A few hours later, Tarin caught up with Rift, Fred and Astra. There was
fresh blood on
the blade of his axe, and Fred and Astra thought they could guess what the
the guardian of the bridge had been.
Astra looked at Tarin thoughtfully. She didn't have a weapon, and even if she had had one the dwarf would be a formidable adversary even for so skilled a warrier as herself. But if what Rift had told her was true, and he had given his letter to her parents to Tarin for safe-keeping, then if she could somehow defeat Tarin she could get hold of that letter and then deal with Rift as he deserved.
Meanwhile back in Walants, after combing the town thoroughly the Aquilarian rangers had concluded that if Astra had once been there she was there no longer. Just when they were losing hope of finding out which way she had gone, they found someone who claimed to have seem a flame-haired woman in the company of two men leaving the town on horseback. They set out in the specified direction, unaware that because of Rift's detour they would soon be far away from the correct path.
Making sure that they were out of hearing of Fred and Astra, Tarin had told Rift that Notch, though he still lived, no longer posed a threat. Though Tarin didn't spell out why Notch could now be disregarded, he didn't need to. "Assuming we aren't unlucky enough to run into any more bandits or the like," Tarin told Rift, "we should reach the dragon's lair within four days. Don't forget, I get fifty per cent of the loot." Rift frowned inwardly. He was hardly likely to forget, though in the circumstances he supposed he was fortunate that Tarin was letting him keep even half.
"What are you planning to do with those two afterwards?" Tarin asked Rift, nodding towards Fred and Astra as they rode some twenty yards ahead. "The thought of having a princess effectively enslaved amuses me. I think I'll keep her for a while. Only if I can get the Crystallic thing to work, though, and can change her appearance. She's too recognisable as she is, and sooner or later I may run into someone who knows her. As for the man, I fear that he could be trouble. Once we've found the dragon's lair, you can use your axe on him." Tarin nodded. That would be no problem.
When they stopped for a meal-break, Rift decided that there was no point in waiting any longer to try the Crystallic on Astra. Surreptitiously fishing it out of his pocket, he concentrated on wishing that Astra's red hair should change to black. If that worked, he might try something else a little more ambitious; he wasn't sure.
8/24/1999 1:28:36 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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