Almost a whole day later, the three of them arrived on the outskirts of a small village dressed in dirty clothes with even dirtier faces. Isiah was freezing, his powers almost useless in the freezing cold. Nerin was the only one who seemed comfortable, able to push his energy onto them when he was rested enough.
There hadn’t been a single sign of anyone trying to chase them since they’d left Ishmar. It could have been that they’d gotten lucky. King Harudan and the others might have no idea that they ever escaped the city. That could change quickly with their arrival at the village. People had been few and far between on their travels.
The first snow was starting to fall as they pushed out from between the trees. It was later than Isiah had thought it would be, but even he could tell that it didn’t bode well for them. The snow would already be bad in the mountains, but it would make their travels worse if it started snowing regularly at ground level. They would have to get more supplies.
Princess Sharina stopped at the edge of the tree line and looked between Isiah and the village. “It will be getting dark soon, do you think we can stay a night at an inn?” she asked.
Isiah frowned. It would be a bad idea, but it was cold and dark and even more dangerous for them to be out on their own. No one had come looking for them yet. If the King had sent someone, they would have already been caught at the pace they were going. But it would still be good to act as if they were.
“We can, but we leave before dawn,” he answered. He had no idea where any of his ideas had come from. No one at the Sanctum had taught him what to do when he was on the run from the monarchy. It could be the same part of him that had killed the guard back in Ishmar, ready to take charge of his body and do unspeakable things.
He shook the thoughts from his head. They were silly, he knew that, but ever since he’d done the unspeakable, they hadn’t left him. He couldn’t stop thinking about what he had done. It would probably never leave him. He’d killed someone, taken their life away for nothing.
Someone cleared their throat ahead of him. Sharina and Nerin were some distance away, staring at him in concern. “Are you alright?” Nerin asked.
Isiah shook his head, there was no point in lying to them about it if he was feeling awful, but he did anyway. “I just need to sleep,” he said. He was exhausted from all the walking. The only sleep he had had was the two hours when they’d given up and passed out in the woods. He needed a warm bed.
He followed the other two up to the main road of the little village. It was tiny, one big road and a couple of smaller streets branching off of it. Most of the buildings were old and wooden, barely enough to keep anyone warm, but it would be better than being outside in the snow.
Children ran about, laughing cheerfully as the snow formed a thin layer on the dirt. Their parents watched from doorways and windows, frowning at the trio as they passed. Sharina had her hood on and her long white hairs tucked underneath it, but people could still see the colour of her skin.
They were strangers and one of them was an Askari. Isiah had almost forgotten. His mind had been preoccupied with other things. Walking into an unknown town with an Askari was a bad idea, but they had no other choice unless they wanted to freeze to death miles from nowhere.
A sign that said ‘the bucking bull’ caught Isiah’s attention and he dragged the other two towards it. The adults didn’t stop staring at them as they walked, but the children paid little attention to them. They were too busy playing games to care about the strangers in their streets.
“I don’t trust this,” Nerin whispered.
“Neither do I,” Sharina said.
Isiah frowned at the door of the inn before turning back to them. “I don’t either, but I don’t know about any other towns nearby. You two don’t either,” he said and looked around at the people still staring at them. “It’s only going to be for a night. We’ll get a room, Nerin will stay in there the whole time in case someone recognises him and you and I will get some more supplies if we can.”
Nerin scrunched up his face and didn’t seem at all pleased with having to stay in a room for an entire night, but there was nothing else they could do. They were still relatively close to Brenmar, someone could recognise him if they were unlucky.
The men and women in the inn stopped to stare at them as they walked in, but after a second, they turned back to their conversations. Somehow, even with the talking, the room was still eerily quiet. Isiah didn’t trust it, but there was nothing else they could do.
The woman at the bar raised her eyebrows at them and drummed her fingers against the wood. She eyed Sharina warily as she spoke. “What can I do for you?”
“We need a room,” Isiah said, drawing the woman’s gaze to him. “For all three of us.”
“They’ve only got two beds,” the woman drawled.
Isiah waved a hand at her. He knew nothing about what he was doing. The Sanctum hadn’t prepared him for it. “Doesn’t matter. How much?”
“Two gold pieces.” Isiah fished them from the coin purse and handed them over with a quiet sigh. There was barely any money left and he had no idea how far away they were from the mountains. The woman dumped a rusty key into his hand and waved him towards a set of stairs he hadn’t seen before.
The room wasn’t the nicest. The worn furniture and thin walls would barely do much for them, but it was better than nothing. Isiah and Sharina left Nerin with instructions to try and get a fire going and to not sneak around. Isiah wasn’t completely sure if the boy would listen, but it was worth a shot anyway.
Snow crunched under his shoes as he and the Princess left the inn. If snow was falling, then they would need thicker clothing, especially for the Princess. The village’s single store was across the road from the inn and once again the pair had to endure the curious stares of the villagers.
The first thing he saw when he entered the warm store was the table filled entirely with fyrite. He let out a little gasp of relief and rushed over to it. The stones were expensive, almost five gold, but it would be necessary if they wanted to survive the snow.
A group of men nearby let out a laugh at his reaction, but he paid them no mind. Sharina stopped next to him and frowned down at the stones. “What are they?” she asked.
“Fyrite, it enhances our powers,” he answered as he picked up one of the stones and weighed it in his hands. “Do your people have a stone like this?”
Sharina pulled up her sleeve to show a thin bracelet around her wrist. “Ellinite,” she answered and tugged at it. “Does the same thing for us.” Isiah hadn’t heard of it before, but it didn’t surprise him.
