Derrick was amazed that he understood what the old man said. It had a much different ring to it than Gabriella’s speech, but he had no trouble understanding it. He stood up and faced the old man fully, as though he were just now aware that they had company.
Gabriella nodded and replied, “Well, and you?”
The old man scratched his side absently. “Well ‘nough, I reckon. Bit stiff, though. Been ridin’ half the day.” He paused and looked around. “I jest wanted to ask ye, tevnera, if you’d mind if me ‘n’ m’ young’uns camped down from ye a little ways.” He gestured back at the wide expanse of green meadow behind him. “I reckon you got the best idea, campin’ by that lake. Gates’a Tillabeth be closed long afor I get thar.”
“You’re right at that,” Gabriella replied. “Please. Our camp is yours,” she finished as she gestured around the campsite that was in the process of construction.
The old man smiled crookedly and looked around at Derrick and the others, nodding as his gaze returned to Gabriella. “Thank ye, tevnera. You got the right idea, you do, havin’ them strong young’uns puttin’ up camp for ye. An’thing you or yours need, don’t you hesitate now,” he added as he began to walk away.
The camp was silent in the old man’s wake. Derrick shook himself and looked around at his comrades, who all sported varying degrees of awe on their faces. Except Gabriella.
“Pray you, adopt some air of sanity. You each look as though you were country raised arrived in the city for the first time,” Gabriella’s chiding voice broke their stupor.
The members of the camp smiled a little and went back to what they were doing. Derrick looked back over his shoulder at the receding old man as if to make sure he really existed. In fact, he said he had young ones… where were they? Derrick squinted against the late afternoon sun, but saw no children, no wife. He shrugged and unfolded the tent cover. When he shook it out, a cloud of dust arose from it that blew directly into his face. Coughing, he waved dust away from his face. “Who didn’t shake this out this morning, Rick?” he accused.
“Sorry, man,” Rick apologized.
Fiona shaded her eyes against the sun and said, “Are they his “young’uns” ?”
Gabriella turned Fiona around. “Don’t stare.”
Derrick looked back over his shoulder. Two young men, probably not much older than he was, had dropped out of the back of the old man’s wagon and were stretching and yawning as if they had been asleep. They stood around scratching in rude places while they watched their father struggle to set up their camp. Derrick thought they might be taking a few seconds to wake up before they helped their father, since one of them shortly disappeared into the wagon. However, when he reappeared, he had a large jug with him which he drank out of and passed to his brother before he sat down on the ground to watch his father. Derrick fumed. That old man, doing all that work himself!
Gabriella took him by the shoulders and turned him around as she had Fiona – oops, Fiorra, previously. The small red-haired woman looked into his eyes firmly. “Do not stare,” she growled.
“But that old man… he… they- “
“I know. But it is none of your business, nor is it any of ours.” Gabriella’s green eyes demanded his acquiescence. Outraged, he shook the tent free of all debris and dust, causing a small dust storm of his own.
“Are you done now?” Fiorra demanded. Derrick looked around and noticed the dust storm he had created had floated into everyone’s faces, including the glaring blue eyes of Elise.
“Sorry.” Hmm, something about Elise….
“Where’s Fiaz?” Surely the old man would have reacted to Fiaz, even if he politely did not react to Elise (Emanuella… got to get that right. Ander, Emanuella, and Fiorra).
“He took off as soon as he sensed that people were approaching,” Emanuella replied.
Loud guffaws drifted toward the camp. Derrick glanced over his shoulder and glared at the two men on the ground, getting drunk, it seemed, while their old father struggled to drive tent poles in. Derrick’s eyes narrowed in outrage, but with an effort, turned his attention back to the camp.
“What’s their problem?” Fiorra asked innocently.
Gabriella pursed her lips with distaste but said nothing.
“Don’t look over there,” Derrick said. “I think they decided to get drunk while their father kills himself trying to set up camp.” Fiorra winced at his choice of expression, but he was too mad to care. What jerks. He had a very bad feeling about them. If he were by himself, or with Rick maybe, he’d go over and help the old man. Sure, it’d be construed as picking a fight, but those guys were drunk and he was bigger than they were. And when he was done kicking their asses, then he’d help the old man….
Derrick sighed. Unfortunately, he could only dream of doing that; he had his whole group here, he couldn’t just run around picking fights. Sometimes he felt like a shepherd and his comrades were his sheep, his flock… he had to think of them first.
