Friday, February 29, 2008

Chapter Three

A slow, steady throb of pain beat a rhythm behind Brayden's eyes. Awareness scratched at the edges of his mind, driven by that very same pain. Slowly, his senses returned. At first it was the dull ache in his head. Then, he noticed the scratchy texture of whatever it was that he lay upon. Next, the pleasant scent of roasting meat tantalized his nose, making his stomach rumble. Finally, the sound of nearby merriment drew Brayden to full wakefulness.

Gritting his teeth, Brayden rolled onto his side. He was rewarded with a fit of racking coughs. After resting on his side for several minutes Brayden steeled himself for an attempt to sit up.

Beginning slowly, he used his arm to lever himself upward. Pain shot through his ribs like an icy knife. It robbed him of his breath, sending him into another paroxysm of coughing. He gasped for breath, nearly toppling off of the cot but steadying himself. Groaning in pain, Brayden took a moment to recover his breath and a bit of his strength. A voice from somewhere inside his head chided him to lay back down and rest, but concern for Sethyr drowned out the voice.

Brayden rubbed his eyes, massaging his temples to clear his head. He opened his eyes for the first time. Taking in his surroundings, Brayden pondered his situation. He sat on a rough cot covered by a thin, homespun blanket. The cot sat in one corner of a crude, yet neatly kept hut.

A workbench of some sort stood against the far wall. Several shelves were mounted above the workbench, each lined with ceramic jars of various sizes and shapes. Each was labeled, but in the dim light of the hut Brayden could not read the flowing script from where he sat.

With a start, he realized that he was wearing nothing but a long, linen nightshirt. Someone must have changed his clothes after he had passed out. Brayden reflexively snatched up the rough blanket, covering himself modestly. The effort earned him another fit of coughing. After it passed Brayden pulled the blanket over his shoulders like a cloak and held it close. He shivered despite the mild temperature in the hut.

Pulling the blanket even closer, he rose unsteadily to his feet and shuffled toward the door of the hut. Fatigue and pain forced him to stop every few steps to catch his breath and steady himself. As he shuffled toward the door the sounds of merriment grew louder and more distinct. It sounded like the entire village was celebrating.

Nearly to the door, Brayden rearranged his grip on the blanket to free one of his hands and reached for the door. As his hand brushed the door it flew open, startling him. An involuntary flinch nearly sent him to his knees as he swayed on already unsteady legs.

Sunlight streamed in through the open doorway revealing a burly man dressed in fine clothes. He wore a grim expression that did not match the celebratory sounds outside. The man strode forward, steadying Brayden with a strong hand.

"I am Ernst, headman of the village of Hedgewise and I must speak with you." The look in Ernst's eyes chilled Brayden. Years of hearing confession during his training as a protector let him recognize irreconcilable guilt in Ernst's expression.

"Yes, we must talk," Brayden replied.

Ernst gingerly helped Brayden back to the cot, helping him settle himself.

"I hope that out wise-woman's ministrations have been of help to you," Ernst said. "She even offered up her home for your recovery." He gestured around the hut casually.

"Of that, I am very grateful. However, young man, I doubt that this is the matter you feel so compelled to discuss."

"Yes, that is so." Ernst paused momentarily, gathering his courage to speak. "There is a more grave matter at hand."

A surge of cold fear ran down Brayden's spine.

"Is Sethyr here?" he asked, cutting through the preliminaries.

"If you mean the lizard, then the answer is yes."

Brayden felt a wave of relief.

"Where is he? I must speak with him," he asked.

Ernst frowned. "So, this lizard was your acquaintance?"

"Yes, he is my companion and a good friend," Brayden answered.

"This is what we must speak about."

Brayden hesitated, gathering his wits, and slipped into the practiced role of confessor. His entire countenance changed, becoming open with an understanding expression. "Go ahead and tell me," Brayden said using a reassuring tone.

"Your lizard friend dead!" Ernst blurted. "There was nothing I could do."

Brayden stared at Ernst, his face not changing. It was if Ernst had not spoken the words.

