3. Her Encounters
Bryn tried to sort out her options and strategy. In the process she tried to control her irregular breathing that was caused by the heavy knot in her chest.
For a brief time she considered eavesdropping more. That idea was quickly tossed as it would be impossible to do and not be detected by the men. Perhaps she could accept their offer and then slip away at a more convenient location. The longer she thought about it the more impossible it would be for her to do. She would not be able to hold out such a lie for so long. She was expressively incapable of lying. That only left the option that was dangling in front of her the entire time. She must flee. The next stop was not far. She could slip out amongst the crowd and disappear within the town. She would find a suitable transport for the rest of the way, whether by boarding the next train, or hiring out a ride to travel cross country.
She was discovering that traveling alone was very complicated. That thinking for herself was causing slight frustrated bursts. She had to be responsible with no one to tell her if she was doing it right or wrong.
Once her mind was set, all she had to do was sit. Waiting was harder than doing, especially since it gave her the time to second guess her decisions. It was the cause of most of the frustration. She rose three times just to sit back down. Nerves and impatience filled her. She shuffled through her things, inventorying all of her belongings at least ten times before she let it alone. After trying to sit still and failing, she reached in her bag one more time to retrieve her double-action revolver. She had owned it since she turned ten, on her birth celebration day, from her parents. She took apart each bulky piece and scrubbed at the gun with a cloth to make sure there were no particles to be found in any crevice. She noted that she needed to buy more bullets. She only had enough for the cylinder. As she worked, her eyes continued to glance up at the forward cabin doors. In her nervous state, Bryn half expected these gentlemen to burst in and kidnap her. With that in mind, she also kept an eye out the window. Every time she did she saw a shadowed tower that was connected with the train’s overhanging track.
When they were only a mile or so away from the station tower the conductor, starting from the back and making his way to the front, was shouting, “Next stop, Meathold!”
As he was shouting Bryn reassembled her revolver and swung the belt around her waist with the holstered gun at her hip.
As the minutes passed all Bryn could do was sit and wait, while still watching the door. The train slowed its approach as they neared the man made tower-station. The tunnel was built big enough to fit the train snuggly.
The few moments of darkness as the train entered the station disoriented everyone and so they all sat in silence, until the orbs that had been placed high on the station’s platform slowly lit the train with its warm glow.
It felt like hours before the train doors were opened and those standing in the aisles were permitted to depart. Eyeing the cabin doors with unblinking eyes Bryn stood, tossing her bag over her shoulders and stepped away from her seat. She was out the exit door and on the stone platform in a matter of moments. Only taking a single glance around, she knew exactly where to exit. She had been in enough train stations to know her general bearings.
The station enclosure was not overly crowded, but there were enough people for Bryn to mingled in as she peered behind her at every other step. She was on guard until she reached the main archway that led to the spiraling stairwell.
In the center of the stairwell, dangling down the center of the rounded tower was a winch lifting a large platform that carried valuables up and down so passengers did not have to take their luggage on all those stairs. Bryn did not need it as she only had her shoulder bag. She took the first hundred or so steps, passing everyone in front of her. Even on the stairs she took a peek over her shoulder once or twice. As far as she could tell no one was following her.
At the bottom, the archway opened almost immediately to the outside world. It was dark and cool in the open air because of the sun’s fading glow. She paused a moment to allow her eyes to adjust before taking in her surroundings. The station was on the outskirts of the town of Meathold.
Bryn followed the main road to the center of the town. She was not sure what she was going to do once she got there. She supposed it was too late to inquire after the other traveling accommodations. That left only finding a place to rest for the night.
The town was smaller than she was expecting. It was well lit by decorative torches to make a peaceful atmosphere. The buildings all circled around a fairly large garden, with hedges and bushes and all kinds of flowers, in the center of the town. Every train stationed town had its own pleasures to lure in travelers, something bright and memorable. The garden was well maintained with multi-coloured orbs lighting its paths.
There were people still about even after the sun had gone to bed. They were not bustling about getting their daily chores and work done, but taking leisurely walks or sitting outside of their homes enjoying the twilight hour. It felt so peaceful and quaint that Bryn let her tense shoulders ease. After all, she felt safe, after she had made a clean getaway.
After taking in the sight Bryn asked directions to the nearest inn from a lovely young couple that were taking a stroll, arm in arm. They kindly pointed out the building that would have been noticeable had it been daylight. It had the word ’INN” painted onto the building’s wall.
