Yes, muffins existed "back then". I did my research, damn it! :P
The boat pulled into the dock at New Haven shortly after noon. The sun had gone behind the clouds, cooling the air considerably. Dane was grateful for the reprieve from the heat. Channeling his spell for as long as he had been had caused him to break out into a sweat, and the heat had only exacerbated it. He slumped down on a seat at the stern, letting out a great sigh as Tyrarl tossed the rope over to the dock, ensuring their vessel wouldn't float away.
“Time to go see the client,” Tyrarl said, already ambling out of the boat and making Dane feel sick.
Dane glanced over at the town. It was a simple enough city, built only a few years prior after the Legion attacked Sanctuary. Originally, it had been built as a refuge to house the ursar and dwarves that had fled Olaraa, but now New Haven was a fully fledged city under Sanctuary's banners. Tall wooden poles, carved from thick tree trunks, were joined together by heavy ropes to form a wall around the town. The gate had a floral arch over it, with many different flowers of dozens of colors in full bloom, like a rainbow. The buildings just inside the town were of simple wooden construction, housing for those who couldn't afford the nicer materials. Deeper in, homes were constructed out of stone and even brick-and-mortar. Many of these places were for officials to work out of, those whom governed New Haven and communicated with Sanctuary on matters of importance.
It looked just like any other town. It was a shame, Dane thought, that such a peaceful little hamlet could have only been born by the tragedy of war.
“Well?” Tyrarl asked, his voice rising.
“Naw,” Dane huffed, “I'd rather not leave the boat right now. I'm exhausted.”
“So I see. I told you that spell was a waste of magic.”
Dane waved his hands, shooing Tyrarl away. “And if we'd taken a row boat, we'd both be tired.” New Haven was only a stones throw away, but with every muscle aching and his body drenched in sweat, it could've been leagues away for all he cared. “I don't really want to go into town anyways. I have everything I need for this trip right here,” he said, patting his belt pouch. “Besides, there's someone there I'd rather not run into.”
Tyrarl scoffed at this. “You humans are certainly good at burning bridges. If it isn't alliances or treaties, it's with your friends and neighbors.”
“Don't presume so much!” Dane snapped. He should've known better than to say something like that. The elf was always looking to say something to disparage humans at any opportunity. “I just have a lot of ties to people in the area, and they're not exactly fond of my choice of employment.”
“Well, far be it for me to judge what a man wants,” Tyrarl said, sarcasm dripping in his voice like blood off a dagger. “I'll go meet the client. You wait here and have a nice, little nap, princess.”
Dane scowled at Tyrarl's back as the elf turned around. He didn't like having his own words thrown back at him. He kept his mouth shut though, knowing that he probably did deserve the cold attitude being given to him. It wasn't worth the effort to argue with Tyrarl, so he leaned back in the boat and rested his head against the side. He could feel the water lapping at his hair as it dangled over the edge.
It's not as if I don't want to go into New Haven. Watching this tub is going to be boring, especially when I don't know how long Tyrarl is going to be. Dane's eyelids began to feel heavy. He'd thought that he'd gotten enough sleep the night before, but perhaps he really was more tired from the run from Raken than he realized. But I'd rather not bump into Arion and have 'the talk' again.
The ursar monk had been pestering Dane since he'd returned to Sanctuary after leaving the Kitairan military. He wanted him to join his Order, to take up the mantle of monkhood as a follower of Xenar. Dane had declined the offer, saying that he'd much prefer to be on his own. It felt better that way. It felt right. Even though he was a believer in Xenar, the All-Healer, he knew he had the freedom to worship and pray to him in whatever manner he wished. Xenar wasn't the kind of deity that made a fuss about attending sermons or going to temple on a weekly basis, like some Gods.
It's not even that he's always bugging me to join the Peacekeepers. I wouldn't mind tagging along and learning from them if they weren't formally part of the Olaraan Army. I'm tired of being tied down by the bureaucrats and politics that come with the uniform. I want to be free for once in my life. He rolled over and looked at his reflection in the water. Dark bags hung under his eyes as they rippled in the waves. Besides, I already turned down Gantors' offer countless times. He wouldn't be very happy if I turned and went behind his back to accept Arion's.
