Adwin spent some time looking for water, but the grass held no dampness and the earth, likewise was seasonally dry. He ranged a bit further, found some berries and a big ants nest. The ants did not appear to be dangerous, so he tried a couple of them, their nutty flavour was a bit bitter so he left them to their mound and wandered back to the packs.
Tipper came out of the grass, which startled him a bit. “Oh hey,” He said, “did you see our stalkers?”
She nodded, “I did, though I’m relieved to say they were not the trio I was expecting. And they are ahead of us on the road now.” She shrugged as if that was the end of the matter. She seemed calmer today, less tense.
Adwin nodded, “See, no problem. I’m sure the witch or whatever she was has no interest in running into you again. I’m surprised you didn’t break her jaw.”
“Anyway, we should sort and repack. I’d like to check the bindings on the bow as well. If they’ve come loose then the bow’s likely destroyed.”
Adwin took the bow out of his pack, it was presently wrapped with a couple of sacks and had been further wrapped in his poncho, all to protect it from dampness. Tipper took it from him and carefully unwrapped the vaguely heart shaped package. After a moment she passed it back with a satisfied nod.
He asked, “Looks good?”
“Yes, happy to say our mad march did not remove any of the bindings. If you can keep it dry it’ll be good in another few weeks.”
“Seem like a lot of trouble for a bow. I could have made a simple short bow in a couple of days. I mean your bow looks really nice, but six to eight weeks seems like a long time to make a bow to me.” He placed it carefully back into his pack, making sure his extra clothing was placed around it.
“Yeah, typically they stay wrapped for a season, often more for the larger bows. But the composite re-curve is a better bow, more power and more accurate.”
“Don’t the Pwhanna use those bows?”
“They do yes, and that is who taught my great grandfather and his kin how to make the bows. Though almost immediately they started making them larger than the Pwhanna. The design I use is closer to the traditional horse bow.”
“I remember a few years back, during one summer, all the plains people were camped outside of Hadden’s Fort. No all at once, but from late spring through to nearly winter most of the southeastern tribes were all heading north. Heeding the call of some great war leader.”
She nodded, “Yeah, I also remember that time, though where my kin lives is only a bit north of the Sudakkar Wasteland, but we heard of the exodus.”
“Did you ever hear what happened to them? I’ve not seen any of them since.”
She shook her head no, then said, “We should get moving, Lekas should be an easy day’s walk from here.”
He nodded, they helped each other with their packs and were soon back on the road. After a while his muscles were less sore but he was hungry, so he munched on dried goat meat throughout the rest of the morning. Tipper hunted as they went, using her bow to shoot grouse which were very abundant along the road. By the time Lekas was in sight she had bagged nearly a dozen.
Lekas was a small village, with a half dozen homesteads north of the road and as many clustered around the edge of the commons near a small stone keep on the south side. A few winding trails disappeared into the grass, leading to outlying homesteads. The small keep appeared old but well maintained. The fields were mostly planted with hemp and various grain crops, closer to the homesteads vegetable gardens and animal pens were plentiful with more along the edge of the commons. The locals seemed friendly enough and waved from the fields or said hello as they walked past. A small number of them had gathered near the keep and Adwin noted a small shrine to the Goddess of Mercy nearby.
Tipper smiled and said hello as they came up to the group near the keep. “We were hoping to use your well and lodge overnight.” She held up the string of birds she had bagged, “We have fresh game to share.”
An imposing older woman stepped to the front of the gathered locals and appraised the two of them carefully. “Travellers came through earlier today, they said a young couple matching your description may be on the road and that the pair of you were trouble. Something about having assaulted a lady over in Aramy Crossroads.”
Tipper, slightly flushed, said, “It was not us causing the trouble. The lady I struck was a mage and she was using magic on my friend here and others at the same table. She was robbing them.”
The older woman looked Tipper up and down as some of the other locals muttered amongst themselves. A young acolyte of the healing goddess stepped forward and said, “She speaks truly, I see no lie in her words.”
Then the locals had a more vocal discussion; a few thought it a bad idea for the trouble makers to stay, but the majority seemed reassured by the young Sister of Mercy’s appraisal and indignant that a witch would use her powers against common folk. “Its just not right.” One older fellow kept repeating. Another was heard saying, “Such should serve the well being, not beguile and deceive for their own gains.” Eventually, they came to a consensus.
The older woman stepped forward and raised her hand to Tipper, palm forward. “You two may stay. I will host you here in the keep. A fuller telling of your tale will be expected. But, know that you are welcome under the Goddess’s protection.” She awaited Tipper’s reply.
Adwin could see that Tipper was either unfamiliar with the greeting or otherwise unable to provide the correct response. He stepped in and offered his palm, pressing it firmly against the older woman’s offered hand. “I accept the protection of the Goddess and your offer of hospitality. If we may serve the will of the Goddess during our stay we are happy to make such sacrifice.”
The locals seemed happier now. The young acolyte smiled at Adwin, the older woman sent a couple of her people running with tasks or messages and then gestured to her two guests to enter the keep.
From the outside Adwin had thought the village’s little keep was small, but on the inside it was very cramped, the entry level could have housed a small number of animals in its very clean stables though presently it did not seem to be in use for it’s intended purpose. Barrels and boxes were stacked along the walls and a double door was set in the floor at the keep’s centre. “Leave your things over there” The woman made a vague gesture with one broad hand. After dumping their packs and rolls they followed her up a narrow stair to the upper level. This room was nearly the same size as the one below, natural light came from a small open trapdoor in the ceiling which had a narrow ladder granting access to the roof. This second level seemed to be both office and residence, seemingly for two or three people.
The old woman, still rugged and healthy, moved some book’s from a chair and hefted a chest over to a small table which likewise had a couple books and some paperwork laid out. She sat in the room’s other chair and looked at the two of them.
Tipper looked over to Adwin and rose an eyebrow, he shrugged in response. The woman continued to appraise the two of them, Adwin noted that despite her weathered features and mostly steel-grey hair she still had a few dark locks.
“Sit down.” She eventually said, “My name is Andisal Morro. I keep the peace around here and most folk look to me to fix their problems. Though no lady or dame. That means no titles, bowing or ass kissing.”
Tipper laughed. Adwin just looked at the older woman. Looked around the keep again and back to Tipper. Andisal collected three mugs and a jug from a nearby shelf, poured off a strong smelling portion of the jug into each of the mugs. She passed one to Tipper then Adwin and picked up the last.
“Be welcome in my house.” She downed the drink in one gulp.
Adwin drank his starting with a cautious sip, it smelled strongly alcoholic and not much other taste to it. Quince. He gulped the rest of it back and he and Tipper placed their mugs down at the same time.
Andisal continued, “Those birds will need to be cleaned and would be pretty tasty in some pies, when Delleer returns one of you give her a hand with the cooking and we can make room for you to sleep up here. If you need to clean your kit or other such tasks, use the lower level or yard. And, no spitting, shitting or pissing on my tower, use a pot.”
She looked at them again with that probing long stare of hers, then after another moment, “Now give me some space, I need to finish these entries.”
Adwin almost bowed as they got up, but thought better of it. So the old lady was a bossy host, that did not mean he had to be rude. He followed Tipper back down stairs.