Chronicles of the Shadow Princess II - Allies: Part Three
Dawn didn’t fare well during the night. Every now and then she’d wake up, because of the cold or perhaps because she was worried, or maybe because she rolled over onto a stone, then she’d toss a few sticks into the fire, readjust herself around the flames, and fall asleep again.
The fourth time this happened, she jolted awake as if water had been splashed on her face. The moon was high, no breeze blew, and the fire was down to a few smoldering embers.
Dawn blinked blearily, looking around, and was shocked to see she wasn’t the only one awake. Masque was awake, out of bed, and squatting on the ground as if she was ready to spring. Dawn’s heart skipped a beat, seeing Masque’s paw curled tightly around the hilt of a rapier. The Faerie Kougra met her gaze and lifted a finger to her lips, and continued to look in the direction she had been looking.
Dawn strained her ears, then heard voices a ways off. The distant snap of a twig, a far off nervous chuckle. And the noises were approaching.
The shadow Lupess’s heart was pounding. Each second seemed to last an eternity, with her heart thudding against her ribcage.
The footsteps were coming closer. Then...
“Someone’s ‘ere,” one of the voices said, suddenly a whisper. “I see a fire up ahead.”
“A campsite? You think there’d be stuff to plunder?”
Thieves! Dawn grasped at her dagger, her fur standing on end. She silently got to her feet, her pose mimicking Masque’s. Gabe was now also awake. But his weapon was stashed away in one of the bags. He couldn’t get it now.
“That depends. Most o’ the campsites we’ve come across aren’t worth so much as a carrot.”
The two voices drew nearer and the light from the remainder of the fire bounced off their faces to reveal a short Korbat and a gaunt Yurble, though it was too dark to determine their colors. Both bore sacks of burlap. The two thieves stepped back in alarm to see the campers up, and two of them armed.
“Erk! They’re awake,” the Korbat said in fright, drawing a knife.
“But look next to the Lupess. They’ve got a petpet worth enough to make at least two hundred thousand,” the Yurble said, eyeing Shade with greed. “We can take ‘em.”
Masque was calm in her response. “Leave here. You’ll stand no chance if you choose to fight me.”
“A lass! Ha! An’ she thinks she can go an’ fight off the two o’ us,” the Yurble scoffed.
“She’s not alone,” Dawn said, brandishing her dagger.
“Two lasses. No better’n one,” the Yurble said, though some of the laughter had gone from his eyes and he was also pulling out a weapon. “Lasses can’t fend off a fly.”
Quick as lightning, Masque darted forward with her rapier, tearing a hole in both thieves’ sacks and jumping back again before either of them had time to react. Coins and small trinkets fell through the tears to the ground. The Yurble snarled as the Korbat recoiled. The Korbat, given a glare from the bristling Yurble, uncertainly started forward with his knife, but Masque disarmed him with a sweep of her weapon.
“Look out!” Dawn shouted. The Yurble had thrown his knife at Masque’s head. Masque ducked in time as it whistled over her and buried itself into a tree trunk behind her. The thieves took advantage of her momentary distraction. They grabbed their sacks and ran off, disappearing into the night.
Gabe got to his feet, glaring. He clenched his paws into fists and ground his teeth.
“I think,” he said, addressing Dawn and Masque while he pulled the knife out of the stalk of the tree, “that we should take turns staying awake. Who knows if those goons will come back with reinforcements?”
Dawn nodded in her agreement. Masque just looked grim and stared into the fire.
Gabe had volunteered to stay up first, so the other two got settled. However, they could not fall asleep with the events passed.
Half an hour later, Dawn glanced over at the Faerie Kougra. She could see she was awake by the moon’s reflection in her eyes.
“I did not know that you were handy with a blade,” Dawn whispered.
“Gabe and I were both trained in self-defense. We went through tough times when we were younger, so we were well prepared,” Masque replied quietly.
“Who trained you?”
“We trained ourselves. We had to leave Meridell during its second war with Darigan, so we readied ourselves if we were ambushed by Kass’s minions,” Masque explained. Dawn made a mental note never to get on Masque’s bad side.
The rest of the night had proved to be safe. Dawn had taken the last watch since she couldn’t sleep anyways. The morning was cold and icy; clouds hung low in the sky and threatened to release flurries upon the three travelers. They put out the cinders of their fire and moved on.
The rising sun did little to warm them, and their breath rose in white vapor before them.
Even throughout the day, the temperatures did not improve. The clouds, along with a bone-chilling wind, pelted them with snowflakes that clung like burrs to their fur and clothes. Dawn was again feeling the ache of missing her home, friends, and family.
How was her father doing? Hopefully her leaving didn’t make his malady worse. And what of Nova? And Lady, her best friend? She even somewhat missed her cousin, Karalee, with her pompous, snooty attitude and her horrid pink Kadoatie, Berra. She shook her head, trying to clear it of such thoughts. It wouldn’t help her find her mother if she dwelled upon what she left behind.
Hours later, a few homes were scattered about, signaling they only had a little ways to go to reach the outskirts of Brightvale. Dawn looked forward to being able to rest in an inn tonight and escape the cold.
They reached the gates of the city and joined the throng of others who were coming and going through the entrance. Dawn could immediately see the castle, which was easily as grand as hers and twice as large. While her father, Kind Everard had a vaster kingdom, Hagan’s kingdom was far more populated, which meant more guards and nobles who stayed at the castle.
Even through the cold, merchant’s tents dotted the sides of the road. Many things piqued the shadow Lupess’s interest. She had never seen such different items before. One merchant had a petpet called a Wuzzle that seemed to be made of flames to keep him warm. The Ogrin prodded the petpet with a rod made of metal, and the petpet hissed and snarled, growing in height and heat.
