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Chapter 3: The Search Begins

    Thalia woke in good spirits, which wasn’t uncommon for her. The priestess sat up in bed and stretched, the morning light from the window giving her tousled golden hair a halo-like glow. Swinging her legs out of bed, Thalia rose with vigor, ready to face the search today. “Good morning, Amara,” she said to the young mage and mother-to-be.

    Amara looked at the priestess as she woke up and smiled as she said, “Morning Thalia.” The mage was already dressed and ready to start the day. She sighed as she remembered how long ago it was when she woke up. “I must have been up for over an hour,” she told Thalia as she brushed her hair. “I had to be pee so badly! I barely made it to the bathroom. Also, the toilet was so filthy and gross. I am glad I didn’t sit on it,” she said to the priestess.

    Taking up and placing her bag on her table, the light brown-haired girl stretched and yawned softly as she looked at the priestess. “Well, I am ready to go and I am very hungry,” she told her as she blushed softly and rubbed her stomach.

    Thalia gave a small, sympathetic giggle. She could only imagine the discomfort of being pregnant, but it was still a wonderful thing to her. Maybe one day she would experience for herself, but when that day came, she could only hope she was in a better situation than Amara. “Go ahead and go down,” she replied. “I need to get dressed, so I’ll be down in a minute.”

    Amara nodded to the priestess and picked up her bag, then she opened the door, closed it, and waddled downstairs. As she came into the common room, she waddled over to a table and set her stuff down, then she walked over to the counter and waited for the innkeeper.

    The innkeeper came out with a plate of food and passed it off to a barmaid for another patron. “Morning, what can I do for you miss?”

    Amara nodded to the owner. “Yes sir. I would like two sandwiches with ham and cheese in it and sausage to the side. I would also like a cup of water,” she told him with a small smile to the end.

    “Alright, I’ll bring it to you,” the owner said and went to the back.

    “Thank you,” Amara said and went to her table and sat down. The brown-haired girl open her bag and took out a book to read as she waited.

    “Are you sure I cannot compensate you?” Jeren asked as he came through the front door.

    “Not one wee bit!” an old man replied, holding out his hand. “A hearty shake will do it, sir knight.”

    Jeren smiled, grabbing up the shepherd’s old hand for a solid shake. “Very well. I shall collect her in a day or two.” The two parted, the old man back out the door and Jeren strolling into the comfort of the central room. For so early in the morning, it appeared as though the dragon rider had been up for hours. In point of fact, he had slipped quietly from Gregory’s room before dawn had hit to head out to just beyond a nearby gate for his morning rituals with his mount.

    “My fine lady Amara, I trust the night was kind to you?” The handsome rider asked with a bright smile, sweeping a chair next to her and spinning it around to sit on it backwards.

    Amara looked at Jeren as he came into the inn. It looked like the dragon rider had been out all night. The girl smiled as he headed over to her and sat down. “Yes, it was,” she said as she returned the smile. “How was your rest?” she asked.

    “Ahh, well... it was enough,” the rider replied, brushing the idea of a poor sleep away as meaningless. “A man with responsibilities such as mine cannot rest long without checking on his charge, mi’lady. And doing kind upon her temporary guardian, of course.” Jeren ruffled his hair back into place, though even his hair messy looked rather becoming on him. “I should hope a fine meal is on the way for you,” he said, looking up towards the bar, “it would certainly be a shame to let a fine woman such as yourself to sit unattended!”

    Amara giggled softly as she listened to Jeren. She placed her book aside as she blushed softly to the rider’s comment. “ Well, I ordered some food already, but I guess since it was a bit too much, it might take a while,” the girl told the Jeren. “This child I am carrying makes me so hungry. At first, I was just hungry a little, but as the stomach grow, it got worst,” the mage said as she rubbed her stomach and smiled at it.

    Jeren nodded politely, though he had little understanding of pregnancy. In fact, it was something of a faux pas to discuss in Moss openly, at least his parents taught him so. Of course, the knight knew the very basics, but beyond that, it was something rarely discussed with men. “I see,” was all he could think of saying. The only kind of birthing the knights of Moss discussed was hatching, which was a bit different. “Well, hopefully the cook won’t delay. I ate on the way back here myself. There is a little baker down the way. I don’t know what he puts in his pastries, but I’ve never had something so refreshing. Or perhaps I am just unaccustomed to anything but rations...”

    Amara nodded to the rider. “I am glad you ate already Jeren,” she told him as she looked at his hair. The girl giggled softly at his messy mane, then she shook her head and looked away from him.

    The innkeeper stepped out of the kitchen with Amara’s food and brought it over to her table, then set it down before her. Amara smiled at the owner and took out a bit of money and give it to him. “Thank you so much.”

    The owner took it, counted it, and nodded. “No, thank you. Have a good day,” he said then left.

