CHAPTER IV: SLATE WIPED CLEAN

A SANTHARIAN NOVEL

 
Darkling Abroad   
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Introduction. Settling into camp for their first night abroad, Viresse and Rube begin to iron out the rough patches over a tarep and a chill. And finally Viresse begins the first signs of work - recording the trip in her own notes.

 

iresse rubbed her eyes and yawned. She slid off of the wagon and stretched, her hands high above her head. Looking around, she tried to find tinder or wood that could feed a fire for the next couple of hours - the sun was retreating beyond the further ridges, and playing upon the surface of the Thaehelvil as it forked - one arm that they would follow to Tyr Thromgolin, and the other that dropped into the Anaios Gap. She could just make out Vista Castle in the forks of the river, its spires reaching into the darkening sky.

Rube had also slid off of the wagon, and was un-harnessing the horses. He unlatched their bridles from the wagon tethers, and took them off the yoke. Rube walked them about three peds away, then reached down and bound one leg of each of them, to prevent them from running off. He wiped his hands off on his pants and walked away, the two large horses snipping boredly at the grass at their feet. He approached Viresse.

"We're in the foothills of the Northern peaks of Rimmerins' Ring," he said to her. Then he picked up a long stick, and scraped it in the ground, leaving a small rutted indentation in the earth. "If we stick to the river, we'll run into Tyr Thromgolin late tomorrow," he continued. "Most of the morning of the day after that will be spent unloading - so feel free to wander around town during that time. Hopefully, after noon or so we can leave, getting us in Elsreth at a late hour. Perfect for your arrival in the Paelelon." Rube stopped before her, and held the long twig between his two fisted hands. "Sound good?"
 

"Sounds fine with me," Viresse said. She shrugged. "It sounds pre-planned so I have to go with it." She reached out and took the stick from him, he relinquished it with no struggle. "For more pertinent matters." She tapped the tapered end in the palm of her pale hand, reminiscent of a quizzing school marm. "What is for supper?"

"I'd forgotten. I've got something pretty good. If I do say so myself. I picked up the makings for stew in Santhala earlier today. Carroots, an onion, peasecods, peppercorns for spice and I'm sure that if I look, a potato-tuber can be dug up." He quickly ran around the unhitched wagon and reached into the corner of the wagon closest to the side he sat at, and withdrew a small burlap sack.  I've also got a sturdy pot - but no meat. I'm not paying for meat in town when it's- well... free out here." He set the bag upon the wagon seat and looked at Viresse. "Can you help me with that?"

Viresse nodded once. "The long eared animals. What do you call them?"

Rube cocked his head, confused. " Tarepi?"

"That's what you want?" Viresse asked.

"That would be fine." Rube nodded slowly.

Viresse turned on her heel quickly and slipped into the brush.

Rube shook his head slowly, apparently still confused by the drow girl. He left the sack of vegetables on the wagon seat, and began to search for firewood and a potato-tuber. As he gathered dead wood from a felled tree, whether from natural causes or from a earlier travel party in search of the same thing he was unable to tell, he heard a small, mammalian shriek. He stood up straight and tried to look in the direction it came from, but could not see more than a few peds from his point. He shrugged it off and continued to search for tinder to start a fire. He also found a potato. It took a bit of work to get it out of the ground - he used his knife as a wedge to pry it from the earth. It as a good size, and he smirked confidently as he walked to the site.

Viresse was waiting when Rube came back, his arms laden with firewood. She had found a small rock to delicately perch upon, clasping a beheaded tarep by the feet as she watched him approach. "Just one, right?" she asked.

Rube, eyes wide as he eyed her headless catch, could only agree. He set the wood about a ped away from her feet, and arranged a stack of wood, then stuffed a heady amout of tinder into the space beneath the base. He reached into the pocket of his breeches, withdrew a tinderbox and struck it to alight a fire.

Viresse rose from her seat and went to the wagon to retrieve the vegetables and the pot they were to cook in. She also grabbed the water skin that Rube also had in his side of the wagon. She returned to her rock-seat by the fire, laid the tarep across her lap and began to cut the vegetables with the dagger form her belt while Rube tended to starting to the fire. He glanced up as the brash tinder-flames began to alight the rotting wood.

"So - how'd you do it?" Rube asked, and took the tarep from her lap, exchanging it with the potato- tuber. He took out his own dagger and began to skin it.

"It?" Viresse asked.

"The tarep. You only beheaded him," Rube noted.

"Yes," Viresse stated, and set the cut carroot into the pot. She picked up the potato-tuber and began to cut it into round slices.

"Oh - stop being so vague. You beheaded the tarep - did you sneak up to it and hack its head off with a knife?"

"It looks that way, yes?" She answered and pointed to the muscled, skinless tarep that obviously was missing a cranium.

