It was pretty close to evening when Zora had woke up. Asa and her had been sleeping for most of the day. Once it got late enough, Zora made her way to the town's inn to meet with the man that approached her after she get the kids back. Darius, was it? she asked herself. The cool air felt nice against her newly exposed arm. After their spat when she woke up, Amhi took a look at her arm and said that it should be healed. Of course she was told to be careful with it for a while, but Zora was thrilled to be out of bandages.
She stopped at the inn that was full of activity. The few men in the village were gathering up the other town's children. They were going to take the children back home to their own families the next morning and wanted to ask them which villages they belonged too. Luckily none of them were hurt. Actually thanks to Helmir, only the bandits were hurt.
Once Zora entered the inn she went immediately to a woman behind the counter. The mid-aged, tired woman smiled pleasantly at Zora, "What can I do for you, miss?"
The young woman answered back, "I am hear to see a man by the name of Darius." All the while silently hoping she got the name correct.
"Ah, yes", the woman said, looking past Zora into the small crowd. "He is right over there." She pointed to the old man who was sitting in the corner talking to someone. Zora quickly thanked the woman before walking over to the man. Once she got close enough Darius smiled and waved her over and she quickly closed the distance.
A male laugh echoed in the room and Zora suddenly knew who Darius was talking too. "So, it was you that we were waiting for?", Helmir asked, turning to face her.
Zora stood a bit shocked, "What he asked you to come too?!" The only response she got was more laughter. She sighed and looked to Darius.
The old man was smiling at the two, "Do you know each other, then?" he asked, curious. The two old friends nodded. "Well, then I guess we won't need introductions. Come follow me to my room". With that the three of them went upstairs and enter one of the inns rooms. It wasn't fancy or even really nice. The town was a poor one, so the inn room just contained the basics, a bed, a storage trunk, etc.
Darius allowed his guests to settle where they felt like. Helmir stood against the wall next to the door and Zora found herself a seat at the small table in the room. "So I asked for you two to be here because I have a favor to ask of you," Darius began, wasting no time. "I want you to come with me to Rlon and help me with a situation there."
"Oh?", Helmir said, looking at the man suspiciously. Zora on the other hand was genuinely curious. What could be happening in Rlon?
Darius continued, "Well, as you may know, Rlon is a port city. Much of the kingdom's wealth and trade go through the city." The two guests nodded their heads. "It shouldn't be too surprising for you when I tell you that the city deals with a good deal of crime, mostly thieves and pirates." Zora guessed that made sense. Anyone wishes to steal priceless amounts of riches would be attracted to such an area.
Helmir then decided to speak up. "So, you want us deal with Rlon's criminals." He said it as a statement, not a question. He pulled himself off of the wall to better look at the old man. "Because I think that task already belongs to the guards stationed in the city", he said ready to refuse helping Darius with such a task.
Darius shook his head and waved his hands around. "No, no boy, well actually kind of." he said, kind of denying Helmir's claim, "Let me finish. That is just the background information for my request." Both Zora and Helmir looked at each other before returning their gaze to the older man. "The thing that has made me cancel my visits and appointments in the capital isn't so typical. There have been a disturbing increase in crimes that aren't as common in the city... murder and missing people."
Zora felt her whole body chill. Murder? Missing people? Darius continued, "As you can see now, this is something that needs to be handled. However, it seems that the guards are getting nowhere when it comes to stopping these terrible crimes. The city and all those who live within it are in danger. That's why I have asked for help." The man gave his guests looks of desperation and pleading. Helmir and Zora stared in silence for some seconds more.
"Why us?", Zora couldn't help by ask.
The old man stared Zora straight in the eye, "Because you are brave and not afraid to charge in to help others." He then turned his gaze to Helmir, "And you are the famous, young commander, Helmir. You are strong. I don't know who in the city to trust. We have excellent guards there, but somehow these criminals keep getting away. I don't know what is going on in Rlon, but I fear that the people within the city can't face this alone. That's why when I saw you rescue those children, I couldn't help by place some of my faith in you."
Zora stood up. "I'll do it. I left home in order to help others," she told the man firmly. That's right, she left her village for the purpose of helping Ketan. Sure, she might be a bit afraid to go up against murderers, but there was no other option for her. She surely can't diss on a village for allowing fear to stop them and then go and let fear stop her. No, she was going to face this challenge head on. Just like she did with the children.
Next to her, Helmir sighed, but he had a smile clearly on his face. "I will go along as well," he said, "Though, I am no longer a commander."
Darius nodded, hope and happiness filling his expressions. "Thank you both. I hope we can leave this town by tomorrow afternoon. I can image you understand my desire for haste. Of course, I realize that you need time to prepare." Both Zora and Helmir nodded. They agreed on a meeting time and place and parted ways.
Outside the inn, it was dark. Not so dark that vision was terribly bad, but of course it was late and getting time for everyone to return home. "I will walk you back to Miss Amhi's house", Helmir told Zora. While she didn't need his company, she accepted it. It would be the first time the two were alone together since Helmir saved her.