Another called interested customers to his booth, claiming her had the finest weaponry from Shenkuu available. Another sold jewelry.
“You look like a Meepit, what with your eyes so wide,” Masque chuckled. “You’d think you never saw fruit from Brightvale before.”
“I haven’t,” Dawn replied, setting down a Brightvale Berry and glancing at the neglected Icky Fruit that no one bothered to touch. “I’ve never been to Brightvale, and I’ve never seen so many merchants.”
“There’s usually a lot more during the summer,” Masque said. Then she frowned. “But you said your father was a merchant. He must’ve been around other merchants, and they must’ve had exotic things as well.”
Dawn’s insides seemed to freeze. She averted her eyes, thinking up an excuse.
“Well, my father never really went to Brightvale. He stuck around the lower parts of the Everard Kingdom, where there wasn’t as much competition.” A reasonable lie.
“The Lower Region? You’ve come quite a ways,” Masque said. She looked at Dawn again, but she seemed satisfied.
Gabe kept silent the entire way. He looked tense.
“What’s wrong with you?” Masque dared to ask him.
“Nothing,” he mumbled. “Let’s find an inn.”
“How about that on up ahead?” Dawn pointed.
A quaint wooden sign hung above the door, declaring the name of the inn to be The Draik Egg. Inside, it was much like The Gallion’s Horn. The ground floor was a tavern. Stairs were situated in a corner, presumably leading up to the rooms of the inn on the second floor. However, unlike the tavern Dawn had been to a few days previously, no one glanced at her. Visitors were so common they didn’t attract attention. However, the bartender did glance at the three approaching. The wizened Grarrl gave a small smile, revealing a few missing teeth. But the smile was sincere.
“ ‘Ave a seat,” he said, gesturing with his hand to the seats in front of him. He looked intently at them as they obediently sat. “You three look tired. Nearly dead on yer feet. Ye are welcome to stay as long ‘s ye like.”
“A mug of coffee for me,” Gabe grunted.
“Hot apple cider, please,” Masque said gratefully.
“Tea with milk and one spoonful of sugar?” Dawn asked.
“Anythin’ to eat?” the tavern keeper asked, serving them their drinks. “We got eggs the size of yer ‘eads. But if that don’t tickle your fancy, then I suggest some Aubergine Surprise with some Pea Stuffed Pepper.”
“Three orders, then,” Masque said with a smile.
“Right away,” the Grarrl said with another grin. He then disappeared for a moment into the kitchen, and reappeared.
“We’d also like to rent a room for tonight,” Masque said, sipping her cider.
“Oh? Right then. I’ll get it after the meal,” the tavern keeper said, taking up a rag and cleaning a mug.
“I’ll pay for the room and the food,” Dawn announced to her two companions. They both looked slightly surprised at the gesture. Masque smiled. Even Gabe gave a reluctant grin.
Soon their orders of Aubergine Surprise and Pea Stuffed Pepper were laid out in front of them by the tavern cook- a matronly-looking starry Zafara.
“M’name’d be Jax, at yer service,” the Grarrl said. “Where d’yeh three hail?
“We come from south of here. Just outside Hagan’s kingdom, on the outskirts of the Everard Kingdom,” Masque replied, then she took a bite of pepper. Dawn found the Aubergine surprise to be delicious, and the pepper was flavorful with a small zing of sweet tanginess.
“Ah. I have family members there, I do,” Jax said affably. “Good man, that King Everard. Very smart an’ peaceable. And the late Queen Aura, rest her soul, she was the kindest creature to rule those lands.”
Dawn choked on her pepper at the mention of her parents and had a coughing fit. Masque thumped her on the back and she managed to ease it by taking a gulp of her tea.
After they had finished their meals and drinks, Jax cleared the dirty dishes away. He then returned, rattling some keys and smiling.
“Now how ‘bout that room?” Jax asked them. “If ye would be so kind as to follow me. Number six’d be available.”
The three followed the Grarrl up the stairs to find a long corridor with about four rooms on each side. Jax lead them to a door with a number six on it. He unlocked the door, and waved the three inside, then departed back to the bar.
The room was small, with one window looking down at the road below. Three single beds with somewhat thin mattresses stood to one side of the room. A mirror hung over a small dresser and an old rug was laid over the otherwise bare floor.
“A little plain, but at least it’s not filthy,” Dawn said, placing her satchel on the rightmost bed. Shade was snuffling over by Gabe’s bed.
“So I guess tomorrow we’ll spend the day buying supplies,” Masque commented, taking the middle bed. “That fine with you, Gabe?”
“Yeah,” he mumbled. “Say, didn’t King Everard have a daughter?”
“I believe so,” Masque said with a shrug. Dawn’s breath caught and she tried to appear nonchalant.
“There’s never anything about her. No news or anything. She doesn’t seem to do anything. She isn’t taking any steps leading to ruling her father’s kingdom, she’s never in public. She doesn’t seem to care much for her kingdom.”
Dawn tried not to clench her teeth or her fists. However, Shade was not above a little retaliation. He hissed, climbed onto Gabe’s bed, and gave his dark paw a small nip.
“Owch!” Gabe exclaimed withdrawing his hand and shooing Shade away. “What was that for, eh?”
“Shade,” Dawn called the Gallion sharply. The little black petpet gave Gabe a blunt look before slinking over to Dawn’s bed. Shade pulled himself onto the bed and began to knead the small pillow with his claws.
“’Night,” Dawn said, getting under the covers and rolling over. Gabe’s remark about her bounced around in her head, but she managed to fall asleep before the others.
To be continued...