A stinging heat, clinging to every inch of his skin through each layer of cloth and armor alike, continuously causing it to feel itchy at certain intervals. Sweat was covering his skin, much like his hair, which was possibly as hot as a stove, especially on the top, due to its purely black color.
And yet, Maren would always keep his eyes downward, barely enough to be able to see the faint traces of the road in front of him to direct and guide his horse.
With a flicker of life returning to his gaze, he blinked his eyes once in a blank fashion the moment a gloved hand suddenly entered his view, holding a small leather pouch that was filled with water.
Wordlessly, Maren shook his head once, his dry lips formed into a thin, emotionless line, while his eyes seemed to return to their previously dormant state as he slightly held up a hand to reject the offer.
"I am fine, I apologize if I appear exhausted, it will not happen again, milady."
He bowed his head once.
And meanwhile, Maya was regarding her escorting guard with a sharp and knowing gaze.
"Did they teach you to always follow a script like that in the military?"
This time, Maren's eyes widened slightly when, despite his previous refusal, Maya gently placed the pouch into his hand regardless, more or less forcing him to accept it since it would be more than unbecoming and improper for him to return it just like that. Something that the cunning and diligent ambassador was more than aware of, indirectly taking advantage of his passive nature, albeit it was for no ill intentions.
Thus, he reluctantly took a sip. A sip that was quick to transform into another and yet another gulp the moment the cool and refreshing liquid traveled down his throat, even if he tried to hide it.
Naturally, it didn't quite work out, but the ambassador never chose to comment on it as she instead only showed a hint of a satisfied smile before she directed her eyes up ahead again.
They were deep in Glenrock's territory now, and far away in the distance, one could already see the large settlement that was led by the largest and most influential noble house in all of Glenrock.
If everything went right, they might finally be able to gather yet another ally against the impending outbreak of conflict, and possibly yet another war, against the Almeran Empire. It was not a question of whether or not it would happen, only when it would happen.
Just when Maya heard the faintest sound of a relieved sigh, she glanced beside her again to see that Maren had just about emptied the entire pouch.
Again, it almost seemed as though her guard suddenly perked up, as if her voice only just now reminded him that he was not exactly alone, showing just how much he seemed to be disconnected and absent from anything that was happening around him.
It required patience. A lot of patience.
But if one were to be willing to go that far, and take their every step with careful precision, Maya didn't doubt for a second that he would be a very loyal and earnest individual, even more so an invaluable soldier. She had an eye for a person's potential and nature, hence why she enjoyed having only a very small escort delegation on these diplomatic missions.
It was only such a shame that the military institutions themselves didn't possess such a sense of sensitivity.
He still didn't say another word, but at least he nodded.
"Tell me, what are your motivations to be a part of the military?"
"I live to serve my homeland."
Even if he had spoken those very same words with the greatest amount of enthusiasm a person could have had to offer, his body, his posture, his very expression alone spoke of a different truth. In a way, he was there, following each and every order he was given, but only physically. Again, as if he were following a tight script, never including anything that might be considered… individual.
"There are many ways to do this, one mustn't necessarily join the military for that."
For the briefest of moments, she could have sworn that his eyes narrowed ever so slightly. And there seemed to be a partially hidden sense of irritation beneath his gaze that he would never be willing to openly show.
"I have my reasons."
He closed his eyes, again, keeping his head respectfully bowed, and his voice small. For a moment it appeared as though he were thinking about saying something else, but if he did, it never came.
Without a sound, Maya let out a long exhale, internally humming to herself.
It was very difficult to get him to open up to her, and even the most efficient and thoughtful approach would ultimately be futile if the conversation partner refused to engage.
Needless to say, even the smallest push over the line could just like that also destroy any progress one had made, one had to know when it was best to leave it be for now.
Thus, she remained silent for the rest of the trip, always curious about the most peculiar guard that was with her during the entire time.
Always wondering what caused a person to be as they were now in the very present.
"We are already being expected." slowing her horse down, Maya eyed the two watchmen near the entrance of town who approached them. Their heads were mostly concealed by a large piece of cloth that was wrapped around their faces, leaving only a narrow slit for their eyes to see through.
