Private Tales Coinciding Paths

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The young halfling had only been travelling with the caravan for a triplet of days, yet he already felt more at home on the road than he had at any point in his previous nineteen years. The crowd of travelers was more diverse than he would have imagined, boasting just over thirty members of all different walks of life.

During the long hours of riding in and walking beside the array of wagons and carts that comprised the caravan, Anverth had spoken with only a handful of his sundry travelling companions. He favored the performers among them, listening to their tales more than speaking of his own; There was an old man among them, leading the life of a hermit and amassing a trove of tales which could fill a thousand nights. The young halfling spent much of the previous two days walking beside the storyteller, listening intently to whatever tale or panegyric he would tell. Anverth lavished the stories with attention, soaking in every detail as best he could.

Upon the third night, however, the older man grew tired of the aspiring performer’s attentiveness, instead choosing to head for sleep just before sunset. The halfling found himself alone for the most part, deciding to build his own fire over a span of time that any true survivalist would find utterly embarrassing. Most of the travelers had huddled around the two larger fires of the camp by the time he’d lit his kindling, but the halfling was proud of his tiny, pitiable bonfire.

The young man sat beside his flame, picking idly at a ration of salted meat. A smattering of other travelers had joined him, finding the extra space to be more comfortable than sitting shoulder to shoulder around the more crowded fires.

Anverth set aside his half gnawed strip of jerky, giving his jaw a rest from the ceaseless grinding of glorified shoe-leather. He instead took up his fiddle from his side, bringing it to his shoulder and carefully plucking his thumb across its strings. Each thread sang out a pizzicato tune before he took up his bow, dragging it ever so carefully over the instrument.

Without anything in the way of provocation, the halfling began a quiet, somber song; In truth, it was more or less for his own entertainment. His voice soon joined the instrument at harmony, singing in a tenor that was only slightly shaky from a lack of warming up. The lyrics were in a truly poetic dialect of Elvish, sounding much like a love song to those unfamiliar with the language.

Those who could understand, however, found the experience of listening to be entirely different.

The song told the tale of a leprechaun on the fictitious island of Sancta’ri, detailing his efforts to open a pub and the numerous hardships he faces along the way. The humorous tone of the story formed an odd juxtaposition against the minor key and solemn tone of the music, forming pleasant contrast for those that did and did not speak the language.

The song only lasted a few brief minutes, but Anverth had managed to gather the attention of a few listeners. He laughed politely to himself, noticing that one onlooker had been moved to the verge of tears by the apparent sadness of his performance. “Alright,” he thought, “That’s one person who didn’t get it.”

Without any further sense of ceremony, the halfling got back to his meal-- if it could even be referred to as such.
 

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Valerie sighed deeply, arching her head back against the side of the caravan she leaned on. Her fatigue was apparent, eyes closed as she willed herself to try and move from her spot and find food. I haven't eaten since yesterday...things have just been too busy. Her ears, longer than most of the travelling companions surrounding her, drooped down sadly like those of a scolded dog. The cause was her darkening thoughts, which had only grown more torturous as night had crept in to the camp. Relative feelings of safety had allowed her mind to instead wander at the circumstances that had brought her here. Circumstances that were somber at best and terrifying at the worst.

Have I made the right decision? Are the scouts still on my trail or have I managed to evade them? Thoughts such as these had been circling like vultures since the setting up of camp was complete. She rubbed at her temples, adjusting the cloak over her head which obscured her features - most importantly her ears. Her mind traced back to the moment she had made her decision to escape her home, a mere five days ago. It had been heartbreaking, running off into the woods. The darkness pf the forest had been a stark contrast to the lights of the elvish city. Running had still seemed easier than facing her fathers arrangements. His voice echoed in her head now as well as the sight of him pacing before her in his study. That was where he had broken the news to her, shattering all promise she had of the future in pieces. The memory played itself out in her mind's eye as it had repeatedly for the past few days.

"He's wealthy and powerful. His son will inherit it all once he passes into the next life, a mere fifty years or so from now." Captain Kasturan Faeralthyn, leader of the militant ranks, said. Her father's face softened as he looked to his daughter, able to read her stony expression better than anyone else. "Lord Daedalus' son, Calamys, will be a good match Valerie. A necessary one if we are to prevent the war that is brewing under our very noses. The other woodland clan that Daedalus belongs to hungers for our resources and they'll be willing to do whatever it takes to access it. A marriage connecting us is better than a war forcing the resources from our grasp. You'll be cared for and learn to love him with time." Her eyes had pricked with hot tears, but she dared not to let them fall. That would be a weakness, one she had been trained to not show....even if it was her father who stood before her now and not some enemy.

The memory ended, only fragments of the argument and shouting that had ensued shortly after he had told her. His word had been final though, the arrangements already made for the upcoming summer season a month away. Valerie had left in a stormy exit, refusing to speak another word and instead fled to her room. That was were she had plotted her escape, a feat easy enough to do once the border guards changed their shifts a few hours later.

The elvish female came back to her present reality, letting out a long sigh that created a cloud of misty breath. The cold bit at her nose and fingers, but was still not as biting as it had been a few weeks earlier. That was something she had been grateful for in the day before she had found the caravans and was camping alone. Here she stood now though, somewhat lost as to what she would do once they arrived at their intended destination. All she really had the energy for was allowing the Gods of fate to do as they pleased.

A sound broke her from her tired stupor, the gentle strumming of an instrument along with words she recognized. It piqued her curiosity, forcing her to push off from the caravan and find it's source, a small fire a short distance away where a young man was sitting. The female inconspicuously sat down among the few listeners, taking an empty space beside the fiddler. The tune was familiar to her, one often sang in the taverns and social events of her people. It reminded her of merrier times, somewhat uplifting her spirits from her previously depressive state. Once he was finished she heard a nearby individual sob, the female needing to hold back a chuckle at the obvious display of emotion from one who clearly did not understand the songs lyrics. She leaned over slightly towards the musician, saying with a grin, "As pleasant as that was your pronunciation could use some work." Her own speech was slightly accented, nothing but her lower face visible to male beneath the cloaks hood. She turned slightly to look at him, piercing eyes beneath dark lashes observing his reaction.
 
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Anverth Kettlewhistle

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Performing had drawn much of the young halfling's attention, and he barely even noticed when a cloaked figure took a seat at his side. It should come as no surprise, then, that he was shocked when a voice came from beside him, accented and feminine. Anverth gave the mystery woman a quick look, jerky still hanging from the corner of his lips and lightly gripped between thumb and forefinger.

The hardy foodstuff was quickly removed from his mouth, and his expression went from a slightly stunned look to a sheepish grin. There was something in her tone that made the criticism sound almost complimentary. "I'll try to remember that next time," he said, trailing off into a quieter, "Thanks."

It was faintly unnerving, the way this woman's face was half shadowed by the firelight. He could only make out the lower half of her face, and all of her features were accentuated and sharpened by the dark. Anverth didn't mind it as much as he would have expected, though-- They were nice lips, or so he thought rather absently.

The halfling momentarily turned his attention back to his meal, scooping a small burlap sack from the grass between his feet and placing the salted meat within it. The effort, he'd decided, was too much for what he was getting out of it. His smallish hand went to root about within the sack once more producing half of a handful of mixed nuts and a pair of biscuits.

The latter were of a particularly halfling design, coated with a sugar based icing and made for flavor rather than their nutritional value. He placed one on the palm of his hand, extending it towards the lady at his flank. "Biscuit?" He tried his best to offer it politely, voice raising in pitch a touch more than he had intended.
 

