An awkward silence fell over the pair after Naz left. Varlaine took a seat on the wooden floor, wishing for a window to allow more light in before it all faded away, and Eryn milled about and scarfed down a small slab of the meat they’d found before taking two handfuls of it out to Cassius. Left alone, Varlaine briefly considered picking up one of the books Naz had retrieved; while he had no idea what they contained, it’d been too long since he’d had the peace to sit and read. Before he could muster up the nerve to dive into the mercenary’s belongings, Eryn was blocking the doorway, one hand on her hip and the other leaning against the wooden frame.
“I sent Cassius out to hunt himself some food,” She said, “But I’m worried. What if Naz stabs us in the back? We’ll be defenseless without him.”
Varlaine frowned, drawing his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. The fine, smooth cloth tore easier than Eryn’s uniform, and the fraying threads gave him something to focus his eyes on while she talked. “I don’t think she’s going to do that. She seems like she wants to help us.”
Eryn’s lips pursed in annoyance. He could see it in her face, as he’d seen it many times in the week they had travelled together. “Prince, I know you’re used to being able to trust other people to handle your problems, but it isn’t like that out here.” She warned. Walking lightly, she approached him and sat down at his side. After a moment of hesitation, she lifted one arm to drape it over his shoulders in a loose hug. “I just don’t see any reason for her to be on our side. What’s she get out of it?”
Varlaine tensed at the embrace, but eventually he leaned in against Eryn. While he wanted to believe that Naz was acting on good intention, he had begun to understand quickly that the world didn’t turn for altruism. “I guess… she gets company on her way south?” He offered lamely. The teenaged rider bowed her head in a nod, and he could tell by the sigh she subdued that it was more to herself than him. Laine’s head dipped in dismay.
“Maybe. Just… be careful with her, alright? I don’t trust her. Mercenaries aren’t the loyal type.” Eryn cautioned, giving him a squeeze and then rising to her feet. “I’m going to go and look around for something we can use for warmth, and light. I bet these guys had some torches laying around, or at least some firewood.”
She stood for a moment, watching him, before he realized that she was asking if he’d like to help. “Oh! I’ll come with you.” He offered, and the rider smiled widely. When she offered him a hand, he took it and accepted the help to his feet. The two went back outside together, and when she led the way, he felt a warmth settle in his chest. Now there, he thought to himself, is what a good friend looks like.
* * *
By the time Naz returned, two wooden buckets of water in hand, the pair had found a sizeable pile of firewood stacked behind the loothouse. Eryn had even found another treat in a pit nearby: a pair of resin-coated torches, only half used up. Varlaine had scrounged up a heap of blankets that were at least dry and clean enough to sleep in hidden inside a small improvised shed, which held a few tools but little of use. Leaving the water with the pair, ‘Laine watched Naz disappear into the shack for a moment to get her own helping of food, and looked to Eryn with a smile. It was half-returned, while the pair sat down at the firepit and stacked some of the wood they’d gained in the way Eryn had learned in training. Then the rider laid out some tinder and took up the flint the previous keepers of the camp had used, striking it on stone. She and Varlaine both cheered when the sparks took.
Naz emerged with her bag packed back up and over her shoulders, an apple in one hand, and a chunk of the salted pork in the other. ‘Laine couldn’t help but smile in pride when appreciation lit the older woman’s face, even if it was dim. While she was getting her things, the two had soaked up the first bucket of water she’d brought like sponges, and his smile evaporated into a bit of embarrassment when Naz looked at the empty bucket and then at the wet stains in the front of his robe.
“Feel better?” She asked him, and he nodded. Even Eryn seemed to have lightened up a little, with food in her stomach and some water to quench her throat, and with Naz having returned bearing even more relief. The three found themselves sitting comfortably in a ring around the fire, resting; Varlaine took note of their new caretaker’s behavior silently, watching as she drank heavily but slowly from the remaining water, as she sat and retrieved not just one of the books from her bag, but a hardened glass bottle of ink and a feather pen.
As the moon was just beginning its ascent over them, Cassius returned with a bloody beak and a pleased chirp. He landed near the group, and Eryn excused herself from the fire to check on him, and then to disappear into the dark storehouse for an apple to reward him with. That left Varlaine alone with Naz, so he tried to strike up a conversation, to get to know her better.
“You write?” He asked, punctuating his question with a yawn. She looked up from the fire, and he nodded towards the book sitting near her lap.
“Oh. Yes, I do. Logs of my travels,” She explained simply. It seemed like that was all she had to say on the matter, so he tried to press the matter further.
“All of them? You seem like you’ve seen a lot more than three books’ worth.”
Naz snorted at his comment and shook her head. “No, young Prince. Only the times that make for a good story or song.” Perhaps noting that he was a bit perplexed by her answer, she cocked her head. “Why do you ask?”
“I enjoy reading. Maybe you could let me peruse them someday?”
Naz looked off to the sky, watching the clouds pass over the moon—Varlaine’s eyes followed hers, and they sat together for a moment before the silence was interrupted by Eryn tripping over a rock in the dark and swearing angrily. “Maybe someday.” She agreed, and that made him smile.
When Eryn was finished with Cassius, she returned to the pair while rubbing at her eyes. She sat with them, and they all enjoyed the peace for a while longer, until Varlaine found himself nodding off by the warmth of the fire. When he did, Eryn woke him with a shake, and Naz insisted that she take the first watch of the night. The younger pair were too tired to complain, so they took some of the blankets Varlaine had found into the loothouse to get some cover from the wind and firelight.
Once inside, with the door shut, everything was black. Blindly, the pair fumbled to lay out their blankets together, and crawl into them. Varlaine had the foresight to bring an extra to bundle up for a pillow, and while the fabric was somewhat scratchy and not the most pleasant to lay on or under, it was nicer than nothing. He closed his eyes for the night while frowning and wishing they’d taken a blanket back to Naz before disappearing inside, but before long, that faded to a warm sleep on a full stomach and with sheltering walls around him.
((Author’s Note: And that’s it for the first chapter! I hope the story is enjoyable so far. Please let me know in the form of comments and messages what you think. Updates should continue on Saturdays from here on out, and I’ll try to work in a few extras when I can. Have a happy new year!))