He closed his fingers around the large stone in his hands and pulled his coin purse from his pocket. “Do you think it’s a good idea to buy one?” he asked her. It was expensive, but it would be helpful.
“If you think it would help us,” Sharina answered. He did. They could give it to Nerin, who was a lot more powerful than he was. That way, he should be able to keep them all warm.
“Alright, have a look around for anything else you think might be useful,” he told her. It was strange, giving orders to a Princess when he wasn’t even a full monk, but they had to keep up appearances. They had to seem as normal as possible, especially in strange little villages.
He should have realised that it would be a bad idea to send an Askari woman off on her own in an unknown town, but he wasn’t thinking. He spent far too long trying to fish enough money from his coin purse. Two days in and they were already running low. How had the Mother ever expected him to survive?
Of course, the castle was meant to pay him for his work, but he hadn’t even been there a week. He had no gold from them and no time to work in the random little towns like he was meant to. They were on the run, he’d never have a chance to complete his pilgrimage as he was supposed to.
A small optimistic part of him was glad that he was able to see a little of the country. It was awful that he had to see it while on the run from the King of said country. About as awful as everything else that had happened in the last week. What would the Mother think of him if she knew what he had done?
He wasn’t given the chance to think about it. The fyrite was in his pocket and the gold in the hands of the store clerk. He turned away and froze. Sharina stood on the other side of the store, in front of a stand of thick winter coats and surrounded by the men that had laughed at him earlier.
They hissed words at her that Isiah couldn’t hear, but he knew they were more than unkind. The Princess flinched at the words, drew herself in tight, and looked down at the floor. Without giving it a second to think, Isiah stalked forward. He didn’t know what he was going to do, but he had to stop them.
“What are you doing here girl?” one man snapped. He looked as though he would reach out and push her, but a sneer came over his face and he stayed where he was. “This place isn’t for you.”
“Your kind aren’t welcome here,” another hissed. Isiah should have known, he should have. They’d been staring at her from the moment they walked into town. He never should have left her alone.
Finally, one did reach out a shove her roughly. She stumbled into the coats with a grunt but didn’t say a word. Isiah couldn’t even see her face through her hood and hair, but he knew that she was angry. What he didn’t know was what she would do. He’d seen her kill people. She still had the sword under her coat. If she really wanted to use it, she would.
But she stayed completely still. She let them spit insults at her and shove her around. “Go back to where you came from!” they yelled. “You don’t belong here!” Part of Isiah knew it was true. After everything that had happened between Minisia and Brenmar, the Askari weren’t welcome. But it was the same in Minisia. Isiah and any other Ishini wouldn’t be welcomed there either.
That didn’t mean that Sharina deserved what was happening to her. He may not get along with her completely, she was hard to get along with. But she’d been kind to him when they travelled to Ishmar together. She’d done nothing to the men bullying her, nothing at all.
“Hey!” Isiah yelled as he stalked towards them. Most didn’t listen, just continued to throw insults at the woman before them. One took the chance to push Sharina again and this time she fell to the ground with a grunt. “Hey!”
One of them, an older man with a bald patch and dark yellow teeth, glared at him. “What do you want, boy?” he asked. Isiah didn’t say a word, just reached down and offered his hand to Sharina. The Princess grabbed it tightly and hauled herself onto her feet. A single tear rolled down her blue cheek when she looked at him.
“Leave her alone,” he growled and pulled her behind him. He had no idea what he was going to do, but he couldn’t hurt any of them, not again. No one else would get hurt because of him.
The man with the yellow teeth bared them at him. “You her friend? You some kind of Askari lover boy?” he yelled. Isiah glanced over his shoulder at the store clerk, but he already knew that they weren’t going to do anything. “We don’t take well to your kind here either.”
“We’re just travellers,” Isiah answered in a quiet voice. He took a step back, pushing Sharina along with him. “We’re only going to be here a night. We mean no trouble.”
“Bringing an Askari here is asking for trouble, boy,” one of the others snapped. Back they went, slowly getting closer and closer to the door.
Isiah held up his hands in mock surrender. “We’ll be gone by morning. You won’t have to worry about us then,” he said. His hands and legs shook and there was a voice in the back of his head that told him if he needed to, he should hurt them. But he couldn’t. It was wrong. It was so wrong.
“Yeah,” the man with the yellow teeth said. “You will be.” Another step back and the cold winter air battered Isiah’s skin. He dropped his hands to grab Sharina’s and pulled her across the road once again. They didn’t need anything from the store, they would be fine for a couple more days.
They ran through the inn and up the stairs. Nerin jumped in surprise when they burst through the door, but neither of them bothered to explain what had happened. All Isiah did was hand Nerin the fyrite and sit on the bed with his head in his hands.
He’d been so ready to hurt them. If it meant making sure the Princess was alright, he would have. But that had been the same thing that made him kill the guard in Ishmar too. If it had been Nerin, he would have done the same thing. They were both innocent, they didn’t deserve it, but Isiah didn’t want to hurt others to stop it. That was stooping to their level, ignoring his teachings, becoming something he wasn’t.
Sharina kneeled in front of him and pressed her hands to his knees. The tears in her eyes were gone, but she still looked sad. She was alright though, she was safe. They hadn’t been able to hurt her. “Thank you,” she whispered. The small smile on her face didn’t excuse the fact that he’d wanted to hurt someone, but it made him feel a little better.