Leaving Crapaud was, for Jared, no big deal. He had no family, and his friends were going with him. For Harrick it meant absorbing the largely silent pride of his parents, who had invested so much hope in him. From ancestors captured and forced into serfdom after a raid on the Midlands, he had already come a long way.
Robin's mother cried, as did her younger sisters and even her youngest brother. She thought her father was proud of her, but he was being stoic and it was hard to tell. Then most of the family trooped down to the armiger's house to give their good-byes to Terzin; his wound was knitting reasonably well, but he was still under the healers' supervision. It was a surprisingly emotional scene there, as well.
Before departing, Robin and Terzin each gave a few pieces of their hard-won gold to her parents--Terzin's a sort of acknowledgement and thanks for the way they had put up with him and not treated him too badly all these years, Robin's out of a certain amount of guilt for leaving the family with one less resource.
The next morning they all made their way to the river dock where Henrietta was waiting with her four crewmen and the boat, carrying most of their worldly possessions along with them. Harrick brought the snake-woman statue, which turned out to be carved of serpentine, they had found the in lizard barracks; Kendrick hadn't recognized the figure.
The boat was fair-sized for a river trader, given that the Greenbriar was neither wide nor deep in stretches. Her crew were not terribly large men, but they were fearsomely muscled from spending a good part of their time rowing against the swift current. They seemed friendly, if somewhat condescending as they offered to tell the excited travelers all they would need to know in the city.
Just as they were about to cast off, with people waving from the dock, someone yelled, "Wait! Hold up a minute!" and pushed through the crowd to join them aboard. "Is there enough room for one more?"
It was Edward Tanner.
"Yeah, we should be able to fit one more as long as everyone's willing to get cozy,"
"I don't think that'll be much of a problem," he replied cheerfully. "Pardon me." And sat down next to Robin, who rolled her eyes.
The boat had already been pretty crowded, and with the new addition on top of the cargo--largely toad products, including what would most likely be the last shipment of toad-poison-derived anaesthetic for quite some time--there really wasn't a lot of room.
"That's one of the reasons that Grandfather was so concerned about it," Edward remarked. "He'd asked me to head down to the city with you people so that I could find another doctor to come up and take over Derek's work, although not all of his work, obviously.... So, but I've only heard bits and pieces about what happened? Please, tell me everything, I'm really interested."
Robin looked at her cousin. Just this once, she'd be happy to let his enthusiasm for tale-telling take over the situation.
"Well, since you twisted my arm, and it's almost off anyway...."
As he began the tale, Henrietta cast off from the dock, and they were once again floating down the river. Stalking down the bank for a bit, staring at them all, were Quentin and Wendell River. They did not look happy to see that this quartet of misfits had escaped the miserable little town before they could. In a fit of maturity, tongues were stuck out and fingers extended from the boat, and then the two were out of sight around a bend.
After about five hours they were farther south than any of them had ever been before. The woods grew right up onto the banks, and things rustled in the bushes. The rowers told them it was just deer they had startled. They had a lunch of bread and dried meat, and there was certainly plenty of water. Edward moved off to chat with one of the rowers, giving the four travelers a bit more privacy. He behaved himself well, as always, where Robin was concerned, and indeed as the trip went on it seemed tacitly clear that he had decided to accept rejection graciously. The whole enterprise had been a matter of families, after all, and Robin had several younger sisters. There were options.
About midafternoon they reached a narrow part where the trees formed a canopy over the river; their passage disturbed a flock of sturges, which dropped down out of the trees and flapped madly away in all directions. These were evidently not the blood-sucking kind.
When night fell they tied up at the riverbank and made a small camp; there didn't seem to be anything dangerous in the area, the hours passed quietly. In the morning they continued the easy part of the journey, and started learning some less than polite river-merchant songs to pass the time--hardly up to fisher standards, but they had their moments. The rowers had decided that their passengers were all right.
Mid-morning Henrietta stood up suddenly, steadying herself easily against the boat's motion.
"Yes, definitely something...." she muttered to herself. "Slow down there, slow down. Pull us over to the side." The rowers began working against the current, sending the boat over the bank she indicated.
"Rope off." She stared into the woods for a few minutes. "Looks good." She stepped over the side, onto the shore. "Here's one... there's one... that's nice... ooh.... Could you get one of the boxes from under there?" One of the men fetched out a small wooden storage box. "Run that over here." She was picking things up out of the grass and leaves on the bank, and put them in the box. "It was the mica that caught the shimmer. These should be worth a decent amount." She climbed back into the boat. "All right, cast off, let's get out of here before it comes back."
"It?" Robin inquired.
"What? Oh. Do any of you like rabbits?" Henrietta inquired.
"To eat?" Terzin asked, confused.
"I have a perfectly good one." She pulled out a small rabbit.
"Ah. Basilisk?" he guessed.
"Cockatrice," she corrected. "There's one in the area that we haven't been able to find, but he certainly leaves behind...." She produced a turtle.
"So these are worth something?" Terzin asked.
"Well, you're never going to get detail like this on a regular statue," she explained.
"For a good reason," Robin agreed.
Terzin looked at the rabbit. It looked vaguely surprised, but they often did.
"There's gotta be some form of node of elemental magic near here," Henrietta shrugged. "But yeah, there's one living around the river in this area. But it's loud, it makes a lot of noise most of the time, and it can't stand still for more than a few seconds at a time, so...."
"Or else everything around it's going to turn to stone," Harrick nodded.
"Well, that's why I had to wait and make sure it wasn't still around, 'cause I'm not going to get out of the boat if there's a cockatrice still in the area," she laughed. "And this is the best part." She opens the box. Inside were a dozen or so stone moths, their wings apparently made of a few thin sheets of translucent mica. "I caught the shine off the river. Poor dream moths, didn't know wha they were doing. But these are worth a pretty penny." She closed the box with a satisfied smile.
"Have you told Kendrick about this?" Harrick asked, and she nodded.
"But how do you send someone out to hunt for it?"
"I was thinking about hunting for the node."
She shrugged. "There are a lot of minor elementals kicking around through here." And the nodes did have a sizeable radius; no telling where the cockatrice had appeared, how far it might have wandered.
They kept on their way, camping out for a second night. Their first spot turned out to be home to a family of skunks, so they switched to the other bank and were not disturbed. The next day the group reached Briardale. A huge, sprawling town, as far as the adventurers were concerned, it had to be at least three times the size of Crapaud. It straddled the river much like the northern town did, but differed in that the eastern side was far more built up and crowded, while the western bank was home to only a double-handful of large, mansions by Crapaud standards. One of them had three stories.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers