How long he had been sitting in the small hut he didn’t know, but he could tell from the sun streaming through the two windows on the rightmost wall that the day had not yet passed.  That meant they were still looking for him.  How long would it be before they arrived here?  It would not take them long to find him once they did.  Thoda Dock was a small village and this hut was amazingly spare and clean, brightly illuminated by the west and east facing windows, except the small alcove in which he currently sat.  It was framed by old looking possessions that appeared not to have been touched in some time.  At this point his best hope was that the hut’s resident would return just in time to meet the Desians and would assure them that they had seen no intruders.  He had been careful to remain hidden from the villagers.  Of course, then he would have to deal with said resident.  But that he could handle.  Most people in this area were sympathetic to the militia’s cause. Thoda had no treaty with the Desians.

          A noise at the door shook him from his thoughts and he drew back further in the alcove.  Best to observe the intruder before revealing his presence.  Whoever it was they weren’t Desian.  Their entrance was far too polite. It must be the owner of the hut.  The door opened and he heard soft footsteps cross the floor. His head was barely raised so that he could peer out from beneath his bangs, but he could not see anyone yet.  A gentle, melodic, humming filled the quiet room and his heart seemed to stop in dread.  He nearly cursed.

          A woman.

          The hut’s inhabitant, he assumed there was only one for there was only one blanket, was a woman.  He should have guessed it from the start – it was too clean to be the home of a bachelor - but he hadn’t.  Now he wasn’t quite sure what to do.  The footsteps started again, moving across the room to the table directly across from his position, bringing the woman clearly into his view.  This time he did curse, if only in his mind.  At the opposite wall of the hut stood a girl.  She looked small and fragile, perhaps in her early teens. There was little chance she would be able to stand up to Desian interrogation.  And how would she react to his presence?

          He cursed himself for putting her in this situation.  It would go badly for her if they found him here – they would never believe that she hadn’t known of his presence.  Resignedly he decided it was better to reveal himself and give her the chance to turn him in.  Or perhaps her shriek would alert the searching soldiers, if they were close enough.  He grimaced at the thought of returning to his cell, knowing he would not get a second chance... He wondered if he could run fast enough to escape once the Desians arrived. One thing he knew, he couldn’t hurt her, and he wouldn’t put her in danger.  It had to be done. 

          Taking a breath he prepared himself for her reaction.


          Melody hummed softly to herself as she entered her small hut.  It wasn’t much, she knew, but it was home.  She brushed her long blond hair from her face and paused to slip off her shoes and her cape.  Retrieving the basket she had set on the floor she moved to her table, setting it down once more.  For a moment she studied the small hoard of apples, running her fingers against their smooth skin, and smiled.  It was fortunate she had found that tree.  She didn’t have the gald to buy fresh fruit.  Her smile widened as she remembered her pleasant afternoon apple picking and she fingered the gald in her pocket.  There had been plenty to sell as well.  She turned to stow the gald safely in its hiding place and froze mid step as she noticed two small glints of light directed toward her.  As she tried to remember what might be in the alcove that would reflect light in that manner the glints disappeared only to reappear momentarily.  It struck her then that they were eyes.  Squinting in an effort to further adjust her vision to the dimness of the alcove she realized that there was a man sitting there.  Her eyes widened as her heart rate picked up, and she saw him tense, almost as though wincing at her reaction, but his gaze did not falter.

          She drew in a breath, calming herself.  A strange man was sitting in her hut, evidently hiding from someone, and from the looks of him he could break her in half with as little effort as she might snap a twig.  Yes, he could easily overpower her, that was certain.  Still, he had yet to make a move, even though he clearly knew that she had discovered him.  This would seem to indicate that he had no intention of harming her.  So then, it was likely that he was a man of good conscience.   And, at any rate, it never did any good to panic.  

          “Hello...” she offered in a small voice, stepping a bit closer.  For a moment she thought she detected a hint of surprise on his face, but his features quickly settled back into an expressionless mold.  He did not stir so she decided to try again.  “Can I help you?”

          “Where are your parents?” He did not truly believe that a family of three could fit in this hut, but he had to hope... after all, who could allow such a young girl to live on her own?

          Melody’s eyes widened once more.  His voice was surprisingly gently, not at all what she would have expected.  Most men had harsh voices, grating and loud, or low and rumbling, or too high and piercing – like that of a boy.  His was none of these, it was a perfect medium, a balance that seemed to perfectly match his appearance.  Masculine, strong, but gentle.  She was drawn from her contemplation of this when she realized he was still expecting an answer.

          “I- I have no family.”

