Remember... Ch. 01byCrazyCatGuy©
"My brothers gave me this sword. They crafted it together. They told me I should learn about sword fighting. Before last night, I hadn't thought anything of it, but now..."She wiped away a tear. "Let's go, Mark."
They started west, walking in silence through the morning. Around noon, Amanda finally spoke.
"Mark, I'm hungry." She sat down, leaning against the trunk of a tree. Mark shrugged, and joined her. From his pack, he pulled out a piece of bread and some salted meat which he shared with Amanda. She in turn, handed him some slices of green and yellow things. The green slices were about the size of an egg and had a circle of black dots in the center and was rather stiff, while the yellow slices were slightly bigger, and much softer.
"What is it?" Mark asked, examining a slice.
"Try it! You'll like it!" Amanda smiled, taking a bite of her own.
Shrugging, he bit off a small piece. It was sweet, with a hint of sour and something that he had never quite tasted before. "It's good! Some sort of fruit?" he asked, stuffing the rest of the slice into his mouth.
Amanda giggled. "Slow down and enjoy it. These are slices of a dried mango."
"Mangle? What's it mangled with?"
Amanda blinked, confused then burst out laughing and only stopped after Mark started to turn a little red. "It's pronounced mang-GO and it's the name of a fruit we grow in the southern parts of our kingdom."
"Oh." Mark scratched his head, feeling a little silly. He then took a bite of the green slice. It was a little sour and had a very distinct flavor. "And what's this?"
"It's called a kiwifruit."
"Kiwi? We have a fruit with the same name but it's yellow, and sweeter."
"Well, it might be a different species or something else altogether," she shrugged. "Now I guess it's my turn to try your food."
Mark smirked. "I'll try not to laugh at you when you horribly mispronounce something."
She stuck her tongue out at him and then took a big bite of the meat. Almost immediately, she had a panicked look on her face but managed not to spit it back out. She quickly swallowed and took a huge gulp of water. "Ack! How can you eat this? It's like eating a solid chunk of salt!" she coughed.
Mark laughed but Amanda jabbed him in the shoulder. "Be nice! At least I didn't try to poison you with any of my food," she said indignantly.
"Sorry, I should've warned you about the salted chicken. Don't try eating too much of it in a single bite or at least have some bread to go with it," Mark said, still chuckling.
She tried again, more cautiously this time. She had a small bite then after a while, a bite of the dark brown bread. After a minute of chewing, she swallowed. "Hmm. That was alright I guess, salted meat and nut bread. Is this a normal soldier's fare?"
"Something like that. How did you like it?"
Amanda scrunched her face, and stuck out her cute pink tongue. "Too salty but I guess it has an interesting flavor if you chew on it for a bit."
"Yeah, it's a bit of an acquired taste, but it's good since we sweat out a lot of salt during the day. What about the bread?"
"I like it actually. It's very nutty, quite different from our bread." She said, taking another bite of the meat and bread.
"It's very good when its fresh but I guess not bad as ration either," Mark nodded. "It keeps for a long time, which is always good for soldiers. It's got lots of different nuts in it and nuts are always good."
Mark finished his lunch first and got up to stretch. When he turned back, Amanda held out a hand to him.
"Help me up!" she smiled playfully.
He took her hand and pulled her to her feet. She began patting her dress, brushing off crumbs and dust. Mark stared at her. This was the first time he had really taken time to look at her and his eyes drank in everything he saw. Her short dress showed off her long legs beautifully. She was quite thin by human standards. Her body seemed fit but not overly muscular. Even though the dress hid her flesh from view, her full chest pressed against the fabric, hinting at what lay beneath. Her long blonde hair almost reached her waist; her green eyes stared back at him, sparkling with mischief and curiosity.
"It's not nice to stare at a lady, you know," she smiled as they started walking again side by side.
Mark grinned. "Excuse me, Madam. My most humble apologies. I only wished to lay my eyes upon your most beautiful form," he said with mock formality.
"Flatterer!" she laughed. "You're just saying that to get me in bed!" Suddenly, she stopped laughing and looked away, rather embarrassed.
Mark was silent for a moment. "I'm sorry that your first time happened under those conditions," he said finally.
"It could've been worse..."she shivered as if she was cold. "A lot worse. Thank you for saving me."
