Rimca left early the next morning. Reniko awoke to the soft noise she made as she gathered her things. When Rimca noticed that Reniko was awake, she hesitated. After a long pause, Rimca realized she was not going to talk and continued to pack her things. Turning toward the entrance, she hurried out the door. Reniko followed after her, leaving the rest of the occupants to sleep. Day was just breaking as the two women stepped outside. The light was soft and pale, the sun not even peaking over the horizon.
“You’re not going to say good-bye?” Reniko asked as Rimca began packing the things onto her mare. The horse was light gray, the body unblemished. The black of the mane and tail were in stark contrast to the hide of the animal making the thoroughbred look almost majestic.
“I hate good-byes,” Rimca mumbled, smoothing out the packs she had laid on Jia’s back. “I always leave like this.”
“I see, well then –” Unable to think of anything else to say, Reniko turned back to the shelter.
“Take care of Malik, won’t you?” Rimca asked.
Reniko turned back to the Le’a’to and smiled. “I’ll try. You take care of yourself, and thanks for doing this for us.”
“I’m not doing it for you,” Rimca stated. She lifted herself onto Jia and sped away from Mistfall. Reniko watched her leave and sighed. She headed back into the shelter when she could no longer see Rimca in the distance.
When she entered the main room, the floor littered with bedrolls, she realized that the rest of her friends all planned on sleeping a lot longer. Wide awake and anxious to do something other than sit and wait, Reniko moved to Malik’s side and shook him awake.
“What is it?” Malik asked.
“Ready for more practice?” Reniko whispered to him.
“What time is it?” he asked, jumping awake.
“Sun hasn’t quite risen yet,” Reniko said.
“So early,” Malik groaned as he realized his entire body ached from yesterday’s lessons.
“The more active you are, the less sore you’ll feel,” Reniko said pulling Malik to his feet. “Come on and get dressed. We have to train every day and it would be best if we do this before the day breaks and becomes too hot. Besides, we have to go into town today.”
“All right, all right, just give me a few minutes to collect myself.”
“Fine, I’ll wait for you outside.” With that Reniko departed again, grabbing some provisions from the table on her way.
Malik followed shortly after, a sombre look on his face.
“What wrong?” Reniko asked as he came into view.
“Rimca’s gone isn’t she?”
“Yes, she left earlier this morning,” Reniko said.
Malik nodded. “It’s just the way she does things.”
“You shouldn’t take her for granted the way you do.”
Malik began warming up, working his sore muscles. “Let’s just get to work.”
Reniko shook her head and began her warm up, somewhat annoyed with Malik. It’s not really my place to meddle in their relationship.
They practiced until mid-morning, until Malik was nearly exhausted. Reniko, who the previous day had felt the throb of her wounds terribly, felt the pain less and less as their practice wore on, and by the time they had finished their last set, Reniko again the victor, she barely felt them at all. Despite that, Reniko still felt uneasy about using her right arm, lest she do damage that couldn’t be undone. Malik however, didn’t seem to mind that he was being let off easy. His stamina was not up to Reniko’s, and although he far outweighed Reniko in power, her speed made up for the strength she lacked.
After eating the remainder of the provisions Reniko had grabbed before their practice, they decided that they should head into town and spend the remainder of the day finding the things that they needed for their trip to the Mistfall caverns.
Penumbra thought it wise if he did not show himself in town. He felt terrible for causing the trouble in the first place, even though Reniko assured him it was not his fault. She was positive Kruok would have found them regardless of whether they had avoided the town or not. She nevertheless agreed with Pen that a unicorn in town would surely cause a new quarrel and so Penumbra trotted off to busy himself with other things.
Reniko and Malik arrived in town both seated on top of Blaze. They reached the town near midday and found the streets crowded with people. New ships had come into port that morning and new goods with them. The sailors had come into port, grateful to be free of the confines of their cabins and were all wandering around half drunk, chasing after the village girls.
It was the perfect day to come to town, for instead of the usual stores that were scattered through town, a marketplace had been set up in the town square. As they neared the market, the way became thick with people and Malik found he could go no farther unless he abandoned Blaze. Malik and Reniko therefore set loose their gentle friend who darted away from the noisy centre to wait for his master at the edge of town.
