It means you finally get that longer part I've (technically not) been promising. (technically been not promising, that is. It very technically is long)
Like...2,209 words. That should satisfy everyone. I just hope it's not too long.
And I am so looking forward to next weeks. *grins* Oh, I have such plans.
In last week's part - Generally Gypsies - option two won which was...interesting because, no matter what some people think (*cough* you listening, oh father? *cough cough*), the different options do make a difference and I can't just manipulate them all to happen in any way I want. Trust me, that would be much easier.
This way I just have to make everything up. But it eventually worked and this is what I ended up with...
“Louise,” a whispering voice spoke. “I would speak with you.”
I swallowed, taking another step back. He grabbed my arm and I froze, not daring to move. “Please, let me go,” I whispered, my voice hoarse in my dry throat.
“Wait,” Lord Saxen Barlow released my arm, “There is something I must ask of you.”
I stopped, seeing his earnest expression. An old pain shimmered behind his eyes. “Yes?” I asked, glancing back over my shoulder to check I wasn’t being watched.
“Jaelle,” he said. “Is she alright?”
I blinked. “Jaelle Țigan?”
The Thief Lord’s lips became thin lines. “Yes.”
“She seems fine,” I shrugged. “At lunch she was looking pretty happy.”
Saxen’s shoulders slumped. “That’s good,” he muttered. “Glad to hear it.”
I frowned slightly. “You don’t look happy,” I replied.
He raised his eyes. “You wouldn’t know.”
“Should I?” I countered.
Our eyes locked for a long moment. Finally the Thief Lord sighed.
“Years ago there was a boy, about eighteen years of age. No one liked him. Hardly anyone noticed that he existed. Except for one girl.
“She was kind, and friendly. The only one who even bothered to try understand.
“They became friends. Close friends.” Saxen Barlow’s eyes darkened. “Then the gypsies came.
“The Girl, too, was a gypsy, but from a different clan than these. Among the new gypsies she met a young man. Handsome and dashing. It wasn’t long before she fell for his charm.
“When the two began courting, the first man—” Saxen paused, sadness and anger mixed in his eyes
“—the first man begged the girl to come with him, but she refused. So he left. Never to return again.”
I felt a pang of compassion, as his shoulders slumped still further. “And…?”
“I’ve never seen her since,” he heaved. A tight frown touched his brows. “Why am I telling you this?”
“Because I get you,” I replied, lifting one shoulder in half a shrug. “And I’m sorry.”
He looked at me steadily, emotions conflicting in his eyes. “Thank you—” he broke off, a look of alarm flashing across his features. With a rustle he crouched, disappearing into the bushes rapidly.
I spun around at the sound of a footfall. Jas’s figure emerged from the darkness, a bright spring in his step.
“Jas,” I said, stepping backward and tripping on a stick.
He caught my arm before I fell over completely. “Hey,” he smiled hesitantly. Bending down, he picked up the stick and tossed it away into the bushes.
I winced inwardly, hoping it didn’t hit the Thief Lord. “Yes?” I asked.
“Er…well, I’m meant to tell you…umm…” he took a deep breath, drawing himself up straight and squaring his shoulders. “I am here to escort you to dinner.”
“Oh,” I blinked. “Thanks, I guess.”
His fingers twitched uncertainly. “Ah, just this way, my lady,” he said.
I fell in beside him as he led me through the gypsy camp.
“Altin was meant to be doing this,” Jas confided in an aside, “But he didn’t want to and told me to do it. I don’t know what his problem is.” He smiled again, one hand nervously patting his already neat hair back into place.
“I see.” I couldn’t think of anything much to say to that. Thankfully I was rescued by the appearance of the dinner fire, surrounded by half a dozen gypsies.
“Just over by your friends,” Jas pointed toward where Leonora sat with Daneela on her lap, Eumin beside her.
I settled myself on one of the many cushions around the dining area. “Hey Daneela,” I smiled as she scrunched her nose at me.
“You’ve been quiet this afternoon,” Eumin remarked. “I’ve barely seen you since lunch.”
I shrugged, “Been busy thinking.”
“Did it hurt?”
