Both Edward and Mirriam got ready to leave five minutes before Ravenna’s thirty minute deadline. Ravenna put this time to good use by practising a one-handed parry and thrust combination with her sword. But it was Tyler who was having a hard time because of their delay. The entire village had gathered near the inn to say their goodbyes.
He did inform them that he would be taking a leave of absence and leaving the town for a while for which they had thrown a large party in the local pub. He was quite popular among the locals and they were showing their love one last time before he left. The reason why he wanted to leave so early was to avoid any attention but word reached around while Edward and Mirriam were still getting ready and every single person woke up early to bid him farewell. Most of them were actually more interested in who had come to visit him.
His three new companions marched out of the inn and the crowd yelped and hummed in excitement which surprised their guests. “What’s going on?” whispered Mirriam to herself while holding on to Edward. Ravenna continued walking and Edward and Mirriam decided to not fall behind and followed her.
“So which one is it?” Asked one of the men from the crowd loudly. The entire crowd started laughing and giggling.
“I won’t be surprised if it’s both of them” The crowd ensued into mad laughter.
“Oh look, he’s got a kid too” pointed out one of the women. Their maniacal laughter couldn’t be any louder.
Unlike the locals, the guests didn’t find it as funny. While Edward and Mirriam were a bit scared and confused, Ravenna was scowling. “You people are quite energetic so early in the morning. Save it for the rest of the day.” She replied, but that didn’t stop them from laughing.
“A feisty one, that one. Was this your type”? Asked one of the younger women. Many other giggled.
“Hey now. Give us a break will you? I’m glad you all came out to visit but you should go on and sleep now. Don’t waste your precious sleep hours on me” said Tyler as he got on his horse. The townspeople waved after them as they left and some were even crying. A few kids ran behind the horses for some distance for extended goodbyes till they got tired.
“You’re quite popular Mr. Tyler” said Mirriam as they rode back into the desert.
“They consider me a part of their family. I’ve been there for far too long. It seems only natural I guess.” He didn’t sound too sentimental, especially how he called it ‘their family’.
“Hey, I’ve held out for so long, but what are we going to Johancoop for?” asked Ravenna. Mirriam felt nervous. She wasn’t sure how to answer.
“Me and Mirriam have some important business to tend do.” Tyler covered it for Mirriam.
“I wasn’t asking you, swine. I have nothing to do with you. What business do you have there Mirriam?” Said Ravenna quite rudely and luckily it didn’t seem like it had fazed Tyler. For some reason, she had been hostile towards him ever since they met and Edward couldn’t understand why.
“We need some information from a particular person. And please don’t talk to him like that Ravenna, he’s one of us now. Your manner of speech is quite unreasonable.” Said Mirriam
“That’s right. Know your place meathead. You are a mere sell-sword. Do not concern yourself with your client’s business.” Said Tyler. It looked like Ravenna’s remarks did get to him. The heat was picking up.
“It happens to be my business because my ‘client’ has changed her terms and I deserve to know why.” Ravenna had finally spoken out about what Mirriam was nervous about.
“I believe a fraud like you should be more flexible to terms” Tyler’s words stopped Ravenna in her tracks and eventually, each one of them.
“What did you call me?” grumbled Ravenna, furiously.
“Tyler. No!” cried Mirriam. Edward was darting his eyes around, perplexed about the arising situation.
“A fraud! Am I wrong Mirriam? She deceived you the day she met you. Two crowns for ten days worth of being a bodyguard? Who are you kidding?” demanded Tyler.
“Listen well swine. It was the boy who made the offer when they had swords to their throats.” Replied Ravenna, with an elevated level of spite.
“That’s right Tyler, she saved our lives. Don’t question her services” begged Mirriam.
“Don’t pretend like she did it out of the kindness of her heart Mirriam. Am I wrong Edward. She just did it for the money.” Tyler had read Edward’s face while he accused Ravenna. Even though he had no problem with their deal, it was true that Ravenna had abstained from helping them till he offered her a crown as payment. Edward immediately shook the thought out of his head.
“And what about the second crown? You demanded a crown to escort them for a few days. That much work is worth two gold even if one were to hire a plated mercenary. You tricked them.” Tyler had shut Ravenna up with his final statement. She was shivering with rage. After a few minutes of intense staring, she turned to Mirriam.
“Do you have any problem with our arrangement Mirriam?” she asked her straight up.
“No Ravenna, not at all. We are in fact quite grateful for all you’ve done for us.” said Mirriam.