As they pushed their way through the crowd, Reniko noticed an unusual sight, and pointed it out to Malik. No Rük roamed the streets. In fact, they had not seen a single Rük since they had entered the town. One of the townsfolk, overhearing Reniko’s words supplied an answer.
“The Rük don’t like when we humans mass together and such. They let us conduct our business when the trader ships arrive. They’ll be back near nightfall to collect their things. These are the only days that those of us in Mistfall feel like smiling.”
“I can see why,” Reniko said, thanking the old man before Malik pulled her through the crowd to one of the nearby stalls.
They spent the better part of the day in the market place and left behind as much money as time. Lugging large packs of provisions, the two of them set off to find Blaze. As the two companions left the market place, they noticed that most of the villagers were headed out as well. Malik noted that the Rük must be coming back soon and both he and Reniko quickened their pace. They returned to Jarnen’s shelter shortly before sundown, relieved that the trip had been uneventful.
The next morning they rose early to the sound of Jarnen’s panicked voice. “Get up quick you two, your ship is departing! We have to get you to town quick.”
“I thought you said we had two days?” Reniko said packing her backpack as quickly as possible.
“Yes, well the Rük are causing some trouble and the traders are leaving before the Rük have a chance to keep them here. So unless you want to stay in Mistfall for another month, I suggest you get packed and off with haste.”
Malik was packing his things now, too, and aptly finished before Reniko.
“I’ll tell Penumbra about the change in plans,” Malik said, as he hurried out of the shelter and into the gray morning.
When Reniko came outside, her bags fully packed, Penumbra was there waiting with Malik who was already atop Blaze.
“Did you find a good way to get to the docks without being noticed?” Reniko asked.
Penumbra shook his head making his mane toss wildly. I can’t see any way around going through town.
“If only there was a way we could cover your horn,” Reniko said.
“The best we can do is avoid crossing paths with a Rük,” Malik said.
“That’s going to slow us down a lot, and if the boats are leaving –” Reniko let her sentence go unsaid. They all knew what would happen.
I’ll take you to the edge of town, Reniko. When you get there you ride with Malik on Blaze. I’ll find a way to get to you before the boats leave.
“But what if you don’t, Pen? I don’t want to leave without you.”
You have no choice in the matter. It’s more important to get you on the ship than me. You’re the one trying to get home. I’m just trying to help you. So if helping you means staying here, then so be it.
“You two decide something?” Malik asked not being privy to the conversation.
“When we get to town, I’m to ride with you,” Reniko said.
“I’m fine with that. Let’s go. We can’t waste any more time.”
Reniko shrugged her pack onto her back and lifted herself onto Penumbra who took off at a run as soon as he was sure Reniko was secure. They arrived at the outskirts of Mistfall in half the time it had taken them the day before, glad to see the ships were still harboured at the nearby port. Reniko slid off Penumbra’s back and gave him a farewell hug.
“I’ll stall the ship as a long as I can, Pen, so hurry.” When he felt Reniko release him he fled with amazing speed at an angle away from the main road heading to the heart of the city where the ships were birthed. Reniko quickly hopped astride Blaze, and with as much speed as Blaze could muster with the extra weight, they sped into the city, taking a more direct route than their inauspicious friend.
The commotion in the small town matched that of the previous day, the only difference being the amount of Rük that now roamed the streets, harassing as many people as they could as the humans scurried past trying to go about their business as unnoticed as possible. Malik and Reniko shared the same feelings and tried to draw as little attention to themselves as possible. It was nearly impossible not to draw attention however, since the small band was in a hurry to get to port. Blaze went at a speed that moved them faster than the crowd. The continuous bobbing and weaving through the various people and carts began to cause a stir amongst those few that were also in a hurry. In an effort to ease the attention from them, Malik slowed Blaze to match the speed of the majority of the villagers.
“Penumbra is going to beat us to the ship at this rate. Do you think the side roads will be any less crowded?” Reniko asked.
“We could try, though I don’t know this town as well as Rownie. We’d risk getting lost.”
Reniko glanced around, watching the Rük pass by, pushing their way through without getting harassed. An idea struck her suddenly and she leaned closer to Malik.
“Get up as close as you can to one of the Rük headed in our direction. They seem to have no trouble getting through, so if we follow –” she let Malik’s thoughts supply the rest.
