Cloud and Shade - Chapter 4 - Dangerous Games


The scent of sweaty bodies and ale mingled in the warm air of the inn's common room. Eavan thought idly to himself how the familiar smells seemed to be a common occurrence in most inns. Taking another swig of the ale in his mug, he glanced around the room, attentive to everything going on around him. A gaggle of men huddled around the fire talking, despite the oppresive heat of the day.

A shriek sounded from the kitchens followed by a frying pan being hurled through the open doorway at some unseen target. Eavan nearly choked on his ale with laughter when a straggly, dirt-covered urchin dove from behind the bar and took cover under his table. He leaned back enough to get a look at the little vagabond hiding near his feet.

"I'm not here!" The boy informed him in a fierce whisper.

"I can see that," Eavan said wryly, returning to his drink.

A raging kitchen maid soon followed the frying pan turned projectile. "Where is that little scamp?" the inn had by now fallen silent. The patrons simply stared at the irate female with blank expressions. "Don't you liars dare tell me he got away this time."

"I'm afraid..." Eavan stood and ignored the scared chirp he heard from under his table. "that he has indeed escaped."

"Who are you?" The wench waved another pan at him menacingly.

"Simply a weary traveller. Had I had the chance, I would have detained him for you for he seemed an unworthy criminal. One such as you should not be so plagued." Eavan replied smoothly, the honeyed words dripping from his tongue with ease.

The wench looked a bit startled, as if not sure how to respond to this smooth tongued strangers reply. Eavan could feel the little rascal beneath his table fidgeting around, and gave him a slight nudge with his toe, as if to say "sit still before you get me in trouble."

The wench lowered her frying pan after surveying the room once more and gave Eavan a small smile. "It's nice to know that some people still have manners," her smile slowly widened. "Do you have a name, sir?"

"I am known simply as Eavan." He bowed gallantly. "Might I ask what the young rascal did to incur your wrath?"

"Oh, nothing that you need bother about," she flashed him another smile and glanced at his mug. "Ah, I see you're almost empty! Marie! Hurry up and fill this fine gentleman's cup again girl!" She shouted to the maid at the bar. The normal buzz of idle chatter was quickly falling back over the room, but to Eavan's dismay, the wench didn't leave. "So what brings you to these parts fine sir?" she inquired as the second maid scurried up to fill his mug again.

"I.." he stopped as he felt a small hand sneaking into his money pouch. Stuttering slightly, he slipped his hand under the table, "..um, on business, Miss." The second maid stayed by the table, smiling widely at Eavan. Eavan gave the little scamp under the table a slight kick.

"Business is so dull. I'm Rana, by the way." Rana continued to smile at him, twisting a lock of her greasy brown hair slowly around one finger. "How long will you be in town?"

Eavan cleared his throat, becoming increasingly uncomfortable but losing none of his charm. "For another hour at least, then I must be on my way. I stopped only to rest."

He invited Rana to join him for a few minutes and continued to endure her not so very subtle advances. When he decided he could stand no more, he stood and pulled his cloak around his shoulders, motioning for his unseen table mate to get behind him. "I have much enjoyed our talk, Rana, but I'm afraid I must now be on my way."

"So soon?" Rana visibly pouted.

"Yes, my fair lady, but I shall carry an image of your... lovely face with me in hopes that I may one day return."

He made his break for the door as gracefully as he could, pushing his little friend ahead of him under the cover of his cloak. Finally making it out the door, he gripping the boy by the collar as he tried to dash away. "You're going to get yourself into a lot of trouble some day," he warned the little scamp. The boy gave him a sheepish grin. "What did you do anyway?"

The kid grinned, "Nothing really." Eavan raised an eyebrow doubtfully. "I just asked her to marry me is all."

******

Aingeal stumbled over yet another root. She cursed but quickly regained her balance. She wished she had brought a staff, but it was too late for such things. As if to smart her pride a little more, she was reminded that she had no walking staff at home. Any she had been given were stored away because she refused to use them.

It had been nearly two hours since she had left by way of the tiny gate in the city wall. She wanted to put as much distance between her and her father as quickly as possible. He was an excellent tracker, and she didn't doubt that with all of her stumbling that she was leaving a fine trail to follow. She couldn't help but feel slightly uneasy, though she wasn't sure why. The world around her seemed quieter than usual, but then it was again probably attributed to her presence.

A soft rustle to her right caused her to stiffen. "It's nothing." she muttered after a few seconds. "It's the wind." Her reassurance as to the cause did not give any comfort, however, for she would have heard the wind. Her sense of hearing was now her strongest sense. The loss of her sight gave her such acute awareness of sound that even the smallest of noises was brought to her immediate attention.

Aingeal continued on, uneasy as she was attentive to her surroundings now. After a few moments she stopped again, smelling the air. There was water nearby. She was surprised she hadn't heard it before she smelled it. It was probably just a small brook at that. Allowing her sensed to guide her she quickly found a small gurgling stream. Kneeling on the warm sun baked stones that lined the waters edge, she dipped her hand into the cold fresh water.

Sipping from her hand, she splashed the remaining water on her face, letting the cold water refresh her senses. The noisy babble of the stream drowned out the other noises around her. She didn't hear the deadly soft footsteps of the cloaked figure that crept slowly behind her...

She stiffened slightly as she caught the foul scent. Too late, she turned to run. A sharp blow across the head sent her stumbling. Reeling, her foot caught and twisted on a loose stone. She fell, striking her head against one of the stones of the stream, and then she knew nothing.

******

Mornië sighed in relief as the crashes and thumps that had issued from Aingeal's room ceased. Raising her eyes to the ceiling, she mentally wondered what damage had been done. Athrun mumbled something under his breath from across the room drawing his wife's attention.

"Why do you not listen to her?" Mornië posed the question gently.

"What do you mean?" Athrun's head snapped up.

"You're going to have to realize that she is just as independent as you are. You can't keep her shut up here forever. Let her learn. Let her find out what she is and is not able to do."

Athrun crossed the room to his wife. "You think I'm being too hard on her?"

Mornië nodded. "Yes, I do. Give her a chance Athrun; she's not as helpless as you make her to be."

Athrun ran his hand through his black hair in troubled thought. "I worry for her Mornië. She's our only daughter. I can't help but want to protect her from the hurts of life."

Mornië looked at him compassionately. "I know love, but you can't." She could see the pain in his eyes. "Let her have a little freedom. If she wants to wander some, let her. I don't think she's trying to escape." Mornië wrapped her arms around Athrun as she said this. "It's natural to feel vulnerable. You're a parent, not one who can see all ends."

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