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The female felt more at ease by the fire compared to being alone at the caravan. The old gypsy woman who had been so kind as to allow her to stay in her van had gone to sleep long time ago...not that Valerie minded much. The woman was a bit senile, often whispering to herself and making strange remarks about the things around her. Although she felt little threat of danger from the elder human, Valerie couldn't help but wonder at the state of her mental health and whether or not she should be sleeping with her dagger in hand. Appearances were not to be taken lightly...snakes could come wearing colourful dresses and with the sweetest of fake intentions. Her time at court had proven that much to her in her nineteen years of life.

The young male stopped his chewing to answer her, the sight of his halted progress in softening the hard jerky amusing to her. She gave a slight, sideways grin...nothing more than an upturned corner of mouth on one side. He took the advice well, Valerie pleased that he was not one to balk at any form of criticism as many creative types were. Head turning more, exposing more of her features, allowed her to get a better look at him. He was young to have spoken the elvish language as well as he did...well enough for someone who had not been raised with it at least. That's what she could only assume with his lack of elvish features.

He offered what looked to be a confection of sorts, different to the type of biscuits made in her own city. The icing on those at home was more elaborate, usually depicting flowers and birds in the most saturated of colours. Her stomach growled deceptively before she answered, giving her intended response before she spoke a word. With her hand coming to her gut as if to quieten the noise, she reached over and took the treat with nimble fingers. "Thank you for your generosity." Her words were slightly sheepish, a blush making her cheeks a rosy hue after the sounds of hunger that had rumbled from her.

She bit into the biscuit, being careful as to reduce the amount of crumbs that scattered to her lap. Savouring the taste for as long as possible before swallowing, the female found the treat to be similar in texture and taste to the ones made by the bakers she left behind. "This is good. Better than the sour broth the woman I am staying with offered me. It looked to have been forgotten in her van at some point, only to be warmed up again tonight. I don't think even she dared to eat it, despite her vague madness indicating she would do so."
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The halfling offered the mysterious woman an understanding smile at her stomach's angry rumbling, a lopsided expression that was far less subdued than her own. He didn't think that her thanks warranted a verbal response-- After all, he'd hope someone would do the same for him if their roles were reversed. Instead, he cracked his own biscuit in half and popped a piece entirely into his mouth, savoring the confection only a fraction as much as the woman did. His appetite was further contented by a pair of cashews, and he set the other half of his biscuit aside for later.

As the pair ate in shared silence, Anverth tried to remember if he'd seen the woman anywhere before. He thought he might have seen her with an older gypsy woman when the caravan had stopped in his hometown not four days prior, but he hadn't made an active effort to suss her out at that point. The woman spoke up, and was met immediately by the young man's full attention. A small bit of pride welled up in his chest, then; If he'd known she might have needed to eat apparently spoiled broth, he would've offered her a bit of food earlier! His mother, bless her heart, would cuff him on the ear if she knew he'd let someone go hungry.

"Well, I trust you won't need to resort to that." The young man bent at the waist, producing his sack of food once more and waving it enticingly in her direction. "I've got quite a provender built up here, so, please. Take whatever you'd like." The veritable reticule of foodstuff was set between them, giving off the alluring aromas of its contents; An assortment of salted seeds and nuts, two small wedges of cranberry cheese, a few links of pork sausage, and, yes, even that damnable bit of jerky he'd cast aside only a minute prior.

A particularly biting breeze blew past, and the young man inched himself a few nudges closer to the fire. Cupping his hand towards the flame and then over his half-pointed ear did little to relieve the nip of the cold, but he managed to derive some small bit of comfort from the warmth. "It's a cold one out tonight," he said with what little spite he could muster against the weather, looking back over his shoulder at the woman with that same lopsided smile. "Hope that cloak's keeping you well and warm."

That's the explanation he'd managed to conjure for her concealing attire, anyways. It's not like she's some noble on the run or anything of the sort- That would just be a preposterous flight of fancy if he were to assume anything like that, so he dismissed the thought out of hand.
 
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She finished the biscuit, wiping away at the crumbs that had fallen to her lap. With her previously rumbling stomach satiated somewhat, she was able to breath a sigh of relief. While there were plenty a kind soul among this merry group who would have shared bread with her, doing so felt wrong in her eyes. She had been privileged in her short life and taking food from those who were much less so grated against her morals. Had she not been given food, she would have resorted to hunting once the sun began to rise. All sort of beasties began stirring with the growing light but her efforts would have needed to be quick in order to return before the caravans continued on their way. This was a better alternative in the meantime.

At hearing of her plight with the old gypsy, the man bent to show her his plethora of packed food. He was kind enough to offer her whatever she wanted, a gesture which widened the elf's small grin into a more genuine one. "I appreciate it. Truly. I also intend to return the favor by offering you fresh meat of whatever I manage to catch tomorrow when we next make camp. I would have done so today, but we set up camp too late and when everything was finally finished it was too dark to venture out." After assessing what was available, she chose to take a small handful of the food in most plentiful supply: the seeds and nuts. She popped them in her mouth one by one, chewing slowly and politely.

The cold seemed to be affecting him too, the man inching closer to the fire. After warming his palms he proceeded to touch his ears, which she had not noticed until now with his long, wavy locks covering them. He commented on the cold, causing her to look up from her meager meal. "Yes, but it will be summer soon, so the warmth of the day will leach into the night. Perhaps -" She began a response, but stopped quite abruptly at the sight of the slightly longer, pointed tips compared to that of a human.

The female dropped the seeds into pouch she had pulled them from, instead leaning forward onto her knees and in an invasive manner pulled his hair aside to take a better look at his ears. "You're a half-ling." Her words were simple and whispered, but hinted at her barely contained curiosity as her cold fingers grazed along the pointed tips. She realized the extent of her intrusive behavior, suddenly freezing before she sat down again. "I'm sorry it's just I've never seen one like you before." She pushed her hands into her lap, as if hiding the offending appendages that had invaded his personal space.

After waiting for a moment she brought her hands up again, this time having them gently pinch the edges of the hood covering her head. They paused there as she thought about what she was doing but after a quick sigh she pulled it back to expose her own, much more obviously pointed ears. It's not that she feared anyone knowing she was an elf. They were common enough travelers among humans. However, her species did stand out and for this reason she had been remaining hidden. The last thing she needed was talk of an elf that had passed through an area when her father's scouts...or even Daedalus' soldiers....were most likely looking for her. After exposing herself she turned to look at the male, wisps of her curly hair escaping to frame her face from where it was tucked into her thick scarf. "Half-lings are rare where I come from...the purists among my species don't exactly encourage the presence or continued creation of your kind."
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The young man's heart fluttered with what he assumed to be pride as the woman accepted his offer, her smile growing more genuine. The chance to share in whatever she managed to hunt was kind as well, and he'd be thankful for the fresh meat once morning came around. "Well, I appreciate that," he said, turning his attention back to the fire and downing the rest of his biscuit.

He didn't see it coming when the woman edged into his personal space, and the first sign of her presence was the feeling of his hair being pushed aside. She seemed to tower over him, then, risen onto her knees as she was. A shiver ran up his spine at their abrupt proximity as her slender fingertips stole heat from his ears.

Anverth grimaced faintly from the unexpected cold, but something else stole his attention in the moment. He could make out her eyes beneath the hood, staring down at him with intent curiosity. His cheeks turned faintly red from the attention. "Uh, half-halfling, actually. On my mother's side," he managed through his fluster, looking back towards the fire as she pulled her hand away. "Something of a quarterling, really," he muttered after, a touch too sheepish to crack the joke fully. Anverth cast a wary glance at the other travelers gathered around their fire, but luckily they were too absorbed in their own conversations to notice anything strange.

He then looked back to the woman, finding her pinching the very edge of her hood. She paused there for a moment, as if second guessing whether or not she should reveal herself. The halfling couldn't blame her, really; A hood would help to keep the wind at bay, after all.

