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Maeve picked her way along the shallows of the swollen river as she scanned the choppy water for any sign of her cousin, her horse, or any other survivors of the ill-fated crossing. Twice she and her companions had waded into the murky water to haul nearly-drowned wretches the last twenty or so yards to dry land but there was no sign of Fearghus so far, not that she held much hope out for her kin’s survival.

Arcelli,” she shouted over the low roar of the river, “Any sign of ‘em?” The strider had climbed a spring-bare tree on one of the low hills near the water’s edge and was trying to use the vantage provided to catch glimpse of any survivors.

“Couple horses, maybe five men left in the water... hard to tell in all the mess out there,” the Salp replied before sliding back to the ground.

“Shite,” the troubadour mumbled under her breath. Her mood was darker and more turbulent than the water that swirled around her knees and she had no one at which to aim her anger.

Maeve,” the cleric said somberly, “I do not wish to be pessimistic, but I’m certain I saw him go unconscious and then underwater after the... the horse dissolved.”

She nodded, “Ye said as much already, Raylen, and I nae doubt ye. I suppose I was more commentin’ on the scarcity of survivors as much as anythin’ else.”

“We must do what we can for those still clinging to life,” the priest shrugged, “and take what lesson we can from the experience.”

She frowned and stopped, “Well that nae means I have t’like it!” An indignant snorting whinny cut short the rest of her retort and made her look toward a small stand of trees some twenty paces up shore where she saw Canuto standing half-hidden in the underbrush, sides heaving and legs shaking. “Well kiss my arse,” she grinned for the first time since boarding the ferry then jogged up the rise.

The warhorse was hurt, spots of its hide burned by the dragon’s caustic breath, and exhausted from its quarter mile swim in rough water. Maeve hummed softly as she walked slowly the last several yards toward Canuto as not to spook her mount. Whether the beast recognized her or was too tired to fight she did not know but he stood his ground and let her lay her hands on his quivering hide. “That’s a good fella there, I’ll make it right as I can in a trice,” she continued humming as she soothed the warhorse’s hurts with her magic. “Yer a proper Lachlan, are ye nae? Either too stubborn t’quit or part fish, eh? There’s double oats and a few days in a dry stable comin’ fella, on my oath.”

“Does that mean we’re not moving on immediately then?” Raylen tilted his head questioningly. He stood at the edge of the trees a safe distance from the warhorse and its rider.

“Aye, provided we’re nae run out with torch and tar,” she nodded. “I’m fair sure we could all use a proper rest after today and Namen will likely be contactin’ us fair soon.”

Raylen nodded, “Hm, good to know.” He walked back toward the water and Maeve followed, leading Canuto by the reins. “But why would we be run out?”

“That green would nae have attacked the ferry if it’d been carved right the first time,” Maeve said softly. “There’s many a broken family that might nae like us bein’ close by,” she shrugged.

“But we killed the dragon, that should count for something,” Raylen reasoned.

Maeve snorted softly, “Aral logic may nae take that int’account though I think ye have the right of it. I cannae say for a certainty either way at the moment... it’s my own mood pesterin’ at me for not figurin’ a way t’end it the first time.”

“Things could have been done differently, but they were not. Neguma has given us a great opportunity with this experience,” the priest indicated the roiling river with an outstretched palm, “it is within us all to learn from it.”

“Not all of us, exactly,” the bard frowned.

“All of us that would be enriched by the experience,” he replied benignly. Raylen let the statement stand on its own merit and was somewhat relieved that his compatriot did not take immediate offense. He scanned the bank of the river and smiled, “Ah! I think I see Maculato and Nico! The gods are kind indeed!”

“Neguma must think we all know how t’walk well enough then,” Maeve muttered.

Raylen trotted toward the horses, “Obviously!” he called over his shoulder, smiling.

“Take ‘em back t’Arcelli... I’m gonna wander a bit further down just t’satisfy my own curiosity. Ye nae need t’tell me it’s pointless, I’m aware of that,” she sighed.

