Boys and Heroes
Two roads led away from Lrial. Celene and Roxy travelled along the rivers southern bank, intending to travel only as far as a settlement called Telchin on the other side of the forest. The sun had set by the time they reached the docks, and everyone who owned a boat had already departed. There would be no boats for them to take until morning.
The village was small but prosperous. It looked like all the homes had been built from cedar lumber. Everything about the place seemed polished and tidy. Celene found the contrast with the dark and sprawled city to the north interesting. She wondered if there might be similar towns in every city—even here. Then she remembered the book describing a village at the end of the road. It could easily fit into her current mental picture.
”We should stop here for the night, ” Roxy said as she looked around. ”That is far enough in case we need to make an early escape, and there should be some kind of inn or tavern. Unless you want to camp. ”
Celene shook her head. She hadn slept well on any of her previous nights in town, and she didn fancy the prospect of trying again without her blanket and bedroll. ”I don see anything around here except the warehouses and the docks. ”
Roxy nodded and gestured towards the black door and open window on the left side of the main building. Celene followed her over to where three men were haggling over something. Her eyes widened when she saw what it was that was being sold.
”Wow, ” she said.
Roxy smiled. ”Good choice. I doubt anything better exists in this entire village, so at least we get a bargain. A good meal should do us both wonders after the past few days. ”
Once they had their supper and Celene was comfortably ensconced in a booth, Roxy paid the proprietor and strolled over to the bar. She settled onto a stool and started up a conversation with the bartender. After a time he led them into his back room and offered a toast while opening the small jug he kept on the shelf behind him.
There was only one bed, and Celene took it first. Roxy stayed with her until she fell asleep, then departed to explore the tavern. A short time later the barkeep emerged from the back room holding a tray. He set down a bottle, some glasses, and two large mugs. There wasn much in the way of food, but the drink was strong and dark. It didn even take long for the alcohol to settle.
As soon as it did, Celene reached over to pour more of the dark liquor into her mug. She had intended to test her limits and to be careful not to get too drunk. However, the potent mix was too tempting to resist. She barely touched the side of her mug to the liquid, but the result was enough to make her cringe. Her eyes watered and her body trembled. She stumbled away from the table and leaned against a wall.
Roxy sat on the bed next to her and watched in amusement. Celene could almost hear the amusement dripping from her words, though she still spoke quietly enough that the others in the tavern would never know.
”I can see why you have not been drinking before now, ” she whispered.
Celene pushed herself away from the wall and stumbled towards the window. She stood in the open doorway for several minutes, still trembling, her heart racing. The street seemed farther away than it should have been as if she had been transported across the entire town.
Roxy came over to help her to the bed. Celene slumped down onto the mattress, barely able to keep her head up. Roxy drew a chair closer so she could sit.
”Do you need me to stay with you tonight? ” she asked.
Celene shook her head. ”I will be fine. I am just not used to all this. ”
She wanted to sleep, but her body would not allow her to rest. Instead, she pulled off her tunic, wrapping it around her waist like a skirt. In the darkness of the room, Roxy laughed quietly. Celene didn care.
Eventually, she found her blanket and managed to wrangle herself out of the inn. She slept through the night, then rose early to prepare herself for the day. By the time Roxy woke, Celene was outside, gazing toward the docks. The sun had risen barely above the horizon, and she looked ready for battle.
Roxy went with her, and they began their trek along the river. Neither one spoke again until they were nearly past Telchin. They made for a small town called Abbotsford, intending to travel only as far as the city gates. By the time they reached the first stables, they had both grown thirsty.
”The prices at the inn were insane, ” Roxy said. ”I think we were better off buying our food and drink here. ”
Celene nodded and waited for her to finish arranging the mounts. She was standing away from the horses, looking towards the end of the street. ”Do you want to ride into town with me? ”
Roxy glanced back at her, surprised. ”No, let me stay here. You don need my company quite yet. ”
”I insist. ” Celene moved closer, gesturing to the road. ”I am not certain you would prefer a companion that insists on following you everywhere. ”
Roxy smiled and followed her out onto the road. ”There are few places I go where someone else is more welcome, Celene, but you have proven to be rather stubborn from time to time. ”
As they reached the centre of the market, Celene took her hands in hers. Roxy looked down at them for several seconds before smiling.
”They do feel warmer now, ” she said.
Celene leaned forward and kissed her cheek. ”So do mine. ”
Roxy smiled as Celene resumed her walk. She admired her progress from afar as if she were a bird trying to watch a nest. Celene wasn quite sure what she was doing here, but Roxy didn seem to mind. Perhaps being needed was enough for now.
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