His strong hand was quickly grasped by another. It was Gabel's, who pulled the weary knight to his feet, shaking him with excitement.
"I swear in all my seasons of battle, I have never seen such an incredible thing as what you just did!" Gabel's strong face and bushy black beard
displayed a grin the size of the mountain they were on.
"Nor such a foolhardy thing as what you just did." The words came from Cornelius, who kneeled above at the edge of the hole, casting a stern,
judging glance at the slime-soaked hero. "Following a wounded dragon is dangerous enough. But an Overlord of your experience, if not wisdom, would
know that to do such a thing alone displays twice the stupidity!"
Duvar had expected this reprimand, and it was entirely correct, but his concerns at the moment lay in ridding himself of the filthy dark red ooze that
he could feel soaking into even the most private areas of his underclothing. Besides, even though Cornelius had habit of dressing a bit more
egalitarian that his peers, with brilliant blue trim around his cape and shiny silver armour plates against his shoulders and forearms, highlighting
the standard black leather pants and shirt, he was not really Duvar's superior. Nonetheless, sometimes made it crystal clear that he believed it so.
Carr - Rolgan was the true captain of the guards - the one who had dispatched them to this faraway country on the outskirts of the republic, and he
would undoubtedly learn of Duvar's suicidal feat not long after their ship returned.
Duvar and Gabel turned their heads upward to reply, but Cornelius had something else to say. "I must admit, however, that it was one impressive
display of dragon slaying. A very large beast at that. Would you like us to sever it's head and drag it back to the ship for you?"
Gable burst out laughing. Duvar simply wiped some more slime from his forehead, glared at the two of them, and addressed them in a most serious tone.
"I'm going to wash up in the stream. Maybe you two clowns should go and work on finding out how it got here in the first place."
As he climbed up the slope of the cave to the opening of the hole, Duvar raised his arm over his eyes to sheild them from the glaring sunlight, as his
eyes had been forced to adjust to the darkness inside the cavern. He scanned the surrounding terrain. The cave opening lay hidden between two
ridges of the boulder strewn valley, which by the harsh looks of it held just enough water underneath the topsoil to barely sustain the fledgeling
weeds and grasses that carpeted the landscape. Trondan, the larger of his world's two suns, was just beginning to set in the south. Boran would
soon follow it, leaving them only the night stars with which to navigate back to town. The hill they were on also decended south, and therefore the
remaining sunlight shone directly into his eyes. Even so, Duvar's highly trained sense of sight revealed to him the wooden structure which lay at
the far end of the valley, further away from town.
"Well, it's my opinion that we should cut out it's tongue," Gabel remarked "as it would make a fitting trophy for this assignment. I'll bet it
would look just perfect if we stuck it on the wall over the card table in Carr - Sals tavern, right where Duvar always sloughs when he's had a three
mugs of ale for the evening, brought to him by the busty beauty of a barmaid he calls his daughter!" Gabel burst out with hearty laugh once again,
and Cornelius was now chuckling along with him.
"I'll tell you where you can stick that thing, and it's nowhere that I nor anyone else would go for a drink." Duvar retorted wearily. He pulled
off his smelly leather shirt, and made his way across the jagged rocks to the stream below, ignoring the jubilant hoots and hollers of his
The cool water of the mountain creek felt wonderful as it washed away the putrid filth from his bruised body, and Duvar took a minute to recognize
what he had not before- which was the rugged natural beauty of the valley around him. The sunset cast long erie shadows across the parched hills,
making it a far different - even alien - environ than that which he was used to. The dragon must have felt the same way, as it's species was
indiginous to the LeTarre mountains only - a place as distant from this country as Duvar's home city of Gallahandra. What was it doing here? None
of it made any sense whatsoever, but finding the answer to that riddle was the other half of their assignment, now that the immediate threat to one of
the Republic's oldest colonies lay dead on the floor of the limestone cave not far up the hill.
As he made his way back up to the cave, Duvar spotted his companions as they steered their two-horned steeds carefully back in his direction along the
rutted wagon trail which led further up the canyon. They too had seen the structure far away, and had gone to investigate while Duvar was busy
Cornelius brought his two-horn to a halt alongside Duvar, who was carrying his washed shirt in one hand and his polished sword in the other . . .
something an Overlord knight never, never let out of his sight. The beautiful animal neighed slightly and shook its head as Duvar reached out with
his hand and scratched behind it's ear. "It's a wagon-cage, isn't it?" he asked Cornelius, a look of sobering concern on his face.
"Of quite an ingenius design at that" he replied. "A lot of time was taken in it's construction. That goes for both the wagon part as well as the
cage on top. I haven't seen anything like it since the last fair at Gilgadon, the one in which slothbeasts were the star attraction."
Tossing his black cape around his shoulders and fastening it to his collar, Duvar displayed a puzzled look. "Do you have any idea who made the
"It's not from the upper region of the republic, that's for sure. Whoever made it was quite clever in using taperwood for the axles. That type of
wood excretes an oil which makes it perfect for long distance transport, since it's self-lubricating." Cornelius's eyes narrowed. "And we also
Duvar's eyes caught sight of the tiny metallic object which Cornelius drew from his pants pocket. Cornelius laid it in his palm.