「Chapter 2: The Price of Safety 」
[Year 344, The month of Flame, day 14]
The sun had just rose in the sky when we finally reached the hill that overlooked a medium-size village.
The village sat in the center of a recently cleared field, one that still had a few tree stumps scattered about. A thin wooden outer wall surrounded buildings in various states of completion and a medium sized wheat field. A more robust internal wall surrounded the mix of stone and wooden one-story houses and a grain silo.
A few yards away from the village was the eastern edge of a large lake. A small mountain laid on the opposite shore. However, even from here, it was impossible to see the northern and southern tips of the lake as the lake entered into a more densely populated section of the forest.
While most of the buildings were made of wood a few years back, they’d been slowly transitioning into stone buildings. It was obvious that the village was on the verge of becoming a small town. It’s hard to imagine with these place will be like in a few years.
Our reason for coming here was the contents of the pack striped to Gaisei’s back.
Once we’d cleaned ourselves up after the boar debacle and had a bit to eat, Gaisei and I retrieved the boar’s body and relocated the remaining bags to a new tree. While it took a bit of time to find a new tree to hang them from, it beat the alternative of having a repeat performance later down the line.
I spent the rest of that night butchering, processing, and preserving the boar. The boar’s hide was too damaged to trade for anything, but once it was finished drying out and with a bit of stitching it’ll make a decent blanket for winter.
I was able to carve off about a hundred pounds of meat from the boar, but we’d only brought about eighty pounds with us, along with a few other commodities.
Some of it had been added with some wild vegetables to make the stew we had for last night’s dinner and today’s breakfast. The rest had been salted and stored with the rest of our food.
“Alright, Gaisei this is far enough.”
With a small nod, Gaisei removed the pack from his back and held it out in front of me. While he had carried the pack without issue for the past two hours, I already felt encumbered by merely lifting it.
“Now, I’ll be back in a few hours. Don’t venture too far out of the forest or too deeply into it. If you come across a human or monster just run towards the village as fast as you can. If it’s another elf hide as best as you can. Do you understand me?”
I stared into his crimson eyes for a few minutes before turning away from him and began to walk down to the village.
Normally, I wouldn’t have brought him along with me on this trip, but the ones responsible for shooting down one of our storage bags might come back while I was away. They could hurt him if they learned he was alone, or worst yet he might hurt one of them.
Things should die down after I speak with Donovan, but until then I would keep Gaisei as close to me as possible.
After about half an hour of walking, I finally reached the village’s outer wall and was greeted by a pair of guards. Both muscular guards wore lightweight brown leather armor, but one wield a bow and the other a spear. Though they couldn’t compare to the Eybevan city guards, they were rather impressive for a small village that bordered the human country of Wherthadia.
“Hold it!” “Stop!”
The two of me when I tried to pass the gate.
I narrowed my eyes and readied myself for trouble.”
“What’s the problem gentlemen?”
However, that seemed to be unnecessary given how the two flinched back when I glared at them.
“T-There’s no problem. Chief Donovan just told the guards to stop you at the gate if you showed up, miss Aislinn. Just what a moment so can inform him that you’re here.”
I relax my guard a bit as one of the guards ran into the village. The only thing that crossed my mind as the guard’s back disappeared in the distance, was the how grateful I was for picking up intimidation skills from my husband.
The guard returned a few minutes later with a slender man in tow.
The man that the guard brought with him was about 5’5 and had his shoulder-length blonde hair tied up in a ponytail. Though his light-green clothes only had simple spiral designs sewn into them, they were in immaculate condition His sharp cheekbones and narrow emerald eyes just emanated an aura of professionalism despite him being barely a century old.
Honest, it was hard to imagine just how far he would go in life.
I adjust the pack I was carrying before offering the man a slight bow and greeting.
“Good morning, chief Donovan. Is seems that you wanted to speak with me?”
“Good morning, Aislinn. Haven’t I told you multiple time that you can just drop the ‘chief’ when you talked to me?”
His voice a little too high for a man but didn’t carry even a hint of malice in it when he replied.
“I couldn’t possibly be so disrespectful to my benefactor?’
“Have you been taking care of yourself? Has the season been treating you well?”
I thought I heard a bit of disappointing in his voice when he immediately changed the topic, but I must have imagined it because his face hadn’t changed in the slightest. Though it was have been nice to spend some time chatting with him, Gaisei was waiting for me.
“Now Chief Donovan, you wouldn’t have had your guards stop me at the gates just for a bit of small talk. Excuse my bluntness, but could you state what business you have with me? This pack in rather heavy after all.”
