Dusk was falling, and one could hear the rumble of a haycart moving north along the road. The clip-clop of the horses' hooves vibrated rhythmically through the trees, and together with the steady grinding of the wheels they seemed to be the only noise around for miles.
"Damn spooky." the driver muttered to himself, taking another swig from his canteen. He was a balding, middle aged man with a certain liveliness to his eyes, and he was constantly glancing around as if afraid of what the shadows might hold. Then suddenly, the shadows parted up ahead, illuminating a human figure, and the driver pulled his cart to a sharp stop with a cry of surprise.
"Who be ye?!" the driver demanded. "I'm warning ye, I'm armed!'
"I mean you no harm." the stranger up ahead spoke. He was a young, brown haired man, with a tattered cloak whipped about by the wind. "I only seek a ride to Vjorica, and I have gold to pay with."
"Oh!" the driver brightened. "Why didn't you say so at the start? Hop on!"
"I'm Hamel." said the driver as the stranger climbed on board. "Here, have a swig of this mulberry wine, and tell me who ye are."
"My name is... Frederick." Fred gratefully accepted the wine and drank, feeling the warmth spread through his veins. The haycart started moving again. "I'm going to Vjorica to visit the Mage Guild."
Hamel whistled. "Whoah! Don't even wanna know about that. Damn mages. Look at these woods! Not an owl hootin' and not a cricket chirpin'. Been that way for weeks, and I'll be a blind beggar if it ain't the work of mages."
"One mage in particular." Fred nodded. "He must be stopped, and if I'm lucky, I can learn how to find him at the Mage Guild."
"Well!" Hamel said. "If ye're gonna knock off a mage, then you're allright by me. Here, drink some more!"
They drank, and talked. Hamel did most of the talking, cursing out mages, rich men, bandits, foul weather, and countless more small things that burden hay merchants. Fred developed a light buzz, and listened with some curiosity, until the woods parted and he saw Vjorica, with the Mage Guild towering through the mists in the center of town.
Hamel spat. "Now you don't wanna go there in the middle of the night! Those madmen might turn ye into a frog for wakin' 'em up. Tell ye what - stay as a guest in my home. I live on the west side of town, and me an' the missus'll treat ye to some real Vjorican hospitality! Then ye can see your spell-chantin' friends first thing tomorrow morning.
7/17/1999 8:41:23 AM
The Never Ending Quest Home
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