A few days before Dimitrion tried to reach his brothers-in-arms … The door slammed to the side and a furry boot came over the threshold into the Inn sword and shield.
»Beer!«, sounded a deep voice and the muscular figure of a Nordman trampled into the taproom and suddenly everything was quiet. He looked typically Nordmanish. The feet were in heavy fur boots, furry oak-coloured cotton pants covered his legs. Two throwing axes were hanging from the hip.
»Oh no,« stammered the host. With a freshly tapped tankard in his hand, he stared at the door and feared the worst. The Nordman saw it, ran straight towards the shivering innkeeper, ripped the beer out of his hand and greedily swallowed the wonderfully cool brew. The empty tankard landed on the bar with a bang followed by a loud belching.
»That felt good. ´keep, give me another!«, he demanded.
Faster than anyone could see, the next beer disappeared into his mouth. This was followed by an even bigger burp. The Nordman grabbed the next tankard and headed for a large free table in the back corner. The farmers followed the Nordman with watchful glances. Because you never knew exactly what one of these had in mind when they quenched their thirst in such an impetuous way. But, except for the fact that he drank the third beer more slowly, nothing else happened and the conversations continued. Then the door opened again and further figures entered the inn.
»Ah, here you come at last, I thought I had to celebrate our victory alone,« the Nordman exclaimed.
»After you jumped off your Feren like a brittle Blarrk and ran into the inn, we put our Feren in the stable,« replied Ramloc Steelstrike, the dwarf. »Of course, I don`t know what will become of yours,« he replied with a broad grin.
»Don`t worry about it, it`ll find its way, you do know no one can stop a Nordman if he has to quench his thirst.«
» … and dwarf all the more.«
Ramloc Steelstrike proudly wore a complete basilisk scales armour that shimmered with silvery-green scales. The dwarf was armed with a magnificent double axe and several throwing knives hanging on his wide belt. In his hard face, a full beard was shining and his eyes were of stone grey colour.
»As I can see, you`re way ahead of me, Magnus.«
»I was very thirsty and i still am«
»Aye, we heard that even outside.«
The Nordman grinned broadly as an answer and cheered on the dwarf.
»Then listen to what I have to say about it,« Ramloc said and also fell down his tankard. An even bigger burping came from the dwarf and they continued their competition roaring with laughter.
»Each time the same with you«, the voice of the Shieldmaster resounds reproachfully next to them. »As soon as we leave the two of you alone, your manners are agone.«
»Listen here, somebody`s good at rhyming, huh?« the dwarf said amused.
»Maybe you should be a bard,« Magnus suggested.
»Why … Oh,« was the only answer.
»Now sit down, Grayden, or do you want to stand there and turn to stone?«
»Well, i suppose not.«
Grayden Reynhard wore a medium heavy dark brown, almost black vest. He had the expression of an experienced fighter and was used to exercise authority as a former member of the order. He ordered two rooms for the night and for all of them something to eat. The host nodded and gave them the keys. At the same time, Shana joined them, a renegade of the Assana, who had been cast out and banned by their old clan. No one in the group knew a better archer and alkemystine. She leaned the black deerwood bow and the quiver against the table. She didn`t order a beer, but asked for hot foliar water, which gave her a bewildered look from the host and quiet laughter from the other tables. But she didn`t care. With a beginning fatigue she snipped away a dry chunk of soil from her goldenrod coloured skin.
»Too bad Dimitrion wasn`t there,« Grayden said as he sat down.
»Aye, too bad he`s so busy. Nevertheless, i am happy for him,« she said.
»This also involves duties, since he bears the responsibility for a small village and that is certainly not easy. Defining taxes, enacting laws, overseeing crops, setting up defenses and so on and so forth.«
»But he can sleep in a bed every night, not have to stay awake with one eye, keeping watch…«
»Hey, we`re still here,« the dwarf said with a full mouth.
»Exactly,« Magnus agreed.
Meanwhile, the innkeeper had brought the food and on the table there were plates of steaming vegetables, freshly baked bread, grilled slices of pork and a bowl full of toffles baked with hearty cheese. Ramloc took a fork and smelled it. Since the dwarf was a gourmet from his point of view, but only when it came to meat and cave mushrooms, everyone in the group knew that Ramloc was looking at this piece of toffel with a critical gaze. That he stretched his tongue out of the corner of his mouth and made a not very intelligent impression, had dared with loud laughter only one person and he ate only soup until the end of his life.
