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[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Taking them to somewhere a little more concealed, a little more private. That might be better if she did cry. Again wondering if he trusted her. His hand was warm in hers, the motion over her knuckles undeniably soothing. That stinging feeling that preceded crying ebbed away at the comfort he offered. Sumina gave him a small nod,”Yes.”
Of course there couldn’t be any promises like that. Promising everyone would live would only ring hollow. It would be an empty promise. But that he would try to spare her brothers if he could… that she could believe. “If you try, I would… appreciate that.”
Trying was all they could do. Try to keep everyone alive she cared for. There was such relief that he understood, that he wasn’t pushing her away. No, he was moving closer. Without necessarily meaning to, she had started to move in closer, wanting to close that distance. To feel him close again. “But I… You really must not let them… I would…” Her ability to properly articulate her thoughts was lost somewhere. His eyes were intense and she couldn’t look away. But then there was a voice, and he turned.
Her cheeks felt hot as she stood there behind him, her hand still in his. What was their relationship? [i Intimate]. Whatever it was, it was intimate. More than was perhaps wise or appropriate.
And yet… Once the knight who had informed them of dinner had left, Sumina did close the small distance to Royland’s back. On her toes to put her head on his shoulder, her chest against his back, her hand holding his just a little tighter. She was aware of the way it made her heart beat a little faster and her face feel warm, but a little unaware of how it might affect him.
”Thank you.” For taking the time to listen. For not pushing her away. For the promise to try with her brothers. So many things.
Neither of them quite wanted to risk lingering. There was an unspoken agreement that they didn’t actually want anyone to see them. And delaying dinner for… conversation, or whatever that was, would invite more attention.
At dinner, where Walter, Alain, and Sirius were already waiting, Sumina felt more up to discussing her brothers with them. At least a little. Ayre was the eldest, and Aias his twin. Aias was a mage specializing in magic for fighting, while Ayre preferred swords. Vaeril was next, and the hunter. She warned he was an exceptional archer and used familiars to track. Tarron, only a little older than her, with some skill in both sword and bow. The way she spoke, she obviously had affection for them all, though she was clearly also concerned over what danger they might pose to the group, and Royland in particular.
Things had been arranged so that for bed Sumina would not need to share a tent with anyone, since she was the only woman there. The plan was to leave early in the morning, so whatever mending Sumina had done would be all she finished before leaving. A fresh change of clothes was waiting for her, neatly folded. Clothes borrowed from the knights and too large for her, but they were clean and that was what mattered.
They went to bed and slept easily. Much better than the night before in the forest so close to Pimli. Sumina did not wake early on her own, someone would need to come wake her.
Royland listened to her story with his brows together, and a look of gentle understanding in his eyes. He had no blood relatives, in all the world. No distant Lords and Ladies in a far-off land, no father, mother, and certainly no siblings. The depth of her pain was one that he could never truly understand. Yet, still, it pained him. The last thing on his mind was the thought of ever prolonging that suffering, causing it to grow, or deepening its affect on her. Even if it should mean the end of his life, he needed to make a choice. How would he deal with this conflict of interest down the line? “…I understand.”
What little light was left reflected off of the tears threatening to spill from her eyes. Carefully, he looked around, noting their position to the rest of the camp. Most men were off tending to dinner, removing their heavy armor, and otherwise in the middle of switching out patrols. Still, they were exposed. Gingerly, he grabbed Sumina’s hand and brought her behind an unoccupied tent, out of the way of the light from the large fire at the center of camp. And with little forethought, he began to comfort her. His thumb ran over the ridges of her knuckles, slowly.
“Sumina… Do you trust me?” To keep you safe. To ensure that we should all come out of this alive. How he wanted so badly for that to be the only outcome achievable. There was no way of beating around the harshness of war, but, perhaps… Perhaps if he could speak those words, he could make it so. “I don’t want to pit you against your family for my sake… And though your brothers might despise me, I don’t intend to do anything that would hurt you.” If at all possible. “I cannot make irresponsible promises… But I will not strike to kill against your brothers. I must live if I’m to right my wrongs… But it does not mean that they should have to die.”
The world does [i not] work that way. War does not heed to the whims and wants of man. Not every man returns from their grapples with its wicked tendrils, and those that do, are scarred forevermore. Royland sighed, wracking his mind for any immediate solution. Wishing to give Sumina even a sliver of hope that it would be alright. But he could not bring himself to speak words that he, himself did not truly believe. He would have thought to pull her in close, but decided to let her close the gap, if she so wished. His skin began to burn with the memory of the days previous. And as he looked into her eyes, he felt himself wanting… more. Try as he might to ignore it, his body moved on his own. Closer, ever closer…
“M’Lord!” Royland’s face turned bright pink from the shock. “Yours and the Lady’s meal are in the commander’s tent!”
Clearing his throat, Royland spun around, back straight, arms behind his back, still gently clasping Sumina’s hand. He had never let her go, nor had he stepped away. “D-Duly noted. Thank you. You’re dismissed.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] All she could do was smile in amusement while the young squire stuttered and stumbled. She remembered some of that uncertainty when meeting the King face to face. Yet here he was now in front of her, and that nervousness was gone.
“A bath might be nice.” Sumina commented lightly enough. They all probably needed it. How much nicer might he smell after cleaning? Not that she’d be getting close enough to find out. Why was her mind wandering there? His eyes were searching hers for something.
“Ah.” Was it so obvious? She couldn’t help but have her brothers on the back of her mind. Sumina’s fingers met in a nervous fidget in front of her, slightly sore from the time spent sewing. “Maybe…”
There was some reluctance, a hesitation to start. Where to begin? She looked to the ground like it might have some answer. How to articulate her love for her brothers, her worry for them and what a conflict might mean, and at the same time assure him that she’d stop them if she had to.
“I used to climb trees. When I was little I would climb up as high as I could. It scared my brothers who were watching me. They would shout at me to come down, or climb up after me. I thought it was fun, making them chase up and get so mad and worried. One day I fell and broke my arm.” Her right hand passed over her left forearm, where she remembered it breaking. She had looked back to him, uncertain if she was making any sense,”They were so scared, fussing over me and panicking over it. I just cried and cried, while they shouted and eventually carried me to a healer. They all swore to never tell our parents, made me promise too. Well, the healer told them anyway. They were furious, and worried. My brothers were in trouble for letting me get hurt and hiding it. I didn’t climb quite so much or so high after that…”
Sumina rubbed her arm again. Was her story making any sense at all to him? She felt like she’d started to ramble. Her eyes were stinging a little, warm and a little red. She was trying to [i not] cry. “My brothers aren’t terrible people. I love them. I have four. Ayre, Aias, Vaeril, and Tarron. But I’d [i never] let them hurt you. I’m scared that they might, they hate you [i so much] and I can’t stand it. But I’m also scared because I don’t want them to die either.”
She was looking at him, in obvious pain and worry. She hoped he understood, but was worried he might be thinking she’d side with her brothers against him. Worried that after hearing this he might decide it was wiser to keep her away, since they were her brothers.
