Joining the Caravan
Kiaran walked with Ryker through the cold. The sun was warm, however, the wind seemed to cut to the bone. The people in town were busy, rushing about with packs or embracing their families before they departed. It was quite busy.
An older girl ran by and Kiaran held a hand toward her, asking, “Excuse me, girl?”
She faced her, anxious to get moving again. “Yes?”
“Is the caravan about to leave?”
She glanced to Ryker and studied them both for what seemed like a minute. “They are,” she nodded. “That is why everyone is in such haste. I apologize, they are usually kind folk.”
Kiaran smiled, her face kind and shaped a little more round in the cheeks than before her transformation. Kiaran said. It felt so very strange. She felt like a different woman, and to her surprise, she didn’t like it.
“I was hoping we might join them,” Kiaran said.
“Oh,” she breathed. “Well, allow me to speak with my father. He is the one leading the voyage. Perhaps he will allow two more to come along.”
“Thank you,” she dipped her head.
“Follow me,” she began guiding them forward.
The girl was probably two or three years older than Ryker, and several inches taller. Her hair was long and light, pulled back loosely. She wore a simple dress that hung halfway down her legs.
Ryker watched her closely, Kiaran taking notice. He seemed awestruck, and she nearly laughed. The boy was so sheltered, and seeing a pretty girl was wondrous.
Kiaran grasped Ryker by the hand to keep him nearby. The streets were difficult to navigate due to the crowds. She felt a sense of being watched, her skin growing hot.
Glancing over, she caught a glimpse of Stella looking over women’s accessories in a shop. It was difficult for a member of the Zeil to blend in, however she did so flawlessly. Cyrin stood by a food stand, inspecting the corn. They did quite a good job of hiding in plain sight.
Just down the road stood four large carts where people piled their belongings on. Each carriage was attached to two, massive horses.
A tall, broad man helped people with their packs. He seemed gentle with the little old woman, keeping a hand on her back as he walked her to the back of one of the carts. He hoisted her up so she could sit with the others who were unable to walk.
The girl led them toward him. He faced her and sat a hefty hand on her delicate head. He was a man built from years of heavy labor, his skin tanned and arms large. His eyes moved past the girl to Kiaran and Ryker, his expression weakened slightly. He was stressed and they just added to it.
“I assume you want to join the caravan?” he asked, his voice rumbling like quiet, deep thunder from within his chest.
“If it isn’t too much to ask,” Kiaran replied.
“What is your name and who is the boy?” he asked.
“I am Anika Malik, and this is my son, Ryker,” she answered. What an odd thing to say.
He watched them for a moment, the girl following his hard eyes. “You are an unmarried mother, or widowed?”
“Widowed,” she said softly. She could feel her body tensing as she felt judged. Ryker squeezed her hand slightly and she loosened herself again. “He was a guard in our town...We lost many men not too long ago.”
“I see,” he thought aloud, “It has been difficult the last few years. Many people have lost their families.” She inhaled deeply, calming her nerves. “So, what business might you have in VinCar?” She stared at him, rushing to find an answer. “What skills might you have? It will be difficult to find work there if you have none.”
She scrambled for an answer and Ryker became tense in her grip. She thought of all the things she had done in her life. Fighting year after year for Nathanial--that was...devotion? Protecting the people around her--that was loyalty. “I am a devoted worker, and loyal to my family and employer.” He waited for a moment and she added, “I can clean well, and I am a quick learner. Whatever needs there are for me, I will be able to learn within days.”
“Can you read or write?” he asked.
“Both,” she nodded.
After a moment’s consideration, he said, “You may come. Perhaps there will be a place for you.” He took Kiaran’s bag from her and walked it toward the next carriage over. Looking to his daughter, he said, “These are the last, Britta, understand?”
“Aye, Papa,” she nodded.
They waited near the caravan. Several people came and went, adding to the carts. The old woman that the large man helped earlier waved toward Kiaran. Ryker noticed and yanked on her hand, pointing toward her. “She wants you, I think,” he said.
She hesitated, her eyes on the old lady with dark eyes and long, thin hair. She was covered in deep wrinkles and long, white hair ran down her back. Again, she swiped her hand through the air toward herself. Hesitantly, she walked to her.
“You are new here, are you not?” she asked.
“I am,” she nodded.
She scooted across the floor, and spoke with a hushed tone, “Your son...Ryker, you said?”
Her brows lowered slightly. This seemed conspicuous. “Yes...?”
“He will be a strong young man,” she smiled, only a few teeth clinging to her pale gums. Kiaran was confused by the statement. “You will raise him right, young lady. The boy will be strong. He may be a bit short now, but he’ll grow.”
“I believe he will,” Kiaran responded.
The old woman laughed softly for a moment. “Brinden will see you both safely to the castle. He is a good man.”
“Aye, thank you,” Kiaran nodded, her voice and expression rather uneasy. She grabbed Ryker by the hand once more and pulled him as she walked away.
Finally, that afternoon the caravan was off, making its way down the wide road. The horses pulled the carts with ease as the autumn wind ruffled up their manes and tails. Kiaran and Ryker were silent as they walked in the group of people. There were around twenty people walkingand another ten elderly in the carts with several youngsters. Brinden and his daughter led the way in the front of the caravan.
“Have you ever been to VinCar?” Britta’s voice cut in as she looked back to them.
Kiaran’s eyes moved over to her. Ryker watched her, unsure of how to answer. “No,” Kiaran said.
“Your name, it was Anika, yes?”
“Aye,” she nodded.
“You don’t talk much,” she added. Looking past her to Ryker, she added, “Neither does your son.”
“Once you get him talking, though, you can’t get him to hush,” Kiaran smiled, though it was hollow.
The girl laughed as she watched him, saying, “How old are you, Ryker?”
“Ten,” he replied. “How old are you?”
“I have just turned thirteen years old,” she smiled. “Nearly a week ago.”
“Happy birthday,” he smiled brightly. Kiaran could see his eyes glow around Britta. He was becoming attached to her.