He was almost stunned when she drew her cover back, watching the firelight flicker off of her newly revealed features. His gaze lingered momentarily on the long points of her ears, realizing that they had much in common with his own, before glancing about the rest of her face. The oversized cloak she wore made her look more than a little androgynous, but her facial features were abundantly feminine and- the halfling mused -quite nice to look at.

She said something, then, that wasn't exactly kind to his heritage-- On one hand, the idea of being a rarity made the young man feel unique, but on the other, he wasn't unfamiliar with the sort of bigotry she described. "Well, that's a shame to hear... I hope you're a bit kinder in your views."

The young man's attention turned back to the fire, and he cupped his hands to the heat once more. His head tilted to the open ground at his side, but he didn't quite look back at the woman. "You seem cold. Could move closer, if you want."
 
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She worried she had offended him, the female's face becoming much meeker in expression. His tone implied that he was not unused to the type of discrimination she described to him and that made her realize that she may have made a mistake in leading with the beliefs of purists when first discovering what he was. "I have no such views shared with them. Not all elves are as aloof and superior that they hope they appear." She swallowed back the sudden dryness in her throat, keeping her gaze to the ground.

The fire crackled as a log broke in the heat, sending sparks flying and making the sudden silence between them more obvious. With many of the other travelers talking among themselves and generally ignoring them, it made Valerie regret her words that much more. She tended to sometimes speak before thinking, a flaw which had oft gotten her in trouble back at the elvish court. Although the male spoke with her about moving closer he did not look to her as he spoke, preferring to stare down blankly at the ground.

Valerie did as he suggested, inching her way as close as she dared lest she wished to risk setting her clothing alight. However, the decreased distance did help in providing her with much needed heat. When the silence grew heavy again Valerie spoke, needing to clear her throat first before beginning her apology. "I didn't mean to offend you...I apologize if I did. What you are is nothing to be ashamed of. I know plenty of elves who would not have been kind enough to share food with a stranger....race or species does not determine the treatment one should be given as far as I'm concerned."

Rubbing her hands together she stared into the fire, giving him a sidelong glance from the corner of her eye to gauge his expression and thus take a guess at what he was thinking. She had had much practice in using body language to predict the thoughts or feelings of others, especially when sweet words whispered among court groups could often cover up for hidden threats or intentions. "Do you prefer deer or elk?" Her query was soft spoken, the elf attempting to steer them towards another topic of conversation after her blunder with the previous one. "I've seen plenty of both around, hunting one should not be too difficult tomorrow."

Strangely enough she found herself to be enjoying the conversation, something she had not been expecting to have this early night after only having the gypsy woman to commune with. Talking with the man had made her feel the most at ease she had been in days, a feat not easily achieved. Once he responded she nodded her head slowly, turning to look over him again. Lifting her arm she stretched it in his direction, offering him her hand. "My name is Valerie, by the way."
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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Her apology was well received, though the young man felt there was little to be sorry for in the first place. He flashed her another smile before returning his gaze to the fire, muttering a brief, "It's quite alright. I trust you're a good one." What sort of 'one' he was referring to wasn't entirely clear by his tone, though he'd meant to say that she seemed a fair person in general. He leaned towards flame, sitting a bit too close for comfort. As the log snapped, he flinched backwards, blinking twice in surprise. One of the embers cast off of the broken kindling flung onto the halfling's shoulder, though he didn't seem to notice through the layers of clothing he bore. The spark flickered out soon enough, leaving little more than a small scorchmark and a bit of ash on the wind.

Anverth, meanwhile, had already forgotten the young-looking Elvish woman's questionable remark. He was prone to the occasional faux-pas, so he couldn't exactly hold it against her-- Besides, her views sounded fairly similar to his own from the rather cursory statement she gave. The way he saw things, it was nothing but rude to judge someone for simply being born of a particular stock.

The halfling heard a soft voice from his side, and he turned his attention once more to the woman there. He'd never had either deer nor elk in the past, but she looked to him for an answer. So, choosing by the sound of its name alone, he spoke up in an equally soft tone. "I suppose I'd like a bit of elk if it's not too much trouble." The smile he gave her was small and genuine, a more subdued expression than the grins he'd worn before. "I've never been out hunting before, but I could lend a hand if you'd like. Not sure how much help I'd be, though..."

His posture shifted as the young man turned to face his new friend more fully, propping a hand behind his back and tucking one leg under the other in a borderline ladylike fashion. His hand brushed a few stray waves of hair from his face, pushing them back along his head to give an unobstructed view of her. She offered her arm in his direction, and found her hand met halfway by his own. "And I'm Anverth." One gentle, friendly squeeze later, and his hand withdrew once more to his lap. "It's a pleasure, Valerie."

Her name seemed at home in his voice, emphasizing the faint accent he had from his race's native dialect. He gave a brief hum of thought, cocking his head away from the fire and fixing Valerie with a pursed-lipped look. "That's a nice name you've got. Lots of rhymes for it." Anverth counted the few that came to mind on one hand, raising a finger with each example. "Happily, mastery, humility..."

His shoulders gave a shrug, and he made a broad gesture outwards, completely abandoning the idea of counting. "Coffee, curvy, likely-- Anything that ends with a long 'ee' sound, really!" A laugh bubbled up from his chest, light and joyful. "Sorry, ah-- Yeah, you didn't need to know that."

The young man raked his hand back through his hair, giving the elven woman a sheepish grin. "Anyways, ah... What brings you to the road? Seeking your destiny?" His tone was genuinely curious, as if he wanted to hear whatever parts of her history she'd be willing to impart.
 
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He took her hand, accepting her introduction and providing one of his own. Anverth. Not entirely elvish-sounding but also not entirely human. How fitting. Upon shaking his hand she found the tips of his fingers to be rough, an obvious result of his playing the fiddle. He had played it deftly for sure and Valerie could only assume that it had taken time to practice such a skill, resulting in the toughened fingertips that gently squeezed the skin of her hand. The feeling was a strong contrast for Valerie, who firstly did not shake hands with many people since an incline of the head was more respectable at court (perhaps even topped off with a curtsy or bow for good measure). On top of that if she did shake hands it was with a noble of some kind, whose flesh was mostly unmarred owing to their privilege. Most households, including hers, had servants who attended to menial tasks that would allow for toughened palms and dirty fingernails.

However, her knack for weaponry and hunting which had been enforced by her father had allowed her a means to toughen her own skin. Pulling on a bowstring or hours of sword-play practice was not exactly forgiving. While calloused hands would normally be frowned upon at court, her father's position kept her from being looked upon as improper. A militant man should raise a militant daughter...it was only the correct order of things where she came from. Her hardened skin was something she wore as badge of pride, since it had been hard-earned. It also allowed her to stand apart from the other females, her own way of fighting the societal expectations hanging over her head.

Anverth made the choice of elk, which Valerie gladly accepted. From the few herds they had passed in her travels she knew they were plentiful and the loss of one long in tooth would not have an effect on the wildlife around them. He also offered her assistance, which the female shook her head too. "I don't think you want to be up at the crack of dawn to sneak through dew and frost." He proceeded to make a list of things that would rhyme with her name, an extensive one at that. The joy he got from the exercise was unusual to her, but she appreciated it still. Simple happiness was hard to come by these days and it brought a light to her eyes.

He asked after her reason for travelling, the female dulling once more. It had been a joy to her to be distracted, but his question had brought her previous misery round once more. She recovered, putting on a smile so as to not appear glum at what would be a fair and easy to answer question for most. "Destiny and I are new friends....not good ones at that. I disagreed with some of her choices and that is what brought me here. If she could keep her distance from me I would be all too happy. I'm off to make my own path, hiding away from choices that were being made for me." Her eyes looked from him to the fire, the females ears drooping slightly. Following her destiny meant returning to her father and then being married off. It made her feel like a piece of livestock rather than his offspring. She did not want to dwell on that though, instead flipping the male's question on him.