Dane reached for his water skin and rolled back over. He took a long drought of it, and before replacing the cap he squirted a liberal amount on himself, washing away the sweat that had accumulated. His stomach growled at him, like an untamed beast, and he'd remembered that all he'd had to eat since he woke up was a stale piece of bread. Suddenly, he regretted not taking up Cain's offer to a meal before he left the inn.
I can't conjure food. I've already got enough mana in my body, summoned food is just going to make me more sick. His thoughts turned to the trail rations he'd packed the night before. No, I need to save those in case this job takes too long.
With a groan, Dane hefted himself up and steadied his stance as the boat wobbled. Perhaps slipping into town real quick wouldn't be so bad. If he was lucky, he'd be in and out and back to the boat before Tyrarl even noticed he was gone.
His boots clomped on the dock, passing by a few dwarves who were fishing off the sides. A little keg of ale sat between them, and Dane almost wished he could join them. Once this job was done, he figured he'd take a break for a few days and spend some time at his favourite tavern.
The wooden boards eventually ended at a dirt trail that wound around a small hill towards New Haven's gates. As Dane approached, he noted there were no guards keeping watch. It wasn't unusual for security at the town to be light, especially since the watch towers on the other side of the walls allowed them to see approaching boats coming to the island from all directions. It made New Haven seem that much more at peace, without a care or worry that anything bad could happen.
With all the troubles contained to the south, and Rogust being locked down by the rest of the Coalition, the troubles of the world seemed far off from where Dane stood. But that's when he remembered the job the Blackguard had assigned Tyrarl and him. Clearly, something was going on somewhere on one of the islands in Crystal Lake. It was going to take some time to find anything.
Most of the area's still not fully mapped. There's so many islands all over the place, it's a wonder people don't get lost out here.
After stepping through the gate, Dane looked at the nearest buildings, trying to distinguish the homes from the businesses. Few of them had signs or any goods in the windows, so he was certain that they were just homes for the people living there. Two buildings down on his left, however, was one with a sign over the door of a chest with various goods spilling out of it, with the word “Sundries” carved into the wood.
Dane quickly slipped into the building, disappearing from the streets and heading into the dimly lit business. The shelves were stocked with everything that a traveler could need. Flasks, flint and tinder, water proof boxes, bait, fishing poles, bags, trail rations... anything and everything he could think of that he'd ever needed on a journey before. At the front near the counter were two small shelves with wicker baskets, a cloth draped over the bottom of them and filled with baked goods. Muffins filled one basket, some of them with fruit inside them and others just plain. Another basket had croissants, an elven variation of a puff pastry.
Something other than dried meat and hardtack would be nice for once. Even a plain muffin would do. Dane could feel his mouth salivating. As he approached the counter, he was greeted by the shopkeeper.
“Afternoon, sir,” the dwarf said with a chipper tone of voice, “What can I get for ya?”
Dane looked at the offering next to the counter, and had a hard time deciding between a couple blueberry muffins or a couple croissants. He wondered if he should get anything for Tyrarl, not knowing whether the elf would appreciate the gesture or be annoyed that he bought him something. With a shrug, Dane grabbed a handful of both and put them on the counter.
“I guess I'll take all these,”he said and chuckled.
“Aye, no problem. Long day ahead of you?” The dwarf began to place the goods in a bag for Dane.
“Something like that. Headed out into the lake for a few days.”
The dwarf nodded. “Well, judging by your get up, hopefully it's nothing all that serious. It's too peaceful up here to be carryin' weapons around, ya know?”
“I agree, but,” Dane said as he pulled a few coins from his belt pouch, “The world is a different place than it was ten years ago.”
The dwarf chuckled at his remark as he took the coins. “Nay lad, the world ain't changed. It's been the same it's always been. There's always been backstabbin', and fightin', and all that other stuff. Weren't too long ago when we had Kitair blockaded to keep their war from spreadin' to our lands, back duing the Altair Divide.” He slid the bag across the counter to Dane. “Perhaps it's just your perceptions that've changed?”
Dane smiled. “Perhaps you're right.” He didn't grab the bag of groceries right away. “Were you around for the Altair Divide?”