"Did you hear me?" Ernst asked. "Your friend is dead. There was a trial and he was sentenced to death. I am sorry."

Ernst reached out, putting his hand on Brayden's shoulder. The touch of Ernst's hand jolted like a splash of cold water. His blank expression melted, replaced by a rictus of rage. Brayden knocked Ernst’s hand away and leapt to his feet. His other hand shot out like a snake, striking the bigger man in the nose. He stumbled back, hands flying up to cover his nose. Blood dripped freely from behind his hands, confirming that Brayden had broken Ernst's nose.

Brayden advanced toward Ernst, his face still full of rage. The headman babbled a quick apology and fled out of the door of the hut.

Brayden followed, hard on Ernst's heels. The bright sunlight outside shocked Brayden as he emerged from the hut in pursuit. Squinting and shading his eyes, he paused, not able to follow the escape of his quarry. Ernst used those few moments to remove himself from Brayden's immediate reach and disappear into the shocked crowd.

A murmur of confusion passed through the crowd at Ernst's flight and Brayden's appearance. The protector scanned the crowd for some sign of the escaped headman. Seeing none he took a step toward the crowd, still fuming. Instinctively everyone took a step back from him, shying from his anger.

"Where is Sethyr?" Brayden addressed the crowd.

Muttered confusion filled the air. People looked at each other shaking heads and shrugging.

"Where is my friend Sethyr!" He shouted, his anger boiling over.

The crowd shrank back another step and then began to unravel at the edges.

Brayden stepped forward, pointing a peasant at the forefront of the crowd.

"You! Where is my companion...the lizard?"

The man's face paled, panic showing at the edge of his eyes. The trickle quickly turned into a flood.

Seeing the people fleeing, Brayden launched himself at the peasant he had addressed. They both went down in a heap and they began to wrestle. Brayden's fighting experience helped him quickly gain the advantage. He pinned the man down and sat astride his chest.

"Where is the lizard?" Brayden asked, barely containing his anger.

The peasant squirmed, eyes full of terror.

"It wasn't my fault."

"Chanti subdig vos!" Brayden growled, his voice taking on an otherworldly tone. His hands grew hot from the swell of energy he channeled to compel the man to answer him.

As the energy poured into him, the peasant stiffened and then relaxed, all fight having left him. The power of Chanti drove the man's will before it until it cowered in some forgotten place deep within his mind.

Brayden loosened his grip on the man. Once he was sure the peasant would not bolt he levered himself up to tower over him.

"Tell me where the Lizard is."

The peasant stared up at him in terror, struggling to speak.

"P...p...please don't hurt me. Please," he sputtered.

"Answer my question and I won't have to." Brayden responded sharply.

"It's gone."

"What do you mean, gone?"

"Gone. Dead...we killed it...for hurting you."

The man's last few words hit Brayden hard, making his brow knit in confusion.

"What do you mean, for hurting me?" he asked.

"We captured the creature and then you showed up, sorely hurt. We figured it had done it."

Brayden took a step back from the peasant. The strength drained from him as he realized what had happened. Evil had no hand in what had happened. Surly ignorance and fear played their parts, but evil never entered into the situation. Brayden's rage suddenly lost its focus, replaced by a deep sorrow. His head falling to his chest, Brayden let out a deep breath letting his channeled energy melt away.

Released from the protector's geas, the peasant scrambled to his feet and fled leaving Brayden all alone.

The solitude enfolded him like a blanket, smothering hope and light. A chill breeze whispered though the lonely village, robbing him of his last bit of comfort. Not sure what to do next and the last of his strength gone, Brayden carefully lowered him self to the ground and sat down, his legs crossed. His head dropped into his hands and he let out a sign of despair.

"Chanti, guide me," Brayden prayed.

"I have truly lost my way. May you forgive me for using your power for anger. Watch over and guide the Soul of my friend, wherever it may dwell."

Brayden heard a door creak open. He made a quick sign of veneration and looked up. Ernst emerged from a nearby hut, holding a bloody rag to his broken nose. He approached, his hand held out in peaceful greeting.