"And yourself? What brings you to gather around a travelers fire on a night when a home with walls would be much easier to keep out the cold?"
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The roughness of the lady's hand caught the young man by surprise, though he didn't let this show save for a small raise of his eyebrows. While his calluses had been earned in the field tending to crops and in parlors playing his fiddle, he couldn't hazard a guess where she'd gotten hers. Perhaps he'd misinterpreted her station after all? The halfling imagined it wasn't unheard of to see farmers on the road, seeking something greater than the hand they'd been dealt-- And she seemed young enough to be taken with the fantasy of a better life.

Anverth gave a brief blow from his nose at the thought. As far as he knew, she could be well into her seventh decade, and he wouldn't be able to tell. That was the trouble with elves, or so he'd heard. She mentioned he probably wouldn't enjoy tagging along to her hunt, and he couldn't exactly deny that; The halfling had never killed anything much larger than his thumbnail, save for a few rather plump arachnids, and he wasn't exactly hoping to change that less than a week into travelling. "I'll be up to meet you on your return, then. I'd hate to leave you behind by mistake." The smile her gave was genuine and warm, and he was only slightly distracted by the way shadow and light interplayed over her features.

If he hadn't been looking, the young man might have missed the stutter in Valerie's facade of happiness. It was brief and vanished just as soon as it had appeared, but it was hard to miss for those who knew to look. Apparently his question, posed innocently, had struck a nerve. His own smile faltered, though it notably didn't recover nearly as quickly as hers had. "I think I can agree with you, there. Fate's no friend of mine, either." It wasn't exactly true, but he did have some issues with the wide-spread use of prophecies and chosen-ones in myth and legend. After all, why couldn't it be anyone who rose above their station? And why was the person with a greater calling from destiny itself always so whinge-y about it?

"As for me, though..." He trailed off, realizing he'd never given his own purpose for traveling much thought. She was right, after all. A house would be a much more comfortable place to spend the night. The halfling clasped a hand against his chin for a few moments, humming quietly in thought. "I suppose I've always wanted to see the world. Something of a wanderlust, really. Like, ahm..."

His fingers gave a quiet snap as he realized how to phrase his thoughts. "Have you ever felt homesick? It's something like that, but, well, for places I've never been. I want to see all the places I've read about, like the city of mages and merchants far to the north, or the mountains out east that can touch the sky itself." He shrugged, then, and gave Valerie a look that wasn't quite a smile. "My father was something of a wander-- An acolyte of 'The Winding Path', actually. He stuck around for a few years when I was born, but you know how faith is... Anyways, I think that might be where I get it from."

The young man decided not to mention the other reasons he thought leaving his home was a good idea- How his own people ostracized him for things he couldn't change, the strange looks children gave him when they thought he couldn't see, and, really, the fact that romance was hardly a possibility when you looked nearly human in a town of smallfolk. That would really be a lot of baggage to unpack, and they'd only just been acquainted. "Oh, and I've heard the food in Vel Anir is worth the trip all its own. You know, as far as human cuisine goes."
 
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Valerie listened intently for his reasoning on wandering through the great unknown. The way he depicted his motivation for travelling resonated with her, the girl pulling her knees up to her chest and then leaning her temple against them. It was a relaxed action, one which implied the growing lateness of their discussion. However, she had no motivation to abandon the conversation any time soon. Despite her fatigue, the fellowship and company she was enjoying with Anverth was something she had solely missed for the past few days. Even though she wouldn't admit it, having a genuine conversation without fear of veiled trickery or sharing of secrets was something she had been longing for.

Around them the other travelers who had sought warmth from the fire were beginning to thin, heading back to their own vans or tents for the night. Soon enough it might be just Anverth and herself, with the exception of a pair or two too far away to be bothered about the elf and halflings company. Valerie waited for him to finish, letting out a soft exhale before responding. "I understand what it is you're talking about. There are many places I've wanted to see, things I've wanted to do. Certain....ah...responsibilities have kept me from pursuing these awe-inspiring adventures though. It sounds as if you have inherited your father's need to experience all that he can."

He made mention of the cuisine that he hoped to sample in Vel Anir, the destination to which the caravan troupe was traveling to. Valerie nodded her head encouragingly at his statement, adding some delights of her own she wished to experience. "Back home, we once had a group pass through who came from there. They whispered of such delights. They were mages you see, making butterflies from dust and changing their hair colour with their mood. I stayed up way later than I should, snuck into the room where my father was hosting them and listened in on their fantastic tales. They said the walls there are almost as tall as the trees in Fal'Addas and strong enough to withstand the most powerful armies and gales."

Her eyes shone from the memory, the female chuckling to herself before continuing. "They said that if we ever decided to venture out of our forest that we must stop there at a corner bakery on the main street. All four of the mages swore that although no magic was used in making the confections that they tasted like they had been. What was it that they harped on about?" She paused there, looking off to the distance while trying to recall the memory with more clarity. "Fish? Dragons? Oh, yes! Bears! They said that they made these small cakes shaped like bears and iced to look as if they were covered in soft fur." She wrapped the cloak closer around her, nuzzling in to her scarf to try and warm the tip of her nose which was going red from the cold. "Perhaps I shall go there myself once we arrive, decide if these bears are worth all the fuss they made over them." She stifled a yawn, rubbing at her eyes softly before tucking a stray curl behind her ear.
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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Anverth noticed the tiring posture of his elvish companion, glancing up to where the moon shone down through a rift in the overcast sky. The night was growing old, and the exhaustion of a day spent walking clambered from the halfling's legs to rest as a loose knot of tiredness near the center of his chest. He put little effort into stifling a yawn that crept slowly from his throat, trying his best to hide it with a stretch. Truth be told, the young man didn't want their talk to end just yet, but he knew that its conclusion must surely be approaching.

"Well, I hope you've left the shackles of those responsibilities behind you," Anverth warranted in response to Valerie's confession that she, too, wished to see the world. He hoped that this caravan wouldn't be the last they saw of one another, but he didn't give the wish a voice. That, he figured, might come off a bit mawkish. His head gave a half-cock once the elvish lady started speaking of Anirian mages, forming a rather keen tell that she had his fullest attention. The fact that her father played host to mages was impressive enough to the young man, not to mention the miracles she claimed they performed. The most experience Anverth had with the college-taught sort of magic was a cobbler who had paid his town a visit some number of years prior. He had been a stout man of dwarvish heritage to Anverth's recollection, with the impressive skill to repair any shoe with a flick of his wrist... Well, it had been an impressive skill before, anyhow-- It wasn't peanuts to conjuring butterflies from dust.

Though the part of Valerie's tale that got the young man's eyes to truly light up was not her mention of magic and miracles, but rather the idea of a mundane bakery and its finely made bear-cakes. "If it's not too much of me to ask, I'd quite like to tag along for that particular expedition. I mean, I am an expert of baked goods, after all. It's a skill I'm sure you would find useful." There was a note of cheek to the halfling's voice which, while entirely unfamiliar to Valerie, seemed perfectly at home in his tone.

Anverth turned his attention back to the fire, then, though it was really just a loose collection of embers by then. The last bit of flame had been blown out by a passing breeze not long before, leaving only the faintest bit of heat to emanate from the makeshift fire pit. The young man pulled himself to his feet, knees creaking more than they had any right to at his age. He let out a small puff of breath before offering a hand down to the elf at his feet, giving her a small smile. "Think it might be best to get some sleep, culver. Only because getting up before sunrise would be rather difficult if we talked 'til morning, of course."

