Talbot and Alice are rewarded for their risk-taking, and Carver ends up in a stew.
Magpie scuttled through the misty alleyways of Erewhen. The dawn light filtered through scudding clouds. Out there in the hills conditions were likely to be unpleasant. In here, in the city, Magpie had escaped from the stable, but Horse was still kicking down walls in an effort to escape. Good cover for his own activities, Magpie thought. Now where were the others? Should he get Horse out first, or search for Alice? He paused at the end of the alley as it opened into the market place. The door of the Bull Inn opened, revealing light, but no people.
Magpie raised his head and sniffed. His eyes gleamed. He recognised that scent! He shuffled along the front of the building, keeping his head low as he passed a window, and slipped inside the inn once more. Some baggage lay piled at the entrance. Familiar baggage.
He picked out Carver’s saddlebags, slinging them around his neck, shuffled his own ornate saddle onto his back, and hoped it would balance till he found Alice, and tucked an interesting-smelling carpet bag under his wing.
He turned in the direction of the sound and his saddle fell off.
“You’ve dropped your saddle. Can you reach mine?” Horse was in the shadows, nodding towards a high rack where his saddle was stowed.
Magpie ruffled his feathers, dropped the carpet-bag and hopped up onto Horse’s back to pull the saddle off.
The pair of them looked at it, splayed on the floor.
“Now what?” Horse asked.
Magpie shuffled towards the door and looked out. In the house opposite, the light had gone out from the window high up. He’d heard some noises up there when he was in the alley. He had a strange feeling…
He shrank back as the door opposite opened. Three familiar figures came out, paused, spotted him, and raced across the street. Well, two raced, the other was more or less dragged.
“Magpie! Great. We must leave—oh, you’ve got everything ready, well done!” Alice picked up the saddles, flung them over Magpie’s and horse’s backs, and then fixed the saddlebags in front of Magpie’s saddle while Talbot pushed and shoved Carver until he got him more or less in the saddle. Then Talbot jumped up in front of the ranger and took the reins.
“Come on,” Talbot said. “We can’t risk waiting in case the Red Mage Cat escapes.”
“Or the Bull,” said a deep voice in front of them, which moved to block the door, revealing a large animal with curly hair and two long horns.
“Oh, hazelnuts to that,” Talbot said, using his tail to sweep Alice’s staff from the ground where she’d put it while doing fiddly things with straps, and tapping the bull on the head with it. He crumpled to the ground. “Sweet dreams, fella. Come on Horse.”
He led the way out of the inn, through the marketplace and onwards along the road, away from the way they’d come in.
“Is there a way out this way?” Alice asked.
“I hope so, since there’s a road and it goes from the marketplace.”
“Well, let’s hurry a bit, then.”
“I just thought the gate might not open till sun-up.”
“It’s that dependent on the sun actually appearing, or just a figure of speech?”
They trotted on past several rows of houses, all squashed together in the smallest space imaginable for so many houses, occasionally hearing sounds of people starting the day, and smelling cooking smells.
“Can we stop for some food?” Alice asked, mouth watering.
“The Red Mage Cat, or breakfast?”
“Oh, all right. Keep going.”
They had no problem getting out of the gate, which had already been opened. Apparently the guards had no orders to check people leaving, as they waved at the Adventurers and continued with their breakfasts. By the time the escape party had gone over the first rise and left the sight and smell of Erewhen behind, their tummies were rumbling.
“I wish we’d picked up some food.” Alice growled.
“Food. I’d like some food.”
“Carver!” “You’re all right!” Alice and Talbot exclaimed as one.
“Yes, I think I’m all right. Maybe. Where are we?”
“On a road away from Erewhen. I hope. As long as it doesn’t do a circle and lead us back again.”
“Ah. No, I don’t think it will do that.” Carver looked around him, gauging the location. “No, I don’t think it will…” he muttered.
“Is there some doubt about that?” Talbot sensed a problem.
“Did you turn left or right when you got over that last ridge?”
“Straight on; there weren’t any turnings.”
“Oh… well, then,” he muttered some more and Talbot exchanged glances with Alice.
They stopped by a stream several miles further on, and Alice spotted some roots and cabbages growing in a field.
“We shouldn’t take them,” Talbot said.
“Why not? They can’t belong to anyone.”
“Whoever planted them must want them.”
“Out here, miles from anywhere?”
Talbot subsided, but he kept watch all around him as Alice plundered enough carrots and sprouts to keep them going for a couple of days.
“Want one, Mr Guilty Conscience?” Alice asked.
Talbot nodded so she tossed him a carrot, and a second for Carver.
“Do you two need a longer break, or shall we eat as we go?” she asked Horse and Magpie. Neither objected so they set off again, crunching carrots happily. The sun was breaking through now, and occasionally it even felt warm.
An hour or two later they passed either side of a large boulder in the middle of the road.
“Hey!” Carver said, twisting round so violently that the saddle slipped. He and Talbot landed in a heap on the ground.
“What’s that all about?” Talbot grumbled.
“That rock! That’s the marker rock. We’re in the land of Erebor!”
