Taking advantage of the silence, Varlaine worked his way through the food given to him, making sure never to take more than half of each portion. The chicken was heaven on his tongue, a finer taste than anything he’d ever had at his father’s table and more filling besides, and the bread had a dull warmth to it that soothed him from the inside out. The corn, he nibbled at; it was dry, and lacked the salt and butter that he was used to, but he appreciated the weight in his belly all the same.
When he’d finished his carefully measured bites, two fifths of every treat, he flicked a glance to the sleeping Eryn. Hunger panged at his stomach once more, and he let his eyes roam over the remnants on the plate. Biting his teeth together, the prince carefully nudged Eryn awake instead; when she stirred, he took one of her hands and placed the dish in it.
“What’s this?” She yawned, under her breath, eyes blinking awake with a bleariness that he found endearing.
“Dinner,” He answered in a whisper, which had her snapping to more attention. Holding the plate steady with one hand, Eryn immediately set in on the chicken. In barely the time it had taken him to prod at the cob of corn, she scarfed down the whole pile of meat—then she plucked up the remnants of the bread loaf and tore into that, too. Her intensity attracted Naz’s attention, the mercenary stopping to drink from the water Nico left behind before turning in her seat to face them.
“Don’t get too excited, you two.” She stood and stretched her arms, and Eryn looked up at her with both hands on the cob. “Finish your food, get a drink, and then I’ll see you to bed. We have an early start.”
Varlaine only bowed his head in response, but Eryn tilted hers in confusion. “Whaddaya mean?” She got out around a full mouth, before swallowing it down and coughing. Naz closed the distance between them and offered her the jug, and Eryn nearly spilled what was left of the plate on herself in her haste to accept. After a heavy gulp, she set it aside and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Early start?”
Naz stooped down to pick up the plate Eryn put to the side and offered it back to Varlaine. He took it, picking up the scrap of bread that was left and rubbing it against what was left of the chicken, trying to pick some of it up. “I promised I’d escort you south,” the merc reminded, “And we’re going in the morning. Don’t fret over supplies. They are packed already.”
Eryn blinked in surprise, and even Varlaine had to admit while polishing off the plate, that sounded almost too good to be true. She had already gone above and beyond for them. Nico was right, why didn’t she just point them south and send them on their way?
“Um… thanks, I guess.” Eryn, ever graceful, dismissed the comment with a handwave. Naz offered her a hand to her feet, which the rider refused, placing her palm on the wall behind her instead and rising on her own. One of Naz’s scarred lips twitched briefly, before she extended that hand instead to Varlaine. The prince took it and pulled himself to his feet, offering her the plate. She set it on a nearby table as carefully as she could, to avoid making any noise.
“Are you two ready for bed?” The older woman asked.
“Yes,” Varlaine agreed. Eryn studied his face for a moment, before shaking her head.
“I’ve gotta feed Cassius,” She informed.
Naz swayed her head, left to right. “He’s already eaten, and been taken to a stable with… Varlaine’s horse.” She answered, watching her words. “You two only need to worry about resting, for now.”
After giving her a dirty, interrogating look, Eryn shrugged. “Fine, if you say so. He better be in good shape.” She grumbled. “Where are we sleeping, anyways?”
“There’s a room with two beds upstairs.” Naz answered. She reached down to the foot of the table she’d been sitting at, scooping up her bag and tossing it over her shoulder. Then she took her gauntlet from the tabletop, holding it in hand. “Follow me.” When they were ready, she turned around and led the pair to the far wall of the tavern, where a staircase led up a floor. On their way, Varlaine stopped for a moment to look through an open door, into a pantry behind the bar’s counter. Briefly, he caught a flash of Nicomenda with his arms around the blonde-haired bar worker in a firm embrace, before Eryn tugged him by the arm to keep up.
The room Naz guided them to was barely big enough for the two beds that it held, along with a short table between them and a window above that that let in moonlight. The beds themselves were small, smaller than Varlaine had slept in when he was half his age now, but his eyes felt so heavy that the stained pillow he eventually rest his head on was almost enough to put him under on contact.
Eryn climbed into her bed and rolled over, facing away from him, while Naz stood near the door and watched the pair climb in. The rider pulled her patchy quilt over herself tightly, while Laine laid under his for a moment and looked up at the ceiling, letting the day’s events slip through his mind and recounting what all had happened. After a silent moment of overwhelm, he was startled when a red head of hair entered his vision, and strong hands took care in tucking his blanket in around him.
The stream of consciousness that was trickling down his brain dammed itself when he felt the older mercenary bundling him up. He was a prince, yes, but it had been many years since someone had tucked him into bed. When they moved away, one of his own reached out from the blanket and grasped Naz by the wrist. She stopped and looked at his hand, then at him, standing in front of the window between the two beds. Her armored glove sat on the bedside table to her right, set to the side.
“Can you stay? Just a little while?” He asked, very quietly, as his fingers released her. “Until I fall asleep.”
She deliberated for a moment in her answer, and immediately guilt balled in his stomach. She’d already done so much for him, for them. Certainly, she had more important things she needed to handle, and rest that she needed to get herself. Before he could dismiss his own request, Naz nodded her head slowly.
“Just for a while,” She responded simply. Her bag was placed on the floor, and then she sat against the bedside table. Varlaine watched her reach into her pack and pull out a hardy looking jar of ink, bundled in a cloth, and then a leather-bound book. From the inside cover of the book, she pulled a feather pen.
Slipping her remaining glove off, Naz pulled the stopper from the ink and put the bottle on the floor beside her. She had to prop the book up on her knees to get any of the windowed moonlight to shine on it, but she managed well enough. The mercenary held it there, then dipped the pen in the inkwell. She wiped the edges off on the rag the bottle had been in, already stained with months of black streaks. Then she pressed the pen to the page and began to write, in a long, flowing script. Varlaine scooted up on his pillow to read it over her shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice.
‘Fifth of Lune, 1227.’ She scrawled the date at the top. ‘Returned to Dalren with the Revengardians safe and sound. Pressed the townsfolk to move west; I fear any delay could lead to a painful end to their story. I hope that when I leave them in the morn, they will possess the strength to make it to Kelvrir without me.’
Varlaine watched her write, listening to the soft scratch of pen on paper. The mat under him grew more and more comfortable, and his eyelids only heavier.
‘Nicomenda informed me that the boy, Varlaine, was beset by a wolf Alra who was hunting his trail. Varlaine appears fine, but I have my worries.’ Naz tapped her pen a few times at the paper in thought, before continuing. ‘I will keep an eye on him as we travel. If his seekers have Alra on us, there will be a need for nightguards and haste, as much as I can inspire in the pair. The girl is going to give me trouble…’
The words on the page were blurring together, enough that Varlaine questioned a line he read after going over it twice with blurring eyes. Finally, he let them fall closed, and closed they stayed.