the bar, Kera sat down.
The bartender was off at the other end of the bar and she took the time to look around a bit. Perhaps the bar’s most prominent feature was a kite shield hanging up above the center stand, with a large crimson dragon sprawled out on his back, obviously drunk and just having released a belch in a puff of circular white smoke, painted on the shield’s face. Kera almost giggled at the sight.
“What can I get you?” the bartender walked over to Kera. He was young, maybe a little older than she, with good muscle tone and a deep tan from being in the sun. Definitely not the typical overweight and balding barkeep with a dirty apron.
“Mead,” Kera said and he walked off. She wondered how to best follow Rien’s directions without making a fool of herself. The bartender came back and placed a glass before her.
“I’m carrying a message,” she said.
The man looked up. “For whom?”
“I am carrying a message,” Kera repeated.
The man frowned and looked around the room. “When the singer is done, talk to her.”
Kera nodded and picked up her drink. When the bartender walked away, she turned to watch the group on stage. The three musicians, all men, were dressed uniformly. At first Kera thought it to be frivolous, but then realizing that by dressing this way the men would make themselves more recognizable, she saw the logic.
The girl singing was commonly dressed, if a little like the merchant class, which could afford better garb. She was slightly taller than Kera, dark eyed with blond hair.
Kera was wondering why she has to deal with a musician, when the singer finished her song and bowed. The patrons began cheering and even the bartender clapped his hands. Someone yelled for her to sing again and the majority of the tavern began cheering her on.
The young woman raised her hands into the air to silence the mob and when it was quiet, started speaking in a slightly accented voice. “Let me take a break and I will sing again later in the evening.”
“You’re just trying to keep us here so we buy more drinks!” someone yelled and the patrons broke into laughter.
The young woman got off the stage and went to the bar. The bartender walked over to her and placed a glass with dark blue syrupy liquid before her.
As Kera watched, they chatted with each other for a while, then the bartender pointed in Kera’s direction. After a few more words he left and the singer walked over and sat down by Kera. Up close she looked a little older than Kera had initially thought. Maybe thirty or so.
“I am told you brought a message,” the woman said. “Are you one of the new couriers?”
Kera shook her head. “I feel like one, but I’m not.”
“Who is it from?”
“Sir Keegan,” Kera answered.
The woman looked puzzled. “Rien?”
Kera nodded. “I didn’t know what you called him here.”
“May I see it?”
Kera picked up her pack off the floor and pulling the rolled up sheet out, cautiously handed it over.
Noticing the apprehension, the woman put the parchment on the bar and reached her hand out to Kera. “I am Adrea Rainer. I’m in the same line of work as Rien and for the time being in charge here.”
“I’m Kera. Rien apprenticed me.”
Adrea laughed. “So he finally broke down and took one. Have you had dinner yet?”
Kera shook her head.
“Good,” Adrea said. “You can keep me company. Brice!” she called to the bartender. “Serve us dinner.” She picked up the message and asked Kera to follow her to a corner table, where she read it.
“I’m afraid he’s a little late going after Sir Garwood Quinn,” Adrea said. “We sent a man up two weeks ago. I expect Rien will run into him.”
“He couldn’t make it earlier,” Kera said. “There were a few problems.”
Brice came over with a tray and served dinner to the two women. “It tastes better than it looks,” he said and left.
“Problems?” Adrea asked, ignoring the bartender.
“I can’t comment on them,” Kera said. “I don’t know if Rien wants this known.”
Silence ruled the table for a few moments, then Adrea spoke again. “How long have you been with him?”
“We met in Dargon before Melrin,” Kera said.
“How did his vacation go?”
“I didn’t find it very relaxing,” Kera said, “but he claims it was a break from the normal routine.”
“First one he took in three years,” Adrea said. “He tends to get into trouble just for the adventure of it.”
“Life with him isn’t boring,” Kera agreed. “I wish he hadn’t sent me here for his stuff. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I got sea sick on that boat.”
