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|...moving on from chapter 5... The story returns to Rek and Milliaria in this chapter. Sorry if it seems a little slow, but I'm developing the characters. Continuous hardcore action would be fun, but shallow. So we have the (relatively) quiet, pastoral scenes in the life of Milliaria and Rek... or not... ;) Here it is, folks! 'Sret' is a swearword, like 'damn', used in place of swearwords I won't and can't use on Elfwood.||
Milly loved it. Being among all those people made her feel alive, and she hated to think that soon she'd have to leave all of it behind. She paused by brightly decorated stall that was selling fruit and vegetables. She knew the owner and had worked for her more than once.
"Milliaria!" the young woman who was running the stall smiled broadly. "Hello, Jess," Milly replied absently.
"Have an apple, Milly." Jess hesitated, and then said, "Is something wrong?"
"Huh? Oh. No thanks, I can't. I have to go," Milly answered, avoiding Jess' question.
"Milly! Come on, tell me," Jess pleaded, "What's up? You've never refused one of my apples before!" She shoved her long brown hair out of her plain face anxiously.
Milly sighed. "I'm leaving Pouyo soon, Jess. Rek and me are going to travel with the caravan when it leaves again."
Jess stood speechless for a moment. Then the words came all in a rush. "But why, Milly? What happened? Why so-"
"I'm sorry, Jess. I have to go," she repeated, "I don't think I'll see you again, so I came to say goodbye." Milly smiled sadly, reached out and took an apple anyway.
Jess frowned, blinking back the tears. "You're not getting away with only one," she scolded, quickly filling a basket with fruit and vegetables.
"You and Rek had better eat these soon," she said, handing her the basket.
Milly thanked her and took the basket gladly.
"Before you go, Mil, is there anything else you need?" Jess asked quietly.
"No, it's okay, Jess. Thanks for asking!" Milly smiled.
"When you come back, you better not have forgotten me already!" Jess laughed, with the tears trickling silently down her face. Milly came round the stall and hugged her, the top of her head only reaching to Jess' shoulder.
"Save me some of those apples," she called as she walked away.
Rek stood outside a brightly striped tent that had been set up just inside the city gates in a quiet courtyard. There were other people standing around waiting as well. Rek leaned back against the sun-warmed wall and hooked his thumbs into his stolen belt. Through half-shut eyes, he watched a group of men walk into the courtyard, talking and laughing loudly. They were big, muscular men, dressed well and wearing brightly polished armour. They all carried swords and daggers and swaggered boastfully.
As Rek watched them enter, he heard someone walk up beside him and lean against the wall with a sigh.
"Fools. Think they're guaranteed a place in the caravan because they're flashy."
The voice was a man's, deep and scornful. Rek tilted his head and examined the man. He was tall and well built, with thick black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His skin was tanned deeply and his eyes were a disturbing green colour.
"You want to sign on as a caravan guard as well?" Rek asked.
"Yeah. The name's Weston; I'm a mage. You?"
"Rek. I'm actually signing on with a partner, but she's not here yet."
"A girl? As a guard?"
"Whatever you do, don't say that in front of her. She'll slaughter you."
"Sorry, I didn't think. Is she your girlfriend?" Weston grinned.
"No!" Rek scowled at him and turned to watch the noisy soldiers as they started up some sort of mock fight among themselves.
"Probably mercenaries," Weston said, his mouth twitching as he changed the subject, "They'll do anything for the right amount of money." He pulled a pipe out of a pocket and filled it from a pouch on his belt. He narrowed his eyes and snapped his fingers, producing a bright flame with which he lit the pipe. He drew deeply on it and then blew a smoke ring.
Suddenly, he leaned forward, staring across the courtyard. "What's going on over there?" he said sharply. Rek frowned.
The mercenaries weren't fighting each other. They stood in a rough circle, surrounding a young boy who glared at them defiantly. Rek pushed himself away from the wall and began to stroll casually across the square, Weston beside him.
As he drew nearer, he could hear what they were saying.
"Insolent brat! That sword's too good for you; there's no way you'll be signed on anyway, so give me the sword and go home to your mother!" This came from a hulking blond man with an enormous moustache.
