Appendix A: Chapter 6

[Editor's note: Chapter 6 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland made his way through the crowds in the marketplace. Taking on traveling companion threw the entire routine he had fallen into out of whack. Anna was eager to get started, but had insisted on replacing some of the things she had lost last night. Roland could hardly argue with that; right now the only thing she had to wear that was halfway presentable was his cloak, and he did want to eventually get that back.

Besides, now that there were two of them, he needed to stock up on some more provisions for the journey. Twice the people meant twice the food and other consummables. Plus some more, since he wouldn’t be able to travel as quickly with someone in tow. With that and the delay setting out, his original plan to push on the whole way to Derinham non-stop was right out. They’d need to spend the night at an inn along the way, so that was another day.

Part of Roland was starting to regret his decision. But on the other hand, if he was a day or two late getting in to Derinham, it was hardly going to have an impact on his mission. It wasn’t exactly as though people had been lining up to sign up for the Order, after all.

Roland kept this planning on the back of his mind as he moved from shop to shop, stocking up on food and provisions that would hold up for the journey. That was another concern: more supplies and nights spent at inns instead of free accomodations at the regional shrine meant he’d be spending his allotment much more quickly than he had anticipated.

Once Roland had stocked his pack full enough for the journey to Derinham with a couple days to spare, he made his way to the edge of the town, as he and Anna had arranged when they left the shrine that morning. As he expected, he was the first one here. He set his pack down on the grass and sat down next to it. Even with only covering half the journey today, he was going to be on his feet long enough today.

As he sat there, his thoughts turned away from the logistics of his situation and towards what Anna had said about Castle Helioth. Not much of what she had said about her plan made much sense to him, but he couldn’t bring himself to leave her on her own. Not just yet, at least. Maybe he’d be able to talk her out of her plan along the way.

“Ready?” Anna’s voiced asked from somewhere behind him.

Roland nodded and rose to his feet. Gone was the pink dress from the night before, replaced with a light brown blouse and a dark brown ankle-length skirt. Roland’s cloak was once again draped over her shoulders, and a gray pack was lightly slung on her back.

Anna frowned. “I know, it wasn’t my first choice either. But it still beats the beer wench outfit I had to wear at the tavern.”

“You look fine,” Roland said, turning towards the road. “Let’s get going. Even though we’ll be stopping for the night, we still have a lot of walking ahead of us.”

They walked in silence for the next hour, Anna following behind Roland. The second hour proceeded in much the same way, until Roland heard Anna’s footsteps behind in stop to slow down.

“Can we stop for a couple minutes?” she asked.

Roland came to a stop and looked up at the sky. The sun had past its high point, but it was still several hours before nightfall. At the rate they had been going, Roland figured they would reach the point where his map said the inn was in plenty of time.

“Take as long as you need,” he replied.

“Thanks,” she said, sitting down on the side of the road. She slid one of her shoes up and started rubbing her feet. “Sorry, I’m not used to all this walking. Normally I bribe a cargo hauler to let me ride in the back of his wagon. Money well spent, I guess.”

After a little while she stood back up and nodded to Roland, and they continued. They passed the journey in relative silence, giving Roland time to consider how he was going to broach the subject about Anna’s rescue plans. She had seemed awfully idealistic about the whole thing this morning, and Roland wasn’t sure how to bring a more realistic perspective to it without taking away what he suspected was the one thing that kept her going despite everything.

“Finally,” she sighed with relief as a building appeared up ahead on the horizon. “Please tell me that’s where we’re staying tonight.”

As they got closer, the building did in fact turn out to be an inn by the side of the road. The sign hanging above the doorway had no name on it, just the image of a bed and a tankard. Roland mused that without any competition within a few hours, it didn’t need to put much effort towards marketing.

They entered the nameless inn. Like nearly every other inn in the kingdom, the bottom floor was a tavern, with a bar along one wall and round tables spread across the rest of the floor. A wooden staircase of dubious durability lead upstairs to where the guest rooms would be. Evening was still an hour off, so the tavern was empty, save for a man standing behind the bar. Roland strode up to him.

