God of Shadow – Chapter 6

According to the stories her parents had told her since she was a child, Thornin was far enough north that it would take Sielahiel three days on horseback to reach it. As the sun rose high overhead, she wondered why she wouldn’t catch up to Adahmri before she reached Thornin. He had left on foot, not even a full day ahead of her, and was apparently under-supplied. Surely she would catch up to him well before Thornin.

Her cheeks flushed as she wondered what she would say once she caught up to him. Would he even be happy to see her? He had left so suddenly the previous day – without saying goodbye – that Sielahiel had wondered if she had said or done something wrong. He had then ignored her when she had called out to him. If she had upset him, then perhaps her sudden appearance would only exacerbate the problem. But he had always been fond of her. Perhaps seeing her would soothe him long enough that she could make it right.

But then what? How was she supposed to help Adahmri with his quest? She was no warrior. She hadn’t even traveled before. If anything, she would be a liability to the young man. Why would Ariana want her to go to him, if she would be a liability? Did she want him to fail? Did she care if Sielahiel was a liability?

She shuddered at the direction her thoughts took and decided she would worry about that when the time came.

The journey was uneventful. Sielahiel reached the road and followed it north, as instructed. She came upon few other travelers, and none of them sought to reach out to her, or to speak with her. The first night, she led the Cayil off the road and settled down for the night in a copse of trees. As she sat with her back against a tree, Cayil grazing nearby, she took an inventory of her supplies. She had plenty of food and drink, as well as clothing and first aid materials. She had brought a simple tent, as well, but she realized too late that she had no idea how to set it up. Fortunately, the sky was clear. Stars shone far above, but she couldn’t see the moons from this position.

She slept next to the horse, and then continued her journey north at sunrise. For two more days, she traveled, and she did not come across any sign of Adahmri. She was worried, at first, but decided that if the goddess Ariana had known that she wouldn’t catch up to Adahmri until she reached Thornin, then perhaps he had found a way to get there quicker. Perhaps he had joined some other travelers already going there.

When the city gates loomed ahead, visible from her position at the top of a final hill, Sielahiel drew her horse to a stop. Her work-horse had made slow progress. It was already late, and she wouldn’t reach the gates until night had settled fully. She hoped they would let her in. In Lorre, they closed the gates before sundown due to a curfew imposed by the militia. If Thornin kept a similar practice, she could be locked out until morning.

And she desperately wanted a bed at an inn.

She frowned and looked inside her coin purse as she coaxed Cayil to continue forward. She didn’t have much coin. She had only packed her own supply and hadn’t asked her parents for any more. Depending on how expensive things were in the city, she might have to find some way to earn more coin – or forego the inn room.

Sielahiel dismounted when she reached the gates. The heavy doors were shut, and an armored guard stood to the left of the entrance. She didn’t see any bars, and she figured the presence of the guard was a promising sign. She kept her cloak’s hood up as she led her horse by the reins. With a glance over her shoulder toward Cayil, she approached the imposing gates.
The guardsman ordered her to halt.

“State your name and your purpose for visiting Thornin,” he demanded.

The young woman tightened her grip on the reins. Cayil was silent behind her, the mellow horse utterly unbothered by the presence of the unfamiliar guard. “I… I’m Sielahiel,” she answered. “I came from Lorre. I’m looking for a young lad called Adahmri. He should’a been through here recently. Came from Lorre, too.”

The guardsman looked her up and down, as if the curve of her waist and the billow of her pale skirts could verify her words. She shifted uncomfortably under the scrutiny, but he simply turned to the gate and knocked hard on it twice with his armored fist. The heavy gates slowly opened and he waved her through.

She paused as she stepped inside with her horse, and then turned back as the gates closed. Two more guards stood on this side, and they looked at her with the same scrutiny as the guard outside had. She bit her lip.

“So, lads…” she boldly called to them. “That inn nearby? The Golden Limb?”

The taller guard stared at her oddly, and then pointed. She followed the gesture to see that she stood about twenty feet from a massive sign illuminated by three hanging lanterns: The Golden Limb. Her gaze shifted past the sign and settled on the large inn on the other side of a small lawn. She pinched the bridge of her nose and called back a hasty thank-you before hurrying forward toward the inn. The stables on the southern side of the building looked like a perfect place to leave Cayil, so she took him inside and let out a relieved sigh when she saw that most of the stalls were empty.

Once Cayil was secure in the stable, she hurried to the entrance door of the inn and slipped inside. With a quiet little exhale, she eased her hood back and looked around. The main room was noisy. Three minstrels played a raucous tune about fair maidens dancing in a field, while a crowd of men slapped their legs and laughed at the tale they wove.

Sielahiel’s eyes scanned the room hopefully. Many of the tables were occupied, and she almost didn’t notice Adahmri. A plump barmaid stood next to him, hanging on his arm as she appeared to try to sell him some manner of drink. The young man looked tired, and kept shaking his head. Biting her lip, Sielahiel approached.

“No, thank you, miss,” Adahmri repeated. “Mead will keep me awake.”

“All the better, sweetheart,” the woman cooed with a wink.

Adahmri’s face flushed, and Sielahiel smiled to herself at his embarrassment. But then the young man stood up, pushing his stool back with a loud scrape of wood on stone. He looked at the barmaid angrily.

“Leave me alone,” he snapped. “I’m not paying some wench to warm my bed.”

Sielahiel froze, her eyes wide as she watched the flustered barmaid flounce away. Adahmri glared after the woman, and then ran his hand through his sleek hair. With a heavy sigh, he turned away from his table and dug in his pocket. He glanced at Sielahiel and took one step toward the nearby staircase before he stopped short. His gaze swiveled back, shock registering on his face.

Sielahiel clasped her hands behind her, suddenly nervous. Adahmri seemed different already. Was it because he had learned of his heritage? Was he still the same person who had tugged on her heartstrings for years?

Adahmri shook his head and hurried forward to her, the gaping look replaced by one of fear and concern. “Siel!” he hissed as he reached out toward her. His hands stopped halfway to her arms and he began to fidget instead. His eyes darted around the room toward the various empty tables, as if he struggled to meet her gaze. “What in the hells are you doing here?”

Sielahiel smiled to herself. Adahmri’s nervousness was oddly reassuring. He hadn’t changed so much, after all.

“Hey, kid,” she answered quietly. “We gotta talk. I met your mother.” Adahmri went still, and his eyes snapped back to her face. He looked dazed, disoriented. Sielahiel put her hand on his shoulder and smiled. He shook his head, clearing his thoughts.

“O-Of course,” he stammered. “Do you… want to join me upstairs?”

“Only as long as necessary, kid,” she teased. “No wenches for your bed, remember?” Adahmri’s face flared, and his words came out in a sputtered jumble. Sielahiel laughed lightly and patted his cheek.

Adahmri may have changed, but he was still the same awkward youth he had always been.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Line Art by Novianttt88h. Colored by Mike Lisle.

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