I was still pissed that the guard woke me up so early, and he didn’t even tell me anything important. Still a little groggy from the lack of sleep, I recalled Mother Belda telling me I had to be at The Priory at noon today. I decided to check out of the Bull and Grey Finch. Gustard was sad to see me leave, and Monice was indifferent. I passed the time till noon in The Twins; I went to a weaponsmith and bought some fine throwing daggers. I had learned that I was pretty good at throwing daggers from my encounter with the two thugs yesterday.
Soon, it was time to meet with Mother Belda, and I made my way to The Priory thinking about who my partner might be for the task, since Belda had mentioned there would be one. I arrived at noon, and I was greeted by Cloynton, who was looking as glum as ever. I dropped my weapons off with Minerva at the front desk. Cloynton led me up an elegant marble staircase which brought us to Mother Belda’s office.
I entered and saw Belda looking out a window in her office. Sitting in a chair to my left was a handsome blond boy, probably a couple of years older than me. He was of average height and build and was wearing a lot of black. His leather pants seemed a bit much for the muggy summer weather.
“My name is Luke,” he tried to greet me with a handshake, but I ignored the gesture and sat down. I wasn’t in a social mood, I guess, and I wanted to get to the matter at hand, still being tired from my early wake-up call.
Sensing the tension, Belda began to speak. “So, gentlemen, I have a task for you both. It shouldn’t be a problem because you have already agreed to do it,” she said whimsically.
Luke and I sat in silence.
“OK, this is going to be easier than I thought. So, there’s a town in the north of the country, and it’s been plagued by three dragons for about a month. There is a green dragon, a black dragon, and a red dragon. They’re adults, and they’re quite ornery. Do you guys mind going up there and taking care of it?” Belda said mockingly.
“Yes, I do mind!” I said indignantly.
“OK, so you do have limits. Feel free to speak up! Just some free wisdom for you both,” Belda said.
Belda pulled a small brown package from her desk drawer and slid it towards us.
“I need you to deliver this package,” said Belda.
“Why?” I asked. “And what is it?”
“Because I’m asking you to. Inside this package is a letter and other items that need delivering. It’s all for Helga, don’t you worry.”
Luke spoke, “Who’s the recipient?”
“Excellent. Now we’re talking… Now we’re engaging. So you’re going to bring it to a town called Andelie. Have you heard of such a place? No?”
Annoyed that she didn’t answer my question, I said, “Andelie? Hold on. What are the other items in the package?”
“The coast? So, how far away is this town?” Luke asked.
“It’s about 1,500 miles as the carrier pigeon flies,” said Belda.
“That would take us the better part of a year to get to on foot!” I said.
“What if I rode my donkey?” Luke asked.
“A donkey? This guy is a buffoon,” I thought to myself. “I’m seriously stuck with this guy? Helga, help me,” I thought.
“Well, it seems we have a problem. Tell me, It’s 100 days by foot. How are we going to get there? Do you have a solution?” Luke asked demandingly.
“Whoa, whoa, young man!” Belda was surprised at the total lack of respect.
“If we had horses, it would take half the time but it would still be quite a journey,” I pointed out, “Hold on. When does the package need to arrive?”
“You’re awful uppity. Do you want me to renege on our deal? Know your place, boy,” Belda stated in a tone that suggested she was running low on patience.
“So when do we leave?” Luke said.
“Do you remember how you and Isadora got to that tropical island?” Belda asked me, ignoring Luke’s question. “And for you, young man, maybe a little bit of respect and knowing how to talk to your elders and superiors,” she turned to Luke, admonishing the handsome blonde boy. “He’s going to be your problem, Floyd, for the next little while, maybe 100 days. Since you seem to want to walk.”
“Well, I’d rather not,” I said.
“That’s more than most know. Yes, it’s a small fishing village. By the way, it’s going to be hot there this time of year. You might need to spruce up your clothing collection that currently consists, from what I could tell, mostly of dark and leather… Yes, I was thinking we would expedite the journey. I’d get you closer to town.”