"Where are you staying?" Zora asked her old childhood friend.
The tall, handsome man next to her pointed back at the inn, "Got myself a room here. I didn't enter this town and immediately get seriously injured like someone I know." Zora felt heat rise into her cheeks. She stuck her tongue out at him like she used to do when they were children, causing him to laugh at her.
She watched her oldest friend laugh in the soft glow of the sunset. She couldn't help but smile at the opportunity to see him again, and laugh with him again. But there was something bothering her. "Why are you here?" she asked. Somehow Helmir, who had joined the army, was here, in this small town, alone, when she was here. It seemed a bit unlikely that this would be coincidental.
Helmir's smile dropped a little bit. Then, he turned his head to face the girl next to him and spoke, "A few years ago I got a letter back from Leroy saying that you ran off to join the army." Zora quickly turned her head. So, he knew then...
"I wanted to find you and knock some sense into you. But knowing you, you would have ignored me, just like you ignored Leroy. So instead I decided to keep an eye out for you. It wasn't hard to figure out which recruit you were once I got a look at the roster for new recruits, Zoran."
Zora continued to look toward the ground as he continued. "So I had a couple of trusted friends help me watch over you from the sidelines. Of course they had no idea that you are a female, and just knew that we had grown up together. And it was through them that I heard you were assigned to Commander Greer. After your first assignment was complete I had came to look for you myself, but it seemed that Zoran was left in a small town known as Sier." He finished his short story and moved to stand in front of Zora. "And that's why I came here. Of course it was only to find you in the midst of trouble."
Zora finally looked up at her childhood friend. She didn't see the disappointment or anger that she feared she would see in his features. Instead it was a gentle gaze that looked down at her. "But what about your duties?" she asked him.
"It's just like I told the old man, I am no longer a commander." Then, suddenly realization finally hit Zora. She had heard about a young man becoming a commander while she was in the army. He was the youngest to ever do so, Commander Helmir. It had never occurred to her that it was the same as her own Helmir. He wasn't even in his twenties yet, so she just assumed that they shared names. And now the great Commander Helmir was standing with her in Sier about to go help stop some crime in Rlon as volunteer work?
"But why aren't you in the army anymore?" she asked him. He was at the top, he had so much success. She worried that he was forcefully removed from his position. Or that he had quit to find her.
Helmir smiled at her, "Because I never cared for the military anyways", he said with a laugh. Zora tilted her head, confused. "Shortly after you left, I lost contact with Leroy. Apparently he also left our village. So, without you or him to supply money too, I had no reason to stay." Then, the joy left Helmir's face. "And the rebellion is gaining momentum. So much so that it seems like the king himself is scared. He wanted all of his commanders to swear loyalty to him. I for one could never swear my loyalty to that pig!"
The rebellion again? Zora was surprised to hear that the king was so frightened by it. She knew the army was in motion to prevent it from gaining too much support, but to hear that it seems to have been causing some panic up at the capitol... Helmir interrupted her thoughts by placing a firm hand on her head and petting her. "So, for now I choose to follow you around. I haven't anything better to do anyways." Zora smiled up at her friend. She was glad to have him, and she might actually need his strength if she still planned to improve Ketan.
By this point, they had reached Amhi's house. They said their goodbyes and Zora enter the home clinic for what would be the last time for a least a while.
Zora had told Amhi and Asa that she was leaving after they finished their brothy dinner. They seemed sad to hear she was leaving, but knew that the day would come. Asa took it upon himself to gather some medicines and supplies that she might need on her journey. Zora, herself, didn't start packing until the next morning. She only had a few pieces of clothing that Asa and Amhi prepared for her. This was fine with her, the lighter she traveled, the better. Besides that she just had a few blankets given to her by Amhi and her sword and armor. She figured Darius would have a cart or something for them to use if the armor was too hard to carry. He just seemed like the kind of man who wouldn't travel without one.
As she was working, she heard footsteps approach her. Zora looked up to see Amhi approaching. "Can I speak with you for a minute?", Amhi asked. Zora stopped her packing and turned her full attention onto the elder woman. She nodded. "Well, you see, it's about Asa..." she began. Her voice sounded uncertain as she looked toward her feet. Zora began to feel very nervous. Was there something wrong with Asa?
Zora moved closer to the woman and gently touched her arm. "Yes, Amhi?" she asked, trying to encourage the woman to continue.
Amhi sighed and looked Zora straight in the eye. "Take him with you," she said. Her earlier nervousness seemed to melt away leaving her request to be said with only confidence. Confidence that she was asking for the right thing.
Zora, on the other hand, was shocked. What? As if she saw her surprise Amhi continued. "Asa is a smart boy. He deserves to see and learn so much more than this little town has to offer." The older woman turned her face downward to her hands and her voice softed a bit as she spoke more, "Also, I know he holds a lot of hatred for the world in his heart. He is young, he should be given a chance to see the wonder and beauty in the world. I ... don't want him to continue into adulthood with such anger."
