Astelbania Chronicles: The Journey Begins...Again

Falina bit back a groan and looked up and over at Bahl to make sure he wasn't looking before moving her hand to the small of her back and rubbing.

They had been on the road for three days now and, though she had been riding since she could remember, she had never done such prolonged stints in the saddle.

But after the things Bahl had said to her before they had left the Haven, he could order her to run barefoot over glass shards and she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her wince.

They were traveling once again by moonlight. Bahl refused to even contemplate day time travel. Stretching in the saddle, Falina wondered when they were going to stop for a break. As far as she was concerned they didn't come often or long enough. Though, if she were honest, she would have to admit that she didn't feel the fatigue as much as she would have before her training.

And the journeys were silent! Good Gods, the hours of not speaking were boring. After three days she would have been happy to have her step-mother to talk to if only to relieve the unending silence bewteen the three of them.

Falina stretched once again and her hand came up and lighted on top of her head, a frown marring her features as she ran her hands through the short cropped mess that Bahl had made of her honey-gold tresses.

"You do it or I do it," He had told her, his tone telling her he was not backing down. "We need as many advantages as we can get and changing your apperance would be to our advantage."

She had begun to argue with him but she had looked in his eyes and realized that would be futile.

Unhappily at best, she had turned around and allowed him to use a knife to cut away her long tresses, clenching her eyes shut at the tug and play she felt as they fell to the floor.

So lost in thought was she that she did not realize that Bahl and Axym had turned off of the main road until she was ready to pass them. Quickly switching her mount's direction she caught up with them.

"Where are we going?" Her whisper, after so long a silence, was harsh even to her own ears.

"Quiet," He repremanded in a low tone,"We are here on business. You will follow and do as I say and, for Gods sake, Do Not Speak!"

Before she could disobey the command, he swung off the saddle and went forward to knock on what, at first appeared to be a dense area of trees and bushes.

Falina's mouth dropped wide when one of the trees appeared to swing outward allowing a feeble light to emit into the night's darkness.

"Get off yer horse, Lassie," Axym said from his much smaller mount as he did the same.

Hastily she followed suit and, allowing the well-trained horses to graze, she moved up beside Bahl peering curiously past the tree-door.

She had scarce gotten a look when Bahl stepped up and into the flickering light, blocking her view for a moment. Following his broad back, she found herself immediately transported from in front of the foilage to inside a small hut lit only by a fire in a hearth.

In front of that fire sat three cowled and cloaked figures huddled together as if in conference. Upon their entrance, the tallest one stood.

"Greetings," A scratchy and thin voice came from the area of the cowl which completely darkened the features beneath.

Bahl nodded his head but said not another word. The silence grew for a moment before a smaller, fatter version of the first figure shuffled forward and handed Bahl a note and small bag of coins.

All three seemed nervous as Bahl opened and read the note once then tossed it in the fire, the edges smoking and curling up inwardly as he hefted the pouch in one hand.

"You'll do it?" The shorter figure said, eagerness and nervousness clamoring for a place in his voice.

Bahl nodded and turned to go. "I will alert you when it is finished."

Without looking back, he headed back the way he had come, Falina scrambling after him so as not to be left behind. She turned for one quick glance back before stepping over the threshhold and, dizzyingly, finding herself back in front of the gnarled bushes and trees which showed no sign of having acted like anything except bushes and trees.

Blinking, Falina tried to wrap her mind around what had just happened, failed and gave up running after Bahl to catch his arm before he mounted.

"What was that all about?" She demanded.

He looked down at her. "It's a job."

"A job?"

With a long-suffering sigh, he said,"We have to make money somehow. Taking jobs along the way not only provides us with gold but with an opportunity to pick up any news related to you and the people who wish you dead."

"Oh," Falina said and stepped back as he mounted his horse than moved to mount her own.

It was only as she was settling herself in the saddle that another thought hit her.

"Wait a minute!" She exclaimed moving closer to Bahl and Axym. "You're both thieves!"

Axym and Bahl looked at each other and then at her.

"Aye, Lass, we settled that at the Haven, did we not?"

"Yes, but...but if you're theives than the job...it's...it's.."

"Yes?" Bahl waited expectantly.

She shook her head sharply. "I can't do that! That's...it's wrong!"

"Falina. Do  you wish to ever go back to your family?"

Taken aback by the change of subject, she hesitated but a moment before nodding. "Yes."

"And do you wish to keep your life intact?"

"Of course, but..."

"How bad do  you wish those things?"

"I...well, I..." She swallowed  hard. "With all my heart."

"Than stop living in an antiquitated world where right and wrong exist with no grey areas. We are doing what we have to do to accomplish what we must accomplish."

"And, if you wish for yourself and  your family to stay safe and happy and, one day, reunite, you will do whatever has to be done. With no questions asked."

Falina swallowed hard and looked away, emotions warring for a place in her heart.

It was a few long moments before she followed Bahl and Axym as they made their way back to the road again.

The End

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