“No. I’ve been on boats before, but never for three weeks straight.”
“A few more times and you’ll get used to it,” Adrea promised.
“A few more times and I’ll develop a phobia,” Kera smiled. “I’m just glad I’m not going back the same way.”
“When do you want to get going?”
“As soon as I can, I suppose. How long will it take to put everything together?”
“An hour or so,” Adrea said. “We weren’t expecting you.”
Kera nodded. She was surprised at the short amount of time, but did not give it away. “That will be fine.”
“Why don’t you spend the night here?” Adrea offered. “After that boat ride you may need the rest.”
Kera thought about it for a moment. “I suppose a night won’t make that big a difference. Why not.”
“Good,” Adrea approved. “I’ll show you to your room after dinner.” Silence took hold for a little longer, then Adrea pointed to Kera’s pack. “Is that all of your gear?”
“I sold my horse and armor in Armand,” Kera said. “Neither one had much room or purpose on the ship.” Not true, really. The horse could have served as company at least as good as some of the sailors and the armor could have been packed neatly under something to be out of the way, but available if necessary.
“A horse is no problem,” Adrea answered thoughtfully, “but we’ll have to measure you for armor. What’s your height…?”
Brice returned to the table. “Adrea?”
“We’re not done yet,” she looked up.
“The couriers are back,” he said.
“Damn!” she moved her plate aside and stood up. “One of these days I’ll get out on the streets again and you can handle the messes.”
“That’s what happens when you have children,” he answered.
“Get back to the bar,” Adrea shooed him away. She turned and looked at Kera’s confused expression. “I’m the senior member present. I deal with all problems. You want to come along?”
Kera nodded and got up, following Adrea to a room behind the bar where two men waited for them. She recognized one as the courier who delivered the message to Rien in Dargon, but he did not seem to know her. Perhaps the cloak had protected her better than she thought. He handed Adrea a rolled up sheet and she sat down to read it, after tearing the seal.
“This just proves Bichu can’t go to war!” she finally said. She wrote her response under the message and resealed the letter. “Take this back. I want to know who and where!”
The two men left.
“They don’t get to sleep over?” Kera asked with a smile.
“I guess I’m running them a bit ragged,” Adrea admitted, “but there are all these rumors and no trace of their source.”
“What makes you think that Bichu does not want to go to war?”
“Lack of a fleet. They need to get here to attack us.”
“I met a Bichuese man up in Dargon,” Kera said. “He was very nice.”
“In Dargon?” Adrea asked.
“He is Baron Connall’s Castellan,” Kera said. “He came here because of a family feud at home.”
Adrea scribbled a note on a sheet and folded it. “I’ll have this checked. He may know something useful. Let’s go finish dinner.”
The two women returned to the dining room.
“Do you know Rien well?” Kera asked suddenly when they sat down.
“I suppose,” Adrea answered. “We’ve worked together for a while now.”
“Can you tell me about him? He doesn’t talk about himself much…”
“That’s a sensitive one,” Adrea said. “What do you already know? You know where he is from?”
“Charnelwood,” Kera said. “He told me about his parents also.”
“Good,” Adrea nodded. “I wouldn’t be telling you much if you did not know this. It’s the most sensitive part of him.”
“I understand why he has so much to hide…”
“Well, let’s see,” Adrea began, “he wanted to find out what the real world is all about. His people avoided outside contact for centuries. A long time ago, according to histories…what we now call myths, the world was quite different. Our scholar could tell you a lot more about those. I’ll introduce you to him this evening. Rien’s tribe has been secluded from everything since before Baranur became a country.
“From what I understand, his father was one of the very few contacts they made with the outside world. How and why, I don’t know, but obviously one thing led to another and Rien was born. I don’t know how his tribe treats him, but he definitely feels he is an outsider to them and above all, doesn’t talk much about it.”
“What about his name? It doesn’t sound elven. Was it his father’s?”
“What do you consider elven,” Adrea asked.
