Kern sighed heavily as the bard began yet another monotonous lay. He wondered how the inhabitants of this village could look forward to the bards visits so much. They sat around the table, listening in awe as Turin recited yet another tiresome and unlikely yarn, tales of his so-called adventures, and apparent gallantry. Lies, thats all they were. And not even particularly creative lies, either. Kern thudded his head on the table, and left it there. He could handle his dishonour, his shame. He could handle following Amelia into what now seemed quite a perilous situation. He could even handle the fact that he had the notorious Turin as a travelling dare-he-say companion. What he couldnt handle was the singing. If only the damn bard would shut up. Hed learnt on the journey here that Turin wasnt quite as bad as hed first thought. He was even a decent conversationalist, if you cut through the banter and fiction. Quite interesting, actually. But the singing..........Kern wished he could cut his ears off, just to cut the awful sound out. He was very tempted to do so.
This was the first place theyd visited upon arriving in Doromir. They had arrived quite late, and Amelia thought it might be a good idea to rest a night at the inn. Apparently Morandor didnt take too kindly to being woken in the night. Nor was he particularly amendable without his sleep. Kern hadnt complained; the Wizards Rest had looked very inviting, especially after sleeping two nights in hollows at the side of the road. The journey had been quite slow, with the silent creeping, and the company had set a careful and deliberate pace. In the end, it proved to be useful. They had seen no signs of any Pazuza, or any other agents of Tor. The only incident happened on the previous night, when Amelia had awoken screaming. Apparently, she had had another vision, a nightmare. She didnt tell Kern the details, but needless to say it was scary enough to prevent any more sleep that night. Kern had stayed awake with her all night, talking and laughing. Normally Kern was adamant about getting enough sleep, but whilst talking with her, he didnt feel tired at all. She fascinated him, he didnt mind admitting. He wasnt sure what it was, but something about her was very attractive. Her independence, her willingness to do whatever was necessary. And the way she smiled. And her laugh. Kern sighed to himself again. He was growing soft. Yet, he was plagued by dreams of her. Not visions, like Amelia had, though he certainly wished they were. But very real. He remembered it all vividly; the scent of her hair, the touch of her lips, the feel of her flesh against his. Kern cursed himself. Stupid fool. He scoulded himself. Youve blinded your senses like a love-sick boy. You cant protect her if youre too busy pruning over her. That stung bitterly. Kern longed to protect her, and not just because of the oath.
Kerns daydreams were interrupted by the applause. He allowed himself a little smile; the song had finished, and the torture was finally over. Not to be ungracious, Kern joined in the applause, though his clapping was too exaggerated to be appreciative. He looked around, towards the little stage where Turin was stood with his harp. The bard was bowing grandly, bathing in the adoration. Egotistical fool. He wasnt that good. The crowd who had gathered were leaving, and returning to their seats smiling. Smiling! He couldnt blame them. Travellers were rare to this part of the kingdom. No wonder they had no taste in music. One of the crowd, a skinny but muscled man with long black hair and a rugged goatee, caught his eye. He quickly lowered his eyes to examine the contents of his ale; he wasnt in the mood to talk. The man came over anyway, and sat in the stool next to his. Without asking. No bloody manners, these rural folk. Just his luck!
"So, youre a knight, eh?" the man said. He was fairly handsome, in an unwashed sort of way, and he smelt faintly of damp hay. Or dung. For some reason he reminded Kern of a barn.
"No." Kern said simply. Turin had been talking too much again. Stupid bard. Just one sword-thrust, and his torture could have been ended.
Kerns abruptness did not deter the mans onslaught. "Meps the name. Alf Mep. Youre far from the Kings court?"
Kern sighed again. Hed already told this man he wasnt a knight. Was he stupid or something. "Kern Aldritch." He said in response, lifting his eyes from the mug. "Not Sir Kern, you notice!?!" he said. That wasnt a lie. Kern had been stripped of his title, as well as his land.
Mep smiled at the man, as if he meant to pounce. His confidence made Kern nervous. Why couldnt they just leave him to his brooding. "Nice to meet you Kern. You can call me Mep. All my friends do. Why are you here, Kern? I see no harp, nor a caravan. We get only gleemen and peddlers through here usually." That made Kern grin. Turin would sulk for days if he heard himself being referred to as a common gleeman. The man thought too much of himself.
"Im here on business." Kern said. He thought briefly about retiring to his room. Willow and Amelia had gone to their chambers an hour ago. He wasnt sure if this man wouldnt follow him, though. He wouldnt be surprised if he was sat by his bed in the morning, still chatting away.