“That’s right Ravenna. You taught me so much too. I’m very thankful” said Edward with a made up smile. He had been worried about where this might go and was afraid of trying to intervene and get them to stop. He didn’t miss this chance to say something nice to her even if it had any remote chance to suppress the tense situation.
“Well, that’s all I need. I don’t care what you accuse me of or what you call me. My arrangement is with these two. Your words are irrelevant gibberish to me” she said much more calmly and started riding again. Like before all of them followed after her.
“Ravenna” Mirriam called out. “Mr. Tyler said that he will take care of your payment once we get to Johancoop.”
“Hmm.” she replied without turning to face Mirriam. She took it as an affirmation and moved ahead, grateful that the situation had not escalated too much. Tyler sighed in response and the four of them kept riding south.
After several hours of continuous riding, the sun was almost overhead. The desert was much less sandier now and was mostly level ground than the curvaceous dunes that Edward saw before. The four of them stopped by a huge pile of rocks where they found some shade. They got down from their horses and re-hydrated themselves and their horses.
The tension still flowed thick among the group and none of them had spoken much on the way. Edward wasn’t liking how things were going. The problems from exterior forces were tiring enough and he didn’t want trouble inside.
“That was tiring” he said to Ravenna as if it was regular small talk.
“It was” she said, knowing exactly what he meant.
“I’m sorry for the things he said to you. I wanted you to know that I don’t share his opinion at all. In fact, I am glad that you joined us on this journey.”
“I appreciate it kid. Why are you apologising for him anyway? You haven’t even spoken to him once yet. It’s his job, not yours and I don’t think he will anyway.”
Edward looked at Tyler who was leaning against a rock, fiddling with something in his hands that he could not see. She was right. He hadn’t spoken to him yet or to his mother about who he was and why they were headed to one of the four great cities. He looked at her feeding her horse Dixit and she caught him looking. As soon as she did, she averted her eyes, as if she was trying to avoid him. Edward wondered if she was still mad about his antics yesterday or if she was nervous about the ongoing tensions between Tyler and Ravenna. He shrugged both these theories away because he knew that she was simply avoiding him because she didn’t want to be approached for questioning. She just wanted to keep him in the dark.
Tyler walked up to Mirriam and voiced his concerns. “I haven’t left Braumchester for over a decade and it looks like a lot has changed since then. I would have been more confident about navigating these parts if the expansive plains hadn’t turned into a desert. I know that if we keep heading south, we’ll eventually get to Johancoop, but forgive me if I can’t take you through the shortest route.”
“Don’t sweat it. That is exactly what I’m here for. To make sure you don’t get lost or die” remarked Ravenna without any kind of animosity in her tone. She was now indicating the value of her presence. Tyler didn’t respond, even with an expression.
When they were done resting, the four of them mounted their horses and prepared to take off. “We’ll be passing through three towns to get to Johancoop. This is the safest way to get there. Each of them is equidistant and we’ll be resting in the towns each night while taking off in the morning. By my estimates, we’ll be reaching our first stop in the evening. It’s best if we maintain a good pace. This way, we’ll get to our destination on the fourth day of this trip. There’s a shorter route through the mountains where we can save one day but we’ll have to camp on the road. I don’t think it is worth the risk.” She was in control of the situation and everyone agreed to her plan.
“Our first stop is Bartel, an ironworks town. We’ll get there after a few hours of riding. The towns from here on out are much safer because of their proximity to one of the great cities. They get larger and safer as you get closer, so consider the next one to be slightly better than Braumchester. I still recommend we keep a low profile. I don’t know how we’ll manage that as we’ll be reaching there when everyone’s getting back from work. Just try not to stand out and let me handle the communication once we’re there.” She intricately listed all the important information that they had to know beforehand.
The desert landscape had now turned into rocky plains. Edward was just about tired of seeing sand dunes as far as his eyes could see and this was a slightly less appalling scenery. The sun was just as bright and piercing as it was back in the desert but at least he didn’t have to worry about sand constantly hitting his face. They still had their masks on to avoid sunburns but the best thing about the change in terrain was their speed. They were riding almost twice as fast now. There were still plenty of slopes and climbs on the way. The changing elevation still wasn’t a hindrance because the harder terrain was good for the horses. Edward initially thought that they would reach early this way but Ravenna pointed out that she had already taken this into account before estimating the travel time so things hadn’t changed.
