"Lerod? That's a place where you don't want to be on the wrong side of the city. They have beggars and pickpockets who sometimes team up on unsuspecting visitors." He tore off hunks of bread from the loaf.
"Is it far from here? I've never been there before."
"No, not far. If you continue down the river you'll eventually see a roadway to your right. Take it and you should be there by nightfall. If you were to continue down the river you'd end up at the sewers. It stinks and the company is even worse."
"Did you used to live in Lerod, Warren?"
Warren uncorked the green bottle and poured the red wine into the glasses. "No. Lerod is a town of humans. It would be difficult for me to live there. There are a lot of humans who want nothing to do with a half breed like me. I found this place a while back and began to work here for my food and board. When the old man passed away, he left the place to me. It's usually quiet and travelers are usually happy to see someone else."
Margeaux accepted the glass of wine Warren handed to her. It was a deep, dark red, that was nearly black.
"Are there bandits out here?"
"Not so many bandits. Mostly poachers, so be careful if you step away from the river. A trap could clamp down on your foot or you could fall into a pit of spikes. Neither of those would be pleasant for you."
Margeaux shuddered. Both methods seemed inhumane to her. The best way to kill an animal was with a well aimed arrow or sword. They were the most efficient and the best way of honoring the animal and its life.
Warren lifted his glass in a toast. "To life and death, Margeaux."
"To life and death."
The glasses clinked and they each took a drink. Warren placed several pieces of cheese on each plate and some of the bread.
"Go ahead and eat. This should give you some energy for your journey."
"Thank you, Warren. It's nice to share a meal with someone."
He placed a slice of cheese on a piece of bread and took a bite. Warren chewed on it. Margeaux repeated his actions. The bread was coarse and solid. The cheese was dry and had a sharp sour taste to it. She took a sip from the glass of wine to make swallowing the food easier. This was a quick meal that was easy to prepare. Her father would take such a meal with him whenever he had to go away from the village to purchase more ore or supplies for the blacksmith shop. Thinking about his absences, Margeaux did not know if he went to Lerod or somewhere else. Her father was usually gone for two weeks at a time. He was used to such journeys though and it would not take him as long to get from one place to another as it took her. It was very possible he stayed in Lerod for a few days to wait on people to place orders or for his supplies to come in. Lerod was the closest city to the sea.
"Will you be staying somewhere while in Lerod?"
"Umm. I had not thought about that. Do I need a place to stay?"
"Yes, that would be best. You never know who will bother you and the city has guards who might give you a difficult time."
"Is there a place you recommend?"
"Oh yes! There is a tavern by the name of "What Ales You?" that keeps a clean room. It's reasonable and they don't charge extra for bathing water. You just tell them Warren sent you and they'll make sure you have everything you need."
"Thank you, Warren."
They were silent while they continued to eat the food on their plates. Margeaux wondered what Lerod would be like. Warren wondered what he would do after Margeaux left. The best thing would be to check the cows for milk. It would give him something to do for a little while and keep his mind away from the empty log cabin.
The food on their plates was gone.
"Would you like more, Margeaux?"
"No, thank you. I'm full. You've been very kind and generous."
He smiled at her. "I don't think I could ever repay you for coming by today of all days."
He picked up the plates and the empty glasses. "Will you be leaving for Lerod soon?"
"Yes, I should be going as soon as I'm able to do so."
"Well then, let me just set these aside for washing and I'll see you to the door."
Warren set the dirty dishes and glasses on a shelf next to a basin and pitcher. Margeaux stood up and slung her pack over her shoulder. He led the way through the door and back into the trading post area.
"Remember, Margeaux. Stay alongside the river for as long as you can. When you see the roadway to your right is when you should begin to follow it. If you go to it too early you might meet some bandits."
Margeaux bowed to her host. "May your days on this land be healthy and long, Warren."
He waved goodbye and let her out the front door.
Refreshed and happy to have met someone pleasant, even in sorrow, Margeaux took Warren's advice. She did continue to follow the river. The birds were no longer near the river warming themselves in the sun or cleaning their wings with the water. In fact, she saw no sign of them at all. Her mind wandered to something Warren said about poachers. She wondered what animals the poachers sought. It did not seem as though many traveled the woods and it was probable that the wild life was abundant. Usually poachers harvested the items from animals that would fetch the most money on the market or they hunted animals that were protected by law. As far as she knew, none of the animals in the snow covered plains by her village were protected. It was an observed rule to not kill an animal that appeared to have young animals with it. Of course there were times when a female wolf would be away from the pups and the hunter would not know of this until later. Margeaux thought that was how the first dogs came about; someone accidentally killed a nursing mother wolf and took the pups home to care for them. There were several dogs in the village who had jobs. They helped watch the livestock and warned if anyone that could be a danger was coming.
Margeaux suddenly remembered the tail she was given by Rykel. She did not think it was something to be sold as tails weren't really the part of the animal hides that were saved. They were used by weavers or clothiers in their goods. The hair was especially strong and good for sewing. A large rock was ahead of her. It would be a good place to stop and take a look at the tail. Maybe the mystery behind it would be revealed. If she had not gone so far already, she would have turned back and let Warren see it. He might have known what value it would bring her on her journey to Lerod.
Margeaux stopped and refilled her waterskin with water from the river. It was cool and would remain so in the waterskin for a long time to come. Next she took the tail out of her pack. It was about six inches long and fawn colored with a white tip. Margeaux leaned against the rock and stroked the tail. She thought and thought but could not think of an animal she'd seen in the snow covered plains that would have a tail like the one she held in her hand. It was not a tail that belonged to any animal she'd studied. The fur was soft to the touch; it was almost silky. It could be a fox tail but all of the foxes she'd seen were completely fawn colored or completely white. The time of year seemed to make a difference as to what color of fox she might see. Her father made sure she could hunt to provide food for her future family and he took her out to the snow covered plains often so she could learn the types of animals that lived there. Whatever animal once had this tail was not one native to her lands. It had to have come from somewhere else. Rykel and the other elders in the Shaman guild were often getting gifts from students who left the village to make their living elsewhere. It was possible this was a gift from such a student. Or it could have been earned by Rykel when she did her tutelage away from the village.
Margeaux became aware of a deep bark at her feet. A fawn colored dog was there. She looked around for its owner but did not see anyone else. It was just the two of them. Margeaux bent down to greet the dog. It looked at her with brown eyes that seemed old; old enough to have seen thousands of lifetimes come and go. Tentatively, Margeaux reached out and stroked the dog on its side. The dog tilted its head and closed its eyes. Margeaux stopped and the dog butted its head against her hand. She laughed and petted it once more.
"I don't know where you came from or where you're going but I have a journey to finish, my friend. You're welcome to accompany me."