They made it to the town of Tuce with time to spare. It was more of a village, really. While surrounded by a tall, thick, wall, the houses were small and spaced apart. Water troughs and barrels were evenly dispersed throughout. Evidence of bandit activity still in effect.
Idriss insisted that Erinael ride Dasa as he led them within the gates. If they were going to try to pass her off as an envoy of sorts, then she was to keep her hood pulled up and he was to do all the talking – Erinael had a very pronounced accent. At the Inn, Idriss oversaw the care of Dasa while Erinael was to go inside.
Inside the inn, Erinael was greeted with a nod by one of the tavern maids, burdened with trays of food and drink. Erinael quickly ducked out of her way as the woman hurried over to a long table occupied by several men. Erinael avoided the long table in favor of one three small ones lining the other wall. It was in the corner farthest from the entrance near an over-sized fireplace. Following Idriss’ instruction, she took a seat with her back to the wall so that she could see the door.
Idriss came in a few moments later, going over to the bar to speak with the owner. He gestured back to Erinael, the other man looking around Idriss’ height in order to see her. He nodded vigorously to Idriss’ request before then pulling aside one of the barmaids and relaying instructions. Then the man led Idriss away from the bar and through a doorway past the one the barmaid had just scurried into. Erinael assumed it was so that Idriss could look over the room that was on offer.
After a time, the barmaid returned, bearing a tray of food and drink. Setting the tray on the table, she deftly began to unload it. There was bread, cheese, and cold meat, with a pitcher of water. Erinael nodded her thanks to the woman before she returned to the kitchen.
At the long table the men were engaged in a loud song, swaying their mugs back and forth as they chanted a bawdy tune. Erinael focused on the food in front of her, attempting to tune them out. The bread was good, dense and thickly sliced, it may have been better suited for sopping up a thick gravy rather than eating as it was, but she enjoyed it all the same. The cheese was soft and mild, slightly salty. It paired well with the spices of the cold meat.
She was just reaching for a drink of water when one of the men from the long table settled heavily into the vacant chair across from her. “You here by yourself?” he drawled, taking another draw from his mug.
“No.” Erinael said quietly, keeping her words simple. The smell of wine was thick on him, and she hoped he was too drunk to readily recognize her accent.
“Well, you can come sit with us in the meantime.” He gestured to his friends at the other table. “We don’t bite, do we boys?” the man hollered.
“Not much!” one answered back over the raucous laughter.
Erinael shook her head. “No thank you.” she said.
“Oh, come on girl. You might even have some fun!” he grabbed her by the wrist and tried to pull her out of her chair.
“Is there a problem here?” Idriss asked, seizing the man’s wrist in his fingers. He must have been squeezing pretty hard because the man immediately dropped Erinael’s arm.
“No, uh, no problem at all.” he replied, having sobered up pretty quickly.
“Then I think that you should return to your table.” Idriss jerked his head to the other side of the room. The man bobbed his head in apology before scurrying back to his group.
Erinael smiled up gratefully at Idriss, only to have him gesture for her to move her chair closer to the wall. He then pulled the other chair over to her side of the table, taking a firm position between her and the group at the long table. He ate quickly, urging her to do the same, his watchful gaze never leaving the other man.
As soon as they had finished eating, Idriss led Erinael to the room they were to stay in for the night. His watchful demeanor never dissipated, even once the door had been closed behind them and firmly barred and bolted.
Erinael took in the small room. There was a single bed, barely big enough for one person, and on it were their few bags. A single window was in the far wall, shuttered and bolted as well.
“They filled the tub while we were eating.” He gestured to the screened off corner across the small room. “You’d better hurry before it gets cold.” Idriss pressed her pack into her hands, his look telling her to be quick about it. She nodded, reaching into her pack for fresh clothes. Meanwhile, Idriss settled himself on the bed, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed.
“Are you going to be in here?” Erinael demanded, hands on her hips.
Idriss opened one eye. “Yes. Besides, it’s not like you won’t have anything that I’ve never seen before.” he said snarkily.