“Aye, some two hundred years ago. I'm getting' too old for all this fightin' everybody is doing. Was in the military at the time, working the blockade. Easy stuff but scary too. Had us put two arrows into any elf trying to break through the blockade until the war ended.”
“Why would you do that?” Dane asked. “If they were fighting amongst each other, was there really a threat to the Coalition?”
“Oh, no this was near the end of the war you see, when Kitair was winning against the rebels,” the dwarf told him. “Word is there was some backroom dealin's going on an the Coalition was asked to slaughter any that tried to escape the kingdom.”
“But some got away, or no one would've founded Altair down on Jha'zal,” Dane pointed out. He only knew loosely about the Altair Divide that had occurred between the Loyalist and Rebels in Kitair. “They got away some how.”
“The Snowhoof helped 'em,” the dwarf said. “Y'see, Rogust and Olaraa were still new nations after the Orcish Empire fell. Probably only a couple hundred years old at least. We still believed in everythin' that Laren told us. Greed was good. The minotaur disagreed and helped the Altair cross the blockade and on ships to get off the continent. Coalition wasn't happy but they didn't find out about it until decades later when we learned about Altair being settled.”
“And I guess by the time that happened, any humans in power would've been dead or not cared.” Dane said, nodding his head sagely. “I guess after all, we humans are short-lived. We change as often as the seasons.”
“Bah, that's no excuse. Dwarves change often too. You just don't see it.”
“I'll trust your word on that one. Thank you for the goods and for the chat.” Dane hefted the bag up off the counter and bid the shopkeeper farewell.
“Aye, thank you for your business. I trust you'll be careful out there, whatever you're planning.”
Dane nodded, and left the store. He'd only been inside for a couple minutes, and he hoped that Tyrarl hadn't yet returned to the boat yet. He wasn't sure why he cared if the elf caught him loitering around and shopping, but perhaps it was a bit of guilt for feeling like he should have been working instead of getting food.
He pulled out a muffin and began to eat it when he was interrupted by someone calling his name.
“Good morning, Dane Trueshot.”
He knew that voice. He'd heard it countless times before. That didn't fill him with any sort of comfort though. Dane turned around slowly to face Arion Clothspinner, head monk of the Order of Peacekeepers. The ursar still wore the same silken purple robe with a gold lining, and approached him calmly. His padded feet made no sound upon the hard-packed dirt road. He had a small smile spread across his muzzle, his eyes beaming with what Dane could only describe as having a love of life.
“How are you faring today?” Arion asked, stopping a few feet from Dane.
“I've been well,” Dane replied. He was doing his best to hide his unease, the awkward feeling building in his stomach. Ursar were empaths, that much was certain, but Arion was much more than that. He'd never been able to misdirect or lie to him before.
“What brings you to New Haven?”
“Oh, I'm just on a job,” Dane said simply, not bothering to answer the question directly. “My companion is looking around for our client.” Arion raised an eyebrow at the use of the word companion. Dane was quick to correct him and said, “Not that kind of companion.”
“Ah, my apologies. I shouldn't have assumed,” Arion tilted his head downwards for a brief moment. “I was really hoping you'd meet someone. You seem... lonely.”
“Is that a bad thing?” Dane said, his voice rising. He stopped and recomposed himself. “Sorry, I didn't mean to get angry. I've not thought about finding a new companion. Not since Roweo-”
“You don't need to explain. I understand,” Arion interrupted him by holding his paw up. “I shouldn't have brought it up.”
A tense silence fell between the two friends. Dane became aware of the acrid smell of a forge working nearby, it's black plumes of smoke rising like a snake into the air from a nearby smithy. The town was quiet save for the chirping of birds and the chattering of squirrels. He shifted his gait from favouring his right foot to his left.
“Anyways,” Arion said, breaking the silence, “I was curious if you'd given any thought to my offer. You know you're always welcome amongst use, Dane.”
“I know.” Dane looked down at his feet. Why did he feel like he was being judged? “I know you mean well, but I assure you I'm fine on my own.”
