Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 3)

When Varlaine sat down, he allowed a few moments of silence to pass unquestioned. The sky was taking on a smooth, velvet-orange hue, which turned his head towards the treeline where Eryn had disappeared. While he was worried about her, Naz deserved something more for an apology, with her arm still exposed and her attention still turned towards it.

“I am sorry, N… ma’am.” He cut himself off before uttering her name, and she snorted through her nose in response. “Royalty bears the responsibility of their people. It wasn’t acceptable for her to lose her temper like that. When she returns, I’ll speak with her about it.”

“I wouldn’t,” Naz responded. She shrugged her right shoulder, still stretching and rubbing at her left wrist, and then finally looked up at him. “She’s tired, and hungry. I would have been, too, at her age. She’ll even out when we get to Skyvlan.”  As she spoke, her voice cracked and she turned her eyes away once more. She rest her elbow on her knee, and her chin in her hand. Nearly out of sight, her thumb rubbed against the front of her throat. “You do not need to call me ma’am. I’m not above you.”

He nodded his head slowly in response, leaning back against his palms. The road had been mostly uneventful: no danger, just a slogging and endless pace. Eryn, typically in flight, likely had it the worst; while he could garner scattered conversations with Naz on the road, she had to get lonely up in the sky. While he mused on that, another thought crossed his mind.

“Naz…” The prince started. She turned her head to face him once more, acknowledging him with just that, and he felt his resolve start to slip through his fingers like sand from one of his family’s ocean retreats.

“…yes?” When he didn’t continue, she prompted him. Sharp, gray eyes met his, auburn brows raised in question.

“We have talked on the road, you know… about the country, about politics.” Varlaine tried to direct his thoughts, offering preface before raising his question. Judging by her look, she seemed to see through it well enough. “But, if it isn’t too much, I might like to know more about… well, you.”

Naz didn’t respond immediately to his question. She lifted her head from her hand, and let the arm lay out over her lap while she considered her answer, before finally shrugging. “I don’t know there is much to tell that would interest you.” She coughed. Turning her gaze away from him, she reached to a bag further from the fire, and rummaged within.

“Still, I would like to get to know you better.” When she wasn’t watching, he felt his resolve swell, determination stoking in the pit of his chest. Naz was strong, and intimidating, but not scary. “So far all I know is that you were born in Lor’tsun, and that you are a mercenary. That… isn’t a lot to go on between friends, is it?”

“Friends?” She turned back to him, this time with a canteen in hand. Watching him, she opened the stopper and drank from it deeply, swallowing and then wiping her lips with two fingers. When she spoke again, her voice was clearer, and he could detect wariness under the rough, scratchy tone. “I do not know what more you could want.”

“I am curious as to why you decided to escort us—Eryn and I—southward.” Varlaine continued. “Especially now that things are looking more dangerous. We have at least one Alra after us, and, for all we know, the rest of my brother’s men. Aren’t you… discouraged?”

Naz laughed, once. It was a simple, almost musical sound, and it was almost perfect, save for a small crack near its tail. “First, tell me.” She prompted, sitting up straighter and crossing her legs. He responded in kind, noting her posture change. “If you found a dirty, scared child alone on the road, what would you do?”

Perplexed, ‘Laine shifted. He had to think about it for a moment. What would he do? “I’d… try to take them to their parents.”

“And what if their parents were gone? Perhaps dead, or otherwise missing?”

The question spurred further thought, and he narrowed his brow to consider it. “I would take them somewhere safe. A town, or a relative, to a guard station.”

“Even now? When you have enough on your mind to… ‘discourage’ you?” Her jaw set in a line, and she leaned forward, closer to the fire.

“My struggles shouldn’t stop me from trying to assist others with theirs. I don’t think I could stomach… leaving a child alone to the world.”

Naz nodded, slow and careful, but said nothing. She did watch him, though, and then what he had said sank in. His cheeks were warmed by more than the fire, and he cast his look away from her, feeling quite the fool.

“You think me the child.” He stated. She lifted her head, and he could see the faint traces of a smile on her lips. “That’s… mmh.”

Naz shook her head, slowly. “To me, it isn’t about your age. If I left you there, you would have died.” She answered. “You needed my help. I’m giving it.”

“Strange for a sellsword, helping anyone who needs it. That seems more work for a guard or a knight.” He commented, still avoiding her eye. Writing off his age had staved off the worst of his embarrassment, but it didn’t make him feel any less powerless.

She snorted, a breath escaping her nostrils, before leaning back against the bag she’d dragged closer. “I knew what your answer was when I asked,” Naz said. “You would help the child. I could tell that much when I met you. That is enough reason to lend my sword.”

(Part 4 is up, and can be found here!)

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