Beck reached the ground floor and found Nightstorm nibbling at some dark green moss. He went over and patted the warhorse’s long neck. He received a welcoming whine then kept close to the horse as Olwyna came down the last of the steps.
‘I’m grateful you are not a goblin or something,’ she declared,
Beck glanced at her with raised highbrows and stroked Nightstorm’s shoulder.
‘It’s cold down here,’ she added and began rubbing arms, ‘nice horse. Does he have a name?’
‘Nightstorm,’ Beck replied gruffly.
Olwyna whispered the name but didn’t move any closer to the horse.
Beck went to the saddle bag and drew out two folded grey wool blankets. He held them out to the woman alongside the lantern and nervously, she came forward. When she could just about reach, she took the blankets and lantern from him and hurried away.
‘You do not like horses?’ Beck asked a flicker of a smile on his lips.
‘Not really,’ Olwyna said trying to sound confident.
‘He won’t hurt you, he’s old.’
She shook her head and backed up to the staircase. The light thrown off by the candle shrink as she moved and pooled around her instead, casting Olwyna in a warm glow. She clutched the blankets to her small chest and watched Beck taking off Nightstorm’s saddle and bridle.
‘Do you really think we are safe here?’ she finally whispered.
‘Goblins have not been in this forest for years. Once they finished destroying the elven city they left. Only ghosts haunt this place now,’ Beck stated.
‘And highway men,’ Olwyna said under her breath.
Beck turned having heard her words, ‘is that how you ended up here?’
‘I’d rather not talk about it,’ she shot back, ‘have you finished?’
He turned from her piercing eyes and placed the horse tack in the corner. He dug out a small sack of oats and gave Nightstorm two handfuls. Then he grabbed a water skin and a leather bag before saying goodnight to the warhorse. He turned and went to join Olwyna at the base of the staircase.
‘Is he going to be safe down here? What if something gets in?’
‘He’ll be fine. He can look after himself,’ Beck replied.
He took the lantern from her slightly shaking hand and started up the stairs. He heard Olwyna following close behind. They passed the smaller rooms and went back to the kitchen space. Beck went to the fireplace and put the lantern down before him. He then folded himself to the floor and uncorked the water bag.
He took a few mouths of cold stream water as Olwyna came slowly to his side. He offered the water and she sat down next to him, placing the blankets in her lap.
‘It’s only water,’ Beck told her as she took the goat skin bag from him, ‘not like the fancy wines of Breland.’
‘Thank you,’ she said and took a few small sips.
He pulled open the next bag and selected some strips of dried dark meat. He began chewing on one as Olwyna recorked the water bag and put it down. She then unfolded one of the blankets and wrapped it around herself. She looked at the nearest arrow slit on the wall before them and listened to the wind howling in.
‘Here,’ Beck spoke and held the leather bag before her.
‘What is it?’ she asked.
‘Cow, I think.’
She shook her head, ‘I can’t eat meat.’
Beck stared at her and slowly took the bag away. He carried on eating and when he was done, drank some more water before setting both bags aside.
Olwyna give him the other blanket and as he pulled it across his knees, he felt a trace of warmth from her body. Tucking it around him, he wrapped himself in his damp cloak and shut his eyes. He listened to the woman’s soft steady breathing and wondered how long it had been since he had been this close to another person, let alone a female.
‘Where are you from?’ Olwyna’s gentle voice called him out of his thoughts.
‘Nowhere,’ he replied.
‘Everyone is from somewhere,’ she pressed.
‘It’s not important.’
‘Why are you here then?’
Beck opened his eyes and stared at her, ‘why are you here? Breland is a month from here.’
‘I was traveling to Ravenglass. I was going to be married,’ Olwyna stated, though her voice cracked over the last word.
‘And you’re running away?’ Beck suggested.
‘No! We were attacked on the road,’ she gushed, ‘they came out of the forest, riding large boars. They had a warlock and he set fire to everything. I got out of the carriage, somehow and fled,’ Olwyna broke into a sob, ‘I tried to go back to them, but I got lost. Then I found this place…’
‘Boars,’ Beck grumbled, ‘and a warlock. What did they want?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘Well, it’s lucky you made it this far, better then freezing out there.’
Olwyna nodded and dropped her head, tears trickled down her cheeks.
‘Get some sleep,’ Beck suggested.
She wiped her face and sniffed, ‘I do not think I can. Every time I shut my eyes I see the flames and hear the screams.’
‘Then rest as best you can.’
Olwyna looked at the floor. A tear drop fell from her face and landed on a cracked board.
Beck arranged his clock again and shut his eyes. He heard her shifting to lie down and half opened one eye to look down. She had curled into ball with the blanket tucked around her.
Her hair was almost touching his knee and she had folded her hands together and was resting her head on them. A thin sliver bracelet had slipped to her wrist. Beck reconsider the curling words and pattern on its’ surface and felt his heart sink.
To Be Continued….