"Sir, I beg your patience. Do not blame these folk. Blame me. My courage was not string enough."

Brayden stared blankly at Ernst as the headman approached.

Ernst continued. "They have suffered this past year. Creatures come in the night, unseen and silent. Some folk have disappeared and most of the livestock has been slaughtered. The village is beset by fear."

"Does fear excuse all? I'm sure Sethyr was afraid when you killed him."

Ernst nodded. "Of course you are right. He did nothing to deserve his fate. It is my fault. I did not have the courage to face the fear and anger of my own people. And for that I will always be sorry.

Brayden looked at Ernst with hard eyes.

"By Chanti I hope that is enough."

With the words barely out of his mouth Brayden collapsed in a heap.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Chapter Two

A dull throb pestered Sethyr back into consciousness. The pain played a slow tattoo behind her eyes, the steady beat of her heart leading the rhythm. Feigning unconsciousness, Sethyr took careful stock of the sensations surrounding her. Sun shown on her face, telling her that she had been knocked out for more than a few seconds. She lay on soft grass, still slightly wet from morning dew. This told her that an hour or perhaps two had passed. The gathered voices of many people and the strong smell of wood smoke meant she was probably in the village of her attacker. Tight bonds around her wrists and ankles dashed her hopes of quick escape.

Resigning herself to helplessness for the moment, Sethyr concentrated on the nearby voices, hoping to catch some information that might be of use. Most of what she heard could be categorized as babble. However these people were their accents could be most courteously described as rural. Some conjectured on where the ‘lizard beast’ had come from. Others bemoaned the anticipated coming of a horde of her kind, intent on defiling their woman folk and eating their babies.

One particular snippet of conversation pricked her interest.

The voice said, “that burley knight is still dead ta the world. The lizard and his brutes surely done deep harm to him.”

She wondered if they had found Brayden. If they had, then at least he was safe, no matter her fate. It seemed that whoever had knocked her on the head had summoned help from some nearby village. Now the villagers had her, trussed up like a goose on Harvesttide.

Sethyr pondered what her next move should be. She doubted the villagers would listen to reason. Perhaps if she could forestall her fate long enough for Brayden to regain his senses he could intervene on her behalf.

Testing to see if her muzzle had been bound as well, Sethyr gently tried to open her mouth. She felt some sort of cord tighten as she tried. Somehow these buffoons had made the decision to gag her as well. Sethyr cursed silently. With one lucky stroke her abductors had stripped her of one of her most potent weapons; her glib tongue.

The sound of approaching voices intruded on her thoughts.

“Get that thrice damned lizard on his feet,” a basso voice roared.

Rough hands grabbed her by the arms and pulled her upright. Sethyr decided in a flash to feign continued unconsciousness and hope this would dissuade the villagers from immediate action. The hands holding her kept her upright, but she let her head loll back. Whoever was holding here nearly lost their grip, sending her to her knees. This time she let her head pitch forward.

“If the beast can’t at least acknowledge its crimes then I suppose we have to just kill it now…trial or no,” the deep voice bellowed once more.

With few other choices, Sethyr stood on her own and slowly opened her eyes. She cast a contemptuous gaze at the man standing before her. Among the shabbily dressed peasants crowding around, his well-made clothes marked him as prosperous man. He was also above average height for a human and built like a barrel of lager. The man’s round, child-like face belied his burly frame. He glared down at her with.

“Well, I’m glad you decided to wake up. We can’t have a proper trial with you unable to answer the charges. You and yours nearly killed that noble knight. He lays, even now, insensible and in our good care.”

Sethyr cocked her head, contempt showing in her eyes. “My good sir, I doubt you would know a proper trial if one of them dropped on your head and danced a jig.”

The man moved forward, his hand poised to strike. He stopped with an obvious exercise of will. “Listen here beastie, just because you come from a land of uncivilized brutes doesn’t mean we will treat you as one. Here in Hedgewise we abide by the law…and it even applies to the likes of you.”

