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It was dim and damp inside the tavern nestled in a rocky nook near the edge of Poldar, too cool for comfort on the outside of the room and too warm near the fire. Decades of filth coated everything in a veneer of gray-brown and left the air vaguely odorous.
Harried barmaids darted back and forth in an attempt to carry out their job and avoid the snatching hands of the patrons. These were rough men, bounty hunters, slavers, and mercenaries who wandered from tavern to tavern, performing their disreputable professions as they went. A group of them lolled against the bar singing bawdy songs in a key unknown to any skilled musician. Along one wall, they huddled together throwing dice and shuffling cards, seeing who could, by tricks or treachery, defraud the others out of more money.
And a trio, kicking off their dirt-caked shoes and sloshing beer as they drank, sat by the fire and exchanged news from which one could derive the chance to make a profit. An old gray dog laying in the shadows perked his ears to listen to their conversation.
“I hear the prince up and run away,” the shortest of the men began.
One of his companions stroked his long, unkempt black beard. “Well, Tom, don’t you go believin’ everything ya hear. They just got ‘im back. King and Queen wouldn’t let ‘im get loose so quick.”
The third man, across whose cheek ran a long, white scar, held up a hand. “Now, Gary, it’s true. My brother what’s in the army were sent with the prince to those weaklings in Ferngold, and ‘e told me, ‘e said, ‘Marty, we was watchin’ the prince, but ‘e got away. Gave us the slip in the middle of the night, and near killed ‘is ol’ body guard.’”
Gary looked appropriately impressed. “Who knew? Kid’s got some nerves to ‘im.”
Marty nodded. “Bet there’s a high reward for ‘is capture an’ return, too. ‘Nuf for us to split.” He and Gary started laughing.
“That ain’t the only thing I heard,” Tom interrupted their mirth.
“Oh? What else?” Marty raised his overgrown eyebrows.
“I hear the prince is pokin’ about, lookin’ for a girl who don’t wear shoes. Seems mighty important to ‘im.”
They may have continued their conversation, but at that point, the old dog stood up and slunk out of the tavern. He trotted along unopposed, crossing from the rot-covered ground of Poldar to the springy grass of Clachan and turning toward a small cottage. Smoke curled up from its chimney. As he drew near, his ears twitched to hear voices inside it.
“I’m sorry, Trevor,” a high female voice said. “I did the best I could, and came as soon as I got the vision. If I knew any other remedy for her, do you really think I’d hold it back? I want her to live as much as you do.”
At the sound of a man’s voice, the dog’s tail wagged. “I know, Evangelina. I’m just fretting about her. Poor young Annette. If only we had gotten her here even a couple minutes sooner.”
The dog nudged the cottage door open with his nose as Trevor sighed. He and a woman with straight gray hair cascading over her purple-clad shoulders hovered over the sleeping form of a girl, whose knife wound they had been working on healing for a fortnight. Both conscious humans turned at his woof.
“Ah, you are back, boy,” Trevor mirrored the dog’s grin, hunkering down to rub his ears. “What did you find?”
The dog let out a series of growls, yaps, and whines while Trevor listened closely and nodded.
“You did the spell?” Evangelina asked incredulously.
“Of course I did,” Trevor answered with a pat to the dog’s back. “He is my old friend. It was only fitting that I reward him for years of service by enabling him to communicate with me.”
“He is a dog,” the woman reminded him.
“Aw, don’t listen to her, boy,” the sage chuckled. “And you would not be so quick to dismiss him if you heard what news he brings.”
“And what is that?”
“Why, young Will has run away and is looking for our young Annette.”
Evangelina straightened her shoulders. “That is excellent news! Then my vision may yet come true.”
All three looked back at the bed. “Well,” Trevor voiced their thoughts, “first she must wake up. If Annette cannot give Will his memory back, then all hope will be lost.”
Thanks for reading! Look for Chapter 17 on Monday!