It was late afternoon when we had gotten to the outskirts of town. Worries flit through my head briefly as I thought about us heading out alone. Silah's leap in thought earlier, perhaps, wasn't that great of a leap after all. There had been considerable amounts of traffic on the road and visibility was remarkably clear. The guards at the gates had said that there had been very little trouble on the roads, mainly the trouble that did happen was the collision of travelers with boisterous personalities.
"We could walk." I said to Silah as I stopped and looked out over the plains ahead.
I turned back toward town, this was an excellent overlook of all of Hlofreden. It made the place seem even smaller when you could see the entire town from a single point. I eyed the lighthouse on the far side of the bluff which set my mind to musing again about what danger still lurked below.
"Yes. We can." She said standing separate from me seeming to wonder why I wasn't walking.
"I thought you said you could get us a horse." I looked at her with a slight smile.
She furrowed her brow, shaking her head with annoyance.
"You're just doing this to spite me, aren't you?" Her golden eyes sparkled fiercely in the sunlight. "I doubt that reminding you that every time you ask me to do something like this, it diminishes me. And you haven't been a wholly reliable caretaker."
"It'll be safer than walking, for sure. No point in taking the risk." I said, attempting to mask my mirth. "So, how does this work?"
Silah stood menacingly, glaring at me with reproach. I moved close, reached out, and touched her arm.
"I … want a horse?" I said aloud.
"Fine. All you have to do is ask, no need to prod at me." A small frown accented her pouting lips as she closed her eyes and bowed her head in concentration.
There were eddies in the air that disturbed the light, warping the space around her. They spun out, spreading into the air ahead of her. They swirled into a large shape. I could see the effort it took for her to make the manifestation. As the air cleared, a fairly plain riding horse stood calmly.
"I bet you're every little girl's dream." I leaned over and spoke in a low, reverent tone. "Can you make ponies, too?"
Silah gave me a menacing sidelong long then punched my shoulder with her tiny fist, immediately leaving a fist shaped welt. I gripped at my shoulder painfully, it could have been worse if she hadn't been holding back. This, however, was absolutely worth it.
"This looks a little small. I feel like I'm going to break it." I said, leaning against the horse.
It whinnied and stepped sideways with my effort.
"It's a horse. What more do you want?" Annoyance lacing her words.
"A horse that could carry me would be nice?" I said, patting the beast down.
She scowled at me letting a small growl escape her lips. I tested the saddle then grabbed the saddle horn and pulled myself up and over, the horse moved awkwardly under me but stood firm after I had settled in.
"There's no way both of us could ride on this." I leaned down to her and held out my hand. "C'mere."
I made to pull her up, but as she took my hand, I willed her into her sword form and sheathed her. She didn't resist, however, so I wasn't sure if I had caught her by surprise. I twisted the sheath and let the sword's hilt press against my neck.
"Let's get on with this." She grumbled.
The overland trip was uneventful, as expected, since there was a surprising amount of activity on the roads. At a bit past midway, it being late afternoon, a four-man guard patrol was coming from Kellas House.The lot of them wore annoyed expressions.
"Big party going on there," the sergeant nodded my direction, "Two wagons full of booze pulled in just as we pulled out, so, I take it, they're just getting started."
I smiled and nodded.
"Thank you, and I'm sorry for your loss. How about I find you an buy you a round at The Sea Witch when I get back in town?" I said, and the sergeant nodded, but didn't say anything.
I continued, urging the rickety horse forward, "It was as clear for as far as I could see on the way back. I don't expect you to run into any trouble."
The man nodded and turned toward to face the rest of his day while I urged the horse forward at a lively clip. It could only move so quickly, but it was a quick, steady pace that didn't leave me weary.
Drinking, dancing, more drinking. I thought, sounds like quite the night.
"Dancing? You don't normally get past the drinking part." Silah grumbled.
She had been lounging in my mind wearing a flattering flowing dress made of a shimmering gray fabric. Her presence had barely moved from the elongated chair that she lounged in from the time we had set off.
For you, my dear, I'll make an exception. I thought with a smile.
"Then it's a matter of whether the music is worth dancing to." She laid back looking skyward.
Come on. I grimaced. Don't be difficult.
I had made it clear that, I felt, holding her growth back was in our best interest. What good was I as simply an errand boy. Though she protested at the thought, I had given her many recent examples of her overreach. Now, she was sullen, soaking in self-pity. It was strange that such an infinite being had such a problem with patience and, yet, she demanded so much patience from me. Oddly, the thought brought a smile to my face. There were moments of inequality that tipped in my favor. I just had to keep those moments in mind.
The doors of Kellas House were still open as I approached. It was just before sunset. The guard nodded to me as I bumbled in on my weary horse. We had made good time, mostly by ignoring the needs of the horse. It was lathered and panting with the effort, which made me wonder if it really was alive and not just an aspect of Silah herself. I expect she would have complained readily with the effort if the latter was the case.
I dismounted and walked the horse into the yard. I made sure that Silah was still in contact with me, but I kept her sheathed.
Just as described, two horse drawn carts, one from the go Brach brewery and the other from Meadflower, out of Dowry. The bottles of mead and barrels of ales and spirits were slowly being unloaded into the stores. Some had been tapped and were already in use at the tables, being consumed by droves of traveling laborers. Some I recognized, others seemed to be visiting up from the Ranch. Tomorrow was the beginning of the work week and it appeared that no one was sparing themselves the effort.
I saw Amalia moving among the patrons, delivering food stuffs and trays of special orders. Those at the tables had pitched into the purchase of the casks and were taking care of themselves, taking the burden off of her. She looked up and caught my eye. I nodded to her with a smile and she returned the gesture and moved back into the tavern.
