A cool wind came from the east that night, bringing humid air from Kingfisher Bay, and behind it, came rain. Balfrith awoke in the morning cold and wet, shivering and miserable. A good way to begin this day, he thought, knowing he had a difficult choice to make and not wanting to make it.
He rolled over and looked up at the gray sky, letting the cool drizzle run over his face. He was wet anyway, might as well enjoy it if he could. After a short while he sat up, shook the water out of his hair and scrubbed at his face, driving away the last remnants of sleep. The rain continued falling, and soon it was running down his face again, causing him to splutter and sneeze.
The noise awoke Eldamir, who jerked awake as if startled, which perhaps he was. Balfrith laughed, for he’d never seen his Elefdar friend awaken in anything except a peaceful manner, eyes opening as if he’d only just closed them for a moment. Not this time.
“What’s funny?” asked Eldamir, sitting up.
Balfrith grinned, sour mood evaporating, and said, “Nothing. It’s going to be a good day.”
“Oh? Have you decided, then?”
Balfrith hesitated only a blink before replying, “Aye, I have. I wish to see my sister - and my father. We will go to Aethelred Manor first, and thence make our way to the university.”
“As you say,” Eldamir replied, nodding his head. Though he feared somewhat for the reception they would face - he remembered his last encounter with Balfrith’s father, duke Osric - he would support his friend in this quest.
They broke their fast on smoked venison and water, and broke camp shortly thereafter. On a normal day they would pack their gear and be on the march after a leisurely breakfast, but with the rain, they had no desire to delay any longer than necessary. And so it was that they were striding out of the forest’s edge just as the sun crested the thinning trees in the east.
Balfrith said, “Look Eldamir, the sun is breaking through the clouds. If we’re lucky, the rain won’t last long, and we’ll be dry before the sun sets this evening.”
“It does look that way,” Eldamir replied, glancing eastward and noticing that the clouds did seem to be breaking up.
About an hour out from the forest, they came upon an old cart track, muddied from the recent rain. But it was a sign of Men, and it pointed toward Graystone to the southeast, so they followed it the rest of the day.
True to its promise, the rain stopped, the clouds scattered, and the sun came out by mid morning. By noon, the heat was wet and oppressive like a summer afternoon, and they took a break in the shade of a small copse of trees not far off the track. But they didn’t stop long, for Balfrith wanted to arrive at Graystone that day, and he was afraid they wouldn’t make it if they wasted any time.
So they left after a short break for lunch, and as he’d hoped, they arrived on the outskirts of the city of Graystone early that evening. The land sloped downward into the Asca river valley, and the city was on the river. The day’s heat was beginning to drop as the sun moved westward and began lowering, and Balfrith hastened his pace as he saw the city’s wall and towers down on the plain.
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