Mark held her shoulder. "You don't need to thank me. I just hope you won't come to resent me for taking your virginity when --"
"I won't." she interrupted, shaking her head. "If you hadn't been there I would have given myself to someone... or even some ones who aren't as gentle or discreet as you have been. Under the conditions, I don't think I could have asked for anyone better," she smiled at him.
He smiled too and gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze. "Thank you."
Amanda chuckled. "Don't thank me! If my father hadn't been so strict this problem would've never come up. Most girls my age have had two or three partners by now but my father wouldn't let anyone court me."
"I don't know why. He's just like that. My friends tell me all sorts of stories about what they've done," she giggled. "I also spy on my brothers sometimes but don't tell them that! They would kill me!"
"That explains why you seemed to know what you were doing last night," Mark laughed. "So your brothers get to experiment but you don't? That doesn't sound fair."
"I know! I've said the same to my father but he wouldn't listen to me. What about you? What is your father like?"
Mark fell silent. "I've never met my real father, or my mother. I've had a foster family all my life. They were kind and treated me and my brothers just like their own sons. But they died five years ago."
"I'm so sorry! What happened?" she covered her mouth.
"Earthquake. They were vacationing in Thelan, and the building they slept in collapsed on top of them. No one made it out alive. We only heard about it because a few hunters felt the quake and returned to the town but it was already too late."
"I'm sorry." Amanda said quietly. "I remember hearing about it. Isn't that the quake that killed King Richard and Queen Alice as well?"
Mark cleared his throat. "Yes, it is. The Society had been warning them for years not to go to Thelan. Of course, they didn't listen. They had first met there, so every year they returned for their anniversary. At least Prince Andrew was in Astrin at the time."
"I didn't know that," Amanda said.
Mark looked away. "That's only what I've heard. I don't know."
"That's so sad... I'm sorry for your loss," she held his arm.
He shook his head. "It's alright. We still hold a ceremony for them every year in our home and I've moved on."
They walked in silence for a minute before she spoke up again.
"I have to admit, that is very romantic, going to the same place every year. When I'm married, maybe I can do that too."
"Wouldn't you want to do that too?"
"Maybe, but not if I knew the place was dangerous."
"I'd still go!" she said. "I'm sure you would too, if you found someone you loved and she wanted to!"
"Don't be silly."
"I'm serious! If you love her, you would do anything for her. You would even go to hell and back for her," she said with her arms crossed.
Mark shrugged again.
She decided to change the topic. "So, what's Astrin like?"
"It's a huge city. The largest in Rancer. People from all over the land. Dwarves, Gnomes, Elves, Orcs... you name it, they're there."
"Oh? So that means I don't need to try to blend in?"
He shrugged. "'When in roam, do as the roam mans.' If you don't do anything weird, I doubt you'd stand out."
"Oh good." She thought for a moment. "Hmm. It's like that phrase 'All roads lead to roam.' It doesn't really make sense..."
"Who knows. These sayings are ancient anyways."
By late evening they found themselves at the gates of Crielere. Mark took Amanda to the town's only inn. Inside, soldiers and townsfolk ate and drank but as soon as Amanda stepped inside everyone quieted, looking her over before returning to their conversations.
"Two rooms for the night, please," Mark said to the innkeeper, a short man with thinning hair.
"One Krona," he said, taking more than a few glances at Amanda.
Mark tossed him two gold coins. "Prepare dinner for us as well and keep the rest."
"Thanks, kind sir. Now if you'll follow me..."
The innkeeper led them up to a room and gave Amanda the key. Inside, there was a large bed and a small wooden desk. Linked to it is a small bathroom with a tub, toilet, and sink. The innkeeper showed Mark a similar room across the hall. Amanda followed him inside.
"I'm going to talk to the Major at the outpost in town. We should be able to arrange for some escort for you tomorrow. You should freshen up, then go downstairs and wait for me. The innkeeper will bring you food when it's ready." Mark dropped off his equipment and stretched after the long day's walk. He then gave Amanda a few more gold coins. "You can probably ask for some wine as well, although I'm not sure if it will be up to your standards."
She gave a sly smile, "You're just trying to get me drunk to get me in bed, aren't you?"
"Ah... no! I just thought -"
"I'm just kidding," she laughed, then gave him a hug. "Thanks."
A little surprised, Mark hugged her back, the feel of her body against him relaxed him. "Err... you're welcome. I'll be right back." He excused himself.