“Great idea,” he said and headed casually in the direction of a nearby emerald green Rük. Their progression suddenly turned from slow to lightning fast. Their only trouble now was from the Rük who now stood a chance of noticing their tactic.
Malik seemed a natural at it. With an ease Reniko felt she could not muster, Malik followed the Rük at a flawless distance. Not only were the crowds still dispersed but also any casual glance in their direction from passers-by would not cause a general stir. To Reniko’s surprise, when the Rük turned off the path to the docks, Malik slid right in behind a new Rük with as much ease as he had captured the rhythm of the first. In no time, the duo was at the docks.
With the boat within arm’s reach, Reniko hesitated and dismounted Blaze looking behind her for any signs that Penumbra was on his way.
“It’s no use looking for him right now. Let’s board the ship. At least then we have a chance of delaying departure,” Malik pressed as he saw the hands on the ship preparing to disembark.
Reniko nodded, still worried about her comrade. Hurrying behind Malik who was still astride Blaze, they headed farther down the dock and closer to the loading area.
“Hold you two, where do you think you’re headed?” a nearby sailor asked, halting Malik’s passage.
Malik looked at him with a reassuring smile. “A friend of ours arranged for us to have passage aboard this fine vessel,” he said, gesturing to the ship docked to his immediate left.
“Captain said that we were to be taking on some passengers, just the two of you and your stead here?” the sailor inquired.
“Another is on the way, he got delayed and when we heard that the ship was preparing to leave he thought it best if we came on ahead to make sure we weren’t left behind.” Reniko interjected.
“Well he best hurry, we are about to leave any minute, and I doubt the Captain will want to wait much longer. We were hard pressed to wait for you,” the sailor said.
Malik looked past him and saw the truth of the man’s words. As they spoke, the last of the cargo was being lashed into place on the deck. In truth, he thought that Penumbra was not going to make it in time.
“Can we take this matter up with your Captain, sir? It’s very important that my friend not get left behind.” Reniko asked breathlessly, looking behind her for signs of Penumbra.
The sailor gave a sigh and headed up the gangplank. “Well come on then,” the sailor muttered and to his fellow he said quietly. “Evith, please take this man’s beast below. Make sure it’s quite comfortable.” The boy, Evith, who had been scrambling across deck with matters of his own, gave a scowl as Malik dismounted and handed Blaze’s reigns into his care.
“We’ll take good care of your mount, my lord,” the first sailor said as Evith disappeared deeper into the ship with Blaze in tow.
Malik nodded. “Yes, now to your Captain,” he said, stepping up the gangplank with Reniko right behind him. The sailor turned reluctantly back toward the ship and stepped onto the deck.
Reniko took one last glance behind her, her face alight with relief as she saw a commotion starting up behind her. A group of children were squabbling over what appeared to be a very disgruntled looking horse. It was Penumbra, Reniko was sure of it, yet where his horn stood a wooden cap extended instead. It was nearly an exact replica of his real horn only this looked to be sloppily painted by the hands of children. When they came closer, Reniko realized that the children causing Penumbra so much annoyance were in fact Jarnen’s.
It seems that they followed us into the city. Penumbra said as he bent his head into a nearby building feigning an attempt to get rid of the wooden horn that looked to be crudely attached to his head.
Reniko nodded and took a step down the plank. Astride Penumbra was one of the triplets, Mattus stood at his side pulling at his clothes trying to force him off the back of Pen.
“It’s my turn Ados. I want to ride the unis,” Mattus said using the villager’s word for the elegant creatures.
It was the children’s idea. Penumbra added to the noise that was erupting around Reniko, though only she heard. The dock was abuzz with commotion, all of it turned in the direction of the four children. Reniko hurried to the centre and took hold of the reigns that were draped with childlike grace over Penumbra.
“Tobias, Ados, Orus, and Mattus, what do you think you are doing?” Reniko said calming the growing noise that the boys were making. “You were supposed to bring him straight to the docks not dawdle and make my mount look the fool.” Reniko grabbed at Penumbra’s reigns, jerking his head down so that the horn was level with her chest. Penumbra tried to turn away.
What are you doing? He asked with alarm. Reniko just looked at him and without a word Penumbra lowered his head and waited patiently.
Grabbing hold of the wooden horn that had been carefully placed over Pen’s real one she gave a mighty tug, which to everyone watching proved fruitless.
