New Friends, New Problems
"I still don't understand why I have to wear this!"
"Hush! People are looking!" Caelia chided.
Rhyli tugged at the brightly colored strips of cloth wrapped around her head. Caelia gently slapped her hand down and tucked a stray curl back up under the fabric.
"If you do not stop fussing with it, the whole disguise will be for not. Then how would you get out of the city?"
"I don't know, but I would have done it a sight less conspicuously!" Rhyli sniffed. "I mean, really, with all these colors and parading me so slowly atop this cart? You might as well have just painted a giant target on me! And speaking of paint…"
Rhyli scratched at her arm.
"Now stop that," Caelia slapped her again, a little less gently this time. "Honestly, I have never met another person who complained more than you. That adobe wash was the best we could do to darken you skin and make you look like an eastern princess--and all easterners wear bright colors, too. No one who is looking for you, who knows you, would ever think to look for you here, in that dress."
"I guess…but I do wish we could go a bit faster. I want to put a good bit of distance between me and Prydell."
"We are almost to the gates for your `royal evening prayer' and then we can head to the low hills over by the tree line. As the sun sets, we will be able to use the cover of the forest to shield us from any unwanted eyes from the town."
The girls' simple plan worked quite well and by the time evensong bells rang in the distance they had put half a league between them and Prydell. Because of the clear evening and bright moonlight, they decided to keep moving awhile longer and not stop to sleep.
While putting together Rhyli's costume, they decided that Caelia was now associated with her and would now also become associated with the bounty. As neither of the girls had a stomach to kill the bald-headed man and as he now also knew the name of Lady Caelia Eld-ar, neither of them would be safe at Prydell any longer. Finally, however, Caelia called a weary halt to the journeying and the girls made a sparse camp inside the tree line.
After some much needed rest, Rhyli decided it was time to rid herself of the outlandish eastern costume and annoying adobe skin color. A little ways into the trees there was a tranquil pond, so Rhyli stripped and dove in. The cool water was invigorating and banished the last of her sleepiness as well as her body paint.
Just as she was ready to climb out and redress, however, Rhyli became aware of a sensation as if she was being watched. Startled, she scanned the area while at the same time moved as quickly as she could towards her clothing and, more importantly, her dagger.
Unable to find a person watching her but yet still feeling that sensation, Rhyli did her best to quickly rise out of the pond and modestly dress with all haste. Finally, as she strapped on the last article of her normal, boyish attire, she was able to convince herself that she must be paranoid because of the encounter at Prydell.
However, as she started back towards Caelia's sleeping place, there dropped down from the tree branch above her, a handsome young man with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes.
"Funniest outfit I ever saw a girl wear!"
Rhyli drew the knife blade from her hip and took a defensive stance.
"I said to myself when I saw all that hair swimming in the water, 'must be a girl' but there was no skirt on the bank. Did you steal this outfit?"
Rhyli just stood her ground and stared with angry, flashing eyes. He had been watching her. She was furious.
"Not much for conversation, hm? Well, my name is Kal'en Kintana. And yours is?"
Rhyli still stood unflinching and unmoved.
"Right, and how do you spell that?" Kal'en grinned.
He had an easy way about him that was disarmingly unthreatening. Rhyli was completely unsure of what to make of the situation and so had no data with which to calculate what his possible objective might be.
"What do you want?" was all she could manage to say.
"Oh, so she does have a tongue!" Kal'en smiled broadly. "There is not much out this way for two girls such as yourselves, especially being followed as you are."
"What do you mean?"
"Are you going to tell me your name?"
"That depends on what you want."
"What I want is adventure and that is all."
He smiled for a third time and somewhere, deep inside Rhyli, something twinged. However, the twinge was a bit overshadowed at the moment by the rage, humiliation and terror at the thought of being followed by another bounty hunter.
"My name is Rhyliel."
"Well, Rhyliel, I do not know who it is, but someone has taken the same path as you and has camped at the same time you two did last night. Now, I asked myself, why would someone travelling the same path as you not walk with you? And then I answered myself--they do not go with you but rather follow you. That is why I say that you are being followed."