Fragiel had forgotten how boring travel was. The only thing keeping him from describing the trip as uneventful was the patrol they had run across a few hours ago. From the crests on their shields, he could tell that they were members of Qyooniba’s army. A dwarf, who Fragiel guessed was the leader of the patrol, said something in his native tongue to Kerven. The two of them walked off on their own and talked briefly.
The High Priest tried to make a show of not looking over at them, but he failed miserably. It had been four days since they left the temple and the only things that happened were lots of walking and Parshal constantly asking him questions. Parshal’s questions stopped the second morning, however, when Kerven threatened to cut his tongue out if he didn’t shut up. Taking the hint, his acolyte had been quiet ever since. Once that happened, Fragiel began asking Kerven questions about Kanasa City, hoping to learn something that would aid him in his mission, but the dwarf proved to be as reluctant to answering Fragiel’s questions as Fragiel was in answering Parshal’s.
At first, he thought he was enjoying the silence. Upon hearing the two dwarves speak, he realized how much he wanted to hear people talking again. So, he strained to listen in on their conversation. After a minute, he stopped, and tried to keep from laughing at the ridiculousness of what he was doing. He didn’t speak dwarven. Even if he did manage to overhear anything, he still wouldn’t know anything they were saying.
Soon after, the meeting broke up. Kerven turned around, his back fully to the other dwarf, waited for a couple of seconds, then walked towards them. “Come on,” he grumbled, not slowing down.
Fragiel wanted to ask right away what had happened, but thought it would be best to give Kerven a chance to cool off. Now that those few hours had passed, he fell into stride beside the dwarf. “Did your friend back there not help you?”
Kerven looked at him strangely. It seemed to be a mixture of confusion and annoyance. “Of course, he helped,” Kerven finally replied. “We changed directions, didn’t we?”
It was Fragiel’s turn to be confused. Looking up at the sky to get his bearings, he saw that they had indeed changed directions. “But you were mad at him…”
With a smirk, Kerven turned to Parshal and ordered, “You explain it to him.”
Parshal was unsuccessfully trying to hide his own smirk. He is probably glad to finally be the one not in the dark about something, the High Priest thought. “Get on with it,” Fragiel demanded, when his acolyte held the smirk for too long.
“They didn’t want the rest of the soldiers to know that he was helping us, so they staged all of that. His anger was all a show to throw them off. After he told Kerven what he needed to know, Kerven still needed to pay him, so he faced away from him. In dwarven custom, this is a gesture to show the other person that you’re not afraid of them, otherwise you wouldn’t show them your back. In practice, it’s used as a way of paying someone off. Kerven hung a coin purse on the back of his belt and the other dwarf took it off when his back was turned, using Kerven’s body as a shield to cover up what they did.”
“How do you know these things?”
“The city guard does more than break up bar fights, you know.”
The dwarf appeared at their side. “Not so loud, dolts. We crossed into Mishaken about half an hour ago. We’re still close enough to the border to run into patrols.”
As if on cue, the bushes to their left began to shake. The three men turned to face it, hands on their weapons. To their surprise, instead of a patrol, a deer bounded out of the bush. Parshal chuckled nervously. Before Fragiel could admonish him for not staying quiet, they found out what the deer was running from. A huge black bear burst out at them.
Parshal and Kerven dove to the side to avoid the running bear. Fragiel hesitated. The bear ran into him, knocking Fragiel hard to the ground. Suddenly aware of new prey, the bear stopped and turned back to the High Priest. Fragiel, on his rear, pushed himself backwards as quickly as he could, but the bear was faster. It reached out its paw to take a swipe at him as he turned his head and closed his eyes.
Something warm and liquid hit Fragiel in the face. When he opened his eyes, he saw that Parshal stood between him and the bear, which was now missing the paw it tried to strike him with. The bear, enraged at its injury, stood on its hind legs and issued a deafening roar. Parshal backed away defensively. Diving to the side, the acolyte barely missed being hit by a swing from the bear’s remaining paw.
With the bear’s focus on his acolyte now, Fragiel finally regained his wits. He briefly considered letting Parshal handle the bear on his own, but then remembered how close they were to Mishaken patrols. Since the patrols would be a more difficult opponent, he decided that he should help. The bear was still on its hind legs, so Fragiel ran up next to it and swung his mace, connecting solidly on its knee. Because of its momentum, it fell flat onto its face.
Before it could start getting back onto its feet, Kerven jumped onto its back, jamming his curved dagger blades deeply into the bear’s neck. The large beast struggled momentarily, but it soon succumbed to its injuries. “Thank Accura,” Parshal breathed. “That thing could’ve killed us.”
“Thank Accura, indeed,” came a voice from the side. Standing in the bushes that the animals had run out of were five soldiers in Mishaken army armor. “Now, the pleasure of killing you will be ours.”