Arcelli looked up at the sound of approaching hoof beats and grunted in surprise as Raylen led their horses toward him. “Where’s the bard?” He had squatted down next to the carcass of the dragon to examine it for future reference. Even dead the thing stunk of acid and hate and the horses stopped short, halting Raylen in his tracks.

The priest nodded over his shoulder indicating downriver, “Searching.”

“For what, a corpse? We’re more likely to find Fearghus when we gut this thing,” he poked the dragon next to him with his sword, “Or at least pieces of him.”

Raylen blanched, “You don’t think that…” he could not finish his thought.

“Yes, I do think exactly that. Greens are vindictive bitches and you’re the one that said it was all pissed off and bitching Fearghus out before everything went to wet shits out there,” Arcelli’s tact had not improved markedly in the quarter hour the priest had been gone.

“I hadn’t thought of that,” Raylen answered. “Perhaps she shouldn’t be present when we…”

“Pfft, let her see what happened to her idiot cousin, I don’t care. She can’t blame it on me.” The ranger stood up and glared at the boats moving past against the current, “I just want to be out of here before any of these big Aral fuckers decide to get shitty.”

“I think she’s planning on staying in town for a few days to rest before continuing; if we’re welcome that is.” Raylen handed Maculato’s reins to Arcelli.

“Of course she is,” the ranger groused.

The priest hid a chuckle in a cough, “Well, she contacted Namen while we were on the water so we’ll have to stay put for at least a bit until he replies.”

Arcelli sighed, “Whatever. I don’t like towns.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed,” the priest blinked.

“Fuck you, Raylen,” Arcelli grinned.

The priest was silent for a few moments, “I don’t think she blames either of us.”

“Only because she hasn’t thought about it yet,” the ranger replied dourly.

Raylen shook his head, “No. I think she’s been thinking about it since the first time we encountered Skyrralix and he got away. I think that may be why she didn’t want to stay at the lair as well; there wasn’t any defensible position there. It would have been folly to follow Fearghus’s suggestion to wait in the cave.”

“Skyrralix?” Arcelli arched a brow, “What the fuck is that?”

“That’s what the dragon called itself,” Raylen shrugged. “I don’t speak Draconic to know if it means something else. I just assumed that was its name. It’s not like it’s tattooed on the back of its neck or anything.”

“I suppose that’s as good a guess as any. I still say she’ll scald us on it though,” Arcelli sighed.

Raylen shook his head, “I disagree, but only time will tell.”

Arcelli stared down at the carcass for several moments then frowned, “Dammit! I bet we lost all of the preservation powder-”

One thing Raylen had noticed in his months of travel with Arcelli; the ranger’s fluency in obscenity was truly impressive, particularly when he was angry. He let the profanity dwindle to a grumble before speaking, “Actually, it’s in the bag of holding. Maeve told me all of the component collection gear was in there when we were trying to figure out weight distribution for the horses so we could haul Fearghus’ armor.”

“Oh.” The ranger looked somewhat contrite. “Good – I guess as soon as she gets back we can get to it then. I just hope she hurries.”

Maeve surveyed the small crowd that had gathered some distance from where Raylen and Arcelli were standing over the dragon’s carcass. She could not hear what any of the townsfolk were saying at this distance but most heads were bent together and there was no small amount of pointing toward the two Salpians. The bard had not noticed, until now, exactly how close they were to the outskirts of town which made her stomach turn a half somersault of realization when she thought about the consequences had she and her companions failed. She pressed her knees into Canuto’s shoulders to urge him to a trot and sat as tall as her aching muscles would allow.

“Ho there, fellas!” she said when she got close enough not to have to shout, “Looks like ye’ve gathered an audience. Ye been dancin’ or singin’?”

“Neither,” Raylen answered, “We were waiting on you to return with the kit. I don’t know why they’re just standing over there.”