The sun was sitting on the horizon waiting to dip below it when the old man shuffled over to their camp again, carrying something. Derrick stood up with Gabriella.
“H’llo agin. I got this galdor haunch here that me n’my boys won’t be able t’eat all of afor it spoils.” He paused and smiled apologetically. “Truth o’ the matter is, m’ boys didn’t salt it well enough, so it won’t stay good long ‘nough for us to eat it all. I’m thinkin’ it’ll feed you n’ yours right well, ‘stead o’ goin’ bad waitin’ t’ get et by us,” he proffered the bundle to Gabriella.
Gabriella held her hands up. “Thank you, tevner, but we couldn’t.” It was so strange, thought Derrick idly, to hear the words of respect for stranger that he had learned so long ago in actual use now.
“Oh, please do. We’ve already got some of ’t for tonight’s meal and we’d never finish it ‘afor it went bad. I’m thinkin’ you got plenty o’ mouths to feed that this’ll be gone tonight if you cook it jus’ right,” he grinned toothily at Derrick and his comrades.
“You’re very kind, tevner. How can we repay you?” asked Gabriella as she accepted the bundle.
“Oh, jus’ eat it all, I expect. Hate to see good food wastin’. Well, I got to get goin’ back t’ my camp now,” his eyes looked sad for a moment, but he recovered and nodded at Gabriella.
“Please, won’t you stay for a while? We were just beginning to prepare dinner,” Gabriella gestured around the campsite.
The old man glanced over his shoulder at his own campsite down the road. When he turned back, he looked regretful. “No, friend, I best not, but I thank ye just the same. Got a long day t’morra an’ I’m terrible tired. Expect I’ll be turnin’ in shortly. You n’ yours have a good night now.” With that, he was gone into the long shadows of twilight.
Their own camp was quiet for a moment as Derrick took the heavy haunch of galdor from Gabriella and set it down next to the kettle.
“What a nice old man,” Fiorra declared.
Rick moved over to the kettle and inspected the meat with Derrick. It was a nice cut of meat, but sure enough, it hadn’t been salted well at all. It might have lasted another two days so poorly preserved as it was. That was fine. They would have plenty to go around tonight, instead of just boiled vegetables and dried strips of beef.
Later, as they were laying around relaxing, Gabriella announced that she was going to the lake to bathe. Derrick frowned and Rick’s eyebrows shot up. Even the girls looked incredulous.
“Now?” Derrick asked.
Gabriella looked around at each of them, with an amused expression on her face. “And why not? In the dark, no one shall see me.”
Derrick was exhausted from the long day, but he roused himself. “Let one of us accompany you.” He didn’t like the idea of anyone going down to that lake alone with their drunken neighbors so close, especially a woman.
“No one shall accompany me,” she smiled with great amusement. Patting the hunting knife at her belt, she said, ”I can, after all, take care of myself.”
“But those guys –“ Rick began.
“Are long since taken with drink and are easily taken care of should they pose a threat.” She threw a bag of toiletries over her shoulder and, with a firm look at them, disappeared into the shadows.
Derrick shook his head and glanced at the other camp, where the old man’s two sons were still drinking around the fire, occasionally laughing loudly. As long as they stayed where they were, there wouldn’t be a problem.
Elise – Emanuella and Fiorra began shaking out their bedrolls. It was getting late. As soon as Gabriella returned, they would turn in for the evening. Maybe setting a night watch wouldn’t be a bad idea… they had an awful lot of jewels and loot in those two chests hidden in the wagon under the sacks of iro grain.
Rick cleared his throat. “We’ve got company,” he said lowly.
Derrick stared at him for a split second before he shot a glance over his shoulder. Damn! Those drunken fools were stumbling over this way. He looked quickly at the girls, who had mixtures of apprehension and curiosity on their faces. “Great,” he growled. He ducked into the tent and buckled his sword belt on. Just as he reemerged, the two drunk men had crossed the threshold of the campsite. Casually Derrick leaned against one of the tent poles.
“Evening,” he said.
“Evenin’!” said one of them, his drunkenness making him speak loudly. He hooked his thumbs into his overalls and said, “We thought we’d come on over and be neighborly-like.” His smile was short a few teeth, Derrick saw. “This here’s m’ brother Arl.”
Arl nodded as politely as a drunk could manage, but his eyes roamed hungrily over the girls. Derrick bristled.
“Our camp is yours,” Rick said reluctantly in an altogether more masculine tone of voice than Derrick had ever heard him adopt. Even Andrew’s eyes were narrowed.