Garrett looked at Sumina with wide, hopeful eyes. How wonderful was the King, to be able to employ the protection of someone with such grace and beauty? To be worthy of her devotion as she was. The weight of her words forced a lump into the young squire’s throat. “He’s lucky to have you by his side…” He muttered, holding his head down, until a pair of boots came into view. Slowly, he craned his head upward, jumping to his feet at the sight of the King’s face. “Y-Your Majesty…! I-I mean, my liege, King Vondien! How may I—”
Royland held a hand up with a slight smile on his face, “No need. Garrett, isn’t it?” Silent, Garrett nodded his head furiously, and saluted Royland with a fist over his chest. “Well, it’s almost dinner time. Hurry off.”
“Yes, my King!” Like a timid hare into dense brush, he was gone.
“Spritely thing isn’t he…” Royland chuckled. Probably no older than sixteen, if Royland had to take a guess. His demeanor reminded him greatly of Sirius in his youth. Unsure of his own role, having yet to find his niche within the ranks of the guard. Friendly young man, probably. Returning his attention to Sumina, he could finally continue their conversation on. “Well… Sirius took care of our rations. Walter’s secured us a map, and Sirius is going to prepare our change of clothes… I’m thinking of having the men heat some water for a bath, but I’m undecided…” His eyes drifted to the ground. Thinking, hard. Not about impending doom, or the constant state of danger, for once. Perhaps it wouldn’t hurt to relax for just a bit. Quickly, he returned Sumina’s gaze, but with a mellow expression on his face.
Just what did she need from him, to make the reality of their situation that much more bearable? He wanted to know. Even if unintentional, her conflicted feelings were reaching him – so painfully obvious, in where that shine should be in her eyes. It was as though a cloud hung over her head. He muttered quietly, “Do you want to talk about it?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina paused in her work at the question. What [i was] their relationship? Sumina didn’t have an answer right away, but she did have a kind smile for the obviously embarrassed young man. “I hope to be finished soon.”
She had dexterous hands from years of work with healing and sewing. She got right back to work, but soon answered his question anyway, or at least partially,”I chose to protect him, and those around him. No matter what it costs.”
And she may pay dearly for it. That was clear enough to her after yesterday. It could cost her her family, and in a worse way than them simply disowning her. She fell quiet for a little bit after that, simply mending tears then carefully folding things once she was done. She did have to ask Garrett for help with the tent. It was just too big to fold on her own, after spreading it out to scour for any rips or even worn spots to fix.
Looking up from a shirt she was darning Sumina smiled. It was the most carefree she’d been since they had gotten to Pimli. The fact that he was here, sighing and scolding her lightly, rather than keeping away now that he was here being the King, made her happy. “While you and the others work so diligently? I couldn’t possibly.”
Her work was set aside, unfinished, and Sumina stood, brushing herself off,”I’d like to be helpful, if I can. How are things coming along for you?”
What did it matter what their relationship was, exactly? For now she was simply glad he was being friendly with her. Even though he’d have good reason to push her away now, standing with these knights when Elves like her had taken his throne, she wasn’t sure she could have borne that with any sort of dignity. Not after the last time had left her near tears.
With his back to Sumina, Royland straightened his shoulders and headed to center tent in camp. Inside, he found Alain glancing seriously over notes taken by the watch. Nothing of note to report, that he could see. Nothing yet. Sirius had taken to meticulously gathering rations, portioned carefully to avoid starving out the camp of fifteen men. Walter was in a corner, his back turned to the tent opening, hunched open a map, furiously taking note of other camp positions as he was instructed to.
“Progress report, please…” An outstretched hand was immediately supplied with a piece of parchment, of the most recent watch reports, specifically any news coming in from home that had made it to the camp.
Alain sighed, carefully re-filing what he had displaced in his haste. “Seems as though they have simply been waiting for Davin, lily-livered traitor…” In limbo. With no direction. Aimlessly continuing their patrols. Good men, but not a real leader among them. “What should we do with them?”
Royland scoffed, “What else? We send them back to serve the current monarch and his family. I need them in Volaire, at the ready. If I should ever return…”
“[i When] you return.” Walter never looked up from the map, but Royland did not have to see his face to imagine the irritated look his words were likely receiving. “Can we trust them with what we’re about to tell them?”
“Sirens, Walter. They’re good men. Their reports are without fault. And they obviously haven’t heard the news, being on the other side of Pimli. Don’t doubt them, now… We’re already here.” Alain crossed his arms over his chest, noticing that each of them shared the same hardened, worried stare at their respective stations. The sound of the map rolling between Walter’s fingers seemed to cue Sirius’ arm shooting outwards, passing on the rations to be set aside for later. Moments passed, and Royland took a deep, [i deep] breath. A sea of murmurs was beginning to coalesce outside the tent, quietly waiting for their King to address them. And all manner of how to break the news ran through his mind. [i “I know I never visit your camps, but Davin is dead, he betrayed me, and I’ve been dethroned.”] He should have planned what he was meant to say far before this point. But if he was being honest with himself, he never expected to make it this far. [i All of this] had been wishful thinking, at best.
The squire watching Sumina work, eyes focused on her slender fingers as they diligently sewed, perhaps might not have known any better than to answer her questions. But his curiosity was beginning to get the better of him. Whether it was his youth, his lack of tact, or a combination of the two, he had to ask, “What is your relationship with the King?” His hand flew over his mouth, eyes wide with realization. “Er, w-what I mean is, M’Lady, is… How you came to travel with h—”
“Garrett? Is his Majesty’s guest almost done with the mending? He’s ready to address us.” The one called Garrett turned to Sumina, and smiled nervously, inquiring about the status of her work, asking her to just pay his question no mind.
“Don’t feel urged to rush, M’Lady. I won’t leave your side until you’re finished.”
Sirius lit a large campfire while Walter counted the knights and squires in attendance. Not everyone was here, but, according to one knight, it was the squire watching over Sumina. He would have to make sure Royland passed the word along to him, personally. Given his age, he may not believe anything less. Also a great opportunity to make the poor boy shake in his boots a bit, a face-to-face meeting with the King. Walter never fancied himself a sadist, but there were times like this where he sought excitement from wherever he could in trying times such as these.
The crowd grew silent as Royland emerged from the commander’s tent. Each knight leaned forward in their seats, lending their ears and eyes to the one they swore fealty to. “There’s no easy way to say this. But Commander Davin is dead. He was given the penalty of death for high treason.” Not a word was spoken. Not even a gasp of surprise. Royland could not decide if it was because he was so unpopular, or because of the shock. “Simply, the castle has been seized. I…” He searched the crowd for Sumina.
Best not to say more than was necessary. “While one of their own may sit on the throne, I am not dead. I am the [i rightful] King of Volaire.” A guard in the front stood to his feet. “Though it pains me to say it, I must embark on a journey outside of Volaire, away from the lands that my grandfather cultivated. I must seek out the assistance of other kingdoms if we are to stand a fighting chance. And, to that end… You must return to Volaire. I ask that you dutifully serve the monarch and his family. Do not let anyone question your loyalty to the sitting King. Do not allow yourselves to be accused of being traitors. Follow their rule as you have followed mine. And wait for my return.” More guards stood at the position of attention, right hand in a fist, crossed over their chest in solidarity.
