They reached the town later than they expected, as it took them three days. It was a small town, hidden in the evergreen forest. The snow had melted a few months before and it was bustling with life in a homely way.
Jonathan tied Biscuit outside a small general store before going in with Aderes. The transmigrator started grabbing some nonperishable foods to replenish what he, and Aderes, had eaten in the past few days. He added a new comb for Biscuit as the bristles for the one he had were starting to fall apart.
Aderes easily made conversation with the store clerk, an older gentleman with a long white beard.
Jonathan was a bit confused about what the two were discussing. It had something to do with the snowstorms in the past winter. He put his stuff on the counter, politely interrupted, and paid for his items. “I’ll look around while you buy your stuff,” he told Aderes. “Let’s meet up at the tavern we passed.”
“Okay,” Aderes said, then went back to her conversation. She seemed good at small talk, despite how her forwardness seemed to throw some people off balance initially.
Jonathan loaded up Biscuit’s saddlebags and took his horse for a walk around town. The transmigrator wasn’t going to leave the mare tied up with no one to watch her.
The town square held a farmer’s market. Stalls filled the large empty space and the town citizens chattered to each other. In a corner, a lone bard was singing. He was tall and stocky, but he played his mandolin gently, with the caress of a loved one. His clothing was colorful and ill-fitted. Curly bangs fell over part of his face, and he kept brushing them out of his face between songs.
Jonathan stood nearby and listened to the bard tell his tale.
“I come to you,
With tales of woe,
Beloved and gone.
Only in the passing month,
Have we heard of the Empire’s losses
Prince Roscoe who died in a fire,
Who followed after his mother,
The missing Princess Aderes,
Who followed after her parents,
Jonathan waited for the end before he interrupted. “I’m new in town, new to the country as well.” He was new to the world as well, but there was no need to add that. “Who is Princess Aderes?”
“Princess Aderes of Lembroke.” The bard strummed his mandolin to add background music. His smile seemed to grow bigger at the attention.
“She who was fair of skin and morals,
Unblighted by the corruption of the court!”
Jonathan cut in before he was subjected to the rest of what seemed to be another dreadful, melodramatic verse. “What happened to her? Tell me without the music.”
The bard looked offended. “If you insult my abilities, those of Chester Yulr the Far Travelling Bard, then why should I tell you?” He continued to strum his mandolin.
“If you tell me, I’ll help you with your performance,” Jonathan promised. He had done some busking himself when he was on the streets for a bit.
“Fine.” Chester laid his hands over the strings to silence his instrument. “About seven weeks ago, the King and Queen of Lembroke were killed by the Imperial Crown Prince Jaeger Lyon. Ever since then, the Princess of Lembroke, Aderes, has been missing.”
“Thank you for the information.” Jonathan was now trying to figure out how to help the bard. He would deal with the information later. “What do you think about a duet?”
Chester nodded. “Depends, what songs do you know?”
Two hours later, Jonathan and Chester were several coins richer and had some admiration from the townsfolk. Word spread easily in such a small community, which made it easy to draw a small crowd.
Jonathan spotted Aderes. She was headed towards the small tavern they had decided to have dinner at. “I think I’ve held up my side of the bargain. I need to go meet up with . . . a friend, a travelling companion of mine.”
Chester picked up his case, dumped the coins into his pockets, and put away his instrument. “I’ll come with you. These are your earnings as well, right? We should split them.”
Jonathan walked away and threw back over his shoulder, “Keep them.”
“Let me pay for dinner at least,” Chester insisted. The bard was following right after the transmigrator.
Jonathan halted and considered the argument for a moment. He sighed and agreed, “Fine.” He just hoped things wouldn’t turn weird. He led the way into the tavern and sat across the table from Aderes.
“I’m Chester. Pleasure to meet you, Miss.” The bard swept into a low, dramatic bow. “I was just going to pay for my friend over here as he assisted me today, but I won’t have any problems covering your share as well if you’d like.”
“Aderes. I’ll pay for myself,” Aderes stated. Her smile was forced.
The bard’s face didn’t show any flicker of recognition at the name. He just smiled and sat down next to Jonathan. “Alright, alright. Then, buddy of mine, what are we going to eat?”
“I’m not sure. What do you two suggest?” Jonathan asked.
“What sort of question is that?” Aderes responded without any real heat. She had relaxed after there was no reaction to her name.
“I think it’s a valid question.” Chester backed up Jonathan. “After all, there is debate over whether the river fish of Lembroke are really that good.”
The transmigrator watched tiredly as his innocent question sparked an all out battle over food between Aderes and Chester. He secretly flipped a coin between the two cheapest options and chose his meal like that to put the conflict to rest. The rest of dinner passed rather quietly in comparison.
When they all leaned back in their chairs, happy and full, Chester asked, “What way are you two headed?”
“West,” Jonathan said, and shrugged.
Chester straightened up. “Really?” He questioned in disbelief. “I’m headed West as well. Why don’t we go together?”
Jonathan didn’t really like it, but he also didn’t have any particular reason to turn him down. Besides, he could use an additional source of information about the world and the bard seemed happy to talk. He traded a look with Aderes, then looked back at the bard. “If you don’t have a horse, you’ll have to walk,” he warned. “Also, we don’t usually share supplies to ensure each person buys and has their own.”
“That’s all fine,” Chester assured. “I’m not looking for benefits, just some company on the road.”
Favorite type of tea?