When they set out again early in the morning two days later, no one spoke about the outcome of the second meeting. Saenni noticed Linette glancing at her more often than before, a thoughtful expression on her face. Saenni didn't say anything, instead opting to reclining on Kau once more and staring up into the sky as they left the port city behind. Meriall remained next to her, idly chatting about nothing for several hours.
By the time the day turned into late afternoon, Meriall sighed heavily and looked at Saenni. 'What will you do if she doesn't give you a good answer?'
Saenni shrugged. 'I don't know. I haven't decided.'
'What are you thinking of doing?'
'Going out and seeing the world by myself, probably. Not following her and meeting only her kind of people.'
'The top, the rich,' Saenni said and folded her hands behind her head. 'I want to see more of the world and the people, learn about the places. I don't think that the people she meets are a proper representation of the world.'
'No, they're not,' Meriall nodded. 'They might think they are, but they are a small part and they live vastly different lives from the rest of us.'
'I imagined that was the case. How long until the next town?'
'Naservo is about two days out. It's a straight path on this road so it shouldn't take too long to get there. It's a well-travelled place too, so we shouldn't run into any issues regarding getting attacked again. Not that it would matter to you, I suppose,' she added with a grin.
Saenni chuckled but didn't say anything else. Over the next two days, they spoke little but made good headway towards the next town. Bad weather had slowed them down, forcing them to take shelter at a roadside inn with many of the other travellers, but otherwise, they met with little resistance. As they neared Naservo, Armant took the lead as Linette covered her face with her hood and fell back to ride next to Meriall.
'What's going on?' Saenni asked as she sat up.
'Armant saw someone wearing a magi mark,' Linette said. 'We are taking precautions just in case.'
Meriall straightened up in her saddle, her eyes moving over the growing crowd moving towards the town. 'Did he say who?'
'Will we shorten our stay here then?'
'Most likely. Armant needed to restock his arrows, but I don't think we should stay here longer than necessary.'
'Lady Saenni,' Armant called over his shoulder. He waited until Kau walked next to him. 'Would you like to accompany me to the blacksmith? Meriall will take Linette and the horses to the other side of the town and wait for us there, as we will continue as soon as we are finished there.'
She inclined her head slightly. 'I'd be happy to.'
They dismounted near the edge of the town and handed the reigns to Meriall. Saenni followed Armant through the streets, absently watching the merchants and their objects, and the people crowding around the stalls, as they walked through the town. Armant didn't seem to spare anyone a glance, walking with sure steps and shoulders squared through the streets. He turned down a side street, twisting through the throng of people heading the other way. He stopped in front of a large black door, allowing her to catch up.
'This is the best blacksmith in the town,' he said and pushed the door open. 'If you see something that interests you, please let me know.'
She nodded and followed him inside. The air was thick with smoke and heat, pressing in from everywhere. The walls were covered in swords, and tables beneath them carried piles of various weaponry–all gleaming beautifully in the light peaking in through the windows. At the far end of the shop was an open section, housing the workshop. Three men stood around the fire pit, fanning the flames and hammering the glowing metal with practised ease. A young boy stepped up to Armant as he neared the desk that separated the shop from the work area.
'Welcome, what are you looking for?'
'Arrows, of the best quality,' Armant replied kindly.
As he followed the boy to the correct area, Saenni strolled over to a random table and looked at the metal works resting there. She picked up a small, curved knife and weighed it in the palm of her hand. It looked something that could be related to Meriall's daggers, but their tips were so thin they looked more like needles than anything. She could feel the eyes of several people on her as she moved down the table, absently picking up various objects, but didn't pay them any heed.
While Armant completed his purchase, discussing the price with one of the adults, Saenni's attention was drawn to a lump of metal resting on a table inside the work area. It glowed faintly, a light blue hue surrounding it.
'You have good eyes,' the man previously speaking with Armant. He smiled politely and nodded towards the metal. 'It's a magic-infused metal from Magina. Of the rarest kind.'
'What are you planning on doing with it?' she asked.
'Half of it will be used to make a sword for a noble's kid. The other half is the payment, but I haven't decided what to make with it.'
One of the other men snorted. 'Don't lie. We all know you're making a hammer for your own kid.'
'She can't go around using anything other than the best,' he defended. He turned back to Saenni and Armant. 'My eldest daughter is training to take over the business. Real talent, that one.'
The other man coughed pointedly. 'No need to give them the whole life story.'
'Right. My bad. Anything else?'
'No, thank you,' Armant said with a polite nod. 'That was all.'
'Best of luck with the hammer,' Saenni said before following Armant out of the shop, smiling slightly as she heard the two men continue to argue behind them.
'You did not see something you liked? I could have purchased it for you.'
'Thank you, Armant, but I don't need anything. I'll leave the use of metal to you.'
He nodded slowly as they navigated the streets. 'Yes, you certainly do not require any weaponry. This way. We will just pick up some more food for the road before we rejoin Meriall and Linette. It will be at least two weeks before we will go through another town.'
'We've decided to leave the main roads. It offers more security, but it will be less pleasant.'
Saenni shrugged slightly. 'I don't mind. I quite enjoy being outside.'
