The talk over breakfast was all about Jana and how she moved the log. Mariel had to listen to the Paladin explain the gods specially crafted her sword and could cut through almost anything. After that, it was a simple matter of determining the most effective way to attach the rope to her to move the log efficiently. Amon then shifted the conversation into more talk about Paladins and some adventures Jana has had. Mariel tried to sneak away, but a glare from her mother kept her in her seat. When breakfast was finally over, she went straight for the front door, but her father stopped her.
“Wait, Mariel, I need you to go into town and pick up a few orders,” Gris said, handing her a slip of paper.
“Doesn’t Amon usually do it?”
“Yes, but,” He leaned into his daughter, “it’s a big order, and Amon just got over being sick. I don’t want him overdoing it.”
Mariel looked at her younger brother. The color had just fully returned to his face, and she thought he might have lost some weight. He had been for two weeks this time, longer than one of his usual spells. With spring full set, he would want to investigate the new produce in the market and would likely spend most of the day there. She nodded, not wanting to risk his health, either.
“I will join you. I am interested to see the rest of the village,” Jana added.
Mariel didn’t argue and walked to the barn. Lily was happy to see her rider, while Major stood patiently as he always did. He waited after the latch to the stall door to push it open with his nose. “Sorry Major, but we’re going to town so I’ll need you at the cart.” Major responded with a less than enthusiastic snort but walked out of the stall towards the door.
“You have trained him well,” Jana said.
“Nah, I didn’t really do much. That’s just how he is. His previous owner didn’t know how to handle him, and with his size, they threatened to put him down, so I traded for him.”
“How kind of you, I cannot imagine what someone would trade for such a horse.”
“It was a fair trade. I offered to take the horse and not pound the man’s face into the ground.”
“That hardly seems fair.”
“It was fair to Major.”
Jana rode her horse as Mariel and Major walked beside her. She planned to walk as well, but Lily almost had a fit that her rider would leave her. They were quiet, the sound of hooves and the rolling of the cart being the only sound to cut through the awkward silence. Mariel caught Jana looking at her twice, no doubt planning some inspirational speech to get her to come alone. Her chest tightened. Mariel scanned her list, debating where to start first. After a while, she learned a route to the village. Which merchants to hit first because they were at least pleasant to her face, and what time to dodge others who were rude and too bold.
“Well, if it isn’t Paladin Mariel. It’s been a while since I’ve seen you!”
A scruffy older man waved at them as he walked up. Wiry white hair from the top of his head to his beard. Tanned, rough skin from his exposure to the elements, and a grin that shined even with a missing tooth.
“Roy! How are you not dead yet?”
A bellowing laugh came from the man, bringing a smile to Mariel’s face. Old Roy had been a long-time friend of the family and went to the village several times a year. He sort of became an adopted grandfather to Mariel and Amon, always giving them gifts and stories containing valuable life lessons.
“You always make me laugh Paladin.”
“You don’t need to call me that, no one else does.”
“Of course I do! If anyone deserves the right, it’s you. Now, who’s your friend? I’ve never known you to keep the company of other Paladins.”
“This is Jana, and I’m trying to get rid of her company.”
Jana ignored the comment and offered her hand to the man. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Roy shook her hand vigorously. “Defender Jana! I never thought I’d meet you. You’re quite accomplished for a young Paladin.”
“Thank you,” Jana responded, blushing.
“Ah! You must be here because the Champion Selection is coming up! I’ve heard a rumor that all the Kingdoms are especially excited for this one. Seems they are looking for new blood in their ranks.”
“Yes, I am trying to encourage Mariel to go. Though she is tough to convince.”
Roy laughed again, running his hand through his scruffy white beard. “Aye, she’s always had a strong will, even when she was only up to my knee.”
“I’m right here, you know,” Mariel reminded.
“All good things, lass, all good things! Now, before I forget, let me go get that fabric your mother ordered. I left it my wagon.”
Roy shuffled away as the whispers and glances rose in the crowd. Many smiled and bowed to Jana, but did little to acknowledge Mariel. Rather, they more or less pretended she didn’t exist.
“Who is that Paladin?” A woman said.
“Maybe she’s here to replace the lousy Paladin we’ve been stuck with. The gods have heard us.”
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