- 7th day of Hanotë -
Part 5 - A Brief Stop
Selina sighed unable to hide how tired she felt and Kahor smiled understandingly, guessing the reason behind her state of mind.
“Want to stop for a moment?”
“Hum … maybe we should. We can have something to eat and take a look at our map.”
“If it’s because of me …”
“Look, right ahead. That cluster of trees will offer us good shade.”
Selina looked towards the place Kahor was pointing and gave up on her stubborn pride, anxious to be able to just sit still for a while.
She dismounted and secured her horse, and then went to Kahor, helping her get down from her horse.
“Gods … Ridding all day long is a tough job!” she complained, taking the time to stretch and rub her pained back, and Kahor smiled, limping towards the trees.
“You’ll get used to it in no time. Look. Someone has recently made camp here. It looks like five or six people,” she pointed out, studying the ground. “I’d say, three, four days ago?”
“How can you tell?” Selina asked, approaching her to watch as Kahor stirred the ashes from a dead campfire.
“It’s easy. The number of people you can tell by the way the grass is bent. See here, for example. One of them must have slept here. Another one there. And there another. If you take into account that they lit a fire, they probably laid around it, which leaves space for another two or three people on the other side.”
“Wow! That’s amazing! And the days?” Selina asked, enthusiastically.
“You can tell that by the ashes and the freshness of the burned grass. If it had been a long time ago the grass would be yellow and the ashes long gone, swallowed by the earth or carried away by the wind. On the other hand, if it had been yesterday we would probably still find footprints around the camp and ash dust over the burned wood. Of course, to conclude these things we must take into account the weather. If it had rained, for example, it would be a completely different story.”
Selina nodded as she observed the scene in front of her.
“Did you learn all that in the Order?”
“That’s really useful stuff! It also means that Allana didn’t stop here.”
“I don’t think so. She may have stopped somewhere else, or taken a different route all together. She’s traveling alone and she’s rather inexperienced, so I guess she won’t have the same kind of instinct when choosing camping places that one of us would have. If I’m not mistaken, this was probably Prince Elian’s camp. This is the kind of place a Knight would choose to spend the night,” she added, looking around at how the trees surrounded the clearing, making it so that no one could see them from the road.
Selina helped her sit down and then sat by her side. She unfolded the small bundle of food she’d brought with her and took a dried plum, chewing on it absentmindely.
“Disappointed?” Kahor asked, stealing one for herself, and Selina sighed.
“More like worried. Sometimes I can’t help criticizing myself for having allowed her to leave on her own. But then I look at myself and I know I wouldn’t be of much help anyway, that I’d probably end up getting in her way. After all I know nothing about fighting or battles, or traveling and maps, or anything like that. Although she’s a Princess those kinds of things have always come more natural to her. When I start thinking like this I can’t help wondering if what I’m doing isn’t something completely uncalled for, if I’m not being crazy and presumptuous in believing that she might actually need me, being as useless as I am. I guess I just couldn’t bear the idea of never seeing her again … which when all is said and done makes me a really selfish person, right?”
“I don’t see it that way. Sure you may be inexperienced in a lot of things, but I think that there’s still much that only you can do, just by being there. I know from my own experience that the presence of a loved one by your side, even a silent one, can do miracles when you’re hurt and alone.”
Selina watched her for a moment, the pain hidden in her dark eyes, and decided to smile, changing the subject.
“But you’re not alone. You have that Knight of yours,” she offered, mischievously, and Kahor blushed embarrassed.
“You’re just like Darna, figuring everything out at a glance. But you’re right. Kai is very important to me,” she admitted.
“Well, no offense, but I think he’s kind of … cold.”
Kahor laughed happily.
“You’re not the only one! Me too. I thought so too, when I first met him. I was even afraid of him when he became responsible for training me for the Test. I couldn’t help go completely stiff with fear every time he opened his mouth to comment or correct something. He’s very rigorous and always says what he’s thinking, whether you like it or not. And so I instinctively started trying my best to hear only compliments, although they were rare and few. Every time he said something good about my performance I almost jumped up and down in sheer happiness. And then I started noticing that when that happened he would smile, a small, shy smile, but still a smile. Being able to see that smile was like a victory to me, and so I started trying even harder, and we simply started to know each other better. He’s not as cold as he looks. He’s serious, and responsible, and bit shy too, especially when he’s the subject of other people’s talk. And he also has humor, though I’d have to agree that it’s a quite dark one,” she added, smiling dreamily, and then seemed to come back to her senses, blushing once more when she noticed Selina’s smile. “It’s late. We’d better get going so we can make camp for the night a bit further ahead. Tomorrow we’ll cross the second tributary of the Silver River,” she said, suddenly all business, and Selina peered at the map opened over Kahor’s legs.
“Why go that way and not cross the Silver Forest straight to Melkar? It would be faster.”
“There are news of men from the Northern Armies patrolling the forest. It would be too dangerous. Even taking this safer route, let’s pray we find no trouble on the road,” Kahor answered, folding her map and allowed Selina to help her back to her feet.