Jothal woke up to the sound of a crackling fireplace and the smell of stewed rabbit and herbs. Jothal quickly pulled a dagger from her rucksack and sat up with a jolt.
“You know, you really shouldn’t sleep out in the open. It’s not safe for a young lady like yourself. ‘Specially a lady who’s traveling alone.” A man’s voice directed Jothal’s attention towards some brush behind her. Out stepped a tall, thin human, no older than 30, carrying a bow and a limp rabbit. Jothal leapt to her feet, letting her blanket fall to the ground.
“What do you want?” Jothal sneered, holding her dagger as menacingly as she could. “I’ve got no money, but I know how to use a knife.”
“Settle down there, miss…” the man replied coolly, ignoring her threats as he sat cross-legged in front of the fire. “You should be thanking me. Any other man would have killed you in your sleep for those nice weapons you’ve got there.” He motioned towards the metal poking out of her rucksack. Jothal slowly lowered her dagger but remained skeptical of the man. “These fields are crawling with thieves and highwaymen. You best be careful.”
“I would have been just fine…” Jothal retorted. The man rolled his eyes and continued stirring the pot of stew that was beginning to make Jothal’s stomach grumble.
“Miss, if you’re going to travel alone, you can’t be settling down where everyone for a mile around can see you.” The man stopped stirring and reached into a small bag sitting beside him, removing an empty turtle shell. “And you can have that advice for free.” He ladled the stew into the shell and extended it towards Jothal. She hesitated, tightening her grip on her knife. “Come now, miss. We can’t have you vulnerable and starving.” Jothal reluctantly took the shell and sat down, sheathing her knife in her belt. The man had shaggy brown hair and a dirty face. The faded scars on the side of his left hand revealed the man to be an archer who had practiced often and not without the occasional graze of an arrow. The man’s dirt-stained tunic was covered by a thick leather vest. He had a belt with little pouches here and there and a scabbard. It was rather clear to Jothal that this man was familiar with the outdoors.
“So if any other man would harm me, why didn’t you?” Jothal asked, taking a sip of the creamy rabbit stew. The man shrugged.
“I’m a traveller like yourself… today. Besides, I would never steal from a young lady like you.” He turned his attention back to the food he was preparing. Taking a knife of his own, he began to skin the rabbit he had caught earlier. “Did you happen to see the bonfire way out yonder last night?” The man questioned, pointing off into the distant hills where Jothal had seen a shimmering light earlier. She nodded. “That was a particularly notorious group of highwaymen that frequent these areas nowadays. They sure know how to make their presence known. I’m surprised you could sleep through their shouting and carrying on. Point is, if they had found you alone, you would be in for one hell of a wakeup. Lucky for you, I found you first.”
“Wouldn’t they have just killed both of us?” Jothal questioned the man. “Surely they outnumber us.” The man laughed.
“Well, let’s just say that I’m pretty well known around these parts as well.” Jothal finished her stew and set down her turtle shell.
“Well, thanks for the meal and the… advice… but I really must be going. Farthingsor beckons and I’m already behind schedule…” Jothal began to slide on her leather boots and gather up her things. She hadn’t reached as far along as she had hoped on yesterday’s hike and had to make up the lost ground today.
“You’re going to Farthingsor? I haven’t been there in ages… Listen, miss, I’m headed that way myself. What would you say to trading one or two of your weapons there in exchange for my guidance and expertise?” The man grinned, offering his hand to Jothal.
“I think I’ll be alright. I’ve got all the expertise and protection I need.” Jothal procured her master’s journal and her dagger, flashing back a grin of her own. The man raised his eyebrows, taking her journal and leafing through its pages.
“What, this old thing? When was this written, in the Third Age?” The man laughed, tossing the booklet back to Jothal. She caught it, brushed it off, cradling it like a prized possession, and scowled. “Listen, miss. You won’t last another day out here without my help. Most folks aren’t as nice as me.” Jothal’s expression softened and she sighed.
“Fine. “ she said, reluctantly. “You can come, but only if you cook for us as well. “
“Done. I knew my stew would win you over!” The man shook Jothal’s hand and gathered up his cooking supplies, shoving them into the small bag that had housed the turtle shells earlier. Using his sturdy bow as a walking stick, the man and Jothal began their trek towards Farthingsor.