“Uncivilized brute?” Sethyr hissed. “It seems that you are the one who tied me up, not the reverse. What evidence have you that I am responsible for Brayden’s injuries.”

“Brayden?” The man asked, looking confused.

“Yes, Brayden, the noble knight, as you so described him. He is not my enemy, but my companion. He received his injuries defending me from several canids,”

Anger and uncertainty mingled in the man’s eyes as Sethyr spoke. “that seems a lie. There’s no way a man like him would suffer the likes of you.”

“A man like him? How can you possibly know what kind of man he is?” Sethyr asked.

“He…well…he wears the mark of Chanti.”

Sethyr hissed a laugh. “So, a bit of cloth with a symbol on it is enough to sway your feeble mind? And simply because I am one of the Cairnfolk you are ready to condemn me in an instant.”

The man nervously ran a hand through his thick, curly hair, no longer seeming so confident.

Sethyr sighed. “I suggest you give Brayden time to wake up and he can clear this all up.”

The man looked concerned, watching Sethyr with more than a bit of skepticism. “I’d like to wait, beast, but this mob’ll never have it. It need’s to be fed and I’m sorry, but it’s not going to be me who’ll burn to sate it.”

Sethyr nodded, "The mob, you say? I thought wolves hunted in packs, not monkeys."

"That is no way to get help out of me, lizard," Ernst said irritably.

"My deepest apologies. At times my serpentine nature gets the best of me," Sethyr hissed sardonically. Please just make sure they do not burn me. My people consider it a sin to be consumed by fire. If given a choice, I would rather be drowned…if I must choose a fate.”

The man nodded earnestly. “Yes, yes, I’m sure I can at least convince them of that.”

Ernst turned without another word and strode into the milling crowd. After a few moments Sethyr head his booming voice cut through the babble of the mob.

"Folk of Hedgewise, pray attend my words!" Ernst bellowed.

The noises subsided to a hushed grumbling.

"I have questioned the beast and it claims innocence." The mob responded with shouts of disbelief and dissent.

"Please, good folk, let me speak." Once again, the crowd quieted.

Ernst continued. "The beast claims friendship with the Chantite. We must wait for him to recover before we pass judgment."

The crowd transformed back into a mob carried on a wave of shouted curses.

The chant "burn the lizard" rose from the mob filling the village with the sounds of hate and anger.

Sethyr squirmed in her bindings, trying desperately to wriggle out somehow and flee from the raw hatred of the villagers. Despite her best efforts, the leather thongs would not budge. She watched the mob, filling with panic at her seemingly inescapable fate.

Ernst emerged from the mob, parting it with sheer might of muscle. He approached Sethyr and kneeled down as if to check her bindings.

"I am very sorry, but you can see that this rabble won't be satisfied with anything less than blood. All I can do is promise that you won't burn...and that much might cost me dearly." Ernst paused for a moment, shaking his head.

"You must think us savages. I wish you could have seen these folk at their best instead of their worst." He finished his pantomime of checking her bonds and rose to his full height, turning to face the mob.

"Good folk, I have reached a judgment!" Ernst's rich basso voice cut through the surrounding clatter of voices. All eyes turned to him as a tense silence descended.

"As I said, I have reached my judgment. The beast must be punished. It will pay with its life for the harm done to the Chantite protector."

The mob roared, the gathered voices showing a sharp edge of bloodlust.

"Burn, burn, burn," they chanted.

One particularly unkempt villager emerged from the mob with a burning torch, rushing past Ernst and jabbing it at Sethyr. Ernst cuffed the villager like a bear swatting a bothersome dog. The man fell to the ground, stunned. Snatching up the torch, Ernst waved it in the direction of the mob. Cowed by his great size and the flaming torch, they retreated a few steps, watching Ernst with eyes full on anger.

"I am the headman of this village," he shouted. "If any here object than speak up. You all know I am fair-minded and honest. I decide what the law says and today it says there will be no burning. I say deny the beast the purifying fire of Chanti and drown it. Today the pond will be the sword of justice."

