Storm clouds had moved in overhead, and Eirian kept her face hidden from the brisk wind that came in company. Ahead of her, scattered figures moved in one direction – each huddled over in defeat. Children grasped at the hands of the elders, however many walked alone. The sun had graced them all moments ago, peeking through the cloudy mess above. The journey to Iridia was not a treacherous one – for small parties. But with so many lone bodies on foot, in addition to the caravans full of provisions and other treasures – it was going to be a long trek. They would make their passage through the mountain pass within a few days – and then it would be another week before they reached civilisation.
Heavily armed men guarded the caravans, and some rode on horseback to keep the folk under scrutiny. Eirian eyed them all with great distrust, these men were not knights sworn to serve their king – they were hired swords loyal only to the man that paid the most. They would make the journey several more times before retiring to their procured comforts for the winter. She had not yet located Owen, but Shen had told her to be patient. He had organised her to be accepted along with the others, despite the betraying colour of her hair and skin – he’d attempted to hide her heritage by chopping off her silky red mane. The lighter and fairer a person was, the more noble their blood was – but still, from where Eirian marched, she could see others with uncouthly braided hair of red and gold, bronze skin denying them their blood right. On first arrival, Eirian had eagerly ran ahead searching from face to face for her friend Owen, but after receiving scowls from the guardsmen and having no luck in finding Owen – she had given up.
Owen had once lived in the castle with her, though she had still been a babe then. As his mother had worked as a maid for the king, but when Owen was weaned he had been sent to live with his elder sister. Eirian had met him when they were both quite young, she had been spying from the castle lookout when she’d spotted him and some other children playing with stones. It hadn’t been too difficult to disguise herself and slip out onto the streets. They had become allies immediately, in a game with the other children. Owen had told her how to play, and helped her when she’d fall. After that first day they had made it a ritual to meet outside the castle walls and go off exploring. Sometimes she would ask Owen to take her further away from the castle – so that she could uncover herself from the hood she wore, but Owen had denied her insisting that it wasn’t proper for a princess to be so far from home. He was the only one she had told her true identity to, and when he had revealed that he had once lived in the castle as well, he had to quickly reassure her that he was not her half brother.
Eirian cocked her head to the side as she heard the men behind her calling to one another.
“Wind’s too strong, we won’t make any distance over the coming mound!”
“Ride ahead, tell the others we’re setting up camp here!”
The sound of thudding hoof beats saved her life as Eirian instinctively dove to the ground, mud flicking into her face as she did so, and the soft ground below was already soiling her clothes. She heard grunts of laughter behind her, and squinted ahead at the image of a horse galloping away.