Zorintino darted behind the rainbarrel and dropped to the ground as the Bandolier strode past. A rush of cool nighttime air and the brief touch of the man's cloaktail swept over the little gnome's face as he held his breath, hoping not to be noticed. The puppy in his arms let out a small whimper, and he clapped his hand over the dog's snout in a vain attempt to silence the mutt.
"He's gone. NOW!" The whisper came from within the great wagon that he had called home for most of his life. He scampered out from his hiding place and up the wooden fold-out stairs, then dove beneath the tall canopy on its horseshoe frame. When he saw his friend, he embraced her as best he could with such an impediment between them.
"Dasred, I'll get you out, don't you worry yourself one hair," he said, fishing the two metal picks from his pocket and fumbling them into the lock. The cage that held her was rusted but still strong, and had been used for animals before, but never people.
"Quickly now or you'll have us both thrown away," she prodded. But while he had assumed this would be easy, Zorintino quickly found it not to be so. In less than a minute the picks were already bent out of shape and the lock was holding fast.
"Ohh, dear, no," he panted, his voice breaking, his face conceding that he was on the verge of tears. "Rats and drats! I'll never get you out now and we'll both be skinned for sure!"
"It's okay... okay," she whispered, reaching out between the bars to grasp his shoulder. "Try one of your magic spells."
"Oh dear, I don't know if I sh-" he began, but was interrupted.
"He's coming back! Quick, into the box with you!" she suggested as she heard the big man growl from somewhere outside.
Dasred whipped her arm back into the cage and Zorintino somersaulted over to the sideways crate, deftly tucking himself in and pulling the cover on behind him. He peered out between cracks in the wood and saw at the last second that his unfortunate puppy had not made it in with him.
The Bandolier - the father figure and leader of their gypsy tribe - strode in, still angry as ever.
"WHAT is this thing doing in here... and where is Zorin??" he yelled, his rage gripping him as it often had the tendency to do.
"I don't know, you OAF!" Dasred yelled. He struck the bars of the cage with his club and a deafening clang filled the interior of the wagon. The half-elf cupped her hands over her ears and wept.
"I'll teach you to..." he muttered something else under his breath, but Zorintino couldn't hear the rest. The big man went out again, scooping up the tiny dog on his way with one powerful hand and stepping from the floor of the wagon all the way down to the ground, skipping the stairs. He took two steps into the grass to gain momentum and flung the dog as hard as he could toward the forest. Zorintino watched helplessly as his pet sprawled off through the trees, yelping as it went. He listened with all his might for another sound - but heard nothing.
Suddenly, a rush came over the gnome. He felt his face go red and he set his jaw, his teeth clenching down so hard that it would hurt later, when the adrenaline wore off. He leaned his back against the far wall of the box and raised his knee to his face before kicking the cover off. It went flying, just as his dog had seconds earlier. On his feet, Zorintino walked briskly ahead, his view locked and unmoving from the big man outside. As he passed the cage where his friend was still trapped, he did not stop. He only said one thing to her.
"I'll use my magic, and you use yours."
As she watched him leave the wagon and heard the first clunk of his footstep on the highest stair, Dasred recalled what she had read in the Bandolier's old book this morning. It was something written long ago by a man named Nahal. She closed her eyes and raised her arms, wrapping her fingers around the cage bars and willing herself to concentrate despite the danger her dearest friend was now putting himself into.
Outside, Zorintino brought his staff to bear and placed the tip just inches away from the spine of the unsuspecting Bandolier. He began to utter sharp-sounding words in a foreign tongue, and sparks of energy twisted and arced, crawling up the staff from his fingertips.
"You are the most filthy double-crosser the world has ever known!" exclaimed Tytus with a scowl. He hunched his shoulders and furrowed his brow menacingly as he swept the back of his forearm across his blackened face, leaving a clearish smudge of skin where the beads of sweat had hung there, above a layer of soot.
"I'm not the one who just tried to burn down a pile of rocks," replied Garsen smartly, unable to stifle his ear-to-ear smile - and hardly trying to, were he honest with himself. The elf quickly turned away from the easterling sun as he let out a rush of breath to keep himself composed, turning back only after he had turned off his overwhelming will to laugh and cranked down the smile several notches.
"However, you ARE the one who dared me to try it," Tytus asserted vehemently. Garsen was sure Tytus' gaze would have burned a pair of holes through him, had it been any more venomous.
"Unfortunately I have no choice but to admit that you make a convincing point - regardless of whether or not you look like the inside of a chimney after too many hearthfires." Garsen's cousin obviously did not find this nearly as hilarious as he did. Tytus flashed him another glance he was sure had the capability to physically harm him somehow.
After a moment of pause, Tytus shook his head and held fast to his original wager. "Don't you see? This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that everything does, indeed, burn," was Tytus' conclusive determination.