“Ados what on Vespen did you use on my poor beast’s head?” Reniko asked, annoyance lacing her words.
Ados looked stricken and then relaxed. “It wasn’t me it was Orus’s idea. He was the one that stuck the horn on, honest.”
Reniko looked toward Orus who was pulling lazily at Penumbra’s tail. “I used fornnous blossom, mum had some in the pantry.”
Reniko tried to hide the puzzlement, but by the looks of exclamation on the onlookers’ faces she could guess a good response.
“Poor Pen,” Reniko said smoothing the hair on Penumbra’s muzzle. Turning a ferocious look on the boys who were now huddled together behind Orus, she spoke: “Get on home. You’ve caused enough trouble for Pen for one day. You better tell you mother what you’ve done, or else when I come back I’ll give you more punishment than she will.” The four boys stood straight and bolted. The crowd gave a jolly laugh that subsided as a few Rük joined the huddle. This caused the crowd to disperse nearly as fast as the four troublemakers had only moments before. Penumbra acted his part beautifully, starting as an emerald and a yellow green Rük neared. Reniko caught at his reigns and whispered into his ear, “Tell those lovely boys thank you. I owe them a great debt.”
They really did use fornnous blossom you know. It’ll take the entire voyage before this wooden thing can be shed. The worst part is it itches something fierce.
Reniko suppressed a smile and nodded curtly to the Rük. As they neared, she turned away from them and headed to the outbound ship. The yellow green Rük stiffened at this lack of respect and reached for Reniko’s arm. Malik intervened.
“Sorry, milord, she meant no harm. She’s not from these parts.” Malik said bowing low before the towering creature.
Reniko felt the grasp on her arm lessen and, turning, she bowed alongside Malik. “I forget my manners sometimes, milord.” The Rük just sneered and hurried past, too busy with other matters to care much for a slighting by a peasant. Reniko sighed with relief and turned to Malik, apologetic.
“I’m not used to this subterfuge, especially when it involves doing obeisance to the likes of them,” she whispered as she guided Penumbra up the gangplank.
“Watch your words, we’re not at sea yet,” Malik said, just as covertly.
I myself am just glad that we can be rid of this vile place. No wonder I never left the woods before, there is nothing inviting about this cold misty world.
Reniko nudged Penumbra’s neck as she guided him into the belly of the ship, chuckling as his words, the adrenaline fleeing her body.
“I’m glad you made it in time, Penumbra,” Reniko said just as their sailor friend emerged with the Captain. Reniko glanced in their direction, slightly puzzled, before she realized that she had requested his presence moments before.
“So sorry Captain, my friend was not as late as we expected,” Reniko said grinning. The sailor at the Captain’s side gave a scowl and turned to leave.
The Captain gave a laugh and called him back. “Jessup, it’s all right.” Turning to Malik, Reniko and Penumbra he smiled. “It’s a pleasure to meet you. I guess this is the friend you were eagerly awaiting, miss?” He said gesturing to Penumbra. Reniko nodded still smiling.
“He must be a very special horse, to cause my lady so much concern,” Jessup added with annoyance.
Penumbra turned with and looked at Jessup with a murderous glare that the sailor did not catch. Reniko gently caressed Pen’s muzzle trying to calm him. “Very. If you will excuse me Captain –” Reniko halted waiting for the Captain to supply her with a name.
“Deressy,” he said amused.
“Deressy. I should make sure Penumbra here is comfortable before the ship sets sail.”
“As you wish, milady,” Deressy said, nodding his consent. Reniko disappeared into the belly of the ship in search of Evith and Blaze while Malik remained on deck thunderstruck.
“Quite a handful,” Deressy said, coming up alongside Malik who was staring down into the bowels of the ship.
“I don’t understand women sometimes,” Malik said, still confused about how jovial Reniko could be after such a heart racing morning.
“Welcome to the world of men, my friend,” Deressy said, giving Malik a slap on the back. “Go on down. Evith will show you to your quarters. It’s good to have passengers aboard, despite what Jessup thinks.”
“Thank you, Captain, for everything.”
“I’m always glad to help a friend and Jarnen is one of my closest.” Deressy said leaving Malik alone on deck. As he went, he shouted orders to his crew to pull up anchor.