Bryn was soon talking with the owner of the inn on the patio. She was a middle aged woman, and looked like her entire body was swollen since her body fat was puffy. She was pleasant enough when she realized that Bryn was a potential customer. Bryn asked for the cheapest room, and found out it was communal. She did not mind and was about to accept when she heard a voice from behind, a voice that she recognized.
“Excuse me, lady and sir. I was wondering if you would help locate a companion of mine. A young girl in trousers with curled dark hair. We lost each other at the station.”
Bryn had never felt such dread after hearing a familiar voice before. It was none other than Arion.
She ventured a very careful peek behind her. After turning back around, she inwardly groaned. He was speaking with the same couple she had asked directions from not five minutes before. Bryn did not wait for them to point her out. Making a hurried excuse, that did not please the inn owner, Bryn ran past her, moving towards the shadows of the building. It was too late.
“Miss Bryn, I beg you to wait,” Arion called out.
That only encouraged Bryn to pick up the pace. She did not know where she was going as she ducked between two buildings, she was not even sure why she was fleeing. When she found herself alone, she remembered one of the life lessons her mother had drilled into her brain ever since she could remember; when being pursued or stalked never run where you could be cornered or where there were no witnesses. She could not turn around so she pushed on, it was fortunate that the buildings did not block off the allies. Bryn was able to circle around the building, bringing her back to the center square. Neither Arion nor any of his friends were anywhere in sight, he must have been behind her. That meant Bryn had to push forward.
Not knowing where else to go she rushed to the garden. She startled a handful of couples and families out for a walk with her wild looks. Each time she would give a hurried apology before slipping away like a thief. Around every corner and behind every rustling noise she was sure it was Arion closing in on her.
Finding herself sufficiently lost, Bryn allowed herself to slow down, her ears still straining to hear any sort of movement or rustle. It was at that time, as she was going around another corner, she was startled once again. When a shadow blocked her way she let out a little squeal. Bryn jumped back on the defense, but quickly tried to cover up when she saw it was a stranger standing before her. He was very dirty; she could not tell if it was stubble on his face or dirt on his chin. He had very big and bright eyes that were alert and aware of everything around him. His clothes looked shabby and worn, as if they could fall off at any moment.
Bryn was taken aback for a moment when she thought she saw him take a few sniffs of the air. The man looked surprised and then his eyebrows dropped down over his eyes in puzzlement before he said, “Ya smell like dragons.”
“What does that mean,” Bryn blurted out, just before she heard a snap of a twig behind her. In her alarm she spun around to find the source. There was nothing, but that did not mean he was not there.
“Hide’n from some’n,” The man asked. He reminded Bryn of a child the way he asked, even though he was clearly older than her. If she had looked into his eyes she would see that this man had much experience in life, perhaps not wisdom in his head.
Bryn stuttered, unsure if she should answer his question or not. She quickly decided that if this man was not with Sir Arion she did not need to be rude. “Yes, I need to get away from him, before he finds me.”
“Who?” The man asked. The question was soon forgotten as he shifted his eyes behind her. If he was a dog Bryn was sure his ears would have perked at that moment; he was suddenly on the alert.
“Some’nes come’n, ’n quickly.”
Bryn’s breath caught in her throat as she looked about. A moment later a boy not more than ten burst around the corner, laughing as he dodged passed them. He was closely followed by other boys and girls his age, playing some sort of game no doubt. They hardly paid the grownups any mind, except to avoid running into their legs, as they whizzed past out of sight.
Bryn set her exasperated, glaring eyes on the man. It was hard enough without a stranger making her jump when children appeared.
The man noticed and shrugged, “Sor’ee. You want’n help? I got brothers.”
“That’s nice,” Bryn replied to the odd statement. All she wanted was a nook she could hide and think in. Not another stranger offering friendship.
“We can get ya out’a here. If that what ya want’n,” The man insisted.
“What makes you think I want to leave?”
“Ya’re run’n from som’ne. Pe’ps leave when they run’n.”
His way of speaking was so strange that is was hard to follow. Bryn wondered where he was from to acquire such a thick accent.
“Thanks for the offer. But, I don’t trust strangers at all this moment. Since the last strangers I became acquainted with are now harassing me.”
As she spoke Bryn was spreading apart a hedge to look for room enough for her to lay in, pricking her fingers on the thorns as she did.
The man watched her a moment in silence. “Pe’ps won’t let ya sleep ’ere. Tried, Got chased out.”
