The sun had just set, but the warm glow of dusk still seeped over the horizon. In the valley below was a semi-circle of gypsy wagons drawn up against the sheer rock face. Children's voices vied with the clanging metal of cookware as the camp set itself up for supper for the evening. Although the children laughed and played, they were careful to stay within the confines of the camp.
A dark man sat astride an impressive stallion on top of the hill overlooking the camp. His clothing was non-descript, but he carried a broadsword over one shoulder and a bow lay unstrung across the back of the saddle. He riding grays included a cloak clasped with a pin in the shape of a dragon – the Kings Mark. It wasn't prominently displayed, but neither was it hidden. The stallion was well groomed, but had been ridden hard; the same could be said of the man. He smiled as he looked down at the wagons; it looked more like a military encampment than a simple gypsy gathering. It was exactly where he would have chosen to draw up the wagons; times were tough for gypsies in Europe.
The man started down the hill, the promise of a hot meal overcoming his need for secrecy. He made sure to approach directly at the lead wagon so he would not be mistaken for a bandit. A gypsy he had not noted from the hill came out from the shadows of another wagon with a cocked crossbow leveled at his chest.
"Who goes there?" The crossbow did not waver.
The man shifted in the saddle, "I come for a hot meal and the warmth of the fire. I can pay for my food". As he spoke he allowed the dragon clasp to be visible to the gypsy.
The gypsy saw the mark and lowered the bow. "There was a time when the sign of the dragon meant honor in these lands. I haven't seen such a mark in some time."
"I have ridden up plainly and shown no aggression. You have 2 other men guarding each side of the caravan, both with drawn crossbows. Knowing that, had I meant harm, would I have approached as I did?" He said the last with a slight smile and a nod.
The gypsy's eyes widened at the listing of his caravans entire defensive measures laid bare before this mans gaze. But what the man said rang true. Those that meant harm rarely approached from the front. "You may sup with us, but you will be watched. I am called Burak."
The man dismounted and followed Burak past the wagons deeper into the camp. The clamor that he had heard from the ridge was amplified tenfold but it was comforting. He had been away from civilization for long enough that the everyday sounds of humanity was a welcome change. His conversation with the guard was the first spoken words he had uttered in over a month since riding out from England. He noticed the children starting to follow him and his horse and showed the small smile again. As a young boy he had done much the same thing whenever a noble rode into court.
Burak showed the man where to tether his horse and led him to the nearest campfire. He left his bow on the horse but kept his sword, transferring it to his hip as he sat by the fire. A warm bowl of stew and a heel of bread was put in his hands and he sat down.