Dog And Dragon – Snippet 14

“What’s money to a corpse? You’re lucky to be alive out there, on your own in the dark. Wolves or monsters get most such fools.”

“I didn’t plan it,” said Fionn. “The others ran the other way when we had our little run-in with the afanc at the ford. It ripped my cloak, curse it.”

“You’re lucky it was just your cloak.”

“Ach, the dog gave me warning. I sleep sound enough knowing he’s there,” said Fionn. “Now either give my silver back or give me eighteen silver pennies for it.”

For a moment it looked like the innkeeper was weighing up whether simple murder would not solve this dilemma. Then he sighed. “Seventeen. And that’s merely because the dog looks hungry.”

“I haven’t let him eat a rascally innkeeper for weeks,” said Fionn, sardonically. “Seventeen. Provided you feed him too.” Twenty silver pennies was still far too little for the weight of the coin — had it been silver, or going to be staying in the innkeeper’s pouch.

The beer was good, the squirrel stew adequate. Fionn found the quarters less so. The window was thoroughly barred with heavy iron bars and a fair amount of magework too. In fairness, Fionn had to admit it did seem directed less to keeping him in, as to keeping the various forest denizens of Brocéliande out. Only he had thought a little fly around would help to orientate himself, and quite possibly make the denizens of the forest a little more wary. With self-mocking virtue, Fionn laughed at himself. There was nothing quite as easy as performing a public service, while actually looking for the sort of magical chaos his Scrap of humanity would be generating, just by the way she was. So he sat down and took out a fragment of the coin he’d given the innkeeper, and called it back to itself to be whole again. He was rewarded a few moments later by the coin squeezing itself under the door, and rolling across to him. The dvergar coin would follow its heart piece for miles. Fionn had once thought he’d lost it, when it had been trapped in an iron strongbox. But sooner or later, someone had opened the box. Besides, it wasn’t silver, but actually a great deal harder. Dvalinn said it would burrow its way out of anything in time.

Díleas growled at the coin, as Fionn put down a hand to allow it to roll up to his pouch. Fionn shook his head at the dog. “Tch. After it paid for your dinner too.”

The dog informed him — by jumping up onto the bed — just where he was planning to sleep. Fionn suggested he try curling up under his tail. Díleas thumped the bedclothes with said tail, and ignored him.

Later that night — by the feel of it, approaching dawn — Díleas woke him with a nose in his ear, and a low growl.

No human would have heard it…or smelled it. But someone was talking, and there was a faint smell of wolf. An odd smell of wolf. And it wasn’t coming in through the window. Fionn got up. So did Díleas.

“I think you should wait. Those claws of yours make a noise on the wood,” said Fionn quietly, and slipped out. He moved as quietly as only he could, through the dark building and down to the landing of the stair to the main room and kitchen. From here he could hear them, and smell them. Ah. Mine host was talking to something that smelled…both like a wolf and a man. That was worrying enough without the faint smell of decay too. Fionn had dealt with enough skin changers before to know how those smelled. They were dangerous, in that they had the strength and skills of their beast side and the cunning of men. It was fortunate that men were not always particularly cunning. He listened.

“…too much money for what he pretends to be. He gave me a silver coin, from a realm I’ve never heard of, worth five times what I gave him for it. Also there were no other travelers on the Malpas road. Leroy would have let me know, and I would have let you know,” said mine host, the innkeeper.

Fionn had to swallow his snigger at the mention of the coin, now safe back in Fionn’s pouch, and go on listening. So the innkeeper — and his friend along the trail, kept the skin-changers informed of good targets. Such things were always useful to know, eventually. The wolf-man’s voice was gravelly and deep. “We saw no men on the road between here and Hunger ford. Just a mighty wyrm and a dog.”

“This one had a dog. A sheepdog.”

“A black and white dog. It rode on the wyrm. I think you have a magician here. Our mistress will reward you well for such a one, Gore. Let us see the coin he gave you.”

Fionn did not wait. It was time to leave. He moved quietly upstairs, picked up Díleas and was back down the stairs while the innkeeper was still searching and swearing. Fionn took himself into hiding next to the fireplace breastwork. A few moments later, the innkeeper, candle in one hand and club in the other, exited from the kitchen with his companion — heading upstairs for the room Fionn had just vacated. If Fionn had waited, he’d have met them on the stair. As it was, he was able to duck into the kitchen, and close the door. Most conveniently it had a bar, perhaps for when the food displeased the patrons. In the light of a bunch of rag wicks in an oil jar, Fionn scanned the shelf, and helped himself to a jar. The travelers must bring the spice here, as it would have been too precious and rare for anyone but royalty otherwise. He put Díleas down, tipped an oily crock of olives onto the floor, opened the outer door and left.

Of course at this stage, like most slick plans, it went awry. There was a pack of wolves waiting only a few yards outside the door on the roadway.

Fortunately, they were as surprised to see Fionn and Díleas as the dog and dragon were to see them. Fionn had a moment, as Díleas barked, to fling the fired-clay spice jar at the roadway just in front of them.

Fionn flung the jar with all his considerable strength, so it literally shattered into flying fragments, releasing a cloud of the precious pepper within.

He grabbed Díleas and ran the other way. The sheepdog was blinking and sneezing and trying to rub his eyes with a paw, so Fionn had a feeling that the wolves would not be doing too well in pursuit. Nonetheless, he preferred to deal with them in dragon form, so he underwent the short discomfort of changing his shape. It was not ever something particularly pleasant to do to one’s body, especially in a hurry but…needs must. Thus it was that the first angry, sneezing wolf got a bat from Fionn’s tail that sent it thirty yards back down the road. The others retreated hastily and Fionn realized that Díleas had not waited on an invitation but had leapt up onto his back and was now barking defiance at the chastened pack.

“Enough, Díleas,” said Fionn. “It’s time to leave before this escalates into an angry innkeeper with crossbow bolts. We’d better go.” He started down the trail. And Díleas leapt off, ran ahead and turned and barked at him.