Rek looked at the boy. He was tall for his age, which Rek estimated to be about eleven or twelve. His hair was dark and straggly; the boy could not have had a bath for weeks. His clothing was ragged but decent and he wore no shoes. His eyes were black and angry, and he did indeed have a naked blade in his hand. There was a scabbard lashed to his back and he appeared to know how to use the weapon.
"Aye, you can have the sword-in your gut!" hissed the boy, glaring.
The blond giant drew his blade threateningly.
"You'll give it to me, boy, if you know what's good for you," he growled.
"Come get it then, blondie!" the boy invited mockingly.
The big man roared and swung his sword up. He charged like a bull.
Rek darted lightly into the circle and neatly tripped him up.
The huge man fell flat on his face with an earth-shaking thump and his sword stuck, quivering, in the ground.
There was a roar from his companions.
"Dirty foreigner!" bellowed one, leaping forward and whirling a battleaxe.
Thumbs hooked casually in his belt, Rek slipped under a wild slash and kicked his attacker so hard in the stomach that the man flew backwards, colliding with one of his friends like a battleship under full speed.
Rek stood calmly in the middle of the ring and smiled at the mercenaries. He wasn't even breathing hard. Several of the men slipped away like dogs with their tails between their legs. There was a pause, and then a rather ugly, black-haired man stepped forward. His face was a network of scars; he seemed to be a real veteran.
He drew his sword slowly and went into a fighting stance. It was almost a crouch, his body low and tense, his feet moving slowly and cautiously while his eyes looked for an opening. Rek didn't move. Only his eyes followed the man's movements.
Suddenly, the mercenary leaped forward, thrusting his blade powerfully at Rek's head. Rek ducked and caught the man's wrist. He twisted it sharply and the sword fell to the ground. The astonished mercenary cried out in pain and staggered back.
Rek punched him between the eyes, almost gently. The man folded up like a sheet of paper and Rek let him fall to the ground.
The onlookers stared in silence. Then someone began to clap appreciatively.
"Excellent! Your skills have improved greatly, Rek sister-son!"
A short, swarthy man with a goatee stepped into the rapidly disintegrating circle. He was rather fat, with very dark skin and black, twinkling eyes. He had a very prominent nose and a small mouth, and a short goatee softened the sharpness of his chin; on the whole, he was an odd little man, even for a foreigner. He wore a red robe made of some fine material and a white, silken turban. Although these garments were meant to command respect, they only made him look sort of like a fat, friendly cherry.
Rek placed his hand over his heart and bowed, southern-style.
"Uncle Buinda," he said formally.
"Rek, it is very good to see you once again." Buinda's voice had a strong southern accent. "Do you wish to travel with the caravan?"
"If it pleases you, I would travel with a partner…"
Weston had been watching from outside the circle, ready to give Rek help if he needed it. Now he laughed.
"It's his girlfriend, sir. Is he allowed to…"
Rek turned all the fury of his gaze upon the luckless mage.
"Uh… yes. Um," said Weston.
Buinda raised an eyebrow delicately.
"Girlfriend?" the corners of his mouth twitched.
But before Rek could think of anything to say in his defence, Buinda shrugged.
"That is agreeable. She may come. Now, we leave tomorrow at dawn, Rek. You will ride with the vanguard. When your girlfriend comes, I will tell her where her place is. I will see you in the morning."
Buinda headed back to his tent, surprisingly graceful for his build. Rek sat down slowly and put his head in his hands. He knew that Milly was now firmly established in everyone's mind as his girlfriend.
"I'm going to get you for that, mage," Rek growled, cracking his knuckles.
Weston grinned and blew a smoke ring at him.
Suddenly, somebody hit Rek very hard over the head.
Rek's body responded automatically while his brain buzzed painfully from the blow. He flipped forward and up, touching the ground with his hands and twisting his body in the air so that he landed facing his attacker. It was the boy, and he jumped back, startled.
"Why in Sret's name did you do that?" Rek asked blankly.
"It was my fight!" the boy responded instantly, his voice sharp and angry. "I challenged him and I could've whipped him easily!"
Rek shook his head to stop the buzzing.
"Could you have?" he asked shortly.
The boy glared at him, but there was some uncertainty in his eyes. "Yeah! I know how to use this sword!" he shouted.
