Jarin woke up to the sound of voices, which seemed to be too loud. He groaned and touched his head as a sharp pain shot to his right temple.
He lay still for a moment, letting the pain subside. Once it had, Jarin opened his eyes. He was surprised to see the walls of a tent.
Holding his head, Jarin sat up. While he was checking his body for injuries, he heard men talking outside. It sounded like they were discussing map routes.
Where am I? He thought, then lay back down as he heard footsteps approaching the tent. He stayed on alert, unsure of the situation.
The flap opened and a tall, grey haired man stepped in. He smiled at Jarin, setting down a brown, leather bag.
"How are you feeling, young man?" The man removed a bottle that was also brown. When Jarin glanced at it, the man smiled. "This is for your head. It'll ease the pain quite a bit, though not as quickly as a shot of whiskey would, don't you think?"
Jarin grinned, liking the man instantly. He sat up straighter, then answered the doctor. "I feel okay, for the most part. My head does hurt a little, so the medicine will be much appreciated. What happened, if you don't mind me asking?"
"You fell from your horse, and were knocked unconscious," the doctor poured some water on a cloth, dabbing at Jarin's head. He applied some of the brown medicine to the cloth, then wiped it across the young man's forehead. As soon as it touched his skin, Jarin felt it dulling the pain.
The sweet smell of it was making him tired, also.
The doctor moved to his bag again. "Some of the men found you and brought you here. It was a good thing they found you when they did, with all the snakes out there."
Jarin frowned. "Where am I?"
"In the Alendale forest. It's a good thing you didn't fall off a little further on, or you would have been dumped on the rocks," the doctor smiled. "Do you remember anything of what happened?"
"I was riding, and my horse spooked at the sound of something in the trees," Jarin thought about how similar this incident was to when he had fallen and saved from a cliff. That had been five years ago, and it had happened around the same place.
The older man nodded. "I see. Well, you don't seem to have any further injuries than scrapes and bruises."
Jarin smiled. "May I talk to your leader? I would like to meet him and thank him."
The doctor smiled back. "Yes, as soon as you feel up to it," he said. "Our leader just takes precautions with people we come across, but please understand you are not a prisoner."
Jarin nodded. "Of course. Thank you. By the way, how is my horse?"
The doctor frowned. "She is fine. The men had quite a time of catching her, however. She is a nice horse, and very lively."
Jarin grinned. "She is spirited. Thank you for catching her."
"Of course, young man. You may rest some more, if you want to. You are also welcome to wander around," the doctor gathered his things, then left, smiling at Jarin again.
Jarin lay back down, still feeling dizzy and tired. He fell asleep, still wondering what kind of place this was. He would ask the leader, when he had more energy.
The next morning, Jarin woke up early. Looking around the tent for his clothes, he found others in their place. Pulling on the brown pants and dark green tunic, he saw they had left his boots. He noticed they had taken his sword, which was to be expected.
Once he was fully dressed, he slipped out of the tent. He looked around and realized it was beautiful here. He had ridden in the forest several times, but had never taken time to enjoy the scenery. It was just after dawn, causing the sun to cast a golden sheen over the grass and trees. It was breathtaking.
As he watched the sunrise, Jarin felt like he himself was being watched. He turned around slowly, but did not see anyone there. Confused, he looked toward the tents, and noticed several people were beginning to come out of them. There were already men preparing the morning meal. He figured it could have been any one of them, as they were probably curious about him. Shrugging it off, he made his way to the corrals. He found his grey mare, which was eating. That was an indication that she was getting along well with the other horses.
"Hey, girl," Jarin spoke softly, but Shadow heard him and left her hay to go to him. Slipping through the fence, the young man leaned into her powerful body. Shadow curved her neck around, touching Jarin's back. He closed his eyes, reveling in the warmth and smell of horse flesh.
After a few moments of this, Shadow lifted her head, her body alert. Jarin let go of her, looking in the same direction as his horse.
Listening carefully, he heard he heard hoof beats approaching. Slipping out of the corral, Jarin stayed on guard.
As he watched, four horses stepped out of the trees, their riders talking excitedly with each other. They stopped at the corral, dismounting and unsaddling their horses. A few of them acknowledged Jarin, and he smiled back.
When he turned to leave, Jarin heard another horse approaching. Looking in the same direction as before, he noticed a man on a tall bay step out of the trees. He stopped briefly and listened behind him, then continued on. He was dressed in all black, unlike the other men. They were dressed in clothes more like Jarin's. When he got to the corral, he dismounted and dropped his reins. Reaching into his pack, he handed a scroll to one of the men, before unsaddling his horse.
Jarin watched as he threw his hood back, mainly out of curiosity. He had straight, light blond hair that was layered and hung almost to his shoulders. The man was short, but well muscle, much to Jarin's satisfaction. He had fair skin that was covered in freckles. He turned to one of the other men, speaking quietly. The man nodded, then left with the scroll. After that the blond looked at Jarin, who gasped in shock.
"Kain?" He recognized the man instantly as the same boy who had rescued him five years earlier. Kain glanced at him again, but said nothing. Patting his horse one last time, he gave the bay a treat. Looking at Jarin again with a look that almost seemed to be cold, he picked up his saddle and carried it to a tent.
Jarin watched him, confused and angered at being brushed off as coldly as he was. Glancing toward the tent, he walked off. He was getting hungry, and could smell something good cooking.
Unseen by Jarin, Kain watched him leave.
Throughout the day, Jarin found it difficult to keep his mind off Kain. He had thought about the light haired man often since they had met at the rocks five years earlier. That had been one of the instances that had prompted him to seek out the leader. He wanted to find out what kind of place this was. He found him working with one of the horses, waiting until he was finished. When he had handed the horse off to one of the other men, the leader turned to Jarin.
"What can I do for you, young man? My name is Devin, by the way. As you may have already heard, I'm the leader around here," the middle aged man grinned.
Jarin smiled. "I'm Jarin. I wanted to talk to you mainly because I'm curious about this place."
Devin nodded slowly, coiling a rope and setting it aside. "Would you care to go on a walk?"
"Sure," Jarin said, pulling on his outer tunic.
They walked in silence for a moment, when Devin spoke. "You're wondering what we do around here. Well, you may not like what you hear. Do you still want me to continue?"
Jarin nodded. "I will be going home soon enough, and I will not expose anything you may be doing here. Besides that, I am curious about what kind of man saved my life five years ago."
Devin sighed, then cleared his throat. "Alright, then. We're thieves, in our right. We usually take back what has been stolen by other thieves, and give it back to the community. The reason we do this is because the justice system doesn't care, and they let thieves get away with anything," he glanced at the younger man. "I'm not sure where you stand in matters like this, but that is what we do. It's a form of justified thievery."
Jarin cocked his head. "I have never heard of anything like that, but it makes sense. You are still criminals, however."
Devin laughed. "Yeah, we are. However, if you think about it, so are they by not doing anything. The other thieves do whatever they please, and never get caught. We do something about it, and everyone is happy. As long as we don't get caught, it's all good."
Jarin grinned. "I have never heard of anything like that, but it makes sense to me. Now, what can you tell me about Kain? What is he like?"
Devin smiled, knowing this had been coming. "He's a nice guy, but he likes to keep a personal distance. If you get to know him, he is a nice person."
"I see," Jarin frowned. He figured that had been why Kain had avoided him earlier. It might just be the way he always reacted to new people.
Devin watched him carefully. "We should head back soon. I have some matters to attend to."
Jarin nodded. "Okay."
They went back in silence.