The town was mostly dark and empty, lit only by torches that were put on polls in the middle of the road, far from the buildings. The outpost stood at the other side of the town but it didn't take long for Mark to get there. It was surrounded by a tall stone wall that merged with the walls of the town itself. Inside, a dozen men stood guard on top of the fortifications. He was halted at the door but when he told the guards that a Mr. Crow wanted to see their Major, he was quickly escorted to the office.
"Good evening, Major Walden," Mark greeted.
"Mr. Crow. Hall, you can leave us now. Close the door behind you," he said to the guard standing by the doorway.
After the man had left, Walden turned back to Mark. "How may I serve the Crown tonight, Mr. Crow?" Big and tall, he was an imposing figure, an image enhanced by a long scar on the left side of his face.
"I have an Elven lady with me who wishes to reach Astrin. Her own escorts were killed, so I have been her guardian," Mark explained. "However, I have urgent business to attend to elsewhere and cannot accompany her rest of the way to Astrin. I am asking your assistance in providing her with a mount and a group of ten riders to escort her the rest of the way to the capital. I will make sure that you're well rewarded."
The Major nodded. "Consider it done. I will have the men ready by tomorrow morning."
"That would be perfect. Thank you for your assistance, Major."
As soon as he had returned to the inn, Mark saw that something was amiss. Inside, two large soldiers stood at a table pushed against a wall. They were hunched over a table but even then they were still a little taller than he was and their muscles bulged almost unnaturally along their body. Each held what seemed to be a pewter pitcher of beer, by now no doubt mostly empty. He couldn't see who was sitting at the table but he had a good idea.
"What do you say, pretty elf? Huh?" one of them said, obviously drunk.
"We'll show you a good time at our barracks," slurred the other.
"Screw the barracks. The alley is as good a place as any."
A couple of other soldiers tried to get the two to stop but they would have none of it. The townsfolk and the innkeeper sat quietly, not knowing what to do.
Mark had his hand on the sword and was about to step in when he heard Amanda.
"Oh, ladies. I know you're eager to please me but you lack the equipment to do so!"
One of them grunted angrily and grabbed her arm.
"Hey! Watch it, ladies. If your Major hears that you've been unkind to an Elf... I believe the consequences might involve something like... pissing through a straw for the rest of your life?" she said, giggling. "Though, maybe you two are familiar with that already?"
"Little bitch!" one yelled. But his comrade was apparently a little more sober and stopped him.
"Don't do it, Paul, don't do it! We don't want to get the Major pissed."
Paul stopped and let go of her. "Let's get outta here," he said to the other soldier.
They turned and pushed Mark aside, kicking open the door with a loud bang. When they had finally gone, conversations resumed around the inn.
"You heard me lecturing my troops this morning," Mark grinned, sitting down at the table across from her. She was wearing a pair of earrings that resembled tiny silver wind chimes. "Pretty earrings," he added.
"Thanks!" she grinned, happy that he had noticed them. "When you left this morning I was kinda annoyed 'cus you were nice and warm... but I guess listening to you give orders helped. Thanks for telling your men that we didn't do anything."
"I was just covering my own ass. It'd be pretty awkward if those loudmouths started spreading rumors once we got to Mise."
"It's what I wanted anyways. As far as anyone else knows, I'm still a perfectly innocent lady," she looked up and made a halo over her head with her hands.
"I know better than that," he gave her a wink. "Where's your food?"
"I wanted to wait for you, so I told the innkeeper to bring it after you come back. Here it is!" she gestured behind him.
A maid brought them each a bowl of thick broth, some bread and half a chicken to share between them. Afterwards, she placed down two glass flutes and filled them with a white wine. Amanda immediately grabbed the bottle and hid it under the table.
Mark smiled at the grinning elf girl. "This is nice."
"The innkeeper said the wine is from the finest vineyard in your kingdom and he only has a single bottle left," she said, inspecting the golden liquid.
"That must've been expensive."
"I offered him a fair deal," she said with a proud smile. He looked at her suspiciously. "I have my own money too, you know."
Mark silently dipped his bread into the broth and took a bite of his bread.
Amanda followed his lead. "Not bad. I think I can get used to food like this."
"The stuff you'll find in Astrin will be a lot more interesting. Try the lasagna at a restaurant called Distant Lands when you get there. It's the best dish in the world."
