Pathfinder's Way(3)

By: T.A. White


Shea lifted a hand and waved. Aimee had become something of Shea’s shadow in the past few weeks. It was a welcome change, given how most of the villagers pretended she didn’t exist or treated her with barely concealed hostility.

Shea looked woefully towards the tightly packed dirt trail leading to her little cottage. Her muscles ached and three days of grime and dirt coated her body.

She wanted a bath, a hot meal and then to sleep for twelve hours straight. She didn’t want to deal with the grumpy, blame-wielding elders who no doubt wanted things they couldn’t or shouldn’t have. But if she didn’t deal with them now, they would just show up and nag at her until she gave them her attention. They wanted something from her. Again. Better to deal with things now so she could have an uninterrupted rest later.

Her well-deserved break would have to wait

Her steps unhurried, she turned in the opposite direction of her bed. Even moving as slowly as she reasonably could, she quickly found herself in front of the town hall. It was also a pub and gathering place, basically anything the village needed it to be.

There were only two stone structures in the entire settlement. The town hall was the first and greatest, holding the distinction of being the only building large enough to shelter the entire village in the event of an attack. There was only one entrance, a heavy wooden door that could be barred from the inside. The thin slits in the upper levels kept attackers of both the four legged and two legged variety from slipping inside.

The building was the primary reason the founding families decided to settle here and was the village’s one claim to wealth. The rest of the village, small though it was, had sprung up around it as a result.

For a place as backwards and isolated as Birdon Leaf, the town hall was a majestic building they couldn’t hope to replicate. Even without the skills to maintain it, they were lucky. Some of the larger towns didn’t have a structure this versatile that could act as both gathering place and shelter from danger.

Shea reached the doors and paused to brush the dirt from the back of her trousers and make sure her thin shirt was tucked in and her dark brown, leather jacket was lying straight.

She smoothed a stray strand of honey brown hair behind her ear and ran her hand over her sloppy bun to make sure it was holding. Loose, her hair would reach past her shoulders in a wild mess. That’s why she tied it back for the most part, but no matter how many times she tried to tame it into a sleek bun, it would look like a bird’s nest by the time she walked five feet.

It was difficult to project confidence and professionalism when she wasn’t even the master of her own appearance.

Giving up the attempt to fix her appearance as futile, she braced her feet to open the painfully, heavy wooden door. It was a struggle to move it with just one arm, but she couldn’t afford to show the villagers weakness, or she would lose what little respect she had.

A slow creak announced its opening. She slipped through when there was just enough space before letting the door bang shut behind her.

Despite the bright day outside, it was dim in the town hall. The narrow windows let in little light. Candles flickered with merry abandonment from their place on tables and in bracers.

Wooden benches were stacked around the edges of the space. During meetings they were broken out so the villagers could have a place to sit while they jaw jacked. Today, several tables dotted the area. When the hall wasn’t used for meetings, village members used it as a place to meet and drink.

A group of five huddled around one table, their voices a low rumble in the large room. The middle-aged man with his back to Shea was Zrakovi, the village leader. He lifted a mug and drank, tilting back a head of dark hair turning silver at the temples. Shea came to a stop behind him, waiting for her presence to be acknowledged.

Another man looked up and nudged the man next to him. One by one the others shot glances to where Shea waited patiently.

Zrakovi turned his head slightly. “Pathfinder.”

“Elder Zrakovi.” Shea inclined her head respectfully.

“I have a job for you.”

“I just got back from an assignment.” Technically, she was supposed to get five days off between jobs to prevent fatigue and to give her time to plan the next route.

That almost never happened.

“Well, you’re needed for this,” he said sharply.

“Oh?”

“Watch your tone, girl,” a man with reddish blond hair and blunt features said.

Shea fought against sighing and held herself still. Expressing frustration would only prolong the encounter.

Silence filled the room as she waited for the elder to get to the point.

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