Ashera: Chapter 5
The two women headed for the city of Harle early the next morning, making sure to leave no trace of their shelter behind. They made light conversation as they walked and had arrived by the time the sun was cresting over their heads.
The first thing that Ashera noticed was that this town was a dump. Doors hung off their hinges, smoke billowed through the air, stones on the streets were cracked and uneven-covered in dried mud. She glanced at Fox anxiously and they continued towards the city.
They got many weird looks as they walked through, but Ashera couldn't be more interested in the people. She waved at everyone-even the people that were glaring at her. All of them looked like her! Sure, they didn't have the hides, cloaks, furs, or tribal tattoos, but she hardly noticed. Their builds were broad, their ears were short and rounded, and they were strong-not agile. But even now, Ashera felt out of place. The way that these people looked at her...they didn't see her as one of their own. They saw her as an abomination-a weird intrusion on their city. Her shoulders sagged.
"Keep your head down," Fox muttered. "I don't think there are many friendly faces around here."
Ashera nodded. "Where do you think we could find some supplies?"
Fox glanced around, pulling a hood over her head. "There's a building over there with a sword on it," she said. "I think that's a good place to start, don't you?" Ashera nodded and they headed towards the shop.
As they walked inside, a bell at the door rang-startling Ashera. The man behind the counter started to speak, not looking up. "Welcome to Gustav's Weapon Smith how can I help..." he trailed off, noticing the two peculiar women that just walked in. The customers had turned, too. A lady had dropped an axe she was holding and a man holding a fat-bladed sword had his head tilted curiously to one side. The man at the counter cleared his throat. "How can I help you ladies?" he asked.
"We need arrows," Ashera said.
"And a short bow."
"...very well," the man said. He grabbed a fine short bow-though not as fine as the elven-made bows-and placed it on the counter. "How many arrows do you need?"
"At least 30."
The man nodded and pulled out a bin of arrows. "Well come up to the counter, then," he said, waving them forward. Apprehensively, they walked up to him. "So what are two elves such as yourselves doing in Harle this afternoon?" he asked pleasantly.
"We're on a quest," Ashera said, before Fox had elbowed her in the side. "Hey!"
"Ah. I get a lot of adventurers here, being as close to the mountains as we are," he nodded. "Okay, so for the short bow and the arrows...let's see...20 for the bow and 2 for 10 arrows...26 gold pieces please."
Ashera and Fox glanced at each other. "Excuse me?" Ashera said.
"26 gold pieces," the man said.
"We don't have any money," Fox said.
The man scowled. "You don't have any money?! Do you expect to just walk into my shop and receive my well-made goods for free?"
"Well, sort of."
Ashera and Fox stared at the ground outside-sitting on the steps that led up to the shop. "Well, that didn't go as planned," Ashera said.
"What do we do now? We can't just go after Saria unarmed!"
"We find a way to get some money," Fox said.
"What's the point of coin, anyways? It's a piece of gold this round! It means nothing!"
"I know. It's better in the Tribe. There we have each other's backs."
The bell at the shop door rang and for a moment, Ashera thought it was the shopkeeper, coming back to drive them away. But then a short bow dropped into Fox's lap. Ashera looked up. The man from inside-the one with the fat sword-was standing there. He had bright green eyes and dirty blond hair, cut close to his scalp except for the top, which stuck up like a tree's trunk. In his hands, he held the fat sword, a sheathed short sword, and a quiver of 30 arrows. "Are those ours?" Fox asked.
"These are," he said, handing her the short sword and quiver. "The broadsword's mine."
"We didn't ask for this," Ashera said, pointing to the short sword.
"I know. But you just look like you're built for a sword. I couldn't help myself."
"Why did you do this?" Fox asked. "You must have a reason."
"That I do. I heard you talking about a quest. What's that about?"
Fox and Ashera glanced at each other. The man saw this and said, "We can go to a place where we won't be heard."