"Le...zah...nia?" she furrowed her brows. "Sounds interesting. I'll try it. But right now, I want to try the wine," she said as she took a sip. She looked upwards, as if trying to remember something.
"Well? How is it?" Mark asked, taking a sip himself.
"Not bad..."she concluded. "For a human wine."
"Be nice. This is Ice Wine. It's made with grapes that are frozen by the first frost of the year, while still on the vine so there's not very many bottles made each year," He took another sip. "It's a pretty good bottle too... though really, it's a desert wine, so it's really not supposed to be drunk with the main meal. How much did you pay for it?"
"Oh, so you're a wine connoisseur now? That's a surprise. I managed to negotiate with the innkeeper and got this bottle for forty five Krona. Good thing my father remembered to give me human currency before I came," she said with a laugh.
"That's quite expensive... but I guess that's the cost to have a bottle this far from the source," Mark looked at his glass.
"So, tell me. What else is good in Astrin?"
They ate slowly, talking and enjoying each other's company. By the time they finished, the inn was mostly empty. Mark asked the innkeeper to heat up some water for the bath and led Amanda upstairs.
"Good night, Amanda," Mark said.
She stood on her toes and gave him a quick peck on the lips. "Good night, Mark."
In his room, Mark wrote a few letters for Amanda's swordsmanship lessons, Major Walden's reward and a third, its contents only for the eyes of a select few. He sealed all three with wax, stamped them with the symbol on his necklace. He then turned on the water for a bath, probably be his last for a few months. He wanted to enjoy it. He took off his heavy leather jacket dyed to a dark green color, then his thick spider silk shirt and pants. He turned off the water and sat down in the tub. The water was hot but felt good. He lay back, submerging himself fully. When he reemerged, he could already feel his muscles relaxing. He closed his eyes.
He wasn't sure if he had fallen asleep but he heard the door to his room creak. He sat up and saw Amanda. She was still wearing her earrings but she was now in a silky blue slip, the hem of which barely covered her cute round butt. She walked towards him with a shy smile.
"What are you doing here, Amanda?"
"Well... I liked what we did last night, and I was wondering..."she left the sentence hanging.
"Ah. Sure... I mean... of course." Mark said, a little flustered. "But I thought you said your father was strict about this sort of thing."
She bent down briefly, giving him a perfect view of her cleavage. "He is. But he isn't around, and no one else knows. It can be our little secret," she said, "...right?"
"Yes! Of course! It'll be our mutual secret. I'm just a little surprised that you want to do it again, that's all. Last night I thought it was just the spell talking."
She shrugged. "Last night, it was. But I really did like it, and I was serious when I said I wish I had done it sooner. And besides, it's another thing I wanted to learn about anyways," she grinned. "Once I get to the city, I don't think I'll get a chance to anymore, not without someone telling my father."
"He spies on you?" Mark asked incredulously.
She shook her head, her long hair swayed back and forth, almost hypnotic. "Eh, sorta-kinda-not-really. But if I do anything he disapproves of, I'm sure he's going to find out sooner or later. Anyway, hurry up and finish with your bath! You have a student to teach," she winked at him, and closed the bathroom door.
Mark blinked twice, then quickly soaped and scrubbed himself. In record time, he was out of the bath and drying himself. He wrapped the towel around his waist and opened the door.
Amanda sat on the bed, reclining on a pillow. Her skin glowed in the lamp light, highlighting her every curve. She looked at him and smiled, blushing.
"Oh, so now you're suddenly shy?" Mark said with a laugh.
"I am shy!" she pouted.
"So what happened to the girl who winked at me and said 'You have a student to teach'?"
"I was just teasing you before. It's different now that you aren't trapped by your bath."
"Teasing me? That's not very nice. I need to teach you some manners!"
Amanda pushed herself backwards, trying to get away from Mark and his predatory grin but there was only so far she can go before she was trapped by the bed's headboard. "What are you going to do to me?" she gasped, eyes wide with anticipation, her face inches from his.
"Do you trust me?"
He leaned forward and kissed her soft lips. She responded almost instantly, kissing back, taking his tongue into her mouth, sucking and nibbling gently. Almost in a daze, she felt him pulling her up into a kneeling position on the bed, holding her body against his. She moaned quietly as she felt the heat of his skin through her silky slip.