The Stone Dragon Series – Book 1, chapter 2
This chapter is read by Addy
Chapter two. At the Tavern
Phlebus had a finely tuned sense of when Torgin was willing to listen, when he wanted to drink, and when he was ready to brawl. Since it had been a long week of rough travel from Central Brittany, complete with a tour of local rotting corpses (including complimentary aromatic country air) and because Zyrina had claimed he would buy the first round, he held out a tray full of too many ales for five people.
“Well, this is exactly as promised. Well done Phle.” Torgin rubbed his hands together.
The twins exchanged looks with each other and grinned. He was not smiling at Zyrina on purpose.
Lucy took a wooden tankard of ale in each fist as did Torgin, then lifting the pints aloft they waited impatiently for Elnoth, Zyrina, and Phlebus to join them.
Phlebus handed Zyrina one of the three remaining mugs, offered one to Elnoth, and took the last one for himself.
Then he set the tray aside, raised his ale alongside his friends, and Phlebus and the twins all spoke in solemn unison, “To the chase” before the three downed them in nearly one gulp.
“Is that a ritual or something?” Zyrina asked.
“Yes, a ritual.” Phlebus began to explain as he picked up the tray and headed to the bar again.
“When we each go on our first mission outside of the school this is the toast we make,” added Torgin.
“Every time we drink until the mission is over,” Lucy finished.
“Well, cheers.” Elnoth added his own toast.
Zyrina matched it with “for Honour,” then tapped mugs with Elnoth.
By the time she finished her first swig and wiped her mouth, Phlebus had returned and set four more of the same ale down in front of the twins and took their empties to be filled before sitting down to enjoy his second pint while Zyrina and Elnoth still sipped their first.
“So THAT’S why you didn’t want to get the first round,” Zyrina clapped Phlebus on the shoulder and gave a hearty laugh.
“They are on their own now,” he grumbled. “Torgin is large,” he added with a wry shrug, “and he likes a wee ale upon occasion.”
Zyrina nearly choked she laughed so hard. It was about as big of understatement as Phlebus was ever to make. Torgin made even Lucy look tiny and she ducked when going through doorways. He scowled at the world even in his sleep. He fought with everything in his path and everyone knew it except him. Zyrina had also observed that he also had no understanding of ‘quit’ and he had a heart worth knowing.
“Where did you get the snowy lynx, Torgin?” Zyrina asked.
She hadn’t said anything earlier about the large feline that had been following Torgin silently from the shadows since they met up in Xenos. The cat lay curled at Torgin’s feet now, resting but not asleep. Her ears twitched occasionally.
“Lucy gave Kitty to me for my birthday, isn’t she perfect?” Torgin looked lovingly at the cat curled at his feet.
“Oh, Torgin, it’s not like you were pleased.” Lucy interjected, “You protested and swore at me and told me you didn’t need any ball of fur before that kitten wrapped you around her finger.”
She leaned closer to Zyrina and added, “On the very first day, that fluff ball just ignored all his loud grumbling, yawned, and curled up on his shoe to sleep.” Lucy was enjoyed telling this story of her big scary brother being at the beck and call of a tiny ball of fuzz. “He sat there for an hour until the kitten woke up and he’s been devoted ever since.”
“And Kitty is the name you chose?” Zyrina wondered aloud.
“Kitty doesn’t have a name. I call her Kitty because I don’t know her name.” Torgin replied stiffly.
“I think Torgin believes Kitty will talk to him and tell him her name.” Lucy guffawed.
Zyrina raised her eyebrow and looked at Torgin again. He was blushing now. Zyrina hid her grin.
“You don’t know everything sister,” was all Torgin would say on the subject.
The twins started reminiscing and soon they were lost in their own world and began speaking words that Zyrina hadn’t heard before.
Zyrina leaned over to Phlebus and whispered, “What language are they speaking now?”
“I don’t know, though it’s possible it’s one they made up. I have been trying to learn it with no success,” Phlebus whispered back.
After the animated discussion with Torgin about the origins of Kitty, Lucy was again shy. Preferring to exist in the vagueness of the background she sunk into her chair and nursed her drink for a time. The rest of the companions were scattered around the table listening to Elnoth’s description of the Snow Walkers of the high mountains that famously travelled to Jade Valley each winter and had just left as the weather warmed up. Torgin took a final deep guzzle to the dregs of his ale, wiped his mouth with his sleeve, signalled for another round to the server, then settled back to listen.
“So, what’s this tidbit that we are all waiting to learn?” Phlebus leaned to the right and asked Elnoth.
Elnoth, set his drink down and began, “Well, it’s been entertaining to have a tipple with you. Thank you.”
He pulled out a small bottle of ink, a quill, and a parchment from his pack.
“These mutilations and the stone statues aren’t the first time this has happened here.”
“What? Why was this not brought to the attention of the council earlier?” Phlebus wanted to know.
“Not sure,” Elnoth shrugged, “but I think old-fashioned rumours don’t belong in council, do you? My butler, Matt, has been muttering for weeks about the old stories coming true but he wasn’t willing to talk in front of the whole council. He is hoping you will come over and talk with him directly. He knows what the old folks from hereabouts told him, and he thinks you should know it too.”