"That'd be best," Ashera said. The man nodded. "Lead the way."
A few minutes later, the three sat in the corner of a strange building littered with tables. It smelled like alcohol and the man had called it a "Tavern", whatever that meant. "There's so many people here," Fox said-worry filling her voice- as they sat down.
"Which means no one is listening to us," the man said. He sat down, facing both of them. "Let's start with introductions-shall we? My name is Ryan Howe. I'm a soldier here in Harle."
"A fighter," Ryan said. "I keep the town safe from intrusions."
"Which is why you're so interested in us," Fox said.
"Precisely. Who are you?"
"My name is Sneaky Fox. I'm from the Great Tree Tribe."
"And I am Ashera. I'm also from the Great Tree Tribe."
"Great Tree Tribe...that's the elven tribe just north of here, right?" Sneaky Fox nodded. "I've met some of you guys before."
"Did you meet anyone named Strength of Bear?" Ashera asked before she could stop herself.
Ryan shrugged. "It rings a bell."
"Have you seen him in the last year?" Ryan shook his head. Ashera's spirits fell.
"Why? Are you looking for him?"
"Partially," Fox said. "Though she refuses to admit it."
"I don't understand. Elves coming from your tribe usually have some dumb goal to keep them busy and none of them have a name like Ashera-at least from what I can remember. Why are you both here?"
Ashera sighed and told the story-from the part of her being abandoned as a infant, to Saria getting kidnapped, to them sneaking out of camp. She could tell from Fox's regular glares that she was oversharing, but she wanted to make sure Ryan knew everything. If there was a chance-even a small one-that he could lead them to Bear, then it was worth it.
"I see," he said. "Those wolves...they sound familiar. They've attacked Harle on and off for a few months. The soldiers and I were able to drive them off each time, but they are certainly evil creatures..." Ryan said.
"Yes they are. And I have a feeling that whoever is leading those wolves has Saria too."
"And you're sure she's not dead?"
"Positive," Ashera said. "They sucked the blood out of Wind and were planning to do the same to Darion, but she was just gone. She has to be alive. She has to."
Ryan thought for a moment. He turned to Fox. "You've hardly spoken. What do you think?"
"I think that I don't want Ashera dead," she said. "That's why I'm here."
Ryan continued his thinking. "Do you...Do you think that those wolves could come back to Harle?"
"Well, if they kept coming back then certainly," Ashera said. "They're driven by something other than survival. If they didn't get what they were searching for then I doubt they'll stop until they've gotten it."
This seemed to clear something up inside of Ryan's head because he said. "Very well. I'm coming with you on your quest."
Fox and Ashera's jaws dropped open. "You can't," Fox said.
"Yeah, we can handle this."
"Nonsense," Ryan said. "If there's a threat to Harle, it's my job to defeat it. Besides, you'd do better with me. There's less chance of any of us dying."
"The people here need you."
"To stop those beasts from attacking them."
"Having learned this information, I know that I need to stop this threat one way or another. I'll be leaving either way-it's better to have me with you."
"He does have a point, Ashera," Fox said.
"I don't want him risking his life."
"He'd do that anyway. This gives him a better chance of surviving, not to mention us."
Ashera sighed. She looked up at Ryan. "There's no chance of stopping you?" Ryan shook his head. "Very well. We leave at sunset."
Ryan nodded, a grin spreading across his face. "Good. I'll meet you back here in a couple of hours. Take this," he said, laying a pile of gold coins on the counter. "Gather what you need, this should be enough to pay for it. Stay safe." With that, he walked out of the tavern urgently, to begin preparing his things.
Fox turned to Ashera. "Do you think we made the right choice? Trusting him?"
"I do," Ashera said. "Now let's go and make sure we have everything we need."
The two walked back to the tavern just as orange was beginning to tint the sky. Ryan was already waiting there, a pack slung across his shoulder. "Got all that you need?" he asked. The women nodded. "Good. Let's get out of here."
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