“We are gravely outnumbered, but the soldiers that serve the Vondien are more fierce, cunning, and adaptable than any other military force in all the known world. We will not be silenced. For Vasilios. For Volaire. I humbly ask you swear your fealty to me once more.” Every knight in attendance dropped to their knee. The sight made Royland’s chest swell with relief. Pride. Happiness.
[i [b “For King Vondien!”]]
The camp quickly returned to its usual preparations for dinner, not long after Royland had concluded his speech and dismissed the crowd. He instructed Walter, Sirius, and Alain to go on and gather their food in the commander’s tent, while Royland went to seek out Sumina. Someone off-handedly mentioned that she might still be mending some tents and clothes and such, with Garrett as her watcher. And, upon seeing her diligently at work, he sighed, hands on his hips. Unsurprised, but understanding her inability to relax. “I thought I told you to get some rest, Sumina…”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] All she could do was nod at his reassurance during their walk. But would it be alright? Sumina was getting less sure that she would be alright by the end of this. She’d been holding some hope that her family might survive all this, be kept out of the worst of things and unharmed. But if they were actively chasing Royland, what did that mean for them?
When they did actually stop, she was glad to dive into some familiar work and help prepare the food. Keeping her hands busy may occupy her mind a little. But her mind was too active, buzzing with worries. Worries and… She had barely glanced to Royland, sitting at the base of a tree. That glance didn’t go unnoticed by the others, but none commented on it. They kept any talking for the moment to what needed to be said to prepare the meal. It was ridiculous of her, she was sure. To want that warmth. Despite the danger they had been in at the time it had been the most calm and secure she’d felt all evening. But she was being ridiculous, she reminded herself. He cared for her, that much was certain. That could mean any number of ways.
Besides, how [i did] she feel about him? Sumina had never been really infatuated with anyone before. She’d been dedicated to her studies as a healer. Any suitors had seemingly given up after a short time, and she hadn’t particularly cared. If Royland stopped meeting her gaze, if he went from being willing to hold her hand and comforting her to avoiding even looking at her again, if he acted like he didn’t want her there, she would most assuredly care a great deal. When he announced he was going to get firewood she looked over. She half wanted to join him, but to what end?
Her attention returned to the group with Alain’s question. She didn’t answer immediately. The question was simple, but not easy to answer. Of course they needed to know who they were up against. And no one knew her family better than she did. With Royland’s return her eyes kept to him, avoiding the others for the moment.
“Aias.” Sumina supplied after Royland told about the one who caught his attention,”His name is Aias. He’s my second eldest brother. The other is Tarron. He’s the fourth.”
After that she said very little. She decided after supplying names, she just wasn’t ready to talk about her family yet. Not like this. While she had half wanted to keep going, she was too tired to object strongly when it was decided they would sleep here. Even in the morning she hadn’t recovered quite to her usual cheerfulness, having not slept particularly well, but as the day wore on her mood slowly improved.
Tents and knights eventually came into view, and Sumina was a silent shadow until attention was drawn to her. A change had come over Royland, and she watched with curiosity. The Royland she had been with the last few days was not the one he presented to these knights. She smiled at him, a sort of fondness and understanding in her expression. For now he had to take charge as the King, and she didn’t have any particular place here like the others. Maybe later, if only to share what she knew of her brethren,”Perhaps.”
Rest might do her some good, but she was restless. She wanted to work. After watching Royland leave she wasn’t quite sure what to do with herself. After a moment she asked if anyone was ill or injured, or if anything needed mending. The guard that had agreed to do as she asked looked confused by her question, but after a moment answered. No one was ill or injured at the moment, but there were some clothes and a tent that needed some mending, only no one there had the skills.
Sumina asked to be taken there. They scrounged up the required supplies and Sumina found a nice spot near a tent to sit and sew while she waited for Royland and the others to finish what work they needed to do. The guard watched her, a little puzzled that she’d gone to work on something like this. Not to mention he was wondering a little to himself what she was doing accompanying the King in the first place, though he didn’t question her about it. Sumina started with the questions while she worked. Nothing very deep, but questions about the weather here and how they liked this spot, what they tended to eat, if they were missing anyone back home. Things to help pass the time mostly.
Alain’s brow furrowed at Sumina’s answer – but there was hardly any time to ask her to clarify what she meant. Royland chose not to say much, either, but stayed at the rear of the group to keep Sumina company. When he noticed her eyes lingering on him, he turned to her, and offered a weary smile. “It’ll be alright.” There was little else he could say to ease her suffering. And, in front of Sirius, then Walter, there was little he could [i do] without loudly announcing that their relationship escalated quickly. Not that Alain would ever keep what he saw quiet… It couldn’t be helped.
Upon choosing a suitable area in which they could sit down and prepare their meal, Sirius and Walter scuttled off to find any flat stones on which they could properly butcher and prepare the herbs Sumina had picked earlier. It didn’t take long for them to return. And while Alain dutifully divided up their food for the night, Royland sat silent against a tree. Legs crossed, hands resting in his lap. A ginger, warm sensation pulsed with each heartbeat, as he remembered the prolonged touch of Sumina’s hand. The fronts of his arms and chest shared the same memory, already reminiscing about how close he’d held her to him. How perfect his hands seemed to be made, to take her form in his. Unfortunate, really, that their relationship only continued to blossom in the midst of strife. If all was calm, would they have come to rely on each other’s company so quickly? Sumina certainly had no reason to doubt him, but… he doubted himself. Questioned his own feelings. Wondered if they were genuine.
It felt [i right], but it didn’t feel [i natural]. Never was he one to rush headfirst into the arms of a woman, nor was he ever blinded by love, or the pursuit of it. Yet, he treated her as though they hadn’t just met several days previous. It obviously brought them both some measure of comfort. But, how many other women might illicit this reaction? He was, after all, a man. Though he hadn’t given much thought to what that meant, until now. Unpleasant recollections of his youth sprang forth in his mind- it was his father that had always been a lecher, never bothering with honing his skills or setting out to prove himself as Royland had. It made him oblivious to the ways of women, not that he had ever had time or the interest in learning. But Sumina’s presence, and the idea that such a presence would continue to be a part of his daily life, made him want to understand her better.
Without warning, Royland stood, pointing off in some indiscriminate direction. If there had been any conversation amongst the others, he hadn’t been listening. “I’ll get some wood and stoke a fire.” When he finally walked out of their range of hearing, Alain spoke up, giving Sumina a serious, worried look.
“Did you mean what you said, Lady Sumina… About your brothers…?” He searched her sullen expression for a reassuring explanation. Perhaps she meant figuratively, in the same way Royland, Sirius, and Walter called each other with familiarity. There were troubling implications, regardless. Sumina seemed to know it, too. Walter and Sirius kept her in the corner of their eyes as they worked. “You need to tell us everything you can. What are their names, their strengths, and how to avoid them. How many of them there are.”