Ernst's eyes burned more brightly than the torch he held.

Like some huge beast cowed by a smaller, more ferocious one, the mob settled itself with Ernst's decision.

Satisfied that he had made his will the law, he kneeled near Sethyr, again making a show of checking her bonds.

"I am very sorry," he whispered.

Sethyr saw tears welling up in his eyes, but he quickly wiped them away with a beefy hand.

The mob roared in agreement once again and streamed past Ernst to snatch up Sethyr and carried her toward the pond near the outskirts of Hedgewise.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Chapter One

A cricket chirped in the half light of the full moon. It sang out in search of a willing companion, intent on nothing but the urge to mate. It hopped along the crumbling window ledge of the ruined farmhouse, stopping and chirping every few hops. It began to chirp again, but a rustling from a deep shadow froze it. Its antennae whipped the surrounding air, reaching out for any sign of danger, but found none. It settled down, puffing out its wings to chirp again when death descended on it. A reptilian tongue shot from somewhere in the deep shadow, catching the cricket on its sticky tip. The tongue disappeared back into the shadow followed by a crunching sound.

“Gods, Sethyr, I’m sick enough as it is. I don’t need to retch watching you eat bugs,” a voice said from within the shadows deeper inside the farmhouse.

“My apologies, Brayden, but it was a morsel much too tempting to resist. Call it a late evening snack,” a smooth, yet sibilant voice replied from the shadows near the open window.

Sethyr rose from the shadow. Her smooth, well-groomed scales caught the moonlight almost making them glow. She wore a rich, velvety robe which appeared grayish red in the soft light of the moon. The sleeves, neck, and hem of the robe sparkled with brocaded trim of gold and silver thread. She peered out of the window, scanning the clearing for signs of danger. She worked her tongue in the back of her mouth, trying to dislodge one of the cricket’s legs that had lodged itself between her back teeth.

“Could you bring me some water?” Brayden’s voice came out of the dark, disturbing Sethyr’s thoughts. She retrieved the waterskin from her pack and hissed under her breath. It was empty and the nearest place to fill it was a good walk from the farmhouse. If Brayden was not injured she would have told him to get his own water, but the ape-kin had been injured trying to protect her. She felt she owed him some consideration. Despite that, she still was not happy about the walk.

“I’ll go get some,” Sethyr chuffed in annoyance. “I’ll probably take a dip as well. I feel like I’m drying out.”

“Don’t be too long,” Brayden said. “I don’t expect the folk in these parts will be too friendly to your kind.”

“I’ll be careful,” she hissed in mock annoyance. “I am, after all, a mage of no small talent. The local ruffians had better know their place or they might end up a toad…and you know how tasty I find toads.” She flicked out her sticky tongue to emphasize her point but the gesture was lost in the ghostly light.

Sethyr stuffed the empty waterskin back into her pack and lifted the pack onto her shoulder. She stepped into the shadows just inside the crumbling doorway of the farmhouse and peered out into the night. The moonlight washed the land in a silvery radiance, giving it an almost intangible look, almost like spun glass.

She flicked her eyes, lowering the membrane that allowed her to see heat as well as light. She scanned the area again, but still did not see anything threatening. Her reptilian eyesight did pick up the heat of a small, scurrying critter here and there, but nothing big enough to cause concern.

Sethyr stepped out of the farmhouse and began walking to the spring she had visited the day before. Even taking the time to bathe, she should not be more than an hour or so. She thought Brayden would be fine without her until then.

Sethyr set out across a fallow field. The spring lay on the far side in a thick copse of trees, kept green by the spring’s water even through the dry season. The field was dusty and strewn with stones. It was no wonder this farm was abandoned. The soil was obviously poor and the previous tenant had not even bothered to clear away the stone that would make plowing nearly impossible.

Sethyr chuffed again. The thought of having a farm and not taking care of it was foreign. The Cairnfolk, as her people were called, had so little that they treasured every little bit of it. They dwelled in a dark swamp whose most interesting features were massive stone cairns that towered above the muck in a seemingly random pattern.

