Chapter 7 - Desertion ( part II)

Now for the first time Toric was thinking seriously about the situation from Harta's point of view; a concept previously alien to him. He realized how malicious his teasing must have seemed.

But she deserved it!

Why? He asked himself. Because she ignored me and looked down her nose at me? Perhaps I gave her a reason.

Harta had actively avoided him, especially lately. It had made him very angry when she would see him and suddenly walk in a different direction.

He had seen how much she loved her cat so he had thrown stones at the creature and driven it away. With the cat gone, maybe Harta would pay attention to him. But she hadn't. He had contemplated throwing stones at her, too, but he didn't want to drive her away like the cat.

As he stomped down the beach, Toric discovered that his cheeks were wet. He dashed the tears away angrily. Well, wasn't that just fine! He had ended up driving her away after all, he and his mother.

As this revelation dawned on him, Toric saw the distant lights of Arnos twinkling ahead. It was fully dark now and he was so glad to see them, he forgot about Harta for the moment and hurried forward nearly falling flat on his face when his toe caught on a piece of driftwood. He stumbled and caught himself clumsily. Cursing, he proceeded with more caution.

Arnos was a good sized village with a modest but decent shipping trade in fish, local produce and craft items. It boasted a general store and an inn. Several tidy houses were set around a wide common area which served as a marketplace for the local farmers, fishermen and craftsmen.

There was light coming from a livery stable attached to one side of the inn and Toric hurried toward it. Every muscle in his body seemed to be aching now and he was afraid that no one would be about from whom he could borrow a lantern. He entered hesitantly and found the innkeeper tossing forkfuls of hay into the mangers of two horses, one a bay and the other a dappled gelding.

The innkeeper looked over at him, "Well met! Young master Toric from the woodcutter's stead, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," Toric answered. He rather liked being called 'young master' and some of his tiredness fell away. He smiled at the innkeeper. "Good evening, sir."

"What's happened, young master? You look like you've fallen off the Escarpment. And it's late. Are you in trouble?"

The man was looking at him anxiously and Toric glanced down at himself. He did indeed look like he'd been rolling around in the bush. The knees of his trousers were muddied and stained. He had a tear in the front of his shirt and burrs were stuck to his clothes here and there like random fleas on a mangy dog. He decided to tell the truth. Or at least part of it.

"Well, yes, a bit of trouble, sir. I've been in the woods all afternoon. I seemed to have lost my way. I found myself when I came out to the Ocean a couple of miles up the beach. From there, I just followed the beach down to Arnos." Toric glanced sheepishly at the innkeeper. "My mother will be frantic. Please, sir, could you possibly lend me a lantern by which I may see my way home?"

"Of course, of course!" The man hastened to fetch down a lantern from a shelf, which he promptly lit and handed to Toric. "Do you want someone to go along with you, son? I can't leave the inn but I can ask around the village."

"Oh no," Toric assured him, oddly touched by the innkeeper's concern. He wasn't used to strangers being friendly towards him. "That's quite alright. I can find my way from here."

He would have liked to accept the fellow's offer but his mother did not like strangers. Bad enough that he hadn't caught his step-sister, if he brought a stranger from the village home with him...

Toric thanked the innkeeper and promised he would bring back the lantern when next he came into the village. Swinging the lantern's light in front of him he started toward the farmstead, trying not to think too hard about walking through the dark forest alone.


To Be Continued...



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