Greetings one and all! I’m back from vacation! You’ll be getting some extra blog posts this week hearing about that, but for right now, here’s the next part of my story. Be sure to vote at the end!
* * * * *
Noshli wasn’t sure where she was going, but she was sure about one thing. Althea was going to be a problem.
She was a nice girl, probably one of the nicest Noshli had ever met. But years of living stifled in a family who didn’t appreciate her had left Althea a little . . . talkative. Or in other words, she never stopped talking unless she was sleeping. And at times, she talked in her sleep too. Althea seemed to be everywhere. Her voice. Her crazy hair. Althea was larger than life
It was enough to drive a person mad.
Still . . . it was nice to not be alone any more.
“What’s with your name?”
Noshli looked up across the campfire. Althea stared at her with a quizzical expression that Noshli was starting to recognize as the prequel to a long, drawn out discussion. It had been a tiring day, full of what seemed like endless meandering through endless repeating landscape. They were getting nowhere and it was wearing on Noshli. All she wanted to do was go to bed, but instead she let out a long sigh. “What do you mean, what’s with my name?”
“It’s just that, I mean, I don’t want to be offensive or anything,” Althea said quickly, her eyes widening. “But your name is a little bit strange. You’re half elvish, yes? And half human? But your name sounds more dwarvish than anything else. It just seemed a little bit out of place.”
Noshli chuckled. “I guess it does, a little,” she said. One glance at Althea’s expectant face was enough to prove that nothing would stop her until she had a satisfying answer to her question. “Well, it’s like this,” Noshli said. “My mother had a mean sense of humor. She was very unhappy when my father left, so when I was born, she came up with a way to insult him in the best way she knew how. He now has to live with not only the shame of having a half breed daughter, but one that bears a dwarvish name. Trust me, it was very deliberate.”
“But that’s, that’s awful!” Althea said. “Your mother shouldn’t have done that! It’s your name!”
“It doesn’t bother me,” Noshli said with a shrug. “As a half breed, I never expected to be well liked. No one has ever asked about my name before. They’ve never cared.”
Noshli stopped talking at the uncomfortable look on Althea’s face. “It’s fine. As I said, it doesn’t bother me.”
“Did it work?” Althea asked “Was your father angry?”
“I’m not sure,” Noshli said. “I’ve only met him once. He didn’t say anything about the name. Actually, he barely spoke to me at all. He mostly just arranged things with my mother so that we would be taken care of.”
“That was something, anyway,” Althea said, her smile returning. “It must have meant he cared, at least a little bit.”
“I suppose,” Noshli said. She shoveled some dirt over the fire with her hands. “Can we not talk about this?”
“Sure,” Althea said, looking uncomfortable again. She started rolling out her bed blankets. “But I’m sure he cared. He’s your father. My papa and I had our differences, but I know he cared about me, in his own way.”
“That’s just it,” Noshli said. “You had a ‘papa.’ I didn’t.”
The next morning, Althea seemed content to ignore the tension from the previous night, a fact for which Noshli was grateful. She hadn’t meant to say so much about her past. They packed up quickly and headed down the road. They had only gone a few miles when it was clear that they were finally getting somewhere. The road smoothed over with freshly pressed gravel. They soon came to a crossroads with a wooden sign stuck into the ground.
“Aerindan,” Althea read off the sign. “I’ve heard of that place. It’s supposed to be a fairly large town.” She turned to Noshli, her grin firmly planted in place. “We should be able to find out some information there, and we should arrive just before nightfall.” Noshli flinched as Althea grabbed her hands. “We’re finally getting somewhere!”
“So it would seem,” Noshli said. Althea had finally let go of her hands and darted down the road. Noshli hitched her bag higher on her shoulder and followed. They walked for hours, the sun streaming through a wonderfully cloudless sky. Noshli felt the first inklings of hope. They were getting somewhere indeed.
The sun was setting as they reached Aerindan, streaking the sky with pinks and purples. The city was surrounded by stout walls made out of large, squared off logs. The road they were on led directly into a wide gate, which stood open. Noshli pulled her hood over her head and shoved Althea in front of her. “You go first,” she said, her voice instinctively dropping to a whisper, even though there was no one nearby. “I’ll be just behind.”
“I’ve never seen anything this big,” Althea said in an awed voice. “Where should we go?”
“Through the gate would be a good start,” Noshli said. “We will need to find somewhere to stay for the night, if possible. I still have some money left. We’ll try and find a small inn and go from there.”
“Right,” Althea said. “We can do this.”
They stepped into the city. Noshli kept her eyes focused on the ground as they passed the guards posted at the gate, but they ignored the two girls. Noshli breathed a sigh of relief once the gate was behind them and took a good look at the city. The first thing she noticed was a fat, black cat sitting on the stoop of one of the shops. It stared at them for a long moment, before disappearing inside. For some reason, it made her uneasy.
“Let’s keep moving,” Noshli said quietly. “We don’t want to attract too much attention.”