(Part 47) For a complete list of this series, please go here.
Aerissa followed the young boy to the front gates as he struggled with his rickety cart, heavy from the supply crate. She felt embarrassed for him as he grunted and groaned, lugging the load behind him. She wanted to offer her help, but figured it would only make matters worse. Once they were at the front gate, the boy stopped and stared at Aerissa.
“Can't we go just a bit further?” she pleaded, eying the distance to the flight master.
The boy scowled and shook his head. “I not allowed.”
Aerissa frowned, but nodded her head. It was clear the boy would not disobey the shopkeeper. She dropped a few coins into the boy's outstretched hands. “Thanks. Could you at least help me get the crate off the cart?”
As she finished her question, the boy tilted the cart, the crate tumbling over the side. It landed with a loud thwak. Aerissa gasped, bending low to check the crate. It didn't appear to have any cracks in it. She hoped everything inside was still in tact. She turned to scold the boy, but he was already meandering through passers-by, whistling as he led the cart back into the city.
Aerissa let out a heavy sigh, mumbling to herself about manners. She circled the crate, trying to find the best way to approach it. She wrapped her arms around it, her fingers gripping at the wood. With a grunt, she tried to lift it to no avail. She leaned her back against it and felt it slid an inch. She slowly made her way outside, alternating between pushing and pulling the crate. Next she tried “walking” the crate by tilting and turning it on its edge, which seemed to be the fastest way to move it so far.
She stopped at a set of stairs leading down the side towards the flight master. Aerissa contemplated continuing along the road, which wound around towards the flight master, or to manuever the crate down the stairs, which would be a shorter path. Turning around, she forcibly blew air out of her mouth in exasperation when she realized she had worked so hard to move only a few feet.
“I don't have all night, so the stairs it will have to be,” she muttered.
The process was painstakingly slow, but she was moving the crate down the stairs. She was near the bottom when someone bumped into her and the crate, causing them both to tumble down the last few steps. Aerissa winced from the stinging scrapes on her hands. She was otherwise unharmed. The crate seemed to have faired just as well.
“I am sorry, miss. I was a bit distracted and… I'm terribly sorry,” the young elven man apologized profusely as he offered his hand to Aerissa. He helped her to her feet and checked over the crate. “No offense, but you shouldn't be trying to carry this.” He tilted it, testing its weight.
“Believe me, I didn't want to, but the shopkeeper would only take it to the gate.” She smoothed her hands over her hair and clothes.
“Where are you headed? I think I should lend a hand.” He flashed her a broad smile.
Aerissa broke the gaze, blushing lightly. “If you could help me get this to the flight master, I would very much appreciate it.”
“Certainly. It's the least I can do since I pushed you down the stairs.” He let out a nervous laugh. “I'm Valtos, by the way.”
“Aerissa.” She smiled, walking beside him, but a step or two back, as he carried the crate. He struggled to keep a good hold on the crate, but did his best to mask just how difficult it was for him to carry it.
“You really think they'll let this brick onto one of the dragonhawks?” he winked, teasing Aerissa.
“I-I hope so.” Panic briefly filled her face. “I hadn't even considered that there might be a weight restriction…”
He chuckled, “Oh I'm sure it will be fine. The shopkeeper should know that sort of thing. So if he didn't say you couldn't take it on a flight, they should be able to handle it.” He panted, “All. Most. There.”
Aerissa looked Valtos over. He was tall and lean with long brown hair. She admired the muscles in his arms as he lugged the supply crate for her. And his eyes… the way he looked at me… Aerissa shook her head of foolish thoughts.
“Hmm, this looks curious…” he said out the side of his mouth as they approached the flight master. The roosts were empty and the lone flight master looked bored, sitting on a stump. “Excuse me? Where are your hawks?”
The flight master looked up lazily and shrugged. “Flights are out for now. All the dragonhawks are out and none have returned yet. You'll have to wait.”
“Wait? How long?” Aerissa asked, urgency in her voice.
“I don't know,” responded the flight master. “Look, all I can tell you is: there are no outgoing flights at this time.”
Aerissa slapped her arms against her sides. “Great. Just great! I need to get back to Tranquillien with these supplies. I can't sit around all day on a hope that an overgrown butterfly returns.” She stomped her foot, struggling to contain her anger.
Valtos set the crate down and leaned against it. He stroked his chin. “We could rent a couple hawkstriders and ride to Tranquillien. Sure, it would take longer to ride than fly, but who knows when you'll get a flight out of here.”
“We?” Aerissa raised her eyebrows.
He lowered his eyes, smiling shyly. “Well, sure. I don't expect you to load and unload that heavy crate by yourself. Besides, it can be a boring ride from here to there. Take you about a day…”
Aerissa's eyes widened.
“We wouldn't ride straight through! I know a small village where we could stop for the night and rest.” He patted the crate. “Or, you can take a chance waiting here for a bird to come back. Except, once it gets back, it'll probably need to rest from such a long trip….”
Aerissa sighed, giving up. “I'd rather be on my way than sitting around here.” She couldn't help but grin at him in return. “And, the company would be nice.”
He clapped his hands together, standing up straight. “Excellent. You wait here. I'll run over to the livery stables and rent our hawkstriders.”
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