”So, you’re really going.” The voice was not unlike gravel being moved underfoot. It rumbled, and it grated, but it managed to be rhythmic, measured. The Markothi Winds weren’t blowing as hard as they might’ve, and the night wasn’t cold. Tavrel turned around, to face the speaker. An old woman, older than you’d ever seen in Toguren, with stark white hair and tanned skin. The Tribe’s Matriarch, Korina. ”I have to say, I was hoping you’d change your mind.” Tav sighed. He’d been hoping to escape without a guilt trip.
”I’m sorry, Korina, but in this I am resolute.” He grinned, sheepishly. ”There’s a whole world out there. Markoth is only a part of it.”
”A very big part.”
“I’ve never even seen Venatria, or Sariya.”
”I’ve never seen Toguren, but I’m quite alright with that.”
”It’s as I said, I’m sorry, but I have to go.”
”What if the Tribe needs you?” She asked, eyes gleaming wickedly. ”These plains are far from safe.”
If she could wield guilt like a blade, she’d have Toguren conquered in less than a month.
”You know as well as I do that you won’t need me. The other warriors are more than capable.” He said, tentatively laying a hand on the old woman’s shoulder.
”Fine.” She said. ”You had better come back. With all of your limbs!”
Tav winced. He didn’t like lying to the Matriarch.
He’d lost track of time, but it had been a while. He’d been clean-shaven when he left, but now had the makings of a beard. He’d wound up in Venatria. He had no money, and the road had not been kind to him. He was hungry, but didn’t want to resort to stealing just yet. Apulum was still new to him, and he’d rather not be forced to flee in his first few hours.
The number of people in Apulum didn’t shock him. He’d been to Kosren, after all. This was but a village, in comparison. The buildings are what interested him. Kosren had it’s own appeal, with the nomadic style and hodgepodge construction, but it seemed unfair to compare it to Apulum. This town, to his understanding, was far from the largest in Venatria, but damned if the buildings weren’t pretty.
He wore his armor, such as it was. His regular clothing was far easier to store in his bag, and even if it just eased his mind, he felt it might scare off potential pickpockets. These streets were too crowded for there not to be a few ne’er-do-wells. Not that he was above stealing, he just didn’t like it when it happened to him. So he wandered around the city, looking at everything there was to look at. Father only knew there were enough of them.
Eventually, he found his way to a tavern. Little hole-in-the-wall, close to the docks. The clientele seemed to be mostly sailors and merchants. He managed to earn a few free drinks, and a bit of coin for telling some stories. All true. The only reason to make up a story was if you were lying, or if you’d told all your real ones. If it was the latter, the better choice was, really, to go and find new stories.
”The scar? It was actually a Sariyan archer that I met in Kosren. I bet him that he couldn’t hit a fruit off my head. I won, but he’d hit me in the head. Gave me this dagger as payment while his arrow’s sticking out of my head. Good thing he was a poor shot. A good archer would’ve killed me, if they hit me.”
”...and Deyreck has about three arrows in his back, so I pull them out and stand him up and he gets hit again, three more times. Each one lands exactly in the old wounds.”
”What scar? This one? Well, I was fighting a pack of Mongrels, you see- what? Sariyan archer? I’m quite sure I have no idea what you’re talking about.
It was in the tavern that he found out about the tournament. He’d only fought in the arenas in Markoth on occasion, and never in Toguren. So, he’d asked the sailor who’d mentioned it how to get started, and the sailor told him of House Valens, and how they were looking for new gladiators. He’d run out of money, and wanted to see more of Venatria, anyway.
So, there, Tav stood in the sun, waiting for his turn with The Lady of House Valens, watching a Northman practicing with his axe. He fingered the hilt of his saber, sheathed at his waist, and his dagger, on his opposite side. He itched to swing them around, but he figured he’d wait. To really spar effectively, with his style, he needed a partner. Besides…
...he was still a little hungover.