Authors: M.L. Forman
At the end of the hallway, they entered a dining room with a huge table that barely fit inside. The other members of the company were already seated and waiting for them, talking casually about the upcoming adventure.
“Now we are eight,” said Bregnest, taking his place at the head of the table between Thrang and Arconn. “And before we are overcome with food and drink, I would like to say a few words.”
“Food first, talk after,” Skeld said loudly, sliding into his own chair and motioning for Alex to take the seat to his right.
“You’ll eat and drink too much to listen,” Bregnest replied with half a smile. “And then you’ll complain that I never told you anything.”
“I’ll complain anyway,” Skeld laughed merrily.
“Be that as it may,” Bregnest continued. “First of all, I would like to formally welcome our eighth member. As he has just joined us today, and this is his first adventure, he may not know all of our ways. I ask that each of you help him and be patient with him.”
The rest of the company voiced their agreement to Bregnest’s request. Alex doubted that he knew
about the ways of adventurers and he wondered if he’d ever be able to learn everything he needed to know.
“One of the first things you should know, Alex, is this,” said Bregnest, his face serious and his tone stern. “As we have all signed the Bargain for this adventure, there will be no secrets kept in our group. We will all depend on each other throughout this adventure and so every member of this company has the right to know anything and everything to do with it. And that includes knowing things about each other that may affect the success or failure of our adventure.”
Bregnest was watching Alex closely as he spoke, perhaps judging how well Alex took in what he was saying.
“With that in mind, I feel it important to share some information I have learned about Alex,” Bregnest continued. “It seems that the distinguished Mr. Blackburn measured Alex for his weapon and found that he is well suited for all types of weapons. That alone would mean we have been very lucky in our eighth man. What is of more importance to our current adventure, however, is the fact that Alex is exceptionally suited to use a staff.”
Bregnest paused to let the information sink in with the other members of the company. Alex felt extremely uncomfortable with everyone looking at him. He still thought Mr. Blackburn must be wrong about the staff, but he said nothing.
“Knew it all along,” said Thrang, tapping the side of his nose with his finger. “Something special about that boy. I said as much to Arconn just this morning.”
“Of course, Alex is not trained, though there is some value even in having an untrained wizard with us,” said Bregnest. “Perhaps, when we return from this adventure, we can find a wizard for Alex to apprentice with. For now, there is no time.”
“Practical experience is the best teacher,” said Thrang, smiling at Alex. “And Arconn and I can each teach him a thing or two while we travel.”
“Then let us toast our adventure and wish for luck,” Bregnest concluded, ringing a small golden bell.
As soon as the bell had sounded, servants appeared carrying silver pitchers. They filled a mug for each of the adventurers, placed the pitchers on the table, and left the company alone.
“What is this?” Alex asked Skeld, who was already raising his mug. Though Mr. Roberts ran a tavern, Alex had never been allowed to drink anything stronger than soda.
“It’s only a honey cider,” Skeld answered with a smile. “Don’t worry, it’s not strong enough to muddle your wizardly wits.”
“To the adventure and for luck,” said Bregnest, lifting his mug.
“To the adventure and for luck,” the rest of them repeated as they all stood up.
To Alex’s surprise, the cider tasted sweet and slightly fruity.
“Not half bad, is it, your wizardliness?” Skeld laughed and they all sat back down.
“No, it’s not,” said Alex with a smile. “It’s very good, in fact.”
“Be careful,” said Tayo, who was sitting across the table from Alex. “It may taste sweet tonight, but if you drink too much of it, your head will pay come sunrise.”
“And if the sun doesn’t rise, you’ve nothing to worry about.” Skeld laughed and took another long drink from his mug.
Bregnest rang the bell a second time. As before, servants instantly appeared, this time carrying large trays of wonderful- smelling food. Alex was stunned by the variety of the food he saw on the trays. Mr. Roberts was a good cook, and Alex had always had plenty to eat, but no meal he’d ever had compared to the meal he ate at the Golden Swan that night. Alex tried everything on the table twice, and a few things three times.
Skeld continued to tease him about being a wizard, and while the idea still troubled Alex, it was hard to worry too much with Skeld laughing at his side.
As the evening wore on, Alex listened closely as the others discussed the upcoming adventure. They all seemed to know a great deal about where they were going and what they might run into as they traveled. Alex even managed to ask a few questions, once his second mug of cider was gone.
“So when we ride through the great arch, we’re suddenly in a different land?”
“Yes, and it is there that our journey actually begins,” Tayo answered.
“But if the arch is magic, why can’t we ride through it and be at the end of our journey? You know, close to where the dragon is,” Alex questioned, more to himself than the others.
“Because the arch of each land is in a fixed location,” Arconn explained.
“And dragons don’t like staying too close to an arch,” Thrang added. “Dragons don’t like visitors—unexpected ones least of all.”
“I see,” said Alex, feeling slightly sleepy. “And I suppose we’d like to be unexpected?”
“Well, if we
expected, old Slathbog will give us a warm welcome, that’s for sure,” said Skeld with a grin.