Bryn really looked at him this time as she sucked on one of her pinched fingers. He had such a trusting face for a rugged, wild man. If she was unable to run, she was going to need protection, and she would have liked to rely on this man, but she needed proof that he was as trustworthy as he appeared.
“Why would you want to help me? What is it that you want?”
The man shrugged, “There’s noth’n I’m want’n.”
Bryn’s brow wrinkled, “That’s not enough. I need a reason to trust you.”
“Miss Bryn, there you are,” Said a voice from behind.
Bryn spun around so hard that her hair caught in her face. Immediately she made eye contact with Sir Arion, he had come up behind her without her hearing. She staggered two steps away from Sir Arion as if he had a weapon in his hand.
“I don’t mean you any harm, Miss Bryn,” Arion raised his hands as a sign of peace.
Bryn did not say anything as she took another half step back.
She did not know what to do now. She was caught between two strangers that claimed they wanted to help. She was too tired, she was all alone with no guidance, and she was growing increasingly scared of men around her. Being alone was definitely hard. She might have burst into confused and agitated tears if not for the back of the strange man’s broad shoulders blocking Arion’s way to her.
The man had a darkened expression as he addressed the gentleman, “Think’n the miss wants to be ’lone.”
“Pardon me sir, I only want to speak with Miss Bryn,” Arion sounded genuinely defensive, as if he was the one protecting Bryn.
The ragged man laughed heartily. “Ain’t no sir,” He bellowed.
“What am I to call you,” Arion asked like a gentleman would.
“Of which family?”
That puzzled Nudd a long moment; longer than it should have. “Suppose Kanid.”
“Kanid you say? I have never heard of it.”
“Why would ya?”
“No reason I suppose. Please allow me to speak with Miss Bryn,” Arion stepped to the side to make a clear path between him and her.
Nudd mirrored the step; still acting as a human barrier. “Don’t like ya’r smell.”
For an instant Arion looked mortified at the thought that his scent could be unpleasant. “My smell? What ever does that mean?”
Bryn was tempted to sneak away while these two badgered on. What stopped her was she had a theory that they would notice if she tried. She was immediately proven right.
Arion tried his best to look around Nudd to her, “Miss Bryn, could you tell your friend I only want to talk. I promise I won’t hurt you.”
“I’m not afraid of you hurting me,” Bryn replied, oddly that part had offended her. “I don’t trust you, sir. You and your friends were far too aggressive on the train, I don’t know what came over all of you, but none of you appeared to understand me when I expressed no wish to accompany you. You then spied on me when I departed the train, and have pursued me to here, when I clearly wanted to be left alone. Those are not the signs of a good intentional man.”
Arion replied with a hurt and guilty expression, “We didn’t mean—I mean you have so much knowledge none of us wanted to miss such an opportunity to receive so much information from one person. I am sorry we scared you off the train, and delayed you reaching your family. I only want to apologize and swear none of us will bother you about joining us again. Please, may I escort you back to the train?”
Bryn was not sure she believed his promise. “No thank you.”
Arion was ready with more pleas, “If you would only listen, I have thought about your concerns. I believe—”
He was rudely interrupted by Nudd, who was growing bored, “She say’n no.”
Arion considered Nudd a moment, unsure if he should be afraid of the larger man. He managed to make eye contact with Bryn, “If that is your wish. I will be staying at the inn for the night with the others. If you change your mind or even just want to talk or reassure yourself that I am not the bad guy, you are welcomed at any time. I do not wish to torment you. Please, have a restful night.” With that he bowed politely, turned on his heels and left the way he had come.
Bryn was still pondering his words when Nudd suddenly turned to smile at her, as if looking for praise.
“Ya fine,” He asked. He did not wait for an answer and was already on the move, “Let’s go.”
“Go where,” Bryn asked. She almost took a step to follow him blindly. After all he had protected her.
“Meet me brothers. We’ll protect ya from ’em.”
“I don’t need…” Bryn started to protest, but she was tired of telling people that.
Before she knew it, she was following Nudd as he lead her out of the garden.
“Wait a moment,” Bryn abruptly halted. They were not out yet, but an open hedge archway was in sight, “I still don’t know or trust you. I am not going to follow you blindly to your brothers that for all I know could be deranged.”
“No need for untrust’n,” Nudd tried to reassure her, “Ya look like a lot of fun.”
“You might be surprised, but saying things like that does not encourage girls to trust you. At least I hope it doesn’t,” Bryn said with a matter-of-fact tone to educate him.
Nudd’s brow lowered as he considered her words. Before shrugging his shoulders, as if bored of thinking about it. “Trust me.”
