Chapter 22 Air

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The dancing continues as more food is brought out from seemingly nowhere. The man behind the massive feast, Gahndri appears before Radhri’s table. He bows low to the ground, but Ari still catches a glimpse of annoyance in the man’s eyes.

Radhri motions the man to stand and smiles. “We thank you, Gahndri, for this bountiful feast and the honor you show to our guests. Though I hope you didn’t use all of the food for tonight?”

“Of course not. You haven’t seen the sheer size of the meal I’ve prepared for the main celebration tomorrow evening,” Gahndri says, his chest filling with pride at his leader’s words.

“Then we’ll all wait with expectant breath for the night to pass swiftly so we may reach tomorrow as quickly as possible.”

Those nearby cheer with excitement. Radhri stands and crosses to pat Gahndri on the back. Tal rolls her eyes as she filled her plate with the fresh food.

Vico helps Vesna to her feet. “I’m going to take Vesna to bed, she’s barely able to keep her eyes open.”

“You’re making me sound like a child, Vico,” Vesna says, trying to shove her brother away, but she doesn’t have enough strength.

Kemp leaps to his feet and helps Vico steady her. “I’ll help you.” He eyes Tal. “I hope your father doesn’t mind if we leave early? Or is that rude?”

“It would be more rude if we refused an injured guest rest,” Tal says. “I’ll make sure a healer sees her in the morning.”

“Thank you,” Vico says. He and Kemp lead Vesna away.

“He probably won’t even notice. When Gahndri’s in a bad mood, my father focuses on cheering him up,” Tal says, leaning close to Ari. “He’s my uncle, after all.”

Crofton nearly choked on his food. “The brother of the leader of the Lost Raiders is the cook?”

“The brother of the chief of the Redlands Raiders chose to be the cook.” Tal eyed Crofton. “Do you frown on people for choosing to live how they want where you come from?”

Crofton’s cheeks flush and his eyes lower. Ari can see a mixture of embarrassment and sadness in his eyes. She feels her own sadness thinking about Kellahn and takes one of Crofton’s hands in hers. Crofton tenses and squeezes gently.

Releasing a loud sigh, Tal turns to face them. “My father and uncle chose their own paths. Plus, my uncle’s the younger brother. He never wanted to be leader. But I see I’ve hit a nerve with what I said. I’m sorry for your loss.”

Locking eyes with her, Ari struggles to keep calm. “How do you know we’ve suffered a loss?”

“You have the eyes of people who’ve recently witnessed death. But your eyes,” she points a piece of fruit at Ari, “show the sorrow of losing a family member.”

Ari fights back her tears. “My mother. Before we began our journey she was murdered.”

“I assume by the men still chasing you?”

“How did you know about that?” Crofton asks.

Nodding her head towards her father, Tal smiles. “I made him tell me everything you spoke about on your way here. He can’t keep anything from me.”

“We assured your father your people are in no danger,” Ari begins.

Tal stopped her with a hand. “You assured my father you have no idea who’s following you. He’s assured me you’d fight if they threatened our people and if you don’t we can kill you.”

“The more reason we shouldn’t be staying too long,” Crofton mumbles.

Tal’s eyes dance between Ari and Crofton as she chews. “You’re heading for the coast and then on to Deirak. But how many from the destroyed caravan will be continuing on with you?”

“Why would they continue on with us? We were simply passengers who requested aid crossing the Redlands.” Ari feels the eyes of Sten, Link, and Guto on her, their interest in the conversation piqued.

Guto is the first to speak. “The caravan is destroyed. Even if we manage to sell what remains to the coastal cities, there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to find a caravan hiring or if we’ll make enough to pay our ways home. I can’t speak for these two or Vico and Vesna, but heading to Deirak doesn’t sound like such a bad plan.” Link and Sten share a look and nod in agreement.

“But you don’t even know us that well,” Crofton protests. “Why would you be willing to give up your caravanning and help us?”

“We joined the caravan life for excitement. But it only ended up being the opposite, except for the occasional bandit attack,” Sten says.

Link shudders. “Though the last one was the worst attack we’ve encountered.”

“You know, if you join us there’s the chance we’ll be attacked by things worse than bandits,” Ari says. “It isn’t right endangering any more people.”

“Then why run at all?” Tal asks. “Every where you go you’re endangering lives. That’s the danger of being followed, if you truly didn’t want to risk more lives than your own you wouldn’t ask for help. There’s a stronger reason for your desire to reach Deirak other than a phantom threat of unknown men chasing you or even that stupid lie you told about a new Blood King.”

Falling silent, Ari and Crofton glance at each other.

“Our home was attacked,” Ari says. “The men responsible are the same ones chasing us and, for reasons I can’t tell you, the only way to stop them is to find someone, I can’t tell you who, in Deirak.”

Before Tal can ask a follow up question, Radhri returns to his seat, releasing a loud sigh. “Gahndri seems in a better mood now that I’ve assured him he’ll have extra hands tomorrow for the preparations.”

“And what hands are those, father?” Tal demands.

Motioning his head towards Link and Sten, Radhri takes a large drink from his glass. The two men pale, noticeable even with the glow of the fires around them.

“And did you ask their permission before you volunteered them?”

“Did I need to? They’re our guests. I’m sure they’re willing to help out in exchange for the food, medical aid, and sleeping quarters we’ve so graciously provided them.” He eyes the two caravan men, waiting for any sign of disapproval, but Sten and Link understand the hidden threat.

“What is the celebration tomorrow?” Crofton asks, attempting to divert Radhri’s attention from Sten and Link.

“We’re having a great wedding day. Tonight we perform for the gods to ensure the ceremony is blessed. Three couples will be uniting their lives together under the full moon tomorrow evening.” Radhri’s eyes gleam with excitement.

“Are there usually three weddings in one night?”

“Only on the full moon do we celebrate the joining of two into one. This is a special occasion however because—”

“Stop boring them about tomorrow. They’ll find out soon enough,” Tal interrupts. “The men chasing them destroyed their home. They’re heading to Deirak to find someone to help stop them. Gods, I found out more about their situation in five minutes than you did in hours.”

“Is this true?”

Ari nods, clutching her hands together. “They attacked our home, murdering hundreds…including my mother.”

“Ari,” Crofton gasps, a small warning in his voice.

“It’s fine, Crofton. They should know. Now they’re chasing after us and the only one who can help us is in Deirak.”

Radhri stares at Ari for a long moment in silence, but his eyes are distant as he thinks. He looks at his daughter. “We should help them.”

Tal quickly turns to her father. “What are you suggesting?”

“Ten of my warriors shall accompany you to Deirak. Well, twelve, truthfully,” he says winking at his daughter.

“You would allow that?” Tal asks.

“Of course. I can already see in your eyes you want to help and I’m sure Indra would agree, as well.”

“Like he has a choice.”

“Hold on,” Ari interrupts. “You’re offering to send some of your people with us?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Tal smiles at her. “Because we understand the pain of losing a loved one in a violent way and the fear of running from those who wish to harm us. But in exchange you must attend the wedding celebration tomorrow. We can discuss further plans after.”

With agreements made, the group enjoys the last of the celebration. As the night wears on, Ari and Crofton excuse themselves to find their way to their shared tent with Kemp. Ari and Crofton note that Kemp is absent, probably still with Vesna and Vico.

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