Just then, Royland returned, a bundle of wood tucked under his arm. “Alain… Maybe give her some time.” He knelt into the center of the group and began to light the fire. It came along swiftly, and he took a seat beside Sumina, eyes focused on the flames in front of him. “Besides, we’re better off focusing on our efforts to put more distance between them and us.” He could not shake that glare he had exchanged with the elder brother. Nor could he forget that unfamiliar feeling that had welled up inside him. The fear of losing his life. Those eyes… Dead, cold, harsh like an early winter. Dangerous. Royland wanted his throne back more than anything, but he did not wish to meet that man ever again. At least not unprepared.
“Royland, it’s imperative that we know what we’re up against.”
“I can tell you that if it is just the four of us, against the one who caught my attention, that none of us would live to see the next spring.” The crackling of the fire filled the air, but not much else was exchanged except for worried glances. Whoever it was Royland saw… Whatever it was that he saw, his companions thought, they must have seemed truly formidable.
Aside from the necessary details of their situation, it was an unbearably quiet night. The tension would trickle over into the next morning, and throughout their final day of travel to the encampment. The pace seemed to quicken when they caught sight of the rows of pitched tents, and at first, they were ordered to halt. But, when the guards noticed Royland’s face, accompanied by his well-known closest confidants, each knight in his presence knelt and sheathed their swords.
“On your feet.” The men complied to Royland’s command. “How many of you are there stationed out here?”
“Fifteen, M’Lord, and the commander.”
“I want all men gathered in the center of camp. Where is the head knight?” A glance was exchanged between the guards.
“It was supposed to be Davin, M’Lord…” Sirius chimed in. Royland sighed. No matter, now. His request held firm. And he sent Sirius, Walter, and Alain to ensure that all men were accounted for, to receive status reports, a map, current positions of other camps, a fresh change of clothes for all, and prepare rations… By the time he got done handing them a list of things to do, it was time to introduce Sumina to the guards at the entrance.
He glanced to Sumina, somewhat embarrassed by his stern disposition. “There are some things I need to do. Perhaps you should get some rest.” His gaze returned to the guards. “This is Sumina. Please do what she asks of you.”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina had expected familiar faces, just maybe not [i that] familiar. Her grip on Royland’s hand had tightened, and very slightly she had angled herself between her brothers and Royland. Sumina knew how dangerous her brothers could be. She could see a little blood spattered on Aias. Not his blood. Both of them had those fierce look. They would kill him in a heartbeat, if she let them. They were ready to kill Royland.
But not her. They weren’t prepared to go through her to get to him. Otherwise Aias would have attacked. When Royland pulled her hand up she finally looked away from her brothers. With her other hand she briefly touched the back of his hand,”Royland…”
Then she nodded, and they were off through the crowd. She didn’t dare look back, and her hold of Royland’s hand never loosened. She didn’t know the streets especially well, but she knew a route.
“Yes.” To both questions. Then she was whispering under her breath, with what breath she could get while they ran. The wind near the ground had picked up, blowing the dirt and wiping their tracks, even as they made them. She paused momentarily when he pulled her in close to him. She finished the incantation and leaned into him. Her heart felt like it was beating faster than a rabbits, and she wasn’t sure it was entirely because of the run. He smelled of sweat and dirt, but something else. Something she recognized as distinctly masculine, and unique to him. It was nice.
Not that she’d [i say] that to him. With her face half buried against his chest and shoulder she listened to the sounds growing louder and louder. When he spoke she looked up. Her brothers. Her own brothers she was hiding from right now. “They are trying to kill you.” With a little half smile, not particularly happy but trying to make the best of the situation, she added,”And I’m sorry my brothers are trying to kill you.”
To think two of her own brothers were in the search party. Were they looking for her too? It may have only been for hiding, but Sumina took comfort in being held just then. Somehow despite knowing it was a possibility she hadn’t been as prepared to face her brothers as she’d thought. If they caught up, would Royland and the others have to kill them? Could she just let her own brothers die? But the alternative might mean letting them kill Royland and the others. Something she was not going to let them do.
It was Royland urging them out of hiding that brought her out of her worried musing on the subject. It was time to finish their escape and meet the others. For the moment, her friends and her brothers were both walking away alive. Sumina was looking worried when Alain greeted them, though she tried to smile. What was he looking at Royland like that for? “Oh. Yes.” Truthfully she didn’t want to, but she released his hand anyway and followed Alain.
“Yes…” Sumina’s brows were drawn together, somewhere between a frown and worry. The pause there lasted until Sirius was in sight,“Two of my brothers were there.”
Sumina found her gaze fixed on Royland. He’d seen her turn her back on her own brothers, her flesh and blood, to flee and hide with him. And he had taken her with him without a second thought, even though one word and she could have turned him over to her brothers. The trust there was genuine and strong. She had no reason to doubt that anymore. He’d trusted her to keep him hidden from her own family.
There wasn’t any regret, but it still hurt. They were family. She’d grown up with them. She loved them, even as she took sides against them. When they joined Sirius, and then Walter, Sumina wasn’t very talkative. She said she’d explain more about the search party when they stopped. At a couple of points early on while they walked she murmured the incantation to sweep their tracks, since Royland had given her the idea. It wouldn’t work with an incredibly skilled tracker, but it was better than nothing.
At some point, Sumina had lost track of how long it was, the men seemed to notice she looked a little like a wilting flower and had insisted on stopping to eat at least. When she tried to object, Walter put his hand at her elbow and steered her off continuing, insisting they all could use some food.
Sister? Scoundrel? [i Sister?] Royland's eyes narrowed, fearlessly locking gazes with his would-be murderers. Time was of the essence, yes, but his dignity was equally at risk. The loud one drew his eye immediately, but his gaze landed finally on the older of the two. He was strong. Royland’s face contorted into that famous, fiery glare. But his instincts were screaming at him. Danger. [i Danger]. [i [b Danger]].
"If only I could ask for my ancestral home back as passionately! The only scoundrels here are those who are undeserving of the royal title they usurped, gutless swine that you are!" Madness. Treating him like they had won. Treating him like some war criminal. He may have had to flee, but merely because his continued existence was the only hope for Volaire. For Vasilios. For lasting peace. "You've won [i [b nothing]] until you present my head on a spike on the castle walls! Mark my words, I will not give you the satisfaction!"
Royland turned to Sumina, deliberately bringing their interlaced hands into view of her brothers. Petty, yes. Satisfying, undoubtedly so. "Time to go. Lead the way."
On foot, and running against the grain of the crowd, their escape was swift to begin with. Royland could do little aside from look for potential hiding spots, should the situation turn more dire than it already was. The ferocity of the townspeople would only last for so long. Hopefully, the people of Pimli's reputation for ruthlessness with fresh meat in their sights was passed through the lands with good faith by the rumor mills.
Every other goddamned corner seemed to be a dead end. Buildings and piles of scrap wood placed haphazardly onto otherwise through streets made escaping ever harder. Royland had always detested fleeing in a straight line. If they didn't find somewhere to throw them off of their trail, they would almost assuredly be caught.
