The adventurer sisters caught up with him quickly, their black steeds were easily able to race the distance from wherever they’d gone to change armour to where he was. Rose had a disappointed but resigned look as she approached, a stark contrast to the bright dimpled smile on Tay’s. A smile likely caused by the freedom of not wearing their armour, even as she approached Tay was rotating her arms, fully enjoying the freedom of movement brought about by changing into a simple leather jerkin and plain tunic.
“You ready?” the happier sister asked as she approached.
“I am,” Rohl replied as he guided his horse away from the marching mercenaries and towards a small dirt path that peered into the thick foliage of the forest next to them. Tay and Rose soon took the lead with Rohl following close behind, it was a small path only allowing for a single file. Both of the dirt tracks sides were covered in thick undergrowth. The dense vegetation was only added to by the vines that suffocated all the nearby trees and plants, creating a thick knotted mess of plants that even their horses would likely get tangled in.
“Knotweed,” Rohl muttered as he fiddled with a bit of the plant that he pulled free from a nearby tree “they should cut it before it spreads and strangles the other plants.”
Just ahead he could see Tay giving him a confused tilt of the head.
“It sometimes grew in Shrewsborough, either we or the local druid had to remove it otherwise it soon spreads throughout the whole forest” Rohl explained as Tay began to nod her head in understanding.
“How dull,” Rose whispered, still in the eery silence of the forest her voice unknowingly carried further than she realised. Still, Rohl didn’t call her on it, she had saved his life and her his, there wasn’t any reason to create a fuss over such a small thing.
“So, what are we looking for as outriders?” Rohl asked as his eyes scanned the tree line on either side of him for possible threats.
“Monsters that could threaten the march. Oooh if this was a march to war then we’d also look for tracks, other outriders and the position of nearby armies. There isn’t much point if were just marching to a friendly city. The forest ends just ahead, after there’s a lovely view of flowers, it’s very pretty. Let’s go have a look,” Tay spoke almost dreamily before putting her horse into a canter and speeding ahead.
Rose only stopped to give him a “What have you done” look before quickly following suit. Rohl not wanting to be left alone soon followed. It didn’t take long for him to reach the sisters who had halted their horses on the crescent of a nearby hill with a clear line of sight over a span of flowers, plains and forests, Rohl could understand the appeal.
“Well, I can say with confidence that there aren’t any other armies here,” Rohl spoke to Rose who just rolled her eyes in response. Tay was too focused on the view to hear anything.
“There’s another path down there we should probably check just to be sure.”
“I'll get that one, it's narrow and if there’s a dead-end we’d all have to scoot up,” Tay replied. The mage did not give anyone chance to argue as she soon cantered her horse towards the small hidden track in the forest. This left just Rohl and Rose sitting awkwardly.
“So nice weather we're having,” Rohl said in a rather poor attempt at small talk, especially since it was a rather overcast and gloomy day. When his statement garnered no reply, he tried again.
“I never asked, where are you two from?” Was his second attempt.
“You won't have heard of it.” Was all Rose spoke in return, a clear air of uncaring in her voice.
“Oh cool, so how long have you two known each other?” Rohl asked with a chuckle at the end, just to be sure she knew he meant it as a joke.
“Our whole lives.”
After opening and closing his mouth a few times in a desperate attempt to think of something to say, Rohl finally gave up. Resigning himself to the awkward silence, it seemed the other adventurer just didn’t want to talk or get to know anyone, which was fair enough. There were plenty of times when Rohl didn’t want to speak to anyone, he wouldn’t force friendship on someone who clearly wasn’t interested in making friends.
“Let's keep the silence, keep things separate,” Rose stated as she turned her horse away from his.
Rohl had nothing to say to that and instead decided to wait patiently for Tay’s return, at least he had a stunning view to occupy himself with as he waited. He did attempt to do some scouting but if he stared too hard at a certain area, everything began to look like a monster or every rustle in the bushes a possible threat.
Fortunately, Tay returned shortly after, the sound of her horse trotting up the small path was abundantly clear. Although her appearance came as a shock.
Her clothes were torn, her armour scratched, and her body splattered in dried blood. None of it her own, apart from the rare scratch, Tay was completely unscathed with an almost relieved expression on her face.