As the sun started setting down Edward could feel the fatigue rise up but he kept going knowing that the destination was almost upon them. After the light of the sun had completely vanished to reveal the darkening night sky, he noticed that the air around him smelled different. He caught up the stench of burning and identified that they had almost reached Bartel. He looked at his mother smilingly who gave him back the same expression with relief. Although these expeditions were tiring, they were starting to get used to it. The fact that they now had two reliable companions made them feel more secure.
As soon as they entered the town of Bartel, Edward was surprised to see something that he hadn’t seen in any town yet. Many poles throughout the streets upheld powerful lamps that brightly illuminated the entire town even in the night as though it was almost the middle of the day. He asked Ravenna what these were.
“You’ve never seen any of these? Aren’t you people super rich?” She exclaimed. Edward didn’t know how to respond and looked to his mother. Indeed, he hadn’t seen anything like this in Vereen.
“Are these Celrock lamps?” Asked Tyler
“Oh, this is your first time seeing one too?” Ravenna asked him. “Oh yes, I didn’t see a single one of these in your town. Why didn’t you people get one? They’re not too expensive.”
“Our chief didn’t want to. It’s said that these lamps pollute the air and could even lead to poisoning.”
“True, but it is treatable. The benefits outweigh the risks.”
“It’s fine for these people. I’m sure they have healers and better access to medicines. We didn’t have the same luxury. That’s why we decided to stick to using traditional lamps.”
This back and forth didn’t alleviate Edward’s curiosity. He decided to ask Ravenna but saw this as a good opportunity to start a conversation with Tyler.
“What are these lamps. How do they work?”
“Huh?” Tyler was surprised that Edward was speaking to him. Even he just realised that this would be their first proper conversation. “These are celrock lamps. The availability of firewood and oil has been decreasing every year and the cost has been shooting up. A few years ago, tinkerers came up with a solution to counter this problem by using celrocks. They found out that when a celrock is placed in close proximity to a fire, it shines quite brightly. Thus, even a tiny oil lamp could illuminate a large area. This cuts down the consumption of oil to a tenth while producing three times the light.”
Edward was awestruck by this innovative device but Tyler could see it on his face that he didn’t know what celrocks were.
“Celrocks are crystals that were used for decoration. There’s plenty of it to be found in Silvervale, where most of it is mined. It was only recently that they were put to use for illumination. They are quite cheap and easily available. The lamps you see here are still oil lamps but a gallon can last them for over a year. A small fire is lit to activate the lamp and a chunk of celrock is suspended over the fire. Some pores are drilled on the glass of the lamp to sustain the fire and also leave a window for the sublimating crystal. It has been noted that the fire slowly sublimes the crystal over time and it emits an odourless gas that is mildly poisonous. A celrock crystal about the size of a fist will evaporate in a matter of three to four months. The poison is not fatal and is treatable but because the technology is new, nobody knows what kind of effect it has in the long run. As of now, people are investing in this convenient tool because they don’t have too many options to choose from.”
“Your town was using oil lamps just like ours. Except, ours were bigger and we had many of them.” Edward commented
“Yes, a few places still use the traditional oil lamps. However, it is pricey. We limit our usage to the best of our extent but I think you people were far more lenient with it.” Tyler still didn’t know how prosperous Edward’s hometown was. In fact, he had just realised that he didn’t even bother asking where they were from.
As the discussion about celrocks came to an end, they had reached what looked like the centre of the town. As Ravenna had indicated, things were slightly different from before. The houses were in better shape and people didn’t care much about these new guests in town as they were getting fewer stares in their direction. Most of the houses were still empty and it seemed as if most of the town had gathered in the pubs. Edward assumed it was the similar routine like back in Vereen. All the people would gather at the bars and pubs after sunset when they had finished working. This is where people spent most of the time socialising and indulging in some fun.
“This is the place” said Ravenna as they stopped in front of a large wooden building. Edward assumed that this would be the inn they were staying at today.
“It’s not the best in town but it does the job. It’s not the most popular either so it’s good for people like us who want to keep a low profile.”
Edward and Tyler took all the four horses to tie them up at the stable while Ravenna and Mirriam went to arrange their rooms. Tyler was done with his horse and Ravenna’s before Edward could finish even one. Tyler observed him tying up Diddy and stopped him halfway-
“That’s not how you tie a horse in a public stable.”
“Then how?” Edward now realised that his way wouldn’t apply to these places as Randall warned.
“Usually, we’d have to lock their reins with the stable rods but it looks like you didn’t bring any.” Edward noticed that Tyler’s and Ravenna’s horses were locked up with the stable rod using a chain. He neither had chains or locks to tie them up that way.
