Chapter 3: Departure

By Michelle Michel

Thalec watched in silent amusement as Sorren cursed while struggling to open the front door to his one story home. It was dark, the streets lit only by starlight and the thin sliver of a moon, and Thalec and Sorren had left the other four just after dusk. Riquith and Lyrrin had headed off for the Flaming Huntsman, while Grunt and Valaya had simply disappeared around a corner, claiming they would be ready by morning.

Sorren and Thalec, rather than press the two for more information, had left them, stopping at a small shop for a quick dinner before going to Sorren's home for the night. It was a small house, ordinary on the outside with its thick wooden walls and stone base. The roof was thatched, the windows boarded closed, and the door had swollen in its place during the last rainy season. There was a small yard out front, though the grass was dry and weed-filled due to neglect.

"Anytime now," Thalec teased, weathering Sorren's glare with a smirk. Grumbling, Sorren gave up his negotiations and rammed the door with his shoulder. He yelped as door gave in, leaving him to scramble to remain upright.

"Well, that was graceful," Thalec observed, helping Sorren to stand up. The Drow glared at him again, straightening his robes before stepping inside. Thalec followed, raising an eyebrow as he noticed the state of the house's interior.

Books covered every wall, the only exception being the small fireplace that sat unused in left wall. The books, rather than neatly placed on the shelves, were instead crooked and falling, some piled on their sides, some leaning against others. In several places around the room were stools where even more books were balanced precariously on top, threatening to fall at any moment. There was a single, inadequately stuffed chair near the upper right-hand corner of the room, and a desk pressed against the wall a few feet away from the front door. Scrolls, pieces of parchment and paper, ink bottles, quills, and notebooks littered the desk, the chair in front of it, and the floor around it, with a single oil lamp set atop a particularly rickety pile of notebooks.

"Stay there," Sorren ordered absently, making his way around various obstacles, before he disappeared behind the bookshelves through a small gap that Thalec failed to notice on the far wall. He did as he was told, easing the door shut as he shook his head.

Five minutes later, during which Thalec paced the small confined area directly in front of the door, Sorren appeared again, lit candle in his right hand, a blanket in the other. He wandered over to the oil lamp on the desk, seemed to think better of it's teetering position, and quickly cleared a spot on the desk for the lamp to sit, using the candle to light it. He dropped the notebooks and paper he had moved to make room on the floor, blowing the candle out and dropping it absently onto the desk.

"Wonderful housekeeping," Thalec said, indicating the room with a raised eyebrow. Sorren glared and shook his head before throwing the blanket at him.

"I'm sure you'll find some place comfortable," Sorren snapped, turning away from him once more. "Try not to ruin my books."

Thalec snorted. "Sorren, you have me sleep in here, I'll be lost by morning." He frowned at a pile of books in front of him. "Have you read all these?"

The Drow paused at the gap in the bookshelves. "Not yet," he replied absently. He waved his hand over his head. "You're choice, Thalec. Stay in this room or in the kitchen, I do not care which." He looked thoughtful for a moment, then shrugged as he finally disappeared around the corner. "It might be safer in there, though."

Curiosity overcame common sense as Thalec deposited the blanket on the chair and rounded the corner. He entered a small kitchen area, complete with a long since used wood stove and cupboards. A table sat in the middle of the room, a simple wooden chair to the left of it. Unlike with the front room, the counters and the table top were clear. The floor was dusty, in dire need of a cleaning, but otherwise the room was bare.

Sorren drifted across the room to yet another door, he paused. "Make yourself at home," he said after a moment, grimacing as he spoke. "We leave tomorrow morning, so make sure you get some rest."

Thalec nodded as Sorren opened the door and went inside, closing it with a bit more force than was necessary. Chuckling, Thalec eyed the room one last time before returning for his blanket. His gaze lingered on the chair before he decided the floor in the kitchen would undoubtedly prove more comfortable, not to mention safer. While he was certain there was some method to Sorren's apparent madness when it came to the front room, he was sure he saw something moving among one of the piles.