Bryn half sighed, half growled, “That’s not how it works either. At least I don’t think so”
She had shaken off one stalker just to be caught hold of by another stranger.
Nudd was also becoming bothered by her resistance, “Ya keep say’n that… If ya won’t come I’ll bring the brothers to ya, then ya’d know. Be back dragon girl.”
With that said he disappeared through a tangle of vines.
She stood there longer than she knew. When she could finally bring her senses back to reason, she decided to be as far from the garden as possible.
She did not retire to the inn, Arion and his friends were there, and she was sure the inn’s owner was annoyed with the way Bryn had run off. Fortunately for her, Bryn was no helpless kitten when it came to improvised traveling. She had grown up on the road.
Entering the street again, Bryn scanned the area before approaching an older couple. They were on their porch sitting on rocking chairs, watching the people that strolled by. After making pleasant conversation about the weather, Bryn asked if she could sleep on their porch or back shed, if they had one, for the night. A few minutes later she found herself in a dark shed at the back of the elders house.
The black shed was small, with four shelves between the front door and the back wall. Staked against the very back wall were four sacks of flour and ungrounded grain that Bryn immediately made herself comfortable on. There were even two blankets the couple had said she was allowed to use and she brought them down from one of the shelves and was soon warm and reasonably comfortable.
Before laying her head down, Bryn made sure her pistol was within reach. It was only then that she let herself relax and stared at the shadowed roof until her mind settled, allowing her drifting mind to slip into a much needed slumber.
She slept soundly for several hours. Bryn was a light sleeper and any unusual noise could awaken her, and so when she heard the latch of the shed door slowly shifting, her eyes shot open. Instantaneously Bryn bolted upright trying to control her breathing as she listened and waited. Part of her thought she was just imagining it, that being in a new place was unsettling her senses and making her hear things that were not there. At the same time a hundred scenarios popped into her head about who it could be and what she was to do.
Her hand went directly to her revolver. She lifted it, to aim at complete darkness. She stilled herself as she listened hard. There was no mistaking the sound of the latch being dropped and the wooden door creaking open.
She waited for footsteps and was stunned when she heard sniffing instead, as if from an animal. Panic threatened to overwhelm the girl. When fear set in it intensified everything around her, casting horrible shapes and sounds. Fighting off fear was a battle in itself that she had to claim the victor over.
A grunt abruptly accompanied the sniffing, making it more real. The noise stopped its sniffing at the same moment that Bryn stopped breathing. It was so near her that another step would bring the shadow around the shelf, into view. The moment shadow-form did appear everything in her tensed. She did not shoot, she squinted trying to see what it was. What she thought was the head looked far too narrow to be a proper head. Its body was huge and it was hunched over on all fours. She half expected the eyes to be burning and a wicked smile to creep on the apparition’s face.
Just as she stared at it, it was stared back. It did not move, she did not move. Bryn was just about to raise the pistol to aim, when it abruptly turned tail and slunked out of sight and out the door.
Bryn still did not move. She listened, but heard nothing. Her eyes were wide open, but she saw nothing. She waited, nothing happened. It took all of her courage to break her frozen state and thrust her free hand into her bag. Her gun was still outstretched to shoot if she even imagined a shadow approaching her. After what felt like all night, her hand clasped a small palm sized orb. It was a process as she cracked the orb open. Still only using one hand she managed to dump water from a pouch into the orb and onto a stone that had been wedged inside, splashing drops everywhere on the floor. She slammed it closed again and the stone in the orb started as an amber glow, before blazing into a white light. With the glass orb enhancing the stone encased inside, the light was thrown around, showing everything in the room. It cast large shadows across the room, shadows that were almost just as frightening as the dark.
Nothing stirred when the light shone. Nothing flinched or retaliated. She was alone in the shed, but she did not feel alone. She hurried to the door and slammed it shut, sliding the latch down tight and listened for a few moments. Finally reassured that there was nothing near her, she sank to sit in front of the door, leaning heavily against it.
The poor traveler was exhausted, even as she was too frightened to close her eyes. She sat there and did not move for hours. When the orb’s light went out she poured water inside, to give it life. When she started to doze, she was forcefully awakened by nightmares, finding cold sweat clinging to her skin.
Relief and safety overwhelmed Bryn when daybreak shone through the cracks of the shed. She was intent on grabbing her things and leave that place the moment the sun had risen. When she had risen to do just that, she found herself curled up on the sacks. She was fast asleep for several hours after dawn.
By late morning she was awoken again by another sound.