A/N: Wow, I am so sorry that this chapter has taken so long to come out. I have no excuses, so I won't make any. I hope that anyone who has stuck with it will forgive me.
Chapter 5: Back Home
The sun beat down on the dusty road as it was traversed by a small trade caravan. Several people walked beside the trade wagons while a few road on and guided the horses. Darren walked to the left of the wagon and looked around at the rest of the group. Melissa walked beside him, neither of them saying anything. Behind them, Daniel walked beside Caed, talking a mile a minute. Darren chuckled to himself as he imagined Caed's pained face underneath his helmet while Daniel talked at him.
With the exception of that isolated attack, the trip had been rather uneventful. Darren smiled, he had been alone for years, and as such, was unused to friendship. However, now he had three friends that he would gladly give his life for. He smiled, content.
As the day wore on, Darren noticed that Melissa was being more quiet than usual. As they got closer to Jarkan, her face got darker and darker, and Darren started to worry. Once it started to get dark though, the merchant in charge called a halt.
"We're not gonna make it to the capital today. Set up camp, we'll get there tomorrow." Darren watched as relief flooded Melissa's face and she let out a small sigh. She nervously glanced around to make sure no one had noticed and Darren pretended to be looking back at Daniel and Caed. She sighed again and walked on, her face less dark than before.
When they set camp for the night, the caravan split into its little groups and the four of them sat around a fire together as night fell and the day ended. The fire crackled and the light shone on each of their faces around the fire as they sat in silence. Daniel attempted several times to get a conversation started, but it sputtered and died each time. So they sat. In the dark, they could hear the murmur of conversation from the other campfires, but around their fire the only sound that could be heard was the cracking of the wood on the the fire. Daniel seemed uncomfortable in the silence, but Caed and Melissa didn't seem at all bothered by it.
Finally, Darren couldn't take it anymore, so he asked what had been on his mind for a while now.
"Melissa, why is it that you seem to be dreading us reaching our destination? Is there some reason that you don't want to go to the capital?" Her eyes shot open in shock and she jerked her head up to face him. She looked at Darren for a long minute until she finally just sighed.
"Couldn't get it past you, huh? You're right, I'm not looking forward to getting to Jarkan, there are some things there that I would rather stay buried." Darren looked at her, befuddled.
"What is that supposed to mean? What kind of history do you have in the capital?" Melissa just sat in silence, not answering.
Eventually, Daniel sighed and said, "She is the daughter to one of the upper nobles in the empire. She was, what was it, 34th or 35th in line for the throne was it? She gave that up when she left to travel with me though." Both Darren and Caed jumped to their feet in surprise.
"W-WH-WHAT? What do you mean? She's a noble?!" As Darren started yelling, Daniel slammed his hand over Darren's mouth, stopping the sound of his voice from reaching farther than a few feet.
"Yes, she is, and I'm only telling you because you are a friend, but please don't go spreading that around. Okay?" A hand still covering his mouth, Darren nodded and Daniel released him.
Quieter this time, Darren asked "If you are a noble, then why are you traveling as an adventurer? Or even traveling without an escort or anything?" This time, Melissa answered directly.
"I never liked the palace life. I never had any freedom and I hated it. So, when Daniel came by the our manor to pay his respects and ask if there was any tasks we needed done, I knew what I wanted. When he left, I snuck out and asked him to take me with him. He did and here we are." Darren turned to look at Daniel.
"What? I believe in freedom. If she wanted to come along, who was I to stop her? Plus she has more than proved herself as worth it." Darren opened his mouth to ask more, but closed it again when he saw the look that Daniel gave him. He sighed. Oh well, that was enough to keep satisfy him for one night. If she wanted to tell more, she would. Content, Darren lowered himself to the ground and slept.
The next day, the caravan set off at first light. As they walked, Darren could still see apprehension on Melissa's face, but less so than yesterday. At about midday, Darren saw something on the horizon. It started as a dot, but as the day wore on, it got larger and larger. At first, Darren was a little bit disappointed, he expected the capital to be larger. However, as they walked, the city seemed to get larger while they didn't seem to be getting any closer. Hours passed, Darren's awe growing with each step.