Kera honestly could not answer. “I meant it sounds human,” she said.
“It is, but it’s not his father’s. Have you ever heard of Sir Gaelan Keegan?”
Kera shook her head.
“I’m not surprised. He doesn’t talk much about that either. I didn’t know about it until I saw it in a book and brought it up,” Adrea said. “I don’t know why that man never became a hero. Judging by his biography, he should have. A century ago Sir Gaelan Keegan, a baron in the Duchy of Arvalia, together with a dozen of his knights defeated the mob lead by Duke Silas Wolfric’s brother, to take the duchy back…and didn’t lose any of his men in the overnight victory. Of course that was also the only thing he did in his lifetime.”
Kera continued staring blankly, not understanding the relevance.”
“Rien was there,” Adrea emphasized. “He was Sir Gaelan Keegan’s squire. Gaelan took him to help him learn how to fit in. That’s where he got the name.”
Kera felt herself turn pale, forgetting her question dealt with Rien’s name. “How old is he?”
“I don’t know,” Adrea said. “He was about fifty back then. That would make him a hundred and fifty now.”
“Are you all right?” Adrea asked.
“I didn’t realize he was that old,” Kera said.
“Elves tend to do that…” Adrea smiled. “Or, as he puts it, `Ljosalfar do; I don’t know about the Dopkalfar’.”
They both laughed at the expression and quickly finished dinner. Adrea then sang a bit more for the customers and after, took Kera to the back room and down a flight of stairs.
“This is where our people stay,” Adrea said, showing Kera into one of the rooms on the floor. “We try to keep our staff in the dark, underground. Regular customers stay on the top floor.”
Kera dropped her pack on the bed and looked around the room. It was large, larger than the one in the Connall Keep. Candles mounted in special brackets on the walls kept the room well lit and there was a distinct lack of windows, which made the room look gloomy in spite of the plentiful lighting.
“I’ve never slept underground before,” Kera noted.
“I promise you won’t get sea sick,” Adrea smiled.
The bottom level of the tavern was occupied by a small library, a relaxation area and a laboratory. They were all brightly lit, but it was not obvious by what. There were candles on walls and tables, but none were lit and none cast shadows. Kera spun around, looking at the floor, searching for her shadow, but it was not there.
“Magic,” Adrea explained. “Come, I’ll introduce you to the force behind it.”
“Force?” Kera asked, hurrying to catch up.
Adrea opened the laboratory door and walked in with Kera behind her. The room was as big as the rest of the level. It was filled with counters and shelves along the wall and tables in the center. On one of the tables was an assortment of vials and beakers and other various equipment, most of which Kera could not identify if her life depended on it. Most of the glassware was filled with different colored liquids, some boiling over into other dishes, others standing aside.
It took Kera a while to see the blond haired man in his late thirties sitting across from the door, watching a glass with some liquid heating over a flame.
“Deven?” Adrea called to him and he raised his hand in response, without looking up.
“Hold on.” He had a distinct foreign accent.
“Let me show you around,” Adrea sighed. “He gets so much into his work he forgets to eat. He tends to sleep here too…”
Adrea took Kera around the lab, mentioning equipment and trying to explain the setups. Most of the information went right over Kera’s head. Noticing that, Adrea assured her that a year ago she knew next to nothing about magic as well.
Finally the liquid Deven was watching changed color and he turned to the two women.
“It’s supper time,” Adrea told him.
“I already ate,” he answered.
“That was lunch,” Adrea reminded him. “This,” she pointed to Kera, “is Rien’s trainee, Kera. Kera, meet our resident wizard, Deven. We’d all be lost without him, but he’d be twice as lost without us.”
“A pleasure to meet you,” Deven said, taking Kera’s hand. “Will you be staying a while?”
“Just overnight,” Kera said. “I came by to pick up some equipment.”
“That’s good,” he mumbled. “Is Rien here?”
“He’s up in Phedra,” Adrea answered.
“Oh….” the mage said, looking over his shoulder. “It’s nice meeting you…” he told Kera and went back to the tables.
“Did I offend him?” Kera asked Adrea.
“Don’t worry. He probably just remembered something. He’ll remember about you later in the evening.”
“I have a book I need to give him.”
“What book?” Adrea asked.
“From the Ducal library in Dargon. Rien wanted it copied if there are no copies here. He told me it goes to `the guy who can’t remember his name’.”
“Sounds like you found him,” Adrea smirked. She led Kera from the laboratory to the library. “Let’s see if we have a copy. What is it called? Who wrote it?”
“Realities of Myths by Bistra.”
Adrea started scanning the shelves. A lot of the books were in foreign languages. Most looked new, but well used. “No,” Adrea finally said. “Doesn’t look like we have it. What is it about?”
“Uh…” Kera hesitated. “It talks about magic and mythology.”
Adrea pulled a thick tome from the shelf and started flipping her way through it. “It’s not listed,” she finally said. “We don’t have it. I never even heard of it. What did Rien need a mythology book for?”
“It’s not exactly mythology,” Kera said. “It explains how mythological and unnatural things fit in the natural world.”
“You sound like Rien.”
Kera smiled, a little embarrassed. “That’s how he explained it to me when he started looking for it.” It wasn’t an answer to the question asked and she thought about it a little longer. Adrea seemed to know Rien pretty well. “Rien got lycanthropy when he was in Dargon and wanted the book to obtain more information about it…he’s fine now,” she added quickly.
Adrea looked thoughtful. “Tell me about it.”
Over the next hour Kera told Adrea the story of what happened…most of what happened, since she felt some parts, including her meeting with Rien and their relationship should remain private. Adrea was very understanding and it made Kera feel better for being honest.
After their talk Adrea went to check on her daughter and Kera got the book and returned to the laboratory.
Deven was back watching the transparent liquid bubbling over a flame. If Kera had not seen him move when Adrea introduced them, she would have sworn he was frozen to the bench. She remained standing in the doorway until Deven looked up. He must have been more alert than he appeared.
“Come in,” he said. “What can I do for you?”
Kera showed him the book. “Rien told me to ask you to make a copy of this if you don’t have one.”
Deven examined the book. “Never heard of it. Did you check in the library?”
“Adrea did. She didn’t find it.”
“Then we probably don’t have it,” he said. “Let’s go copy it.”
“Now?” Kera asked. “I heard it takes months for a scribe to copy a book!”
“And that’s precisely the reason my father never made much money,” Deven said. “Magic is an art form of many applications.”
As Kera watched, Deven got a clay box and a long stemmed yellow-green plant and after placing the box on the book, on which he lay the plant, he cast a spell. Before Kera’s eyes the plant turned into a book identical to the one at the bottom of the stack. The box between the two books glowed a dim red.
“What is it?” Kera asked when Deven finished.
“A scribe’s hand,” he answered as if miscellaneous body parts were an everyday occurrence to him.
Kera took a deliberate step back, but he did not seem to notice.
“This will only last for a day or so,” Deven went on. He found a bottle of ink and a small green gem and spent the next hour trying to crush the gem into powder and then, mixing it with the ink, made it into a paste. All this time he kept asking Kera about the book and her education and discussing what she knew, though he spoke very little about himself. By the time the paste was ready, Kera understood what Adrea meant when she said she learned a lot about magic in the last year.
The paste, which there turned out to be quite a lot of, was molded around the new book and Deven cast another spell. The box stopped glowing and the paste disappeared. Deven proudly held up the two books.
“Even the true owner wouldn’t know which is which. Give this one to Adrea to send back. I will catalog the other.”
Kera thanked him and retreated upstairs. Deven was an interesting person to listen to, but after an hour of listening to theories of crystal stability and how to make octopus ink into real ink, Kera had a headache she felt may outlive her.
“Is Deven still working?” Adrea asked when Kera made it to the bar.
“He was making a copy of the book.”