“Yeah, well, thanks. Name’s Ranver.” The first brother was lean with blond hair that was oily, probably from lack of washing, and his roaming, bloodshot eyes were sea green. He quaffed down some of whatever was in the jug they’d brought along, leaving a trail of the liquid running down his chin. He hiccupped and offered the jug to Derrick. Struggling to keep his features from betraying his feelings, Derrick shook his head, tightlipped. Ranver shrugged and, swaying, stuffed the cork back in the jug.
“Where you headed, Ranver?” asked Derrick. He would be damned if they had to travel along with these scumbags all the way to Terruth City.
“Back home. North o’ Tillabeth. Got a small farm there.” Ranver handed the jug to his brother, who almost lost his balance trying to pull the cork from the mouth of the jug. “Where’r you from?”
Derrick thought the question was directed at him, but he couldn’t tell, since the man’s eyes never left Fiorra’s face. “Long way from here,” he replied and wondered if Ranver knew just how much he wanted to flatten his face.
Arl spoke up and pointed to Elise. “Whar’s she from? She looks like she’s Kin’keska.”
“So far away it’s not worth mentioning,” he said. In their inebriated state, this almost rude reply was good enough… he had left out the ’tevner’, which meant respectfully, ‘friend’ to a stranger, on purpose, although this subtly was lost on the men, who seemed not much older than Derrick himself was.
Then Arl got to the point of what had more than likely brought them to the campsite in the first place. “Tevner, you sure got some pretty girls with ye,” he blurted.
Derrick’s hand twitched with the effort of not grasping his sword hilt, which he knew was a deadly insult. Instead he saw Rick draw his hunting knife and begin cleaning his fingernails with it.
“Yes, we do, don’t we,” Rick said.
Derrick risked a glance at the girls himself, hoping that Elise would not take this moment to snap some insult at their visitors. Her bright blue eyes were wide, but she quickly bowed her head and continued arranging the bedrolls for everyone.
Ranver chortled and called, “Any of you girls wanna come on over to our camp with us?”
Fiorra looked up briefly, her face pale, but Rick quickly stood in front of her, his arms crossed on his chest.
“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. We’re taking our sisters to our older brother in Terruth City, where he’s arranged marriages for them. Our brother wouldn’t like it if they were spoiled on the eve of their marriages.”
Derrick stared at Rick. Where did he come up with that?
“Our brother’s a dealer in fine blades, and he’s got an awful temper, you know,” Rick reinforced his casual statement by switching his knife to his other hand to begin working on the previous hand.
“Oh come on. You can’t tell me she’s your sister, she’s got Kin’keska blood in her, with that hair,” Ranver pointed at Emanuella, whose eyes flashed blue fire their way.
“I’ll take her!” Arlo blurted, belching as he pointed at Fiorra.
“I ain’t never had a Kin’keska wench before. You wanna come on over here and have some fun, little lady? I’ll take care o’ you like yer husband couldn’t….”
Derrick held his breath and watched Elise as the detonation began. He knew that in this world, women did not usually speak their mind to men; however, since the woman in question was not from this world, he knew she would have plenty to say. While he would enjoy watching someone else be a target of hers for once, and that he would also enjoy flattening these drunks’ faces; he also knew that fights in this world took on a whole different meaning then that of fights in his old world. He was going to have to avoid a fight at all costs, but he wasn’t sure his temper would hold out….
Elise’s mouth had dropped in incredulity, her eyes wide and blazing. And yet… she said nothing? She was speechless! Derrick entertained no little shock at this, since she so often had a biting insult ready and waiting, custom-designed for him. He had a brief mental vision of a dragon just before it lets loose a jet of fire….
“You… you… drunken… unbathed, dirty, greasy, putrid…. I wouldn’t touch you if you were the last sign of life on this Land!” Elise spluttered shrilly.
Derrick feared for what would happen next and flexed his fingers, ready to swing. However, Arl hooted at the insult to his brother. “She’s a feisty one!”
In the seconds that followed this appreciative comment, Derrick thought the girl would become so enraged that she might charge the drunken man. Instead, her smoldering eyes narrowed and she turned her back on them and marched archly into the tent. He knew what an effort that was on her part… this was a girl who had punched a guy heads taller than her, himself, square in the jaw for a far lesser offense.
