Monday, January 23, 2012

Avis Peregrina

Roadside, Crown Lands, Tjlaria, 20th Vog, YT330

'Helena tugged the ragged cloak tighter around her shoulders and trudged wearily over the uneven rutted surface of the narrow road. The ratty old garment didn’t add much against the biting winter chill but it was better than nothing and it was a small mercy that her cap and veil kept the chill from her ears. At least, with winter approaching, the road was mostly frozen. Mostly ! Over the last few weeks the roads had been in turn thick mud and hard as brick. Today the surface was firm enough but the top surface had thawed just enough to become treacherously slippery. She dreaded to think what the roads were like during the spring rains. Why couldn’t these people build proper roads like back home ? And why weren’t there decent milestones to show how far a traveller had to go before reaching the respite of a village or inn ? Basil had insisted that the Tjlarians were a hospitable people but they seemed surly and uncommunicative to her. And she had yet to meet one who could answer her questions (or even seemed to understand the words) or give her proper directions. The youths at the last village she passed through had been clear enough in what they wanted and it had been at some difficulty, and personal loss (she had had to abandon most of her remaining alchemical equipment – though it was getting too heavy to carry much further anyway), that she had managed to evade their attention virtue intact. Helena would not trade her virtue, nor would she sell those few trinkets of value given her by Basil, but she was fast running out of other options. She had fled before dawn, eaten only a few dry chunks of bread and had been on the road all day. Now the sky was beginning to darken and there was no sign of anything beyond the most rustic habitation.

Suddenly Helena became aware of horses approaching rapidly along the road behind her. Startled she looked up, cursing the inattention that had allowed the riders to get so close, to see a dozen or so mounted warriors approaching – an older man in the lead, clearly noble with a face stiff with habitual authority. It was far too late to skulk into the bushes and hide. There was no alternative but to scramble up the side of the road, put on a polite smile and hope the party would pass her by.

But no luck there either. The noble raised an arm above his head and brought his horse to an abrupt stop before her. “Hold child” he shouted. “It grows late and you will not reach home before dark I wager”.

Helena frowned (inwardly as least) at the noble’s mistaking her for a girl – she may be slight but surely even a northern barbarian recognised a woman nearing the close of her third hebdoma ! “Not a child My Lord, but a weary traveller who has lost her caravan and direction”. “As to the lateness of the hour – I can but go at the pace my feet will allow ! The night will come on regardless and I trust to God and the good agency of the Crown that I shall reach sanctuary in due course”.

Perhaps it was the sharpness she couldn’t keep from her voice, always a little huskier when she was angry, or her foreign accent but her reply clearly caught the noble’s attention – for he looked at her more closely, appraisingly. And, having taken the time to look, he was held further by her beauty and also, beneath the cloak, by the expensive though distressed nature of her gown. “Laszlo”, he shouted to a youth toward the rear of the party. “You are lightest. Take her up on your horse”. “We will give this ‘young beauty’ a lift to the next village. If I recall right it’s a poor excuse for an evening’s entertainment. And the woman is lost and hungry – perhaps she’ll grant us the pleasure of her company and the story of her travels to while away the evening”. Noting Helena’s evident alarm his face hardened. “Do not fear child” he said. “The roads are not safe at present and a woman should not travel alone. I am Borsonin Thàthoür and no man will test your virtue while you ride in my train. Now, give me your name and I will see you safely to the next inn”.

Helena smiled again and dipped a courtesy. Though the risk to her virtue had crossed her mind it was this Thàthoür’s cavalier attitude to arranging her future, and the impact that might have on her own plans, that most alarmed and riled her. There may yet be some pursuit from the south and bouncing along as an ‘ornament’ in the train of some Borsonin (powerful she guessed whatever else that title might mean) was hardly the way to travel discretely. And she was damned if she’d give this Borsonin her right name – to be bandied about at whatever passed for a court in these parts. Suppressing a sigh she smiled once more and, allowing ‘Laszlo’ to lift her up before him onto his rather sweaty horse, said “My Lord, I am Kale Nikolaia, an Imperial of the Asian Empire”.'
 From the Journal of Helena Basileiou

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