Some folk told stories of seeing ghostly images of the Great Lizard Kings appearing atop the cairns on the hottest nights of the year. Sethyr had never witnessed any such spectacle, despite spending many nights waiting for the kings to appear.

She spent many nights dreaming, wondering what it would be like to know a life different than the one for which she was destined. From the time she was hatched, everyone simply expected her to become a simple eggwife, a near slave to the clutches of eggs that the tribe relied upon to replenish their numbers. By Cairnfolk standards it was an easy life. She would never be expected to work at anything other than mating, laying eggs and then taking care of them until they had hatched. Once hatched, the young were fostered to other families in the tribe and the eggwife began the process all over again. That life seemed so empty to Sethyr that she had ran away.

Sethyr croaked in amusement. Instead of ending up taking care of a clutch of eggs she had ended up nursing Brayden. Despite the warrior’s bluster, she genuinely liked him. He could be such a boob at times, but she knew that he was a good person, but he was a man. That is why she had not fully revealed her nature to him. Brayden had assumed Sethyr was a male, as most mages were. She had simply never rebutted that assumption. It was more convenient for Brayden to believe that she was male. As long as he thought that, he was prone to treat her as more of an equal. In some ways the Humans here in Brinhalad were as backward as the Cairnfolk.

“Well, no matter. He’ll just have to stay in the dark. Better for both of us, anyway,” Sethyr said to herself.

Her musings had taken her nearly all the way to the spring. She hissed in anticipation when she spotted the wispy cloud floating gently above one of the far pools. Unlike the others, that pool was fed by a hot spring.

Sethyr padded toward the pool, her claws ticking on the large, flat rocks surrounding it. She shed the pack and her robe with a flourish and dove in to the warm water. Her lithe form sliced through the calm surface of the pool, sending up a spray of watery jewels glittering in the moonlight.

Using long, undulating sweeps of her muscular tail, she swam along the bottom of the pool, letting the warmth soak through her hide. It warmed her both inside and out.

With another leisurely flick of her tail Sethyr rose to the surface. Her eyes and nostrils broke the water without a sound, the deep instincts of her reptilian heritage scratching at the back of her mind.

Sethyr blew a spray of water from her nostrils and dove back to the bottom of the pool, trying to shake off the predatory feeling that had come over her. It smacked of the same barbaric instincts that kept the females of her kind in bondage to eggs and younglings. She had hoped that the years away from her tribe had dulled those instincts. She shook her head from side to side trying to clear it, sending twin streams of bubbles from the sides of her mouth.

Whipping her powerful tail back and forth, Sethyr shot through the water toward the shore. At the last minute she angled her body upward and burst from the water. Her momentum carried her over the edge of the pool and onto the bank. With practiced reflexes she landed gracefully on all fours, water streaming from her scales.

She shook the water from her eyes and had just enough time to see a burly man in a shabby, peasant tunic watching her. In an instant her vision turned to shooting stars as a blow landed on her head and then everything faded into darkness.


Brayden awoke with a start, his mouth parched, trying to wet his lips with a dry tongue.

“Sethyr,” he tried to say, but it came out as an unintelligible croak.

“Sethyr,” he tried again, this time able to manage a scratchy whisper.

He wondered where she could be with the water. He turned his head, fighting back a wave of vertigo. From the pallet on the floor he could see most of the room, but there was no sign of Sethyr.

Early dawn streamed in through the eastern window. Brayden groaned, levering himself to a sitting position.

“Where have you gotten yourself too, Sethyr?” he muttered, fighting off another wave of vertigo. Concern creeped into Brayden’s thoughts. It was uncharacteristic for Sethyr simply to disappear. His friend was normally one of the most responsible people Brayden knew. He often teased his friend about being an old soul. Sethyr would just hiss playfully and make note of Brayden’s immaturity and lack of direction.