First, a small crevice between two upright pieces of wood caught Royland's eye. No, if they chose to use magic to blow down the makeshift homes in town, they would be discovered in no time. The forest was quite a way, and although it was their best bet, they would need to wait them out somewhere, lest their footprints give away their direction. Then, a lowly butcher's hut, made entirely of stone. Surely, that would be safe enough to get out of their line of sight.
Royland gestured his head towards the stone hut, barely large enough for two people. "Can you get rid of our tracks?" Surely, she could. But, more importantly, he had to ask. "Do you trust me?" That resolute gaze had returned to his eyes. He squeezed Sumina's had just a bit tighter, before quickly pulling her around the rightmost corner where the houses ended, pushing his back against the nearest wall, pulling Sumina close to him. Out of sight. Now all that was left was to wipe their footprints and wait.
With hardly any time to catch their breath, the sound of hooves grew closer, as did the cacophony of angry bandits, having to chase their catch. From the sounds, Royland could tell the horse was in absolute agony. He dared not peek outside, for fear of his messy auburn mop being spotted immediately. All he could do was pull Sumina a little tighter into his body in an attempt to calm his breathing.
Eventually the commotion was close enough that their voices would be covered. "Sorry about my harsh language towards your... Brothers." The solemn look on his face that followed turned into one of a subtle sulk. Who could have known, it would be her own flesh and blood, quite literally. Did that mean one of them was now on the throne? If so, Sirens help the city they governed... How the common folk must be in utter disarray. He wondered if they had already spread the news that he was dead. Would he have any supporters upon his return? Would he ever...?
“[i Dammit!]” With greedy hands pushing and grabbing at the still twitching horse, Tarron whipped his head around, frantically. Searching for any sight of Sumina. Any sight of that bastard that had taken her hand in his. An angry fist came down on the ground, as Aias stood and dusted himself off. “Where the hell did he go!?”
“On your feet, Tarron… It’s time we took our leave.” Aias sighed, turning on his heels reluctantly.
“Aias, he’s got our sister!” But his cries fell on deaf ears. One more glance around, and then, they left. Without the King’s head, without Mina, and with wounded pride.
Positive that Sumina was having more than enough of their close contact, Royland released her and put his head around the corner. A dead horse, being ravaged by hungry men, women, and children. No elves. Not quite ready to let the breath he’d been holding in go just yet, he urged Sumina towards the tree line, praying that they couldn’t be seen. Not walking for more than a minute, Alain was the first to greet them.
“Thank the Sirens you’re alright, My Lord, Lady Sumina--…” Alain’s eyes drifted to their joined hands but made no mention of it aside from giving Royland a shit-eating smirk. Choosing to ignore the silent mockery, Royland asked Sumina if she was okay letting him go. Once confirmed, Alain turned, motioning for them to follow him. “Sirius is not far ahead, only he knows where Walter decided to make the rendezvous. That was quite close. Did you know the men that showed up, Lady Sumina?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Sumina had gathered dishes and an old knife. After spreading her foraged finds on the table she had started to prepare them, washing some in a bowl of water she’d procured.
At her name she looked up and turned around. Royland was here, alone. She suspected Walter had something to do with that, given their talk. Her suspicion was confirmed,”Ah, yes…”
Whatever he was trying to say, he was clearly struggling with it. She didn’t hurry him. Instead she continued to work on cutting mushrooms and roots while he prepared the squirrels. It was sort of nice, working on preparing a meal with him. Even if she was a little on edge waiting for him to say what he meant to. Listening was rarely quite so nerve wracking to her. When he stopped cutting, so did she.
Her eyes met his, and she was a little surprised he held her gaze. Even more the way he took her hand and stepped closer. There was confidence there, at least for a moment. It made her heart and stomach flutter a little. How could just a look and a touch have her feeling like nothing else mattered? They were alone, but the room could be full and she wasn’t sure she’d have noticed. And despite his apparent attempt to protest like it was all some duty of his, the clear embarrassment fueled a warmth in her cheeks and chest. Whatever, exactly, he meant, she still couldn’t say. Or his reasoning for having kept her at a distance. Was it what Alain had said about an engagement that ended poorly? Whatever it was, she could see that he [i did] care about her.
With both hands she reached for his,”I—” Her fingers had barely brushed the backs of his hands when the door opened. Just like that, he stepped back and she withdrew. Her moment of embarrassment quickly turned to worry and a heavy weight settled in her stomach, killing the fluttering butterflies.
The search party was close. How many did she know? Despite her nerves, her hands worked quickly to pack the food and secure the bag while the group was divided. It made sense, she and Walter knew the way, so each of them would need to lead part of the group. Somehow that left her with Royland.
“Of course.” Sumina slipped her hand into his, her fingers finding a place nestled between his. She wasn’t going to risk losing track of him in the commotion. “I’m not going anywhere. I made my choice.”
The other three went ahead to the meeting place, while she and Royland made their way the opposite direction. Toward the crowd and noise where a horse had already been brought back. Holding his hand proved to be a wise decision, because the bandits rushing to divide up the horse jostled them and might have separated them otherwise. That was where they were headed, apparently. Sumina kept in mind the way back where she’d gone with Walter earlier. They would need to retrace steps that way before long.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
Stolen was right. That demon was the real thief, sneaking off like a shadow in the night. Tarron’s sour look transformed from confusion to rage in almost no time. Aias similarly looked furious, but seemed to have slightly more restraint than his brother. Tarron had started forward, but Aias put a hand on his brother’s arm.
The look Aias gave was pure, icy cold rage,”You’ll not speak of her like that. Nor will you lay a hand on her.”
Aias meant it quite literally. With several words in his own tongue and a movement of his bare hand over the bandit leaders, there was a gust of wind, and then the hand held out was severed by a blade made of air. Aias had chosen the path of magic. It made him less skilled of a swordsman and hunter than his other brothers, but he didn’t need a weapon to do terrible damage, only his own voice and energy.
The shock of his sudden move bought precious moments, moments he used to pull his younger brother with him and mount one of the remaining horses. Tarron had started to fight off some of the bandits getting over the shock. Humans knew Elves could use magic, and in Aias’s experience they either were overly cautious and afraid, or too bold to even think of it. The bandits seemed to be in the latter category.
“Bring me his head!” Aias shouted his order to the remaining two before taking off like the wind. Tarron had to hold on tight behind his brother to stay on. Already he could hear the sounds of fighting he was leaving behind.
Aias didn’t doubt his two men would do well. They were both skilled fighters. And even if they didn’t, they could recover the first horse, then take Sumina and the King, then get out of town before anyone could catch them. He was a calculating leader. Those two were expendable, so long as their goals were met.
“Do you think that… that [i dog] really done anything?” Tarron was worried. Sumina had fallen into the former King’s claws. On [i his] watch, as Aias liked to remind him.
Aias’s jaw was tight,”You better hope not. Likely just crude taunts from a crude brute.”
