The rusty iron gate groaned open, after the clanking of keys unlocked it. Ravel opened his eyes, but remained still as he lent against the hard stone wall.
He hadn’t been asleep and he had resorted to daydreaming to pass the time. Ravel also had to distract himself from the hollow feeling in his stomach. One roasted rabbit was barely enough to keep a young man satisfied for an entire morning, let alone a day and a half. Ravel usually hunted in the morning and the pickings had been very thin over the last couple of days. It seemed the appearance of owl-bears had scared most of the game into hiding.
Although his eyes were now open, Ravel did not turn his gaze to the figure that had just entered the room. The guard stationed at the cell door closed the bars with another clunk. The newcomer placed something on the bed beside Ravel and took a step back. Ravel swivelled his eyes to look at the object on the bed. It was a plate with a couple of baked potato pieces, a handful of scattered peas, and an almost completely finished chicken drumstick. The meal was finished off with a generous splatter of thick, rich gravy.
“A gift from Kiale Valenio,” a female voice spoke.
“Who?” Ravel asked bluntly.
“The Lord’s son.”
Ravel raised one eyebrow and shrugged.
“The first guy you kicked unconscious last night?” the female voice offered.
“Oh, him,” Ravel answered, nodding his head in realisation.
Ravel took this moment to study his visitor more closely. The visitor was female, obviously, and seemed to be only a little bit younger than himself. Her titian hair was twisted into a bun at the nape of her neck and bright blue eyes watched beneath blonde lashes. She wore a simple grey tunic, under light leather armour. Dark fitted leggings ran down to tall brown boots and a sword was sheathed at a belt cinched around her hips.
“It’s the scraps from his table. He insisted you have nothing else,” the young woman spoke again.
“How generous of him,” Ravel stated picking up the plate. “I should kick people in the head more often.”
Ravel picked up a potato with his fingers and swiped it through the gravy. He popped it into his mouth and chewed, closing his eyes. It was a little cold, but to his empty stomach it was like a bite of heaven. Ravel then reached for another piece, but paused on spotting the woman raise her eyebrows at him.
“What is it? Something wrong?” Ravel asked.
“Kiale said that he was certain that you wouldn’t touch the plate, let alone eat from it,” the woman explained, shrugging. “He said you were too proud to take scraps from the table of a man you had gotten arrested over.”
“Did he really? Hm,” Ravel stated, resuming his meal.
“He told me to stay here…so I could clean up the mess when you tossed it on the floor in anger.”
“How stupid, who would do such a thing? Even the person doing the dishes won’t have to do much when I’m finished with it, as I’m planning to lick it clean,” Ravel said, but paused suddenly. “Unless he spat in it?”
“No, he didn’t.”
The woman looked almost disappointed and crossed her arms over her chest.
“So you actually have no pride?” she asked dryly.
“No, this proves that I do have pride,” Ravel answered, crossing his legs underneath each other.
The young woman looked confused and furrowed her brow. Ravel placed the plate on his legs and met her inquiring eyes.
“I have pride in the person who cooked this delicious meal. After all this is delicious food, I mean the gravy is to die for,” Ravel explained, keeping his steady gaze. “There is no way I would let this be wasted and dishonour the person who put the effort into cooking it. I’ll eat the food, even if the person who ate the food before me was a complete and utter ass.”
The young woman took a moment to think over what he had just said, so Ravel continued.
“Besides, I’m starving. I’d eat a rat if it crawled in here,” Ravel joked, finishing off the plate of food.
The woman smiled and moved forward to sit on the bed. She glanced towards the guard at the cell entrance and then held her right hand out to Ravel.
“My name is Prynda,” the young woman offered.
Ravel glanced at her hand and then up at her face. He was still trying to figure out who exactly Prynda was and where her loyalties lay. She was obviously close to the ‘ass’ as he had spoken to her directly. Ravel’s first conclusion had been that she was a maid, sent to deliver the food. However on closer inspection she had not been dressed as one. The sheath at her hip and callouses on mainly her right hand indicated that she used her sword often. Sword wielding was hardly normal for a maid. Also, although she spoke about him using his first name, Prynda didn’t speak about the ‘ass’ with much warmth.
