Broke from Company Abruptly, as My Passion Now Makes Me
She didn’t remember walking to the horses waiting there. Did she ask the guard to get off the horse, or did he get off by himself? Was he even on the horse yet? It was like walking through the haze of a dream. She wasn’t even fully conscious of her habitual motions of putting up her hair for travel, bunching her skirt away from the stirrups, or fastening the pack to her back.
Durai never broke from her hand since asking her to follow him. He didn’t want to ever let go, he thought, for the rest of time. He had seen ages of time and all the wonders of Magic, so he knew deep down when he found something rare and precious.
And he didn’t want to let go.
Althea was on the horse before she realized and was blissfully numb to the whole ride. She was just taking in the excitement and strange anticipation full of sensations she never felt before. She was only aware when the crossed the other edge of Base Village after having gone through it. She hadn’t even noticed when they passed her hut, the meeting hall, the pavilion where the village celebrated together and mourned together. Only when she passed to the end where the houses stopped and the climb of the Hill began did she realize where she was and what she was doing.
She was leaving
She hadn’t fully thought of anything beyond the village, not in all her life. These were her people, and all her duty from her grandmother to her mother lived and breathed with these souls she had protected and treasured. When the full weight of what she was doing woke her from her trance, she looked away to see one or two villagers, people she knew, look after her. Would she really leave? Would she be gone long? Why would she not say goodbye?
Althea almost felt like stopping and running back to everything and everyone she had known. Before she could hesitate, Durai made some noise to turn her head to him. “My Lady Althea, I know that what I ask of you is a lot. Those people, they need you very much. I would not ask this of you if I didn’t see some need for it. Please, trust me. And know that I’m grateful for what you are leaving behind.”
So this was for more than just a short visit. She could hear in his words that her life was changing and that she was no longer of this Village. She wished she had asked for at least a farewell. But then she saw his comforting eyes, and she felt that excitement and almost drunken giddiness return to some small extent. Sometimes the rise and fall of the sun and the dance of stars brings you to a journey you did not expect, but sometimes those are the journeys worth having.
She was thinking and mulling over every thought and none at the same time that she didn’t realize that they had stopped. They had reached the gate of Courtside. She had never been to the grounds of the palace before, and she was now very much looking forward to seeing the gardens and homes of nobility. She was not the least bit surprised that this Durai lived here; she had sensed he was nobility from the first moment. She wondered if his home was where they were going, if it was close to the palace at all in the city, and what she would be asked to do.
As they rode by the elegantly grafted homes and beautiful displays of trees and flora, the people of the village stopped to stare at Durai. Althea could see that he was held in high regard; people almost stopped breathing out of some kind of awe or respect at his passing. He must be very important indeed. But what she realized even more as she rode past the people of Courtside and their elegant clothes and bodily adornments was that they were staring at her just as much as Durai.
She lowered her head slightly. In Base Village she was comfortable in her necessary position. She wasn’t the Village Chief or a member of the Elder Circle, but she was needed and important as the only Healer in that Village. Some settlements had more than one, but she was the only one in Base Village. And she liked the respect that came with it humbly. But that wasn’t the case here. Courtside had many Healers, which she knew. Some noble families even had their own personal Healer. So they couldn’t be staring at her out of that same simple village respect, and she felt dreadfully exposed. She didn’t have fine clothes and certainly nothing decorative or what she would consider beautiful in this area. The only thing beautiful she had was here hair, and she had that bundled for travel.
But these people weren’t looking at her in humor or malice. They were just as much in awe of her as Durai. Durai they knew and understood his stature and importance, and here was a woman he rode beside, not in front of like a master to a servant, and he was proud. He might even have a small amount of upturned corner in his mouth. Durai was often much to reserved to smile, but here he was in the closest thing they had ever seen to one. And rightly so! This woman really was radiant. Even though her clothes were clearly from a common source and her skin slightly darker from days in the fields and earth than theirs, she was nonetheless striking. And even if Healers were more common place in Courtside, they still garnered much respect. And the mark on this woman was more vibrant than they had ever seen. Her Magic must be something special.
Durai put out his hand to the reigns of Althea’s horse to stop, brushing her hand in the process, which made him smile deeper. He looked at her to catch her expression, but she didn’t look at where she was when she looked up. Just from their touch to his face. And the familiar flush returned. She even imagined what it would be like…
Embarrassed by her own thoughts, she quickly looked forward and away from him as if he could somehow read her improper thoughts. Of course he couldn’t read her thoughts, but instead he shared them. But he did not turn from them as she did, he swam in them. Soon, he thought, he might even surrender to them and be devoured in the warmth of fantasy that he would yearn to be reality.
But at Althea’s forward gaze she suddenly was shocked into the present to see the grandest thing she never dreamed she would ever behold in all her life.
They were at the gates of the Palace itself.