Lady Al-Uzza was tired. The long hours of riding in the hot sun made her weary. She looked at Althos with something of envy. Somehow, the monk was cheerful and seemed to show no signs of discomfort for their travel. She ignored her secretary but suspected that the younger woman would be equally chipper. Althos laughed and joked with the guards. When a snake appeared in the path and his horse was spooked, the gravelly voiced monk laughed as he got the beast back under control. Then he dismounted, picked the serpent up, and tossed it aside calling after the creature that he wished it a swift journey. It brought some laughter from their companions. Al-Uzza, however, was not amused.
It was close to midday. They came to a village that the priestess did not think was large enough to support the few goats she saw milling about. The party stopped at the well in the center of the village. A woman drawing water looked up at them in surprise. When she saw Al-Uzza, she bowed deeply. "My Lady," she said, "may the Holy Mother bless you always." The woman's sudden, reflexive gesture of homage made Al-Uzza forget for a moment her discomfort.
She put on a benevolent smile and made a grand gesture of blessing. "And may you and your home be ever blessed, my child," she said, trying to sound as dignified and benevolent as possible. The woman did not straighten. She remained bowed and quietly asked how she may serve Al-Uzza. The priestess's smile turned to one of pleasure.
"Draw us water, my child, and all shall be as it must," she answered. Althos restrained the urge to scowl at Al-Uzza. The monk dismounted as the woman began drawing water up with her pail. He spoke to her in a small whisper. Then he began pulling water up from the well. As he poured it into the trough, the woman stood beside him with her hands clasped and her eyes lowered. When the trough was full of water, Al-Uzza began to motion her mount forward.
Althos stepped up and took hold of the bridle. "You must dismount so that the horse may rest," he whispered in his low voice. Al-Uzza's smile faltered. "May I assist you, my Lady," he said. Al-Uzza gave a nod. Althos's hands took of Al-Uzza's waist and he looked up at her. She awkwardly shifted her weight and Althos's expression turned to an inscruitable mask. "My Lady, if you would turn so that both of your feet are towards me, this would be most helpful," he muttered. Al-Uzza restrained the urge to huff in annoyance, deciding that it was more comfortable to be irritated with the man helping her than the fact that she had forgotten how to dismount a horse.
After an awkward moment, Althos successfully helped Al-Uzza to the ground. He lead her mount forward and began the business of getting it settled. Behind them, the rest of the party dismounted. The woman standing by the well began to draw water for the party when Althos turned to Al-Uzza. "My Lady," he said, "I ask that you allow this mother to rest." Al-Uzza squinted at the woman for a moment. There seemed to be a roundness to her belly that the priestess didn't note earlier. She made a dismissive gesture.
"Of course," Al-Uzza said, "And may our Lady bless you and your child for your service." The woman gave Althos a grateful look before taking her jug of water. As she began to walk off, one of the gaurds walked up. He lifted the jug and set it on his shoulder as he spoke quietly to her. They walked towards a house at the edge of the square. He set the jug down before the door. The woman stepped in her door when a boy stepped out and carried the jug inside.
Al-Uzza looked around the village, her stomach rumbling slightly. "Where are the people?" she said, annoyed that no one else had greeted her or otherwise given indication that they were aware of her presence.
"My Lady," Althos said, "The elders of the village are likely resting as it is the hour of the midday sleep. The able bodied men are away with the army, as her Serene Highness had called them to service. Our pause here will not be long because we are expected at Midloth when the sun is in the third quarter of the sky, a few hours from now."
Al-Uzza glared at Althos. "You do not rule this journey," she hissed at him. Althos straightened from drawing water to add to the trough. He looked at her with his earlier mask like expression.
"No, my Lady," he answered, "But I know that we must travel faster if we are to reach the city before the storm comes. Do you not feel the weight of the air? Do you not sense the way it grows thicker as we move north? A storm awaits us in the most physical sense, my Lady. I did not think you wished to travel in rain. Am I incorrect? I will confess, a bit of rain would be refreshing."
Al-Uzza scowled at Althos. He gestured to the east. She looked towards the hills and saw that the clouds she had been ignoring had grown darker. "No, let us go to Midloth. When the beasts are refreshed, we shall continue on." Althos gave Al-Uzza a bow.
"I defer to your wisdom, Lady Al-Uzza," he said. One of the gaurds hastily coughed to cover up a laugh. Al-Uzza would have turned to glare at the man but she wasn't sure who it was. The acolyte stood serenely behind Al-Uzza, holding the bridle of her own mount. As the priestess looked over her shoulder at the young woman in white, the acolyte gave Al-Uzza a bland look.
"Note this village," the priestess said, "Let the mother who served us be rewarded for it." The acolyte nodded.
Althos said in a dry tone. "My Lady is wise as she is benevolent." Al-Uzza scowled at the monk but said nothing.