"Really?" Mep said, stroking his beard. "Gemmil, or Tetrol?" he asked. Then he smiled. As if Kern should have any idea who Gemmil or Tetrol were.
"Not that kind of business. I am escorting my liege-lady, Amelia, to see Morandor." It was no secret. Everyone would know by tomorrow.
"Yeah?" the man asked. An irritating fellow. Kerns fist clenched of its own accord. "I know Morandor. Hes a good friend of mine. You know he doesnt live in the inn though. Though he comes in here often enough." He grinned.
"You know Morandor?" Kern asked, trying his best to ignore the little creatures patronizing tone. "What about his apprentice? Grendel?"
Mep grinned even more. "Grendel? Aye I know him. Hes a good friend of mine too. A very good friend in fact." Kern smiled. He found it hard to believe this smelly and annoying man could have any friends. "Is this about those robberies? Cause I know for a fact that it wasnt Grendel." Meps grin dropped only slightly.
"No. No. Nothing like that." Kern said. "But it is Lady Amelias business. And none of your own. So if you dont mind....."
Kern was cut off by another voice, this time a womans. "Havent you got chickens to molest, Mep?" Kern looked up. The voice belonged to a young girl, of no more than twenty summers, quite attractive, with long golden hair. He recognized her as the barmaid. She was certainly easier on the eyes than this talking field-mouse. "I think our guest would rather drink in peace, without you putting him off his beverage." She smiled.
Mep grinned when he saw her. "And shouldnt you be working?" he said. "Serve me a drink, quick. Youre not getting any younger, you know. I think you may have a couple of wrinkles forming. I dont know what Zardock sees in you."
Maree puffed her chest out and pouted. "Its obviously my gorgeous looks, and charming personality. What wouldnt he see in me. Besides, Zardock can beg all he wants....." Kern muttered something under his breath. Had these two forgotten about him completely. Bitterly, he noted that the bard had no end of attention. Even more bitterly, he remembered that a couple of minutes ago he had been glad he himself had no attention.
"Sa good job, really. I dont think Grendel will be too happy when he gets back.. He may turn you into a toad. Not that that would be much of a change." Kerns ears pricked at that. Grendel wasnt here?
Maree pulled her tongue out at him. "Theres nothing going on between me and Grendel. Hes much too goofy for me."
"Er... excus...." Kern started.
"Rubb would have your tongue if he heard such lies coming from your mouth!" Mep laughed. "And Grendels just as bad. He denies it more than you!"
"Er....can I say someth.....?!?" Damn peasants! Was he invisible all of a sudden?
"Of course, how could somebody resist little ol me?!?" she grinned.
"Why dont you just have a fondle and a roll in the hay? Do both of you a favour!" Mep said grinning. Kern had been about to say something, but Meps comment stopped him. Bloody crude peasants. Are they taught no decency?
Maree just laughed at that, and pulled his hair, after which he pulled hers in return. After which she hit him in the arm. Quite hard for such a small girl. After which he pulled her hair some more. Kern took advantage of the momentary silence to speak. "Did you say Grendel is not here?" he asked them both.
Mep smiled. "Yes. Hes gone on holiday. Too much work! Morandors a bit of a slave-driver dont you know?!?" he said, rubbing his arm. "Plus all the rumours going around at the moment. He figured he could do with a break."
"Where is he?" Kern asked.
"Hes gone back home to his parents, in Ki....." Mep cut off as Maree hit him in the arm again, even harder. Something passed between them, and Mep frowned. "Back home to his parents." Mep said simply.
"And will he be back soon?" Kern asked, ignoring their obvious subterfuge.
"Couldn't rightly say, sir!" said Maree, all eye-lashes and giggles. Bloody girl, trying to act all naive.
"How long has he been gone?" Kern pressed on.
"Couldn't rightly say, sir." Maree said, smiling sweetly, whilst kicking Mep in the leg. Mep had been about to tell him.
"Now look here you stupid wenc..........." Kern was interrupted by the arrival of Turin, looking very smug and pleased with himself. Could things get any worse?
"Ah, Kern. Enjoying yourself?" he said, smiling at Kern, and gesturing obscenely at Maree. Kern clenched his fist again, and ignored the comment. Turin seemed to be popular around these parts- maybe he could get these two fools to talk.
"My two young friends here were just telling me that Grendel isn't here." Kern said, a tad wearily. "Apparently he's having a holiday."