During their year together Brayden had come to respect and then rely upon Sethyr’s measured judgment and seriousness. They were a natural counterpoint to Brayden’s carefree and jovial nature. In that instant, he resolved to find and rescue the old lizard, no matter what kind of trouble showed itself.

Brayden struggled to his feet, taking a moment to steady himself on legs that felt boneless. His knees shook and he shivered in the early morning chill. He slipped a heavy gambeson over his shirt and breeches. He reached to pick up his chain shirt, nearly toppling over from the weight of it. Injured as he was, Brayden realized that he would never be able to struggle into the chain mail. He satisfied himself by buckling on the heavy green belt that signified his place in the sojourner’s guild. His sword hung from a simple baldric attached to the belt. Brayden finished his preparations by pulling on a pair of sad looking boots. They appeared to be nearly falling apart, but they were comfortable and he often explained that they had brought him luck in the past.

Brayden’s chest heaved from the effort of merely getting dressed. He whispered a quick prayer to Chani the Protector, asking for renewal and the strength to find Sethyr. He steeled himself and then strode out of the ruined farmhouse. The sun was bright, beginning to burn off the early morning fog. The worth of the sunrise lifted his heart. “Surely,” he thought, “this must be a sign from Chanti that she is watching over me and Sethyr.

He and Sethyr often argued over issues of faith. The Cairnfolk believed the spirits of their ancestors watched over them, but Sethyr had rejected this idea, just as she had rejected most of her people’s beliefs. She also discounted Brayden’s belief in Chanti the Protector, Lady of Light. However, she was always careful to respect his right to believe as he wished.

Brayden set out; heading in the direction Sethyr had said the spring lay. Frosted grass crunched under his boots with each plodding step. Despite the morning chill, sweat dripped down his forehead. His breath came in short, sharp gasps, accompanied by a slight wheeze. He began to question the wisdom of his venture, but cast aside his doubts when he thought of Sethyr perhaps being in danger.

Despite all the lizard’s faults, Brayden had come to enjoy the mage’s company. He found Sethyr’s wit entertaining and having a companion helped pass the time traveling from town to town. Brayden traveled, spreading the warmth and protection of Chanti. He never knew what drove Sethyr to travel as well, but he was still grateful. The mage and her sporran full of enchanted glass beads proved useful all too often.

One incident flooded up from Brayden’s memory. One evening their rest had been disturbed by a ruckus outside of the wayhouse where they slept. A child of the village was missing and was thought to have been abducted by goblins. The villagers, knowing that Brayden was an acolyte of Chanti, pleaded for his help. Brayden assented, reassuring the terrified parents he would find the child. He began organizing the villagers into groups to search the surrounding countryside.

Sethyr just watched the preparations with a sly smile. Brayden knew that the mage had a different approach in mind, but Sethyr seemed satisfied to let the plan proceed. Irritated, Brayden stalked over to the mage, confronting Sethyr with an accusing finger.

“You Damnable lizard, you know something, don’t you?” Brayden said.

Sethyr’s smile widened, revealing a row of sharp teeth. “Well, my friend, I merely had a simple question.”

“Well…what is it?’ Brayden snapped.

“What makes the boy’s parent’s think he was abducted?” Sethyr responded in a calm voice.

A look of confusion came over Brayden’s face. He scratched his head for a moment and then bellowed for the frantic parents.

A pair of simply dressed but clean peasants shuffled forward. Brayden took a deep breath and turned to question them.

“Good folk, what evidence do you have that your son was taken by goblins?” he asked.

The parents looked at each other questioningly, the mother shrugging.

The father gulped and turned to Brayden. “M’lord, I figured it was goblins cause of what I found in the barn.”

“What did you find in the barn?” Brayden asked.

“Well, the door was wide open and there was a broken milk ewer.” He paused for a moment, pulling on his lip. “Oh, and Old Boots was mighty upset, and so was the cow.”

“Wait, who is this ‘Old Boots’? Was he a witness?” Brayden asked, on the edge of exasperation.

