'Just a little further until we reach Berthold.' That statement had become the bane of my existence. He would repeat it to me every time we stopped to rest, or if he thought he had caught a trace of worry from my tone. I didn't know if he was trying to convince me or himself, but what I did know was that we were lost and he wouldn't admit to it.
What was supposed to be a half day trek by foot became two full days of pure misery and to make matters worse. He was a lot like Justin. His constant nagging to be careful of every minute thing was beginning to irritate me. There were times I wanted to do something drastic on purpose just to get back at him. (I listened to my better judgment, and ignored that call. I knew it would only make him worse.)
On our journey, I learned a few things about how his people lived. He told me they had certain customs they lived by and that I would have to adhere to them while I was there. Most of the rules were basic, but a few of them seemed a bit strange. The one I was least looking forward to was their strict rule forbidden the consumption of meat. The only time it was acceptable was when a particular ritual called for its intake. It was going to take time to get used to the idea that I wouldn't be able to eat a plump juicy steak again. (Well, as long as I stayed with these grazers.) I still had high hopes that I would be able to return home someday. To be honest, it was the only thing that kept me going.
The terrain was starting to grow bumpy, and the hills grew larger the further we walked. It wouldn't be long before my worn slippers would break under the constant strain, I was placing upon them. The soles were already beginning to separate from the thick canvas they were sewn to. I made sure to watch where I walked, so I could make it to Berthold with shoes on my feet.
The thick trees that surrounded us began to thin out, and lush fields of grass soon took their place. I had to admit for a moment, I had the urge to frolic through that tall grass, but the moment waned quickly with my sudden disappointment of the vastness of the new area that surrounded us. I looked over at James, his eyes skimmed ahead. I could now see a flash of worry in his eyes. I was beginning to fear that we would be lost forever.
"So," He hummed out. "Since we have the time, perhaps, now is a good time to get to know each other better." He suggested while meeting my pace.
"What do you want to know?" I replied coldly.
"Sorry, I asked." He replied wounded.
He walked ahead of me again. I watched as his hand nervously stroked across the empty sheath at his side. I began to feel guilt for the attitude I had lashed onto him, he was only trying to lighten the mood.
"I'm sorry, I guess I tire easily." I sighed. "It's not every day I get to walk fifty miles."
He laughed at my sarcastic remark.
He turned around and walked backwards for several steps. "This is nothing, I've walked longer than this." He replied with a snort.
I plucked a stiff reed and chucked it playfully at him, in retaliation for his previous statement. He picked it up and walked alongside me nudging my bare shoulder with it until I slapped it free from his hand.
I rubbed my shoulder. "What will we do when we reach Berthold?" I asked.
"I'll need to report to Lord Alexander, which I'm not looking forward to for obvious reasons, but I'm sure he will be interested in hearing your story."
I stopped walking and he glanced over noticing I was no longer with him. He walked back to where I stood and hovered over me.
"What is it?"
"What will happen to me, James?" I replied.
"That's what you're worried about?" His blue eyes pierced through mine.
"We been traveling together for three days now, and in those days I have managed to keep us safe as we've journeyed. Do I seem like the type of man who would lead a defenseless lady into a trap?"
I could see he was disappointed by my uncertainty.
"No, I just... I'm scared. I've only just found out about Berthold."
I was traveling to a place I had just found out existed three days ago, what scared me most was the unknown reason it was kept secret.
His firm stare softened. "Then trust me when I say to you that no harm will come to you when we reach Berthold."
He knelt down in front of me, on one knee. I was shocked at his serious stance.
"James, what are you doing?" I asked uncomfortably while staring down at him.
He grabbed my left hand, and held it gently with his. His eyes examined my small hand within his before he looked up to meet my surprised stare.
"Alanis, you have my word as a Knight of Berthold that I will protect you, always." His blue eyes gazed into mine sealing his oath.
Could he really promise such a thing? I could feel my cheeks beginning to flush, but I couldn't bring myself to look away.
"Do you believe me?" He asked.
His eyes didn't waver from mine, as much as I wished them to.
"Yes," I choked out my reply.
Something about the way he looked at me gave me the feeling that I should put an end to this moment before anything more could happen. I quickly snapped out of the spell his eyes had over me.
I chuckled nervously while pulling my hand away from his. "Get up you idiot."
I turned away and cringed at the poor words I had used to describe him. Why did I have to call him an idiot? What the hell was I thinking? I'm such a jerk, I cursed myself.
Timidly, I faced him again. "I'm sorry," I apologized owning up to my mistake.
He smiled as he stood to his feet. I looked away noticing the smug look that was now on his face, I hope he didn't think I had some sort of crush on him.
Please don't act weird, I prayed.