“How much closer?” Luke asked demandingly.
“As close as I decide,” said Belda, “The recipient of this package will be Oswald. He’s the head of the Church of Helga in Andelie. There’s a small modest temple in town. The town is quite small, you see. Only a few hundred people. You should not have any trouble finding Oswald in the church. Hand him the package, and he’ll give you further instructions.”
“Why are we delivering this again?” Luke said.
“Because, my dear boy, I’m asking you to.”
“Why am I stuck with this buffoon?” I said.
“I’d say the same about you,” Luke retorted.
“You two buffoons might prove useful to one another. We typically like to send our errand boys in groups of larger than one. As you’ve already seen, I think you discovered someone we sent alone on your last little mission, and you saw how that turned out. What condition was he in?” Belda turned to me.
“Dead,” I replied.
“Luke, you now have the privilege of being sent on your first mission for The Priory, and your attitude is proving to be cumbersome. I’m hoping your skill set will come in handy. That’s the only thing you have going for you, right? Now, I recommend you lose the attitude.”
“What does this fool have to offer?” I asked.
“I’ll let you two figure this out. I’m already getting bored of this conversation. Deliver this. Follow the instructions that Oswald gives you. He’s very reasonable and wise, considering how young he is. Just a bit older than you guys. If things go South, and by that I don’t mean literally, if you run into trouble, do not let the package fall into the wrong hands.”
“So who would count as the wrong hands?” Luke asked.
“Anyone’s but Oswald’s?”
“So you’re not going to give us any more details? You’re going to send us across Atlin to deliver a package to this Oswald fellow?” I asked.
“He does bring up a fair point. Not a lot of details,” Luke added.
“I could send you off to visit the three dragons if you like instead,” Belda suggested.
“I’d rather deliver a package, but I’d rather know a little bit about why,” I said.
“Excellent. Then we’re all on the same page. That’s a fair point. That’s a great question, and I will definitely take that into consideration when I completely ignore your request for more information. You will go see Oswald. If you make it in one piece, which I hope you will, he will give you further instructions, and the Church of Helga will be eternally grateful. You will be leaving tonight after midnight, and you will be arriving near Andelie roughly at the same time.”
“Why not send Cloynton there? That useless FOP?” Belda glanced at the door to make sure it’s closed and lowered her voice: “Do you think that we send people who are capable of achieving the mission or those who will absolutely fail and run away, soiling their pants at the first sign of danger? That is a rhetorical question.”
“So, why are you sending him?” Luke said, looking at me.
“I could ask the same about you. What the hell do you have to offer?” I asked.
“I’m glad that you boys are getting off to a wonderful start as far as camaraderie goes. I always say a little competition goes a long way. Steel sharpens steel, as they say. If you don’t know what that means, go to the Library once in a while and read a book. I’m glad there’s no more questions. And it’s almost time for my lunch now. You’ve already kept me longer than I have wanted. They’re making delicious seafood today. And since we are so far away from the ocean, you’re probably wondering, how are they getting seafood to old Mother Belda? In the middle of a mountain town. It doesn’t matter, all I know I’m going to enjoy it. There’s going to be crab, there’s going to be lobster, and there’s going to be noodles from a part of the world that you have never even heard of before? That’s what I’m going to enjoy. So I want you two to come back here at midnight. Tell Clayton to bring you back to my office and pack light and pack accordingly. Goodbye.”
“Pack accordingly? I’ve never been to Andelie before,” I said.
“Neither have I. Where’s my donkey going to go?” Luke added.
“Where’s your donkey? Going to go,” Belda replied.
“Why the hell do you have a donkey?” I asked.
“The amount of time I’m going to spend thinking about what to do with your donkey is such a small number it’s virtually zero.”
“I hope whatever happens on this journey that you first deliver this package and that you grow as people. And learn to respect and trust your elders. You both may go now.”
I left the room and made my way down the marble staircase that led to the atrium. I retrieved my stuff from Minerva at the front desk and headed outside. If there’s one thing that Rick taught me, it’s that your partner has to be able to carry his own weight, or it would put the group in danger. So, I decided to put Luke to the test.