He dropped in a corner, the blanket balanced on his knees, debating with himself if it would be more productive if he simply went to an inn. The Flaming Huntsman might have a few vacancies, and if it didn't, he was sure there was another inn that could accommodate him. Going home was not an option: Merin had surely locked the doors, and in his haste to be pushed out of the house, his key had been left atop his bed.

He sighed, relaxing further against the wall, tugging the blanket up as more of a barrier between him and the rest of the house. It was too late, really, to go room hunting. Besides, Sorren meant well. And one night wouldn't kill him.

A squeak sounded into the night and Thalec sighed heavily, absently pulling the blanket around him further. Well, he thought as he drifted off, if I do get eaten, I'll at least be able to haunt Sorren for all eternity.

*****

"I don't see why you couldn't have just grabbed this stuff yesterday," Thalec grumbled, following Sorren through the city streets toward the Mage Guild the next morning. "I mean, you were there!"

Sorren shrugged absently. "In my haste to depart, I had a momentary lapse in memory," he said by way of excuse, rounding the jail and picking up his pace slightly. "If you remember, I was not in the best of moods."

"You're never in the best of moods," Thalec grumbled. "If you ever were in the best of moods, I'd have to agree with Merin and get you locked up."

The Drow glared at him and Thalec grinned despite himself. "You do know we're going to be late because of this?" he continued, gracefully side-stepping to avoid crashing into a hurried passerby and jogging to catch up again. "Riquith doesn't like you as is - you really want to try her patience? Braver than I am, I'm sure, especially when you're expecting her to watch your back."

Sorren rolled his eyes, his gloved hands clenching slightly, and Thalec fought to suppress another grin. They continued wordlessly down the street to the building, rather plain looking on the outside, save for the ornate oak doors atop a set of stone steps out front. Sorren approached them purposefully, pushing the door open and making his way inside, Thalec at his heels.

He strode quickly down the halls, Thalec struggling to keep pace. He paused at each corner, glancing around the edge quickly before proceeding. Thalec raised his eyebrow as he stopped for the third time.

"What exactly are you doing?" he asked, causing the Drow to glare at him. The meaning of his look was quite clear: be quiet. Thalec mouthed, "Oh, I see," before shaking his head and stepping out in front of Sorren. He smiled brightly at Mistress Faysan, who stood in the middle of the corridor, eyebrows raised.

"Hello, Head Mistress," Thalec greeted, pulling Sorren out of the hall with him. "What a pleasure to see you."

Mistress Faysan approached the pair, her grey eyes sparkling with interest. She stopped in front of them, absently tucking a graying brown hair behind her ear. Thalec looked the woman over, her pointed nose and chin, her long, green robes, the golden rose earrings, and her stiff stature. She was an older woman, her children long grown. Her once brown hair was graying at startling speed, though she often claimed Sorren was at fault. Her face, no longer smooth, was slightly wrinkled with age, but her eyes still held much of their youthful spirit.

"Greetings, Thalec Dalegon," she returned, bowing her head slightly. "And to you, Apprentice Sorren." Thalec noticed him scowl slightly at the use of his title before decorum won out.

Sorren bowed. "Head Mistress," he said gravely.

"How goes your task, Apprentice?" Faysan asked, a grin passing between her and Thalec. Sorren stiffened, glaring at Thalec from the corner of his eye before her turned to answer Faysan.

"I am leaving today, Head Mistress," he said, his voice as stiff as his stance. "I have simply come to collect my staff and pack, then we shall be on our way."

Faysan nodded. "I see," she said. She smiled at Thalec. "Might I have a word with you, sir?" she asked. "I am sure Apprentice Sorren can gather his supplies on his own."

Sorren bowed again, refusing to look at Thalec as he set off down the hall. Thalec laughed. "Well, I can't say he doesn't deserve everything we throw at him."

She laughed and nodded, relaxing visibly. "Ah, yes, well, he does need to lighten up, I agree," she said, nodding decisively. "How have you been, Thalec?"

"Well," he replied, turning his gaze from Sorren's retreating form to Faysan.

"And Merin?" she asked softly. Thalec shrugged.

"He's well," he said, smiling slightly. "He's sorry he hasn't been to see you in some time, but he has been busy."

She smiled. "Ah, yes. He is becoming quite the well known mercenary, isn't he?" She nodded to herself. "I'm proud of you both."

Merin had once been betrothed to Faysan's eldest daughter, Kaie. She had been a fighter as well, part of the city guard, before meeting Merin. She had left her post to help Merin care for Thalec, who had only been fifteen at the time and not yet old enough, or skilled enough, to work as a mercenary, and had been killed during one of her jobs. Faysan had taken Thalec in for a year after Kaie's death, giving Merin the time to pull his own life back together and put together a living for both him and his brother. The two brothers had been close to Faysan since, both grateful to her for her help after Kaie's death.

"Thank you, Nicole," Thalec said. "I promise Merin will stop to see you soon. I'll drag him here myself if I have to."

 

"You'd better," she said, narrowing her eyes in mock seriousness. She gave Thalec another hug before turning back the way Sorren had gone. "I must get back to my duties. Luck be with you, Thalec. Please take care, and watch over my apprentice."

He nodded, grinning as he saw Sorren slowly approaching, bearing a rather empty-looking pack in one hand and a staff in the other. "Fare thee well," he said, bowing deeply. Faysan nodded to both him and Sorren as he passed before continuing on her way.

"Ready to go?" Thalec asked, his hands on his hips. "I think we've left the others to stew long enough, wouldn't you say?"

 

Sorren glared at him, leaning slightly on the staff. "I must stop at the market to purchase some trail rations, then we may go."

Thalec sighed, shaking his head. "Why, why, why didn't you do this yesterday?" he whined, earning him another glare and an eye roll. He shook his head and followed Sorren out of the building. "Oh yes, I remember now: you forgot! Of all things for a sorcerer - who's relying on this trip being successful as soon as possible - to forget!" he goaded, grinning to himself as he saw Sorren grit his teeth. While he considered Sorren one of his best friends, a friendship few understood, it brought him endless amusement to tease him, especially when he made it so easy to do so.

*****

Riquith eyed the door to the tavern, absently tossing another piece of fruit into her mouth. She sat alone, occupying one of the six chairs evenly spaced around her table, waiting for the others to arrive. They were supposed to meet for breakfast in the tavern, though Riquith was not overly surprised to find she was the first one present.

She sighed, lifting her goblet for a long draught of water before turning back to the fruit. Her eyes drifted to the staircase in the back, knowing her sister would likely be the last one to arrive. She had left the younger woman sleeping in their room, not an unusual occurrence when the pair first arrived at a new city. Lyrrin had gone to Feena's temple after the others had gone, and had been there well into the night, undoubtedly helping the healers. Feena's temples were widely known for being more hospital than temple, and Lyrrin was always eager to lend her help whenever they came to town.

"This spot taken?" a voice asked, drawing Riquith abruptly out of her thoughts. She jerked around to look at the newcomer, and frowned slightly when she saw Valaya and Grunt standing behind her.

"No," she said gruffly, turning back to her breakfast. Valaya beamed and sat down beside her, rambling to Grunt about what to eat. Grunt smiled fondly at the Halfling, taking the chair beside her and silently watching as a waitress approached and Valaya ordered their breakfasts, placing two packs beside his chair.

"So, when do you think Sorren's gonna get here?" Valaya asked after a few moments' silence once the waitress left the table. "And is Lyrrin here? I figured she would be with you, but since she's not here I was wondering where she was. Wanted to tell her I was sorry for all the trouble yesterday. Hope there are no hard feelings, eh?"