I raised my eyebrows at Leonora. She looked up innocently. “Yes?” she asked, as if she hadn’t said anything.
Shaking my head I turned back to the food.
Platters were spread with an assortment of dishes. Long buns of fresh bread, and roasted meat dripping with juices. I breathed in a deep breath, tasting the aroma on my tongue. “Is there always this much food?” I asked no one in particular.
Hans, on the far side of Eumin answered. “Sometimes. This has been our best camp for quite some time and it has much to give. Tomorrow morn I shall take some of the men hunting for more fresh game.”
“Sounds tasty,” Leonora said, inspecting a small, oddly shaped pastry before putting the whole thing in her mouth.
“Careful—” Hans began but Leonora was already coughing.
Tears streamed from her eyes as she panted and started eating as many of the vegetables on her plate as fast as she could.
“That,” Hans said, clearing his throat with a smile, “Was a pasta de chiles. A chilli pastry. Very hot and spicy.”
“You don’t say?” Leonora said, shovelling another heap of vegetables into her mouth.
“There is a reason we normally call it especia de loco. Madman’s spice,” Jaelle said, leaning over my shoulder to fill my cup with water.
“Thanks,” I nodded to her, part of my mind distantly thinking about the Thief Lord’s story. “Do you remember a man called Saxen Barlow?” I blurted as she turned away.
She stopped short, looking down at me. “Yes,” she murmured softly. “I remember him. But I made my choice, and I don’t regret anything.” Her long, bright skirt swirled around her ankles as she moved off, making her way to serve all the others.
I munched thoughtfully on a roast potato, lost in thought.
When everyone had finally finished their meal, we moved from the dining area to one of the large campfires dotted around the camp. Leonora gave Daneela back to her mother, and dropped to the ground beside me.
“It’s days like these when I wish I was a gypsy,” she remarked, stretching her long legs toward the fire. “Just living off what you find, moving from place to place, never in the one spot for too long.”
“That’s why you go rampaging around the country on adventures,” Eumin said, tossing a stray stick into the flames.
“Or hunting down assassins as the case may be.” Leonora shrugged. “I still haven’t gotten over how many exciting things can happen in the one country.”
“Not that you limit the adventures to one country,” Eumin replied. “We’ve been halfway across the known world.”
“And look what we found.” Leonora waved a hand at me. “Another adventure.”
I smiled happily into the fire, glad to have a few days rest in the adventure, exciting though it might be.
I’d barely finished the thought before Leonora sat up straight, a frown on her face.
“What?” I asked at the same moment as Eumin.
She held up a hand and in another moment I heard it too. The pounding sound of galloping hoof beats.
Hans stood quickly as a rider burst into the camp. The horse swerved his way, skidding to a stop a few meters from the fire. The rider threw himself from the saddle, his words pouring out in a rush.
Even without understanding the language I could tell it wasn’t good news.
Hans listened until the man was finished then sent him away with a quick word. Jas jumped up from the fire and ran to lead the horse away, speaking to it quietly as he disappeared.
“I am afraid that was bad news,” Hans said, turning to Eumin and Leonora. “That man is a trusted friend of mine, he says that at midday today the assassin struck again, this time killing a fisherman’s oldest two sons while they were mending nets by the shore.
Leonora and Eumin were both on their feet in a flash, I wasn’t far behind. “We’ll need two horses,” Leonora said, her voice tight. “Eumin and I will set off tonight for the town. It’s our best chance to start immediately.”
“Hey,” I protested, “What about me?”
“You can’t come,” Eumin and Leonora said simultaneously.
“It’s safer here,” Eumin continued. “We won’t actually be dealing directly with Marius himself so you won’t be able to do anything.”
I dropped to the ground again, somewhat relieved. “But…” I tried to think of some excuse.
“If there’s any chance of something you can do, we’ll send word immediately,” Eumin said.
I searched my mind, but it wasn’t too eager to give any reasons for going. “Alright then,” I relented, annoyed at myself for not wanting to go in the first place. Heroines shouldn’t hide with gypsies while other people go after the villain.
I guess that’s why I’m no heroine.
“It will be a dangerous journey to Sáliner,” Hans warned.
