The group was quickly on its way again after lunch, and through that day and several more after it, they established and maintained a traveling routine. Early starts in the mornings, a quick pace until lunch, and a somewhat slower pace afterwards to avoid tiring the horses too much. If they were spending the night outdoors, they'd end their travels early to have enough time to set up camp. A night at an inn, however, meant that they'd push on well into the evening if need be.
It was good traveling weather, with sunny skies and clear roads. They ran into no trouble, either. Any bandits who might have been waiting for those returning from Montfort's festival evidently decided that their group was too large and well-armed to tackle. That left them with plenty of peaceful traveling in which to get to know each other. Sammel, Melyda, and Sarra spent a lot of time together catching up on each other's news-- though they did their best to include the others when they could. Wren and Raidenaru both settled into the group rather comfortably--though Raidenaru was, of course, silent after sunset--but Fontaine stayed rather shy, and Chaer and Channi continued to be wrapped up in their gloom and grief.
On the nineth day of their journey, just a couple of hours after their lunch, Sammel pulled up at the top of a rise. Stretched out before him was a sight that gladdened his heart. The road descended in a switch-back fashion into a series of hills and valleys. Beyond those, they could just discern the blue-green glint of the sea. The wind carried a tang of salt, and Sammel took a deep breath.
"Nearly there, folks," he said to the others. "Another couple of hours, and we'll be at Tyndar."
Though her riding had improved dramatically Fontaine had spent much of her time concentrating on just staying on horse back, and trying to ignore protesting muscles.
But now the faint tang of the sea caught in her nostrils, and she had to keep from urging her horse forward.
From behind Raidenaru, Wren peeked and squinted but couldn't see anything. Sammel seemed much more relaxed now after declaring that the group was nearing their destination. Then again, Wren wasn't sure who or what awaited them there. He hoped that the situation would not be so grim. He turned around for a quick glance at Chaer and Channi before settling himself for the next couple of hours before they reached Tyndar.
Glancing at Sammel, Sarra paused for a moment. She could not help but feel a bit of trepidation at returning home. Her father certainly could not have been pleased that she left with the party to Montfort behind his back.
Sarra bit her lip slightly and urged her horse to continue forward. No matter what he would say, she could not be sorry she had gone. "And besides," she thought to herself, "right now those people need help. There are more important things to think about..."
Melyda inhaled sharply, letting the salt-tinged air fill her lungs. Tanj, but she had missed that! Much as her new life in Montfort had excited her, it all seemed to melt away, at least for the moment, as her memories of home came rushing in. She opened her eyes and smiled at Sammel. "Let's get going," she said.
They decended into the first narrow valley. The horses had picked up their pace, either excited by the smell of the ocean or somehow sensing that their journey would soon come to an end. They plunged up and down through wooded hills and farm-filled valleys, and each crest brought them a closer view of the sea.
Finally, they pulled up again at a crossroads at the top of a rise. From this vantage point, the travelers finally got a clear view of the emerald and blue sea stretching before them. The road they were on dropped down to a large seaside town, sitting at the mouth of a large, deep harbor. Ponderous merchant vessels and agile fishing boats were scattered across the waters, each somehow managing to avoid being swamped by the others. To their left, a sandy beach was separated from the harbor by a rocky headland. They could see a few people, small and busy as ants, gathering clams and washed-up seaweed. The raucous cries of gulls were carried to them on the wind.
Sammel pointed ahead and to the left, where a sprawling house stood just outside of the city. Its extensive grounds of woods, meadows, and farms bordered the edge of the city and reached far inland. "There's the home of the Tyndar family. I know it's not much, but I hope you can make do," he said a bit facetiously. He always felt a bit uncomfortable with most people's reactions to Tyndar's grand estate.
"Sarra," he said, looking fondly at her, "you might want to let your father know that you've come back safe and sound. And Melyda, now would be a good time to check in with your brother." A private thought passed between the two, and Melyda nodded. She turned her horse to the left- hand road, which rode the crest of the ridge for a bit before dropping into the valley. Before she could ride off, however, Chaer tugged at Sammel's sleeve with an excited cry.
"Look-see who sails in!"
