When all of them had gathered together the few possessions they had brought, they paid Rupert for his services. This was a process, a ceremony, that Rupert did not wish to go through; although they had, in the length of their stay, brought a lion into the establishment, be it tame or not, burnt one of his chairs and had worn down his low wine supply, he had grown fond of seeing them, of watching them speak together on matters he could not understand, but nevertheless sounded very important.
They had lined up behind the counter, placing all that they owed to him upon it, with Rupert saying his thanks to each of them in turn. By the time Aveyna had dropped her coins upon the counter, and nodded deeply in thanks, Rupert’s little green eyes had begun to glaze over. As they waved, saying their thanks for the last time before opening the door, Rupert waved back, managing to make one exclamation before the door was shut,
“Please, do consider The Overfilled Flagon again!” As the door closed, Aranaytha produced a map, much smaller than Aveyna’s, and traced her finger southwards from Thornhurst, then past Goldhollow, then through the town of Westbridge, until moving her finger eastwards, past the Shadow Caves, to the town of Raiholt. Looking up to scan the landscape in search of the south road, she found that Aveyna was there, already pointing out the way with her pale, outstretched arm. Rolling up her map, she replaced it to the bag at her side, as it hung gracefully from her shoulder, before she took it off, and wound up the fasteners over the belt at her waist, so that it became easier to carry her shield in case of an attack. Having done this, she walked, with the others, to meet with Aveyna.
“Are we all ready?” Aveyna asked, as the sunlight, caught in the trees behind her, glowed in a manner that made Aveyna appear almost seraphic. The others nodded, and Aveyna smiled, which only succeeded in making seem even more angelic. Then, they turned to face the south road, the same road that Alceren had taken that morning. Alyxandra smiled, touching the amulet gently with her fingertips as they began to walk. She wondered inwardly about his safety, then smiled, remembering his words. I simply have faith, she thought, reminding herself inwardly of his words and, feeling a little strengthened by it, began to walk a little faster, so that she walked by Aveyna’s side, at the front of the group.
She looked back and found Aranaytha and Yvellen walking behind her, while Telthar’rion remained further back, his staff clutched in his right hand and a thoughtful expression on his face. As they walked along the road, their route lined with countless trees, a rich green in the early summer, the gentle sound of their booted footsteps reminding them of any notion of time and, with the understated breeze in the trees, was the only sound, the elves themselves saying nothing for a long time. Presently, Alyxandra turned back to Aranaytha, asking,
“How far should we expect to travel for until we reach Goldh-?” She was broken off by a glare from Aranaytha, which at first she attributed to the nature of the question, but then realised that she did not wish to remind Yvellen that they were passing by there, as passing through the deserted, burnt-out shell of the place he had once called home could prove to be an emotional time for him, and this was something that Alyxandra especially understood. Thankfully at that moment, Yvellen seemed preoccupied in prising Luan’s attention from a passing butterfly; he sat on his hocks, staring up at the colourful wings on the flitting creature, and reaching up at erratic intervals to grab the butterfly in his paws. Yvellen, thinking quickly, reached into his bag and withdrew a piece of fish, that had been wrapped up in a handkerchief and had been beginning to exude a rather notable fragrance.
“Ah, so that scent was not you,” Aranaytha said, laughing as she did so; Yvellen scowled, as she continued, “my mistake!” Luan was fortunately interested in the fish, and approached, before he was given his due reward, and ate it happily, purring.
“You see, it’s the little things that count with lions,” Yvellen said knowingly, “they are the ways in which you earn their trust and form your bond.” Alyxandra and Aranaytha smiled, the friendship between man and lion now obvious as Yvellen stroked Luan’s head, with the large, golden cat responding by rolling over onto his back, purring happily, his eyes closed in a look of contentment.