The reunion gathering in the The Red Dragon was subdued.
It didn’t help that a travelling bard was singing of the Nine who saved the Kingdom. The story in the song was a pretty enough confection, Hepsie thought, but most all lies. And it was a reminder that the last time they had set out as companionship of nine and returned as seven and now just four of them sat around the table.
Hepsie had a lot on her mind but she could see that even the usually irrepressible Stref took the news about Raya like a blow to the gut. At least it stopped him from squabbling with Linis for once as they always used to. Or maybe it was deeper than the one event, maybe he had grown up some. Linis certainly had. The poise and calm were the same, but the sophistication, elegance and self-command spoke to something new. When the conversation turned to their next step and the long journey to the mountains she simply lifted a hand to silence everyone.
“I don’t see why we need to make this into a grand trek. There are other ways to get there.”
Poll looked thoughtful. “Aye. There is for sure. We could use the Guild of Fartravellers. But they would ask more than all I own for the price of the spell.”
Which was true. Fartravel was expensive and for a reason. Only the Guild knew the spell and word was that it took so much from the caster they would need days in bed after to recover.
“That might be so, but I have the price of it. How do you think I came to Durmouth so quickly when Raya sent word to me?”
“We couldn’t ask…” Poll began to protest.
“No. This is the same as before. We all bring to this our strengths. That I have the gold is no more to the point than that I have my bow.”
“Before, we all had nothing except our skill, our muscles and our wits.”
“We were young then, Poll,” Linis said gently. “Now we have other resources. A lifetime of them. Just as we used the strengths of our youth before, now – if we are to succeed – we must use all the strengths of our age and experience.”
So it was settled and the next day they gathered in the Travel Court of the Guild. It looked like any other courtyard Hepsie had ever been in, cobbles, and stone walls. Except that there was only one wide gate and the high stone walls were featureless aside for plaques on which were carved sigils. She recognised one or two and wondered what they might have to do with travel at all. Or maybe they were just there to confuse people like her, with some small knowledge of magic, to ensure the real spell remained secret.
Hepsie and Poll were with their hill ponies, Stref with a broad-backed mule he had found somewhere and Linis with her chestnut mare. All the mounts had bedrolls and side packs of supplies. Hopefully, they hadn’t forgotten anything because there were no taverns or towns in the high mountains.
Hepsie found herself whispering a prayer to Shal and then wondered why she did so. It was unsettling as she was never the one to call on any god. But there was no time to give it any thought more because the Guild Spellcaster and her two apprentices, were beginning the spellcasting, sending them to the place Linis was holding in her thoughts. That was the big limit on Fartravel, as everyone knew, you had to have been there first.
The magic tingled on her skin and Hepsie resisted the urge to scratch at it. Hepsie’s barrel-shaped pony snorted and rolled its eyes as she tried to soothe it. Stref was having a fine time keeping his mule in place as it sidestepped and tried to pull away. Even the chestnut mare had her ears flattened. Any moment they would all try and bolt. This was going to be a disaster.
“Everyone alright?” Linis asked
Hepsie blinked. Then shivered. They were high in the mountains. Just like that. She hadn’t even felt a moment of transition, and if there had been anything to see she had missed it, focused as she was on keeping her pony calm. No wonder the Guild spellcasters could charge such high prices.
From a fantasy tale by E.M. Swift-Hook