Zora felt like crying. Asa had told her that Amhi and him were not family, but she couldn't disagree more. Amhi loved Asa as if he was her son. It was touching. Zora couldn't help but grab the old woman into a hug. She was going to miss Amhi. She was so thoughtful and caring, much like how she always envisioned her own mother to be. Just like Helmir and Leroy's mother was. "I will ask him to join us Amhi. I can't make him, but I will ask", she responded, her voice filled with love. "And I will miss you so much."
Amhi nodded and returned the hug. She whispered a simple thank you before heading back out to run her clinic. Zora wiped away the few tears that escaped her eyes before continuing to pack her stuff.
Helmir sat outside the home that Zora had been staying at for a few weeks now. The kid was standing in front of him, going through a bag full of stuff and telling him what they were. Honestly, though, he wasn't really listening. His thoughts were on his old childhood friend, Zora. She had agreed to go with him and Darius to Rlon. Actually, it was more like he agreed to go with them. He sighed. Zora had always been headstrong, but he still couldn't believe all the things she had done. Nor could he figure out if he was impressed or thought she was out of her mind.
"Hey!" Helmir's attention was brought back to the boy. He stood in front of him with an unhappy impatient look on his face. "Were you even listening to me?"
Helmir scratched the back of his head, "...no..."
The boy sighed and shook his head. "So you have no idea what I spent the last few minutes telling you."
"Sorry, kid," Helmir said standing up. Then he remembered something he had been pondering since last night. "Why don't you just come with us?" he asked the boy. When the thought first occurred to him that they could take him with them, Helmir turned it down. The kid wasn't a fighter, he had no business with them. But as he watched the younger man, Helmir realized that he could actually be of use on the journey. Out of all three of them, this kid was the only one to have extensive medical knowledge. Of course, Zora and himself would know about dressing wounds and some medicines from the army, but this kid studied under a town physician. He also seemed to a good head on his shoulders, something he wasn't sure Zora had. Plus, it would make Zora happy to have him along.
The kid, however, was surprised. "Wait, what?", he spat out almost dropping his bag of medicines and supplies. Then Helmir saw Amhi and Zora come outside. Both of them were carrying small sacks of supplies with them. Zora ran over as soon as she saw the boys.
"Asa, do you want to come with us?" she asked excitedly.
Zora watched as Asa spun around, shocked and Helmir begin to smirk. "So? Do you want to?", she asked again once she stood in front of him.
Asa looked pasted Zora to Amhi. "I can't..", he began.
Amhi continued walking past Zora and to Asa. She wrapped her arms around the small boy. "Go, Asa. You should see the world a bit more," she said lovingly.
Zora took that moment to step away to join Helmir. They decided to give them some space to say what they needed to say, which was probably good bye. "So you also asked the boy to come?", Helmir asked, still looking amused.
Zora nodded, "Amhi asked me to," she said simply. Then she turned her head quickly to look at her friend, "Wait, did you ask him to come with us?" she asked with shock.
Helmir let out a deep, quiet laugh. "I did", he laughed, "right before you did."
Zora smiled. It seemed like Helmir also saw Asa's worth. Honestly, after her conversation with Amhi, Zora had really thought about Asa coming along. She realized quickly that he could be helpful and, of course, that she actually wanted him along. She had grown to really like the kid that had infiltrated the bandit base with her regardless of his own issues with the idea. "That must have been quite a shock for him."
"Oh it was, the kid nearly dropped our precious supplies", Helmir said, "But to hear that the old woman was the one who asked you to bring him was surprising. Especially after how mad she got when you two did something dangerous."
Zora smiled softly, "Yeah, but it was because she loves him." Then another thought came to her mind, "And she might only be okay with it since you are going..." she said with a tinge of disappointment.
Helmir's smile grew. "Oh right, that makes sense. Since I can protect you both, and if it were just you two, then his life would be constantly in danger", he said matter-of-factly.
The raven-haired girl turned her head away from him. "Shut up, Helmir. It wouldn't be that bad", she said sourly. Then she saw Amhi give Asa the bag she held and hug him one more time. With that, Helmir and Zora walked up to the parting family, because that's what they were. Zora smiled, they were family.
"So you ready, kid?" Helmir asked. Asa wiped a few lingering tears from his eyes and nodded. After that they all said their goodbyes to Amhi and turned to leave. Zora looked back at the elder woman. She stood their waving and smiling, but to Zora she also looked sad. Then she looked to her newest friend Asa. He was still fighting back tear and looked a bit unsure. Zora wondered what Amhi had told the boy to make sure he came. She smiled at him. Then she turned to her oldest friend. Helmir stared straight ahead, strong and determined. Zora couldn't think of anyone else she should be traveling with as she made her way toward Rlon. Zora turned her attention back in front of her. This was only the start of her journey.