He hadn't expected to see a town in the distance after being three months lost in the wilds. Thuris stood on the hillside and looked down at the valley, thinking the buildings must be giant muskrat dens, the smoke up was hot water vents from some miserable swamp.
"What's wrong now?" Daylia demanded as she came up the hillside. "More orcs? I'm damned tired of orcs -- oh."
"Town. Good," Thuris said. He thought he sounded too much like an orc.
"And if we get moving, we can make it there by sunset. Then we can call an official end to this little adventure."
"What town is it?" Thuris asked. "Should we --"
"We should get our asses down there and find a place to stay. Clean up. Part company and hope never to see each other again."
He agreed with that one. He and Daylia had not gotten along well, and once they'd lost the other members of the party -- who had been wise enough to turn back after three days with the two of them -- there'd been nothing to do but press forward or admit defeat. Neither Thuris nor Daylia had personalities that would give up first, so the two had pressed on. Thulis had thought the 'adventure' would never end.
Daylia had started down. He hurried to catch up with her. At least they'd found a couple ruins in the forest and managed a reasonably good haul. If the others hadn't taken the map with them, they might have made it back to civilization in a reasonable time.
They'd only tried to kill each other once, and who knows how that might have turned out if the orcs hadn't shown up?
This nightmare was almost over.
The town turned out to be the bustling metropolis of Dusty. It lived up to it's name. Thuris had been covered in mud and dirt -- not to mention a few twigs and leaves -- when he entered the edge of town, but in a few moments he was covered in another layer of dust as well. He tried to brush it off.
When he had given up, he looked up to find a group of four elderly ladies heading straight for them. He'd faced down orcs and worse. He'd even faced down Daylia -- but something about these four unsettled him. He thought even Daylia thought about retreating, but of course she wouldn't before he did, so they were stuck.
"Oh, this won't do. Won't do at all."
"No, it won't."
"Strangers, you can tell."
"Should take better care of themselves."
"We have rules here!"
"This won't do at all."
It was impossible to track which one was speaking. He wasn't entirely sure how they got herded towards the local inn, but he thought he heard the word 'clean' in there somewhere and that was enough for Daylia. It was enough for him, too.
Just about sunset, he stepped back out of the building, feeling like a new man. Clean, clothed, the damned beard gone -- and it hadn't even cost him much. They'd handed him a sheet of paper as he reached the door, the four elderly women giving him a nod of approval.
"These are the rules."
"We brook no arguments."
"Yes ma'am," he said. "No ma'am." And scurried out the door and nearly ran into the young woman there. "Pardon me -- oh, it's you."
Daylia glared at him. "I suppose you think this is funny," she said, a finger dragging at her collar.
"No. I just thought you said you never wore dresses."
Thuris glanced at the paper in her hand, and then at the one they'd handed him.
No unseemly behavior.
Women must dress in a seemly manner.
Men must dress as gentlemen.
His eyes started to cross.
"What the he --" he started, but she dropped her hand over his mouth.
The four old ladies came out of the building and looked them over.
"Not loitering are you?"
"Against the rules, you know."
"I'm not sure it's proper behavior to touch his mouth, young lady!"
"No unseemly behavior!"
"It's against the rules, you know!"
"Move along, move along! No holding hands!"
As if they would.
By noon the next day, he'd been told 'no' so many times, he was starting to feel like a badly trained puppy. He was so unhappy that he was even glad to see Daylia sneak behind the shed where he was hiding. She gave him a nod.
"What kind of hell have we wandered into?" he whispered, looking nervously around for the old ladies. They always moved in gangs of four, and they seemed to be everywhere.
"This is a grandtocracy."
"Pardon?" That was one he'd never heard of before.
"A town ruled by grandmas."
"Dear sweet gods, whoever thought this was a good idea?"
She nodded and pulled at her collar again. "I don't know, but I'm sure they're damned sorry by now."
Not too far away they suddenly heard voices.
"Oh, I heard it too!"
"Cursing! Two people cursing!"
"When I get my hands on them, I'll give them something to curse about!"
"We have rules here!"
"They can't be far."
Daylia looked at him. "The orcs were better than this."
He nodded agreement but they didn't have time to say anything more as they hurried away, doing their best to avoid the little old ladies and their rather stout canes.
Barely fifteen minutes later, Thuris had his backpack on, his sword at his side, and was quietly slipping down the back stairs to the inn. He was not surprised to find Daylia, dressed in her fighting clothes, waiting at the bottom of the steps.
"Mountains," she said. "We don't want them to see us running across the open ground. They might catch up."
"Mountains and our old friends the orcs," he agreed.
They still had a hard run for it before they left the grandmas behind.