This wasn't to say he wouldn't like to stay by the fire all night, but between his own exhaustion and her obvious tiredness, it simply didn't seem possible or wise.
 
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He queried as to whether he could join her on her 'quest' to find the bear cakes. Truth be told she had not been eager in exploring the city alone, especially after hearing of it's size and the multitude of both good and bad things that went on there over the years. Thus, his question of accompanying her was met with an eager nod, making the silver hoops on the elf's ears sway slightly and glimmer in the dying embers light. The barely-there cheekiness of his tone was met with a slight roll of her eyes, her response overly-exaggerate as a cheeky response of her own. "Of course you should come with...I have no such expertise in the matters of sugary treats. Your opinion therefore would be greatly beneficial in my judgement of the bear cakes." The light-heartened tone she had used was not something she was familiar with, however, she couldn't help but note how naturally it had come to her.

With that said the man pulled himself to his feet, offering her a hand up once he was sturdy. Valerie eagerly accepted the help, her cold fingers finding the warmth of his palm a pleasant even through brief contact point between them. Her puff of breath from the exertion joined his, the semi-transparent mist curling from her lips dissipating quickly into the night air. She tightened her cloak around her, readjusting the folds so that as much of her body was covered before she lifted the hood. This time she did not bow her head to obscure her features, instead raising her chin so that her facial expression was easily visible to the male when she responded.

"You make a lot of sense in what you say, it doesn't mean I wouldn't take up the offer of a continued conversation and still head off when the time is right. However, I am rather tired and I do believe that it is my moral obligation to throw that broth out before the old woman tries to consume it again. Goodnight, Anwerth. I'll meet you here tomorrow with a gift of fresh meat." Valerie then smiled softly, inclining her head towards him in a respectful gesture of farewell. She turned and left to disappear into the dark, casting him one more gaze over her shoulder before the black of the night engulfed her.

***********************************************************************************​

A twig snapped underfoot, causing Valerie to curse in elvish in her head at her carelessness. She had been tracking an elderly elk for the last hour, but knew if she didn't bring it down soon she risked missing the caravans when they set off. The woman looked up slowly, relieved to see that the old male had merely raised his head curiously, lowering it again quickly to continue grazing. Breath in slowly, steady my wrist, tighten my centre.... Valerie repeated the steps she had done thousands of times, pulling back on the already notched arrow in her bow string. She felt her muscles go taut with the effort, a sensation that the young huntress relished greatly. Steady...steady....Her eyes focused in on the target, a clearing through the vegetation allowing her an unabated view, as well as the perfect shot. Valerie slowly breathed out, counting to three before letting the arrow release.

The wooden spear, visible only by the bright yellow feathers tied to the end, whizzed through the air with a slicing sound. A thud resounded with a wet sound, letting the female know that her shot had hit it's target. The elk, along with the small herd it had been trailing behind, scattered wildly and took off. Valerie made chase, pulling her bow across her back to allow her to swing her arms at her sides as she followed. It wasn't long before the elk went down, Valerie ascending upon it and ending the suffering of the animal quickly. Whispering an elvish blessing she thanked the animal for what it would provide, beginning to carve away at the carcass. She would need to move quickly to make it back in time.

The female was just about done, throwing the last bits of meat and rolled up hide into a leather bag meant for such a purpose, when she heard an eerily loud sound of movement in the quiet, still forest. She paused immediately, the girl rising slowly as she focused her listening more intently. Too loud to be an animal...no predator or even buck would allow itself to make a noise that loud. Her eyes scanned her surroundings, the female slinging her meat and arrow bag as well as her bow over her shoulder, however keeping her dagger used for butchering in hand. "Who's there?" She asked loudly, noticing how the movement stilled when she spoke. There was a stretch of silence, leading the female to think she was just imagining things, when suddenly she realized she wasn't.

Two elven men burst from the bushes behind her, one knocking the dagger from her hand swiftly before grasping the opposite arm the first man had taken. They had caught her by surprise....but that was the only upperhand she would allow them have. "Let go of me or you'll regret!" She said through gritted teeth, fighting and flailing her legs about to try and escape. "Why would we do that? Seems like a waste when we've been tracking you for days." The one said, Valerie seeing the glint of his armor and the colours of Daedalus' house on his chest making it clear why they were here. Her heart was racing, but she needed to think quickly. She growled angrily under her breath, but ceased her fighting when she felt cold, sharp metal pressed to her cheek. "Keep moving like this and I'll be forced to scar you...it can be healed of course before your wedding day, but it will be the cost if you struggle."

Valerie stopped her squirming, but more because of the plan forming in her head than because she feared what the man would do. The memory of the black-fog moss she had avoided on the way into the clearing crossed her mind, sealing the idea she had into place. The female dragged in a few heavy breaths, steeling herself for the moment he lowered his dagger the inch she needed to not be fatally wounded when she made her move. The elven soldier did just that, allowing her to act.

The female twisted her body to the side, using the man on her left as leverage to push off him with her feet and loosen his grip on her arm despite the obvious bruising it would leave on her skin. The man on her right, the one who had been holding the dagger, reacted quicker than she had been expecting, aiming for her in a slashing movement that she only just managed to avoid. The stinging in her cheek still told her that he had broken the flesh, a fact which only fueled her onward. The girl bent low, swiping his feet from under him and forcing him to let go in order to break his fall. Once she was free she leaped towards the tree she remembered, the black-hued moss in question hanging in drips and drabs over the lowest branches. Grabbing her cloak Valerie covered her mouth and nose, then grabbed the nearest hanging piece and threw it in the direction of the soldiers. The moss exploded in a sense, disintegrating where it landed and sending thousands of specks floating up into the air under the soldiers noses. With their adrenaline pumping the males breaths were deep, quickly inhaling the small spores drifting about. The one got to his feet quicker than the other, making a sprint towards her. However, he did not make the distance, instead collapsing with his sword still clutched in his hand as he passed out along with the other. Valerie grinned to herself under her impromptu mask, retrieving her dagger and putting it back in the meat bag before sprinting off in the direction of the caravans.

***********************************************************************************​
The elf burst through the brush bordering the road, breaths heaving and legs feeling as if they might fall off. The black moss will wear off in several hours, hopefully buying the caravans enough time to reach Val Anir. If the soldiers are lucky, they'll wake before nightfall....not that I'm too concerned over their well-being right now. Valerie trudged her way to where the fire had been the previous night, collapsing to the ground while still hauling in air as deeply as she could. Now that she was relatively safe again she checked the burning cut by touching it gently, pulling her fingertips away to see a bit of blood as she heard footsteps approaching. She looked up to see Anverth, towering above her with his silhouette outlined by the sun. "Good morning." She said cheerily, pulling the bag containing the meat from he back.
 
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Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The elf rose to her feet with the young man's assistance, and he gave her a brief look as she did so. Being the first time they stood side by side, he was a touch surprised that they were nearly the same height-- If anything, she may have been even a little bit taller. It was a welcome change of pace, given that he was freakishly large compared to most people he'd known in the past. The lightheartedness with which she addressed him sounded nearly foreign in Valerie's accented voice, but Anverth was pleased by how naturally it came to her.

He met her nod of farewell with a downward bob of his own, rising once more to meet her with the same warm smile that had seemingly cemented itself onto his face. "I look forward to seeing you again, Valerie." Once more, her name came surprisingly easily to him considering it didn't fit with his usual dialect. "You know," his shoulders gave a slight shrug, and his smile turned lopsided into an endearing smirk. "For the meat."

The halfling watched as she walked off towards the shadows of a nearby cart, smiling fondly with the faintest traces of subdued admiration. Of course, one can never let sleeping dogs lie, and she decided to cast him one last glance over her shoulder. There was a quick, throat-clearing cough as Anverth turned hastily back towards the remains of the fire, kicking dirt up onto the embers to put them out properly. He made sure to give a few moments before looking back to where she'd been, but she'd already disappeared into the night.