“Is he done? Well, never mind. He wouldn’t let you go if he wasn’t.”
Kera smiled and handed Adrea the book to be delivered. “This needs to be returned.”
“Who does it go to?”
“Rish Vogel, a chronicler in the Duchy of Dargon,” Kera said. “It’s from the Duke’s library. That’s the only place there was a copy in the whole city.”
“I take it neither the Duke, nor this Vogel know it’s missing?”
“They might by now,” Kera said. “I didn’t think they’d just let us borrow it.”
“You should ask Deven about some of his stories,” Adrea laughed. “He used to be a book thief.”
“With spells like that?” Kera asked, surprised.
“He created the spells after the College of Bards caught him. That’s the one he’ll talk your ear off with. I’ll have the book sent to Dargon as soon as there is a courier available,” Adrea said. “Now I’d better go beat Deven over the head. One of these days I should let him alone, just to see how long it takes him to realize that he’s hungry. He’s bound to notice it sooner or later…I hope.”
Kera remained on her stool, watching the band play. There were more customers now than before. Brice served her a drink and after an exchange of pleasantries left to help the other patrons.
After a while Kera began getting bored. There wasn’t all that much to do at the tavern. The people here were for the most part middle aged and cultured; a crowd Kera could not fit in with. She nursed her drink a while longer and then went outside.
A crescent moon shone above the bay off to the west and Kera wandered down the street towards the harbor. Within a few blocks the buildings became rundown and a lack of street light, artificial as it was, became apparent. Kera noticed a person sleeping by the wall of a building and edged by carefully, so as not to disturb anything.
For the most part the streets were empty, but appeared more dangerous than the ones in Dargon, even if there was an assassin looking for her there. A patrol passed by Kera and she could have sworn that at least two of the three guards were drunk. They stumbled on, past her, not even noticing she was there. Even in Dargon the guards, who suspected Kera was a criminal, would greet her in the streets. Sharks’ Cove was dirty and foreign and impersonal.
Kera turned off the cobblestone street and made her way down to the river. During her voyage at sea Kera learned that her newly gained night sight made it possible for her to see fish swimming under the water at night, but it was not the case here. The water was murky and dirty and although it ran very fast, it had a stagnant smell to it.
Kera sat down on shore, looking into the water. She wanted to put her feet in it, but decided against it. The beach was dark and quiet. On the shore across from her, at least a half league distant, Kera noted flickering lights and a dark massive structure. It was the Quirin Keep. She watched the lights a little longer. One, high above the structure appeared and disappeared every few seconds. It must have been a guard patrolling up at the top of the tower. After some time Kera got up and started walking along the beach. For some reason Sharks’ Cove felt wrong and uncomfortable. She could not wait to leave this city.
After a while Kera heard a commotion and edging carefully ahead saw two people fighting in the dark. Her initial instinct was to stop them…or join the fight herself — she was never exactly sure of this impulse, but after a few moments of thought decided not to interfere. There was no reason for her to get into trouble in a town where she would only spend the night and making a resolution not to provoke anyone, returned to The Tipsy Dragon.
In the morning, after breakfast, Adrea took Kera out back to the stables to give her the equipment and the horses. The night before Kera was measured for armor after she returned to the inn and while there was no plate that fit her perfectly, Enneth, the large man who was standing at the door the previous day, found a suit of chainmail for Kera overnight.
The two horses, as Kera found out, were thundersteeds. Large, heavy animals with hairy feet. Kera had to stand on her toes to see over their backs.
“Rien takes a lot of ribbing from us about his horse,” Adrea said, pointing to one of the mounts. “A knight on a mare. Her name is Kelsey, by the way. But she’s better behaved than most knights I’ve met.”
Kera walked around the horse, looking it over. On the left side of the saddle hung a kite shield covered by a cloth. Kera lifted it up to reveal the coat of arms — a white oak on a dim blue background. She smiled at the sight of the symbol Rien had told her about.
