Finally ready to get on the road, Alton discovers that Revanth is missing. He seeks out the owner of the tavern, also the magistrate, to complain.
“There is, I’m afraid. I have places to go. I need my horse.”
“He’s worth a lot of money, is he?” The older man’s expression changed subtly.
Alton frowned, leaning over the much shorter man. “He’s worth more than your scurvy life, old man. He’s the war horse, for a knight of the realm. The mud in his hooves, is ten times the cost of this flea ridden tavern. If you know where he is, I’ll have him back. If, by your ineptitude, you’re hoping that the thieves will spirit him away, let me assure you.” He took a step closer. “There’s no place he can go where I can’t find him. And when I do, I’ll make it my business to come back here, lay you open from groin to gorge—nice and slow. Am I clear?”
“As crystal.” The taverner gulped, his flabby chins bobbing nervously. “Some lads may have took him,” he mumbled. “Early this morning. They might have walked in, and led him out, like.”
“And what direction might they have gone?” Alton played with the hilt of his sword.
“They might—might be taking him to the horse market. Down to West Farland.”
“And how does one get to West Farland?”
“Follow the road for two days—or the faster way is by riverside, about a day.”
Alton stepped forward, touching the man’s shirt with his fingertips. “You had best hope I find him swiftly, and without hurt, or I will be back. And I’ll do what I promised.” He stepped back. “Out of curiosity, how often do horses go missing from your stable?”
“Fairly often, my Lord,” the man replied with a leer.
“Then you’ll be accustomed to guests who don’t pay,” Alton replied. He turned away once more.
“Now see here!” Tom bellowed, coming hastily after the Wood Sprite.
Putting a hand on Alton’s shoulder, he intended to stop him. He found himself looking at the business end of the Wood Sprite’s dagger, mere inches from his left eye.
“My horse is worth more than your house and land. It’s only fair that you not only gift us with our night and meals, but guarantee our safe passage. If my horse, or friends, come to harm, no place on this Earth will be safe for you—neither land nor water. Are we clear on that?”
The man blinked nervously, not daring to nod for fear he impale himself on Alton’s blade.
They made a hasty departure on foot, following the road to where it crossed the river. Alton knew either he or Velda could pick up Revanth’s trail.
Astrid bore up better than he expected. She was quiet and pale, but she kept up the stiff pace Alton set. When they arrived at the river, a decision had to be made. The water was rough and white capped. The water rolled rapidly over rocks and downed trees, creating peaks of white foam and perilous holes so deep, they appeared almost black. Several small boats lay upended beside the water, falling apart from disuse. There was no bridge spanning the water, only the stark remains of a tumbled down dock.
“Do we try to hire a boat to pursue him? Or do we follow the road?” Astrid asked.
“Their boats make for better sieves,” Velda replied. “I doubt they’ve been in the water for the last decade.”
“How can you live by the river, and never go on it?” Alton said.
“Let’s find out,” Velda replied.
She walked to the river’s edge, dipping her fingers in the water. Reaching out with her naiad’s senses, she listened to the voices in the burbles and ripples. Gentle waves lapped against her fingers, tugging her hand.
“Join us, sister. Join us….”
“What do you think you’re doing?” A loud, angry voice bellowed.
A man strode purposefully toward them, from what they had taken to be an abandoned cottage, on the high bank behind them. He carried a well used crossbow, aiming it at Velda. Alton drew his sword and stood between the stranger and the naiad.
“Get away from the water! Does she have a death wish?” he asked, directed at no one.
Velda rose slowly, placing a gentle hand on Alton’s arm. His sword dipped slightly.
“No cause for alarm,” she said softly, her voice layered with the voices of the river. “I was talking to my sisters.”
The bow had lowered, but snapped upward once more. “You’re one of them?” His eyes narrowed.
“I asked them why your people feared the water. I understand now.” She took a step forward. “Let me explain.”
“I know what happened. I saw it with my own eyes.”
“You think you know.” She shook her head. “But it’s far from the truth. What you saw—”
“What I saw was the river reach out, and gobble up my daughter. It pulled her under before she could even cry out. She was gone before my eyes!”
Velda took several more steps as he spoke. The bow shook in his hands.
“No,” she said quietly in her own voice. “That’s what you think you saw.”
“The river here is tainted—haunted. No one crosses here!”
“Your daughter wasn’t the first to disappear here?” Alton asked.
© 2019 Dellani Oakes