Shana and Grayden looked at each other and were sure they thought the same thing when some guests started to show up at the neighboring table and laughed at him behind their backs. With clear gestures, Shana and Grayden tried to show them that this wasn´t a good idea. But it was already too late and a tankard hit the loudest laughing man on the head. He fell over behind and went down with a loud crash.
»Who dares laugh at me?« screamed the dwarf. »You? Or you?«
Ramloc looked at two peasants who abruptly stopped in their gossiping, lowering their heads to avoid risking another lump-litter.
»Well, then it`s all right,« Ramloc grinned and left it like that. He sat down snorting and stuffed the toffles into his mouth.
»Tastes good, those things,« Magnus said to his friend.
»Would be even better with cave mushroom«, Ramloc replied.
»… and with fjordsalt,« Nordman added.
Grayden and Shana just shook their heads and rolled their eyes, because no one jokes about a dwarf with impunity. Sometimes people had to be painfully reminded of it. The peasants pulled out their unconscious mate, probably to find the healer of the village. Or a bucket of water. Shana didn`t care, she drank her hot foliar water and Grayden started to eat. The next hour they were busy filling their growling bellies. Then they moved the chairs to the fireplace and Grayden stuffed a pipe with maha. Herbal scent filled the tap room. Grayden pulled twice and handed the pipe to Shana, she passed the pipe on to Magnus. After that, everyone relaxed and looked together into the flickering fire. Her stomachs were full to a burst, and Magnus was the first to go yawning and enter his room. Ramloc followed him shortly afterwards. For a long time, neither of them said a word. They simply enjoyed the peace and quiet of the late evening and everyone was hanging out with their thoughts.
»We could visit him«, Grayden said.
»Dimitrion?«, Shana asked tiredly.
»Yes, we haven´t seen him in a while. For over a year, right?«
»A little longer. Ever since we said goodbye at the floating islands, don´t you remember?«
»Yes, of course«, Grayden recalled. »He flirted with the daughter of the Mandarrn after we freed her from the clutches of the harpies.«
»They wanted her to throw down the Devil`s Cliff to make her wing grow and become one of them.«
Grayden grinned easily when he remembered.
»Harpies haven´t really been blessed with much sanity.«
»That´s right, but their claws are all the sharper.« said Shana, stroking her left arm. One of the broodharpy had grabbed her when the group had snuck up to the nest and tried to drag Shana into the air. The Assana had been able to free herself with her short swords, but her healing art could not do anything against the scars and so three of them decorated her left forearm. She had grinded the claws and placed them as a powder in one of her bags, wanted to do experiments with them and find out what uses it has for as an experimental ingredient.
»Tomorrow, let`s talk to Magnus and Ramloc about it, I´m too tired and I want to go to sleep«, Shana suggested.
When she didn´t get an answer after a few seconds, she looked over at Grayden and saw that the shieldmaster had fallen asleep on his chair. Shana stood up, kissed him on the forehead and took the pipe out of his hand. She didn´t want to risk fleeing from a burning house in the middle of the night. At the top she heard a snoring from the back rooms. She walked into her room and closed the door behind her.
The next morning, when they came down in to the tap room, the innkeeper looked at the grumpy Ramloc with a sneak glance.
»Don`t worry, when he`s rested, he`s not so … angry,« Grayden assured him.
»But still a morning grouch,« Ramloc grumbled as he sat down.
»The best thing now would be a hearty breakfast,« said the Nordman.
With a worried expression on his face, the innkeeper disappeared in the back of the room. The smell of fried bacon, eggs and fresh bread came out of the kitchen shortly afterwards and enlivened their senses. The host`s wife brought them a strong morning drink that everyone drunk quickly. One was left for Shana, who hadn`t yet arrived.
«How come women always have to be late?« Magnus asked.
»They need more time to dress up.«
»I heard that in the morning a woman has to make up her face first, so she has one,« said Ramloc.
»That would be good advice for you this morning, the way you look, Ramloc Meltface,« shouted Shana down the stairs.