Riquith blinked at the Halfling, a vague look of disbelief crossing her face. "Are you always so annoying?" she asked bluntly.

Valaya laughed. "Annoying? I wouldn't know, actually. I don't think I'm annoying, but some people could think otherwise. I'm not annoying, am I Grunt?" she turned to Grunt, who snorted. She narrowed her eyes in mock hurt. "Well, sorry, buddy. Didn't know I was that much of a burden."

Grunt laughed and ruffled her hair, smiling when she batted his hand away. While she chattered animatedly to Riquith, who was doing her best to ignore the Halfling, he leaned back in his chair, watching for the waitress. His eyes brightened several minutes later when the waitress, a rather plump woman with short brown hair, returned a moment later and dropped a plate of various meats in front of him. "Uhn," he said to the server, nodding to the plate. The lady thanked him with a smile and handed another plate to Valaya, who hand gave her a handful of coins to pay for both plates.

"Enjoy," she said, absently straightening her skirt before returning to the other customers.

"So, where's Lyrrin?" Valaya asked again after swallowing a mouthful of egg.

Riquith sighed. "You're not going to be quiet, are you?" she demanded. Valaya raised an eyebrow.

"It's just a question," she pointed out, meeting Riquith's glare with an innocent expression.

She blew her bangs back with a long breath and then turned back to her plate. "She had a long night; she's sleeping."

"See, that wasn't so hard, was it?" Valaya asked, her voice light and teasing. When Riquith simply glanced at her she laughed. "You'll get used to me. We will be traveling together for a while after all."

"How could I forget?" Riquith asked, voice dripping with disdain. She turned back to her breakfast again, signaling the end of her talkative mood. Valaya glanced at Grunt and shrugged, taking another bite of egg.

The three were polishing off the rest of their breakfast when Lyrrin trudged in, dropping heavily into the seat beside Riquith and asking wearily for a cup of spiced juice when the waitress approached. Riquith turned to her sister with a questioning expression.

"What are you doing up?" she asked once the waitress returned and Lyrrin gratefully accepted the steaming liquid from her. "I thought you'd be asleep until noon at least."

Lyrrin shook her head, taking a long sip before turning her already clearing eyes to her sister. "We were supposed to meet up for breakfast, right? Don't worry about me, Riquith, I'll be fine." She nodded greeting to Grunt and Valaya, her gaze turning curious. "Where are Sorren and Thalec?"

"Not here yet," Valaya said, grinning triumphantly as Riquith slowly closed her mouth after opening it to answer. "Grunt and I got here a little bit ago. I hope they're going to show up soon. Breakfast will be over soon." She glanced at her empty plate thoughtfully. "Rather, breakfast time will be over soon."

Taking another sip from the cup, Lyrrin nodded her head. "Perhaps they are simply running late."

Riquith rolled her eyes. "Typical," she grumbled under her breath, waving the server back to ask for a mug of fruit juice. She ignored Lyrrin's reproving glare and turned to continue her vigil over the door.

Customers came and went for over an hour, during which Lyrrin polished off her own breakfast and had consumed two more cups of her spiced juice. Valaya had taken to bouncing slightly in her chair, wiggling, moving every which way to entertain herself, while Grunt eventually joined Riquith in watching the door for the pair.

After Lyrrin drained the last of her third cup, forgoing a fourth in favor of the outhouse, Valaya exclaimed, "Finally!" as Sorren and Thalec entered the building, Thalec with a distinctly annoyed expression on his face.

"My apologies," Sorren said as soon as he and Thalec had reached the table, the two dropping into the two remaining chairs, leaving Lyrrin's seat vacant for the Half-Elf's return. They dropped their packs on the ground beside their chairs and Sorren balanced his staff against the edge of the table. They quickly ordered their breakfasts from the returning waitress before addressing the rest of the group.