The crowd may have presented a problem in finding their sister, except that in a mass of dirty humans, and a sea of overwhelmingly brown hair, her white locks stood out. She hadn’t bothered to cover her head in her hurry.
“Mina! Mina! Thank the Sirens you’re safe.” Aias tried to force his way closer.
Both brothers spotted him at about the same time. Their look of relief turned to fury. Tarron was practically ready to jump from the horse,”Release my sister, you scoundrel!”
There were a few times when Royland tried to chime in, or protest Walter’s demands, but he was shot down each time. Eventually, Walter simply refused to acknowledge anything that might come out of his mouth. He only asked for Royland to send Alain and Sirius out, as one of them was in possession of one of the only sacks available to carry the remainder of the meat in. Once all four men were outside, Royland was pushed [i inside], holding their catch by the tails.
Sumina’s form was in the corner of his eye, her back tuned. His pulse began to quicken – She had seemed normal when she returned. Not that he was looking for anything other than a favorable, oblivious reaction to all that he had said and done. Royland quickly ran his fingers through his hair, moving his bangs from his eyes. A sigh escaped him. How selfish of him… Expecting that she simply ignore his words, or think only that his intentions were benign, in order to preserve his privacy. Of course she felt like a burden. Of course she was confused. He was a man, indeed, but he was not daft or oblivious to other’s feelings. Only that he wished he could be. A glaring complication that came with being as empathetic as he was.
“Sumina…?” Where to begin? An apology that she may perceive as insincere, or an unbelievable account that had to do with his past? What issues could a King have that might illicit sympathy? “Walter told me that you… thought I was worried about you being an Elf…” Under normal circumstances, where he sat unchallenged on the throne, and he was meant to have children to continue his lineage, it might be rather disturbing. But here he was, an ordinary man, free to choose any ordinary woman.
“He said you thought that I, perhaps, didn’t like you…” Carefully, he began to gut the catch Walter had handed off to him, setting the entrails to the side, obsessively wiping his hand at every opportunity. For a while, there was merely silence, as he tried to piece together an explanation that might placate her. “Nothing could be farther from the truth… I’m indebted to you. I have been since we first met. Since I learned that you saved my friends. It isn’t that you’re an Elf, at all… Nor is it your family…” Elf or human, she was beautiful. Related to his usurpers or not, she had thrown her lot in with them thus far. Her intentions were clear, and she had never showed them any malintent. Sirius, Alain, and especially Walter had taken a shine to her. How was he meant to argue with those who so clearly outnumbered him? Rejecting her now would only bring their ire. Walter, especially, might never forgive him. He set his dagger down and properly looked her in the eyes, hoping she would meet his gaze. Where he thought he might feel embarrassment, he felt compelled to step close to her. Where he had previously been petrified to touch her for more than an offer of comfort, he confidently took her hand.
“It pains me to see you uncomfortable… It infuriates me to watch those men, and the way they look at you…” His ears burned, and the feeling crept over his cheeks, forcing him to look elsewhere. It almost assuredly sounded like he was professing his love to her… He quickly backpedaled, releasing her hand and muttering incoherently about how she shouldn’t get the wrong idea. “I owe you my protection. You’ve been…nothing but good to us.” Curse all of those wretched diction classes he was forced to take in his adolescence! Absolutely none of them were coming to rescue his speech, full of pauses and hems and haws. There was something about her, and the gentle look in her eyes that made him lose all composure. Sirius’ words echoed in his head. [i ‘She’s nothing like Lenoir.’]… And he was right. So, Royland decided, he would do everything in his power to make sure Sumina never suffered…Not by his own words and actions, but especially not through the words and actions of another. The embarrassed look turned to one of quiet devotion.
“I’ll do my best from here on. I’ll make sure you never doubt me again.”
The telltale crack of the door to the hut burst open suddenly. Royland took a step back from Sumina, hoping it was just the others ready to taunt him for being so openly close, but the panicked look on their faces said otherwise. Alain, heaving from the effort exerted to open the door, hardly managed to get his words out. “They returned with one of the horses! We need to leave! Now!” There was little time to establish where to later regroup. Only enough to decide that Sirius, Alain, and Walter would head out first, following the path out of town discovered with Sumina earlier. Royland glanced to Sumina, handed her a sack to place the unbutchered meat and ingredients into, then listened to the distant whinnying of the horses quickly approaching town. They were so close to being caught… But at least with their horses stolen, they wouldn’t be as quick to track them down.
“I’m the most favorable prey, so I want to let the others run ahead… Think you can manage with helping me?” It was a lot to ask. This was her brethren at their heels. There would undoubtedly be friendly faces in the crowd. “I won’t stop you if you wish to return home, instead.”
Questions. If it was one thing bandits didn’t like, it was questions. Especially those concerning their sources. More than a few faces in the crowd sneered and grumbled at the prospect of letting an Elf ask them any hard inquiries, and with what little they had received as compensation.
“You don’t have the right to know the answer to that. I don’t see you wearing any crown!” A brash young man, possibly no older than eighteen, thrusted his makeshift knife in Aias’ direction. “They didn’t give no names, but they had King’s guard swords. Said they stole ‘em from Vondien Castle.” The leader, finally, seemed to catch on.
“Don’t tell me you’re looking for that Elvish bitch!” A deep laugh erupted from his body, echoing through the trees. He could hardly catch his breath, let alone formulate his taunts. “What’s she to ya? Can’t believe you got your wench stolen by a [i human]! And they looked pretty well acquainted, too! He wouldn’t let a soul near ‘er – called her ‘his’! By the Sirens! You points ‘ave lost your dignity by accepting that treaty, and now you’re losing yer [i women]!” Somewhat expectantly, the leader held out his hand.
“What say you this… I tell you where they’re hidin’, I get to keep your horses… and I get a night with the girl. You want that man she’s with, right…?”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] Let Walter? But Walter wasn’t an Elf. Her initial confusion had quickly turned to realization. He was [i part] Elf. How? He answered without her needing to voice the question. And Royland [i knew], and was fine with it. At some point while the conversation continued, after she had been calmed, they continued to walk. Sumina mostly listened, turning the trip from planning an escape to foraging for food. Especially when she led them towards the edge of the town, their presumed eventual destination. Sumina occasionally paused the talking to make note of something, or to use magic to catch something up in a tree.
She did have a few questions for Walter while they gathered what they could, and found out that he didn’t really learn any of the culture. That seemed a little sad to her, that he was missing out on all of that. [i Display] was one way to put what happened back there. She couldn’t help but grow a little more bashful thinking back to it. Was that what he’d meant? Posturing to keep their hosts away? But he’d been so genuinely furious. Like he’d spoken without thinking first. But surely he didn’t really mean to want in her bed, did he? That was one big question still unanswered. Walter certainly couldn’t explain what Royland had meant when he said that, only Royland could.
“Of course.” Sumina gave Walter a little smile. “I don’t intend to abandon him. Any of you. Not while I can still help, and if that help is wanted.” That was the only thing. She didn’t want to overstay any welcome, or make things worse. “We best head back and cook what we have. It won’t be anything fancy, but we won’t starve.”
