The man could be seen practicing his sword forms out in a meadow near Saviour’s Hollow, a small village found at the end of a mountain pass, east of the Grand City of Taeldarra. His lithe body gleaming with sweat in the sun. It was a dance, a dance with death. His long hair, braided with a leather cord, flowed with him. All the goodwives, maids, and young girls were there, sitting on the edge of the field watching his dance. Their husbands were working the valley meadows, with sheep or Cantiva Flower, the economic staples of the region. The town was quiet, just a turn-about-stop to pick up Cantiva and wool in exchange for essentials.
In a sudden flurry of motion, a bird burst from a nearby copse of trees. The man fluidly dropped into a roll, his sword clattering where it hits the ground. The thwap of his bowstring is heard before he comes back up to his feet. His expert skill evident in the burst of feathers where the bird was only a moment before.
The women all cheer, and the man takes a flourished bow. “Looks like I caught myself dinner,” he shouts, “which one of you lovely ladies would like to join me tonight?”
Amidst a flurry of blushes and excuses that homes don’t tend themselves, the women take their leave, dragging some of the younger girls behind them. One stays behind, a woman who is well known in the village, in a way a prodigal daughter.
“I’ll join you!” she shouts, receiving disapproving glares from the other women. Ignoring them, she runs out into the field to join him.
“I wasn’t expecting company. The women like to watch, to the disdain of their men. I know the townspeople don’t approve of my transient ways.”
With a shrug, she laughs throatily. “I am not generally approved of in town either, I’ve never fit in with their prudish ways. I am too much of a wild woman for them.”
“A wanderer in the making, I see.” He replies with a bark of a laugh. “Come, the sun is fading, and it’s past time to get this bird on a spit.”
Collecting his belongings, he pulls on his shirt. “I am Dagus, seeker of all things true and beautiful, and you are truly beautiful.”
“I am Tarlynn,” she returns with a furious blush, “and you are a shameless charmer.” she adds with mock anger.
“I do not mean to offend, my lady. I am very pleased to make your acquaintance Tarlynn.” Offering a small bow, he continues, “I made a small camp, for most nights I prefer to sleep under the stars, does this satisfy?”
“Growing up, my guardians had 7 mean children of their own, I ran away as a child, and lived on the streets of Tripping to the west, through the mountain pass. Sleeping under the stars is nothing new to me.”
With a small gesture, Dagus indicates she follow him, and together they set off for his camp in the dense forest edging the field. Coming upon a small cave, Tarlynn sees where he kept his fire. Recent ashes were sitting in a ring of river rocks.
Setting his burdens down, Dagus says, “The stream is just a little further. Can you fill this bucket while I clean dinner?”
With a flick of her wrist Tarlynn sends her raven black hair cascading down her back. She settles down and starts plucking feathers. With a smug look, she says, “Do you think I need to be spared from the gore of cleaning a bird? I spent most of my youth on the street. A downed pigeon or rat is not much different to cook.”
With bucket in hand, Dagus makes a face and shrugs. “Doesn’t matter to me, I’m happy not to have to deal with that.” With a sly smile, he adds, “Less work for me.”
Dagus returns and hears the bird spitting quietly over a fire. Turning it slowly, Tarlynn looks over her shoulder and seeing him returning she smiles and calls out, “By the gods, you sure like to dawdle.”
“I don’t think it’s wise to insult a Deia’Ferune.”
“You?” She replies incredulously, “A blademaster? What are you doing, wandering? Selling your services to the highest bidder?! You could have a posh life, working for King Davin.”
With a shrug, he doesn’t reply. They sit in silence, listening to the sound of the fire and the faint hissing from the bird. After a time he says, “Working for a man who is not myself is not what I envision as freedom.”
“Aye, I understand,” Tarlynn replies softly, her gaze turning inward.
They sit for a time in silence, neither feeling much for coming out of their thoughtful states. It felt comfortable though, for them. Like they have known each other their whole lives. The slow turn of the spit mesmerizes them both as they contemplated life. Standing suddenly, Dagus announces, “The fire will not tend to itself. I am going to collect firewood while the bird cooks.”
“Sure,” Tarlynn replies dreamily, “I’m enjoying the monotony of cooking.”
“Warm this up for me,” He says, digging a cast-iron oven out of his gear and handing it to her.
“Ooph,” She grunts, nearly dropping it, “Heavy, for a wanderer.”
“What can I say,” he adds with a shrug, “I like good food too, besides my horse, Samuel, doesn’t mind the weight.”
Looking around furiously, “You have a horse?!” she says incredulously, “Where?!”
Letting out a quick, shrill whistle, Dagus smiles impishly at Tarlynn. Moments pass and suddenly a deep chested stallion bursts from the underbrush, clearly pleased to see Dagus. In search of a scratch, Samuel nuzzles against him, softly neighing when Dagus obliges.
“He’s beautiful!” Tarlynn says, excitedly clapping her hands. “You just let him wander freely?”
“Yes.” Dagus replies, continuing to scratch a pleased looking Samual, “He’s a well trained courser. I’ve had him for many years, we have a deep understanding of each other. He’s my faithful companion, no matter what happens, he’s always nearby.” Dagus pats Samuel on the nose, “I’d best be off to get that firewood.” With a wink he leaps forward, flips over a log and rolls off into the forest, laughing mischievously.
“Showoff!” Tarlynn yells into the forest, hearing his laughter fade in response.
