Thornstaff scowled as another pebble hit his back. His apprentice had been throwing pebbles at him all morning and seemed to think that she could get away with it. Another pebble hit him. Thornstaff turned to face his apprentice with a soft growl, glaring down at her smug little human face.
"You shouldn't glare at me like that. Your face will stick that way." The girl said cheekily, her grin grew even smugger when he blinked in faint surprise.
"What? No, Stop it." He growled, towering over her thin frame.
"Stop what? You aren't being all that specific." The girl, Ryjah, said with her irritating grin, her eyes wide with innocent confusion but he had already seen the way her fist curled around her pebbles and snorted in disbelief. He grabbed her hand and uncurled her short human fingers. He raised an eyebrow at her as he revealed the small pebbles in her hand.
"Oh, how did those get there?" she asked, still in all innocence.
Thornstaff rolled his eyes as he took them from her, not fooled in the slightest. "Really? You expect me to believe that, girl?"
Ryjah gave an exaggerated sigh. "Why do you always call me girl?"
"I don't always call you girl." Thornstaff said tossing the pebbles into the bushes "Just when you annoy me. Would you rather that I call you Human or child?"
"No, and I'm not a child, I'm 15." Ryjah huffed and folded her arms in indignation.
"To an Elf, you are a child." Thornstaff remarked then turned and walked away.
Ryjah hurried to catch up at least she walked beside him this time. "What about carrots?" He asked a few moments later, with the beginnings of a wry grin. He was well aware that she hated that nickname, though he found it accurate, at least when referencing her hair.
It took her a few moments to realize what he meant but when she did, her mouth dropped open in outrage "Carrots! Definitely not! How dare you even suggest such a thing! You will ruin my self-esteem with a horrible name like that! "
Thornstaff just smirked at her but his smirk was replaced by a scowl the instant she slapped him. "Carrots it is. "
Ryjah scowled back at him. "Would it be so hard to call me Ryjah every now and then?"
"Would it be so hard not to torment me every now and then?"
Ryjah didn't answer him muttering to herself instead. Thornstaff wondered, and not for the first time, why he had bothered to take her on as an apprentice. At least an Elf would know to show their mentor the proper respect. But humans, in the entirety of their fleeting lives, couldn't be bothered with such a thing as respect. Thornstaff slowed his pace thinking that he'd heard something, Ryjah didn't notice she was still muttering to herself. He concentrated for a moment then stiffened when he heard shouting and ring of weapons. He strung his bow with hands that moved quicker than sight. He touched one of the arrows in his quiver lightly, but did not take it out.
"What is it?" Ryjah asked, she had clearly not heard anything but adjusted her grip on her Quarterstaff and got into a defensive position anyway.
"I don't know... I'm going to check it out. Wait here. I really need another familiar." Thornstaff muttered then disappeared into the trees without a sound.
Thornstaff slipped through the trees, Ryjah didn't know it but the day before he had come across the trail of a large group that had little to no care for the forest around them. It annoyed Thornstaff that Ryjah had not noticed despite the several hints he had given her along with the obvious trail. Or maybe humans were more blind than he had previously thought. Still, she had been his apprentice for a year now, she ought to have learned how to spot the tracks of a large group.
Thornstaff slowed and crept to the edge of a clearing, then curled his lip in disgust. There were fifteen human men in the clearing, one or two were still sleeping, even though it was already mid morning, all the men were dressed in black and those awake were arguing with each other and fighting in some cases. An oddly dressed pudgy human with a bushy tan beard and bright blue eyes was tied up in the center of the camp. Thornstaff growled in displeasure, the floor of the clearing was littered with the bones of small animals, half-eaten food, and scattered cloth. Crude carvings were etched into the trees, several were burned, a horse was tied to one of them. There were a cage with some birds in it at one end of the camp.
This wasn't the entire group, there were signs of several others, but Thornstaff almost attacked then and there but remembered just in time that he had left Ryjah by herself where she was bound to get into trouble. He growled to himself then returned to fetch his apprentice fuming. Furious that humans would such a thing on his land.
Ryjah was still in her defensive position and jumped nervously when he returned. "What was it?" she asked him
"Bandits are in my forest!" Thornstaff snarled, glaring at the world in general and added as an afterthought. "And they've captured another human, bard by the look of him."
"Are we going after them?" the girl asked.
Thornstaff could not believe what he had just heard and was so incredulous that the girl smiled to his continued irritation. "Of course we are, did you really think I would allow such filth on my land?" Thornstaff spat. "Come, it's time to go, keep your hood up and try to be quiet."
Then he set off at a swift pace eager to rid the forest of the bandits but the girl couldn't keep up and be quiet at the same time. She was cracking sticks and rustling leaves with almost every step she took. "I'm trying!" Ryjah gasped indignantly when he turned around yet again with an irritated expression as she cracked another stick. With a sigh, he waited for her to catch up then hissed "Use the shape shift spell I taught you. Mouse or Squirrel. I'll carry you and we'll go faster."
Ryjah did as he commanded, shamefaced, Thornstaff picked up the red squirrel and set it on his shoulder as he slipped through the trees, silent as a wraith. Thornstaff could tell that Ryjah was upset but he was not in the mood to tend to her wounded feelings. He slowed only when he was approaching the clearing, Ryjah made a small noise of disgust at the sight of it. Most of the bandits seemed to have gotten over their argument and were now tormenting the bard.
"Band of Adara forsaken forest-blights!." Thornstaff hissed with an angry snarl. He felt Ryjah shiver on his shoulder and looked down at her in mild confusion before whispering "I'll cause a distraction so that you can free the bard, stay as a squirrel, chew through the ropes. If there are any bandits left then you are to protect the bard. Understand? "
Ryjah nodded, but Thornstaff didn't plan on there being any bandits left by the time that she would be able to do anything about them..