“What old stories?” Torgin asked.
Elnoth took a drink before going on, “I didn’t ask him but there have been rumours about this happening here in the ancient past.”
“How long ago?” Phlebus looked concerned.
“Well, let’s see Matt knows somebody who knew somebody who knew something, but that’s all I know.” Elnoth took one of the fresh ales the server brought over.
“When may we talk with Matt?” Zyrina wanted to know even before Phlebus could form the same question.
“Sure, how about tomorrow?” Elnoth completed his scribbling and put the lid back on the ink bottle. “I’ve written a letter of reference, so Matt knows I’ve sent you over, in case I’m not there when you arrive. My home is on the north side of the guild hall, you should be able to see it from your Inn.” He looked up, “you are staying at the River Rider Inn, aren’t you?”
“How’d you know that?” Phlebus wanted to know. “We didn’t even register yet.”
“Because it’s a small town, Phle,” Zyrina nodded and took a sip.
Phlebus looked horrified. “What else do you know about us?”
Elnoth took a deep breath and revealed, “Well you and those human giants over there met in the city when you were all studying magic. They hail from the far north and they are a few years older than the rest of you.” He nodded at each twin and went on, “Torgin’s good with an axe and Lucy is a renowned healer. Let’s see,” he said looking at Zyrina, “you’ve got a reputation around Novia as an Outlander with a fine shot with that bow of yours and a chip on your shoulder regarding Novians.”
Zyrina shot him an intense look of suspicion.
“And you are an Ardoris orphan with a brilliant mind and a great deal of skill with magic.” He added looking Phlebus up and down not quite believing what he had heard.
Taking in the look that Zyrina shot him Elnoth went on, “Ah, don’t be like that, you know word spreads in a village faster than a wildfire. The governor shared Phlebus’s correspondence with the rest of the council before the meeting today, is all. No need to get all hot under the hat.”
“Well how about you even the score and tell us who you are?” Zyrina demanded.
“Fair enough.” He puffed out his chest a little, “I’m one of the finest Master Crafters of weapons, amulets, armor and also a Master Enchanter here in Jade Valley. I have a few varied businesses and rental properties scattered in a few towns around Novia. Here’s my card.” He handed Zyrina a small rectangle of hardened paper.
“All right then.” Zyrina took another sip, read the card, and relaxed a little. So, a gossip and a businessman is what she thought to herself with a grin.
Elnoth the Viking Elf, at your service
For fine weaponry, armor, and enchants
Jade Valley, Elysium
Torgin and Lucy’s argument about who had actually spotted the mandrake near the bridge got louder and louder and finally could not be ignored. First there was a great deal of loud shouting and fist pounding. A few threats of violence and some tipped beers, then they hugged each other and vowed their eternal love for each other. Eventually they started to sing and dance to the great delight of the locals in the tavern that night. Kitty ignored it all with a flick of her right ear, as if it was normal to hear such fighting.
Neither of them had listened to Elnoth’s gossip, though they made sure he always had a fresh ale. Phlebus took a swig, then as Lucy and Torgin finished their song, he began singing and swaying to an old folk song:
‘Long ago ran the sun on a folk who had a dream
And the heart and the will and the power:
They moved earth; they carved stone; moulded hill and channeled stream
That we might stand on the wide plains of Wiltshire.
Now men asked who they were, how they built and wonder why
That they wrought standing stones of such size.
What was done ‘neath our shade? What was pray’ed ‘neath our skies
As we stood on the wyrd plains of Wiltshire.
Oh what secrets we could tell if you’d listen and be still.
Rid the stink and the noise from our skirts.
But you haven’t got the clue and perhaps you never will.
Mute we stand on the cold plains of Wiltshire.
Still we loom in the mists as the ages roll away
And we say of our folk, “they are here!”
That they built us and they died and you’ll not be knowing why
Save we stand on the bare plains of Wiltshire.’
Lucy and Torgin couldn’t resist joining in, and the townsfolk at the pub also began singing along. The old songs broke down barriers between strangers faster than any reassurances of good will and Phlebus was intent on hearing the gossip from each of the patrons of the pub that evening before they left. After the song, Zyrina gathered up the letter of reference Elnoth had set on the table, and she sat in a corner nursing her ale until the others were ready to leave. It was a long wait.
Of course, by that time Elnoth had wandered back home. When Phlebus noticed his absence, he insisted that in the morning they go to hear what Elnoth’s butler has to offer.
“But It’s just old stories, Phle. Why do you want to hear more of those?” Torgin wanted to know.
“Because many truths live in old stories, and I am looking for something ancient. Maybe the answer is in the past.”
“Whoa, now that’s some fine reckoning.” Lucy seemed to agree with Phlebus.
“Fine, but I’m not getting up at the crack of dawn again.” Torgin insisted. “We sleep till we are done sleeping. Agreed?”
“Agreed.” Phlebus approved. “As long as we are all up before midday.”
“Sure.” Lucy nodded.
“Sounds good.” Zyrina finished up
Scribbling into his book for a minute he wrote time to meet someone who knew somebody who knew somebody who knows something and see what knowledge they can add. He needed more information to confirm what Phlebus suspected was happening to disturb the valley.