backscene: along the highway Who: Imenry Barras and Guillemette d’Abbevilliers-Roissy. And Some NPC Merchants. Where: The Imperial Highway in Orlais, between Val Firmin and Montsimmard. When: Solis 9:43 Summary: Imenry is traveling with a caravan of merchants along the Imperial Highway; when a young chevalier joins the party for supper, things get interesting. And maybe start smelling a little better. Rating: Fine for all.
The sun was quickly descending towards the horizon ahead as Guillemette made her way along the highway; this portion, almost midway between the cities of Val Fermin and Montsimmard in the southern reaches of Orlais, nestled in the heart of provincial farmland, had traditionally been peaceful. Without trouble. Recently, bandits had been preying upon merchants and farmers alike, and a legion of chevaliers had been dispatched to patrol the highway. In their shining silver mail and atop their steeds, they were as much a deterrent as they were there to catch the criminals. They were, after all, hard to miss; rumor traveled even more quickly than mounted knights.
It seemed to be working. In the two weeks that Guillette had been riding the afflicted stretch of land, she had fought in two skirmishes, both of which had ended with the criminals taking flight into the woods or the orchards, places where the mounted chevalier could not pursue. But for the last six days, things had been calm. Calm enough that when she and her companions (Thieffane, her brother, and two other chevaliers who comprised half of their slightly informal legion) had stopped in their route for lunch that day, and Guillemette had found a patch of wildflowers off the road, she had been wiling to stay behind and pick them for an hour while her companions rode ahead.
Time had escaped from her, and an hour had turned into three—there were apples to be picked, too, and though Aquilon had stomped and fussed to be still for so long, he had accepted the fruit with what seemed, to the chevalier’s experienced eye, happiness. The open joy the warhorse so infrequently displayed; from any hands but hers, even sugar lumps he accepted with a huff and a suspicious dark eye. When she had mounted again, late in the afternoon, he had rubbed the front of his skull against her hand, grateful to be back on the road more than anything else, she surmised.
But they were quite far behind where Thieffane and Huguet had to be; Guillemette had ridden steadily, and quickly, through the afternoon, enjoying the pleasant weather and the wind in her face, and the well-maintained road that allowed Aquilon to almost fly down it. But the sun was sinking, and there was no sign of her companions yet. They had wasted too much time, then, or not ridden as quickly as they ought to have. Probably, right now, Thieffane was making camp and laughing about her old squire’s carelessness and silliness; a chevalier, picking wildflowers? Can you imagine that?
And Guillemette had the bunch of red-orange flowers tucked into her saddle bags even now. Whether or not she would make it to show them off to Thieffane before it was full dark, that was the question. She did not much relish riding on into the night; even though the road was well-maintained, even if she was well-armed. She was just thinking about making herself a camp for the night, and how unpleasant that might prove to be, when she came around a small bend in the road and caught sight of a train of wagons. At first glance, they looked like any others, of the merchants that traveled the highway; they were off to the side of the road, the wagons stopped and the horses and oxen tied up to trees. They were, it seemed, in the process of making camp for the night; the bustle around the camp and the small clouds of smoke from just-lit campfires spoke to that. Guillemette approached, slowing her horse to a trot, and then a walk, finally.
It was the merchants who first called to her; “Hail, chevalier!”
Guillemette raised her gloved hand, and waved, as Aquilon came to a halt. “Do you stop here for the night?” The merchant, a portly man with patchy brown hair, had a countenance that, the more Guillemette looked at him, the more he seemed familiar; had she met him before, or traded goods with him? He nodded.
“Would you be the younger Chevalier Abbevillers-Roissy? Sieur Guillemette?” When she nodded, he continued; underneath her, Aquilon stamped and shifted, unsure, it seemed, why they were stopping. She patted his neck. “Your companions--and older brother passed us by earlier this afternoon, and mentioned that you might be along this way.”
She nodded; it was not a surprise, for Huguet and Thieffane were almost constantly watching out for her, concerned for her well-being; they would not have left her alone in town, that was certain, and even now they made sure she was at least kept tabs on. And this did not feel off to Guillemette at all; it did not occur to her that most grown and knighted women were not watched after in this manner. She smiled at the merchant; “Did they leave a message for me?” When he shook his head, she continued. “You have not had any trouble, have you, along your travels?”
“Not today, but we have hired help, against the bandits, should they arise.” Guillemette paused, considering this; what sort of help? Why would they need it, when they were protected by the empress’s chevaliers? But now she was curious. “You’re trying to catch up to your compatriots?”
“Yes, if I can, before nightfall.” The merchant shook his head; “But if I cannot, I will make camp and catch them up tomorrow in the morning.” Which would mean sleeping without a bed roll, among other things that did not recommend the attempt to the young chevalier.
“It will be dark very soon, and we met them hours ago,” he said; “If you will not ride on, we would be honored to let you share our meal and put you up for the night.”
Guillemette smiled immediately; enthused, she missed the note of nervousness in the man’s countenance, the obligation in his eyes, the subtle cues that he probably would much have preferred not to host a chevalier at his camp, but that he was bound by tradition and the fear of reprisal to offer. “I would be delighted!”
The enthusiasm probably threw him off; what chevaliers were surprised and gleeful over offers of what they considered their natural due? But Guillemette was thanking him again, smiling and hopping down off of her dark brown destrier and leading him towards a tree to be tied up for the night, all the while chattering about the lovely generosity of the merchant. In the space of fifteen minutes or so, her gauntlets and helm were off, Aquilon roped to a tree, brushed down and curried, and Guillemette was headed off to find a cook fire and something to eat.