    Amara clasped her hands in excitement and prayed softly to her god. The girl then picked up one of the sandwiches and ate it, then she took up a napkin and wipe her mouth as she spoke softly, “Well, Jeren,” she said, then paused as she swallowed some food, “if you want, I can fix your hair for you after I eat?”

    “A kind offer, mi’lady. I’ve never had anyone do such a thing. Usually a good ruffle gets it all in shape, but the easterlies this morning were raging.” Jeren put a finger into his hair and pulled it out, but it got snagged in a knot. “As you can see, this is why men from Moss cut their hair short.”

    After dressing and taming her mane, Thalia came downstairs to find Jeren and Amara at the table, but Gregory. She continued on over to the table, and with her hands on her narrow hips, she sighed. “Gregory hasn’t gotten up yet, has he?” she asked.

    Amara nodded to Jeren as he spoke and continued to eat as she saw Thalia approached them. “No, he has not,” the girl replied, then continued to eat.

    “I’ll go fetch him,” Thalia said with a sigh, then turned and headed back upstairs. She was eager to get on with the search, and she couldn’t have Gregory sleeping in. When she reached the door to the room that was assigned to Gregory and Jeren, she knocked on the door, loud enough to rouse him from sleep.

* * *

    Amara looked at Jeren as she swallowed the food in her mouth. “Is your hair hard to comb or brush?” she asked as she stared at it, then ate another sausage as she waited for him to answer.

    “Though I know not what goes on at the vanity mirror in the den of a woman, it can become difficult,” Jeren replied. “Between the speed of flight and the winds of the upper airs, little is left to be desired for a fashionable style.”

    Amara ate her last sausage as she listened to Jeren, then she swallowed it and replied, “Well, I guess I will have to keep combing and brushing it then.” The mage giggled softly as she rubbed her stomach. “I’m full now,” she said looking down at the half-eaten sandwich left. She placed the plate to the side, then dug in her bag and took out a napkin, and wiped her hands and mouth with it. “Are you ready for me to take care of your hair?” the mage asked as she looked at him.

    “My scalp is in your hands,” Jeren said with a charming smile. Hopping up in his chair, he slid it up next to Amara’s and sat back down. “I am at your mercy.”

    Amara smiled at Jeren as he moved next to her, then she took out a green comb and brush and started to comb the man’s hair softly. It was in mess, but she could handle it. The mage slowly combed through the knots, trying to avoid hurting his head. “Tell me if I am pulling too hard,” the girl said as she continued.

    “I should think that such a kind lady as you could never manage to inflict any harm upon—Ow!” Jeren yelped, punctuating his sentence. “Perhaps my confidence in my own pain tolerance was a bit flighty.”

    Amara quickly dropped the comb as she heard the man yelp. “I am sorry! I am so sorry. Please forgive me?” she said with tears in her eyes. The girl didn’t get to hear what else he said since she was trying to apologize, but she took a hold of the comb and started to comb once again.

    Jeren laughed. “Do not worry, fair maiden,” Jeren said in a mock theater voice. “For I am a man of courage!” Jeren let her go on without interruption from that point.

    Thalia returned downstairs with a sleepy looking Gregory in tow. Seeing Amara combing Jeren’s hair, she smiled to herself at the sweet gesture. The mage was certainly a kind hearted person. Even Thalia was suspecting that this Nat fellow had taken advantage of her, and it broke her heart to think of him being so cruel. When they found this man, it would be in his best interests if he was really in Moss with his sick mother. The priestess and her guardian went to the bar and requested breakfast from the innkeeper, then joined Amara and Jeren at the table.

    “Well, isn’t this a sight to catch a knight errant in?” Jeren asked Thalia with a smile. “I hope you think no less of me for such a state.” To Jeren everything seemed to be a joke or a smart comment. His every attempt was to create a smile.

    “Not at all,” Thalia replied with a grin. As a barmaid brought over breakfast for Thalia and Gregory, the priestess realized that Jeren had mentioned he was a ‘knight errant’. “Wait...I though you said you weren’t a knight?” she asked, though perhaps she misinterpreted what he said the day before about who could ride dragons.

    Jeren smiled, though the curl was uncertain. “You might consider me a free knight at this juncture of my life, madame.”

    Amara listened to Jeren and Thalia as they spoke; the conversation was getting interesting as they continued. She parted the rider’s hair and combed down the half that was finished—or at least much much better combed than the other half. The girl looked at the the rider’s scalp and saw that it needed to be washed properly. She also saw a little bit of blood. “Dry,” she said softly as she went to the other half and started to comb out the knots.

    Thalia smiled, she supposed it wasn’t really any of her business. “I see,” she said. “I can’t really see a man like you conforming to knighthood either. You strike me as a... free spirit, I suppose. Though the chivalry of a knight has certainly rubbed off on you.”

    “Hah!” Jeren said, letting out a hearty laugh. “It is no knighthood that can tame one such as I. There is but one thing that can turn the tide of restless youth: a woman.”

