Damn the capricious vices of love. Soon, I will be forced to contend with them for myself.
The room was modest, but it felt to them like a brief haven. A man and woman sat on beds of gray linen and bound straw.
A tan-skinned adolescent boy in a pretentious robe helped the innkeeper carry a second additional bed through the doorway. Now there were three. Upon one, a fencer held her head sorrowfully in her arms.
It hurts me to see her like this. She's done so much for me, but I know not what to say or do.
"You never were," she sobbed to herself in a whisper, "and you never will be mine." Studded leather armour lay beside her pack and cape, and she now wore only her gambeson. The sheathed rapier glistened upon the bedside table, next to her pocketed belt and a bag of coins.
They turned the bed they were carrying from its side, and righted it in the corner of the room. Beside it, lying on a blanket, was a large egg. It was two feet in diameter, but stretched as an oval to a height of three feet; or so the boy estimated from the size of his own foot. And he mused to himself, A foot is measured by the length of a king's.
There was another young man in the room. His otherwise handsome face was broken by a scar across his nose. He unfolded his hairy arms and tried to console her, "We men are fickle with our affections."
"He made a promise!" she seethed. Tears ran down her face, leaving wet marks upon the padding. "A promise, Rossel! He gave me his word and I gave him my fidelity and affection. First he leaves and then in his wake my friends find a soiled whore. Who am I to trust if not my lover?"
"I know not, for as Allerk, I have never had a lover." Rossel told her. "I have never fallen in love. But I know that you can trust yourself, and at least some among your friends."
Never had a lover, eh? Allerk thought. Indeed, he reads a person well.
A white bird landed on the exterior sill of the room's window and pecked at the glass.
Allerk rose, and noticed the letter tied to the bird's leg. He unlatched the window, and pulled it up. Unlike the windows facing the town, it had not shattered.
"For a moment, Naieyle, I thought I found love," The merchant continued. "Love at first sight. The prettiest thing I'd ever seen and the giddiest thing I'd ever felt."
Allerk put out a finger, and the bird stepped onto it. He walked it towards the carrier bird cage in the corner of the room, as he worked at the note tied to its foot with his teeth.
This did not disturb the bird in the slightest, for it pecked his hand affectionately as it lifted out the burdened leg.
"I imagine I was mistaken, then," Rossel said, "yet will find love again. And surely, one with your talents can say the same."
She didn't feel much relief from his words. And her mind wandered. Naieyle noticed that, since hiding the engagement bracelet from Allerk, she had not worn it. Were it in arm's reach, she knew she would have thrown it out the open window.
"Allerk, is that egg warm?"
The tall boy moved his bare foot over to the blanket on the floor and pressed it against the edge of the beige egg. It was. He dared not ask what had laid it, what was in it or what its purpose was. But he nodded.
"The oath," Naieyle muttered.
Allerk walked over to Rossel, handed him the letter, and then sat down on the edge of his own bed.
Rossel looked sternly at the weeping fencer, "I don't mean to be cold-hearted, Naieyle, but I want an answer in the morning. Whether you will still go to Crownlake."
Reluctantly, Allerk spoke, "I still must go, and will take a job if I may, even without her."
"The oath," she muttered again.
"Pardon?" Rossel asked as he inspected the letter's waxy green seal. It bore the mark of House Windsmire, and he made sure it was no forgery.
"I took an oath I need to uphold. His sins cannot be forgiven. I am a Forest Fencer of Lakeland, and first and foremost, a woman. No man shall stand against my will."
"Umm..." Allerk managed to say, as he exchanged a look of confusion with Rossel.
"I'm going to Crownlake anyways, and just as fast."
Rossel frowned, though he was relieved. "May I ask why?"
Naieyle stuttered, "B-be-bee-because... be-c-cause..."
However, Rossel was now reading over the leader with scholarly eyes. He recognized the hand, and saw the urgency in its script. Word by word, his mouth fell into a gape.
"What is it?" Allerk asked. And for the first time since his capture, he was sure that he had friends he cared about. And half a mind, or half a plum, to.. no, don't think such thoughts. She is not mine to love. Least of all now. Least of not yet.
"By the Dung of Under's Depths," a tear welled up in Rossel's eye as he cursed. "A knave in shining armour, blood upon the walls. His wares askew and his body mutilated. My father - he's been slain!"
However, Naieyle did not hear them. She was lost in her own internal struggle. And then finally, she emerged. Her mouth opened, and she blurted out words with grim resolve.
Allerk turned, and saw the fiery venom in her eyes.
"Because," she told them, "I am going to kill him."