Arcelli frowned, “To piss me off.”

Maeve chuckled to hide a wince as she threw her leg over Canuto’s head and slid off of his back, “Like as nae they’re wonderin’ if you’ll gut them; put yer sword away, man!”

The ranger glowered at his companion, “Why?”

The troubadour shot a glance over her shoulder, “Because it’s rude t’meet folks with bare steel in yer fist and from the looks of the feller comin’ through the crowd I’d lay good gold that he’s a clan chief of some sort.” She arched a brow, “And he’s nae armed or armored.”

Arcelli reluctantly sheathed his sword but kept a protective hand on the hilt, “Fuck.”

Maeve turned around but before she could say a single syllable the big Aral approaching them let out a loud laugh, “Leave it to a Lachlan to not only swim a flooded river but make a grand entrance doing so! Always said they was half fish, half peacock!” The bard blinked as he patted her soundly on the shoulder, “Kennan Cananach... you?”

Maeve Lachlan, Raylen Lorn, and Arcelli Cacciatore... pleasure.” She smiled. The Chananachs were on good terms with the Lachlans so the greatest hurdle had been cleared.

The Aral stuck a hand out to the priest and ranger in turn, “Welcome to Aral, lads. I’ll offer an official thanks for drubbing this critter later, but for now a handshake will have to do.”

Maeve smiled at the confused look on Arcelli’s face as she asked Kennan, “Do you think we might get a hand moving this beastie somewhere we can dress it out without running everyone out of town with the stink?”

The Cananach scratched his jaw as he eyed the carcass then looked back toward the city behind him, “Aye, bit close to town here. We’ll haul it up bank to where a wagon won’t sink and see what we can find by way of a kill shed.” He yelled up the bank and two stripling boys took off on a dead run for the city. “I have to go to the docks to see who was hauled in and what state they’re in. Those lads are mine so you can trust they’ll be back double quick with that wagon. There’s plenty of hands to help with the lifting,” he pointed at the knot of people still standing some thirty yards away.

“Thank you,” Maeve smiled, “please don’t let us keep you from tending to your folk. I’ll wager we’re all too tired to go too far.”

The Aral chief bristled, “You’ll go no further than my hearth until you’ve had my hospitality, and that’s the end of that discussion!” And with a firm nod he strode away.

Arcelli waited until the chief was out of hearing range and muttered, “He’s not going to be so hospitable when he finds out we’re the reason the dragon was here.”

Maeve glared at Arcelli and growled between clenched teeth, “Ye can stow that talk right now, Signor Cacciatore. ‘Twas nae any of us that brought green-scaled ruin down on these folk. ‘Twas that bully of a show off Turnbull cousin of mine bein’ more interested in makin’ kissy faces and bein’ a peckerwood that gettin’ the job done that gave that fuckin’ beastie another week this side the veil t’heal and brood and plan.” She puffed an errant curl out of her face, and reigned in her temper as well as she was able, “I'm more than a shade chaffed at the fool for gettin' hisself killed but I've nae any means t'take it out on him which only goes t'ward chaffin' me all the more.” She jabbed a finger at the carcass and modulated her tone to one somewhat less confrontational, “That is, I believe, a dead dragon with a sword gash in its neck that you nae could have delivered without the wings of his prayer,” she pointed to her companions in turn as she spoke, “I see nary a single mace dent on it... nor bruises from ham-sized fists, nor dagger gashes, nor any profusion of spike holes - nothin’, in other words, that shows anyone not on this bank did shite-all t’take care of business - WE are the reason IT is dead nae the other way around which cannae be said of every member of our merry little band.” The bard smiled, “Face it, lads, ye be dragon slayers and are goin’ t’have the adorin’ public fawnin’ on ye whether ye want it, or nae, so smile ‘cause here they come.”
Session: Night of the Living Wilburys - Saturday, Dec 22 2012 from 6:00 PM to 1:00 AM
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