"He decided last minute he needed to go gather supplies for the trip," Thalec said, rolling his eyes. "Unlike buying them beforehand, like the rest of us, he conveniently forgot that he needed his staff and actual rations for a trip until last minute." He shot a grin at Valaya, who chuckled. "I was dragged along to help."

Riquith scowled. "So our fearless and powerful leader is unprepared as well as an idiot? Fascinating, really." She shook her head, glaring pointedly at Sorren. "I hope I am not too wrong in trusting that you have everything else in order."

Sorren bristled, but refused to rise to the bait, instead inclining his head to regain his composure before meeting Riquith's eyes. "Indeed, I do. I hope I am not too wrong in trusting that you are prepared to leave as soon as your charge finds the decency to join us?"

"Enough, Sorren," Thalec snapped, shaking his head. He turned to Riquith, smiling his apology.

Riquith nodded. "As soon as she returns, yes, we will be ready," she said shortly, turning her gaze expectantly to Valaya and Grunt.

Valaya laughed. "We're ready when you are!" she exclaimed, throwing her arms wide. "Got everything we needed to do done last night."

"Nothing too illegal, I hope," Riquith said, her voice mockingly chatty. Valaya grinned.

"Not at all, my friend," she said, ignoring the Elf's insult. She pursed her lips thoughtfully. "No, not that I can remember. We restocked on everything we needed, we ate, and we rested." Her eyes grew wide before she looked at Sorren. "Are you buying horses? I forgot that Grunt and I don't have any."

Grunt snorted and leaned back in his chair, nodding a welcome to Lyrrin as she dropped into her seat. She smiled at him, silently greeting Thalec, who had taken the remaining seat beside her, before looking up at Sorren.

He nodded. "It has been taken care of," he assured her. Glancing up at Lyrrin, he inclined his head in greeting. "Lyrrin. Are you well?" His voice was neutral, distantly interested but polite.

She smiled brightly at him. "Very. And you?"

"I am. Now, after Thalec and I eat, we will be ready to leave." He nodded to the waitress, who placed two plates of eggs and meat and two mugs of water before Sorren and Thalec. She left once again after accepting the handful of coins Sorren handed to her.

Lyrrin agreed and added, "Riquith and I will gather our things and meet you here momentarily." Riquith, in silent agreement, stood and walked silently up the stairs, Lyrrin trailing.

Valaya sighed, returning to her previous activity of swinging her legs in boredom. Grunt closed his eyes and crossed his arms, choosing to pass the time napping.

"So, Valaya," Thalec began, "how long have you and Grunt been traveling together?" She cocked her head curiously at him and he smiled. "Curiosity," he said by way of explanation. "You don't have to answer if you would rather not."

She shook her head. "No, no. We met three years ago. See, I was. touring this human camp, trying to find some. lost items of mine." Thalec grinned, shaking his head slightly, gathering some eggs as he waved for her to continue. "Grunt had been a prisoner there." Her voice lowered slightly as she looked at Grunt, her expression turning slightly somber. "They. they really didn't like Orcs - I think a group of them had destroyed their village or something like that - and they were taking their revenge out on Grunt here." She scowled in disgust.

"Y'see, they're why he can't talk, actually. They cut out his tongue before I got there." She sighed, taking one last look at her dozing friend. Grunt opened an eye as she looked away, silently listening to her story. She brightened as she continued.

"Anyway, when I was there I found him, and decided to free him. He was hurt, and I'd seen enough to know why. Well, I managed to get him out of the chains they had him in, and we escaped. He decided to travel with me, and the rest is history." She beamed at Grunt, who nodded his head in silent corroboration to her story.

"Uhn," he said, looking up at Thalec. "Gah uhn urg uh." He jerked his head in Valaya's direction, laughing as the Halfling blushed.

Thalec raised an eyebrow at Valaya, who reached out and slapped Grunt's arm lightly. "Oh, hush! I'm not that bad!"

"What'd he say?" Thalec asked curiously. Valaya shook her head.