“It’s covered so he won’t advertise,” Adrea said. “I don’t think he uses it much anyway. His lance has been lying about back here for the last two and a half years, gathering dust.”
“He’s not much of a knight, is he?” Kera asked.
“I don’t think he understands knighthood,” Adrea answered. “Or maybe he doesn’t want to understand it. He really has a point when he says that there is no reason to give an opponent the advantage of equal footing.”
Kera walked over to the horse given to her. It was also female, a few inches shorter, but tall enough to force her on her toes to see the top of the saddle. “If you’re trying to be inobvious, why are you using thundersteeds?”
“We don’t normally,” Adrea said. “Most are riding horses and light war horses, depending on what sort of jobs we do. Most couriers use lighter horses that won’t stand a chance in a fight, but can outrun almost any beast. Rien tends to push his horse to the limit, along with himself, so he uses one that can take the strain and you’ll need one to keep up.”
Kera paused a moment longer, looking over the animals. “I guess I’d best get going,” she said finally.
“Provisions and money are in your saddlebags. Rien’s gear is on Kelsey,” Adrea quickly finished the inventory. “Will you need anything else?”
“Good weather and decent directions,” Kera smiled.
Adrea fished around in Kelsey’s saddlebag and pulled out a rolled up scroll. “One map. You’ll have to request the weather from a higher source.”
Kera took the map and got up on her horse, glad that she was not wearing plate when having to climb. “Any messages?”
“Just tell him `welcome back’.”
Kera took Kelsey’s reigns and looped them around a protrusion on her horse’s saddle. This way she could control both animals. “Does this one,” she pointed to the horse she sat on, “have a name?”
“Not really. You can have the honor of naming her.”
Having heard that Garwood Quinn was still settled in Phedra, Kera decided to enter the village with caution. The farmers a few leagues south of her destination warned her that all roads were guarded and the only traffic on them has been a group of Quinn’s men returning from a raid. There was no evidence of any adventurers, or anyone else, leaving Phedra, although a number went there to claim the reward. As yet there has been no evidence that anyone had succeeded.
With all this in mind, Kera secured the horses in a wooded grove away from the road, in the hills south of the village to avoid detection. She also left her chain armor, sword and bow behind. If Rien was in Phedra, he may need help and she may need to stay inobvious. Being inconspicuous was the trait of the thieving profession which she knew so well.
After some time of fighting her way through the brush and tall stalks of grain, Kera spotted an elderly man checking the crops. She was about to duck back into the growth, when he spotted her.
“Hey! What are you doing in there?”
She froze as he made his way to her.
“Stop trampling the wheat! Get out on the path. What are you doing in there?”
Kera looked the farmer over. He was probably in his fifties, shaggy, tired looking and most importantly, unarmed. With a sigh of relief Kera stepped out of the crop to face the farmer.
“What are you doing here, girl?” he asked again.
“I was on my way to Phedra,” Kera answered.
“On your way to Phedra?” the man echoed. “Now that’s a foolhardy thing to do. If Sir Quinn sees you, you’ll never leave, young and pretty as you are.”
“I am looking for a friend of mine,” Kera said. “He should be waiting for me in Phedra.”
“No one has friends in Phedra any more,” the villager said. “It all belongs to Quinn. If your friend was smart, he avoided Phedra. I recommend you do that too. Don’t go to Phedra. It’s not safe.”
“Maybe you’ve seen him,” Kera got an idea. “He’s blond, about this tall,” her hand rose to the six foot level, “on a light war horse? He should have been here about a week or two ago.”
The man thought for a moment, as if trying to remember the multitude of travelers that passed by. “No one like that, miss. Not a commoner. There was a knight like that, though.”
“A knight?” Kera snapped. She knew Rien disliked knighthood, but a knight riding into town would be much more impressive. “When? Where did he go?”
The farmer shook his head. “A little over two weeks, miss, but he didn’t go anywhere. Sir Quinn challenged him to a joust…and he lost. Everyone Sir Quinn challenges loses.”