A week later a very green barbarian and a rather pale paladin stepped off the vessel and into the bustling town of business, Sisal. While Wain chased down a street urchin of the unprickly variety who had picked James’ pocket, James found a hostler and swiftly became engaged in a full-blown battle to prevent being hostled, well ok, hustled.
“But I don’t want the dun… No not the battle stallion either… I don’t care if he carried Deuteromo of the Shining Sword into his last battle, that just means that the poor fool was killed while this horse was… No, all I want is a pair of riding ponies and a pack mule… Yes with shoes and tack… No I don’t need tack with silver and gold woven into the bridles… No! No diamonds, just plain steel and leather will be… If you even dare to offer that black studded leather harness to me then I will burn your stable to the ground and give it to the punks that like that kind of junk! Now just get me what I WANT!!!!”
“O, Ah sa’h sah,” the hustling hostler was quite taken aback, “Ah must sa’h Ah al’a’hs thought tha’ you paladins ware gentlemeeen.”
“Just get me my darn stuff!” hollered James, beyond control for once in his life.
“O, right choo are sah. Ah’ll jest go get it then, shall Ah?” he hustled his way to the back of the barn and returned shortly with the desired goods. By the time he got back James had regained control and was stiffly readjusting his surcoat. Wain arrived at the same time, looking rather scratched and red in the face but with a triumphant battle light shining from his eyes.
“Sah, if Ah might recommend…”
“Is this all we want?” Wain asked James.
“Yes,” James replied a little sulkily.
“Then that’ll do, and don’t you even think of trying to sell us something we don’t want. Do you know what I did to the last man who tried that with me?”
The hostler shook his head.
“I hunted him down and chewed on his face! Have you ever had your face chewed on by a barbarian? Well its no joy ride!”
The hostler wiped his brow with a stained cloth as the pair walked away. He thanked his lucky stars that he came through that without losing anything. He must have barely tapped the troubled and violent soul that lurked beneath the tranquil expression on the paladins face. Especially if the man could stand to keep company with face chewing barbarians!
* * *
It was after a week of riding and camping in the open that Sir James and Wain arrived upon the banks of Western Edge, one of the two great rivers that secluded the Fertile Plain from the rest of the continent. They had been following a rough sort of road that was marred by deep ruts. It looked as if the road had been the main shipping route for the grain that the Fertile Plain produced in great abundance. But all the wagon tracks were old, with no newer ones to cover them. The shipments had obviously stopped. Now they stood at the feet of what had once been a mighty bridge. The crumbled stone pillars that stretched across the span of the river hinted at the height the bridge had once risen too. It looked as though the stone from the bridge had been cast into the water forming a ford. Every sense in James’ body told him that danger lurked amongst the shadows cast by the remains of the bridge.
“Lets go see if there is another ford, farther up the river,” he told Wain.
“What’s wrong with this one?” questioned Wain, “The water is slow, it is not deep, and even if it flash floods the pillars will keep us from being swept away.”
“I don’t like it, it’s too quiet,” said James, as he guided his shaggy pony, whom he had affectionately named Doubting Thomas, for some peculiar reason known only to himself, away and up-stream.
“Ok, ok,” Wain shouted after his friend as he followed, “We’ll try to find another ford. But I don’t see why you’re being such a wuss.”
“I am being smart,” retorted James.
They came upon another ford at midday. Once again there had been a bridge crossing the river but it too had been demolished, even more efficiently than the one before. The only sign that there had been a bridge was the stone that formed the bed of the ford. Once again James felt the danger that lurked around the ford. He turned to go further upstream.
“What, you don’t like this one either?”
“There is danger here,” stated James in a calm tone.
“You’re right, we could drown, or once we get across we could be ambushed by whatever destroyed the bridge or a bolt of lightning could just randomly crash down from the sky and electrocute us both,” ranted Wain, “You silly paladins are always afraid, sensing danger in everything, when there is always danger. You could suddenly faint and fall off your horse and break your neck. How do you know that is not the danger you sense?”
“Well,” James paused, “I don’t like these banks, the ponies couldn’t climb them quickly if they had to.”
“Come on, lets just get across. At the moment I am ready for some danger. I’ve been itching for action since this morning.”
“We’re going to die,” stated James in his miserable and distant voice as he guided his pony down the slippery bank.
It wasn’t until Wain joined him at the bottom of the bank and they started across that the danger struck. James felt a sudden, horrifying foreboding and then the water to their right side exploded, a giant troll springing up from where it had been crouched. Their horses leapt roughly ten feet into the air and were back up the bank so fast that James could have sworn that they had teleported.