HERE'S A TASTE OF MARABELLA'S NEXT ADVENTURE.
Belle neared Falls Bridge. “I need to stop and get some supplies to replace the things I gave to the men in the woods.” She wordlessly communicated to Sebastian. She could sense his presence as he skirted the village. “There’s a tavern on the north side of the bridge.”
Sebastian’s deep purring voice sounded in her mind. “I will have to find a place to cross the river. I will meet you on the north side. You may linger for a time if you like. Traveling at night is preferable, at least until we get into the wilds. I would like to hunt before we leave the river. I enjoy the fat fish that swim here and it will be some time before we reach better hunting grounds.”
“Agreed. I will meet you north of the tavern just after dusk.”
“Agreed.” Belle could feel Sebastian pull his mind back to his task of finding a good place to fish. Though he no longer directed his thoughts to her, she could still sense his presence. She touched the ring on her finger still amazed at the increase in her power.
She dismounted and walked Bess toward the bridge. Koros’ guards milled around the bridge stopping some travelers, waving others through.
“Who are you and what’s your business to the north?” A mush mouth guard with tight curly hair and dark skin grabbed an old man by the jacket.
The old man seemed annoyed. “I come across this bridge every day. Where’s Simon? He knows me. My daughter cooks at the tavern. She’s making beans with smoked pork today.”
“Simon’s been reassigned. He got too chummy with folks. Went soft.” He shoved the old man against the railing. “Now what’s your name?”
“I’m Aravor.” The old man grumbled, trying to shake off the guard’s grasp. “I’ve lived here all my life.”
The guard shoved Aravor again, harder this time. “Aravor. That sounds like a Demalion name to me.” He cracked a cruel smile.
As Aravor began to struggle against the guard, Belle approached. “Aravor. Good day. I hear it’s beans with smoked pork today. Shouldn’t we get going?” She smiled as though everything was fine.
The guard released Aravor to bar Belle’s progress across the bridge. She gave him a sweet smile. “Good day.” He looked down his nose at her.
“Who are you and what’s your business?” He barked in her face.
Belle stepped close to the guard. She touched his arm and looked up into his dark eyes. He was caught in the power of her emerald gaze. “I’m going across with Aravor to have beans and pork at the tavern.” She stated brightly. Leaning in she added “and you need to be kinder to the people who cross this bridge.”
“Move along then.” The guard waved Belle and Aravor through. “Good day Aravor.” He smiled.
Belle led Bess across the bridge falling into step with the old man. “I don’t know what you said to him, but thank you.” Aravor smiled at Belle. “There’s getting to be more guards every day. Say they’re here to protect us from the Demalions but never needed no protection before. Never had no trouble with Demalions before…which is more than I can say for the guards.” Aravor ambled inside while Belle tied Bess to a post by the water trough.
Entering the tavern Belle spied Aravor standing at the end of the bar speaking with a plump girl wearing a stained apron. There were several tables of hungry patrons already hovering over bowls of hot beans. Three men stood at the bar chatting over tankards of ale. A tall woman in a faded blue dress and white apron delivered plates of hard bread to the tables. A boy poked at the fire in the large fireplace and added wood. A hooded figure sat hunched over a tankard at a table in the back, his face turned to the wall. Belle sensed a familiarity about him. Her inspection was interrupted when Aravor approached with two bowls and a plate of bread. “Here’s yours.” He smiled. “You did tell the guard we was havin’ beans and pork. Nobody makes ‘em better than my Trudy.” He nodded toward the plump cook who was headed back to the kitchen. “Got to git here early though, whilst there’s still meat in ‘em. Tavern owner is a good man. Lets Trudy feed me as part of her wages.” The old man gestured to a nearby table and Belle followed.
As she sat down, she noticed the hooded figure sneaking a look in her direction. Belle reached out with her mind and caught a stray thought from him. “Belle”.
He knows me. She thought.
But Aravor’s lively chatter distracted her again. “I told Trudy to do us up right. She put a slab of butter on the bread for us. Makes it softer, since I ain’t got many teeth left.” He grinned widely revealing a gummy smile. “Horse kicked me years back and knocked out the front ones. Had to pull a few more when they went bad.” Belle chucked. He placed the bowls on the table. They were filled with creamy brown beans and several chunks of smoked pork so tender you could cut it with a spoon. “Been a while since I had a meal with a young lady.” Aravor grinned at her again. “Where you traveling to?”
Belle looked at the sparse gray hair pulled back in a ponytail and the scraggly beard that covered half his wrinkled face. She saw kindness and honesty in his pale blue eyes. “I’m meeting up with some friends to take a long journey.”
He gave a wink. “Yeah, some of my friends ain’t so welcome in town anymore either.” He looked around to see who might be listening. “This Koros has stirred up a whole mess where there just ain’t no need. Magics…no magics…who cares?” The door opened and one of the bridge guards walked in. He looked around the room and walked up to the bar.
Belle quickly changed the subject. “So Aravor. That is an unusual name.”
“I’s named after a storybook dragon, if you believe it.” He giggled.
“A dragon? Really?” Belle was intrigued.
“Yep.” Aravor continued. “Now I don’t have much education. I do read a bit. My Pa, he couldn’t read none. But my Ma, she read everything she could git her hands on. She passed on when I was a little nubbin. Anyhow, she named me for the great dragon in a story she read.”
“The Great Dragon?” Belle raised her eyebrows and peered over at the guard who was busy with a bowl at the bar. “The Great Dragon in the Demalion stories?” She whispered.
“Yep.” Aravor grinned proudly. “Truth is dragons ain’t real anyhow. And if they was, they wouldn’t have names.” He laughed.
“But it is a fine name, just the same.” Belle smiled at her companion. The old man kept up a lively conversation during the meal. When he scraped the bottom of his bowl, Belle pushed the remains of her bowl over to him. “I can’t eat another bite.” She assured him. He proceeded to dig in. “You said you’ve lived here your whole life, so I’d wager you know everyone.”
“Yep. If they be local, I likely know ‘em. We do git a fair amount of travelers though, cause this bridge is the only safe way to cross the river for miles. Don’t git as many as we used to.”
“Do you happen to know that fellow in the hood?”
Aravor shot a look toward the back table. “He ain’t from here. Been here since yesterday, strange fella. The servin’ girl, Agnes, told Trudy he’s all scarred up. That why he keeps that hood a’coverin his face. Says he talks funny. But he’s got coin and don’t cause no trouble so she don’t care a whit.” He pushed the second empty bowl away and leaned back in his chair. “I better head back home. I feel a nap comin’ on.” He slipped the remaining piece of bread into his pocket. “You and your friends be careful now.” He gave her a wink and slipped out the door, waving to his daughter behind the bar.
Belle approached the cook. “Trudy, how much for meal?” She pulled a few coins from her front pocket.
“On me.” Trudy smiled. Her mousy brown hair was pulled back in a long braid. Her round face was red from the heat of kitchen and her pale blue eyes, much like her father’s, were kind. “You did my Pa a kindness. Least I can offer is a meal. Hope he didn’t talk your ear off.”
“Thank you, Trudy. And no. I enjoyed the company.” The door opened again and several patrons poured in. Trudy nodded and went back to work. When Belle turned she noticed that most of the tables were full. She made her way to the back, concentrating on the hooded figure alone at the corner table.