I waited by the front doors of The Priory for Luke to exit. Eventually, he came out and walked over to a tied-up donkey without noticing me. He untied it and began walking down the street. For the next several hours, I followed him around town; he did nothing noteworthy. After a while, he tied up his donkey and entered an inn. This was my chance. I bought an apple from the merchant’s square and came back to the inn Luke was staying at. I fed the donkey the apple, untied it, and rode the donkey out of town, bringing her to the edge of the forest. We stayed there for many hours, foraging for berries, and wandering the trees as the donkey grazed.
Soon it was time to meet with Belda, so I rode the donkey back to The Priory and tied her up outside. I entered through the main doors and saw Cloynton in a corner looking tired, and Luke leaning against the wall opposite me with what looked like all his worldly belongings piled up on the floor. He started walking towards me.
Luke began to speak, “Why the hell did you steal my donkey!?”
I replied, “Because I wanted to see if you were useful. Surprisingly to no one, you didn’t even notice that your donkey was stolen for hours. How am I supposed to complete this task Belda gave me if I have to babysit you?”
Luke retorted, “I didn’t notice because I was in a restaurant, not imagining, not dreaming, that some psycho would come steal my donkey.”
I asked, “Did you even notice that it was missing?”
Luke admitted, “I did. I searched for it for two hours.”
I pressed, “Did you find it?”
Luke sighed, “No.”
I smirked, “That’s what I thought. And I wasn’t even hiding it. Anyways, you just proved to me why I shouldn’t be paired up with you. You’re useless.”
Luke shot back, “I could say the same thing about you. I stole your knives.”
I raised an eyebrow, “Then what the hell are those things strapped to my leg?” I continued, “What a dumbass.”
Luke quickly changed the topic, “So why did you need to steal her?”
I replied dismissively, “You’re not worth my time. Go away, I need to talk to Belda.”
Luke insisted, “Yes, so do I. I’ll go slay those dragons by myself.”
I chuckled, “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.”
Luke moved his hand towards the hilt of my sheathed sword, trying to grab it. Instinctively, I clocked him in the face. Luke staggered back with blood gushing from his nose. Then something unexpected happened; Luke spoke a tongue I didn’t recognize. I felt a slight breeze pass over me even though we were inside. He had tried to place me under a magical slumber, but it didn’t work, at least I think it didn’t. Pissed off at what he just attempted, I walked over to the dazed Luke and cracked him one more time. He crumpled under the second blow. Cloynton looked shocked and frozen, then bounded up the stairs to get Mother Belda. A couple of minutes later, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs, and I saw Belda and Cloynton. Belda looked at me and then at the unconscious Luke.
Belda asked, “Are you boys done having your fun now?”
Cloynton tried to explain, “I tried to stop them.”
I said, “I’d like a new partner.”
Belda replied, “You don’t get a new partner.”
I argued, “He’s useless.”
Luke retorted, “So are you.”
Belda intervened, “Sounds like you boys are really going to get to know one another in the next few days, or weeks, or months, or however long this will take. Would you mind picking up all your junk, Luke? It’s laying everywhere. You could help him, you know.”
I retorted, “I think he’s got it under—”
Belda cut me off, “Help him with his stuff and come up to my office.” She started walking.
Belda walked up the stairs very quietly, while Luke and I followed behind rather clumsily under the weight of Luke’s junk. Cloynton called for Minerva at the bottom of the stairs and then walked away. I couldn’t see Luke’s face behind the pile of junk he was carrying.
For some reason, the buffoon started to talk to me, “You know, just because I can’t feel the pain doesn’t mean I don’t remember what happened.”
I replied, “I remember. Oh, that was funny. Seriously, you’re useless.”
Luke said, “Yeah. So are you.”
I mocked, “Sorry, I forgot what you’re good at. Ah, now I remember, you’re good at lying on the floor.” That shut him up. We continued up the stairs in silence until we reached Mother Belda’s office.