=--*--=
The sun shone down upon Anverth's shut eyes well into the morning, finally coming down with enough intensity to stir the stubborn halfling from his sleep. He arose with a groan, stretching out his extremities before finally rising to face the day some few hours after dawn.

Fed with a first breakfast of cheese and half a sausage link, the young man first checked the area he'd spent the previous night, asking around if anyone had seen the mysterious cloaked figure they'd been travelling with for the past few days. Met with little more than shrugs, he gathered quite keenly that she simply must not be back from her hunt yet. She seemed tough enough, after all. Probably just some trouble tracking elk, which he assumed to be a very difficult beast to hunt in the first place.

Unwilling to go back to the old storyteller that had filled his previous days with wonder, Anverth found himself sitting casually in the shade of a stout little tree at the edge of a clearing. His nose was stuffed into a journal, half-filled with lyrical ideas and poetry that had all been abandoned at some point during the creative process. The current page was half filled with ideas for a new song, one never heard before on the face of Arethil. Much was present in the way of inspiration for a daring new take on the ever-common tale of romance and daring, but all he had written so far was a vague list of words ending in 'ee'. Frustrated with his own lack of creative ingenuity, the young man clapped his journal shut in much the same way he'd done many time before, though he hadn't realized that the still-wet ink transferred to the unused page opposite of his list. A shame, really.

Ever the expert at sullen fuming, Anverth contented his frustration with an aggressive cross of his arms and a fair bit of people watching as the other members of the caravan went about packing their extensive campsites. The young man was pulled from his brooding by the loud cracking of brush and twigs somewhere far off into the distance, blinking twice and looking about what was left of the camp until he saw the offending figure. Valerie, out of breath and looking rather worse for wear, practically fell to the ground at the site of the previous night's fire. He made his way to her on quick, short strides, lending her his shadow to keep her out of the sun.

He'd tell her she looked like Hell if it wasn't entirely inaccurate. Rather, she looked like the Seven Heavens with the notable additions of mussed hair, a sweaty brow, and the rather nasty cut she now bore across her cheek. That was a bit of a mouthful, though, so he sufficed his thoughts in a more simple way. "The hell happened to you?"

The halfling took a knee to Valerie's side, stepping out of the sun and giving her a careful look. Part of him wondered if the cheer in her voice was some sort of pain induced delirium, between the laceration on her face and the budding bruise upon her wrist. Without much in the way of prompting, he took his half-full waterskin from his hip and held it out to her on basic caring instinct, placing a steadying hand lightly upon her shoulder. "And, ahm... Are you alright?"
 
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Once the bag was off her back she felt a lot better, her muscles shaking as they recovered from the intensive effort they had been forced to undertake. Valerie did not want to worry the young man though, making a rather pathetic effort at trying to normalize her breath as well as control the shake of her hands and legs by busying them with other tasks. Such a task was undoing the leather thong keeping the meat bag closed, Valerie fumbling in a manner uncharacteristic for her usual demeanor but she eventually completed the action.

She looked up upon revealing the contents she had managed to procure, looking up at the same time as Anverth knelt beside her. The sun attacked her sight, Valerie blinking furiously and looking back down to the ground to recover her vision and remove the spots swimming in her eyes. Hearing his voice asking if she was alright was somewhat distant, as if listening to it from a place underwater. Regardless though she nodded her head vigorously, her head swarming with ways to try and explain her rugged appearance. Accepting the water-skin he offered gave her needed time to think as well as allowing her to quench a thirst she didn't know she had. Dry throat averted she spoke, coming up with a reasonable if somewhat false story as she did.

"There was...ah....other hunters. Locals I think. Weren't too happy about me hunting on 'their' lands. Not exactly like I knew that they owned the area if they even did, but they didn't exactly give me long enough to try and explain and apologize. Fortunately I had already butchered and skinned the elk by the time they wanted to make a fuss of things." She gave him a weak smile...lying had never been one of her strong suites. It was part of what made her keep quiet when at the court.

Now that she was recovering she was better able to take note of her surroundings, most notably the heavy hand resting on her shoulder. Normally she would have shrugged off such a gesture, not wanting to appear weak or belittled in front of other nobles (she wasn't a child anymore, after all). However, she found that this hand seemed somewhat more bearable than usual. Definitely not one she wanted to remove immediately in any case. In order to try and steer away from the clear load of twaddle she had just spouted like a fountain, Valerie tried to engage the male on a new topic of conversation: the elk she had caught.

"Do you think it would be too late to cook it? I haven't eaten breakfast yet. The thought of the caravans leaving without me was enough motivation to spend the time instead finishing with the elk." Using the sleeve of her tunic top she wiped at the cut, smearing some of the blood and dirt from her escape further across her skin but also removing the droplet of red which had pooled slowly at the surface. The bleeding had just about stopped, the burning sensation starting to ease away.
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The fabricated story had been reasonable enough, and it explained what injuries Valerie had underwent during her hunt. But what didn't line up was the fact that somewhere deep down, Anverth had the nagging feeling that she wasn't being entirely truthful. He dismissed the thought with a small bit of effort, blinking it away along with the question of just what she'd be trying to cover up. "Right," he said, less helpful than he would have hoped. "Hunters..."

The young man glanced around, watching the other travelers continue about their business without paying the wounded woman much mind. His teeth ground just faintly to relieve his budding anger at their apparent neglect, turning his attention back to Valerie. "Look, ah, don't worry about the elk for now, dove. It'll save 'til lunchtime. And, uhm..." The halfling half-spun to his back, shrugging off the small bag perched on his shoulders and producing a little tied-off satchel of cheesecloth which he carefully pressed into her hands before closing her fingers around it. "Here, made this for you. Just a bit of food, in case hunting didn't go quite as planned." Another lie, though he was more practiced with deception than his elven companion. He'd set the sack aside as a snack of sorts to tied him over until the troupe reached Vel Anir, but passing off the small collection of sausage and cheese felt like the right thing to do.

"For now, though, just relax. Drink, eat, breathe-- You're a bit wound up, is all." He nodded over his shoulder to the tree he'd been resting under, shifting slightly to give her a better view. "If I lend you a shoulder, do you think we could get you to the shade? It'd help to cool off, is all." His voice was soft with genuine concern, and his eyebrow was suitable knit to match. He took a glance to the way dirt and blood streaked her face, deciding that she could probably wash up that situation herself if she so chose.
 
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He sounded less than convinced at her story initially, Valerie feeling her throat go dry again. There was a sour taste in her mouth from the untruths she had decided to share, the female disliking the way the lie coated her tongue like a thick oil. Keeping him in the dark is better in the long run. He won't understand the elvish ways or...or the feelings of being trapped that were beginning to eat me up from the inside. Besides, this way if he doesn't know the truth it also keeps him safe from any sort of danger that those scouts might give me.

She reasoned back and forth to herself, some small part of her wishing that she could share her burden with someone else. That would be selfish though, an unnecessary threat to someone who had shown her nothing but kindness....and that, in her eyes, was enough reason to keep her mouth shut.

She didn't give much notice towards the other travelers around them. They were like busy bees in a hive, only a faint buzz to her mind which was preoccupied on others things. Mostly she just watched Anverth, finding what she guessed to be anger spreading across his features. The previous night he had been joyful, consistently happy even, so to see the less than pleased expression on his face now was quite a juxtaposition to the young elf.

He snapped back to focus on her, responding about the elk in a way she didn't expect. Carefully and generously he produced more food which he placed in her hands, clasping her fingers closed around the items like a cage encasing the food. She looked up at him with a frown, saying "You're making it awfully hard to pay you back by continuously handing me more food, you know. I appreciate it though."