“But this mercenary work isn't good for you, you know that,” Arion said. “Look, you have bags under your eyes, you look tired, I can sense your exhaustion. Don't you want a break from all the fighting?”
“I want a break from authority,” Dane replied. “I'm tired of answering to other people. I want to have the freedom to do what I want, when I want it. I can choose to leave the Blackguard any time I want. I don't have to do any jobs I don't want. But most importantly, I don't have to answer to any military commanders. I'm tired of the red tape, the paper work, the politics. I want to be able to help people in my own way, without anything else obstructing my path.”
“Dane, you know it's not like that.”
“I know full well what your offer means!” Dane snapped. “You're still part of the Olaraan military. You and I both know that, so there's no use in pretending otherwise. I don't want to be tied to another military ever again. I'm not cut out for it, alright? I understand both you and Gantors have a desire to help me, but I'm telling you both I don't need help. I'm find on my own.”
Arion's face drooped, but he perked up quickly. Not quick enough to pass Dane's notice. The two of them had been close friends since they'd met during the war, and it pained him to know that he might have hurt Arion's feelings.
“I'm sorry, okay?” Dane said, sighing. “I'm just not ready for something like rejoining the military.” He rubbed his eyes with a thumb and forefinger. “It's been the same no matter where I've been. When I lived with my father, I was under his rule. When I was at the orphanage, I was pushed around by the older kids. At the R.A.A.S., I had to answer to more skilled mages. In Rogust, I had to follow that moron Digran's orders. Kitair wasn't any different. I was reprimanded hard for my decision to chase Tal'nix all the way to Buselna.”
“The Purebloods in Kitair wanted me hanged for my desertion. If not for the Queen's intervention, I would not be standing here before you. Everything I've done, everything I've decided, has been to chase my dream to help people.”
He stopped and looked up at the cloud-covered sky. “No, our dream.” His voice sounded far away, like he wasn't talking to anyone around him. Dane met Arion's gaze. “This is what feels right to me. It's not in my best interest, but this is all I have. The Coalition will hunt me down as a vigilante if I'm not part of the Blackguard. This is all I can do to retain my freedom and continue to follow my dream. Don't you understand?”
“Somewhat,” Arion answered shortly. “I'll leave you be then, Master Trueshot.”
The ursar turned and left, walking at a slightly hurried pace. Dane cursed, knowing that he'd hurt his friend's feelings and knowing that his trip would be that much more unbearable with this weight hanging in his mind.
He took another bite of his muffin, and it tasted bitter in his mouth.
* * * * *
Some time after Dane had returned to the boat, he saw the rope begin to move as Tyrarl untied it from the dock. He looked up at the elf, only half aware of what he was saying.
“Well, the client wasn't any help, as expected,” Tyrarl said. “All he's seen is boats heading north east from New Haven. So we'll have to start there.” He stopped to take a look at the lake around them. The wind has shifted a bit to the east, so at least we won't have to rely on your magic anymore.”
Dane grunted in response, but otherwise remained silent. He had too much on his mind right now, and didn't care much for the elf's words.
Tyrarl looked down at the bag situated in the center of the boat. “What's this? Did you go shopping?”
Tyrarl waited for him to say something, but giving up, he reached in and grabbed a croissant. “Well, at least you have good taste in food. For a human.”
“Shut up,” Dane whispered. His looked past the elf at the town, as their vessel drifted out into the lake. It might be days, even weeks before they returned, but he wasn't thinking about that. He wanted to apologize to Arion. Dane was quick to remind himself that Arion was not his companion, he was just a friend. Nothing more. There was no reason to feel accountable for hurting his feelings.
Yet the thought nagged at him as he watched Tyrarl raise the sails to begin moving their ship. Why did he care so much? It hurt like when he'd gotten into an argument with Aiden, his partner from so long ago.
“Hey, are you paying attention?” Tyrarl asked, snapping Dane out of his thoughts. “It's going to be sunset in a few hours so we'll need to make camp on one of the islands.”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever you say.”
Dane reached for another muffin from the bag but as he held it, he realized he wasn't all that hungry and set it back. His stomach protested but he ignored the rumbling sound it made. Hunger could wait. Right now he was too focused on other things to care.