Bramble crunched underneath the wagon wheels of the merchant train. No rain had touched this part of the world in months. The city of Rastome was still days away according to the mile markers painted on heavy rocks set alongside the Sael Highway.
In the days since leaving the capital city, Charun, Barston kept to himself and followed orders. He along with the other hired guards were mostly ignored by their merchant employer whose name was Lavan Pahl. It was Pahl’s partner, Freilas Atruam, who bore the signs of a former soldier giving most of the commands to the hired men.
Barston found himself drawn to Freilas as if he knew the older man all his life. Thin but strong, bearing dark skin and stony eyes, he moved as if the world could not contain him. A deadliness inhabited him as well. Adept with a bow and sword alike, he did not waver when the first group of road bandits attacked the previous day.
They lost two of the hired guards during the scuffle while two others had to be put on litters much to the chagrin of Pahl. Freilas had a way of explaining and calming his partner, which the guards appreciated after realizing Pahl played to loose and free with his mule whip. Barston believed there to be a great story behind Freilas’ life and wanted to know it. Was their shame? Dishonor? If so, he had found peace. Barston cared little for such a gift for himself but to see it in Freilas made him curious.
When Freilas came alongside him all of a sudden, Barston forced himself to relax. The older man did not engage in private conversations unless a reprimand was coming.
“The men say you did not draw your sword yesterday.” Freilas’ voice was like ice sliding against a boulder. Up close, the smell roasted red root was undeniable and was the obvious reason for the man’s voice. Smoking the crushed pieces of red root was not kind to the throat.
Barston swallowed. “I didn’t need to draw it. My dagger did just fine.”
Freilas gave him a sidelong look. “You don’t happen to be one of those pit fighters back in the capital, are you?”
The smile could not be kept away. “No,” Barston said. “Just one who knows when a dagger’s reach will suffice.”
“Hmm. Lavan wants me to have you punished. Don’t worry; it won’t happen. You may be reckless but you managed to gut two of the road rats with that short steel. Make sure you don’t hesitate to draw the long blade next time. I’ll be watching then. You can’t be blade shy these days.”
He separated from Barston and quickened to the front of the train. The exhale of breath did not leave Barston feeling better. His eyes darted about the countryside, hoping to the Hallowed they would not be attacked again.