Anverth made mention of relocating to the tree, Valerie following his line of sight to look at the speckled shadey space a few meters away. Turning her gaze back to Anverth she nodded, allowing him to give her a hand-up as he had done the night before. The pair then made their way over to the shade where Valerie happily plopped down again. Once seated she took the water-skin still in her hands, pouring a small amount into a cupped palm which she then splashed over her face and neck. She was careful to use as little water as possible, gently rubbing away the dirt and dried blood before letting her skin dry in the breeze. Next she tried to straighten out her hair, combing her fingers through the frazzled and twig-entangled curls to pull out debris such as leaves. When she was satisfied that she looked less of a mess she carefully unwrapped the package he had given her, mouth watering at the smells emanating from beneath the muslin cloth.

After taking the initial bite of food, a carefully chosen small wedge of cheese, Valerie spoke up. "Thank you for your help Anverth. I mean that. Not many people show the consideration you do and the world is worse off for it." After taking another bite and swallowing she added another question, turning to face him so she could talk with him more easily. "How long do you think we have to go until we reach Val Annir?"
 

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In spite of his anger at the injustice of her situation, Anverth couldn't help but crack a small smile when Valerie mentioned that he was making it increasingly difficult to pay him back. "Well, you're lucky friendships don't run on debts and payment, then." While the entertainer had used the term 'friend' to refer to listeners and strangers in the past, there was something strange in the kinship he'd found with the elf in their incredibly short time together. Similar ideals tend to make for fast friends, after all- Stressful situations doubly so.

The young man helped his companion to her feet, helping her to sling an arm over his shoulder before walking ever so carefully to the shade he'd left only minutes before. After helping Valerie to settle comfortably into the tree's shadow, he spotted his own discarded journal, scooping it up swiftly and palming it back into his pocket. Anverth stood just a few feet away, then, watching with noticeable concern as she tended to her wound and fixed her hair. Whoever these hunters were really did a number on her, and Anverth's eyes coasted along the edge of the woods, hoping to spot any of her assailant's friends before they could get too close. Contented to find that no one was stalking through the woods, at least as far as he could see, the halfling placed his back against the bark of the tree and slid down until he sat beside Valerie. He gave her a wary look, stomach nearly growling at the mere scent of his passed-off snack. It would be a truly difficult day, but sacrifices were sometimes necessary. Yes, even snackrifices.

He gave little more than a nonchalant shrug at his new friend's praise, donning a small smile that only narrowly reached his eyes. "Really, it's the least I can do, Val'." The shortened name was a new addition, and one that the halfling didn't quite notice himself. "Really, I'd just be a beard-splitter if I didn't lend a hand."

His gaze cantered up to the sky, then, where he observed the sun's placement as though he could tell the time by its place above them. With a small hum of contentment, he said quite plainly, "I'd reckon we'll be able to see the city not long after midday." He'd heard the caravan leader say as much while he was struggling to write, anyhow. He only hoped the captain's assessment had been accurate.

The young man looked back to the elf at his side, resting his palm momentarily on the back of her hand in a show of support. "Are you feeling any better? I could see about finding some herbs for that cut, you know, to ease the pain, but, well... They'll probably have something better available in the city."
 
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Valerie was about to consume another morsel when she remembered his response, her hand halting on it's path to bring food to her mouth after what she heard. Friendship? Is that what this is? I didn't know a friendship as easy as this could exist. All I've ever known is friendships that come with strings attached and the need to carefully watch any information shared with the 'friend'' in question. Knowing that he thought of her as a friend sparked a small warmth in her chest, the female unable to dwindle her smile as she let the food finish it's route into her mouth.

She noticed him watching the rim of the caravan camp with great intent, his eyes staring into the thick vegetation as if he was expecting something to jump out at any second. It didn't bother her much, the female just intent to inconspicuously watch him while his focus was elsewhere. I wonder what it is he's looking for? The man looks ready to fight down a charging horse with a stare that fierce. Shrugging away the thought she turned her attention instead to one last bite to eat, a small piece of the sausage which she broke off and popped into her mouth unceremoniously. "I've had my fill....care for any of this yourself?" Guilt still tinged her voice as she offered him half the food he had given her.

He brushed off her thanks casually, but not in an offensive or dismissive manner. What caught her attention though was the added nickname given to her, making the female pause once more and reflect further on what she had been thinking about earlier in terms of their friendship. Val? I think I could get used to that. Maybe even shorten my family name too. At least that would make it harder for the scouts to find me by name alone. Hmm....Val Fae, I quite like the sound of that." He had stormed on ahead with answering her added question while she was in the midst of thinking, the elf quickly putting her full attention back to the male as he gave her a reply.

His touch only proved to sharpen her focus on him further, the contact like a slight electric shock to the girl at the unexpected physical show of comforting. "Yes, much better. Think I just needed to catch my breath and eat something. The cut will heal in a few days, it's just a scratch, don't think we'll need any herbs at least. A few hours after midday is not too far off though. Only a short time of traveling." A far-off call was sounded loudly, a voice preaching the last notice for people to get moving. The straddlers with still a few things to do drastically increased their paces and hurried along, causing the female to shift from her position of comfort to straighten. Valerie stood, this time offering to help Anverth up. "Care to ride up front with me? The gypsy woman prefers to sleep or read while we go, her horses just follow on with those in front of them and need very little guidance."
 

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Their growing levity steadily became more palpable, with cheer faintly humming in the air between them. Any onlookers would have found it hard to believe that she'd had a near-death experience mere minutes before, and he'd looked fit to harm someone only a few seconds ago. Anverth finally allowed himself to relax against the tree, mind wandering past thoughts of what he still needed to grab from his diminutive campsite yet lingering on feelings of fondness. He donned a broad smile as Valerie offered him what was left of his gifted food, taking a small piece of cheese before wrapping the bundle back in its cheesecloth exterior and tucking it away in a side pocket of his pack. "I'll save the rest for later, then. Might be a while 'til supper and all."

The young elf had his full attention as she spoke, though his hand notably lingered on hers. Just a sign of his attentiveness, no doubt. He wasn't entirely certain that her comments on the cut were accurate, but if she felt that letting it heal naturally was a good idea, he was entirely on board. Besides, he'd never seen an elf with a scar before, and they live a rather long time! Maybe their bodies just healed perfectly, or he reasoned.

Anverth was a touch startled by the distant barker's final call to get a move on, hand flinch back to his lap. In all the excitement, keeping track on the dwindling number of travelers bustling around had fallen to the wayside, and now the duo seemed nearly alone compared to the veritable crowd of people from the night before. He looked back to find Valerie standing beside him, reversing roles by towering over him this time around. He carefully took her hand in his before pulling up onto his feet, giving his back a careful stretch and dusting bits of bark from his shoulders. "I would greatly appreciate the ride and company, friend." The smile he gave was small and genuine; After all, a break from the past days' loathsome walking would be something to rejoice in.

The halfling gave a small nod in the direction of the old woman's cart not far off along the treeline, already being lashed back to her horses by a more able-bodied member of the caravan. "I can meet you there, just need to grab a few things first." He flashed another smile before walking past Valerie in the direction of his meager encampment, deciding not to hazard a glance back at her along the way. His gait took him past the edge of the clearing, and he practically vanished amidst the speckled green shade of trees.
 
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She helped pull him up, the elf showing little problem in heaving the man to his feet. After all, elves were lithe and graceful but had strength that was beguiling for their appearance. Valerie though was slightly stronger than most, having spent much time in the woods tracking animals or practicing drawing back the longbow which rested on the grass at her feet. He accepted her offer of a ride, the female lifting in spirit at the thought of not needing to sit alone at the front of the van. After helping him up, Anverth indicated that he would meet her there and strode off into the thicket of trees and bush. Valerie assumed he was gathering his things and so instead made a beeline for the gypsy van where one of the other travelers was hitching the horses.

