The offer of help from “Rough-houser” being accepted, the group split. Most of the mounted riders returned to their main purpose, while the wounded were hurried off ahead to a keep belonging to House Valanus. The half-dozener Zoro continued with the questers.
After some debate among themselves the main group called Vorel back from his scouting, to tell him that they had pretty near decided to store gear that was not essential for the assault in Valanus’ secure hold. Vorel, running a little short on arrows and worried about his bow’s performance, wondered if it would be worth delaying to buy useful stores.
By nightfall, the keep had been reached. It stood on a small breast-shaped eminence above a road running roughly east-west, and some few hours from the river. There, the party were made welcome by the lady of the keep, and slept soundly, their various hurts soothed.
By first light they were up again feeling much-recovered, stowing their coin, spare clothing and such other non-essential gear in the lady’s donjon. Zoro and two fit riders named Cablato and Durano saw them down the trail to the river, where a breakfast of fresh fish was requisitioned. On being told that he was to ferry the six across the river the local fisherman spat expressively.
“Across into the haunted lands? May Mitra shield you! Or are you after the Zingaran galley?”
“Zingaran galley?” queried Zoro sharply.
“Aye, not that it ever flies a fancy flag or naught, but one time I described it to a learned traveler and he opined ’twas Zingaran by its rig. Besides, ’tis from the south it comes.”
“And you never thought to report this?”
“Am I some lickspittle of the lord Valanus? What’s it to me unless it takes my catch? Am I to be paid to count great ships rowing by now?”
Deterred by the fisherman’s outburst, Zoro shrugged, bade the adventurers luck, and rode away.
The presence of Valanus’ riders had restrained him until then, but Vorel could not resist making his plaint:
“Of all the cross-grained, chip-on-shoulder oafs, that armorer was the worst! What a ten-day-old dog’s pizzle of a prick of a fellow! Nothing I said or offered made any difference: he just went out of his way to be unhelpful!”
“He probably just didn’t like your face,” suggested Celo unhelpfully. “it is kind of a funny shape.”
“Maybe he didn’t like the idea of working through his gear late at night, let’s just leave it at that,” Edric hastily amended as Vorel’s eyes bulged with anger. In truth, the armorer did seem to have a thing about northerners and Bossonians in particular, but that would not make Vorel feel more content.
* * *
So: Back across the Shirki our heroes go, with best wishes from their guides. They bear for the Hat Rock, wondering if by this time their quarry are fully alert!