“I would like some privacy.” Erinael hissed.
“And I would like to take a bath.” He sat up. “I can’t do that until you’re done.”
Erinael was miffed by his tone, but went about removing her cloak and boots. Idriss had gone back to laying on the bed, and was soon softly snoring.
Better than nothing, she thought, going behind the screen and undressing. Next to the metal tub was a small table with a tray of bath supplies – soap, a scrub brush, and two neatly folded towels. She allowed her dirty clothes to fall in a heap on the floor while the clean ones were draped over the top of the screen, and then gingerly stepped into the tub.
The water was still warm, much to her surprise. No doubt brought in when it was still boiling. Erinael sank down into it gratefully, folding herself to better allow the water to flow over her. She then closed her eyes and leaned her head back, allowing the heat to work at her sore muscles. She had begun to doze when a loud snore from Idriss brought her back. Grudgingly, she began to clean herself with the faintly scented soap.
After having ducked her head under the water to rinse her hair, Erinael then stood up and reached for a towel. She wrapped the gray, stained article around herself and carefully stepped from the tub. Beaded water was more of brushed from her form than soaked up by the towel, making for a small puddle on the floor.
Once she was sufficiently dry, she then pulled her tunic on over her head, shrugging it down over her shoulders, before levering her britches up and belting them into place. Towelling her hair, she then went over to wake Idriss. He came awake with a start, reaching for his sword. Erinael having jumped back at his sudden movement, immediately tried to calm him. “It’s just me!” she cried.
Idriss checked his movement, sitting up with a start. He blinked at her a moment before remembering where he was. “Sorry.” he said quietly, rubbing his eyes.
“What was that all about?” Erinael demanded.
Idriss waved her off. “I’m just on edge.” he muttered. “Is the water still warm?”
Erinael looked at him aghast. He acted as if nothing had happened, and then intimated using the now dirty water to bathe in! He pulled his boots off before standing, leaving them sitting next to the bed. He unbelted his sword from his waist, but carried it over to the tub with him.
“That door stays bolted, and you stay in here.” he growled, pointing at her. “Get some sleep. We leave as soon as the gates open in the morning.”
“Now wait just a minute!” Erinael protested. “You cannot almost draw a weapon on me and then pretend that nothing happened.”
He moved swiftly towards her, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her to him. “Keep your voice down.” he demanded, his voice low in her ear. “If the wild is dangerous, then those that live at the edge of it are no better.” He gave her a shake. “Those men in the dining room are just a taste of what could happen out here, do you understand?”
He only let her go once she had given verbal acknowledgment that she understood. Even then, it was contingent upon her laying down and going to sleep.
Despite it being a straw-filled mattress, it was infinitely more comfortable than the ground that she had spent the last two nights on. She shifted about for a few minutes, trying to get comfortable. Being able to hear Idriss in the tub only made it that much more difficult, the sell-sword seeming to be taking much delight in the dirty, lukewarm water. But at last oblivion overtook her.
He was exhausted and irritable, but still Nolan searched. He and his detachment had ridden hard through the night, splintering off down the main roads to no avail. Even the Dead Hunters had witnessed no sign of her. In its way, that was a good thing. Since there was no body, there was a chance that Erinael still lived.
However, that was cold comfort. Especially since a majority of the Dead Hunters Nolan held counsel with had yet to hear of Erinael’s disappearance. He had been quick to see that rectified, watching as the communication spell had been performed. It had been unnerving to see the black-clad Dead Hunter kneeling before the flames and talking as if in conversation with them, but he had felt the magic that had been summoned forth and the vacuum that had extinguished the fire as the energy had been released.
“We will send word to you if we discover anything.” the Dead Hunter had said, bowing low and leaving Nolan’s presence in silence.
He had been careful to mask his emotions, but Nolan could tell that the man was equally disturbed by the lack of summons for the Dead Hunters aid. Nolan had no doubt that the Dead Hunters would exhaust all of the resources they had available to the search. Even if the worst were to befall her…