'I would have to agree with you. There's a sense of freedom with it, isn't it? Reminds me of the time I was a little boy and still learning how to use the sword,' he said with a warm smile and a distant look.
Saenni studied the expression with a small smile of her own. 'That's the first time I've heard you speak about such things. If you don't mind, I'd like to know more about what it was like.'
'Learning to use the sword?'
'That, and what it was like growing up in your family, with your obligations. Where is your hometown?'
He slowed his step until he walked next to her. 'I was born in the capital of Trouver, but I was sent to a small town just outside Merent at a young age. We go through our basic training there and depending on what area we show most skill in, we are moved from there. I was sent to Merent after they decided the sword was my strongest skill. I spent nearly ten years there, learning fighting from my master, and the ways of the nobles.'
'Ways of the nobles?'
'Etiquette is something considered highly important in noble houses. How to bow properly, which cutlery to use at the dining table, titles, and so on.'
'Sounds tiresome,' Saenni said as they left the last twist behind them, stepping onto the road leading into the horizon.
'It very much is. After that, I was posted at different noble houses for a few years, but was called back to Merent in the end.'
'Where you met Linette.'
'Was it long afterwards?'
'Several years. There they are,' he said and motioned towards the side of the road. 'By the time Linette came to Merent, I had already married and taken on an apprentice of my own.'
'Did you leave them behind in Merent when you left?'
His expression fell. 'My wife was killed by the magi when they tried to kill Linette during that time. I transferred my apprentice to a fellow knight before I left. I've been told that he is doing well, so it was the right decision. I wouldn't have been a good master at the time either way.'
'I'm sorry for your loss,' she said softly, and she meant it. She waited for a pair of travellers to pass them before she spoke again. 'Do you blame Linette for her death?'
'I did, once,' he sighed. 'But my wife was a firm believer of the prophecy, and so I accepted the mission to honour her wishes. Over time I managed to work through my grief and see the fault in blaming Linette for her death. Linette didn't ask to be the person of the prophecy, after all.'
Saenni simply hummed in response. They reached the two women and mounted the horses without delay, leaving the town and the many travellers behind. Armant and Linette rode ahead once again, speaking lowly between themselves, and Meriall took up her place next to Saenni.
'Did you see something good?'
'Magical ore. The blacksmith was very proud of it,' she replied.
Meriall nodded with a smile. 'It's very rare. I've only ever seen it a handful of times. You should count yourself lucky.'
'What a dry tone,' Meriall laughed. 'Even magical ore can't impress the great dragon, I should have guessed.'
'Don't start with that title again,' Saenni sighed but a small smile pulled at her lips nonetheless. 'Where to now?'
'We'll head down the road for another hour or so, and then we'll cut into the forest to the south. There's a hidden trail there, mostly used by... unsavoury people.'
'Unsavoury people like who?'
Meriall grinned. 'Like me.'
Over the following two weeks, they travelled through the forest in peace. Each night, Saenni took to the sky–soaring high above the clouds, taking in the changes of the scenery, and simply enjoying the loud silence. By the time they neared the edge of the forest, her companions had grown accustomed to it and thought little of her change in appearance. Even the horses seemed to be calmer around her now, she noted.
'We should be nearing the border to Normery,' Linette said as they sat down around the campfire. 'One more day and we'll reach the edge of the forest, from there it should be less than a week until we reach the capital.'
'We'll be able to use proper roads once we get to Normery,' Meriall explained. 'No need for hiding on the smuggler paths since the country is already friendly to Linette's cause.'
'I will have to ask you to halt your nightly flights for a few days,' Linette said. 'We need to exercise some caution so close to the border, no need to startle them too much.'
Saenni shared a playful look with Meriall. 'If you say so.'
'We will make straight for the capital, no stopping. I hope everyone is alright with that,' she said as she accepted a warm cup from Armant. 'I want to get there as soon as possible so we can start working on the proper arrangements.'
'Proper arrangements?' Saenni echoed.
'Speak with the king of Normery and get their support, to start with. Summoning you was a prerequisite to even being allowed to speak with him at all. Then we will have to work out the details with the nobles and the like. Hopefully, gaining the support of Normery will make other nobles in Trouver more inclined to join us as well.'
'I've heard talks about increased mercenary presence all over,' Meriall commented as she leaned back against the trunk of a tree. 'Everyone seems to be getting antsy.'
'I have heard the same,' Armant nodded. 'The knights stationed close to the border to Magina have sent word of mobilising, especially in Dramir.'
'Where is Dramir?' Saenni asked.
'It is the military city closest to the border. It is quite a sight. It is entirely built in accordance with military strategies in mind. Many of the best knights and fighters are stationed there.'
Saenni nodded. 'That does indeed sound different.'
Meriall snorted as she shifted around to find a more comfortable position to sleep in. 'It's an annoying fortress, that's for sure.'
'I take it that you have attempted to infiltrate it?' Linette said.
'Attempted?' Meriall echoed. A slow grin full with sharp edges appeared on her face, and the dancing fire reflected dangerously in her eyes as she looked at the blonde. She chuckled and pulled the hood over her head, disappearing into the darkness. 'Sure.'