Egil really had no memory of events since they had left The Green Man Gorge. He did, however, have lots of memories of the dreams he had been having and was able to recount all the dead family and friends who he had met while unconscious. He insisted on telling of his travels in a land of apples. Both Graphen and Darkon sat bleary eyed and exhausted. The events of the last week had removed all sparkle of life from both and they hadn’t had the benefit of some Goddess inspired healing. Darkon, in particular, was feeling very sorry for himself. His left eye socket still hurt and periodically it would start bleeding again. The Goddess could have done something to help me he thought sourly. Stove, by comparison, had weathered events relatively calmly. He recognised that being a donkey was an advantage in situations like this.
Darkon tried to reconcile what had happened but it was too far outside his experience and knowledge to fully comprehend. What was important now was to push on, get back to Santos, get paid and then rest for a while. He would need to make a decision soon if this was the kind of life he wanted. Graphen was ruminating on their meeting with the Mother. He knew there must be some connection between their actions of releasing the Red Horsemen, the increase of Moon Magic and the appearance of the Triple-faced One. He needed to get to a library and question some scholars to work out what it all meant.
Both Graphen and Darkon looked at Egil across the firelight. Only yesterday, he was dying a slow, painful death and now was waxing lyrical about the wood nymphs he had met in his dreams. If he hadn't been such a good friend they would probably have stuck a knife in his liver or cut out his tongue in some sort of ironic revenge. Or perhaps they could do both.
"We should make it to Santos tomorrow," said Darkon trying to change the subject, "the plan is to release our prisoner and let him go on to Santos ahead of us, we need to wait an hour before going on ourselves. We have to disavow all knowledge of him".
They all looked at the prisoner. He was curled in a foetal position. None of them had heard him speak any sensible words apart from crying for his mother and a brief reference to his father, who would probably be displeased.
"His mind is broken,” said Graphen, "and its flown far away. Why do you think he is so important, Darkon? The whole set up stinks a bit. Didn't you ask the Fatman for some more details?"
"I did," replied Darken, "but he wouldn't say. You’re right it stinks, and I fear there is something about this, some vital information, that we don't know and will be critical to our well-being.”
Egil went over to the broken, naked man, “Oii, you," he shouted in the man's face, "Who are you? What’s your name?" The naked man didn't reply. He now only communicated in whimpers. Egil poked him with the point of his spear to make sure the man was aware that Egil was addressing him.
"Leave him," said Darkon, "I'm uneasy about this. However, we've gone along with the plan this far. Do we have any options apart from finishing?"
The discussion had dampened the mood and they all stared moodily into the dying fire. They set watches and retired for the night resolving to get up early to make the final push on to Santos. Darkon had reckoned another 3 hours travel. They could have made it that night but would have arrived after dark which would have been to late to release their prisoner as the gates of Santos were always closed at sunset by orders of the Patrician.
The night passed quietly and they got up well before sunrise. They stopped, as far as they could ascertain, about an hour before Santos. They released their prisoner but he didn't show much intention of moving, lying on the ground and whimpering quietly. It took Egil to prod him with a spear to get him moving in the right direction.
"Better give him two hours," said Graphen," someone should find him on the road and bring him in to the city."
"Or kill him. Or enslave him," said Egil," Mind you making a slave of him is probably useless, so killing is more likely."
None of the three felt any compassion for the man. He was after all a smuggler and outside the law. They were actually doing a service for the Patrician really.
"Why did we let him go?" asked Egil," we might have made more money as a reward from the Justice than the 150 silver pieces from the Fatman.”
"Not likely," said Graphen, “he's probably just some minor cog in the smuggling wheel. But l would like to know what was in the small barrel that caused the firestorm."
"I think that might be part of the Fatman's plan,” said Darkon, "something going on here that we don't know."
"A lot of things are going on here we don't know," said Graphen, "where would you like me to start?”
"Let's forget it," said Egil, not one for over analysing any situation , " It is what it is. No use crying over spilt milk as my Mammy used to say. We get the money, we get drunk, but not on milk.”
They began to pack up, when Egil, sounding confused shouted, "Where is Stove?” He had tied him to the tree root with the other three horses and he wasn't there anymore. His bridle and the bit of rope were still there and still attached to the root but there was not any sign of the donkey.
"No donkey tracks leading away either," said Graphen after searching the ground. "Someone’s been here though. See the tracks there, someone who was barefoot?"
The others searched the surrounding scrub but couldn’t find any trace of the donkey. They eventually had to give up due to lack of time and decided that they had lost the donkey.
"Pity""' said Egil," I rather liked Stove. Maybe I should have let the caravan driver geld him and he might not have run off."
From the scrub, a young dark-haired man watched as they mounted their horses and rode off. "That's a year and a day since I was transformed, the spell has finally worn off" he said to no-one in particular. He stretched and moved around, thankful to be able to do the things a human could do.
When they arrived at the Fishgate of Santos, they found it in uproar. There was a massive queue of various traders who had arrived to sell their wares and were angrily complaining to anyone who would listen.
“What’s going on?” asked Darkon of one of the traders.
“Gates have been closed on orders of the Patrician. Someone had robbed his youngest son, stripped him naked, shaved his beard and set him loose to go back to his father.”
“Someone with a death wish,” said another trader.
“Patrician has sworn that the culprits will have a slow lingering death,” said another.
“I’d buy him a drink,” laughed a fourth, “Before they get horribly tortured.”
Darkon went a whiter shade of pale and hurried to the other two.
“Pack up,” he whispered, “Get the horses. Leave the wagon. We need to go. Fast.”
The End. For Now.