They returned to the inn later that evening, after the sun had set and their bellies were filled. Foe told stories of great Dermite warriors. Caldor added in pieces of actual history to the Dermite’s embellished events. When they were back in the inn, it didn’t take long for the girl to find a place to sleep.
Liora had curled up in the middle of Caldor’s bed. The burgundy satin duvet folded over her to keep her warm. Her hands were folded against her lips. Her thick hair covered her face and her knees were tucked into her chest. She slept well enough considering everything that had happened.
Foe sat in the chair before Caldor, watching the girl as she slept. His friend hadn’t taken his eyes off her since she curled up in the bed. At first Caldor had believed the man had been concerned, but now he wasn’t so sure.
“She don’ trust us yah know,” Foe finally spoke, leaning back in his chair, it creaking under his weight. “I don’ know if she ever will.”
“Give her time - she’s been through a lot,” Caldor wanted to reassure him, but he understood the concern.
Westerners weren’t very open with strangers. The friendship he had built with Naygu was rare. The girl’s reaction hadn’t surprised him, but for Foe - a man from a people who were mostly friendly and open to anyone - it must have been difficult.
Over time he was certain the girl would come around, but the important thing was she was willing to help them. That was a start.
“I can’t imagine what she’s seen,” Foe shook his head.
“No need to dwell on that,” the sage took his pipe from his robe. He rested it between his teeth before lighting it. The tobacco embers glowed as he took a breath. An ashy taste of sweet grass and maple danced over his tongue.
“The lil lass has a fire in her and I don’ know how I should feel about that,” the Steward waved the smoke away before adding another log to the stove between them.
“Nothing, it is not important. What is important is she is willing to help,” Caldor patted the leather text beside him.
“Yeah, true but it ain’t just that. Talia was right, there’s somethin’ about her,” Foe narrowed his eyes. “I can’t help thinkin’ about the connection.”
“Connection?” that was a strange word for his friend to have used. What possible connection had Foe made?
“Downrow was speakin’ about seers. So was Bay’s Lake. The old woman - yah said - was supposed to talk to a seer,” Foe paused, grinding his teeth together.
“So?” Caldor wasn’t seeing what his friend found so obvious.
“What if the child sees?” Foe sounded serious when saying those words.
“Of course the girl can see,” the sage paused, “she has eyes.”
“Yah know what I mean,” Foe grumbled, “I’m sayin’ she’s the seer.”
“I told you that is not possible. Seers are not real,” Caldor sighed. “They are made up beings to help carry on a story or help a hero. They are haggish old women that warn travelers. They are fiction. Do I need to explain to you what fiction is?”
“Na. I know, but it makes sense,” Foe retorted, gripping tightly to the chair. “She’s the only one alive - she made it here safely…”
“Because she saw it?” Caldor wanted to laugh.
“Maybe?” Foe scratched his beard.
Caldor shook his head. His friend was beginning to believe in the nonsense surrounding them. Foe was supposed to be as level headed as he was. It was one of the reasons they had become friends in the first place.
As the water in the cauldron began to steam, Caldor leaned over to add some chamomile and mint to the water. He wondered if the girl might like having a familiar drink from her homeland.
“Don’t try too hard to find answers in nothing,” Caldor chided, stoking the fire before turning back to look at the girl. “We have more important things to worry about than seer nonsense.”
Their conversation fell silent while Caldor prepared the tea. Foe continued to study the girl. His stony expression told Caldor that Foe wasn’t listening to his advice. It didn’t matter what the old sage said now, the Steward was looking for answers to the questions in his head.
“Maybe we should call it an early night?” Caldor blew on the steaming water in the cup before bringing it to his lips to take a sip. The mint fooled his tongue into believing the tea was cooler than it actually was, even as he felt his taste buds burn.
“Yah can have my bed if yah want,” Foe suggested, leaning back in the small chair.
“No, I do not think I will be getting much sleep. My place will be this chair and a book,” Caldor set down his tea. He ran his tongue over his teeth. It was fuzzy thanks to the sizzled taste buds. “You need rest since you will be the one flying that beast.”
“True,” Foe pulled himself up, rolling his shoulders and cracking his neck, “morning comes soon enough.”
“Do not think too much,” Caldor warned, as Foe open the door.
“I should be sayin’ that to yah,” Foe smirked, giving a low chuckle. “Good night, Cal.”
“Good night,” Caldor muttered.
After the door closed, all he could hear was the crackling of the woodstove and the clomping of Foe’s footsteps down the hall. Morning would come soon enough, but there was still enough time to do a little more reading.
Liora peered out from the doorway of the inn. To her surprise, there were a lot of people in the streets in the morning. Most were large folk like the blond man who was tending to his beast outside.
The small man - Caldor - had gone off to the market to gather supplies for their trip back over the Northern border. The crowds of people kept the small man hidden. She had seen him disappear into the crowded market, with his woolen robe dusting around his feet.
The Morzi weren’t so tall. The tallest she knew of was Rebin - the Mor of Morza - who was close to six feet tall. This man was taller than that, which was unnerving. Even the women in this place were tall. How was the small man able to handle being around such giants?