A man, his face covered in soot and mismanaged facial hair, greeted her with a sharp quick tug on his hat. "Morning miss. Thought the old gal could use some help. If she had things her way, she would have been left behind months ago." Valerie chuckled to herself, taking a position on the opposite side of the horse to finish buckling the leather straps hitching it to the van wagon. Her fingers moved quickly, having watched the woman or someone who had helped her buckle in the horses before. "Thanks for your help, I'll finish up and get them moving." The man nodded his head, giving the animal a few pats on the neck before departing. "Better hurry, the caravan captain ain't too keen on straddlers now that we're getting close to Val Annir."

Valerie did as she had promised, getting the horses prepared in a few more minutes. Her pace was hurried at the sight of the vans ahead of her pulling off, the female almost getting knocked off her feet when the horses walked forward unexpectedly in their expectation of following them. The female recovered within seconds though, leaping to the front of the dark bay and piebald gypsy-vanner beasts to pull on the reigns at their heads. "Ssh, not quite yet...we're waiting for someone", she whispered quietly to them, mumbling in elvish which seemed to steady the large animals. Their girth and height had not deterred her. In fact, it had been one of the things that had drawn her to this particular van in the first place. Being much larger in size they had looked to her like the elvish horses back at her home, reared specifically for their gargantuan appearance in order to accommodate their much taller riders in comparison to humans.

The elf looked around nervously for Anverth, ears perking up whenever she thought she saw movement by the brush he had disappeared into. Although she had needed to develop patience over time (it was needed when pursuing animals quietly during long hunts), it was not a virtue she practiced consistently. Her mind kept drifting back to the elven soldiers lying somewhere in the woods, the female's nerves rising the longer the young halfling was away.
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The young halfling found his way to a small, open area not far off the road where many of the caravaneers had set camp for the night. He'd already broken his small, leather cover of a tent down earlier in the morning, leather shroud rolled about its constituent sticks in a compact bundle. Anverth first doffed his pack and lashed the tent to its side, grabbing his barely-passable bedroll afterwards and tucking it up under one of his arms. It was little more than a glorified blanket, but anything was better than being exposed to the elements.

Finally, the halfling stooped once more to reclaim his well-worn fiddle case from where it sat in the nearby shade, tucking it under the same arm as his bedroll before rushing back to where the caravan had been only ten minutes before. He burst through the brush in much the same way that Valerie had, emerging onto the road a good couple of meters from where the gypsy's van sat, newly strung to its two-horsepower, all-biological engines. Of course the young man would arrive after all the work had been done, donning his best grin before all but sprinting to the front of the van. He gave the patiently waiting elvish woman a brief, unbidden embrace before breaking off, eager to follow after the caravan as they disappeared around a bend in the road. "Sorry to keep you waiting on me." His tone was a bit sheepish, but the young man wasted no time before hauling himself up onto the driver's seat at the wagon's front, shrugging off his pack and setting it tightly between his feet.

The smile he gave Valerie was large and stricken with wanderlust, the sense of wonder filling his eyes with light as their journey to Vel Anir grew closer to its conclusion. "Let's see just how high those walls really are, aye?"
 
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MJK

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Character Biography
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The young man strode out of the bushes soon enough, eliciting a sigh of relief from the young Valerie whose ears perked up at the sight of him. Her mind had been creating the most horrible of scenarios while she waited, the worst of which being that scouts had somehow woken up early and grabbed the man when he was out of sight. However, he was back now and they would soon be on their way. He approached at a sprint, but the sudden embrace was not something she had been expecting. Being engulfed by his outstretched arms caused her to drop the horses reigns, the male pulling away before she even had the time to think about reciprocating. The action was something she was completely unfamiliar with, the lack of space between them heightening her senses and, for some unbeknownst reason to her, brought a rosy hue to her face. It was hardly noticeable, little more than a slight glow really, but she felt as if her cheeks were made of fire themselves and had no idea how to cool them down.

He was already hauling himself up onto the front of the van by the time she recovered, the female turning back around with her startled expression morphing into more of a lopsided expression at the sight of him eagerly awaiting their departure. The girl went around the other way, leaping more than pulling herself up onto the small but stable seat close beside him. With a slight slap of the reigns they were off, Valerie hushing the horses into a slow pace with a few elvish words. She knew they might not understand her, but she liked to think the creatures were far more intelligent than most people gave them credit for. Anverth commented on the sights ahead of them, the female tying off the reigns loosely so they wouldn't dangle about before responding in an excited tone.

"Hope the bear-cakes live up to the high standards that have been sung of them." She was giddy, the young man's almost child-like excitement rubbing off on her and making her look forward to arriving at their destination.


******************************************************​

Back in the forest, the young captain woke with a beating head and rather round lump sitting on his skull. Moaning, he sat up, looking around with narrowed eyes to see his companion lying nearby with his sword at his side and dagger on the grass. The light had begun to fade, the male elf rising with a groan to make his way over to his companion who he shook awake. The other soldier (the one who had threatened Valerie with a knife and run at her with his sword) cursed at him, rubbing at his eyes and letting out an exasperated sigh before sitting up.

"In what world did you think threatening her with a knife was going to pan out well? Her father is the military leader of their city. She could probably hold a knife before she could dance." The other, more brutish looking man stood, mumbling more curses under his breath as he retrieved his weapons. "I don't know Calamys, she was going to hurt herself with the way she was squirming."

Captain Calamys, son of the noble Daedalus and heir to his riches and armies, merely shook his head in response. "We've been friends for a while now Magnus...which gives me enough right to tell you it was an idiotic move to say the least. Now we've lost her again and my future bride has gone with the wind." A smug smile formed on his face at the title he had given her, the man turning to look around while thinking to himself. A feisty bride indeed, but a worthy prize if her fight is any indication of her strength.

Once the pair had recovered they set off again, spending an hour or two searching before eventually coming across the road with clear caravan tracks. Kneeling down on one leg to inspect the markings in the dried mud Calamys smiled to himself, knowing exactly where next to look. Val Annir it is then, Valerie Faelthyn. I am all too keen for our next meeting. The two soldiers set off on foot, heading into the same direction the caravans had left hours earlier.
 

Anverth Kettlewhistle

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The faint redness of the elf's cheeks went entirely unnoticed by her giddy travelling companion, for he was much too caught up in the excitement of moving on down the road. A dull heat rose to his cheeks as she leapt elegantly onto the seat next to him, though the sensation was entirely unfamiliar to him. Must be the call of adventure, or something of the sort!

"Bear-cakes are my sole motivation now, so thanks for that." He gave Valerie a smirk as she tied off the reins, cheekiness spread over his features. "You know, at first I wanted to actually get paid for performing, but I think confections are the true goal here."

In spite of the mirth Anverth shrouded himself with, there was still a nagging feeling at his heart that something had gone terribly wrong. His gaze kept flitting out to the woods, glancing about in pursuit of hostile hunters and their ilk. Towering trees canopied the road with shade that fluttered in the breeze, sunlight narrowly snaking its way through the gaps between leaves. The forest off the road was even darker from the density of trees, and each shadowed bush looked vaguely like a hunter coming to exact further revenge. Suffice to say, the young halfling grew tense with the thought. Eyes fixed on the dense forest that encompassed the road, his hand probed blindly to his side. He took a careful grasp of Valerie's hand, intertwining their fingers for his own comfort just as much as hers-- if not more so.

"Although," he said, turning a warm and cheeky smile back to her as if his blood didn't run cold with anxiety and fear. "I suppose having money would facilitate more bear-cakes... Guess we'll need to strike a balance, eh?"
 
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