Traveling overland inside a wagon made for a much faster journey than walking, but Kara found the incessant noise and relentless pitching as the wagon’s axles negotiated the ruts and grooves of the rural road so disorienting that she had come near to vomiting more than once. Earnest was seated in the driver’s bench above and the others all sat close together near the front facing each other along the benches which lined the sides of the wagon, speaking low among themselves. In the woods, Kara had felt secluded, but here in this small wagon crammed full of people she felt something worse than seclusion: loneliness.
She got the impression that she was unwelcome right from the start. The young man named Nelson that she had met along with Earnest in the woods seemed a different man. Gone was his friendly curiosity, replaced with a sense of caution that bordered on paranoia. The others, Earnest introduced in turn. First to be introduced was Chastain, a young man slightly older than Nelson with bright blue eyes and wavy sandy-brown hair. He responded to her “Hello” with a clipped nod, his lips curling into a half grin that when his face was more relaxed naturally formed a sarcastic smile. Next to be introduced was Miri, a dark-eyed, raven-haired beauty on the verge of womanhood. She was by far the shyest of the group, barely looking Kara in the eye as she squeaked some murmured response to her greeting which turned out to be unintelligible before backing away. Last was the tall, red-haired young woman Earnest introduced as Landa. This one seemed as opposite to Miri as two women could be, as Landa hardly said a word to her, but more out of open contempt than shyness. She even swore under her breath as she rummaged through her pack to find a chemise to go with the bodice she pulled from her section of the wagon’s wardrobe as if her generosity was given only under protest.
But all of that had occurred hours ago. Though little natural light made its way into the wagon, Kara could tell by what little light she could see that they were losing the last of the sun; meaning that they had been on the road for more than a quarter of a day. Two hard, rapid thumps against the wagon’s roof from near the driver’s bench Kara took to be a signal to the others that they make ready to disembark as they all got up from the benches at the sound of it and began making well-practiced preparations. Again, the well-traveled companions spoke only among themselves, paying Kara almost no heed. She stood so she wouldn’t be the only one to remain seated, but apart from that she had no idea what she was expected to do.
The clothing which Landa had given to Kara as they got underway consisted of a pair of well-worn sandals, a grey woolen skirt and bodice with a soft, lavender chemise that Landa appeared keen to part with despite her feigned irritation, for the combination of colors would surely have not been complimentary to Landa’s pale, freckled skin and fiery red hair. The last of the preparations gave Kara a sense of foreboding as both Nelson and Chastain slid scabbards which held well-used broadswords onto their belts and Landa sliding a thin-bladed stiletto, sheath and all, into her ample cleavage. Even meek, little Miri tucked a small knife into the top of her right boot.
“If one must be arrayed for battle to go into this tavern, I am not certain that I wish to go.” Kara said.
Landa finished blousing her chemise over her bodice and pushed past Kara on her way to the door. “Suit yourself, but don’t expect Miri to quit her table to cook for you. She’s going to be busy.” The door closed behind her with a thud.
“Damn you, Landa! Wait!” Nelson called after her as he struggled to shift the scabbard around to the correct position on his left hip before dashing past Kara to go after her.
Chastain shook his head with a smirk as he pulled a mandolin out of its case to check the tuning.
“Emotions run hot with those two.” he said, plucking one string then the next, his practiced ear indicating just how to adjust the pegs of each string for perfect intonation. Then he went back and deliberately pulled two strings slightly out of tune.
“It actually helps earnings a bit of they don’t think I’m too good.” he explained with that sarcastic grin of his before returning the mandolin to its case.
“I’ll see you two inside.” he added before he strode down the central aisleway of the wagon and out the back door, closing it quietly behind him.
Miri was the last one left. She just stood there in the aisle, fidgeting. Then, as if remembering what she was supposed to be doing, she grabbed a small cloth sack, the contents tinkling of metal as she lifted it from a storage chest and draped it over her back. She looked up at Kara and swallowed before attempting to move past her to the door.
“B-begging your pardon, Miss.” she stammered as she snuck out quickly.
Kara sighed as she looked around the empty wagon.
“Think naught of it.”