Eventually, the caravan master called out, "Right, there she is. The capital city, Jarkan." Darren blinked several times, not believing his eyes. As they stood before the city gates, the hundred foot walls spread on endlessly in either direction. Under the midday sun, they gleamed like gold and Darren had to shield his eyes, or else be blinded. Before this, the largest settlement that Darren had been to was Torfan, which he had thought was large. He now realized how miniscule it was in comparison. He was sure they could fit a dozen of Torfan inside the capital city. Darren glanced around at the rest of the group, and none of them seemed at all amazed. They all walked forward to the guards in front of the gate, leaving Darren marveling at the city like a country bumpkin. Sighing he followed them.
The merchant took got them all entrance to the city and they walked past the guards. Once inside, the merchant pulled to the side of the road to give them their pay for the trip. Everyone lined up and the merchant handed out small bags to each of the remaining guards. Darren sighed after looking inside his bag. It was only a bag with a handful of silvers. While he and his friends circled up to discuss their next move while the other guards went off to the nearest tavern to spend their pay. Darren looked at his friends.
"So, what do we do next?" They all thought in silence for a moment before Caed answered from behind his helmet.
"I doubt we will be able to decide now, let us find a place for the night and decide in a day or two." They all nodded in agreement and set about finding an inn to stay at for the night.
After searching for a few hours, they found an inn and rented a couple of rooms, one for the men and one for the woman. They were gentlemen after all. After a little pointless chatter, they went to bed.
The next morning, they had breakfast and decided on holding off making a decision for the day and just exploring the capital. Leaving their larger weapons in their rooms, they all took a dagger and left to wander the streets.
Darren wandered around the streets marveling at all the sights. The roads were flooded with people, and movement was difficult for anyone on the main roads. Grunting in effort, Darren turned off the main road and into a side alley. The roads were still wide, but there were far fewer people on these roads. Stalls were set up all along the sides of the road and people could be seen haggling with merchants for everything from fish the fine jewelery. As he walked by, several people turned to stare at Darren, partly because he was a very exotic looking man, and partially because of his fine, yet strange looking clothing. Obviously thinking that he was a wealthy person, one merchant called him over. Curious, Darren decided to humor the man and went over. Immediately, the man began his sales pitch.
"Hello good sir! You look like a man who knows what he wants!" He began. Darren raised an eyebrow at this. The man reached down and from below him pulled out an ornately crafted necklace with a large gem set in middle.
"This good sir is the finest gold! And just look at that gorgeous emerald in the center! It would match your eyes perfectly! Luckily for you, I can give this to you for a mere 15 gold pieces. A steal, no?" Darren nodded in agreement. It was a beautiful piece and he could afford it. Darren reached into his pouch and pulled out just enough to buy the necklace. As he reached out to hand over the money, a hand grasped his wrist. He looked up into the face of a bearded man with a smirk on his face. Before Darren could voice his displeasure however, the man spoke.
"New around here are you?" Darren's face showed confusion, so the man elaborated.
"When a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is." He snatched the bauble from the enraged merchant and drew a dagger. Darren tensed, but the man merely cut a deep gouge in the necklace. Beneath a thin layer of gold, a gray color could be seen. Lead. Darren turned a piercing glare at the merchant.
"What is that? That man must have switched out my necklace with a fake one so he could make off with the real one!" The merchant accused. He got several looks from passers by and it was clear that no one was buying it. The merchant cleared his throat and turned his attention back to the street, calling over new patrons, completely ignoring Darren now that he had been exposed. Darren scowled and began to walk away, but stopped and turned to the man who had helped him.
"Thank you very much. I've never been in a city before, so I'm a little bit unprepared." The man laughed richly and deeply.
"Not a problem. I don't like cheats, so it was a pleasure. I am not doing anything, so would you like a guide for the time being?" Darren quickly nodded in agreement, and they set off for a tour of the city.
