At least until I reached the edge of the small stream where I usually sat to find a most unwelcome visitor.
"Well, well, if it isn't Milord Cockroach. Come to say farewell to your brethren?" I knew I shouldn't say it, but these sorts of comments just seem to pop out of my mouth of their own accord.
Jon looked up, though he wasn't startled, and said airily,
"Yes, indeed I have but you've scared them off with your giant, clomping feet."
I scowled at him. "You've probably missed breakfast by now. Too bad,"
"Well, if I have, then so have you. And we aren't stopping. I don't care if you're starving."
I pulled out my sack, produced biscuits and dried semions, and smirked. I sat down on a log, brushing the fallen leaves off, and looking pointedly at Jon, bit off a huge bit of the dried meat. He looked at the stream and remained silent, and I wished he would just leave so I could be in peace. I finished eating, but I couldn't relax with his presence, and so brushing the crumbs from my split-skirt, I nodded coolly at him and set off again down the forest path back to the tower.
When I reached the familiar tall expanse of sun washed stone, Draestin was waiting for me with a gift. He had taken the two saddlebags I'd packed the night before down, and had already saddled both horses.
"Anxious to finally see me go?" I asked, to cover the sadness I felt at leaving. After all, he was practically the only person I had known since I was nine years old, and now I was to leave without knowing when I'd ever be returning.
"Malhariena," he said gravely, "you have a long journey ahead of you, and it could be more difficult than I have yet imagined. But you are fated, and the prophecy will play out."
I nodded, though in truth I had no idea what he meant by fated, or which prophecy he thought I knew. Draestin often spoke in vague, wispy sentences, which he thought were perfectly comprehensible. He then handed me the parcel he was holding, and I unfolded it to find a soft, gray cloak made of a strange, slightly luminous material I had never seen before, and never saw again, save once.
"Use it wisely," he said patting my head. Of course, I didn't fully know what he meant at that either. It was after all, just a cloak, albeit a very nice one. Impulsively, I gave him a huge hug, I had never done that before, and after a moment, he returned it warmly.
At that moment, Jon returned, and Draestin spoke with him for a moment. I stroked my beautiful stallion's smooth, dark coat. He was tall, at least fifteen of my hands, maybe twelve of someone else's. I was glad to be riding him; we had a close bond. At the Tidesfair when I had bought him, the handler thought I was crazy. He had been wild, crazy almost, more so than any stallion the man had ever owned. But when I had unknowingly stepped into his path, he stopped, and come over to nudge my hand. I had never had that affect on an animal before, and never again.
Jon swung up onto the chestnut gelding and waved at Draestin. He looked at me, and turned toward the road. I got up onto Estriel, and followed him. Twisting in my seat, I waved back at Draestin, who looked very small against the large backdrop of the Plains Tower. Then I spurred Estriel into a full gallop to catch up with Jon, which I did quickly of course. I was glad to see his horse looked pathetic against my lovely, wild beauty.
We rode on in silence for what seemed ages to me, going past forests and meadows, watching hawks circle and clouds drift past the sun, a pale yellow globe high in the indigo sky. But by the time the sun was setting and the sky was deepening into dusk, I was hungry, and tired, and I knew my new companion must be starving for having missed morning meal. I decided he would never admit it after our conversation this morning.
"Where's the nearest town? I'm ravenous," I said.
Jon looked inquiringly at me and with raised eyebrows inquired,
"You didn't bring any of that rat food with you?"
I bit back a nasty retort and shook my head.
"Well, I'm not very hungry," -I had to bite back a laugh- "but if you're starving I suppose we can stop."
Jon was certainly very different from Draestin, and what I had acquainted with Fey. It would serve him right if I decided I wasn't hungry after all, but I decided I'd be nice and eat. After all, I was hungry too, and I couldn't count the times 'I had bitten off my nose to spite my face' as my father had used to say.
We ended up stopping at an inn called the Blue Diver, and stay just to eat, and ride the rest of the night. I wasn't sure how far the forest was, but I hoped not too far. I couldn't bear that ride for much longer, not in silence. The innkeeper who showed us in was a stout woman with calculating eyes, but a kind enough smile.
After ordering, Jon and I sat in silence again. It was killing me, for I always had quite a lot to say, and if no one was around to listen, half the time I told it to myself.
So I watched the people come and go, wondering what they were doing, and where they came from. Basically alone in the Plains Tower, I had little chance to observe people, and Draestin, though I loved him well, was a tad more reserved than the people I saw now, and had remembered from home.
I turned my head to Jon, who was watching me with his deep sapphire eyes, and felt very uneasy.
"What are you staring at?"
Jon looked at me funnily, and seemed about to reply, when a strange, low voice croaked,
"Stay away from the Night Road!"
We looked up at the same time, to see a crippled, blind woman, older than anyone I had ever imagined could be. Her hair, white as a snow dove, was falling out in numerous places, and her blackened gums showed where her teeth had gone to life's hardships.
"Stay away from the Night Road!" she croaked again, raising an intricately carved wooden staff, at odds with her tattered, mud splattered burlap cloak.
Jon and I looked at each other, and back up at the strange woman, who was now turning away, and she wandered back to the fire, where she ran into the innkeeper, who sheparded her away, and came over to our table.
"Sorry about her me' dears. Village eccentric yous knows. She wanders in 'ere from time to time. Don't pay her no mind. Now, "she asked, "will yous be wantin' a room?"
"No, we must be getting on," I said, and Jon nodded. When the innkeeper had gone, I asked,
"What did she mean? Stay away from the night road?"
"She's crazy," Jon said, "Don't think about it." He shrugged, and went back to eating. I sat there, wondering. She was a crazy old woman, but for a second I thought I saw something akin to pity in her strange brown eyes when she looked at me.
I decided I was the crazy one, and paying, we set off into the chilly night.
We should have listened.