“Right. Let’s continue this discussion in my home. One of you, carry Aislinn’s pack for her.”
The casual tone he’d been using up till now was replaced with a business-like one, as he turned around with the confidence that his orders would be followed, which they were. The spear-wielding immediately took the pack off of my hands when I offered it to him, and after I stretched a little the two of us followed after Donovan.
Despite it being so early in the morning field workers and contractors were already getting ready for work. While they smiled and showed their respect to Donovan, but some of those that have even an inkling of who I was scowl in my direction.
“Haah… I’m used to it”
“What was that?”
Donovan looked back at me when he heard me muttering.
Donovan simply shrugged his shoulders and in a few minutes later we arrived at his home in the center of the village.
The house was a simple two-story red brick building. While it wasn’t anything fancy it served it purpose.
After entering the building, Donovan led us to his office room which had a large wooden desk piled high with parchments of various sizes.
“Please take a seat.”
Donovan gestured to the chair in front of the desk as he took his own seat. Things were silent for a moment as neither of us knew how to continue the conversation, and the guard was just standing in the background.
“So… we’re here now.”
“Right… I know this is going to be rude on my part, but have you been keeping track of your child, especially at night?”
I narrowed my eyes and crossed my arms so that I could pull the small dagger I had hidden under the bandage of my right arm.
“What are you trying to say about my son?”
“… You see, a few quivers worth of arrows have gone missing over the last couple of weeks and there have been sightings of a small red-eyed figure around the village at night.”
“Chief Donovan, you’ve helped me ever since I first came to this village. You gave me a place to live, you’ve been understanding of my desire to raise a Darh’ki child, and above all, you’ve been my only true companion for the past couple of years. However……”
I tried to keep my nerves steady as best as I could in this situation, but I’d reached my limit.
“Don’t you dare sit there and try to accuse my son of theft!!”
“Aislinn, I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything. I’m just trying to find out what happened to our arrows. It’s just that resources are a little tight right now. We can’t afford to be unguarded until the first phase of the construction is complex…”
“If you want to know where your lousy arrows are there still embedded in a tree nearby my home. Some bastards decided to use my storage bags for target practice!!!”
My temper flared as the prospect of dealing with this prejudice again, especially from someone that I’d trusted.
When I tried to leave the room in a guard that came with us tried to block the doorway, so I drive my knee into his crotch as hard as I could. The man’s eye rolled into the back of his head as he fell over, but I was too angry to pay his pain any thought.
Donovan ran from behind his desk and tried to grab me, but he stopped in his tracks and held his hands up after I draw my hidden knife on him.
“… Aislinn, there is no need to act so irrationally. If you say that someone has damaged your property, I’ll send a guard to investigate.”
I glanced down at the guard at my feet after he said that.
“A different guard. Look Aislinn, all I’m trying to do is figure out what’s going on. I don’t intention to harm you or your son.”
“Humm Haaa. Humm Haaa. Humm Haaa. I’m sorry. I lost my head for a moment.”
I lowered my knife and offered Donovan a meager apology.
“I’ll come back in a couple of weeks with what you need to get in contact with medium-sized supplies that should be willing and able to do business so close to the border. I know it won’t excuse my behavior, but it’s all I can offer you.”
“I’d appreciate it. A couple of guards will come around to investigate your claims about the arrows in a couple of days.”
“Thank you for your forgiveness, Chief Donovan. If you’d excuse me I have some business to take care of.”
After offering Donovan a deep bow and collect my pack from nearby the unconscious guard and left the house as quickly as I could, only breathing a relieved sigh with I reached the open market near the inner wall.
“Haah… I’m running out reasons for him to keep me around.”
I’d managed to get by here because Donovan wanted to turn his small village into a town and I had managed to pick up a few connections, useful to that achieving that goal when I fled the capital. With a few fake names and sob stories, I’d been able to support myself and take care of Gaisei, even if I had to leave him alone for extended periods.
However, the construction was well underway now and I’d just promised Donovan the last few names I had to make up for that outburst. This place was also receiving a lot more foot traffic now, and there’s no telling how active this place would become once the conversion into a town was complete.
“Maybe, this is a sign that we should leave this place… “
As I made my way towards the merchants’ venues willing to do business with me, the confrontation with Donovan continued to repeat itself in my head.
There was once a time when I’d never would have acted in the way I did, but things were different. They’d been different for a while now, and honestly, I had no idea how to they could go back to what they once were, or if they even could.