"It's time for me to be going, now." Elrusyo comments offhandedly as we reach a rare smooth patch of road leading farther and farther away from the river to our right.
Everyone within earshot, up to and including those among us who seem as though they would genuinely enjoy his absence, turn to look at him with confusion. He quickly takes on another smile like a house cat who's gotten the dove down out of its cage.
"I know, I know. It already feels like we've been journeying together forever. But I promise you all, you will be able to carry on without me. My training has demonstrated that for each of you." He gives us an agonizingly sagely nod and ignores the dense silence that follows, until one of us finally asks what he means by "training".
"Now, now, I don't expect you to heap praise upon me for it. But surely you realized why I came to you."
"To take our drinking money?" Ciudo asks innocently.
"No." Replies Elrusyo, shaking his head.
"To horrify us onto the precipice of a coma?" Sarq grips the edge of his leather instrument case.
"While that was thoroughly enjoyable, no." The hedge-sage says with audible satisfaction.
"To annoy someone new and different after it's become abundantly clear to you that you are a sad, lonely creature with no loved ones, friends, or colleagues other than eccentric..." Hraela begins, fire in her voice, before gradually trailing off into hesitation and finishing that line of thought.
Do I qualify as one of those eccentrics? If so, I am oddly flattered.
"Oh, how I'll miss you the most, my dear Gert. But, no. I came to each of you knowing that I could help tease out a much-needed quality for the journey ahead. You, with your fiery dogmatism, needed an exercise in appreciating a perspective other than your own. Sarq, I already emphasized your role's importance, and you performed better than some field surgeons in a pinch. And Robber, my dear friend, needed a couple of pints of reminding that you are not one of those stodgy professors- that among other things, you must feel the life you're leading, even if it's in a drunken stupor." He pats me on the back.
"... What about me, sir?" Ciudo pipes back up in the resulting silence.
"What?" Elrusyo blinks and looks to our young linguist.
"... Oh! Er. Well, you, ah... Ahem. Well! I only needed to verify it, and sure enough, you are exactly who and what you need to be in order to, uh, thrive among your fellows here." He slaps together affirmations hastily.
"Really? ... Huh. Oh, wow." Ciudo seems to sit up a little more straight in his seat now. We don't say anything.
"Anyway, I will leave you all to it. You've got a lot of ground to cover before the next chapter of your story, I'd say? I have faith that you'll get what you have coming from this. And you might hear from me again, before you get to hide away safe in your dormitories once more. But only when you aren't looking for me." With hardly any movement on his part, he sets a bag down upon the wagon bench, slides over to its edge, and then disembarks.
We offer him several goodbyes of varying intensity as he reaches the edge of the road and continues walking. We watch him for some time, until the progress of the caravan turns out necks to their limits, or the folded canopy at the vehicle's back obscures our view. The others turn back toward one another and their own matters, discussing him for a short while before it peters off.
But as the wagons turn on a bend, I make an effort to stick my head out and crane my neck to catch sight of Elrusyo again.
It takes me a moment to realize that small shape in the distance is him. He must have been sprinting from the moment we pulled our eyes off of him, and then stopped only moment ago, to have gotten that far away in such a short amount of time!
Sarq pokes at the bag left behind nervously for several moments, before finally daring to open it up. Contained within are apparently many vials or strange or pungent liquids- medicines for Sarq to identify if he wants to be able to use them, evidently.
I look back from the strange gift to where I last spotted Elrusyo, and am forced to adjust my gaze by several more degrees. Somehow he's shot ahead even farther across the gently rising and falling alluvium past the edges of the heath. He stumbles, as if again he's just dropped out of a brisk run.
I shut my eyes, and rub them for a long moment.
When again I open them... the speck of a man has crossed the river's westward bend completely. I can scarcely make out any details about him now, except that he's apparently turned around to face me--me specifically, I can sense--and that he is now raising a rather rude gesture toward me on his fingers.
I turn away completely, and allow my strange friend to continue on, unimpeded by the tethers of observation as he forges on westward.