"Just that it's a good thing he did choose to come with me, otherwise I'd be in a lot of trouble." She stuck her tongue out at Grunt. "The same could be said of you, you know!"

Grunt laughed, and Valaya attempted to look hurt, failing miserably in her attempts as she started laughing. "Well, you'd be bored out of your mind in any case," she grumbled. She looked up toward the stairs, her smile widening even further. "Welcome back!" she called.

Lyrrin laughed as she and Riquith settled back into their chairs, placing her pack and simple quarterstaff on the floor and stretching lightly. "Thanks," she said, grinning at Valaya. "What'd we miss?"

Thalec grinned at her. "Just the story of how those two met," he replied, jerking a thumb at Valaya and Grunt as he pushed his empty plate aside. "Don't worry. I'll tell you about it later. Either that, or I'm sure you could get Valaya to tell you."

"I can't wait," Riquith grumbled, earning a laugh from Lyrrin as the group stood to leave.

*****

The stables were dark, the sun not yet high enough to completely rid the building of the shadow the nearby wall cast on it. Despite the early hour it was swelteringly hot, the day promising to be just as hot and humid as the day before, only making the smell of manure and sweat more noticeable to the six visitors. Lyrrin stood at the back of their group, shuffling her feet uncertainly, watching the light play with the edges of the shadows shrouding the horses' pens, the only light that of the lanterns hung randomly on some of the posts.

"Yeah, we got yer horses right here," the stableman said, waving a gloved hand toward the back of the stable. He led the group toward the last six stalls, frowning slightly as he glanced at Valaya. He reached up to scratch his head, pulling his cap off, mussing his brown hair. "Sure yah don' want a pony fer her?" He jerked his thumb in Valaya's direction.

Sorren sighed. "Sir, I asked for four horses and a pony."

The man blinked, frowning slightly, counting to himself each of the people before him. "But -"

"I already have a horse," Thalec said with forced patience. He glanced toward the opposite wing of the stable. "Over there. I'm Thalec Dalegon." He turned and left. "You house mine and my brother's horses."

"Ah," the stableman said finally, shaking his head. "Okay. Whatever you say. Oy, Curran, help the lad out, would you?"

"So, four horses and a pony?" he said, looking expectantly at Sorren. Sorren sighed and nodded, pressing his hands firmly on the sides of his head. "Okay, this way."

Lyrrin drifted off toward Thalec, knowing Riquith would see to her horse better than she could. She found him in one of the stalls, stroking the occupant's neck. The gelding was black, a single brown spot on his forehead, his large brown eyes half closed with content as Thalec patted him.

"This is Quickshade," Thalec said, glancing back at Lyrrin. "Merin, my brother, bought him for me a few years ago." He grinned. "His name's not very original, but my excuse is that Merin named him."

Quickshade nickered softly as Lyrrin reached out, placing her hand hesitantly on his nose. "He's beautiful," she said honestly, smiling at Thalec. "And you're right - his name's not very original, but it suites him." She smiled sheepishly at Thalec, for as the gelding tossed his head she jerked her hand back quickly, shying away from the large animal. "I don't know much about horses. Riquith and I usually travel on foot," she explained. Thalec nodded.

"Don't worry. There's nothing to it, really." He patted his horse again before leading him out of the stall. As he turned to take his saddle from Curran, the red-headed hostler sent to help Thalec, his eyes narrowed.

"What is it?" Lyrrin asked, following his gaze to another stall, a tall, red and brown mare inside. She absently rubbed her sweating palms on her sky blue robes, straightening the slightly rumpled fabric.

"That's Ember, Merin's horse," he said thoughtfully, absently strapping Quickshade's saddle into place. "Strange, he was supposed to have left for Arnon yesterday - he wouldn't have left her." He shook his head and turned his gaze to Lyrrin. "She means more to him than I do!"

Lyrrin raised an eyebrow, uncertain if he was being serious until he grinned. She chuckled and shook her head. "Maybe he simply took a different horse. Or someone provided one for him," she suggested.

