I awoke with a start, unsure of my surroundings for a moment. I’d slept on the pallet they’d put me on, and the dim candle showed others sleeping around, including Torgood at my feet. Vytar wasn’t there. I rose as silently as I could. My body itched, especially my scalp where I could feel fine new hairs sprouting. My skin looked gray in the light, but whole. Drew my robe closed and checked my satchel, which still had the important things but seemed to be missing my gold. Of course.
I kicked Torgood none too gently to wake him.
He grunted and rolled over, blinking up at me.
“Where’s my money?” I whispered to him.
“I don’t have it,” he answered quickly.
“Who has it? Smat? I need it. And I need clothes. Give me your tunic.” Torgood started to take off his tunic and then stopped shaking his head.
“Oh no, Gestin, you can’t pull that on me twice.”
‘Watch me,’ I almost said but didn’t. “I can’t go anywhere without clothes or money. My lack of both is your fault – so help me.”
“I didn’t walk into the fire like a fool. Fool,” he added, getting up and scrubbing his face with his hands.
He looked me up and down, “You look like chicken poop.”
I made a face at him.
“I’ll get you some clothes,” he said after a moment. “You get us some food. It’s a long way to Crown City from here.”
“You’re not going.”
“What? You’re not leaving me here.” His exclamation awoke the child who’d been sleeping in its mother’s arms under the feast table. The child cried, the mother woke, and that woke the rest of the hall.
“See what you’ve done fool,” he hissed at me.
“Me?” I put my hands on my hips.
Watchman Engli approached, carrying a bundle. A boy followed after with a tray holding something steaming.
“Stranger, Handyman. Everything all right here?” He handed me the bundle. Clothes – fine clothes in fact – and a pair of low boots.
I listened to Torgood try to explain that we had urgent business in Crown City while I put the clothes on. The boy served us broth and bread, and then went around the room lighting the candles.
“Are you sure you want this criminal to go with you to the city?” Watchman Engli asked me.
“What exactly has he done – other than have improper relations with your wife?” I asked.
The watchman’s face turned red at that.
“He stole Elder Wala’s ring and the Healer Friskan’s crutches.”
So that’s where the ring came from, I thought.
“I didn’t steal the crutches, I borrowed them. Smat was supposed to return them. And you never proved that I stole the ring,” Torgood said, pointing at Smat, who’d been sleeping in the far corner. He made a rude gesture and walked out.
“You are not a good friend to Smat,” Watchman Engli noted. Torgood ignored him and sipped his broth.
“And you, Stranger, how to do you know the Handyman?”
I looked Torgood up and down and considered my memory lapses. “I don’t, not really. I needed an escort to Crown City and he joined me.”
Watchman Engli put his hand up by his mouth and said, loud enough for all to hear, “You made a poor choice.”
People laughed. Torgood glared at them.
“So it seems.”
Torgood transferred his glare to me.
“I can remedy that,” Vytar said, striding in with the two elders. He still wore the tabard with the stylized bird on it – and I recognized it finally. Vytar was a Crown Sentinel, an enforcer of the rules of the Grand Council.
“Stranger, if you’ve eaten and are ready, we have a gift for you outside.”
I followed them outside, along with everyone else. Torgood attached himself to my side.
The morning sunlight showed the full devastation of Southallow. Only a third of the city of 2000 or more people remained intact.
“How many dead?” I wondered aloud.
“Only two, remarkably,” Vytar answered. “An old man and a cripple.”
Relief and sadness and a spike of guilt churned in my stomach. I looked out across the town and a flash of flame caught my attention. My fire elemental. I begged it silently to be patient. In return, I felt a warmness on my face followed by a slight sting.
I brought my attention back to the elder, who’d been speaking, just in time for him to swing his arm wide and present to me Torgood’s horse.
“That’s my horse,” he hissed at me. I smiled and accepted the beast. They also presented me with a small bag of money.
“It’s not much, Stranger, but it will help you on your journey.”
I thanked them. I tucked my satchel into the horse’s saddle bags.
“Gestin, come on man,” Torgood grabbed at me as I mounted.
“Don’t touch me and don’t talk to me,” I said.
He stepped back, his hands in front of him, his mouth compressed in a thin line. He tried to say something and couldn’t. I kept my smirk to myself.
Watchman Engli came forward. “What will you have us do with him, er my lord?”
What was with this ‘my lord’ stuff?
“Have him help in rebuilding this town,” I said and the elders nodded. “And have him go confess what he’s done to his mother,” I added. Torgood blanched.
An unnatural scream made me turn my horse down the hill. My elemental friend had flared to enormous size.
“Quick, get the buckets!” Sentinel Vytar yelled. He slapped my horse’s end and said, “Go.”
I needed no encouragement. I urged my horse on.