Chapter 2 of a new fantasy book idea I have. Feedback is greatly appreciated.
Pink streaks crossed the lightening horizon with the onset of dawn, and one lone figure in red priest’s robes walked slowly down the street of the sleeping little town. Early morning sunlight glinted off a gold medallion hung around his neck by a thin gold chain. Engraved on the front of the medallion were runes and the head of a dragon. Upon seeing a wooden sign simply engraved with the word “Inn” hanging over the door of one silent two-story building just ahead of him, the pedestrian quickened his step. Upon reaching the closed door, the brown-haired man in red knocked. A minute passed with no answer, so he knocked again, placing a sense of urgency in it. He still got no answer, though. He sighed and opened the door. “Hello?” he said as he stepped across the threshold and looked around. “Anybody home?”
The room he was in was small and devoid of anything but a few lanterns on the walls and a closed door by a staircase at the far end of the room. Halfway in on the right wall was an open doorway leading to a small dining area.
“Hello?” he asked again.
The door next to the staircase creaked open and an old man in a nightcap and nightshirt stepped into the foyer, rubbing his eyes as he tried to wake up fully.
“I’m sorry to disturb you so early in the morning,” Tarn said to the old man, “but I need...”
“You’d like a room,” the innkeeper said as he walked slowly up to Tarn. “I know. That’s what they all want, those travellers who come to my inn. A room and a good, hot meal. Well, come on in and have a seat, my good young priest. I’ll have my wife fix you something to eat while I get you a room fixed up.” The old man motioned Tarn to the doorway leading to the dining area then started to head back through the door by the staircase.
“Actually, I just wanted some information,” Tarn told the innkeeper.
The old man turned around and nodded once. “I see. Well, what do you wish to know?”
Tarn held out a hand towards the old man and whispered a few words. A small, translucent image of a pretty redheaded swordswoman appeared, floating in the palm of Tarn’s hand. “Have you seen this woman?” he asked the innkeeper.
The old innkeeper walked back to Tarn, eyed the image, and nodded. “Aye, I know her. That’s Miss Althea, the famous monster hunter. She was just here about a week ago.”
“A monster hunter?” Tarn asked, surprised. The woman did not seem like the hunter type to him.
The old man nodded again. “That’s right. We hired her and her elf partner to get rid of a band of goblins nearby. We’d heard rumors that they were very good, probably the best that money could hire. But the rumors didn’t do them justice. They certainly more than earned the thirty gold coins we paid them.”
“She has an elf partner?” Tarn said, even more surprised.
“Yes. He’s an attractive young man with long, white-blonde hair. I believe I heard her call him 'Loren'. And he has a large white wolf with him.”
“A wolf, too?” Tarn had not thought the woman could surprise him any further, but she had managed to.
The innkeeper nodded yet again. “Yep. But I don’t think that’s any ordinary wolf. Something about it...about its eyes....” The old man trailed off and shrugged. “Anyway, that Miss Althea must really be something, to have an elf and a wolf as her companions.”
“Indeed. It certainly seems that way. Do you happen to know where she went when she left town?”
“I overheard her say something about Maarkess to her elf friend.”
“Maarkess, huh? Well, thank you for your time, old man. Again, I’m sorry to have woken you so early in the morning. I must be going now.”
Tarn gave the innkeeper a small bow and turned to leave, but the old man placed a hand on his arm. “Leaving so soon, young priest?” the innkeeper said. “You should at least stay for some breakfast. You won’t get far on an empty stomach.”
At the mention of food, Tarn’s stomach began to churn. He sighed. “You have a point, old man. Show me to the dining room.”
* * *
Althea stood next to Loren’s sleeping body beside the campfire and glared down at him with her jade green eyes. As she watched him, he stirred in his sleep.
“I swear,” he muttered in his sleep, “one day I’ll make you pay.”
Althea shook her head, sighed, and squatted down beside him. “Loren!” she yelled in his ear.
Loren cried out and sat up. “What? What?” he asked, still groggy. “Are we being attacked, Althea?”
Althea sighed again and stood up. “No, Loren. It’s just time for you to get up already, you lazy bum.”
“Is it morning already?”
“Open your eyes and look around, Loren. See the sunlight? It’s after noon. I wanted to be on the road at sunrise, but I haven’t been able to wake you up. I honestly don’t know how someone can sleep so long and hard.”
The elf stretched and gave Althea a roguish smile. “It’s a gift.”
“Then maybe you should consider returning it.”
“Ha ha.” He stood up. “So, why’d you want to hit the road so early, Althea?”
“Well, I did some thinking while I kept watch last night...”
“You actually did some thinking?”
“Well, one of us has to, Loren.”
“Ouch. Okay, so, what were you thinking?”
“I thought it’d be nice to take a break and do something fun for a while.”
“Fun? You mean what we’re doing now isn’t fun?”
