Jasper wrapped a thick towel around himself on the edge of the steaming baths. He couldn’t be sure when his next warm bath would be so he had taken his time soaking, wondering what it would be like traveling with a Guardsman. He’d spent a lot of time on the road with his father’s caravan, much of it sleeping on a bedroll under the open sky, always fearful of robbers, marauders, illegal tolls, and roving bands of subhumans. It was a hard life, but it was the best his father could offer and he saw much of Arexia.
Guardsmen were upholders of the law, trusted and respected for their judgment. They performed community service wherever they went. In exchange they were accommodated into homes and courts, housed and fed, and given whatever support they needed. No one dared to attack a Guardsman, not without an army behind them. Between towns he figured it would be like growing up, sleeping under the stars, but when they came to a town Jasper looked forward to being treated like royalty.
Fenris came looking for him, a large knapsack in his arms. He dropped it at Jasper’s feet. “These are our supplies. They are your responsibility, don’t lose them.”
Jasper groaned. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so different from the caravan after all.
“Did you find what you were looking for?” Fenris asked.
“Tasha Tamriel,” replied Jasper, relieved to finally know. “Thank you, master.”
“Master? This isn’t the Academy and I’m not your instructor. My name is Fenris, or Guardsman Corrigan in formal situations. Now, get dressed and meet me outside in ten minutes.”
When Fenris was gone, Jasper kicked the knapsack. It was heavy. He sighed and started to dress.
Ten minutes later, Jasper emerged into bright sunshine wearing the pale blue robes of an Acolyte, a charcoal-colored traveling cloak, high boots, and the knapsack. He was sweating already as he shuffled up to where Fenris was talking with another Guardsman, a dark-skinned woman with gold-colored eyes and shocking white hair.
“Greetings, young Brother,” she said when Jasper approached. She stamped the ground with her pike as a sign of respect.
“Greetings, Sister,” Jasper replied. He had no pike, so he bowed and nearly toppled over as the pack shifted. The woman laughed cheerfully.
“You’ll have your hands full with this one,” she said to Fenris. “Stay away from the dens or you might never see him again.” She winked at Jasper as she turned to go.
“Who was that?” Jasper asked when she had disappeared inside.
“Reese Umbobua. We were Acolytes together.”
“She’s from the Ash Flats?”
“You know your geography. Land of snow and smoke, and home of the Northern Gold Company. Nalla’s sponsor, though I expect they have ceased their sponsorship of our fugitive. Still, they might have information that could help us in our search.”
Fenris pointed south. “Nalla fled in that direction, about a day's journey. She wouldn’t have stayed on that path and may have doubled back, but it’s likely she would have gone into hiding rather than travel any great distance. The longer we delay, the more likely she is to start moving again.”
He pointed northeast. “The Northern Gold Company is that way, a two week round trip. Once Nalla moves it will be very difficult to locate her, but she is likely to go somewhere familiar while she adjusts to life as a fugitive. Her sponsors may hold the piece of information that will lead us to her next hiding place.”
“We go after her immediately,” Jasper said, preempting the question poised on Fenris’s lips. “If we don’t find her trail, then we go to her sponsor without losing much time.”
Fenris smiled in approval. “As you wish, Acolyte Pim.” He led the way along the Grand Boulevard towards the South Gates.
“Fenris? What did Reese mean about losing me in the dens?” Jasper asked, struggling with the fast pace.
“She wants me to keep you away from the brothels. I think she fancies you!” Fenris called back, laughing.
Jasper stumbled awkwardly. He looked back towards the barracks in wonder before racing to catch up with his mentor.