We rode on for a while further, mostly in silence and enjoying the beat of the hooves, woven with our heartbeats. The forest felt very calm today, and not the calm before a storm, just calm. There were birds aplenty, hiding in the trees but enriching the air with their singing. Smells, the dark smell of moss and trees and the lighter smells of flowers and bushes, mixed and caressed my nose lovingly. It was a very nice morning, with the sun sneaking in between the many leaves above, teasing my eyes. All of this made me realize we hadn't had breakfast...
"Are you hungry?"
I must have surprised Deirdre with the question, when she answered it sounded a little flustered. "Eh? Yes, I am, actually."
I nodded, not that she could see it, probably. "Alright, we'll eat as soon as I see something nice."
She must have nodded as well, as she didn't answer in words. It took another few minutes before I found a little place next to the road. It was important not to go too far from the road, always careful. In fact... It took me a while to realize that this was the place I found her. I wasn't entirely sure, but the moss was still pressed in places and it should be about the same distance from Bleakfield. Although it was hard to judge something like that both ways. I also tried to recognize the trees here, but that was very difficult. I'd been paying too much attention to the girl before. I had slowed the horse somewhat to a trot, but as the realization dawned on me, I wondered if Deirdre would mind us being here.
She looked past me. "That looks nice... Wait, isn't that?"
I still wasn't sure. "It looks like it."
Deirdre surprised me then. "Let's sit here."
I nodded and dismounted, helping Deidre of the horse as well. I led the horse off the path and tied it well to a tree, only two steps from where we'd be sitting. It was very important to keep it close and in sight. I retrieved the oilcloth with the food from the saddle bags and we sat down on the moss. It was surprisingly comfortable, with the soft ground and the gentle smells around us. Even the noise of the birds, which had toned down a little with our arrival. I unwrapped the oilcloth and was surprised to find some cheese as well as some bread and a decent bottle of cider. That should make a good breakfast. I wondered how he got the bread this early, although it did look like bread that would keep for a few days. The penknife was perfect to cut the bread and the cheese, with a little patience of course. I wiped it clean and cut four slices of bread and put some cheese on it. I handed a sandwich to Deirdre and kept the other one for myself. There was only one bottle, but it was no problem to share it as long as we didn't drink too fast.
She took a bite. "Hmm, this is nice."
I hungrily attacked the bread as well. "Yes, it is."
She took a few more smaller bites and looked at me. "So, have you decided what you're going to do?"
I wasn't quite sure yet, but my curiosity was rising a little too high. "I'm not sure, but I've got a feeling it's important to read it."
She smiled teasingly. "Too curious?"
I blushed, she'd seen right through me. "...Yes..."
I took another few bites to busy myself, allowing my guilt and shame to pass. She probably had a pretty good idea what was at stake, so she didn't make too much fun of me and ate in silence as well. A few more moments passed like this while we both finished our sandwich and drank some cider. We were about to get up when we heard something in the woods. I quickly wrapped everything back in the oilcloth while Deirdre got up. I put it back in the saddle-bags when someone stepped onto the path, a little way back. It was a rather rough looking man, holding an old and rusted sword in his hands. He didn't look all to stable, his eyes unfocused, but he looked dangerous. Fortunately, he appeared to be by himself.
"Stay with the horse." I whispered to Deirdre.
She nodded and looked at me as I turned to face the man. "What do you want?"
"Some gold or silver perhaps. Rich youth like yourself is sure to have some spare for a weak old man, right?" He motioned with his sword towards the horse. "Oh, and the horse. Those young legs could use the exercise."
I looked around again, he really was alone. It wasn't very clever of him to try and rob a Magic user, but I suppose there's not that many of us out here to expect it. He was still getting closer, but he didn't walk too fast, probably hoping that we would be afraid and he wouldn't have to fight. There were scars on his face and one on his hand too, the rest was covered by very basic and dirty clothing. With focus, this shouldn't be too difficult, if only I had a sword myself.
Sword fighting was taught at the Castle, though a very basic form, something I had enjoyed many a time. It also was one of the first ways that Light students learned their craft. Strengthening a sword enough to cut a small tree was a neat, but useful, trick. The best Light masters could even sharpen and strengthen it so far that it would cut through stone, though it was very rare for any to be able. Most of the time the strengthening would make the sword brittle as well, it required too much precise focus. But... I didn't have a sword, I didn't have anything to defend against one. There was the other option, the side I'd rather keep hidden...
It would have to do this time, I just hoped that Deirdre wouldn't notice.
I had to warn him. "Leave us be, sir. We are students of Magic and it's better not to deal with us. Just turn around and leave."
The man scowled. "Hah! Like I haven't heard that one before!" He advanced on me.
I had practiced this many times in secret, but never on people. I knew the principles, the ideas behind it. I let the magic flow, focussing on him with my other side, the Dark side, to weaken his knees and feet. It's unfortunate I didn't have much experience with this side of me, but it was enough for such a weak man. He wanted to strike, but stumbled, falling over forwards. I immediately sidestepped, changed my focus and strengthened my fist with Light. This was easier, having had plenty of chance to try this out in one of the many brawls, not even that long ago. It hit the man in his stomach like a sledgehammer. The sword fell from his fingers, onto the path, while he fell over limply, moaning in pain. I immediately sat on top of him, grabbed his wrists and pulled them to his back, pushing them to his shoulder blades. It would hurt a lot without causing lasting injury, unless I pushed too far.
The man cried out between his moans of pain. "Please, have mercy! I never would have killed you!"
That was true, and I wasn't planning on killing him either. "I don't have time for you, I should just break your arms and leave you out here."
He screamed. "But I'd die if you left me here like that!"
"And how is that different from the fate you decided for us?" Of course I knew it wasn't the same, but I just wanted him to realize what he'd done.
Fortunately, he wasn't feeling very clever and just stayed silent. I turned him to his side, stood on the ground again and pulled him up, making sure to hurt him a little to keep him scared, but being careful enough not to break his arms. I turned him on the path, to the direction of Bleakfield, and kicked him away from me while I released him. He stumbled down but didn't really hurt himself, while I retrieved his sword and held it in my right hand, aimed at him.
"Go that way, Bleakfield lies not too far and you should be able to make it. You're lucky I'm in a good mood."
He looked around, a mix of hate and fear on his face. This must have been one of his first time dealing with a Magus. But he, after a second pause, turned away from us and ran as fast as he can until he was out of view. I heard Deirdre breathe out slowly, as if she'd held her breath all this time. It wasn't because of the man though... She probably had seen what I had done. The only word she spoke was enough, it confirmed she knew... She knew what I was.