“Then Skeld might get his wish to die in battle,” Halfdan commented, looking over his mug at Skeld.
“You want to die?” Alex asked in concern.
“Nobody wants to die,” replied Skeld, his grin faltering just a little. “But if death is my fate, I’ll not run from it.”
“I don’t understand,” said Alex.
“No wonder, with all that cider in you.” Skeld knocked his mug against Alex’s. “This is not the time to speak of death, but only of success.”
“Success,” Tayo repeated, lifting his mug as the others followed in the toast.
Bregnest stood and lifted his mug. “A final toast to friendships, new and old.”
“Friendships, new and old,” the rest of them repeated and drank.
As they left the dining room, Alex felt a little lightheaded and wondered if he’d drunk too much of the cider after all.
“Don’t worry,” said Andy, coming up beside him. “The cider here at the Golden Swan is charmed, and you won’t have to pay for it in the morning like Tayo said. I hope you don’t mind my telling Bregnest, you know, about what Blackburn told you. I knew he would want to know, and like he said, we have no secrets.”
“That’s all right,” Alex replied as they walked down the hallway. “I should have told him myself, but I still think Mr. Blackburn made a mistake.”
“This is our room,” said Andy, opening a door. “You should probably practice with your bag for a bit before you go to sleep.”
Alex did want to practice using his new magic bag and he asked Andy to explain again how they worked, listening closely to the instructions. For about thirty minutes, Alex practiced going in and out of his bag several times before he changed the passwords to something he knew he would remember. He wanted to tell Andy what the new passwords were, but Andy wouldn’t hear of it.
“Passwords should be secret,” said Andy in a firm tone.
“What about no secrets in the company?”
“That’s for things that might affect the whole company and the adventure.”
Alex didn’t press the matter, deciding that Andy knew what he was talking about. He took out a set of his new traveling clothes from his bag. Laying the clothes on a chair, he put the magic bag down carefully beside them. He was pleased with his magic bag, and his doubts about that, at least, had faded completely.
“Tomorrow’s a big day,” said Andy, climbing into a large bed on one side of the room. “A new adventure to begin, and who knows how it will end.”
“Do you think we’ll succeed?” Alex questioned, climbing into his own bed.
“Only fate knows our end,” Andy replied. “Like Skeld, I’ll not run from my destiny.”
“Are you and Skeld from the same country?” Alex asked, thinking how alike the two men seemed to be.
“The same land,” Andy answered, turning down his bedside lamp. “Skeld, Tayo, and I all come from Norsland.”
“Will you tell me about your homeland sometime?” Alex asked, turning down his own lamp. “I mean, if you don’t mind.”
“Happily,” Andy replied. “But for now, sleep is more important for both of us.”
“Good night then,” said Alex, pulling his covers up.
Andy didn’t answer and he already seemed to be asleep. Alex felt tired, but his excitement and wonder kept him awake for some time. His fears about returning to the Happy Dragon and Mr. Roberts had completely vanished from his mind. Now his thoughts were on this adventure he’d somehow stumbled into, and he wondered what new things he would learn tomorrow.
Without noticing, Alex fell into a deep sleep, dreaming of the adventure to come. It was a restful dream, full of fun and good friends. He saw great mounds of treasure, and magical items that made him laugh. As he slept, his dreams shifted from treasure and fun to something darker, something he thought he knew but could not name.
Alex woke with a start, sitting straight up in bed and staring into the darkness around him. His heart raced and cold sweat covered his face. He had seen something in his dream, something terrifying. Whatever it was, it had tried to reach out to him, tried to get hold of him. The dream had been so real. Even as he considered what he might have seen, the fear was fading from his mind and the cold inside of him was slipping away. Slowly Alex’s heart stopped pounding in his ears and he lay back on his bed. It wasn’t long before he was asleep once more, and all his fears and thoughts of darkness were lost in a dreamless sleep.
he next morning Alex awoke with his bed shaking under him. At first he thought it was his stepbrother, Todd, trying to shake him awake. He rolled over. He had been having a wonderful dream about adventures and magic and he didn’t want the dream to end.
“You’ll be late for breakfast,” said Andy, pulling on his boots and stamping his feet on the floor. “If you don’t hurry, you won’t get anything at all.”
Alex jumped out of bed, remembering that this wasn’t a dream. He
on an adventure, and there just might be magic. With a rush of happiness, he pulled on his new clothes. He knew Andy was joking about not getting any breakfast, but the adventure started today and he didn’t want to miss any of it.
Alex walked to the basin and washed his face and hands. The cold water washed away any desire he had for more sleep. His dreams had faded from his memory, and the thoughts that had troubled him the day before had vanished as well.
“Bring your bag with you,” said Andy, standing at the door. “We’ll be leaving as soon as we’re done eating.”
Alex put his old clothes into his magic bag as fast as he could and pulled the bag’s strap over his shoulder and head. He looked around the room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything, and then followed Andy into the hallway. They made their way back to the dining room where they had eaten the night before, and found Arconn waiting for them.