“Are you okay? What happened?” Rohl asked as his eyes scoured her form for serious injuries and his hand hovered slightly over his weapon.
“I'm fine, just a few goblins that needed to be taken care of,” Tay replied an almost dream lie tone to her voice.
“You should have called for help, you could still have been seriously wounded,” Rohl returned still concerned about her condition.
“No need, I wanted to handle it, but look at you all concerned about me, so cute,” Tay replied as she pinched his right cheek slightly and smiled at him.
“I think we should get you back to the march, have a healer check you over, just to make sure you aren’t injured or concussed or something like that,” Rohl tried again now even more concerned, the worry in his eyes had not been dispersed by her actions.
“She’s fine, we’ll finish scouting up ahead and then make our way back,” Rose interrupted before quickly leading her horse towards a new direction.
“If you say so,” Rohl replied still clearly hesitant, he watched Tay closely for any injures as she began to lead her horse after Rose.
He trusted Rose knew best when it came to her sister but despite this, he couldn’t help but be a little concerned. But with the sisters refusing to head back immediately, Rohl had no choice but to follow them as they explored the next trail.
It was another small dirt track that followed the curves of the hills, keeping them just out of the edges of the forest. Rohl guessed it was popular for hunters, foresters and the like given its proximity to the forest and the road.
Plus it provided them with a good line of sight over the surrounding areas and allowed them to probably scout the area, even with the advantageous path, outriding was a long task and one that couldn’t be rushed. By the time they were done and returned to the company, night was beginning to fall and the mercenary contingent had almost finished making camp.
“All clear,” Tay said to one of the guards manning the camps main entrance. The man seemed too busy being concerned by the blood to take in her words.
“I'll go see the captain, I’d still recommend seeing a healer and maybe washing up,” Rohl spoke to the sisters as they dismounted near the gates and led their horses towards the makeshift stables. Although stables was a strong word for what was essentially a bunch of poles stuck in the ground with horses tied to them.
“Fine, if only so you stop worrying,” Tay replied before hugging him goodbye and making her way towards the supply area and where the healer was most likely located. After promising himself to check up on her Rohl made his way towards the centre of camp. Manoeuvring past tents, campfires and mercenaries as he did so.
As expected, the Valhalderson’s were camped there, along with a handful of lieutenants and once his presence became known, he soon found himself being waved over by Tilson.
“Anything out of the ordinary,” the lieutenant asked once Rohl had positioned himself across from the assembled group, a small table and local map were all that separated them.
“Nope, all good,” he replied.
“Excellent, now Rohl we have a special favour to ask, you know the city and its leaders, would you ride out tomorrow with a handful of men and inform the city of our arrival,” the captain asked as all the assembled mercenaries turned their focus upon Rohl.
“Sure, id be happy to, who’s going with me?”
“Reginald and Tilson will accompany you, along with a handful of mounted men at arms, you will depart soon after tomorrows march begins,” the captain spoke as he ignored everyone else who may have been about to volunteer.
“As you say,” Reginald and Tilson replied as they ignored Freya’s annoyed looks towards her father.
“That is all, you are dismissed unless you have anything to add,” the captain spoke.
Rohl gently shook his head before turning to scan the nearby tents.
“If you’re looking for the elf, far right of the camp, just past the main cooking fire,” Reginald said as Rohl nodded in thanks before ignoring Tilson’s comment of “He’ll be in trouble if he’s late” as he did so.
He kept his ears shut to anymore follow up comments and made his way towards a larger pavilion, the large line of mercenaries queued outside soon gave away its function, they were all there to get their share of the food being prepared.
Mash potatoes, chicken and gravy seemed to be the meal for tonight, and Rohl loved mash potato. He could eat bowls of the stuff if no one stopped him, especially with gravy. Although that was an extremely rare treat. Rohl was not going to miss the opportunity to feast on the dish tonight.
He was not one to abuse his achievements but when a potato-based dish was on the line, things could change. Much to his joy, Flora seemed to be on cooking duty, she was busy dishing up servings at the far back of the pavilion.
And so Rohl snuck around to the back of the tent and slowly approached the mercenary.
“Flora, can I ask a favour?” he asked in an almost whisper.
