As they passed through the forest, Avarron realized that Nariain commanded more respect from the soldiers than he did; they all glanced at her fearfully, while he was nothing but the subject of mockery. Even as they teased Ferdiag, they seemed well aware that none of them would have fared better, and the warrior eagerly reminded them.
Yet, he had this strange impression that Nariain somehow looked up to him. Very carefully, he tried to initiate a conversation with her: “How long have you been waiting for us?”
“Just two days. I followed you and the sorceress at some distance and decided to wait for your return here,” she said in a soft, melodic voice. It was as if a completely different person was talking. “I did try to get some proper clothes,” she said almost apologetically, “But that accursed tailor insisted on putting me in a dress. I told him I wanted proper clothes, but no. Can you believe it?”
“Yes, I can,” Avarron chuckled, picturing the tailor flabbergasted at Nariain’s appearance and request. “I do hope that you didn’t curse the poor man too severely.”
“Only to have his needle break every time he tries to satisfy a woman,” she responded with a mirthful twinkle in her eyes.
While Avarron still wondered whether she was serious or not, Neval and Ferdiag burst into laughter. Of course, they were the first to pick up on the innuendo.
As the group laughed at her joke, Avarron came to see that, as much as she tried to deny it, Nariain was of noble birth. It was in her posture and speech, the way she commanded respect with but a glance. And commoners generally sewed their own clothes rather than hire a tailor. That gave him an idea: “We plan to stop for the night in a small village. Perhaps we can acquire some simple clothes there?”
She considered it an excellent idea and was unusually pleasant company for the rest of the day. She told Avarron of her concern for the lands they travelled through, as she had found none of the druids she expected to meet. Avarron joked that druidism was terribly out of fashion these days, but she considered it no laughing matter and for a moment, her temper flared back up. He tried to explain that what few druids remained were relics of a previous age, no longer necessary for the preserving and spreading of important knowledge and wisdom. The Ardaithe had brought books and libraries. Again, she violently disagreed and Avarron decided not to push the matter.
The rest of the day progressed in peace, though Nariain repeatedly looked up at the sky. “It’s going to rain,” she said, though Avarron wondered how much water those few white clouds could really bring. Within the hour, he had to revise his opinion, as the clouds packed together into a dark grey mass.
Thankfully, they arrived in the village of Greenway before dusk. It was a simple place of mostly farmers, with but a palisade as defence around the homes. There was no inn, but Avarron hoped that one of the farmers would be willing to let them stay in a stable or something for the night. He headed for the largest house in the village, knocked the door and entered. “Hello?”
A middle-aged man came around and, upon seeing Avarron, bowed deeply and then a waterfall of polite greetings followed: “A good day t’ you, Sir knight. Be welcome in my home, good Sir. What can this humble mayor do for you, Sir?”
“Calm down, good man,” Avarron said. “What is your name?”
“My apologies, Sir. It’s Gaerth, Sir. Mayor of this humble village, I am, Sir,” he replied and bowed again.
Avarron frowned at the mayor, at which the man immediately took a step backwards. In response, the knight quickly stepped forward and took Gaereth’s hand. The man cringed as Avarron introduced himself: “My name is Avarron. There, now you can stop with all this ‘sirring’.”
“Yes, Sir Avarron. As you wish, sir.”
Avarron took a deep breath to prevent himself from swearing at the man, who immediately started to apologize again. “Listen,” he interrupted the apologies. “I am looking for a place to spend the night for myself and my nine companions. Preferably dry. I was hoping you could help me.”
Immediately, the mayor started to explain in great detail why the village had no inn or likewise accomodation, suitable for a knight, so Avarron interrupted him again: “Anything that’s good enough for a farmhand is good enough for me. Let us sleep in a stable or grain silo, and I’ll be happy. As long as we don’t have to stay outside in the rain.”
Finally, the mayor started to understand him and directed him to the village’s unused stables. It was clean and the hay was soft, he promised.
Satisfied, Avarron issued his second request: “I am also looking for a skilled and especially quick-working tailor. One of my companions is in sore need of some new clothes and we plan to leave again in the morning.”
The mayor bowed again, but before he had a chance to talk, a woman that Avarron guessed to be his wife came around the corner and said: “That’s my cue, I think,” before she made a quick bow for Avarron. “I’m the best you’ll find in this village, Sir.”
The knight was surprised by the woman’s boldness. Before he had a chance to specify his request, she continued: If I can take the man’s measurements now, I’ll have him a new set of clothes by sunrise.”
“And that’s my cue then,” Nariain said as she entered the house.
“Were you eavesdropping?” Avarron asked.
“No. Your squire was. I simply have sharp ears,” She said amused and a moment later, the two women disappeared into the house, talking of fabrics and such.
“Well, that was easier than expected,” he said pleasantly to the mayor, who seemed to be still figuring out what was going on. He pressed a silver coin into the man’s hand. “Is this enough to cover for the use of the stables and your wife’s work?”
The man looked at the gold in awe and almost forgot to respond. “You are most generous, kind Sir.”
With everything settled, Avarron returned to his men and took them to the empty stables. They were exactly as he expected, and they eagerly settled in for the night. He didn’t see Nariain any more that evening, but figured that if there was any trouble, the mayor would come to him.
The next morning, she awoke him at dawn. “Get up, you lazy knight. We have a long way to travel today,” she said impatiently.
“I know,” he grumbled sleepily, but she had already gone to wake the others. It only confirmed his idea that she had effectively taken control of the group when they arose on her command. He had to admit that she was effective. They had never been on the road this early.
He could barely call it a road though. While the way hadn’t been paved since Teròfaer, there had been a fairly well maintained road leading to the village, marked by use. What they travelled now was simply a very wide trail through the fields. As Dann informed them, made recently by a large group of heavily armoured riders; Knights of the Ardaithe.
Only when he was in the saddle did he actually get the time to take a look at Nariain’s new clothes; a brown vest and green trousers, covered by a dark green coat that looked old and worn in comparison to the vest and pants. It probably used to belong to one of the hunters in the village and seemed quite a bit too large for the small and slender Sidhe. But to him, the trousers were the strangest part of the outfit: he had never seen a woman in pants before. He found it rather ungraceful but nothing was worse than that mottled shroud. More importantly, he knew that if he’d say that, her response would be swift, furious and above all, violent.
His gaze went up to her face, which was marked by a large frown. It was a large contrast from the excited face that had greeted him in the morning. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Nothing,” she said dismissively.
Not wishing to foul her mood any more, Avarron kept quiet.
As the day progressed, the rain from last night returned, and they all pulled their hoods over their heads. Nariain’s was of course far too large and Avarron couldn’t decide whether it made her look comical or mysterious. Thankfully, he knew that they would soon enter increasingly forested areas, which provided some cover from the rain. Ferdiag still found it necessary to complain about the weather, but his older brother reminded him that it was better than mist, and everyone agreed wholeheartedly.
It did mean they´d have to be on the lookout for bandits and raiders again, especially so close to the border. Avarron only needed to look at Dann, and the scout jumped into action, taking Behr along.
For several hours, they travelled in silence through the forest, with only the Ardaithe’s hoof-prints that were being washed away by the rain as evidence of other people in the area. Dann pointed out that there were some underlying footprints as well, probably belonging to bandits, but these were older.
As they travelled further along the road, they were met by a number of bodies hanging from trees. “Improvised gallows, used by the Ardaithe knights as warning for any other raiders,” Asratorix concluded. “I’d reckon that most of them have fled the area by now.”
As grim as the image of the hanged bandits was, Avarron derived some comfort from it. It meant that the area was safe now.