          He nodded, seemingly unsurprised by this confession, but she saw sympathy lurking in his gaze. “Your guardian then.”

          She shook her head, “I have none.”

          This seemed to spark something in him, and he rose, coming toward her.  She blinked up at him, a bit frightened.  He was at least a foot taller than she, and he looked so intense, almost as though he were angry.

          “What kind of town leaves children uncared for?” the bite in his tone surprised her, until she registered what he had said.  Squaring her shoulders she looked up at him, difficult since he was but two feet from her now.

          “I am not a child, sir.” She wasn’t certain if this was the proper title by which to address him as she had no idea how old he was, but it would suffice. 

          He arched a brow at her, crossing his arms, “Aren’t you?”

          She bristled.  “I am nineteen last winter.”

          He made a low scoffing sound.

          “I am!” she insisted, reminding herself to remain calm.  Acting childish would do little to convince him.

          He studied her carefully, circling her, and she reddened.  She knew she looked young, it was her curse, but she refused to be treated like a child.  She was an adult and fully capable of taking care of herself.  Her fist clenched as she opened her mouth, prepared to tell him as much, but he beat her to it.

          “Alright.”  She blinked at him as he stopped in front of her once more.  Alright? He believed her?   

          He smirked at her shocked expression.  That had worked better than he had expected.  “What is your name?” he inquired, voice once again soft, his expression settling into a kind smile.  She had the feeling he was trying not to scare her.

          “Melody.” She answered, “Melody Drasis.  And you?”

          “Devon Rite’n.”

          “Who are you hiding from, Devon?”

          He blinked.  She was surprisingly perceptive, but he decided to play dumb.  “What makes you think I was hiding from someone?”

          She grinned, “You were huddled in an alcove in a tiny hut in an even tinier village.  Who are you hiding from?”

          He studied her, and decided it was only fair to tell her.  That had been his intent after all.  “Desians.” He said casually, watching for her reaction. 

          “I see.” She turned away from him and walked to the far wall, prying up a floor board she placed the gald she had earned that day inside.  “You can stay here if you wish.  Until they’ve stopped looking for you at least.”

          He shook his head, “That is kind of you, but I will not endanger you in such a way.  The best thing for you would be to turn me in when they come.”

          “You want to get caught?” she looked at him in disbelief.

          “Of course not, however-”

          “Then let me help you.” She interrupted.

          She did not look as though she was going to be swayed, but he knew he had to try.  “They’ll find me, Melody,” he approached her, and looked as though he would touch her arm, but at the last second dropped his hand back to his side.  “Can’t you see I don’t stand a chance?  And neither do you once they find me.”

          She eyed him critically.  He was still wearing his gray ranch uniform, and he had several days’ hair growth on his face, but his hair was still short and he was fairly clean.  She made a mental note to ask him later how long he had been in the ranch.  “I see your point.   You have ‘human ranch’ written all over you.  But we can fix that.” She moved to the alcove he had been hiding in and pulled out a trunk.  She began rifling through it.  “Here.” She shoved some clothing out behind her and he hesitantly took it.  “These were my father’s.  You can wear them.  The pants might be a little loose, but we can buy you a belt.

          “Thank you, but...” he looked around her sparse hut.  It was unlikely she could afford such a thing, and he had taken no money with him.  They had been on a training exercise after all.

          She looked back at him, smiling, “It’s fine.  Marthis owes me a favor anyway.”  He assumed Marthis must be the nearest leather worker.

          “They’ll still recognize me.  They know what I look like, and I’m important to them.” He fingered his left hand gingerly.  Sometimes it hurt, but he wasn’t sure if the pain was real or in his mind.

          She waved his concern away.  “That’s easily handled.  We get you a shave and do something with your hair... maybe a hat or something...”  She brushed past him heading to find something to shave him with.  He grabbed her wrist lightly, causing her to come to a halt before turning to face him questioningly.

          He shook his head, “Melody, how will you explain my presence here?  They’ll ask the townspeople about me.  Someone will tell them they’ve never seen me before.”

          She laughed outright at this and he was forced to wonder if she had lost her mind, “I’ll tell them you’re my brother.  The Desians that is,” she clarified, as the townspeople would obviously know this to be untrue, “the rest of the village will stand by me if I tell them what’s going on.  We have no love of Desians.” Her eyes darkened briefly, “We’ve seen too much for that.”

          Devon studied her a moment longer and finally decided that it was pointless to argue with her.  He nodded once and she smiled brightly.  Wordlessly she led him over to her solitary chair and sat him down, then began making preparations to give him a shave.  As she worked she surreptitiously glanced at his left hand.  They would have to get something to cover that.  The Desians were bound to notice it.