The feline brother and sister were entertaining the other half of the tables, music came in bursts as Danja wound her way through the patrons. Sometimes, moving fluidly down an empty bench, twirling without missing a step, sending her colorful gauzy clothes fluttering in the air around her. Even with the slight smile on her brother's face as he played, Leonid's eyes betrayed his wariness as he watched his sister move through the tumultuous crowd.
Apart from the others, I saw a man on the balcony looking down on the festivities. His armor was instantly recognizable, a fellow from the Ten Years War. I couldn't make out the symbol of his company, but the sword that he wore over his shoulder was definitely a similar make to my own campaigner. Although, one of the better designs reserved for higher ranks. The man himself looked older, wiser. Yet, whatever time he had spent soldiering, beyond the obvious scars, had clearly not stuck with him.
I couldn't tell, with his hooded gaze, if he was looking in my direction, but I nodded his direction in acknowledgement.
"Hakaar!" Duncan said loudly, closing the gap with me and putting his hand into my free hand. "Good to see you!"
Amalia was flanking Duncan, it was clear that she had retrieved him when she saw me. I mouthed a silent "thank you" toward her and she dropped a slight curtsy as she moved back into the fray.
"Good to see you, Duncan." I smiled wide. "It looks like you're getting into the spirit of things, too?"
Duncan's eyes slid toward me, it was clear he was also well into the haze of drinking at this point.
"What good is all this when you can't participate?" He flagged toward the cart where Falk and Keval were still unloading the cart. It seemed that Keval had been dipping into the reserves a bit himself, which could explain why the unloading seemed to be progressing more and more slowly.
"I have a friend I'd like to introduce you to!" Duncan said with exuberance, "We rose through the ranks together back in the beginning of the Ten Years War."
He peered into the crowds around and then spotted the man on the balcony that was looking down on us. He flagged the man over. His gait was slow, and it took a while before he sidled alongside Duncan.
"This ugly cuss is Tagaern." He pulled the man close, who seemed just a little unsettled with Duncan's attention. "His company protected our flank when we penetrated their front line."
"I was Captain of Red Shield Company." He said, reaching a heavily scarred, but softened hand toward me.
"It's good to meet a fellow soldier." I nodded at him.
Captain? This man's fighting days look well behind him. I thought.
"This is the boy I told you about," Duncan said clapping me on the shoulder as I leaned toward Tagaern and offered my hand. "His fellows have been looking for muscle."
I trusted Duncan's words, but I would definitely have to weigh the man's prowess for myself. His grip was firm, but time had softened him considerably.
"Where's your …" Duncan glanced around me, then looked at Silah's greatsword form perched over my right shoulder, "Ahh. Will she be joining us?"
"Yes, she will." I looked around for a quiet spot. "Uh, let me put this horse … away? I'll be right back."
How do I get rid of this thing? I thought to Silah, as I moved toward the stables.
"Why don't you figure it out. You're the one who wanted it so badly." She said with a smirk, still lounging in her chair.
Falk looked toward me as I moved toward the stables, but I waved him off. I brought the horse into the stables and stared at it.
It isn't real, right? I thought, rubbing my face.
Silah leaned forward in my mind, watching with amusement as I considered the horse.
"Sorry, boy, or girl, I'm going to have to put you down." I said aloud to the horse and I gripped Silah and drew her.
"Wait. Because you don't know what to do with it, your first thought is to kill it?" She said, exasperated.
I took the blade and laid it at the base of the horse's neck and slowly raised it over my head.
"Stop!" Silah's yell rattled through my mind, "By the god's, you are a such a stupid brute."
The horse began to fade, the eddies warping the air around it dissipated until the creature was gone. I turned the blade point down and thought of Silah in her human form. She shifted into her diminutive self, furious honey-gold eyes focused on mine.
"I don't know how this works." I said, also feeling slighted. "And you're far from forthcoming."
"It would disappear on its own after a time. And, yes, I can make it go away." She said, flatly.
"See? How would I have known any of that." I motioned toward where the horse had been, "I was going to solve the problem the way I knew how."
She shook her head.
"Yes, the same way you solve every problem you have." She said, chewing through her words.
"Oh, that isn't even close to true and you know it." I retorted.
This whole day had been push and pull with very little calm in between. Unfortunately, it had built up to the point where either of us bowing in concession would be the same as admitting defeat. And, often, that was me. I shook my head and, again, swallowed my pride.
"What?" She said defiantly.
"Can we just have a night of peace and quiet? We're both weary from everything that has happened today." I said pleadingly.
"I don't get weary." She said, crossing her arms.
"Oh, yes, you do. I've seen it." I said, holding on to my failing calm.
She turned slightly but continued to look at me with contempt.
"So, what is it? You're sorry? You'll make up for it?" She said her voice lowering as she spoke into the darkness of the stable.
"Of course." I sighed through my words, "I am sorry and I will always try to make up for, whatever it is, that I've done."
"You're saying you don't know what you've done?" She said, sounding more dangerous again.
"I know what I've done, this time. At least, I assume I do. I've taken advantage of you and of your abilities." I said, feeling the annoyance creep into my voice. "I can't say I'm the only one who is at fault, but I am the one willing to apologize for it."
She smirked from her still defiant pose, arms still crossed; waiting.
"All right. Can we have a nice evening with Duncan? And, yes, I still owe you all sorts of things. I've even got a decently full purse to back that up."
Silah unfolded her arms and moved up to me, all pretense evaporating as she twined her thin arms around my left bicep. She smiled up at me, her eyes now kind and sparkling.
"Yes, let's have a nice evening." She said with her winsome smile, "Shall we, then?"
(Get to know Akeron.)