"What do you think you are doing?" They all jumped at the sound of Garland's voice. He sneered at the fire, "What is this?"
"This," Warwick spoke up with his head held high, "is a fire. We use it to keep warm, cook meals, and for light."
The archer narrowed his eyes at the Storyteller. He looked as if he was about to chastise the older man, but he kept whatever remarks he had to himself.
Glancing from Garland to Warwick, Christina tried to decipher their moods. She wanted to believe they were only teasing, but she had a nagging feeling that Garland was still sore about the bridge and Warwick was tired of putting up with his dismissive tone.
"Since you have decided to join us once again, could I interest you in some stew? I know it is not much, but that seems to be all we could manage this evening on our own."
Garland dropped his gaze. Shame and irritation crossed his face before he hid it in he shadows. He stalked to where Christina sat and snatched up his bow. "We should be going."
Vetch groaned. "But we're still eating! Do you expect us to eat on the run? No one can follow us know. How are they gonna get across that gorge?"
The archer looked to Vetch slow and unsteady. He tilted his head as if straining to see him. "You may continue as you wish, young one. Chris and I are moving on. We have more ground to cover."
A low grumble came from Warwick. "So you have decided to go on without us. Are we slowing you down that much, boy?"
Garland didn't acknowledge him. Christina, wide eyed, held her place. Something was off. This was not his normal demeanor. Yes, he could be gruff, but this too bitter even for the archer.
"That is alright," Warwick answered himself. "I assumed this would come eventually. It is just like you to drag us out of our comfortable lives for some harebrained scheme to dash this poor girl across creation only to dump us at the first sign of trouble. I would expect nothing less from a washed-up knight who cannot even save his own hide."
Slack-jawed, Christina stared at the older man for his embittered telling. That was nothing close to their situation. Perhaps Garland knew of an approaching threat. Maybe if they went on their own, the others would be spared any more difficulties. She hoped she was right.
Even still, she wanted their little band to stay together. A cautious glance at the archer only left her wondering.
Garland's sneer darkened. "I am happy to know I have lived up to your expectations, sir. I will not bother you any longer."
He looked to Alkanet, "Your company has been dearly appreciated.
Next, he eyed Vetch. "I know it is your ability to see them to safety. Farewell."
"But …" Vetch was to his feet, "Wait, Garland!"
The archer had ahold of Christina's arm and was already pulling her to her feet. She was too stunned to counter him … at first.
She jerked her arm free and gaped at him. "What is going on, Garland? What is wrong with you? Where do you think we are going?"
He drew a deep breath and leaned down, bringing his face close to hers. She fought back the urge to cough at the rank of alcohol on his breath. "You want to go home, do you not? You are my only responsibility. You. The others her have simply tagged along for their own interests. This is not a game. I have a job to carry out."
"That's not true," Alkanet spoke up. "Not really. We all feel responsible for one another. The only interest we have is concern for each other." She paused for a moment and stepped closer. "And you are no longer a Knight, Garland. This is no longer your job. We are all here on our own. No games, no tricks. Just a group of friends looking to find some happiness."
Everyone softened at Alkanet's declaration. The timid young woman spoke her mind clearly. What more was there to say?
The archer didn't meet her eyes as he strained to form audible words. "The Knights are no more. That, I am aware of. But I am responsible for her," he said as he waved his hand in Christina's direction. "She wants to go home. She needs to go home. We are wasting time. There is not a reason to drag this out any longer. Let me finish this."
There was no more argument from the three remaining by the fire. Christina stood quiet, still in shock at the way things developed. She never imagined they would go separate ways. She never imagined they would all give up so easily.
"Do what you must," Warwick said with a huff. "We will not get in your way. Move along, boy."
The Storyteller looked to Christina. A sad smile tugged at his lips and added age to his wrinkled face. "Take care of yourself, Christina. Do not let anyone push you around, not even him. We will be seeing you again. Stay safe."
Garland staggered away shaking his head. Christina frowned at Alkanet and Vetch, not knowing what to say. She couldn't stand their disappointment anymore than she could Warwick's.
She hesitated too long. "Come, Chris. We have to move on. Bring nothing with you. We have all we need."
Turning to follow the archer, Christina felt lost. In all the times before, she could sense his courage. This was different. An air of self-doubt trailed him. He was not the same archer she had come to trust. Garland was broken.