"Well... yea..." Rube admitted, as he lifted some of the dark-red muscle from the tarep's strong hind legs.

"So, why are you asking?" Viresse asked, a smile playing across her face.

Rube blinked, then responded only with a shrug.

"I don't own a bow, and I doubt you do. So I used what I had, got what I wanted, and benefit wholly from my own strength and prowess," Viresse noted. She set the potato-tuber in the pot and looked at the onion. "Do you care much for onion?" she asked Rube.

"No, not so much... " Rube answered absently, then looked up as Viresse began cutting the onion. "Is that what you do? Take what you want when you want it, and who cares about the outcome? "

"By Corr's cold hand, Rube! It's a tarep!" Viresse let out a small sigh, and pointed at Rube with her knife, slickened and stinging of onion juice. "Look. There are things that I do that are an instinctual part of who I am, and no amount of analyzing is going to make those things change to become easier for you to tear down." She looked back to the onion and continued cutting. "It's my instinct. I kill things very well. I like shiny weapons. And while my martial combat is sub-par for my tribe, it is in no way mediocre compared to what I've seen those in this kingdom call combat."

She finished cutting only half of the onion and dumped it in the pot. She looked back to Rube. "Can we just stop trying to tear each others' morals down and just tolerate them? I'd appreciate that more than you can imagine." She held the uncut half of the onion out to Rube, the look on her face conveying the wait for an answer.

Rube took the onion and nodded slowly. "Yea. No problem." He set the onion aside and continued to remove the choice meat from the tarep. Viresse bobbed her head slightly, a barely-visible recognition of his statement. She turned to return to the wagon.

"Sorry for being an ass, Viresse," Rube called after her.

Viresse paused in her walk back to the wagon and turned slightly, looking over her shoulder. "It's allright."

Rube looked up from his work and with a grave seriousness, and perhaps even a hint of melancholy he answered. "It shouldn't be."

The dinner went relatively well, considering that the tarep meat was a little undercooked, and Rube had forgotten to bring boullion cubes. Otherwise, it was quite the hearty stew. Viresse had a warm, full belly. She uncoiled her bent legs and warmed her toes by the fire, being careful not to get her boots too close to the flames. She'd seen it before - one gruesome lick of Foiros' tongue and a whole foot could go ablaze. She rubbed her hands briskly before the fire, then set them on her face to warm her pale cheeks. Viresse then pulled her cloak tightly around her body and stared into the flames, the smoke swelling and hovering low across the ground, wrapping around the decently sized tent that Rube had brought and set up himself while she tended to the meal- rather than spiraling up into the sky.

Rube set his bowl and spook next to his feet - he ate a fair amount slower than Viresse had, instinct from living among the take-what-you-can Cor'hm, who mocked the Ifr'hm way of cooking their meat. He pulled out his knife and picked a piece of meat out of his teeth with the point, then made a clicking suction noise as he looked for more. He looked over at Viresse. "Cold?"

Viresse looked away from the fire. "Oh. No, I'm fine." She watched him for a second, then looked back to the fire.

Rube stood up. "I can put another scrap of wood on - there's a few left."

"No thanks."

Rube shrugged. He crossed his arms across his chest and stared into the fire.

Viresse looked up at Rube. With the light playign across his chiseled features, he looked pretty weary. There were circles under his eyes, and he blinked slowly. She pursed her lips, then spoke. " I took a nap earlier. I can keep watch tonight."

Rube broke away from the fire. "Come again?"

"It's fair. I slept on the way, so I figure I have more energy now than you do. Go ahead and bed down - I'll just sleep on the ride to Tyr Thromgolin, if you don't mind so much." She held her hands out to warm them by the fire.

Rube watched her for a moment, absorbing the words she had just said. He yawned, and covered his mouth with a hand, then blinked slower than he had before. It seemed the prospect of sleep was tiring him quicker than he imagined. He nodded slowly. "Okay," he agreed, succumbing to his exhaustion. In an attempt to still keep a sense of responsibility, he picked up the pot and his bowl, and gestured to Viresse to give him her own. She did so, and he walked around the back of her to dispose of their contents in the brush behind her.

Viresse shivered, and pulled her hood up over her head. She knew how to tend a fire very well, but wood was running out. The rotted pieces burned hot and fast, and since there were only a few left, it'd only be an hour or so before they ran out. It would not be smart to go hunting for wood in the dark. She dug her elbows into her knees, set her head in her hands and sighed as she gazed into the dancing flames as they encased the burning wood in an amber glow that peeled away layers of old tree.

Viresse felt a slight bit of pressure on her shoulders. She turned to her left shoulder to see what it was, and found a black cloak draped upon her. It gave her a greater sense of warmth and she pulled it tighter to absorb the heat it emitted from the previous wearer. She looked to the right and saw Rube, cloakless, retreat to the wagon, where he pulled out a fur blanket of some sort. He wrapped it around his shoulders and retreated toward the tent. "Thank you...-" she called after him, but he only raised a hand as he pushed past the folds and into the dark interior of the tent.