"Anything burns when you douse it with Greek Fire and shoot flaming arrows at it from less than two fathoms away, my friend," Garsen returned, tilting his head to one side and leaning toward the almost-silhouette that had been his cousin just a few minutes earlier. "But those rocks... those rocks are not on fire."
"Do you not seeeee... them burnnninggg..." Tytus held out a flattened palm toward the blazing evidence as he emphasized each syllable like he were talking to a slow person.
"I see the oil burning. And the oil happens to be on the rocks. That is all I see," Garsen admitted, with more sarcasm than leniency in his voice.
"Ok, then, Great Unconvinced One. What shall I burn for you next?" Tytus cried, exasperated.
"Hmm. Let's see - how about Runyan's tail?"
Their grandfather's pony looked up from his grazing for a moment, recognizing the elvish word for his name, and then went back to his meal.
Before she had even opened her eyes, Ignatius was finished tying one end of the sheets to the bed post and the other was out the window. He launched himself from the second-story opening and rapelled down the stone wall of the Horse and Hound until he was close enough to the ground to jump. He sprang from the wall one last time and let go of his makeshift rope. His belongings, which had hung across his back and shoulders, floated momentarily in the air above him and then came down after. They fell at a slightly slower pace than he, landing haphazardly around him in split second increments after his feet hit the ground.
"Where are we off to so soon now, my love?" came the desperate and confused shout from on high. There she was at the sill, her pale skin glowing in the orange light of the early sunrise, one arm draped across her bare chest.
"To buy a carriage and fill it with roses for you, my darling morning thrush!" he proclaimed, looking upwards and swinging his arm widely into the air, as if he were displaying a great invisible billboard with his detailed plan for doing so laid out upon it.
She looked down at the man, studying him curiously. He tossed his toppled hair from side to side until it fell perfectly into place, and then paused statuesquely. His well-worn left boot was on the correct foot, but the rest of him was not at all ready to appear in public.
"Say there, laddy - you wouldn't happen to have a permit for that thing, would ye'?" Ignatius turned his head, keeping the rest of his body surprisingly still, and looked back to see a swarthy little dwarf standing about five feet behind him. The tip of the mace at the end of the dwarf's extended arm was probably somewhere in between the backs of Ignatius knees at this point, and rising. When he realized this, he jumped quickly out of what he assumed to be harm's way, spinning half way round to face the dwarf.
"I don't want any trouble... I see you're a man... err... you are 'one of the cloth,' as they say," stuttered Ignatius as he knelt and began to gather his clothes. The dwarf pursed his lips and let his mace fall to his side, leaning onto it like a cane. Ignatius watched the rain-soaked ground below the mace's head give way to the dwarf's weight, in a moment lost between his attempted escape from the frying pan and into this new fire.
"Not here to give yeh' any trouble at all, 'cept for maybe a bit of sport," said the dwarf. "I've no authority to arrest ye; I be but a simple priest. Why don't you don your knickers and be on yer way, lest it's real trouble y'want from the town guard."
Ignatius acted hurriedly, and although his tunic came on backwards and he hopped on one leg grasping for the other boot, he didn't seem to mind taking the time to tip his hat to a passing maiden, and promptly toppled into the soggy road with his pantaloons still barely to his thighs.
She turned her nose up, but the slightest hint of a grin crossed her face and Ignatius' heart skipped its first beat of the day. He rolled onto his back just in time to see the window above him slam shut and the girl inside throw her arms up in frustration.
"Drolund. Pleased to meet your acquiescence," the dwarf invited himself to say after the awkward silence that had stretched itself out for too long in front of them, and he extended a hand toward the man on the ground.
Ignatius didn't see the hand at first; he was too busy watching the woman who had just passed by, and he was pleased to find that she had stopped at a nearby baker's stand and was surreptitiously stealing a glance back at him. 'Probably wondering what I'll do next,' he supposed confidently.
The dwarf rolled his eyes and helped Ignatius to his feet. The man pulled up his pants the rest of the way and gave her his best look of sheepish embarrassment, with a little 'you and I are in on a joke that nobody else gets' thrown in for good measure.
"So, what do you... do, exactly, lad?" Drolund asked him. "Besides... this..." he nodded toward the woman.
"I don't know..." Ignatius replied dreamily, looking in the same direction, his mouth agape. The woman at the baker's stand turned away from them, arching her back and throwing another brief glance over her shoulder. Ignatius raised one eyebrow at this, snapped himself out of his haze and looked right at the dwarf.
"It's going to be a wonderful day," Ignatius told him. Drolund thought he said it as if he were sharing a great secret, and he liked that. The man made a beeline into the crowd, and Drolund felt strangely compelled to follow.
"Better make sure the lad doesn't get himself into any trouble," the dwarf muttered under his breath, and started off after him.