It took Rin a good hour to find them again. As it happened, Shay had a small makeshift encampment just on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t much of a camp; the remnants of a small fire sat in the centre of the camp, while a ramshackle tent was off to the left. There were signs that Shay had managed to catch, or at least find a rabbit or two, though Rin wasn't sure he wanted to know how he'd been able to cook it without any pots or pans.
"I was startin' to think you'd gone and left us, Rinian," Shay called out, laughing, from where he sat with Aoife, arm still around her shoulders.
"Funny, I was thinking the same thing about you," Rin retorted, clearly annoyed.
“Careful, Rinian,” Shay said, an unspoken threat in his tone.
Rin wanted to stand up to him, to show Shay that he wasn’t afraid of him, but frankly he was. Rin towered over him, but the man was built like a house compared to the Western boy. Somehow Rin didn’t doubt that Shay could knock him across the room if he so wished. Rin kept his frustrations to himself this once, choosing to ignore Shay for now, sitting down beside Aoife. He hadn’t noticed when he’d arrived, too busy scowling at Shay, but in her hands the girl had a scone, slathered in honey. On the ground in front of her was a jar of the golden liquid, a trail of ants steadily making their way towards it. That was odd, he’d never seen ants around this late in the year before.
“Don’t want your share?” Shay asked, another scone resting in his hand. The smug, self-satisfied grin on his face said it all.
“Stop bickering, you two.” Aoife tutted, snatching the scone from Shay’s hand with ease and passed it to Rin, picking the honey jar up from the ground just as the head of the trail of ants reached its base. “I’ve never had honey before, but I can see why they make so much profit from it.”
Rin took the jar a little sourly. Unlike Aoife, with her sheltered and humble upbringing, Rin’s childhood had been a fraction more luxurious. It had been relatively costly, and for the most part it was only reserved for special occasions, but he had tasted honey before. Honestly, he hadn’t thought much of it, preferring the much less costly strawberry jam, but he knew he couldn’t afford to be picky in this situation. It was with reluctance that he took the honey, and the scone, and if his stomach hadn’t been growling at the thought of food, he might have stubbornly refused to eat until later. Hopefully later would be when Shay had gone, but the arm clamped around Aoife’s shoulders implied he was in this for the long haul. Wonderful.
“So, dare I ask what a lovely young lady such as yourself is doing out here, all by herself, with a valley boy?” Shay asked, leaning in towards Aoife ever so slightly.
“Don’t call him that, it’s very rude,” Aoife said sternly, but her tone softened almost immediately. “We’re on an adventure.”
“An adventure? Very impressive, dollface, but you’re not exactly the best prepared for it.”
“Well, we had to leave in a hurry, you see. Someone had snuck into the Cathedral and done something terrible, and we had to leave before—”
“Aoife, maybe you should stop talking,” Rin interrupted, earning a scowl in response. “Don’t give me that look, we barely know him.”
“Rinian, that hurts,” Shay said, spare hand reaching to grasp at his chest. “You can trust me, kiddos. We’re all friends here, right?”
Despite another murmured warning from Rin, and an even quieter plea for her silence. Aoife chose to speak again. “We had to leave before the city watch appeared, in case they suspected we were involved. My being there wasn’t out of the ordinary, but being the only survivor made me look like a suspect. Even if they didn’t suspect me, I’m not sure I could stay there after seeing that…”
So they were runaways? It was all starting to make sense to Shay now. But even if they had left in a hurry, they could have left better prepared. All that was going to happen now was they were going to starve, or freeze, or both. Hell, without his help just now, they would have starved already. If he were less of a heartless monster, he might have felt sad for them, or like he had some obligation to show them the ropes of life on the road, but he wasn’t that kind of person. The way he saw it, the only way to get by in this life was to take care of yourself and only yourself. Anyone that got hurt along the way was just collateral damage.
“What happened?” he asked, admittedly a little curious. After all, how bad could something that happened in a church be?
But Aoife wouldn’t talk. She shook her head, and no matter how gently Shay tried to tempt the information from her, she wouldn’t relent her silence. It took the rumblings of a storm in the distance to convince Shay to give up his questioning. He was content enough to slum things out—he had his tent, and while it was drafty and it had at least three leaks when there was a heavy enough rain—but he could already hear his new acquaintances complaining about having nowhere to stay. Maker spare him, they were going to send him to an early grave.
“Listen, I’ve got enough to put you two up in an inn for the night, but you’ve gotta help me drum up some more funds tomorrow, deal?” Shay said reluctantly. They had to have realised he was a thief by now, and he knew it was insane to expect them to help him again.
It was Rin that had spoken. By no means did he agree with Shay’s methods, and he would sooner have nothing to do with it, but there was no denying they needed a roof over their heads that night, and they would never get anywhere without any money. Whatever Shay’s angle was, both men knew they needed each other’s help to get anywhere.
“You can’t stay out here all night, you’ll catch your death,” Aoife said, frowning.
She had constantly mothered the younger orphans, always reminding them to button their coats and wear their gloves in the winter, and to drink plenty and stay out of the sun in the summer. She had thought it would be a habit she grew out of as she grew older, until she had children of her own, but her mothering seemingly extended to brusque men clearly several years her senior. If Shay minded, he didn’t make it known, simply flashing the girl a scheming grin.
“Don’t you worry about me, dollface. I’m sure I can find somewhere to stay for free.”
The three of them parted ways then; Aoife and Rin left for the local in, The Queen Bee, while Shay packed up what few belongings he had obtained at his camp. For Rin, sleep came as easy as breathing. He was exhausted still and despite the burst of energy the sugar laden honey had given him, he found his eyes drifting shut almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.
But for Aoife, sleep wasn’t such a welcome bedfellow. A thousand and one thoughts whizzed around her head at dizzying speeds, and she just couldn’t shut them out long enough to get some rest. If someone had told her that one day she would be travelling across the country, living out her very own fairytale adventure, she would likely have assumed they were mad. If they told her she would meet someone as charming and handsome as Shay, she definitely would have thought them touched in the head.
Shay seemed to be in her thoughts a lot now that the two of them had parted ways. As rough around the edges as he was, he seemed to be a decent enough man, but perhaps in hindsight it was those rough edges that had her enraptured. The only men she had ever known, not that she had known many, were men of the cloth. Pious, respectable, honourable men. Men like Rinian, whom she was sure Sister Ciara would have approved of, had he ever asked for her hand in marriage. As much as she loved Rinian, men like that were boring and far too safe. There was never any excitement or adventure with them, or at least that was the impression she had gotten from her books. But men like Shay? Sister Ciara would never have approved of him. He was rugged, and exciting, and something new and interesting. Maker, if Niamh could see her now, head over heels for a boy. No, not a boy. A man.
Niamh. In all the chaos of the last few days, Aoife hadn’t had a chance to think about Niamh. Had she seen her friend’s body on the pile? Everything had happened so fast, she had no way to be sure, and that only made things worse. The thought of Niamh had her thinking of all the things her friend would never get to do. She would never get that marriage she had so desperately been trying to procure. She would never get to have children, or live long enough to meet her grandchildren. She would never get to travel the world. She would never get to live her life as she should have done, and that only made Aoife feel worse. She resolved that she would have to do twice as much living, to fulfil everything that Niamh would never get the chance to. She would say yes to every new experience from now on, or at least that was the plan. She would say yes as long as it didn’t compromise her morals. It was this newfound drive that had her finally able to fall into the sweet embrace of slumber.