Belda asked, “So, gentlemen, are you ready for your next adventure? What have you decided to do with your donkey?”
Luke replied, “I’m going to sell her.”
Belda stated, “You’re leaving immediately.”
Luke agreed, “Yeah, I’ll leave it.”
“What a moron,” I thought.
Belda explained, “This will take you two to a designated location. From there, follow the smell of the salty air. Your destination is Andelie, which is on the southern coast. I’ll let you figure out how to find it from there. Oswald, once he’s satisfied that you have completed your mission, will send you back. Or not.”
I questioned, “What do you mean, or not?”
Belda answered, “You know the drill.” She pointed to a corner of the room where there was a bit of the floor that was a little bit different. There was a runic pattern inscribed on some of the tiles. “When you’re ready, stand over there, and break this rod, and may Helga bless you on your journey. You wait for him. Do you understand? You’re going to need help. Do you believe me?” she asked Floyd.
I replied defiantly, “No.”
I grabbed my backpack and walked over to the teleportation circle.
Luke asked, “Where do I put my stuff?”
Luke tried to get away with only his backpack, leaving the rest on the floor. Surprisingly, his plan didn’t work.
Belda said, “I’m excited about finding out what you’re going to do with your stuff. Bye-bye.”
For the third time ever, I felt as if I had been compressed through a thin tube, and all my senses turned off. I couldn’t see or feel anything for what seemed like hours until, poof, I existed again. It took me several moments for my body to adjust to my surroundings. After a couple of seconds, I realized I was kneeling on lush, packed grass.
We found ourselves in what seemed to be a forest. It was pitch black, and there was not a cloud in the sky. I could see stars glimmering above me. There was a slight breeze, and upon it was a salty scent. There was a thick canopy of trees around us, almost like a room made of trees. Some shafts of moonlight were coming through the leaves and branches of the small glade. I could hear the general sounds of nature, but not the sounds of northern woods. This time of year, the woods would be silent at night. Here (wherever here is), however, the forest was alive with the sounds of strange, unfamiliar bugs and birds. And it was warm, very humid with salty air, very unlike the dry, cool mountain air that we were just in. I heard the heavy breathing of Luke beside me. He probably had never teleported before.
It seemed we had landed in the middle of a large circle made of smooth river rocks. The grass inside the circle was padded down. It almost reminded me of the climate on the island me and Isadora were sent to. I immediately started to sweat. Back in The Twins, there were a lot of prickly trees. Here, however, it was all leafy trees. There were no evergreens. There were the kinds of trees I’ve never seen before. I saw what I knew were palm trees. All I had to go on was that warm wind that was coming from one direction.
Mother Belda had said to follow the smell of the sea, so I started walking in the direction of the salty scent. My weapons were still on me, but I dared not show Luke my sword for obvious reasons. Instead, I decided to pull out a dagger since I was in an unfamiliar environment.
As I continued walking, I looked back to see Luke looking around in the stone circle. He seemed to have found what he was looking for because he darted to a pile of leaves at the edge of the circle and sprinkled some on top of his stuff, leaving it there. He began to run after me, and when he caught up, he was out of breath.
When I stepped out of the glade and into the forest, I was amazed at the types of plants and trees that were here. I marveled at the diversity of greenery because I spent my entire life in the forests of the North. I couldn’t help but stare at every blade of grass and wished there was more light so I could see the leaves better
The ground was very soft and moss-like, perfect for passing quietly. There were breaks in the canopy, and I could see the night sky. In the distance, high above, I could hear faint screeching like I’ve never heard before; it sounded feral. I moved back under the canopy and beckoned Luke to follow me. He obviously didn’t notice anything because he looked at me and said, “Why did you go over there?”
I replied urgently, “Come on!”
Luke rolled his eyes and came over. I was going through my backpack, which I had just taken off. To Luke’s surprise, I pulled out a full-sized bow, poked my head out from under the canopy of leaves, and notched an arrow. That’s when I saw the silhouette of a large reptilian bird-like creature soaring high above in the night sky.