Ranver had recovered from the shock of being dressed down by a woman and had another grin on his face. “Come on, tevner,” he appealed to Derrick. “Lemme have her fer just a mark ‘r so. You don’t have to tell no one. No one’ll believe her if she says somethin’,” he cajoled.
Derrick had had enough. He stepped a little farther into the firelight and let his hand stray as close to his sword belt as he dared. “You heard her. She’s not interested.”
Ranver shot a lightning-quick glance at Derrick’s hand, his eyes widening. Just as his hand began to move toward his beltknife, Rick jumped up and, sheathing his knife visibly, passed between Derrick and the two drunken men.
“Don’t take him seriously. He’s the one who our brother would beat senseless if something happened, so you can see why he’s a little on edge. Can’t have damaged goods for the wedding, you know,” Rick flashed a toothy grin.
Derrick stood in disguised shock, amazed at Rick’s talent for improvisation. He felt Andrew join him at his shoulder, still with his arms crossed.
“Now I got a girl back home I’d let you try out if I’d thought to bring her with me. Boy, is she a fine piece! She’d keep you up all night if you’d let ‘er.” Rick had his arms around the two brothers’ shoulders and was accompanying them back to their camp. “Hey, give me some of that, tevner, I haven’t had a drink in… well, too long,” came Rick’s voice as he walked back to the other campsite. He shot a meaningful look over his shoulder at Derrick and Andrew before he disappeared into the darkness with the two men.
Derrick turned to Andrew. “Do you believe that? Where’d he come up with all that?”
Andrew was shaking his head in disbelief.
Derrick kneeled down next to Fiorra. “You okay?” She nodded, her eyes wide with fright. Fine time for Gabriella to be gone, he thought.
Derrick rose and ducked his head into the tent. He was half-afraid Emanuella would bite his head off. She was standing facing the back of the tent, shaking. Derrick cleared his throat softly to announce his presence but she didn’t turn around.
“You all right?”
She nodded almost imperceptibly. Wow, this was getting awkward. She was so mad she couldn’t speak. A good reason to get out of there. As he was ducking his head out of the tent, he heard her say something.
“What?” he asked, not sure of what she said.
“I said, I’m sorry.” The voice was very low and quavering.
Sorry! For what? Then he realized that she meant her outburst. And also that she was upset, not angry. “Don’t even think about it,” Derrick said firmly.
Not sure what to say, he remained for a second longer. He had a mad impulse to go inside and reassure her, but he squelched it with some surprise. When she didn’t move or say anything, he stepped further into the tent and, a little hesitantly, laid a hand on her shoulder. She jumped, startled.
“Easy,” he said in a calm voice. “Don’t worry about them, it won’t happen again.”
Derrick could see by the way she took a deep breath that she was struggling for composure. He hoped she wasn’t crying; he didn’t think he’d ever seen her cry. Surely she wasn’t that upset. He craned his neck for a glimpse of her face, knowing he wouldn’t be able to walk out of this tent if she were crying. Part of him found the idea of having to console Elise quite a distasteful prospect, but another part of him found the idea rather… intriguing.
Her face was dry, to Derrick’s great relief, though set grimly. Awkwardly, he squeezed her shoulder briefly before he stepped out of the tent again. Whew.
He looked down at Fiorra. She was sitting on her bedroll, holding her knees close to her, staring gloomily into the fire. Andrew looked at him.
“I think we definitely need to set a watch tonight.”
Derrick wholeheartedly agreed with that. Just as he was about to voice his assent, he heard a noise in the dark and whirled around, his hand curling around the hilt of his sword.
Rick’s face thrust itself into the firelight. “It’s just me,” Rick said as he came up to the fire and rubbed his hands in front of it to warm them. “They’re snoring. As soon as they sat down, they said a few words and zonked out. Sleeping like babies.”
Derrick and Andrew both sighed a breath of relief.
“You,” Rick said pointedly to Derrick, “have got to relax. You can’t kill everybody who ticks you off, man.”
Derrick knew that. But they had made him so mad! Rick was right, he was going to have to control himself, take stuff like that in stride, especially since they were probably going to get a lot more of that. Maybe he should take a lesson in bull from Rick.
“Yeah, I know.” He and Andrew sat down around the fire with Rick. “So. How’s their liquor?”
Rick made a face. “Like fire, man. Really rough stuff. I can still taste it.” He made another face to illustrate his point.
Derrick grinned and said to Andrew, “He’s just a lightweight, that’s all.”
Andrew grinned back. At that moment, Gabriella reappeared.
“Everything okay?” she asked brightly.