Chapter 11: Elk Haven
Argo, Uriel, and I were now well into our fourth day on the road. The brief trek along the sandy shore of the Isadora Coast took us north before we turned inland. Three days of riding westward along the inland road had us less than a day from the town of Elk Haven.
According to the map, which I now studied while Argo took a well deserved repast, we were to take the northern road out of Elk Haven heading into the Wind Spire Mountains. Ascending into the mountains would mean encountering even colder conditions that we had over the previous several days. It was my hope that, while in Elk Haven, I could acquire some fur outer garments to augment my woolen ones. I also wanted to purchase a thick quilted horse rug for Argo and some extra leather to wind-proof Uriel’s basket. Balthazar had thoughtfully provided a small purse of coins and I hoped that it would be enough to cover the expense of extra cold weather gear. Inner Fire worked wonders to make me more comfortable, but I doubted that it would ward off frostbite or prevent me from actually freezing to death.
Uriel jumped up on the bolder I was resting against and looked down at the map I was studying. “I agree with your intentions to acquire better cold weather gear, many a traveler has met their untimely end in the Wind Spires during winter. However, may I make a suggestion?”
“Of course,” I replied as I glanced up at him.
“Don’t take the northern road out of Elk Haven,” he insisted quietly, “ride a half day to the west of the town before making a northerly turn.”
“Why,” I asked as I turned back to study the map again. “There’s no marked road anywhere west of Elk Haven … at least not until we reach Finnrest, but that’s a full ten days travel from Elk Haven.”
“Not all roads are marked on maps, Companion,” he answered, “and not all of those that are marked are the wisest choice. Besides, the road that I mean for us to take will lead us in close proximity to a place that I wish us to visit.”
“A detour, why … will it get us to the Temple faster?”
“Not exactly,” he supplied as he set about grooming himself. “As I said several days ago … you need a staff. Asgeir, my sire, once had a Companion who needed to create a new staff after his old one met an unfortunate ending. The detour that I propose will take us very near to some ancient ruins and the grove where my sire’s Companion acquired the wood for his staff.”
“Uriel, I don’t have time for….”
“Hear me out Companion,” the cat dragon interrupted me. “A dragon does nothing without purpose. Whether you realize it or not, Kerri, you are destined to play a pivotal role in both the future of Dragons, the future of The Order of Mages, and indeed in the very future of Everlast itself. Unfortunately, you will be of little use to any of these causes, if you refuse to come fully into your power … and without the focusing aid of a staff your power will remain mute.”
I sighed with resignation, while I felt an urgent desire to accomplish the mission Balthazar set before me; it seemed that I was helpless in arguing with Uriel. I was his Companion, my life belonged to him, and he was determined that I should have a staff. I could only hope that his plan didn’t jeopardize Balthazar, The Seven Masters, or the remaining fugitive dragons.
“I would never put those that you hold dear in jeopardy, Companion,” he soothed softly. “My life belongs to you just as yours belongs to me … I could not bear knowing the agony in your soul if some dreadful ending came to them.”
We arrived in Elk Haven as the sun sunk below the western horizon. It wasn’t at all difficult to find the town’s only Inn, The Silver Bear. After settled Argo into one of the box stalls in the inn’s cozy stable, I went inside to get a room for the night. The Innkeeper was a kind man whose spirit thrummed with the pleasant essence of earth.
“Where can I find the mercantile?” I asked as I counted out coins in payment for my room and Argo’s stall.
“You’ll want Wind Spire Goods and Trade,” he replied kindly. “But I warn you, do your business with Oslo, the owner, and you’ll get a fair deal. His son Bram is a cheat, he’s robbed more than a few unwary travelers of their coin.”
“Thank you for the advice.”
“Ask about a resident mage or apothecary,” Uriel whispered in my mind.
“And an apothecary” I added smoothly.
“For that you have two options,” he answered as he stroked his beard thoughtfully. “There’s the old hedge witch, Miranda; she’s self taught and serves as the town’s midwife and general purpose healer. For those with a bit more coin to spare and in need a proper mage, then Hippolytus is the man for you. He runs a little shop here in town called, Hippolytus’ Magic Emporium.”
“Thank you again.”
“Of course,” the innkeeper smiled, “if you need anything else, don’t hesitate to ask. Enjoy your stay in Elk Haven.”
The room was modest, having only a bed, night table, dresser, and washstand. There was a small fireplace on one side of the room; the innkeeper said he would send the maid up with wood and a cinder from the kitchen hearth so that I could have a fire for the night.
A rustling at the window drew my attention. Uriel managed to find his way from the stable to the bedroom window and he now pawed anxiously at the glass. I quickly let him in and he scurried under the bed just as the promised maid knocked at the door. With the cat dragon well hidden, I answered the knock.
“I’ve come to make your fire, Miss” the young girl insisted as I let her in, “it’s going to be a cold one tonight.”
She made no other small talk, but went straight to her work. I wanted to ask her opinion of Oslo and Bram from the mercantile and of Hippolytus, the local mage, but I held my peace. After all, it would seem rather suspicious if a traveler asked too many question. I could met the lot of them tomorrow and judge them for myself.