"I know." Turin said simply. "Ol' Mrs Bairg told me. Apparently he's on the run from the law." For some reason Maree giggled at that. Kern wasn't sure why.
Kern just nodded. Turin knew, did he. No surprise there. Kern wished he could knock that smug smile off his stupid head. He stood up and finsihed his ale. "Well, if you'll excuse me......"
"Where are you going, Kern?" Turin asked. "The night is young. I've plenty more songs to sing." he smiled.
"Mores the pity." Kern mumbled. Maree giggled again. What was her problem? "Besides I think someone should inform Amelia." Kern made to leave, before remembering his manners. "Maree, Mep; thank you for your company."
Maree just smiled, and courtsied. Mep grinned. "You're welcome, sir knight!" he winked.
Kern forced a wooden smile, and walked off, muttering under his breath.
Kern knocked gently on the door to Amelia's room. "Who is it?" came the soft reply.
Kern hesitated. It was late, and the news could probably wait until the morning. But Amelia had asked to be told of any important news. "Its me, M'Lady. Kern." Kern said respectfully, his mouth close to the door. He certainly wouldn't gain any popularity he woke the whole inn up. Not that there were many patrons in this run-down little village. "I have important news."
"Just a minute." she said. There was a sound of clothes rustling, of silk sliding over skin. Kern tried to think of something else.
A few moments later, the door opened, and Amelia was stood there. She was wearing her usual dress, but her hair was untied and flowing, reaching down her back. Kern blushed slightly, and tried to avoid looking at her. "I'm sorry to disturb you, M'Lady." he stuttered. She looked even more beautiful with her hair down, her dark hair framing her radiant face.
Amelia pretended not to notice Kern's blush. She leaned her head outside the door, and looked around quickly, before gesturing for him to come inside. Kern walked in, and stood woodenly as Amelia locked the door. "News you say?" she said, staring at him intently. "What news?"
"Grendel is out of town, M'Lady." Kern said. "On holiday."
Amelia sat at the top of her bed, arranging her skirts. Nervous or angry, according to Willow. He wasn't sure which applied here. She gestured for him to sit at the foot of the bed, next to her. Kern hesitated. It wasn't proper for a knight to sit so close to a lady. But then, he wasn't a knight. Kern slowly walked over, and reluctantly sat down. "When will he be back?" she asked. He could smell her from this distance. Clean, with a slight scent of roses.
"I do not know, M'Lady. Nor do I know where he is." he said regretfully. He tried to move further down the bed, away from her, but his body would not cooperate. He liked roses.
Amelia sighed, and thought for a long minute. "Morandor will know where he is. With any luck, he'll be back soon, and we can wait for him here. If not, we'll have to find him." She looked at him, smiling gently. "We can't do anything until the morning."
Kern just nodded. They would have to see Morandor either way. Hopefully, Grendel would not be too far away. "Yes, M'Lady." he said.
"Amelia." she corrected him. She fidgeted with her dress again. Nothing to be angry about. Nerves. Must be nerves. But what was she nervous about. The sweet rosy smell wafted his way again, and Kern struggled to stay on the bed. For some reason his legs felt weak.
"Amelia." Kern nodded, smiling. After a long awkward pause, Kern made to leave. He just hoped his legs wouldn't let him down. "Well Amelia, I must be going." he said, resignedly. "Early start."
Amelia grabbed his arm, and gently pulled him down to the bed again. He sat there, a little confused. She just looked at him for a while, studying him. Her eyes worked their way across his chest, and along his face. "I have been dreaming about you." she said suddenly, out of the blue. Her tone was quiet, but clear. No embarrassment there. "Every night, since we met." She shuffled with her skirts again.
Kern just nodded. He too had had the dreams. He smiled at her, staring into her eyes. "Dreams are just dreams." he said. "They do not always mean things."
Amelia moved closer to him, her sweet scent drifting closer. Kern felt like he was going to collapse. "Kern, I........I can't stop thinking about you."
Kern's eyes widened, and he just gaped at her. The words sounded far away, like in a dream. He wondered briefly if he'd fallen asleep again. He swallowed hard. "I.....have dreamt about you too." he admitted. "In my sleep, and in my waking dreams." He couldn't believe what she was saying. He wondered briefly if she might be mocking him, some kind of joke. Kern thought he'd probably kill himself if it was.
"I don't know....I mean......Do you....." Amelia wrestled furiously with her dress as she tried to find the right words. She had not planned this; it certainly was not a joke.