She scurried out the door and behind Foe. Liora didn’t wish to be seen by him. She had felt a cold harshness from him when first meeting him outside the hovel the day before. The man was intimidating with his booming voice and stern glances, but she could sense that he wouldn’t harm her.
That morning, before he had gone outside, Liora had noticed his glares. He wasn’t angry, but he wasn’t happy with her either.
“I don’ bite yah know,” Foe piped up. He had heard the girl scurrying behind him while he checked over Vesper’s saddle. It was good she was curious, although he didn’t know why.
Glancing over his shoulder, he saw her large doe-eyed expression staring up at him. Those eyes reminded him of the polished steel or the glimmering surface of the western peaks. They were framed by her raven hair, and her dark olive skin was sun-kissed.
“What?” Foe didn’t like the constant stares. It was rude, but he was trying to be forgiving to the girl; she didn’t know any better. He didn’t know if her people thought staring to be symbolic, or holistic, or some other primitive mumbo jumbo.
“Are you a giant?” Liora asked, swaying back on her heels.
“Na, I’m average compared to some,” Foe smirked. The kid was cute, he’d give her that. “There are larger folk in Derm than I. The King bein’ one.”
“Oh,” her eyes widened at hearing that. She forced a swallow.
The Steward respected that she was putting on a strong face, but he understood if the girl was scared. Derm was a strange place for those outside the North. The stories the girl had heard must have also been playing in her mind. Thinking he was a giant wasn’t the worst question she could have asked. Westys’ were influenced by the South, meaning the girl likely heard about Dermite being murderous beasts.
They weren’t all like that. Many were good people, but the girl didn’t know that.
“This here’s Vesper. She’s a tiger tail gryphon. Can yah guess why?” Foe asked, as the girl leaned to the side to get a better look of the gryphon’s tail.
“It’s striped, like a tiger,” Liora chimed.
“Yeah,” Foe took a step to the side, “yah want to give her a pat?”
Liora didn’t want to be rude, but she didn’t want to. Gryphons weren’t dragons. Sure they both had wings, but they were different.
“Not really,” she croaked.
Foe moved to pat the head of the creature.
“I promise yah, she’s a good girl,” Foe chimed, as the gryphon cooed. The feathers looked really soft and Vesper appeared to be friendly.
Stepping towards the gryphon, Liora put out her hand, resting it on the gryphon’s side. The creature didn’t budge as she began to stroke the thick orange mane. It felt like the downy feathers of a duckling. Liora placed her other hand on the creature’s side.
“See, nice an’ gentle,” Foe smiled, noticing the girl’s lips part to a full toothed grin.
“Petting Vesper is a lot nicer than petting the dragons back home. She’s soft,” Liora chimed, burying her face into the mane. It smelt of fresh hay.
“Did yah ride those scaly beasts?” Foe went back to checking the gear as the girl continued to bury herself in the creature’s fur.
“No, I was too young. My frev did, though,” Liora remembered admiring the boy riding around the open field outside his uncle’s house. Revris was a natural at riding the powerful beasts, but it was more of understanding the creature than controlling it.
“Frev?” Foe didn’t know the word, but he knew enough that it was Morzi.
“Friend, as they say in the common tongue,” Liora replied, realizing she needed to stop using words others were not likely to understand.
The small man understood what she meant, as he had some understanding of her mother tongue. Not many outside of the West would.
“What are you doing?” Caldor shuffled out from behind the large creature, holding a bag in one hand and a small basket in the other. She didn’t know what was in the bag, but there was obviously food in the basket. “Are you permitted to touch Vesper?”
“Yes, Caldor, I allowed her. Vesper don’ even notice,” Foe assured. “Yah said yah were goin’ for food - that’s more than food.”
“I thought if the girl was going to be presented before the King, it was important she dress in something other than a thin dress,” Caldor said, passing Liora the bag. “Go change. We will wait.”
Liora glimpsed at the bag before looking back at the old man. He didn’t need to do that. He didn’t need to buy her clothing.
“Takk ca, ize,” she bowed her head, before hurrying back into the inn.
Foe turned around to lean against the gryphon as he peered down at his old friend staring at the entranceway of the inn, waiting.
“What’s takk ca, ize?” he asked, as his friend began tucking the apples into one of the side pockets of the saddle.
“Thank you, elder,” Caldor smirked at the translation. “You would say takk ce, as you are masculine.”
“Takk ce for that,” Foe grumbled. He wished he had a better grip on languages, but the girl would have an easier time adapting to the change than he would.
“We can go,” Liora sang, hopping through the doorway as the two men turned to greet her. They both had smiles on their faces. She glanced down at what she was wearing. Had she done something wrong? “What?”
“Nothing,” Caldor remarked.
The girl tidied up well. She had tied her wild hair back and the soot smudge on her cheek was gone. Even the ankle length dress - although loose on her small frame - suited her with its bell sleeves and sky-blue colouring.
“Come, me li’l’ miss,” Foe bowed, “I’ll help yah up.”
It was more like he tossed her up onto the beast’s back, followed by Caldor behind. Foe tied a rope around each of their waists before attaching it to the saddle. It was going to be a bumpy ride, but at least it would be a safe one.