“Oh, sorry sir. Boots ain’t no witness. Why, he ain’t even a person. He’s a cat. Boots is the old tomcat we keep in the barn to eat the rats. He was a hell of a mouser in his younger days. Now he mostly sits around beggin for scraps. He…”

Brayden interrupted the husband with a raised hand. “That will be enough. Thank you.” He then looked over at Sethyr looking defeated.

“So, my friend, what are your thoughts?” Brayden asked.

Sethyr straightened up from leaning against the side of the wayhouse and smiled.

“I suggest we sharpen the point of our search a bit. Let us begin at the barn in question. Shall we?” Sethyr’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

Brayden whistled and whirled his hand in the air gathering the searchers around.

“We shall return momentarily. Please wait here for me,” he said to the crowd of bedraggled peasants.

He turned on his heal and motioned for the missing boy’s parents to lead them to their barn. They were led to a well-kept barn. The surrounding farm showed signs of great care and concern for order and neatness, firewood stacked very precisely and crops arrayed in exactingly aligned rows. Brayden watched as Sethyr merely nodded upon seeing the barn and its surroundings.

The mage took one look at the inside of the barn and hissed in pleasure and nodded once again.

Sethyr turned to the father. “Have you ever been in his Majesty’s army, sir?”

The man nodded. “Yes sir, as a matter of fact I was a sergeant in the royal infantry before I settled down and bought this farm.”

“Just as I thought.” Sethyr said with a predatory grin. “You can come out now, boy.” The mage said in a loud voice. “You’ll only make it worse if we actually have to find you.”

Just then a pile of hay in the back of the cow pen stirred. The cow protested with a loud moo. A young boy emerged from the hay looking forlorn.

The parents rushed forward, crying his name.

Brayden looked stunned. “How did you know?” He asked Sethyr.

“My first inkling came with the full moon. As you know goblins are only about in the dark of the new moon. So we know it was no goblin,” Sethyr said.

“But it could have been something else,” Brayden interrupted

“True, my friend, but having been a youngling once myself, I put my mind in the frame of a child.” Sethyr explained. “From what his father said, it sounded like the boy was probably responsible for the spilled milk. No child likes to be scolded, and seeing the ordered nature of the farm confirmed to me the standards to which the boy is held. It came to mind that he perhaps hid rather than be blamed for the mess. Old Boots was probably merely upset because his treat of fresh milk had been disturbed.”

Brayden stared at Sethyr aghast. “How in Brin’s name did you put all that together?”

“T’was a simple matter…if you use intellect and the deductive process. It is very much like magic, cause and effect.”

All had turned out well that time. Brayden prayed that all would turn out as well this time.

Brayden’s mind returned to the present and his search for Sethyr.

He stumbled onward across the rocky field. His teeth chattered and he began to shiver in the crisp dawn air. Brayden knew that his symptoms were a sure sign of an infection of some sort. If he did not find Sethyr soon, he would be the one in need of rescue.

Almost blind with fever, Brayden stumbled into the clearing beyond the field. His head swam as he scanned the area around the pools for some sign of Sethyr. He shook his head in disbelief when he spied a small crown gathered around the edge of one of the pools. He walked toward them, struggling to keep his feet. As he grew closer his shock deepened when he saw that the people gathered around Sethyr’s prone form. Angry shouts issued from the crowd, drowning out Brayden’s plea for help. Finally reaching the gathered folk, the warrior grasped one tightly by the shoulder. The man whipped around just in time to catch the warrior as he passed out.

Brayden’s appearance sent up a new commotion. The warrior was carefully lowered to the ground. Someone shouted for a cloak to cover him. A grubby rag of a cloak was passed forward and spread over Brayden.

One of the gathered folk stepped forward. He carried a gnarled cudgel, waving it at others and shouting orders. He looked down at the unconscious Brayden with a look of pity.

“Don’t you worry none, good sir knight. We’ll lake care o’ that swamp varmint that done ya wrong. That we will.” The man waved over one of the gawking crowd.

“Cedric, go fetch a sturdy rope. We’re gonna give this here lizard a good bath.”