    “Oh my,” the young mage said softly as she heard what Jeren said. Amara giggled and said, “I guess that is true,” and continued to comb the man’s hair.

    “Maybe one day you’ll find that woman,” Thalia said with a small smile, reminding him subtly that that woman wouldn’t be her. Gregory was eating up his breakfast in a rush, and Thalia wasn’t exactly taking her time either. The priestess managed a bit more decorum than the farm boy, however. After finishing a bit, she asked; “Have you two eaten?”

    Amara smiled as she finished combing Jeren’s hair, then she took out her brush and started to brush his hair. “Yes, I have eaten. I was so hungry when I woke up that it felt like I could have eaten an whole cow… No, two!” the mage said as she place the comb and brush back into her bag. The girl sat down and sighed, then went back to smiling again.

    Jeren laughed. “Already found her. Visited her this morning, in point of fact.” The ‘free knight’ reclined back against the chair. “We had breakfast together and everything.”

    The priestess finished chewing a bite of her meal as she thought about what Jeren meant. “Your wyvern, perhaps?” Thalia asked.

    “You are both as beautiful as a princess’ gown and as sharp as the needle that has sewn it,” Jeren replied. “Nightfire is a woman unlike any other and none can fulfill that spot.”

    Thalia blushed deeply at his compliment and adverted her eyes to her plate where she stirred about the last of her egg with her fork. She was always uncomfortable with compliments and flirting, but she was beginning to understand that it was just Jeren’s character, and not so much a romantic advance on her as it was with Azala. “Well, I look forward to meeting her,” she replied. “But first, we must search for news of Amara’s lover. Perhaps we should split up and ask around inns in the city?”

    “Splitting will be much quicker, so let’s do that,” Amara said with her normal smile. “Shall I leave now to gather some information?” the girl asked the group.

    “Well, we should decide who goes where,” Gregory spoke up. “Since there’s four of us, we can split into north, east, south, and west.”

    “Good idea,” Thalia praised Gregory with a smile. The priestess thought for a moment, then said, “I suppose I will go east.”

    “Maybe we should find a map of the city too,” he suggested. “I’ll ask the innkeeper.” With that, the young man rose from his seat and went up to the bar to discuss the subject with their host.

    Amara listened to the two and nodded. “I shall take North! I am so ready to go.... I feel so happy!” she said as she giggled. The mage stood up with a joyful look on her face until she felt a slight pain in her stomach. “Owww,” she said and laughed nervously. “I guess my baby doesn’t agree with my happiness, but that won’t bring me down. I shall pray that this pain doesn’t slow me down, then I am sure everything will be fine.” The girl still had a joyful look on her face as she watched Gregory.

    At Amara’s outburst of pain, Thalia was on her feet. “You must contain your exuberance,” she said with a small smile. “Or else you could hurt yourself. I can’t imagine that pregnancy is very comfortable.” The priestess placed her hand on Amara’s belly. “Holy Marfa, give this young woman the strength she needs to finish her task,” Thalia prayed and her hands gave a slight glow. Amara soon felt invigorated and the pain faded.

    Gregory returned with a map borrowed from the innkeeper, and rolled it out on the table. The youth studied it for a moment, looking for a good way to break up the search. Luckily, there were streets that he could use to break up the city into four regions for each of them to search. Once Amara and Thalia returned, he pointed out the regions they would search, separated by streets on the sides, the city wall on one end, and the city’s central square on the other end. “I’ll take south,” Gregory said once he finished showing them what sections to search. “I guess that leaves you with west, Jeren.”

    “It is a shame there will be no sunset then,” the knight replied. “Is there any other matters to discuss?”

    “Oh well, I suppose if you find any information, just come back here and wait for the rest of us,” Thalia said, looking up towards the ceiling as she mused on the idea of what to if they found out something. “We don’t really have a way to contact each other. Maybe if it’s really important, we should try to find each other?”

    Amara blushed slightly as she listened to Thalia. The girl smiled back to her as she felt the pain going away. After that was finish, she turned to Gregory and listened to what he said as she stared at the map and saw where she had to go. “I agree with Thalia. If it is important, we should find each other,” she said. The girl as she felt excitement building in her and she closed her eyes, then opened them back up and looked at the group. “I am so ready to go!” she said.

    “Very well then” Jeren said. “With that, I bid each of you good luck. I shall see each of you come the end of the day. I should hope neither of you overexert yourselves.”

    Thalia laughed lightly. “I think Amara is the only one at risk of that,” she replied. “Let’s get going,” the priestess said, still smiling.

    The group went out into the city, each going their own separate ways from the inn; Jeren heading west, Gregory going south, Thalia east, and Amara north. Thalia hoped they would find something, but she thought it might have been a long shot. There was no telling where Nat had gone, she only hoped for Amara’s sake that he had stayed true to his word.

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