Muttering to herself, Tarlynn busies herself with dinner. Time turns, and Tarlynn is sitting there, lost in thought with nought but the soft sounds of the roast to occupy her senses. Samuel comes over, hopefully nuzzling against Tarlynn’s arm. She rewards him with a scratch and he whickers softly. Hearing a soft snap she starts and turns, jumping at Dagus’ sudden approach. “The Fifths beard!” she curses, “You surprised me!”
“Such language for a lady.” he says dryly. Setting down a bundle of firewood and a small burlap pouch. “You must be something special, for Samuel to warm up to you so quickly. He’s normally pretty shy, and sometimes downright murderous.” he finishes, half in jest.
Tarlynn blushes and quickly looks away, occupying herself with opening the sack and pulling out tubers, already washed. “There’s something about you,” She mumbles, busying herself with the work of cutting them up and adding them to the oven, warm near the fire. Closing the lid and arranging hot coals on top, she adds, “I feel comfortable with you, like I can trust you. I don’t usually talk about my past.”
“I feel the same, Samual does too. He has a talent for sniffing out peoples true intentions. He’s saved my life a few times, and I trust his instinct as much as I trust my own.”
“I don’t want to sound forward,” She says, turning towards Dagus, “but can I travel with you?”
Taken aback, Dagus starts, “I’m a lonely wanderer, I have nothing to offer you. I do not take charges.” he finishes angrily, the pain of a past wound evident in his eyes.
“You won’t have to take care of me,” with a smile and a flourish she produces knives in each hand, “I can take care of myself.”
“I have no doubt,” waving his hands complacently, he returns with a smile. “I feel I cannot say no to you.”
They sat there for a time, chatting idly about the local townsfolk. Tarlynn painted a picture of surly farmers, sitting around tables smoking Cantiva leaf while their wives worked, cleaning house, cooking meals. In acid tones she describes the women, under the yolk of their men. She stops, glaring at a grinning Dagus. “What are you smiling about?!” she cuts in roughly.
“Oh, I am just enjoying your spirit. You have a wanderlust, a passion for the unknown. A boredom with the mundane. Uncommon traits, for the area.”
“It came from a hard life. When I was begging on the streets, an old Ranger took me under his wing. He taught me how to take care of myself, showed me love, he was like a father to me. But when he died his family kicked me to the curb. I fended for myself for many years, but I came back here to slow down for a while.” Rolling her eyes, she adds, “And here I am, ready to run off with the next set of legs to catch my eye.”
Tending to the tubers, Dagus barks a laugh, “Legs?” he sputters, coughing on his surprise. Catching his breath, he continues, “We’re not really running off anywhere. Besides, I haven’t agreed to anything yet.”
With a sniff, she retorts, “But you said I could!”
“I said I feel I can’t say no. Haven’t said yes yet, have I?” he returns with a wink.
Shooting a glare at Dagus --which he answers with an innocent face-- she takes the spit off the fire, “It’s time to dine, I think.” She says with a small laugh.
She splits the bird and puts each half on plates. Meanwhile Dagus digs out the oven and opens it, revealing steaming tubers. They were thin and oblong, with orange flesh. “These are delicious!” Tarlynn says delightedly after biting into the root. “You found these in the forest?”
“Yes, I like to keep an eye out for forage while I’m travelling. I found mounds of these up the hill in a small clearing. They’re fairly common in Taeldarra, and so I eat them often. They’re one of my favourite foods.”
“You’ll have to teach me how to forage. I spent most of my time on city streets, not in forests. I dined on rats, pigeons and half rotten scraps.” Making a face she shakes her head. Smiling, she adds “Since coming here, I’ve come to appreciate the trees.”
“You talk like we’re going to spend a lot of time together.”
“Well, we will! You’ll see.” she says mischievously.
With a small chuckle, Tarlynn resumes eating. Soon they were done, with the dishes clean and packed away. Samuel was off in the distance munching on some brush.
Settling in front of the fire Tarlynn holds her hands out; for the evenings carried a chill. She leans into Dagus when he sits next to her. Looking up at the stars, Dagus points to a constellation in the north. “Do you know what that is?” he asks softly.
Looking where Dagus points, Tarlynn replies, “Yes, that’s Tidohr, the god of archers and of guidance. His arrow points to the south, and can be used as a guide.” Pushing Dagus down and lying beside him, she points at another constellation and adds, “I’ve always felt an affinity for that one, Balios, the god of Fire.”
“Ah, fitting, goes with your fiery personality. I’ve always felt comfort from him...” pointing to another area of the sky, “...Enir, the Spirit of the Earth.”
“I wonder what it is…” Tarlynn starts, stifling a yawn with a hand, “... about the constellations we feel drawn towards.” she finishes, snuggling deeper into Dagus’ chest.
“I don’t know.” he replies, pulling away.
“No please,” she says, wrapping an arm around him, “it’s cold and you’re warm. I feel safe here.”
“I can’t offer you anything.” Dagus says sadly.
“No matter,” an impish grin in the making on her face, “It’s just for tonight aways.” she finishes, jabbing him in the ribs.
“Ow!” he says, pulling away from her jabs. He grabs her arms and locks them in place, “No more poking!” Softening, he adds, “I’ll be your warmth tonight.”
“Good.” she says, relaxing her arms. When he releases his grip she pulls him in tight. Listening to his breathing slow and become more rhythmic. Tarlynn smiles peacefully and drifts off to sleep.