Ramloc quickly began to look at the incredibly beautifully pronounced grain of the table to avoid having to look at Shana directly and whistled. Magnus only grinned at the clumsy timing of the dwarf. Everyone knew that Ramloc was doing this only to cover up his insecurity in dealing with the opposite sex. Besides, this kind of thing would never have led to a serious argument. They had all experienced too many adventures and saved each other`s lives a half dozen times. On the contrary, these teasing were a sign of her long friendship. Shana gave Grayden a kiss and sat down next to him, greeted the others and enjoyed the morning drink. A short time later the breakfast was brought by the host. Magnus and Ramloc hurled at the meal while Grayden and Shana began to eat civilized. They ate silently for several minutes.
«Shana and I talked last night about visiting Dimitrion.«
»Visiting his farm?« Ramloc asked.
»His estate,« Shana rectified him.
»Sure, I`d like to see our companion again,« Magnus said.
»So do I,« said Ramloc, reaffirming his statement with a luscious burp.
»Well, then we`ll pick up the reward for the basilisk, freshen up the provisions and set off on our way,« Grayden stated.
»Send a messenger to the towns hall and tell the mayor that the group of adventurers he hired have killed the Basilisk. We`ll be in front of the Hall in an hour.«
»Very well. I`ll send the kitchen boy off immediately,« replied the innkeeper and waited.
Grayden gave him a jadei as payment and nodded. They happily finished their breakfast, packed their belongings, paid the innkeeper, gave him one of the squared jadei as compensation and went into the stable to saddle the Feren.
The spring sun had been shining for two hours and the air warmed up slowly. A crowd of people went to the marketplace, where the merchants have been building the first stalls since yesterday. Busy showmen and jugglers set up their stages and entertained the people with little tricks. The smell of roasted apples, sweet pickled fruit, melted sugar and waffles was in the air. Magnus and Ramloc could not resist the scent, in this respect they were like any other from the north, and they bought fruit skewers covered with warm honey. From the other side of the square, the savoury aromas of all kinds of spiced and roasted meat wafted over. Fat hissed as meat skewers were dipped into it.
The butchers shouted loudly and praised the good meat hanging behind them. Herbalists praised the quality of their goods and kept the passing people long, dried twigs under their noses, spreading a pungent smell. Shells with healing ointment promised quick healing, pots and vials were filled with ingredients of all kinds, scented water bottles changed owners and pungent fruits dangled from the tarpaulin. Under the hand, wicked tinctures of strength-enhancing roots were traded, as well as intoxicating smokeworks and anaesthetic pearls. Next to it, a blacksmith had built up his fireplace and exhibited his precious swords. The blades flashed shiningly in the morning light and were neatly lined up on a decorated stand. The hammer blows resounded in a metallic staccato on the anvil and the water boiled up when the heated metals were dipped into it.
A large leather tarpaulin was pulled over the stand and an armor blacksmith shared the place with the armourer. So you had the opportunity to either buy a suitable armor for the new sword or to choose a splendid belt. In one place, a particularly large number of spectators gathered in one place. On an elevated, diamond-shaped platform secured with thick ropes, show fighters and all those who thought they were skillful enough in dealing with fist or sword, were cheered at competitions. Each fight was accompanied by a crier who appreciated this or that blow. Not far away, healers had built up their stalls and treated the losers, who mostly consisted of inferior braggers and bidders.
But also others who were afflicted by one or the other disease also gathered there. Right next to it, bards moved between the booths and delighted the people with their songs and every time they saw a woman, they incorporated clever but harmless allusions into their play, which led to red cheeks among the inexperienced and shy. Not far from the herbalist, a wooden hawker stood and exhibited his bows and crossbows. Children played with wooden swords or other toys. A loud jumble of voices spread like a blanket over the square and everywhere you could see smiling faces. A wide strip of cloth had been lined up above the entrance and announced a welcome greeting to the »Feast of the Founding of the Sun Valley and the liberation from the insatiable Basilisk«.
Grayden flew over the greeting and furrows showed up on his forehead. They had not suspected such a vortex, which was made for their deed and it was unpleasant to him. They rode towards the town hall in front of which the mayor and his administrators were already waiting for them.
»Ah, welcome back. We received word you succeeded?«, the mayor asked.
»That we did, Mayor,« said Shana.
She descended and took the linen bag with the basilisk head.
»Here`s the proof,« said Shana, handing the bag to the hunting manager.
He opened it carefully, because even after death, the gaze of a basilisk could turn its victims into stone.
»Don`t worry,« Grayden said. »We removed the eyes.«
»Wonderful, how can we ever thank you for that?« the mayor asked relieved.
»For example, by giving us the reward,« Ramloc said.
