Editor's Note: If you have not yet read the previous chapters to this story, please go to the Fantasy Archive and read those, first. Thank you, TDS.
Humphrey kept moving north through the rain-sodden forest, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the men at arms he had seen. Sometime after mid day, he finally turned east, intending to pick up the road below River Bend, and he asked Bruce to pass out some dried venison, so they could eat a spare meal while on the move. The young squire also shared the last of the apples he picked earlier in the day.
They came across the River Road late in the afternoon, as the rain began to lessen and changed to a steady drizzle, but they were already soaked through to their skin. "Remember," Humphrey cautioned, as they headed slowly up the muddy road, "if we meet anyone, keep your heads down. I doubt if any would wish to converse with strangers in this weather, but if questions are asked, let me speak for us."
Isabelle and Bruce nodded silent agreement, but Humphrey's concern was unfounded, as the only person they passed on the way to River Bend was a farmer in a two-wheeled cart--which was being pulled by a skinny mule--most likely heading home after dropping off supplies at the inn. The man barely looked at them as he passed, no doubt feeling that since his cart was empty these three strangers presented no threat to him.
They approached the town of River Bend as dusk was encroaching, and fortunately the mud clogged streets were basically deserted. Being a port town, if there was any activity on a night such as this, it would be over toward the river, near the docks. Humphrey guided them without incident to the White Swan Inn, and then to a stable located behind the building.
As they rode up, a young boy carrying a lantern opened one of the large wooden doors. He eyed the trio blankly, but touched fingers to his forehead when he saw Humphrey. "Evenin', me lord," the boy said.
Humphrey nodded to the boy. "Have you room and feed for our mounts, lad?"
"Aye, sir." he replied, holding the lantern a bit higher, in an attempt to see their faces. "Would ye be stayin' just to dine and dry off or fer the whole night, me lord?"
"For the night, hopefully," Humphrey told him as he swung off Bastion. "Our servant will see to our gear," he said, indicating Bruce, who was helping Isabelle down from Chestnut. "Just be sure they are dried off and well feed," Humphrey added, then pulled a copper from a pouch which hung from his belt, and tossed the coin to the boy.
He caught it smartly and grinned. "Aye, me lord," he said, again touching his forehead.
Humphrey handed Bastion's reins to Bruce and took down a bag of personal belongings from behind the horse's saddle, then patted the big animal on the neck. "Join us as soon as they are settled in, Bruce," he said, and the squire nodded.
Isabelle already had her bag over one shoulder, so the two of them squelched through the mud and drizzle to the back entrance of the inn. They stomped as much mud from their boots as possible on a stone path that led to a short flight of stairs, then used a brush--with the bristles up--which was nailed to the bottom step, to scrape the rest of the mud from their soaked footwear. At the top of the steps was a door which Humphrey carefully opened, revealing a long, narrow hallway. A brightly lit room was at the other end of the hall, and he slowly led them toward the light and warmth.
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