Thursday, August 15, 2013

     Morning came later than he’d been accustomed to, with the mountain at his back blocking the sun for a bit. It had been a long night for him, with every shift of his body sending pain through his chest. At least Marrow’s wound had quit seeping through the bandages. He stood patiently as John redressed the bundle, and they continued the slow trek down the mountain.
     Late afternoon saw the last of the mountain dropping behind them as the rocks gave way to a few hills, and the walls of Pebbleton. The town sat close enough to the mountains that predators were not uncommon. Where the trail penetrated the wooden walls, a gate barely wide enough for a small wagon was watched over by a bored looking town guard.
     Except for the color of the pennant flying over his head, he could have been a mirror of his counterpart on the other side of the pass. He perked up noticeably at the sight of John and his horses coming around the last hill. As they drew within earshot, he stood taller, pulling his jerkin straight, with a pat to the ‘P’ lettered on the breast of it as though emphasizing his official position.
     “What brings you to Pebbleton? We don’t get many coming over the pass these days.”
     “I have need of rest and a few supplies before continuing onward.”
     “Where are you staying?”
     “Not sure yet. Where do you spend your time?”
     “At the Bear’s Growl, but you’ll need to unstrap that blade from your back before you go riding through town. We don’t like trouble around these parts.”
     John unbuckled the scabbard from his back, and rolled the sword and bow into a blanket that he strapped behind Marrow’s saddle. The actions had drawn the gaze of the second guard, and he lazily watched from his perch in the wall-top platform. Once he had the bundle tied  in place the guard lifted the bar from the gate with a parting comment.
     “Ya might want ta get that horse put down. He’s looking sick.”
     “You would too, if you had your neck torn open from a Wyvern claw. He’ll live. Just needs a little rest.”
     “What? You didn’t know there was a Wyvern camped out in the pass?”
     “I’ll have to tell the Captain. He can get some men to go after it.”
     “I’m not sure how much will be left after the scavengers pick at the carcass. Should be easy to find though; I left it in the middle of a clearing.”
     “You killed it? Is that what happened to the other riders?”
     “Like I said, moving onward to meet someone. The extra saddle is for them.”
     “But you killed it?”
     “The head’s on its way the other direction I think. Something about a bounty on it.”
     John passed through the gate under the astonished eyes of the guard, who was still trying to grasp the thought of a Wyvern in the pass. A now dead Wyvern.
     The town inside the walls looked much like any number of towns along the roads of the Northern lands. Everywhere he looked there were  signs of the impending harvest that dominated life in these farming towns. Pebbleton’s claim to a fame that probably extended as far as the borders of Huyroil, seemed to be honey.
The biggest building in town was shared by the Potter’s Guild, and Pebbleton Nectar. A seemingly perfect match, with the potters crafting every urn to be filled with honey. As he watched, a wagon passed by full of the urns cradled in straw-filled crates.
     About halfway down the main street John found his first destination. The sign on the door carried just the simple mortar and pestle, with not even a name to denote the owner. He pushed through the door into the dimmer interior, where the scents of so many herbs greeted him like a rainbow of smells. Each one unique, and yet not overpowering the others.
     “What is it? Bee sting, sun blisters, queasy belly?”
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust enough to focus on the shape walking out of the back room, turning it into an elderly man drying his hands on a small towel. The man showed a bit of patience, and waited for John to answer.
     “Uh, no. How much coin do you have?”
     “You would have been better off walking into the bank to inquire about robbery. At least there you stood a chance of grabbing a few coins before they caught you.”
     “Sorry, misspoke. I have something that I’m sure you’ll be interested in, though they tend to be valuable.
     “As you can see and smell, I’ve got plenty of everything worth harvesting. What I don’t have is a lot of coins for someone trying to take my life’s savings.”
John pulled one of the dull yellow spikes, that measured as long as his hand, from the pouch at his waist, and laid it on the polished wood counter. “Wyvern teeth.”
     “Lots of people try faking those. Some get pretty close too.”
     “Like you don’t have coins to be tossing about on wild claims, I don’t have time to craft forgeries. I have a horse outside that took a claw to his neck, and I need a poultice to heal him. I trust you can verify this is genuine.”
     “You have more of these?”
     “Heal my horse and we can talk.”
     The apothecary followed him out to the hitching post where the three horses stood patiently waiting. It took a few soft-spoken words before Marrow settled enough to endure the poking and prodding from the stranger. Finally satisfied that he could tend the wound, the man turned back to John with a question.
     “How fresh?”
     “Two days.”
     “No, I meant the tooth. I can see this is only a few days old. You did a good job with the willow.”
     “The tooth came from the Wyvern that clawed him.”
     “I’ll give you five gold Roils for it.”
     “We both know it’s worth twice that much, but work your craft on Marrow, and I’ll let you have it for the five.”
     The man set to work plucking a few leaves from this plant, or that, around his shop, dropping them into a mortar reminiscent of the one on his sign. After adding a few more dashes from some powders, he ground the whole mess together. A dribble from a bottle marked as Razorjaw oil turned it to a thick paste. After spooning it into a small clay jar, he set it firmly on the counter.
     “He’s not going to be too happy when you smear this into the cut, that’s why I’m going to let you be the one to get kicked. Twice today, then cut them stitches out. After tomorrow you won’t know there’d been a cut, except for it being bald.”
     The apothecary stepped into the back rooms for a minute, before returning to carefully lay five shining gold coins minted in the country’s treasury. Each one would buy a night’s lodging in a fine inn, complete with meals and the stable. In some places it would pay for an entire week. Beside these he set a stack twice as high.
     “Another ten if you have a second tooth. It’s all I can manage; this isn’t a big town you know.”
John nodded, laying a second dull yellow spike on the counter. “If you hurry and beat the wolves to it, you can probably still get the liver.”
     Marrow snorted and danced away as John uncapped the jar of salve. The whinny of pain sounded worse that when he’d packed the willow bark and bitterroot in place, as he spread the paste across the red edges of the cut.
     By the time he got to the Bear’s Growl, there were already stories starting to circulate about a grand hunter coming through their town. Over a bit of roasted chicken dinner he listened to tales that grew with each telling, until the Wyvern had carried off a horse in each claw. He just nodded every time someone tried to draw him into the conversation about how the grand hunter had saved them all from a rampaging Wyvern.
     John spent the next day in Pebbleton as well, though he was itching to get moving onward. As predicted, Marrow displayed a great dislike to having the stitches cut loose so that more of the salve could be rubbed into the wound. Most of the swelling had gone down, and reopening the stitches allowed the rest of the infection drain away. John himself spent what time he could, holed up in his room to avoid the Wyvern conjectures that still dominated the idle gossip of the tavern.
     By the second day he was passing through the gates with the rising sun. He still chose to walk, giving Marrow the time to finish healing. The open fields that extended past the town were dotted with the hive boxes amid the grain and clover. The smell brought with it memories of home, like it always did. He spent the night camped under a small stand of trees, with dreams shifting between Velimina and Nicquey. Three day’s ride later he had crossed from Huyroil into Saffon., just a day short of Lake Mergen and Twilling City.

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