Alton gasped, stepping back. It was Velda’s turn to steady him, as he nearly lost his balance. Laughing, the blue haired woman admired the person standing before her. The hair was a tousled mess of dark auburn curls pulled back in a braid. No plait could hold the springy mass for long. Being under a metal helmet had done it no good at all. It stood out like a halo of dark and frizzy copper.
“You’re a girl!” Alton said. He couldn’t have been more shocked if he’d found her naked. “Yet you wear armor. You pose as a knight! How can this be?”
He strode forward, but Velda caught his arm before he could attack the young woman.
Dark golden eyes met his moss green ones, proud head rising defiantly. The girl was pretty in an angular, too slender way. She hadn’t eaten or slept well for some time, Velda noted as she watched the exchange, with eyes as deep and dark blue as ocean water. When Alton lunged for the young woman again, Velda was ready. Grabbing him in arms that were stronger than they looked, she held her angry knight firmly, gazing into his eyes.
“Let’s all have a seat,” Velda said.
Her tone and stance told Alton that Velda would not tolerate much more arguing. Having been on the wrong side of her temper before, he backed off. Velda continued to hold his arm, until they had all taken seats. The young woman sat on a rock across from them, her horse standing at her left shoulder.
Alton and Velda shared a downed log. It was covered with moss the color of Alton’s eyes and the bark was nearly the color of his dusky skin. Velda’s dress shimmered silver. Her blue hair dried quickly in the light breeze. She continued to examine the young woman with a wary intelligence that peeled back the layers.
The maiden shivered under Velda’s gaze. “Must you stare at me?” She fidgeted with her clothing, yanking at it as if it didn’t fit.
“Alton, build a fire, there’s a good man,” Velda said, patting his hand. She continued her appraisal of the woman, tilting her head from side to side. She didn’t speak again until the fire was crackling between them.
Alton dug in his bag, found a packet of tea, and pulled out two battered tin cups. He brewed the aromatic mixture, handing one cup to each of the ladies. The armor clad stranger didn’t want to accept until she saw Velda sip from her own cup. To assure her that the liquid was safe, Alton took a sip from the other cup, wiping the rim with his sleeve.
“I’ve not got anything catching,” he snarled when she shied away. “It’s safe, young miss. Why would we poison a complete stranger?”
She accepted the cup, taking a sip to test it. She must have found the brew to her liking, for she continued to drink. Alton and Velda shared their cup equally, enjoying the sweet blend of herbs and dried flowers. The young woman visibly relaxed, and Alton knew the tea was working. It had a calming affect on him too, which he much needed at the moment.
“So, now that we’ve established that we mean no harm, perhaps you’ll tell us how we can help.” Velda’s soft, low alto voice was musical in nature. It wound around the trio, embracing them.
The horse nickered, nudging the young woman with his nose. Nodding, as if something had passed between them, she poured some of the cool tea in her hand, holding it out for him to drink. She kissed his face, patting him on the neck. It was more like a lover’s embrace, than mistress and horse.
“We heard rumors that there was a lady and her companion traveling these roads,” the young woman said softly. “We need your help so very desperately, you see.”
“Perhaps you might introduce yourself,” Velda suggested. “Then start at the beginning of your tale.”
The woman blushed, ducking her head. “I apologize, My Lady. I’m so unaccustomed to gentile company lately, I’ve forgotten my manners.” The horse nudged her again. “My name is Astrid, first daughter of King Hels and Queen Sarai of Folds Court. And this,” she patted the horse once more. “Is Lord Revanth, my affianced lord.”
Alton’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth. The cup tipped, spilling tea on the ground, but he hardly noticed. Velda smiled, her long lashes fluttering.
“I thought as much. I can smell enchantment. Who did you anger, child? And how do you think I can help?”
Astrid blushed again, relief flooding her face. “My Lady, thank you!” She knelt before Velda and wouldn’t rise until bidden.
“I can’t aid you unless I know the trouble,” Velda reminded her.
“Revanth is from a noble house, as well. His mother, and mine, sought to strengthen our houses with an alliance of marriage.”
“But not to one another,” Velda said.
“No. Though we were promised to one another at birth, his father died—who had made the deal with my father. My mother declared that made the original agreement null and void. She insisted that I marry someone else. But my heart already belonged to Revanth, and his to me. His mother grew furious with mine and a battle loomed.
“My mother hired a witch to sway the battle in our favor, but Revanth and I went to her. We begged her to help us by forging an alliance between our two houses, instead of a war. Something went wrong with the spell and Revanth became a stallion. That was six months ago. We have been looking for someone to help us break the spell ever since. We travel the back ways to avoid detection. I pose as a man, and do my best to gather food. But I am a gentle lady born. I know nothing of stealing or foraging.”
© 2019 Dellani Oakes