He shook his head, and Lyrrin was struck just how lost he looked. "No. No, Merin never goes anywhere without Ember," he muttered thoughtfully, his eyes distant. He shook himself roughly, taking the proffered bridle and bit from the hostler and readying Quickshade, tying the saddlebags and bedroll into place. "Ready?" he asked, jovial mood returned. Lyrrin nodded, and Thalec led her out of the stable, handing a few gold pieces to Curran.

Sorren and the others stood, waiting, outside the stable, each holding their new horse (or pony) by the reins. "Well, it looks like you didn't have any problems once I left. Perhaps you'd have better luck without me," Thalec said teasingly as Lyrrin retrieved her horse from Riquith. The white mare nickered softly, nuzzling at Lyrrin's tentatively offered hand, nipping lightly. She noticed her pack and quarterstaff had already been secured onto the saddle.

"Shall we go?" Sorren asked, ignoring Thalec's jibe, mounting his black mare without a second glance. The others followed his lead, urging the horses toward the nearby gates to leave Bitan.

The party traveled in silence, even Valaya lost in thought, as they passed the guards at the gate, each nodding their head in farewell. Lyrrin glanced back over her shoulder, watching the walled city slowly grow smaller as the party rode the horses at an easy walk away. They rode around the trio trying to enter the city, making room for them on the bridge as they crossed the Arnon Major, moving west from the city.

"That's the shortest time we've ever spent in a city," Lyrrin murmured thoughtfully, breaking the silence surrounding the group. She looked up at Riquith, riding a few feet in front of her. "Wasn't it?"

"No," the Elf replied shortly, glancing back over her shoulder to Lyrrin with a half smile. "We passed through Bashan quickly enough. Entered late one night, left early morning."

Lyrrin frowned. "I don't remember Bashan," she muttered. Riquith grinned.

"You wouldn't," she said offhandedly, dropping back to ride beside her sister. "You were out cold for most of that trip."

Thalec laughed. "Really?" he asked, and Lyrrin glanced back to see him grinning widely. "Why's that?" he teased, causing Lyrrin to blush slightly.

Riquith shrugged and fell silent, kicking the horse into a trot to pull back into her previous position. Lyrrin watched her go, annoyance bordering on concern crossing her face. She glanced back at Thalec and struggled to find something to say.

"It's okay," he said finally, breaking the silence and ending her attempts at stringing together a coherent sentence. His voice was low, carrying only between the two of them.

She smiled her thanks, reaching up to tuck a stray hair behind her ear. "She doesn't converse well with people she doesn't know," she murmured, grateful as he nodded his understanding.

Sorren rode at the front of the party, leading the way as Bitan steadily faded from sight. Once it had finally fallen behind the horizon he fell back, drifting behind Lyrrin as Thalec moved soundlessly to the lead, and the party stopped as an unspoken arrangement beginning to show. Grunt fell to the back, his large bay stallion snorting at being forced to the rear. Valaya, after casting a glance Grunt's way, rode up to ride just behind Thalec, leaving the Half-Orc to shake his head and heave a long suffering sigh. Lyrrin smiled at him, earning herself a small smile in response.

 

"We shall travel for a few more hours before breaking for lunch," Sorren announced. "Agreed?"

Thalec cast an ever patient glance over his shoulder at him. "Yes, sir!" he exclaimed, and Quickshade whinnied loudly, tossing his head and rearing slightly before he started walking again, leading the others along the road.

 

Lyrrin sighed, her death grip on the reins letting up slightly. "Listen," she whispered to the horse. "You don't throw me, and we'll get along just fine. Just. don't do anything. too suddenly, and we'll be okay." The horse nickered, and Lyrrin squeezed her eyes shut as she kicked her back legs slightly. It took her several minutes to calm enough to relax her legs and open her eyes. She sighed, looking uncertainly down at her horse. It was going to be a long trip.