[The Drain – 03] A Strange Bed

by The Atlean WordSmith

Maeryn awoke alone in an unfamiliar room. Her memory was hazy after her escape and she wasn’t sure how long she’d been out. Her body protested as she moved, but she sat up anyway and tried to get her bearings.

“Good. You’re awake.”

A match flared, a lantern was lit, and light filled the room. Maeryn recognized the shorter of the two riders she’d run into earlier. He had short, rough-cut hair and thick stubble, which Maeryn noted as unusual. Vyorians generally wore their hair longer.

“My name is Ulric,” he said, “And I think you have some explaining to do.”

“Er…”

A thousand thoughts flashed through Maeryn’s mind as she tried to avoid his gaze. She could think of plenty of different ways to explain herself, if only she could find the words to begin.

“You could start with your name,” Ulric suggested.

“Maeryn.”

“Maeryn,” he repeated, moving his jaw as if he were tasting the word, “So… you hail from Ostheron, do you?”

“Yes.”

“So what brings you here, Maeryn?”

“It’s, er… hard to explain.”

“Ah. One of those stories.”

She gave a small nod.

“Are you with the Guild?”

“Is it that obvious?”

“If it were obvious, I wouldn’t be asking.”

“Oh.”

After a moment of silence, Maeryn told him about how she’d spent the past year or so studying Vyorian ruins. She described the attack on her group and how she had fled into the forest, how she’d been pursued. She left out details that she thought might cause trouble for her, such as the amulet that she wore around her neck.

“And that’s when I ran into you,” she finished, looking down at her hands.

“And stole Hrothgar’s horse.”

“Er… I wasn’t thinking.”

Ulric shrugged and changed the subject, “Those men that were after you, were they telling the truth?”

“I’ve never seen them before. I swear!”

“I thought not. I’ve seen their insignia before, they’re mercenaries from the Sea States. Someone probably heard of your excursion and sent them to rob you while you were robbing Vyoria.”

“We had permission!”

“From who?”

“I, er… I don’t know. Master Prothero handled that. I was just there to help.”

“Well, you may have saved us some trouble in the long run,” Ulric said, sitting on the edge of the bed. Maeryn pulled her legs up to make room for him.

“We met some refugees from Kant–we grew up nearby,” he explained, “The civil war apparently hit Ytaanhald hard. Our home was burned to its foundations, and we have no news of our families.”

Maeryn didn’t know what to say to that. She decided to fall back on Master Prothero’s favorite advice and said nothing at all.

“Hrothgar went ahead to see what he can find. I stayed to make sure you didn’t come to harm.”

“Why?”

Ulric shrugged, “I’m nicer than I look.”

Ulric explained how he and Hrothgar had concluded that the mercenaries would eventually catch them up and probably wouldn’t be willing to talk things out. Hrothgar had gone ahead to confirm the refugees’ stories, so the plan was for Ulric and Maeryn to head toward Kant. The road would eventually turn south toward one of the other harbor towns.

“We’ll meet Hrothgar in Havet or Kust, wherever there’s a boat going to Ankhora or the Sea States.”

He turned to leave, hesitated, and turned back.

“Fair warning, lass: If you run off again, I’m not coming after you.”