His enthusiasm was infectious. Alice jumped off Magpie and came to join them in hugs. Erebor! They were nearly at their journey’s end!
“How far is it to the city?” Talbot asked.
“Oh, Erebor? Some say so far, other say different. You never quite know how long it’s going to take.” Carver seemed to be quoting from a song.
Talbot made a face at Alice. She shrugged.
Horse made a snorting noise, and Magpie hopped over and pushed Alice in the back.
“Ow-ee, don’t do that! What’s up anyway? Oh!” She could hear tinkling, creaking noises very faint in the distance.
“I can see something up on the hill, probably on a track along the side of it.” Talbot said, shading his eyes against the sun. “A cart, perhaps. Heavily laden—“
“Perhaps we should get on, before it catches us up.”
“Maybe it’s ahead of us, if this road leads up there.”
“Let’s go, anyway.”
They got themselves sorted out, and put Carver back on his horse. Talbot and Alice skipped along next to Magpie. It felt good to be on a country road in the land of Erebor, where other innocent travellers using roads in peace. No funny lights, no Red Mage Cat. No magic, no worries.
They rounded a corner and found themselves in a camp, with a wagon to one side, and a fire over which swung a large pot, with steam rising from it.
“Well, then dearies, well met. I’ve got the fire going, and there’s another day’s journey to Erebor, so we might as well have a bite to eat and a chat and stay here for the night, eh?”
“Oh—h-hello,” stuttered Alice.
“Oh, Mavis, hello. We’ve had ever such an adventure. Thank you so much for the stone, it was really helpful.” Talbot rushed over to the Wandering Raven Merchant and gave her a hug.
She laughed and gently disengaged him. “I can see that! And you’ve made good use of the staff, I can see. Excellent. And how is our poor ranger?”
Alice explained all that had happened to him.
Mavis mused, one tip of her wing on her beak. “Well, now dearie, it sounds like he’s got the tail-end of a spell still on him. Tricky. Meanwhile, my pot’s ready for the vegetables, but I haven’t got any.”
“Oh, we’ve got carrots and sprouts… and maybe some herbs we picked on the way too… here.”
Talbot handed over the vegetables still in his pack, and Alice fished some out of her pockets and bag too. Mavis took them, threw them in the air, and held out a knife over the pot. As the vegetables fell down, they sliced themselves up before splashing into the water.
Talbot’s eyes bugged at the sight. Mavis chuckled.
“Well, now dearies, just you get some rest, while the soup cooks… Carver, what are you doing?”
Carver had got to his feet and was wandering around the fire. He leaned forward to smell the stew, and stepped on a rock at the edge of the fire to put his nose closer.
“Stop him!” cried Mavis, but before anyone could react, Carver had fallen in, head first.
He emerged, head sticking out of the pot, a strand of cabbage dashingly draped across one eye, blissfully smiling.
“What are you doing, Carver?” Alice and Talbot frantically pawed at the side of the hot pot, wondering what to do. They turned to Mavis, who was laughing fit to burst.
“Oh, that’s so funny. So funny! I’ve never seen anyone actually do that before! Oh, Carver, what a one you are.”
“But Mavis, can’t we get him out? We can’t cook him.”
“Indeed we can’t, dearie. Come on Carver. Upsa-daisy.”
She got him standing up and then helped him step over the edge of the pot.
“Ah, thank you kindly, Madam. I needed that. Excellent stew you have there. So glad we met.”
“Are you all right now, Carver?” asked Alice, looking rather scared at him.
“He’ll be fine now, dearie. At least whatever spell the Cat had on him has gone, I can’t vouch for any of his other problems. It’s an often misunderstood saying that only works when you’ve had a bit of magic done on you. The antidote is to get into a stew! People always think it’s a bad thing, but it has its uses!”
She looked around at the party.
Magpie and horse stopped staring at them and went back to seeking something of their own to eat.
Talbot and Alice kept eyeing Carver, in case he went all funny on them again, but he seemed to be completely recovered.
Mavis found some bowls and dished out some of the rich vegetable mixture from the pot. It smelled heavenly.
“So, tomorrow you’ll be in Erebor, and your bit of work, Alice, and yours, Carver, will be done. What next, eh?”
Carver shrugged, concentrating on his stew.
“Dunno,” said Alice.
“And what about you, dearie? Finished with adventuring? Going home?”
Talbot thought about it as he chewed on his carrotty sprout. Home was a long way away. He’d hardly even started adventuring.
He looked at Alice, and Carver, then at Magpie and Horse, then arrived back at Mavis. She gazed back at him, eyes twinkling.
“I hope we’ll do some more adventuring, that is, if the others will come with me.”
Mavis smiled. Alice swallowed her mouthful and grinned at him. Carver looked at Talbot over his bowl and winked. Magpie ruffled his feathers softly, and Horse snorted.
“I think that means ‘yes’, don’t you?” Mavis whispered.
Talbot smiled, and looked into his bowl. Adventuring. Why not?
The Adventurers © J M Pett 2018
Illustration © Danielle English 2016