»Of course, of course.«
The mayor gave a sign and the treasure man gave Shana four heavy wallets. Not without making a pinched face, as Shana noticed. But she didn`t had to worry about the municipal treasury. Only her own and that of the others.
»Thank you so much again,« the mayor said happily.
»Always at your service,«Magnus grinned as he weighed the wallet in his right hand.
»The congregation holds a celebration to celebrate victory over the monster. »We cordially invite you, because you are the reason for the celebration.«
»Please be our illustrious guests,« said an Usher while taking a bow.
»We thank you for inviting, mayor, but we have decided to ride on«, Grayden politely refused.
»That`s unfortunate. After all, you`re the heroes of Sunvalley. The citizens would surely be thrilled to see you and celebrate.«
»I`m sorry, mayor, but there`s an urgent matter ahead of us that can`t be postponed.«
The mayor made a disappointed face.
»But greet the people for us and give them our heartfelt thanks and greetings.«
»As you wish. Well, then go forth in peace and may the stars accompany you on your way.«
»May the stars look upon you and your community,« Shana said goodbye.
The druve gave them a blessing and thanked them. The adventurers rode to a trader, where they filled up their supplies as agreed. As they rode through the palisade gate, the guards nodded friendly to them and they left the church. Slowly the sun rose higher and higher and Shana enjoyed the sunbeams, she closed her eyes and breathed the clear air of spring. The first green leaves appeared on the trees and birds moved over the newly awakening land. Everywhere flowers sprieled up which began to bud in all colours. Insects were humming and the animals awoke from their hibernation. Shana felt the magic of life and she smiled. They rode silently for a few hundred meters and then turned southeast.
»How long till Dimitrion?«, Magnus asked after a while.
»I guess in 12 days, we should come across his lands,« Grayden answered. »If nothing stands in our way. that is.«
»Where are we going?«
»In five days we should arrive at the upper end of Konkoro`s scar, then east to the fortress city of Tokakugen. It`ll take three days. There we head south, past Sokakugen and after two more days we made it,«Grayden explained.
»Then we`ll pass by the barren lands, home of the beastmen?«
»Yes. But the beastmen live deep in the south of the barren land. We`re not gonna see anyone on our route.«
»I`d like to see one. I`ve heard a lot of things…«
»Like what?« asked Shana.
»That the beastmen can talk to the animals, bloody rituals, sacrifices and such things. They`re even supposed to turn into animals. That`s creepy if you ask me.«
Ramloc turned halfway on his feren in Magnus direction.
»That sounds like as if…«
»As if, what…?«
»As if our Nordman … was scared.«
»What, me and scared? Never ever! And if you say such a thing again dwarf, then I will shave your neck with my axes », Magnus was outraged.
The dwarf stood upright in the saddle and puffed himself up.
»Ooh-hoo, our Nordman has suddenly gotten courage in his chest. Watch out you don`t burst.«
Ramloc held his hands to his chest and opened his hands abruptly, turning his face into a surprised grimace. He blew up his cheeks and twisted his eyes. When Shana saw this, she had to laugh involuntarily. Grayden in turn looked at Shana. He loved her bright and carefree laughter. It touched his heart and made him bear a part of his hard fate more easily. Magnus also had to laugh at the dwarf`s introduction and then they laughed like they haven`t laughed for months. Shana stroked tears out of her eyes and gasped for air.
»That felt good,« she said.
»I`m unsurpassed,« Ramloc said.
Grayden rode closer to Shana and put his right hand on her left hand and looked at her. She took his hand and pressed it gently. Behind them Magnus Ramloc poked in the side and pointed forward. The dwarf waved and looked away. They rode along slowly until the early evening and stopped at a small forest through which a stream flowed.
»Let`s stop here,« Grayden suggested.
The Shieldmaster and Ramloc started making a fire while Magnus was on guard. Shana shouldered her bow and went hunting. After a short time she came back with four rabbits. She skinned them, took them out and put them on wooden skewers. With two heavy stones she formed a hanging spear. Afterwards she put the rabbits` paws back into the forest, which she had cut off before. She sat down at Grayden`s side and said a silent prayer as thanksgiving for the gift of the forest.
Grayden was the first on guard, then Magnus, Ramloc and the morning watch was taken over by Shana. So she could see the land awaken and enjoy the first rays of sunshine. In this way, they arrived at Konkoro`s scar at noon on the fifth day.