With her skirt held in one hand to make a little pocket she had placed several edible plants and herbs she’d found. The couple of squirrels she had used magic to snare in a tree, then dropped down, dead, she had requested Walter carry for her. Not much of a hunter herself, but she could put a little meat on the table. She obviously hadn’t taken any real pleasure in the task, but it was something that in her opinion had to be done. They were going to need their strength, and that meant as much food as she could get.
When they returned Walter forced the door open for her. One more matter to settle. He looked right at Royland,“Come help me with these, would you?” He held up the squirrels, dangling by the tails.
“It isn’t much, but we’ll have a little something to eat tonight, at least.” Sumina explained with a smile. She had first glanced to Royland, the concern only partly hidden by her smile, and then quickly looked away. Something was bothering him. If not her, then what? With her skirt still bunched she went ahead to look through their hosts mess of kitchen supplies. They obviously didn’t do a lot of cooking, but she was sure she’d find what she needed to cook [i something]. And she really didn’t feel bad for just helping herself to borrowing their dishes after everything that happened. It wasn’t like they were stealing their food or anything, only dirtying and then washing dishes. Judging from the things she was seeing, they might even leave them cleaner than when she found them.
Once he had his friend outside to dress the tiny catch Walter brought it up. He could tell Royland was in a bit of a mood. Sirius and Alain had no doubt said something, but he wasn’t going to wait and let Royland hurt Sumina’s feelings again. “She thought you didn’t like her because she’s an Elf.”
It was a little blunt and to the point, but his friend had been avoiding this long enough to nearly make a girl cry. “You need to talk to her. So you’re going to take this meat in and let her know you don’t hate her because of her family. She needs to hear it from [i you].”
Walter planned to send Royland in, then call Sirius and Alain out to ‘help him’ with clean up out here or something, and then keep the door shut until he was satisfied that Royland had spoken with her.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
Stolen? Aias’s face was hard. He didn’t like being accused of stealing. The horses were now theirs by right, since his parents now owned the castle. It wasn’t some petty thieving like these bandits. He and his family, his people, had conquered not stolen.
Not that all of that did him any good surrounded and outnumbered by cutthroat, dirty pillagers. After several tense seconds looking at the points of weapons aimed at him, Aias had to admit there was no choice. The horses would be forfeit. But sold out? No one would know they were coming except… their prey. So they were close. How close?
After reluctantly dismounting, and instructing the others to do the same, they were all forced to give up anything of value. Which wasn’t much, besides the horses. Food and supplies mainly.
“Who told of our arrival? A man, human? Perhaps traveling with a few other men. How many? When did they pass through?”
How far ahead was the King? If he was close enough it would be worth it to go ahead even without supplies rather than turn back. Then when they set this awful place to their backs to return they could do so with the former King.
Although initially silent, Walter was quick to face Sumina, hands on her shoulders to steady her shaking frame. Her tear stained face was the last thing he wanted to explain to Royland – but it was also the last thing he wanted to see. Her troubles were understandable. Royland could be such an open book, but as quickly as those pages were exposed to the world, they seemed to be wiped clean. Anything to keep everyone guessing. Anything to protect himself from what he perceived to be imminent heartbreak at every turn. A sensitive soul with nonsensical methods. Walter sighed.
“Lady Sumina… If it is one thing that I know about Royland, it is that I know he holds no ill will towards you or your family for who they are.” Slowly, he released her from his gentle handling. “After all, would he have let [i me] accompany him, knowing that the Elves would assuredly overthrow him?” Walter smiled, hoping that his implication was clear. He was far from a full-blooded Elf, in fact, he could not speak their language, he could not mend flesh, nor use magic, and wasn’t familiar with their culture. His family did not even receive a dried meat recipe – though they are so often passed down from generation to generation, from what he understood.
“My grandmother…” Walter explained. “I never met her. She was killed when the Elves were forced into the mountain range nearly fifty years ago. My grandfather survived, with his son. My father. Who married a human woman, who then gave birth to me.” He searched Sumina’s eyes for any hint of lingering uncertainty. Eventually, he went on to explain how Royland came to know of his secret. It was originally the naïve question of a child who did not understand that not everyone was bred from royal lineage. It resulted in a friendly rivalry throughout their childhood, grew into a healthy respect for one another in adolescence, and culminated in a lifelong friendship in adulthood. At every moment where his abilities might have been questioned, or he was mistreated by the occasional old countrymen that had known his grandfather, Royland quickly came to his rescue with reckless abandon. Often using language unfit for a prince, but always with earnest motives. Though he had grown to be less honest with himself and his feelings as time went on, in an attempt to not be considered weak by his adversaries, the content of his character remained.
“If his… [i display] earlier was any indication… He wants you by his side. Think of how he never stopped to question your saving of myself, or Sirius. How he never questioned your accompanying of us… I would give him some time.” It was probably the last thing Royland would want exposed. But Walter simply could not stand idly by, while his actions harmed the feelings of another, who didn’t know him well enough to ride out the stormy seas of his past. “There are many things about him you have yet to find out… Perhaps once you do, all will become clear. Until then, Lady Sumina… Won’t you please take care of him?”
The crude door made an echoing crack – once as it opened to the quiet evening air, and another when it shut. As if he was waiting for Sumina’s departure, Royland let out a sigh of… relief? Sirius and Alain eyed him harshly, waiting for the footsteps outside to recede before they laid into him.
“She’ll grow impatient if you continue to treat her that way, Royland.” Sirius founded his arms across his chest. More than that, he had a separate issue with his earlier declaration. “First you denounce the idea that your fates are tied, then you claim her as your possession.” Royland winced.
“Not only that,” Alain began, “You avert your eyes at every chance you get. What is it that you’re afraid to see if you look at her?” Silence. Royland would continually refuse to answer, despite being prodded. Every beat of his heart seemed to come ever quicker. Royland’s ears grew hot as he continued to replay the words he had so carelessly, damn near shouted to the heavens above and all that would listen. More importantly, what was that voice echoing in the back of his mind? That primal urge he felt to compete at the sight of any man who dared showed a vested interest in her. The King of Volaire, surely, had no reason to feel insecure.
Sirius was the first to speak after a long while. “…She’s nothing like Lenoir.”
“Sirius, [i [b do not]]--…”
“It’s the truth! Lady Sumina is honest and kind… She was never interested in using us for her own selfish gain. From the beginning, she was on our side. Even when you were proclaiming the right to her bed in the eyes of uncivilized brutes, she offered comforts to you. Yet you treat her as though she’s a bother.”
“[i Enough.] I won’t hear it anymore—”
“[i With all due respect,] Royland. You’re no longer King, for all intents and purposes.” Alain, in Royland’s humble opinion, seemed a bit too eager to make that point known to him. But he was right. They were both right. In the haze of memories, of a thought that hadn’t crossed his mind in a long time, was the image of woman with flaxen hair. She smiled, soiling her dress as she knelt in a field of flowers. In the next recollection, she was speaking to a shell-shocked Royland, dress on the floor, hand on his chest. Flustered, he left the room, angrily approaching his father in the next moment, who seemed disappointed that his son had not taken the opportunity so carefully laid out for him.
