Chapter (III): Fireside Fights (Part 6)

When the archer made it to their fire, Eryn had put her axe down. She traded the edge for one that accompanied a glare, eyeing up Nico as he came closer. Varlaine was unsure of what to do, so he hesitated; noticing Naz’s fingers tightening around her sword still, he kept his spellbook close.

“Could you drop the weapon?” The guardsman asked. Naz scowled at him, shaking her head tersely. “I’m here to help you.”

“Why did you follow us? Were you followed yourself?” Her questions, one after the other, were supported by a nod from ‘Laine. Eryn, too, carried herself forward. Her head cocked to the side curiously.

“I wasn’t, but you might have been.” When Nico spoke, he shrugged, downplaying the mood with a grin. “I’ve been chasing your trail and clearing it behind you for a week. Campsites, hoofprints, griffon dung—you don’t clean up after yourselves.”

Eryn frowned. “We’re in a hurry,” She excused. “No time for cleaning.”

“You gotta make time.” Nico quirked a brow at her. “If I could follow you, we can damn well bet that Alra can.”

Naz cut in by clearing her throat. “You haven’t answered me. Why did you come?” When challenged on the matter, the brunette dodged with a flop down near the fire, sitting in the patch ‘Laine had cleared for himself. She took a step closer, and he shrugged up at her once more.

“Fort Skyvlan is another week’s worth away,” He said. “By what I figure, you all are nearly down on your supplies. Didn’t exactly leave Dalren with much. Am I right?”

Varlaine looked up at Naz, whom pursed her lips for a moment in frustration. He was. They’d brought along a bag of loaves of bread, some salted meats, a bag full of fruits that had barely lasted two days, and canteens; of that, a couple of dried out bread loaves remained. That was why Cassius had been sent hunting and why they’d settled down earlier than usual.

“I thought you guys could use some help. I can hunt a little meat, I know how to carve it up just fine, and I can cover our tracks as we go,” He continued. ‘Laine had to admit, all of that sounded promising. Food, help if a fight came their way, and someone to keep… whoever was on them off their trail would all be helpful.

Naz chewed on the offer for a few moments before lowering her weapon and her voice. She took a step closer to Nicomenda, and leaned in to speak with him, quietly. “You should be getting the people of Dalren to safety.” Her raspy voice hissed.

“Look, they have a whole town’s worth of defenders if bandits turn up. You have two kids. Groups can defend themselves better than you, no matter how good your sword arm is.” Nico shot back, standing up straighter. His casual smile evaporated in a hurry, and Varlaine could see a dark line under each of his eyes, not unlike the ones sunken beneath Naz’s. Adulthood must take a heavy toll, he thought.

When Naz lacked a suitable response to that, Nico stretched and pulled his bow off his shoulders. Setting it aside, he left it in plain view as he did the same with his quiver; ‘Laine took a moment to appreciate them. While Nico himself was a little roughly cut, with his shirt untucked and messy and his hair shaggy and unkempt, the bow he carried was polished and pristine, some yellow-orange wood. Its accompanying quiver was a clean and well-built leather. While he was no craftsman, the prince had to appreciate their quality.

“So!” Nicomenda yawned. Varlaine tore his eyes away from the bow to look at him, while Eryn jumped in surprise. Naz strayed her gaze aside, towards her bag of belongings. “Where is the big beast that made it so easy to follow you, anyways?”

Eryn frowned. “His name’s Cassius. He’s out hunting for food,” She informed, a huff in her breath. “He’ll be back soon, I bet.” The way she crossed her arm over herself so she could hold the opposite shoulder left Varlaine wondering how confident she was of that fact.

“Hunting, eh? What’s a bird like him typically bring back?” Nico asked. His hand reached to his side, fumbling with something brown that hung from his belt and matched the quiver he’d set aside. “Rabbits? Some fish?”

Eryn shook her head. “Um… usually a deer, when he’d go off in the woods near home.” She answered. Nico’s brows shot up in surprise, as he undid a latch and pulled a sharp, wicked-looking carving knife from its hip holster.

“A deer. Delicious,” He grinned, looking over at Eryn and then down at the blade he held, turning it over in his hand. “When he gets back, I’m gonna teach you kids how to skin. Useful skill.” Varlaine felt his stomach churn at that thought, and Eryn didn’t look like she handled it any better. Still, the young prince nodded his head slowly in agreement. It was, after all, a useful skill.

(Part 7 is up, and can be found here!)

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