“Ravel,” he responded bluntly. “So, are you Kiale’s errand girl or something?”
Prynda gave an unladylike grunt and shook her head in denial. She dropped her right hand as Ravel didn’t take up the offer to shake it.
“No, he just likes ordering me around to do stuff for him. I’m actually serve as one of the Lord’s soldiers. However I had a personal interest in coming here today,” Prynda explained.
“Yes, well you seemed disappointed about me not having the pride to stand against eating his scraps,” Ravel said. “Did you want me to be the kind of person who stands against the tyrannical ass that he seems to be?”
“Ha ha, well you already did stand up against him, so I was curious to see if you were brave or just stupid,” Prynda said. “I thought you were just stupid for a second there, and realized you wouldn’t be of much help to me then.”
“Help to you?” Ravel asked.
He had a feeling she wanted him to ask her about it, even though he personally wasn’t interested. Whether people were intrigued by him or just needed a guinea pig, it was of little consequence to him to ignore them entirely. And other than the fact that he was in a cell and unable to escape, he would have given Prynda the cold shoulder too.
“You must know about the owl-bear attacks that have been happening recently,” Prynda stated, pausing.
Ravel always found it intriguing how people state things as if they are fact but still look for confirmation. If people want to know something or know if you know something, they should just come out and ask. Ravel chose to ignore her obvious pause for confirmation and placed the plate on the floor.
“Well, a family of owl-bears have been attacking travellers and livestock recently. They usually attack at night but recently have started to be more brave and attacking travellers during daylight,” Prynda began to explain.
“But only in the forest, I don’t believe they would venture into the plains as there isn’t much cover. You suspect they moved down from the mountains to the west, correct?”
Prynda looked surprised and nodded confirmation.
“How’d you know that?” she asked, in confusion.
“You smell of the pine trees from there,” Ravel answered shrugging casually. “You arrived back last night, heard about my little tussle with the ‘ass’ and then came down here as soon as your business was done with the Lord today. You’re obviously looking to put together an adventuring party to either defeat the owl-bears or send them back home.”
Prynda leant back against the wall and shook her head in wonderment.
“Please continue, what else do you know about this owl-bear business?”
“I know that they have a reason for leaving their home, whether it be another family of owl-bears or another threat, it has to be big enough to make these extremely territorial beasts leave. They attack in the forest because it is roughly the same terrain, though less mountainous, as their home. If someone were to go and remove whatever is keeping the owl-bears away, they could be forced back home eventually,” Ravel finished. “Does that about sum it up?”
“How perceptive of you. In that case I’d like you to join a task force that I’m preparing. The task would be to go and see what is happening up on the mountain,” Prynda said.
It was a casual kind of job offer and Ravel looked up. Prynda looked excited at the opportunity and was obviously expecting Ravel to answer positively. To Ravel, her face already showed the plans that were being put together in her mind.
“In case you hadn’t noticed,” Ravel stated, motioning a hand around the room. “I’m currently imprisoned with no sign of my being released anytime soon.”
Prynda dismissed his statement with a wave of her hand and pushed off the wall.
“No need to worry about that,” Prynda said. “After I tell them that I plan to take you on a life risking expedition as your punishment, they’ll heartily accept my decision. Kiale was already asking that we feed you to the owl-bears, why not have you deal with the problem while you’re at it.”
Prynda picked up the plate and approached the iron gate as the guard opened it. She stepped through it as Ravel followed her with a bored gaze.
“By the way, Miss Pringle-” Ravel began.
“Prynda… just Prynda,” Prynda interrupted.
“Yeah, anyway, I expect you to pay me back for the potato you practically stole from my mouth,” Ravel stated, leaning against the wall again.
“There were two spots on the plate where gravy hadn’t covered, and they were the perfect shape for potato pieces. And there were lines through the gravy where they had then been dunked.”
“How does that show that I was the one who ate them? They’re left-overs, Kiale probably ate them.”
Ravel closed his eyes and dismissed her with a wave of his hand.
“The potato and gravy say otherwise,” Ravel said. “You’ve got a little something on the corner of your mouth.”
Prynda lifted her hand to swipe it across her mouth and turned away from the cell. She blushed slightly on hearing a slight chuckle from the guard and then hurriedly left the holding area.