Six hours after dawn the group entered into the hamlet of Mel Tonnen.
Their first stop was the village inn. They wanted some food before they
visited the stabler to get the horses. Though a bit small, the Wine Rock
Inn proved a warm, comfortable place. This was only a village after all; a
few tradesmen, a blacksmith, a carpenter and such, along with a couple of
local artisans who specialized in pottery mostly, were the heart of the
little town. Otherwise, the area was in the middle of sheep herding
country. But the hamlet had the advantage of being nearby to where the
mountains of the Goth met the mountains of the Shreken and so it had a
greater amount of traffic moving through it than otherwise would have been
the case. Although the majority of north-south crossings took place
further west, at the Gap, many people from the northlands of Haevnheim
chose instead to follow Tumbar's Road, which crossed directly over the
Shreken, to reach the southlands of Ryngaerd. The Road was far enough away
from the territory normally visited by the Dragon that only a few hill
forts along its path were required to keep travelers safe.
From where he was seated, Fred had a good view of the rest of the inn. There was nothing out of the ordinary there, no one of suspicious character, but Fred still felt on edge. While he didn't expect any trouble, he still remained on his guard. This land, these people, lived under the shadow of the Goth, and he would not feel safe until he had left these hills and the peaks above him far behind. And he would not be happy until he reached his home.
They ate in silence, even Rowena keeping her gay voice quiet for a change. The dwarves did not speak unless spoken to, Rowena had realized that quick enough. And it was clear that Fred, in his present mood, would not welcome idle banter. This troubled her. While never the most gregarious of men, this was hardly the brother Rowena remembered. Suddenly, his plate half full, Fred stood up. He told them he needed to relieve himself and when he returned they would go to the stabler. Without waiting for reply he left the table and walked toward the rear of the inn.
As he headed for the back door Fred caught snatches of conversation from the different groups that sat throughout the room. Local talk centered mostly around sheep, the quality of pasture land, the number of lambs born, how many had been attacked by predators from the mountains; that sort of thing. But the visiting merchants and the travelers from the north were all abuzz about the death of the Dragon. The word had spread. And it had grown as well. Only Fred and Astra knew what really happened in the Southern Caves, but that did not stop others from telling a tale filled with monsters and dangers and whatever else they could make up. He wondered what these people would do if they found out that the brave and mighty slayer of the Dragon wasn't dead at all and that he was actually passing through this very hamlet. They wouldn't believe it, he decided. He hardly looked like the dashing and handsome knight that they spoke about with such awe and excitement. And he had no intention of setting the record straight. Not until he reached the King's Court.
When he returned to his table the others were ready to depart. But as they moved toward the door, Fred hesitated. The others looked at him, questioningly. Fred wanted to move on more than any of them, but he had heard a few things whispered round the inn which he found troubling. Two sheepmen near the bar had spoken of attacks by the dark wolves. And the attacks were getting bolder, the wolfpack growing larger. They were gathering again. The sheepmen did not understand it. Valpurg Night was more than a month away. A merchant near the back claimed to have seen something strange moving through the hills above the Oxen Way. As if the earth itself was on the move. And it was coming in this direction. A pair of young girls sat at a corner table discussing the death of the Dragon. One was not convinced the story was true. She intended to find out for herself. Younger than Rowena and barely 100 pounds if that, the girl swore that if the knight named Fred had failed then she would finish the job. But first she needed to take care of the badness that hid in the hills. And last of all, Fred could not forget what he had heard in the outer court, the words whispered by the pale and trembling servant boy.
Fred's sense of duty now pulled him in two directions. He needed to report to his King and for Astra's sake if nothing else he needed to dissuade those who now pressed for an attack against Aqualaria. And he also desperately wished for the company of his father. But he had learned to hate the Goth; it had brought him only misery and horror. And, again for Astra's sake, he wished to strike out at the evil that haunted its dark crags and stone cliffs. Fred was torn. Should he stay or should he go?
2/19/2000 4:28:14 PM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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