Shaking his head, Royland retreated to the confines of his mind, much to Sirius and Alain’s dismay. Try as they might, they could not get another unnecessary word out of him. It wasn’t until Sumina and Walter would return that he would voluntarily speak aloud again that night.
In what little light was left at dusk, the bandit dared not take his eyes off of Aias until the burly leader arrived. With a toothy grin, he confidently approached his prey, fantasizing about the pound of flesh that would soon be on his butcher’s block.
“You? You got business in Pimli? And what is the nature of said [i business]?” He didn’t need a response. The answer presented itself immediately. The ornate embroidery of the saddles, and even the reins were engraved with the emblem of the King. But… “Didn’t know the King employed Points to search on horseback.” A member of the search party seemed to bristle at the casual, derogatory remark. All the more ammunition for the bandits to use.
Taunts from the forest came almost immediately, filling the air, and carrying to what part of the city they could reach, eventually drawing reinforcements. “Elves ain’t welcome in that castle, as far as I remember… Let alone the stables… So, you’ve stolen something from the King as well? Brave bastards. But, unlucky. Someone sold you lads out… And we’re takin’ all you got.”
Six bandits flanked each man and steed, aiming their weapons to force them to dismount. Slowly, and without undue trouble. If they were to keep their lives, they would comply. The first steed free was quickly mounted by the one that would deliver the cry signaling spoils to the rest of the town.
“You let them know we’re eating good tonight! Guess those thieves were telling the truth!”
[left [pic https://i.imgur.com/n90UwYf.jpg]] It had struck her as a little odd that Royland was so willing to not only protect her but hold her hand. Odd, but welcome. The physical touch was somewhat reassuring, soothing a little of her anxiousness. When he did let go, there was a reluctance to let his fingers slip away from hers, but she wasn’t going to cling to him like a frightened child.
Royland’s sudden defense of her came as something of a surprise. Mostly because of the intensity. It nearly made her choke on the mead she was trying to politely drink. Drinking merely to prove that she [i could], and wasn’t so delicate that she couldn’t drink their bad moonshine. There was a fierceness in him. Under the regal restraint he normally held he was a deeply passionate person, and had a temper. While the other three convinced him, Sumina lightly rested her hand on his back, her palm between his shoulder blades. A silent attempt to let him know these men weren’t worth it. Her voice was a little lost in the tense atmosphere, which only lessened a little when the younger brother was released. She didn’t let her hand linger long, though it [i was] tempting to. After only a few seconds she withdrew her hand and stepped away.
Sips of awful mead couldn’t really hide the slight flush in her cheeks. What exactly had he meant about [i him] laying in bed with her? The last words were practically ringing in her head. ‘She belongs to me.’ But what did he [i mean] by that? She didn’t get a lot of time to mull it over. The brothers decided to leave the stifling room to head to the tavern. Truthfully she was relieved to be rid of them, at least for a while, but she felt such pity for the woman. She had watched her depart with obvious distress. Sumina couldn’t do anything to help the woman.
Now that they were alone they were free to plan. Sumina joined the group, bowl of mead still in hand but without the brothers there to prove a point to she was much less interested in actually drinking it. The search party… she wondered who would be in it. How many faces she would know. It was probably best if she never found out.
Sumina could feel the awkwardness in the room. No one wanted to address what Royland had just said. When she looked at him, he was looking away from her in a way that felt deliberate. All that, and now he seemed evasive again. Sumina’s gaze lowered to the floor. An escape route would be wise, she agreed,”We may need a quick escape. I know there were good trackers among them, at least one will have been sent to look for us.”
Working from memory the men started to hash out plans for ways to escape and get to the encampment that was their goal. It sounded like the encampment was close, but Sumina knew the search party was probably even closer. And getting closer while the bandits no doubt set up their trap to take the horses. Sumina tried to pay attention to the planning, but was a little distracted. Both with concern for the search party getting closer and with trying to half puzzle out what Royland meant. And every time she chanced a glance at him he was looking anywhere but at her.
Eventually she stood up and excused herself, saying she’d take a look at the streets nearby, and maybe try to find a little something for them to eat. She went to the door, obviously intending to go [i alone]. Walter, Sirius, and Alain quickly exchanged worried glances. She could not be left to wander [i this] town alone. Walter was quick to volunteer to go too, saying he could do with stretching his legs anyway.
That took care of keeping Sumina safe from wandering eyes and hands. After forcing the door open Sumina and Walter shoved it closed and started walking. At first it was a quiet walk. Sumina was thinking. Surely he didn’t really mean to share a bed. Unless maybe all five of them would? That might be safer, but it didn’t sound like safety from having their throats slit was the only thing he was thinking about. Yet despite that, when things cooled he would avoid her.
It was probably good they went on this walk. The layout of the streets wasn’t very well planned, and makeshift walls and fences separated boundaries in odd ways at times. Knowing where dead ends nearby were was going to help if they needed to leave fast. It was a good thing that Walter came too, because every now and then there was someone lurking and watching, who may have approached if she were alone. But with Walter beside her, they kept to looking only.
Eventually just thinking silently was too much with Walter right there, watching her out of the corner of his eye. Walter wasn’t even making the usual attempts at small talk. “I just can’t figure out if he wants me here or not. At times he can’t seem to stand the sight of me. I suppose it’s understandable, after everything happened, for him not to want an Elf around. Not just any Elf either, my [i family] is… So why should he want me here? But then I’m [i his], and, and,” Sumina made a vague gesture with her hand. She was getting a little upset, having kept as tight a lid on it so far as she could,”You know. It’s almost like he [i does] want me, but then… It’s like he remembers who I am. What I am.” Sumina had stopped walking, having gotten worked up enough she looked like she might cry. She hadn’t even realized just how much this was bothering her until she started talking.
[center [b ~*~*~]]
The silence was almost as uncomfortable as listening to the brothers argue. Almost. The others were still somewhat relieved the bickering had stopped. They’d be glad to get out of Pimli, but the tracks they were following led ever deeper into the territory.
The King, or former King, had obviously thrown caution to the wind in some desperate bid to escape. They were still hoping to find him alive. All of them were thinking how satisfying it would be to drag him back to the castle and humiliate him before killing him. Publicly, of course. They’d be able to properly bask in glory then, instead of dragging back a rotting corpse and getting a pat on the back for their success.
Pimli was no doubt a dangerous place. They knew that, but even with their guard up they were in a hurry to catch up to their quarry. Perhaps it was that rush, or just that the bandits of Pimli were skilled at what they did do, but they didn’t see the trap until it was sprung. They came to a halt, surrounded on all sides. Their hands went to weapons, but their attackers were ready. They hadn’t drawn blood though. No, the horses were to valuable to senselessly injure in a fight if it could be avoided. Aias was taking count of the ambush. Too many. If they lost men now, they may be too weak a force to overpower the King and whatever guard he did have with him. Aias looked to the nearest bandit with narrowed eyes,"Let us pass. We have urgent business."
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