Chapter Fifteen

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Tregan's miserable journey had only worsened with the arrival of rain somewhere around the sixth or seventh day. He had already lost count. Hardship had plagued him all his days, but living on a dilapidated estate and facing the mockery of his peers seemed like the dreamiest of pleasures after a night or two of sleeping on the bare ground.

Then for a sliver of a day once he neared Tevar, he experienced something altogether unfamiliar — he was grateful. The weather warmed as he edged down off the arid Coretian highlands and toward the rolling hills that marked the border. He'd also squeezed some information out of the people in Goldsriff after days of asking around various towns to no avail. Many in Goldsriff claimed they'd seen the very girl he was looking for, or someone like her. She stuck out in more ways than one — her obvious peasant clothes, outsider status, and curiously enough, the Hatawan had been with her after all. The townspeople couldn't agree on whether she'd chased down the Tevarians who raided the town or got kidnapped. But all were adamant she had not died in the skirmish. Of the bodies collected to be burned, none matched the description.

One older woman said the Tevarians kidnapped her son and thought she might have seen a rider abduct Rinnet from a distant field. Out of compulsive politeness due to his upbringing in the nobility, Tregan asked the woman if she wished him to look for her son as well.

Her raking laugh made Tregan want to cover his ears. "Good riddance to that boy! Thought he might do some good in the Guard, but then he went and got himself snatched up. Even that old recruiter, the one with the big scar on his head, could see he wasn't worth the effort."

"Sergeant Grimond was here?"

"Son, I don't know his name." The woman squinted, though Tregan stood a mere foot or so away. "Ain't you some kind of Guardsman yourself?"

"That'll be all I need. Thanks." Tregan flipped the woman a coin and walked back to where his horse was tied at a thin, white tree. So Grimond had come this way on a recruiting mission. The Tevarian attack, he had heard about through capital city gossip, but it was unclear if anyone had been there to defend the city.

Tregan tucked that knowledge away for later use. He had a lead on the peasant girl, and though he wasn't sure what to do once he got there, he headed for the Tevarian border.

Then, just outside Goldsriff, it started to rain. And rain. Tregan dealt with the adversity the only way he knew how — he threw back a slug of brandy and sulked. How very Tregan-esque of the weather, he thought. Just when things started to look good, something had to go wrong. He mulled on the idea that he should be used to it after a lifetime of misfortune.

Still he trekked on, propelled by the odd little mystery which developed as he questioned those in Goldsriff. From what he could surmise, Rinnet might have taken off to Goldsriff with the hope of joining the Guard, which Tregan knew was growing desperate for new recruits as the Tevarian threat swelled. A peasant longing for glory in the Guard. He scoffed at the image. If only she knew what it really meant to be a Guardsman.

All grudges aside, he found the Hatawan's presence to be the most baffling part of the story. The townspeople recovered the body, left bleeding and collapsing in on itself in the center square. He was a young man, they said, no older than 25 years, and perhaps the sickliest Hatawan any of them had ever seen — that is, among those who had seen a Hatawan before. A retired merchant who had once traded in the north near Hatawa said the boy's skin was so pale, his eyes so sunken, he looked to be dead long before the sword slashed through his chest.

The merchant had led Tregan to the body, dragged to the far reaches of town and abandoned weeks ago. He pointed and said to Tregan, "See? Didn't I tell ya?" but the noble was too gray-faced and woozy to answer. There was not much left of the boy to judge by.

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