Sammel shaded his eyes as he peered across to the harbor. As his mind registered the sight of the large, sleek ship tacking toward a dock, he grinned at Chaer. "Perfect timing, as always. Someone else who's sure to help us."
Chaer nodded. "I go meet them, tell them." He kicked the horse into action, plunging down the hill.
"Bring 'em up to the house!" Sammel called after him, then glanced around at the others. "Wren, Fontaine, and Raidenaru, you can follow me to the house if you like, and rest and refresh yourselves before dinner. Sarra and Melyda, you should try to join us then, so we can start making our plans afterwards." Melyda nodded and rode away with a cheerful wave.
Sammel nudged his horse closer to Sarra. "Try not to get into too big a fight," he said softly, kissing her on the cheek. "I'm sure he's been worried about you."
Sarra nodded to Sammel, returning the kiss with one of her own. "I'm sure he has been, unfortunately. That's not going to make this any easier..."
Sammel grinned. "It shouldn't be." With one last kiss, he turned to the rest of the group.
"Follow me," he said cheerfully. "We'll be there before the hour's up."
They followed the main road toward Tyndar, passing foot traffic going in both directions. After half an hour, they paused before an imposing set of gates, guarded by a full half-dozen men. One of them, definitely the eldest of the lot, dashed forward to meet them.
"Sammel!" He reached up to give the young lord a firm, welcoming handshake. "Welcome home! How was your journey? And who are these people?"
"Well met, Myzen! We've learned of an emergency situation in Chaer's village, so we rushed back early to plan a suitable response. These people have kindly offered their assistance. Is Father in?"
"No, his lordship went into town for a Merchant Guild meeting," Myzen replied as he signalled one of the other guards to lead up his horse. As he mounted, he continued. "He should be back soon, though. Do you need rooms prepared?"
Sammel nodded. "Warn the household, please." Myzen smiled, then looked at the rest of the group and said, "Welcome to Tyndar, my lords and ladies." With that, he spurred his horse ahead, galloping off toward the house.
Sammel led the rest there at a slower pace, letting them look around at the extensive, manicured front lawns and gardens. When they reached the front of the house, with its flight of beautifully colored granite steps, a bevy of grooms and servants were standing there, ready for their duties and eager to see Sammel. He greeted many of them as he dismounted, smiling at some and shaking the hands of others. As the others dismounted and watched their horses being led off to their well-deserved rest, Sammel approached them.
"They'll lead you to your rooms," he said, gesturing at a group of well-liveried men and women. "Rest or bathe--whatever you wish. We'll warn you in plenty of time for supper."
Wren couldn't help but stare around the mansion as he was led further inside of Sammel's home. He adjusted his backpack on his shoulder and stepped lightly with his feet, realizing that his boots were probably making a mess on the nice floor.
"Sammel must be a Prince or at least a Lord of some kind," he whispered to Fontaine. He marveled and tried to imagine how could one ever go about achieving such wealth.
Her dark eyes were wide behind her glasses and she nodded, "A high lord at least."
The servants led the guests to the second floor, and down a hallway elaborately decorated with tapestries, statues and sculptures in niches, and other fine art. Finally, they stopped in front of two doors set across from each other. As if they'd been practicing it for ages (which they may, in fact, have done), the two servants opened the doors simultaneously and gestured inside.
The open doors revealed a pair of suites, not overly large, but definitely sumptuous. The large, four-poster beds were piled high with comfortable blankets and pillows. Overstuffed chairs were set at a comfortable distance from the fireplaces. Large wardrobes stood ready to accommodate an entire lifetime of clothing. And the baths, in their own rooms, looked more like small swimming pools, heady with soothing scents.
The retainers, one in each room, worked quickly to unpack and hang up Wren's and Fontaine's clothing, setting other possessions on a nearby table. Once that was done, they headed back to the open doors. In synchronization again, they said, "Dinner will be ready in three hours," bowed, and left, leaving Sammel's guests to relax in their own fashions.
Her dark eyes were large under her glasses and Fontaine was nearly afraid to move - for fear of staining the rug. She gingerly set down her precious bullhide bag, and her meagre pack, at her feet. Then her gaze fastened on the tub and she immediately knew what she'd do first. A bath was a necessity, but a long bath was the nearest thing to the heavens she could think of.
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