Viresse stared into the flames, then remembered her satchel. She rose and went to the wagon, clutching Rube's cloak tightly at her throat. Grabbing her bag she returned to the fire. Viresse pulled out a blank book, a quill and the ink well. She held out her hands towards the fire, warming the ink. The ink tended to get blobby and not flow so well in the cold, and heating it up helped it flow easier. She set the warmed ink well on her knee, and cracked her new journal open. She dipped her quill in the well, and after a couple of seconds of pondering, she began to write in Ifr'hm. This journal was for her own records.

The trip started out on a bad note. After being introduced to the driver, His expression of his opinion offended me,and I did not hesitate to let him know. To save grief, I slept with the shipment. Later in the afternoon we were attacked by highway men who attempted to rob us, but they did not succeed. Because of that situation, we overlooked each otehrs' differences and got along better. Dinner was decent, the Driver (named Rube) had been prepared and brought vegetables for stew. More conversation caused more bonding, and at this moment, I am wearing Rube's cloak as I write.

Viresse sat and stared at the fire a few moments, and turned the page.

I don't know much about this Rube. He is a human, but he is intriguing. A spry mind, and a quick hand, and can easily push aside any attempt at hiding one's inner self. He can see right through my drow defense and see me for who I am - which makes me uncomfortable, and yet... comfortable. This makes no sense to me. This is why I write it. Rube knows me too much and I want to let myself know that while it is unfamiliar, it is okay. It is the way of relationships.

She rapped the end of her quill on the tip of her nose. She looked to the facing page and continued to write.

But while it is the way of relationships, it is not the way of the Ifr'hm. Had he been at my home, he would no doubt had several threats on his life, and at least one acted upon by this time. But that is where things change - we are not in my world. I am in his. And I must adapt to it. Or be wiped out.

Viresse furrowed her brows. She didn't like what she had written, but it was the honest truth. She closed her eyes and sighed. It was the truth. And the truth should always be said. For hiding the truth only caused bad things to happen. She though of her life back in Sevari- of men creating alliances and attacking other men in secret - just for bragging rights and power - too often gossip was king and too many people listened to the interesting things rather than the truth, and that always made for a mess at home - why not here?

A small tap at her shoulder caused her to open her eyes and look up. There was nothing there. Another tap at the same shoulder splattered onto her face and she blinked. A few more taps erupted across her hooded head and shoulders, and the fire hissed violently. Viresse sighed and looked up into the sky, and her face was tickled with spatters of water coming down. She blinked and flinched against the drops. The fire was hissing moreso as the rain attacked it.

The sky flashed as if a strike of tinder had been struck in the clouds, and the thunder rolled heavily, peals of the deafening rumble racing across the sky. The clouds chose that moment to explode open and the rain fell from above as if Grothar had decided to dump pots of water upon the earth.

Viresse quickly stood up, gathering her things and ran for cover into the tent. Another crack of lightning illuminated the darkness as she dove inside. She sat for a few moments, wet and cold as the rain pattered across the stretched canvas surface of the tent's roof. It was a wave of pappters that shifted with the wind - soft gentle taps to pounding drumtabs that seemed to want to shred the surface of the tent wide open. She soon became thankful that Rube had brough the tent, otherwise they'd be laying under the wagon, with mud ever increasing toward them as the ground became saturated and the runoff looked for new places to soak.

Viresse raised her pale hands and wiped her face with the sleeves of her cloak. She smelled something foul yet familiar on her cloak, and with a bit of apprehension, she held it to her nose.

Blood.

She remembered the attempted robery from earlier in the day, the sight of the silvery steel blade coated in the thick bodily fluid from the wound she inflicted of her own will... From the man she stabbed.

Viresse slipped her hand out of her cloak and touched her face - and pulled her hand away to find that the rain had re-dampened the blood on her cloak and smears of the it had transferred from the cloak to her face, leavig a streak across her cheekbone. She swallowed heavily. Viresse looked to her rain-spattered book, which she had to carry in her hand from out of the wetness. It looked a bit shabby now, but still usable.

She reached out to it with one hand, while wiping the blood from her face with the other. She opened it to the double-spread page she had just written. A gasp escaped her as she looked at what was there.

All that she had written - the beautiful Ifr'hm letters - were streaked and smeared by the rain and nearly un-readable. Black ink and damp blobs of water were all that was left. She ran her free hand along the blotted text and left a watery bloody smear across the page.

Viresse snapped the book shut with a huff, and flung it in the general direction of her bag. She angrily laid back against the ground and tried to fall to sleep, the patter of the rain more of a chatter than a lullaby.
 


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