[Editor's Note: click here for Part I]
Doing the smart thing probably would have put Ashryn on a one way carriage ride to someplace far away, but smart wasn’t exactly her style as much as unorthodox was. She had stopped for an afternoon nap alongside a major road, and sprawled herself out on the grass. Her hat was on top of her face, offering her the respite of darkness. It was quite the hat too, somewhere between ostentatious and luxurious. Made of black leather, it had a wide brim and a braided silver band at the base of the crown. There was more than one plume too, with a mixture of long-tailed chicken, peacock and pheasant tail. With most of the feathers being dyed, the plumage presented itself as a vibrant bouquet of obsidian, violet, pomegranate and other in-between shades of purple.
Most of her clothing pushed standard fashion boundaries. Where many people said “Too much,” Ashryn Reymaris always said: “Not enough.” Her coat stood out as well, largely because of the scintillating purple velvet that shifted colors every time it caught the light of the sun. The garment went down to her ankles; and the cuffs, as well as the collar and lengthy lapel, were trimmed in an equally posh black velveteen. The buttons, of which there were eighteen, were a polished silver; and each of them was engraved with a different Elven rune. Four adorned each cuff, and ten ran the rest of the length of the jacket.
It was a sunny day for Vamhadras. Typically, no matter the season, there were always biting winds and fog rolling down from the mountains, but that was not the case today. Waterford had the benefit of being the furthest province to the west, which probably helped. Unlike the province of Dendrin to the northeast, Waterford was only surrounded by mountains on its northern and southern borders. In the east, the Uskvyne River separated it from the province of Ardenton; and to the west was the primordial forest known as the Fanged Vale. In its own little valley, Waterford had the luxury of being shielded from the harsher weather, and higher altitudes that plagued the rest of the Kingdom with an endless cycle of winter.
Ashryn issued a lazy yawn, turning over on her side to glance down the road. The hat slipped from her face, and she grabbed it up to place it back upon her head before propping herself up by the elbow. She smacked her lips a few times, and her pointed ears twitched. Footsteps could be heard, heavy ones. Thus was the nature of humans, she found. They did not carefully tread over the delicate earth. They were brazen creatures, full of passion and stupidity all at once. She wasn’t sure if she admired their unbridled zeal, or detested it. She may have been eccentric to her brethren, but there were still some patterns of their thought she was victim to following, which she was all too happy to acknowledge.
The owner of the footsteps slowly came into focus, and Ashryn got to her feet. A human peasant, from the looks of it. He wasn’t past his prime, she discerned from the lack of graying hair, but he was no spring chicken either. Aging lines were just beginning to tell their story upon his sun-kissed skin. Slung over his shoulder was a large burlap sack, and he had both hands wrapped firmly around the mouth of his make-shift bag. As he neared Ashryn, his steps slowed. He seemed worried.
Sensing his discomfort, Ashryn removed her hat and gave a sweeping bow. “Pleasant day to you, my good fellow. Come, come. Don’t be shy.” She stood back up, returning her hat to her head where it belonged. Her dark brown hair was long and straight, not a single strand out of place on her well-groomed head. “What brings you out this way?”
The peasant grunted softly, taking the time to drop the heavy package onto the ground. He rolled his shoulder uncomfortably, taking what comfort he could in the brief reprieve. “I don’t want no trouble wi’ ye, lass. I’m just headin’ for Waterford proper, aye?”
Ashryn smiled sweetly, placing her palms together. “I assure you that I am no trouble for the likes of you. I am only out here warning travelers that goblin activity has been increasing as of late. You should not be traveling alone.”
“I know all about them green menaces. I jes’ came from Perlshaw where they took ov’r our town’s silver mine. I’m tryin’ to get to Waterford proper and see if I can’t get Lord Bateson ter send us some soldiers,” the traveler said. “Had to take all I had ‘n get out real quick. Without the mine, ‘s only a matter a time before the town falls too. Sad times, these.”
Ashryn clicked her tongue and shook her head. “Whatever do you mean? I find that every day is a good day to be alive.”
“I mean, we got greenies in the mine, pirates in Setnir, war in the Northern City-States. Jes’ feels like it’s all goin’ to hell some days,” he said sadly.
Ashryn quirked a slender brow, and her hand came to rest upon the pocket that held her previous correspondence acquisition. “Pirates you say? I hadn’t heard anything about that. Do tell.”
“You ain’t heard? You livin’ under a rock or somethin’? Cassie Turanaska, that real famous Bard, has everybody talkin’ about it. Captain Drythier Sul’Garthe’s ship, the Dread Howl, was spotted in northern waters off the coast of Setnir for the first time. This ain’t no Tuh’Chiri Empire trading vessel.” He sighed heavily, looking up to the sky. “Vestulaan help us.”
Ashryn chuckled and waved him off. “Thank you for your information, traveler. I shall take it into account when I make my own traveling plans.”
“Yeah, yeah. Jes’ don’t say yeh weren’t warned, lass.” He hoisted the sack back up with a labored heave, looking over his shoulder at her. “Yer tellin’ me not to travel alone, but here yeh are out on the road jes’ standin’ around. I don’t get yeh Elf types,” he muttered, and began walking again.
“I’m not alone!” Ashryn called after him. “I’ve got the sun in the sky, the earth beneath my feet, and the wind in my hair! That’s all I need!”
“ASHRYN REYMARIS!” A loud, booming voice cut through Ashryn’s gleeful retort. A heavily armored figure was hustling down the road.
Amidst all the banter she must have missed his approach. Ashryn sighed, shaking her head slowly from side to side. “And him. I’ve also got him.”
To Be Continued…