Chapter 3: Three Pines

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She had a purpose to her walking, and was tall. She almost came up to Laidu's chin. That woudn't seem like much, but the dragon blood inside Laidu, the blood that gave him strength, gave him height. She was a young woman who was used to being seen, who was used to being heard.

She was beautiful, too. Her eyes, her high cheekbones, they gave her an air of grace that was rare to find in people. Even with dirt smudged on her face, clutching rags to her thin frame, she had the aura of a queen.

Laidu strode onward, to the large wooden building. His short nose, closer to a flat snout, sniffed. "Smell's good," Laidu said. The last piece of food he had eaten was some salted meat. Hardly appetizing. 

Kyra nodded. "I can't remember the last time I had a meal," she said. "Or a bath. I'd kill for a bath." Laidu smiled. He wouldn't mind a good hot bath.

They opened the door, and entered the scene which Laidu had too much experience. The room wasn't dim, per se, but it wasn't well lit. A cheerful-looking woman was wiping the bar, and a few men sat in silence around the tables.

Two groups stood out to Laidu. One was a bunch of gray-haired men, with the hard, cold eyes one gets from facing blood and war. The veterans, who either remained aloof and mysterious, or inspired the boys of the villages with tales of glory and valor.

The other group sat in the back, and was one of the oddest couple of people he had seen. Two woman and one man sat, silent. One of them, with dark hair wrapped in braided coils, sat sharpening her knives. She wore light leather armor, and her eyes scanned the room. A mercenary. Their eyes met, and he saw the hardness in them. The fight, the fire. She was by no means a novice. She was deadly. Most mercenaries could handle a bow or a sword, and were mere sellswords. Few were like this woman. Few had that coldness in their eyes. Her dark eyes were cold, alright. Cold as the barren rocks of winter. 

On the other side, the man shifted. Now, in the light, Laidu could see he wasn't a man. He was Kai'Draen. With a square, brutish jaw and a flat face,he looked kind of human, if you got past the reddish brown skin. His hair was shaved at the sides, and the top of it fell back in a black braid that swung down to his knees. He didn't wear any armor, just a shirt. His large muscles bulged in the dim light, and Laidu caught something odd, marring the smoothness of the skin. Scars. Lots of them, and they weren't from battle. A battle wound didn't make a perfect circle on one's skin. They were self-inflicted. He matched the female warrior, complimented her, the brute strength to her hardness.

The third had an altogether different appearance. Her hair wasn't braided, like the woman, or shaved, like the Kai'Draen, but it was kept back in a headscarf, tied in a fashion Laidu had only seen in the cities. They were designed to keep hair back, out of the face, but a lock of it hung by her eye. She was a scholar. With her shapely dress and her large pack, it must be her first time out of her little university. She scribbled in the book.

"Hello," the woman behind the bar said. "You're new," she said.

Laidu nodded. "Can we get two rooms, ma'am?" he asked, pulling out his coinpouch.

"Sure," she said, leaning down to grab two keys. "For a ranger like you, and your charge," she said, indicating Kyra, "Ten gold."

        Laidu dropped the coins on the table. "Is that alright?" he asked.

She gave him a nice smile. "First two doors on your right," she said, handing him the keys. "And, they have new bathtubs. Magic ones," She said proudly. Thaumaturgy. She probably meant thaumaturgic baths. Which, fortunately, were much more common.

Laidu really liked the sound of that.

***

Laidu soaked in the bath, relaxing his sore muscles. It had been a while, but he missed a long, gentle soak. The fire within him heated the water, and it soaked into his body. It felt good. Really good. 

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