Despite his volume, she still jumped back slightly in surprise, somehow missing Rohl’s approach from directly in front of her, she was likely too preoccupied in the monotony of preparing meals.
Once she found Rohl’s gaze, she gave an embarrassed flush before speaking “Of course.”
“Can I have two of the meals, one for me and my companion please, I've only just returned and I'm starved. Only if you're not going to get in trouble for it though,” Rohl replied with a friendly smile as he did his best to convince the mercenary.
“Sure, don’t worry about it, anything you need.”
“Thanks, you’re the best,” Rohl replied as he tightly gripped the two dished Flora soon handed to him, dished laded with delicious-looking food.
“Will I see you later?” he asked as he made sure he had a tight grip on the place, despite the urgency of the food, he did still want to know if the mercenary group would be joining them for more stories.
Flora went a little wide eyes before nodding her head as a small blush fought its way onto her cheeks.
“Great see you later,” Rohl answered as he snuck his way back out the tent, his mood sufficiently raised by the food he held.
With great care, he made his way through the tents and towards where Ell should be. He found her shortly after, sat around a slightly blazing campfire. She sat alone, it was still early enough that most of the mercenaries would be out finishing tasks or collecting meals.
Rohl took the empty seat next to her and with reluctance gave her a plate of the food.
“Stop looking at my food like a starved dog,” she chided as she took her share of the meal.
“But thank you, good to see my training has gone to use,” his companion added as she began to tuck into the meal.
“Still not a dog,” Rohl replied as he soon began to tuck into the dish with a ravenous hunger.
“So how was the rest of the march?” he soon asked in between bites.
“Boring, plus the sound of constant marching is torturous. Humans are so ungraceful in their steps.”
“I give you that one, you do seem a lot more stealthy than us.”
“Did that hurt?” Ell asked right after in fake concern, even going as far as to gently rest her hand on his forehead.
“Did what?” Rohl asked with a confused tilt.
“Using your brain, it's been known to happen if they go too long without use,” Ell responded with a taunting smile.
“I know, I bet your brains has never seen so much use, do you need me to kiss it better for you?” the elf teased.
“If you wouldn’t mind,” Rohl responded in a poor attempt to counter the elf’s teasing.
His words clearly hadn’t worked as a moment later a small smirk crept onto the elf’s face as she crept closer to Rohl, she moved just a few centimetres from his ear as her presence made Rohl hold back a small shiver.
“Perv,” she whispered softly before backing off in a laugh.
Before Rohl could formulate a reply, she moved towards him once again placing a soft kiss upon his cheek “But maybe if you're good,” the elf whispered with a slight tinge upon her cheeks.
This cut off any reply Rohl had as he become ever thankful for the light of the fire preventing anyone from seeing his flushed face. With that little event over they returned to finishing their meal in an unusual silence.
Only after the mood of the evening had settled did a new conversation take hold between them
“How are you doing?” Ell asked in real concern.
“I'm fine, why?” Rohl asked dragging out the why as he spoke.
“We've been through a lot, battles, dungeons, beasts, not to mention your family. It's a lot for one person, a lot even for an elf.”
Her words made him pause. He had been through so much, achieved more than already than many do their entire lives. It was rather overwhelming but on the other side, what choice did he have but to accept it and move on. There was no turning back and no home to go back to. All he could do was plough on through and deal with whatever life threw at him.
I'll be fine, I have to be, Rohl thought as he prepared a different answer as to not worry his companion.
“I'm fine, I've got you haven’t I?” he responded as he prayed Ell wouldn’t ask any further questions on the matter.
“Fair point,” his companion responded although she didn’t seem truly convinced, not until he gave her hand a small squeeze a he got up.
“I think I'm going to get an early night,” Rohl said as he placed his meal by the campfire and made his way towards the closest tent. Fortunately, belongings were laid within and were stacked neatly in one corner. After a short change into some fresher clothes, he slid under the fur covers and attempted to succumb to worrisome sleep.
He could sense Ell presence a short few minutes later as she rummaged around her own belongings and clothes. Once she had finished her own tasks, Rohl could feel her slip under the furs and manoeuvre herself in front of him. With his companion hugged tightly against his chest, Rohl’s worry filed sleep became ever lighter.