“Don’t worry about us,” Leonora said, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. “Worry about Daneela when she wakes up and finds I’m gone.”
“Altin,’ Hans turned to his oldest son, who glanced up from the fire, eyebrows raised in question. “Fetch and saddle two horses. The fastest.”
The boy stood, an uninterested look on his face. “Yes father,” he said, turning in the direction Jas had taken moments earlier.
Just then, Jas appeared, leading two horses. “I figured you’d be wanting to go,” he said awkwardly, holding out the reins.
“Thank you Jas,” Hans said, ruffling his son’s hair.
Jas ducked, grinning sheepishly as he combed it back into place with his fingers. Altin shrugged and sat back down again.
Leonora took the reins, passing one pair to Eumin. “We’ll be off then,” she said, smiling encouragingly at me. “Don’t worry.”
I tried for a smile. “I won’t,” I said, knowing it was a lie as soon as it slipped between my lips.
The two of them swung into the saddles, waving a last goodbye before wheeling the horses and cantering out of the camp. I watched them as the darkness enveloped them and the sound of hoof beats faded.
Hans let a deep breath loose with a hiss. “We won’t hear from them for at least a day,” he predicted. “Best to get some sleep now while you can.”
I allowed Jaelle to lead me back to the tent I’d first woken in, but I doubted that I’d be able to sleep.
Despite my fears, I woke in the morning to discover that I had managed to sleep after all. Wandering out, I encountered Daneela sobbing on the ground. Seeing my approach she looked up hopefully.
“You see horsie?” she asked.
I cracked a smile. “Horsie had to leave,” I explained. “She’ll be back soon.” I hope.
Daneela started sobbing again and her mother put her head out of the nearby tent. “Come on, Dan,” she called. “Breakfast?”
“Don’t want breakfast,” the girl sulked. “Want horsie.”
I gratefully accepted the offer of breakfast with Daneela’s family. Afterwards, Daneela had brightened up sufficiently to finish her bowl and blink up at me again.
“Horsie back again?” She smiled hopefully.
“Maybe you should go look,” I avoided her question artfully.
“I go look for horsie,” she announced, scrambling up and toddling out of the tent.
Unsure what to do, I followed, wandering about the camp. I came across Jas and Altin working at the horse pen.
“Hey,” Jas greeted me, ducking his head awkwardly as he passed, lugging a barrow of dirty hay.
“Morning,” I nodded back, leaning against the post and rail fence.
“D’you want a tour of the camp?” he asked, returning a few minutes later.
I shrugged. “Sure,” I said.
“Not much to see,” Altin grunted, tossing an armful of hay over the fence. “A bunch of tents, a bunch of people and that’s about it.”
Jas dropped the handles of the barrow. “Come on, it’s not that bad. I’m gonna show her dad’s weapons tent.”
His brother turned on him. “You’re not allowed to just go in there for no reason,” he protested.
“You can come too if you want,” Jas replied, turning away. “I’ll show you,” he grinned at me, jogging off toward the tents.
I followed, hearing Altin’s growl of annoyance behind as he came after.
When Jas stopped in front of the tent his brother scowled darkly. “Don’t forget that I’m in charge while dad’s hunting,” he warned. “I could get you in enough trouble that you wouldn’t want to—”
“Just ignore him,” Jas said, pulling up the tent flap and walking inside.
The walls were lined with long tables, weapons of all kinds laid along the boards. “Wow,” I murmured. There were so many.
“I know,” Jas agreed. “My favourite is the broadsword.” He picked up a heavy sword from the table closest. “But I’m too small to learn it.”
“If dad finds out that you’re playing with his weapons…” Altin said warningly.
“If you don’t say anything he’s not going—”
Jas’s argument was interrupted by a shrill shout of warning. Both gypsies beside me stiffened, turning to the tent flap.
2. The tent shuddered from a sudden blow, and I had time to yelp a warning before the heavy fabric collapsed on top of us.
3. Jas grabbed a sword, shoving it into my hands. “Come on.” He flashed a grin. “It sounds like an attack.”
Wow. That was longer than I originally planned it to be. Egh. Hope that's okay. I'm really looking forward to seeing which option you all vote for favourite this week!