Chapter Twenty Six

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A slight drizzle blanketed the tiny village. Selene could see the lights emanating from a few of the buildings as they approached from the south. The road was small and rutted, but their horses seemed relieved to be out of the dark and cluttered forest floor and on to at least somewhat sure footing. She had seen the beginnings of the farm lands just before the sun started dipping behind the trees. They spent the last hour or so in silence. Kareth thought it prudent to put the stories on hold as they neared civilization.

Selene felt a chill as the small cottages slowly appeared through the haze, nestled by the hills, hugged by the woods. It was a scene she expected to hear about in stories, but never truly experience. It took only minutes to make it into the village. The town was a collection of a few cottages, smithies’, and a stable attached to the single inn, The Stones Throw.  There was no sigil visible in the town, and from what she could tell it looked to be free of any influence from the neighboring lords. That was a good thing, she thought, but odd. The village was closer to Bondary than Harrendom, but Kareth had told her that some of the small settlements owed their wages to merchants from Adremia or Garr, rather than to the noble lords of the Vint.

“The king taxes the lords. The king taxes the merchants. The king taxes everyone. He cares naught about where the gold originates from.” Kareth had grown cautious as they walked their horses into the village.

Selene new the deal, same as before, though she had thought it odd that Kareth had insisted that they were husband and wife. It would have made more sense if she had gone as his daughter. No doubt Kareth had seen more winters than her, but he was not too young as to cause suspicion.

“If we are approached by any noble men, it is safer for both of us if you are my wife and not my daughter. I am sure that you can understand.”

It made sense after Kareth explained it to her. The nobles would kill a father and rob his daughter of her virtue if they so pleased, but they were less likely to kill a man and steal his wife, though not much less.

A stable boy met them as they stopped in front of the inn. They dropped from their horses and handed the boy the reigns. Kareth tossed him a copper piece and led Selene out of the cold drizzle. They were met by a few questionable stares, but it was warm and there was the obvious presence of meat and mead. A serving girl waved them to a table to the right and they shrugged off their damp cloaks before sitting.

Selene took a moment to take in the fellow patrons. They were mostly farm hands and travelling salesman. There was a small group of fighting men in the back with at least one knight, but they seemed sullen enough and ate and drank quietly.

“We are safe enough here, my dear.” Kareth must have noticed her disquiet. He nodded at a serving girl and in no time at all she returned with plates of meat and bread, and glasses full of a deep red wine that was so sweet she felt the rush go to her head almost immediately.

“It is the fine red found only in Marwyn,” he said after swirling the drink around in his mouth for a moment. “Surprising to find it here, I have not tasted Marwyn Red in many years.”

Selene took another drink. “Is it terribly expensive?”

“Compared to the gold from Ventos, no, but it is more than even the most generous of innkeeps can afford to waste on scruff of the Vint such as you or I.” Kareth glanced around the room as the beginnings of a smile could be seen creeping onto his face. “I dare say we are safer here than I had previously thought.”

Across the room a man burst out of the kitchen with a sweeping laugh. He sauntered through the inn, shaking the hands of various patrons. He was moving to a table close to the side of the room where they were seated when he noticed Kareth. The man was tall and round, with a balding head and a full salt and pepper beard. His brown eyes lit up at the sight of Selene’s shoddy companion.

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