“Greetings,” Roland said. “My, um, the two of us shall be needing rooms for the night.” Roland put extra emphasis on the ‘s’, wishing to head off any possible rumors about why a young woman would be accompanying a paladin to an inn in the middle of nowhere.

The bartender looked up from polishing the side of a glass on a stained apron. “Two rooms, then? Payment’s up front.”

Anna strode up next to Roland as he haggled with the barkeeper over the price. After managing to bring the barkeeper down in price a little, Roland rummaged through his pouch for money. He looked up when he heard a few coins dropping onto the bar, and saw Anna’s hand moving away. He looked at her quizzically.

“I am planning on paying my own way, you know,” she explained.

Roland shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He fished out his half of the night’s rent and added it to the pile.

The barkeeper swept the pile into his hand, reached down below the bar, and placed two rust-colored keys in their place. “Five and six. Need anything else…” he trailed off.

“Well, I’m going to stay down here for a while, if that’s all right with you,” Anna said, picking up one of the keys.

“That’s fine,” he replied. “I’ll go up and check out the rooms.”

Roland climbed up the stairs, each one creaking under his weight. The upstairs hall was dark and grimy. He counted eight doors, and paced slowly down the hall until he came up to a door with a brass “9″ on it. On a hunch, Roland nudged the bottom of the number with his finger, swinging it around on its lone remaining screw until it became a “6″. He let go, and the number swung back down out of place.

Roland lowered his expectations appropriately, turned the key, and opened the door. It was definitely a room, there was no doubt about that. There was a bed, a chair, a table, and a window. And walls, a ceiling, and a floor. He had seen worse, but not normally after money was exchanged. He closed the door, locked it, and headed back downstairs.

He found Anna sitting at one of the tables at the edge of the room, her back to the wall, fidgeting with something. As he approached, he saw she was holding a deck of cards, moving them around between her hands in various ways that Roland wasn’t sure quite how to describe.

He watched her for a little while. She didn’t seem to mind or even notice; her gaze was fixed on the cards, and her mouth twisted slightly into a frown.

“Something wrong?” Roland asked.

“These cards are all wrong,” she replied, not looking up.

Roland looked more closely. “They look fine to me.”

Anna shook her head. “They don’t feel right. They’re too stiff, and they don’t slide around enough. See?” She plucked the top card off the deck and held it between the length of two fingers. She twisted her hand around, and now the card was sticking out between two other fingers.

“Neat trick.”

“I shouldn’t have to move my hand around so much to do that. I can’t do as much with these as I could with my old ones. It limits what I can do with them until they get broken in properly.”

“Is that important?”

“Money doesn’t grow on trees.” She looked around at the still-empty room. Out the window, the sky was taking on a slight reddish hue as afternoon transitioned into evening. “And this place isn’t looking too promising anyway. But we’ll see.”

As Anna continued working with her cards, Roland pulled out his map of the western reaches of the kingdom and studied it. From here, another day’s journey would put them in Derinham. From there, Roland’s itinerary then curved back around and headed east, through another series of small villages before he ultimately wound up back at Castle Telerand. Castle Helioth, or what was left of it, lay about a day and a half west of Derinham, with nothing but empty fields and forests in between. A detour to Helioth — as Roland found himself actually considering now — would add another three days round trip, with two nights of camping out somewhere overnight.

Roland looked up from his map at Anna as she continued practicing. He wondered if maybe the best thing to do would be to take here there after all, so she could see there was nothing there to be found. She probably couldn’t be persuaded to abandon her quest now, and if she did give up she’d probably spend the rest of her life wondering if she had made the right decision. Given the choice between two unpleasant options, in the long run letting her see for herself might be for the best in the long run.

By this time the tavern had filled up a little. It was still hardly full, but there were people at several of the tables now. Roland counted more people than rooms, and wondered if some of them were going to rough it outside to save their money for ale.

Anna finally looked up from her hands and scanned the room. “Well, this is as good as it’s going to get.”

“For what?”

Anna smiled. “Showtime.”

Chapter word count: 1,818 (according to wc)
Total word count: 11,278 / 50,000 (22.556%)

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