“We’ll get some tomorrow but usually, you can make do without locks. You just have to use more complicated knots. It’s better to use the less popular ones because fewer people would be able to open them. Here, I’ll show you an easy one.” Tyler undid the knot Edward made and started to make his own, while instructing Ed step by step. It looked like a complicated mess in the end but the process was much simpler than expected. In three tries, Edward managed to learn the ‘Jekkel knot’.
He tied up both Diddy and Dixit and after feeling like he had mastered a new skill in such a small time, he jogged to the inn to tell his mother. Tyler kept up with his pace. Right after the small, open doorway was a tiny room which looked like the reception. Mirriam and Ravenna were still talking to the owner.
“Didn’t get the rooms yet?” Tyler asked
“The rooms are full. It’s unusual. Apparently, a new horde of people showed up today and took over most of the rooms.”
“Then let’s go somewhere else” he said
“No, they have a huge common room available. It has several beds but Mirriam wanted to know if you’re okay with a common room.”
“I have no qualms if you don’t have any” he said to Mirriam and she nodded. They proceeded to finish the negotiation. They were charging 4 silvers for the night and Tyler felt like they were overcharging.
“I will pay my share Mirriam. I don’t intend to be a burden on you.”
“Please, it’s alright. You don’t have to pay after what we’re putting you through.”
“That is all right. I have managed to save up around seven gold over the decade. Pay it no heed.” He showcased his hefty pouch which looked like a huge bunch of silvers with some gold. This made Ravenna chuckle and Edward could see the joke too. However, it was a bit sad too. It had taken the man so many years to save mere seven gold. This gave Edward a realisation about the true value of money and he understood why Tyler had gone berserk in the morning when he learned that Ravenna was charging them two crowns for such small work.
Mirriam managed to talk Tyler out of not paying for his rent by telling him that he had already agreed to pay for Ravenna. Once she got the key, the four of them made their way inside the inn. A small diner was occupied with several men. Most of them looked like merchants and were busy drinking and eating. Edward noticed a group of six hooded men in a corner. For a moment, he felt like they were looking at him but he didn’t catch them doing so. He moved forward with the rest of them and climbed a flight of weak wooden stairs at the end of the diner. There was a long hallway in front of them with rooms on both sides. There was a wall behind them so they walked forward and turned with the hallway. There was another turn after which they saw a door at the end of the hallway which was supposed to be their room.
With their luggage, they moved inside. It was smaller than he expected but enough to house them for the night. Luckily, there was a small dressing room in a corner. The room had four beds. They took turns to change into more comfortable clothing and decided to go to the diner for supper.
As they reached the stairs, the hooded men which Edward saw earlier passed them and Edward felt some eyes on him again but he didn’t have the courage to look at their faces. He noticed that Ravenna was staring at them as they went inside their own room.
They grabbed a table and some good food in the diner. Without saying a word, they kept eating. Edward had noticed that the tension between Tyler and Ravenna had dissipated since they reached this town which he found very strange after what had happened this very morning. It was Ravenna who broke the silence.
“Is it them?” she said, to no one in particular.
“What?” said both Mirriam and Tyler in unison.
“Those hooded men. I noticed that they were all sporting an insignia.”
“What of it?” The two of them asked again
“It could be them. I didn’t get a good look but it could be the same one the necromancers wore that day.”
“Explain” said Tyler. Mirriam was as dumbfounded as Edward. His unease earlier seemed reasonable now.
Ravenna recited the entire scene with the necromancers that happened in Pompadoon in great detail. She also mentioned the battle mage that came to their rescue and also managed to call Edward ‘stupid’ several times in the process. Edward was cowering but more in fear than embarrassment. Tyler took it harder than they assumed. He was sweating as he heard the story unfold.
“This can be bad. I’m not sure if it’s them but we can’t take unnecessary risk and sleep easy. It’s best if we stay alert and leave early tomorrow” instructed Ravenna and everyone nodded in agreement. None of them could eat well from that point. They returned to their room and slept early.
It’s a quiet one like the last two but there was significantly more world building. I also planted some character conflict which is also reasonable. It’s important that there is always some conflict, little or large, in a freshly formed group of people. It is only natural that a group of different kinds of people would have conflicting opinions and interests. It also elevates the drama and paves way character development.
I also feel like making an early revelation here that Edward has above average senses after spending so much time in the jungle and because of his heritage. You will see hints of it early in the story like how he felt like he was being watched. Even Ravenna and Tyler who specialise in environment scanning could not catch that.