They stayed in the merchant section, but the man calmly explained about the city and answered all of the many questions that Darren had. After about an hour, Darren stopped and stood in place, realizing something. The man turned back, realizing that his companion had stopped. A questioning look showed on his face.
"I just realized that even though you've been helping me this whole time, we haven't introduced ourselves. My name is Darren, nice to meet you." The man bellowed a laugh, its rich sound ringing in Darren's ears.
"Well said Darren. I am Sir Gabriel Hallsworth, knight of the noble Rothchild family. It is a pleasure to be of service. This time, it was Darren's turn to laugh. Formalities over with, they set of again on their tour of the district.
As time passed, Darren found himself coming to like this man. He was a good person and had a sense of humor that worked with Darren's. Out of the corner of his eye, Darren spotted a familiar figure in green.
"Melissa!" He called out. She turned to face his, but her eyes shot wide open when she looked at him.
"From behind him, Darren heard, "M-My lady!" Darren's head jerked around as he turned to look at his new friend. Looking back, he saw Melissa sprint away. Gabriel took off after, and Darren, curious, followed suit. They kept her in sight and followed as quickly as they could, but when she turned back onto the main road, she disappeared among the crowd. Gabriel froze in place and his head jerked left and right, searching. Eventually, his head dropped, and he sighed in frustration. However, his head jerked back up, as if something had just come to him.
"Darren! How do you know My lady?!" He frantically questioned. He grabbed Darren by the shoulders as he questioned him.
Darren looked at him for a moment before calmly answering, "She is a companion of mine. We travel together. How do you know her?" Surprise flashed in his eyes.
"Like I told you, I am a knight of the Rothchild family. I was her bodyguard as she was growing up. I looked for her for years, but eventually I was called back by the family to assume new duties. But to think, to find her after all this time! Darren, you have to tell me where she went!" Darren shook his head slowly.
"I'm sorry Gabriel, but I can't do that. She ran from you for a reason. Even though I've only met you today, I consider you a friend. However, please don't ask me to betray a friend." Gabriel stared hard into Darren's face. They stood that way for several minutes. Eventually, Gabriel nodded and walked away. Darren sighed in relief. He was sad that he couldn't help him, but he had no choice. Turning around, Darren walked back toward the inn that they were staying.
At the inn, Darren found his three friends gathered around a table. He took a seat and turned immediately to Melissa.
"What was that? Why did you run away?" She looked down at her lap, showing no response. Daniel and Caed showed confused looks on their faces. Just when he was about to ask again, she spoke.
"I already told you. I ran away from home. I don't want to go back. I refuse to go. That, and..." She paused. "They might think that I was kidnapped..." At this, Daniel's head jerked in her direction.
"Wait, what?! What are you talking about?!" Melissa just gave an apologetic smile, one of the few times Darren had ever seen her show emotion.
She just looked back down at her lap and whispered, "Please, can we just forget about this and leave this place?" Everyone around the table sighed. In the end, they decided to let the topic end. Instead, they began speaking about what they would do the next day. Their discussion lasted as the sun traveled across the sky and began to set. As their conversation drew to a close, Daniel turned to the rest of the group.
"I think that that is all there is to discuss. I think that we sho-" The door flew open and soldiers rushed in. Two dozen soldiers in shining steal plate surrounded them and behind them, Darren saw Gabriel.
"My Lady. I have come to take you home." He turned to the soldiers.
"Take the lady back to the Manor." He then looked at Daniel. "And seize that kidnapper."
A/N: I realize that this is a woefully short and inadequate chapter for such a long wait. Honestly, I'm not really satisfied, but I don't want to make you wait any longer (If you've actually been following it), and I realized I'm a douche for making my first returning chapter end on a cliffhanger. I hope to not have a break that long anytime again soon, I'll try to have another chapter within a week and then one every week or two. Lastly, I'm probably a jerk for asking this, but please review. Any thoughts on characters or the story help and I would love to hear your thoughts. Well that's it, I'm out.