We both started to walk, in silence.
"So, did you leave any family behind in Larska?" He piped up.
"I... I don't have family." I replied thankful, he was going back to his questioning.
"Well, you must have had friends. What are they like?"
"I have several, some Larska employees, but most are like me, with disease. Just last week a good friend of mine fell ill and died. Her name was Anna, I never got to say goodbye to her." I watched my feet as I walked.
"Alanis, I'm truly sorry, for the events you have been through." He replied poignantly.
I looked over at him, his head was hung low. Did my words really affect him?
"Hey, it's okay." I smiled in his direction, trying to reassure him I was alright.
"It was something we knew would happen, so we were prepared for it."
"Gods that must be a horrible lie to swallow." He spat into the grass.
Something was bothering him, was it what I had just said? He looked like he wanted to say something more.
He stood still. "Did you hear that?" He whispered over to me.
His blue eyes looked over at me and back ahead of us.
"It sounded like it came from over there." My eyes followed his finger, he was pointing to the peak of a small hill we were near.
"Stay here. I'll go and check it out." He cautiously made his way over to the hill, crouching as he neared its peak.
"What is it?" I whispered loud enough to where he could hear me.
He put his finger to his mouth giving me the universal hush sign.
He was still for several minutes. Suddenly, he perked up, and waved for me to join him. When I reached his side, I could see a group of people riding toward us on horseback, they all wore armor similar to James'. The sunlight caught the golden cloaks that billowed behind them. The two that rode in forefront carried large banners with Berthold's crest, embroidered onto them. My heart raced wondering how they would react to my presence, if they would be as kind as James was.
When they reached us, James stood confidently at my side. I looked up at them. They all wore helmets that concealed their faces. The smallest of the group jumped from his horse, his armor clanked as he landed on the ground. He pulled his helmet off revealing that he was in fact a she. I was surprised, I wasn't expecting to see a woman. She was gorgeous, her eyes were the color of a clear blue sky and her hair shown a faded blond that could easily be mistaken for as silver. She wore it bundled into many intricate braids that resembled a work of art.
Her eyes looked at both James and I as she stepped forward.
She wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Your ability to find trash even in the most secluded of areas astounds me." She scowled over at us.
I bit my bottom lip. Her unprovoked rudeness had angered me. She didn't even know me, what the hell gave her the right to speak about me in such a manner?
She circled around, examining us, just as a bird of prey would.
"We came searching for you when Ellah mysteriously returned without her master. Luckily, she helped us find your trail. You do know you were way out of Berthold Territory?" She beamed happily at James's expense.
Ellah stood at the back of the group. Burs clung to her tangled mane and her saddle clung sloppily to her back.
"From the look of your straggler, I'd say you were lost." She chuckled amused by her observation.
I remained silent waiting to hear what other garbage she would spew, but luckily, James stepped forward with a sarcastic laugh breaking her tirade.
"How I have longed to hear your sweet voice." He knelt to his knee in front of her, his head bowed.
She walked to her horse unscathed by his sarcastic retort.
"Lucky for you," She said while putting her helmet on. She then mounted her horse.
James whistled and Ellah galloped over to us. He straightened her saddle, fastening its restraints. He tugged on them making sure they were properly secure.
He smiled. I could tell he was relieved to see her again, so was I.
"I suggest you use the ride back to polish up the bullshit story you have no doubt concocted for our Lord." Her voice was muffled by the metal, I found it suited her.
She rode to the front of group. The others rode at a steady pace behind her. I was relieved to see her go and hoped to never see her again.
James called me over and helped me up onto Ellah, and mounted in front after I was adjusted.
I leaned forward, while wrapping my arms around him. "Is she always that unpleasant?" I whispered into his ear.
"You caught her on a good day, but yeah, she is cold." He gripped the reins and pulled them up, Ellah began to trot.
"Don't worry." He paused. "We all aren't like that." He gave me an assuring smile as he ordered Ellah to pick up her pace.
I held on to his waist as we picked up speed, he brought us to the front of the pack next to her. He smiled over at her in a provoking manner.
"Stand back!" She ordered. "We will lead you in to town."
"It was rude of me to forget to introduce the two of you." He shouted back teasingly.
"Cassandra this is Alanis." We sped past her. "Alanis, Cassandra."
I looked behind us, they were still traveling at a steady pace.
"Do you think that it was wise to leave them behind like that?" I asked, my fingers clung tightly to his breast plate, afraid of the fall I would take at this speed.
"I was asked to report my findings as soon as possible and that is what I intend to do." He gave me a quick wink.
Something told me I would be getting myself into a lot of trouble if I hung out with this guy any longer. Luckily, it wouldn't be for much longer, I assured myself as we sped away.