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2: The Night of Fire

Their adventure had left all three in pretty bad shape. Melantha's parents paid little attention when their eldest limped home covered in blood; the house was wrapped in one of those icy calms that descended when both of them were too tired to shout at each other. Her father bandaged her up a bit and asked her what had happened.
    "Got into a little bit of trouble," she told him casually. "It happens."
    Dimetrios was less than satisfied with that reply, but didn't try to pry further. He'd gone to the baker and paid their debt with some of the recovered gold, putting off the inevitable a while longer. Melantha spent much of the night thinking about the map they'd found. This could finally be It. She touched the faded chimera in the darkness and fell asleep.
    Nadya received a lot of stares, points, and whispers on her way home. She detoured into the woods to cache her armor and weapons before returning to the house.
    "Oh, Halav!" her mother exclaimed. Much fussing followed. They were concerned but not angry, having been long aware of her woods-wandering ways and the dangers she might encounter there. She told them only that she and the young man had been attacked by wild animals, which happened on occasion.
    Roman made it home without further incident until one of the servants saw him coming down the street, screamed, and ran inside. His father came barrelling down the stairs, the servant in tow wailing, "Blood, blood, murder!"
    "Roman, what happened!?" Ivan demanded.
    "We were attacked by wild boars in the forest, after we'd gotten the mushrooms. It was horrible," he averred. "Blood everywhere. Fortunately, I was with Nadya...."
    "Nadya? Who's Nadya? Quick, come back to the kitchen, we'll have Jenna take a look at you." Jenna was the elderly head cook, with some knowledge of healing.
    "Nadya Petrov, she knew the region where the mushrooms were growing, so I arranged with her to show me where they were. She was injured as well," he added, lest his father start thinking suspicious thoughts of his new acquaintance.
    "Oh, are you all right?" Roman's mother swept into the kitchen to console him. "Does that hurt?" She touched his arm.
    Misa turned on her husband. "Did you know about this?"
    v"Well, yes, but I didn't—"
    "How could you—you idiot!" she raged. "Something might have happened to his face."
    I love my parents, Roman reminded himself. The fact that they were banking on his looks to make a profitable marriage for the family was just part of the realities of life.
    "Son, was your quest successful?" Ivan looked for an escape route. "Did you get the mushrooms?"
    "We only had time to bring back a few, I have about a dozen, but I know where they are now. Though I wouldn't go alone," he added. Then he remembered the amber piece Melantha had trusted him with. "We also found a small pile of amber. This is one of the smaller pieces, we were hoping we could get it appraised."
    Ivan's eyes lit up as he examined it. "How much was there?"
    "A few smallish pieces."
    "Where's the rest of it?"
    "We hid it," he lied.
    "Hm...." He slipped the piece into his pouch. "Yes, I know a man who can take a look at this, and we'll sell it to the baron; I'll pass the gold on to you. This woman, your guide, she knows where it is also?"
    He frowned. "I think you should go and get it tomorrow; there are smugglers she could conceivably pass it on to them."
    "I really don't think that's possible, she seemed like a fairly upstanding girl." Gods knew what he'd think if he knew where the stuff really was.
    "You can't always trust appearances, son."
    Stefan put in an appearance later on and frowned at his younger brother. "This was highly irresponsible of you. You could have hired someone to go into the woods and look for those mushrooms."
    "I wanted to do it. Where's the fun in that?" he shrugged.
    "You're more valuable. Going out and getting attacked by boars...."
    "Valuable how? What do you mean?"
    "More valuable to the family. It would be a tremendous waste if you were to die out there, and it looks like you almost did."

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