“No, Loren, it’s not. Monster hunting is work. It’s not fun.”
He mocked a confused look. “It’s not? I thought it was.”
“Maybe someone with an odd sense of humor like you would think so. But I consider it work. And I’ve been working for twelve years straight without a break. I’m ready to do something that’s a little more fun and a little less dangerous.”
Loren’s slanted eyebrows raised slightly. “So, you’re retiring? Already? You won’t last long playing at the simple life, Althea. You know it. You’ve been doing this for so long, it’s become a part of you. You’ll miss travelling the land and hunting monsters in no time.”
“I know that, Loren. And I’m not retiring. I’m still going to hunt monsters.”
He gave her a quizzical look. “You’re going to work and take a break at the same time? I must still be dreaming. How’re you going to do that, Althea?”
“I have a plan.”
“A plan? This I’ve got to hear.” He leaned back against a tree and crossed his arms over his chest. “Tell me your plan, oh enlightened one.”
Anju strolled into the clearing from the woods, sat down beside the two people, and fixed his ice blue eyes on them. Neither of them noticed the wolf.
“When we get to Maarkess,” Althea told the elf, “we’ll open a tavern or an inn or something.”
“Um, okay. And just how will that still let you hunt monsters?”
“We’ve already earned a reputation as the best monster hunters money can hire. When word spreads that we’ve opened our little business, we’ll make sure to make it known that if people still need our services, they can reach us there. We won’t have to wander around looking for any old job to get us money. The jobs will come to us. We’ll be able to pick and choose which hunting jobs we want. And we’ll have the tavern or inn or whatever to keep us financially secure in the meantime. We won’t have to worry anymore about when we’ll next get paid.”
“I admit, it does sound like a pretty good plan. But what’s all this ‘we’ stuff?”
“What do you mean? You’re my partner. I just naturally assumed you’d be joining me on this little venture.”
“I’m an elf, Althea. I might be able to settle down in one place for a little while, but eventually I’ll have to travel on. I can't stay cooped up forever.”
“Did you forget what I said? We won’t be settling down permanently. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for travel.”
“I don’t know, Althea. I just can’t see myself as a tavern owner or an innkeeper.”
“Please, Loren? It’s always been a secret dream of mine. Monster hunting is my life, but I’ve always thought I’d like to own a tavern or an inn.”
“Please? I...I can’t do it without you.”
Loren sighed. Begging just wasn’t like her. And besides, her idea did not really sound all that bad. “Oh, all right.”
Althea beamed a smile at him. “Thank you, Loren!” Then she hugged him, making his lightly tanned face redden. A moment later she let go of him and walked over to the tree underneath which her black cloak, her sheathed longsword, Loren’s bow and quiver of arrows, and two leather bags were sitting. She picked up the longsword and strapped it to her back, then grabbed the cloak and tossed it on.
“But where are you going to get the money to open a tavern or an inn?” Loren asked as he retrieved his cloak off the ground and shook it out.
“I have some saved back.”
Loren paused in the middle of putting his cloak on over his shoulders. “You what?” he said, turning to look at her with wide eyes.
She turned from the tree and held up a little leather coin bag. “I’ve been saving for a rainy day. I just hope it’ll be enough.”
“What?! Where did you have that hidden?”
“Somewhere safe from prying eyes and hands.” She turned back to the tree and bent down to pick up the two leather bags. When she again faced the elf, who still stood looking at her with shock on his face, there was no sign of her little coin bag. “Well, don’t just stand there, you idiot. We still have a lot of ground to cover before we get to Maarkess, and because of you half the day is already wasted.”
Althea then walked from the clearing, heading for the road. Anju followed her. After a minute, Loren shook off his stupor, put out the campfire, and retrieved his bow and arrows and followed after his partner.
* * *
Tarn stood outside the little inn, looked up at the afternoon sky, and shook his head. “I still can’t believe that I passed out at the table in the middle of breakfast,” he said softly to himself, “or that the old innkeeper and his wife carried my sleeping body upstairs to a room. How embarrassing that is for a priest of my stature. I just hope none of the other guests saw it.” He sighed and focused his attention on the buildings around him. “Well, now my quarry has had a chance to get a half a day farther from me. I need a way to make up lost time. But how? How can I catch up to them when they already have a week’s travel against me?”
His brown eyes landed on a stable not far down the road, and a small smile crossed his lips. “Of course!” He prayed as he ran towards the stables, “Great Samaryu, please, grant me the speed I need to catch up to those I seek.”
From the shadows beside the inn, a hooded figure in a black robe watched Tarn run for the stables. The figure nodded its hooded head slowly once, then vanished.
* * *
Loren and Althea travelled eastward for the rest of the day and well into the evening, since Althea insisted on trying to make up some of the lost time that she still blamed Loren for. The elf did not see what all the rush was for and wanted to remind her that Maarkess was not going anywhere, but thought better of it. He had managed to get back into her good graces, and did not want to ruin it again. He just followed her lead, and muttered under his breath from time to time. Somewhere in the woods around them, Anju wandered, probably hunting up some dinner.
When Loren thought his legs and feet could not take any more of the hurried pace that Althea had set, she finally called a halt. She stopped walking and turned to Loren.
“It’s getting late, so let’s stop here for the night,” she told him.
Loren heaved a long sigh of relief and sat down in the middle of the dirt road. He stretched his legs out and started rummaging in his leather pack of supplies.
Althea stared down at him in astonishment. “Just what are you doing?” she asked.
Loren looked up at her. “Stopping for the night, of course. Just like you said.”
She huffed and rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant, Loren, and you know it. Now get up and go find us a clearing to make camp in.”
“I’m sorry, Althea, but I don’t know if I can walk anymore. My legs are numb with tiredness and my feet are sore. Maybe you should go instead.”
Althea shook her head. “Oh, don’t be such a baby,” she said as she walked around behind the elf. She grabbed him under the arms and lifted him up off the ground. “You made it this far, you can manage five more minutes to find a place to camp. And you know your night sight is better than mine. Now get going.” And she shoved him off the road into the forest.
Loren stumbled but caught himself before he could fall flat on his face. He turned to face his partner. “I won’t forget this, Althea,” he threatened.
She waved a hand dismissively at him. “Sure, sure. Get going already.”
Loren huffed and walked off into the forest, wondering what he had done to be paired up with such a taskmaster, and why he bothered to stay with her.
Five minutes later he returned to the road, and Althea followed him to a clearing a couple hundred yards into the forest. Loren sulked, not saying a word the entire time they set up camp and ate a meager meal of dried meat and fruit around the campfire. Loren’s silent treatment upset Althea, but rather than let it show, she gave him the silent treatment in return.
As they finished eating, Anju entered the clearing, licking his chops. The white wolf sensed the tension in the air and knew something was wrong when Althea and Loren continued to sit at the fire, not speaking to each other or even looking at each other. Anju plopped down beside the fire, halfway between the human and elf, laid his head down on his paws, and let out a low whine. He did not like it when his two companions were angry at each other, and would have tried to patch things up between them if he could. But he did not know how.
The silence continued for an hour after dinner, and then it became too much for Althea. She suddenly stood up, startling Anju into a sitting position. Her jade green eyes glared down at the blonde elf sitting across the fire from her.
“I’ve had enough of this, Loren,” she snapped. “Stop acting like a child and talk to me already. Tell me what’s wrong.”
“Nothing!” he snapped back, then instantly regretted the tone of his voice. He sighed and looked into the fire. He could not look at her. “It’s nothing,” he continued calmly. “I’m sorry, Althea. I really am. It’s just been a long day, and you had us going at such a quick pace...I was just tired and hungry.”
Althea sat back down. “I...I’m sorry, Loren. It’s my fault. I...I didn’t realize. I wish you’d said something earlier. I’d have called a break sooner. I know Maarkess isn’t going anywhere, but it’s just that we’re getting so close and I’m eager to see if I can put my plan into action. I’ll set a more reasonable pace tomorrow. I promise.”
Loren nodded, and slowly looked up from the fire to give her a small smile. “Deal,” he said, and she gave him a small smile in return.
Anju’s tail wagged and he panted softly, happy to see his companions no longer angry at each other. He then laid back down to rest.
A more peaceful silence settled over the camp as Althea and Loren stared into the campfire for a while, lost in thoughts of Maarkess and what changes might lie in store for them if Althea’s plan worked out.
Loren looked up from the fire. “Do you mind if I ask you something, Althea?”
“Of course not. Ask whatever you like.”
“Yesterday, when you were telling me about your idea, you said you couldn’t do it without me.”
“I did?” She thought back for a second. “I guess I did, didn’t I?”
He nodded. “Did you mean it?”
She blinked at him in confusion. “Of course I did.”
“Why not? There’s no way I could run such a place by myself, and I want someone to help me whom I can trust. And I trust you, Loren. After five years, how could I not?”
Loren smiled at her over the fire. “Thanks.”
She smiled back, then gave him a wink. “Besides, just imagine all the business we’ll get once word spreads that there’s an elf staying there.”
Loren’s eyebrows raised in shock. “You want to use me as a promotional tool?!” he practically shouted. “That’s low, Althea. That’s really low.”
Althea giggled for a moment, then calmed down. “Get some rest, Loren. We’re almost to Maarkess, and I want to hit the road at first light. I’ll wake you about midnight for your watch.”
Loren nodded and spread his cloak out on the ground by the fire. As he lay down, he wondered if Althea had been joking about the last reason she’d given. Knowing her, he could not be certain if it had been a joke or not. But he hoped it had.