"You want to be a caravan guard?" Rek asked quietly.
"Yes." The boy's tone had quieted in the face of Rek's calmness.
Sliding the sword into the sheath on his back, the boy glanced anxiously at Rek. "I can be one, can't I?" he asked, sounding more like the nervous child that he really was.
Rek hooked his thumbs in the stolen belt again, looking bored. He sighed. "Kid, it's a dangerous job, and I don't think Buinda's gonna…" The boy's eyes were shining.
"That's what I want!" he interrupted excitedly, his anger forgotten, "I want to fight bandits and orcs and dragons and things!"
"He was right," Rek said, nudging the blonde mercenary with the toe of his boot, "You should go home, kid."
"I don't have a home," said the child, looking at his feet.
"Oh, Sret…" groaned Rek, rubbing his hand across his eyes, "Look-" Weston tapped Rek on the shoulder.
"Hey, izzat your girl?" he asked, pointing across the square.
Rek looked up.
"That's Milly, yes. Not my girl," he said curtly.
Milly looked around, spotted Rek and began to walk towards them. "Ooh, lucky guy, Rek! She's a pretty one!"
"Cut it out!" Rek hissed, kicking Weston in the ankle.
Milliaria came up to them, her worn blue jacket flapping in the breeze. She put the basket down.
"Hey, Rek. Jess gave me some food, but in this heat we'd better eat it soon." She noticed Weston and the boy, the mage hopping on one foot, and smiled.
"Hi, I'm Milly. You gonna be guards too?" she asked.
The kid just stared at her, but Weston winked at her and put out his hand, wincing slightly.
"Very pleased to meet you," he said, as charmingly as possible, "The name's Weston; I'm sure we'll be good friends."
Milly gave him a withering look that took in both his face and his outstretched hand.
"Dream on," she said with a pretty smile.
Weston's face fell. "Hey, how can you be so cold? Am I so inferior to R-"
Milly sat down and selected another apple from the basket, completely ignoring Weston, who was bent over and moaning quietly in pain. She bit into it and glanced at the boy, noting Rek's exasperated silence.
"Hey, kid. What's your name?" she asked.
The boy blinked and said, "Poke."
"Your name is-Poke?"
"Yeah! What about it?" Poke reached for his sword.
"He wants to be a caravan guard," Rek said impatiently, "and he doesn't look old enough to be on solid food yet…"
Milly grinned in spite of herself. Poke blushed beetroot red and drew his sword, holding it in front of him gingerly. He looked furious.
"You're gonna pay, you Southerner son of a b…"
"Don't say it," Rek told him softly, "You'll regret it." The southerner was standing beside the boy, holding the sword between his finger and thumb. Milly stood up quickly and said, "Rek, he's just a kid. He didn't mean it. He probably doesn't even know what it means. Let him go."<p> Rek spat and flicked his wrist, sending the sword spinning through the air to clang against the wall. He turned his back on the boy and walked over to where Milly was sitting. He sat down and grabbed a piece of fruit from the basket.<p> "Poke?" Milly said, "You hungry?"<p> The boy was staring at Rek, his eyes huge and dark with the whites showing all the way round the pupils. <p> "Sret!" the boy gasped suddenly, and his eyes were shining were awe, "How'd you do that? How'd you move so fast? Can you show me?"<p> "Sod off," said Rek. <p> That didn't seem to make an impression on Poke.<p> "Please can you teach me? Please? Please?"<p> Weston laughed and threw an apple at Poke's head.<p> "It's going to take more than that, kid. Anyway, he's leaving in the morning, and if I want to go with him, I'd better go sign up right away."<p> "Hey, what about me? I wanna come too!" <p> As Rek and Milly got up, Weston just barely managed to catch the apple on its return flight. Tears shone in Poke's eyes as he glared defiantly at them.<p> "I'm gonna sign up too!" he shouted, "And I'm not a kid!"<p> Rek, chewing thoughtfully, paused and stared at Poke. Finally he seemed to make up his mind. "Come on, then," he said with a shrug. "Prove it." <p>
|Jude Chapter 11||Jude Ch. 9|
|Jude Ch. 4||Jude Ch. 10|
|Appendix/Glossary||Jude Chapter 8|