Following her example, Maren slowed his horse down as well, taking a glance at the desert town in front of them.
"Warm sands to you, ambassador. The duke has already anticipated your arrival, we will take care of your mounts."
Curtly nodding her head once, Maya dismounted her horse along with her guard, allowing the watchmen to instead lead their horses towards the nearby stables. For a brief moment, Maya turned her head towards Maren, motioning for him to follow her along.
Albeit she couldn't suppress a small curve of her lips when she saw how he tried to dust off his boots a few times, obviously having caught a bit of sand within them. And he hated it.
As they were walking, Maya stole a glance at her guard every once in a while, who in turn was trying to keep his eyes either forward or to the ground.
He didn't like it here, she could tell that much. And it was most likely even an understatement. She could easily see that the enormous heat was getting to him, the noisy voices of the people, the more than unfamiliar environment…
"The duke's name is Kazen. His noble house is the most influential one in all of Glenrock, and it is him who is keeping all of the houses together in an unstable, but nonetheless established alliance."
Choosing to break the silence once more, she hoped that she could use this situation to try and break the ice a little again.
Maren hummed slightly in acknowledgment, shifting his eyes to the ground.
"He may appear as a charismatic smooth talker, but he is far from stupid. He has a sharp mind, and he knows exactly what he is doing to keep his alliance together. However, to our luck, he is currently in a tight situation, and we will try to exploit that. A rival house, almost equal in influence and power, is openly starting to show its sympathy with the Empire. Naturally, I needn't tell you that this would be bad for us, but it would also be a potential threat for Kazen's own rule. Which, in this case, makes us allies with a similar goal."
Silence reigned for a moment as Maya thought about her next words, but surprisingly, the next ones didn't stem from her mouth.
"... it astounds me every time…"
Slowly shifting her head to look at her guard, she raised her eyebrows slightly when she saw the almost empty expression on Maren's face. Nonetheless, she patiently waited for him to continue.
"... how whole nations and so much power are being held in the hands of a selected few who can call themselves royalty… no matter where you go."
Maya observed him closely, seeing an opportunity.
"You don't like royalty, do you?"
He didn't reply, but instead, he shifted his head away slightly in shame for having indirectly insulted his own monarch, but his fist was clenched, betraying his true thoughts.
"Neither do I."
With a small gasp, Maren actually looked at Maya directly for once, surprise clearly written over his face. But she merely even smirked slightly.
"But you would be surprised… sometimes those who stand above all the others are the ones who are the most miserable, even if you never knew."
Reaching into her small bag, Maya rummaged through it for a moment before she retrieved a fairly modest looking mask, handing it over to her guard.
Needless to say, his questioning glance was enough for her to explain.
"You need to wear this when we are about to meet Kazen. It is part of the good tone for foreign escorts and guards to conceal their faces during diplomatic exchanges. Just so that the focus remains entirely between the duke and the ambassador."
"... talk about privileges. But not that I mind."
"Talking about royalty, once we have met with Kazen, I believe you will have seen the rulers of two entire countries already, including our own esteemed king." allowing a more playful tone to seep into her voice, Maya actually cracked a small grin when she saw the barren look in Maren's eyes, even despite the mask he was now wearing.
"What an honor."
She had really made a lot of progress in getting him to open up slightly, and she used the momentum while she still had it.
"That leaves only the Imperial royal family. Apart from the Emperor himself, the Imperial crown princess is said to be one of the most beautiful and ferocious young women ever to be seen."
Maren merely huffed in annoyance.
"Meaning, another stuck up noble who thinks she's a goddess on earth while gorging herself in a luxurious life. How admirable."
For once, Maya actually chuckled at the choice of words Maren was using, along with the dripping sound of sarcasm.
"Shall I convey these words to her with your best regards should I ever come face to face with our sworn enemy?"
"There's no need, if it ever happens, I can do it myself."
Maya let her smile reside upon her lips, facing forward once more as they had finally arrived at their destination.
"I'll hold your word for it."