‘How old are you?’
Kintra stopped and raised her eyebrows at the question.
Farron grinned. ‘Sorry, not a question to ask a lady? I’m just beginning to realise how little I know about you.’
‘How old do you think I am?’
He appraised her. ‘It’s hard to pinpoint. Sometimes you look as innocent as a young girl and other times as wise as a crone.’
‘Wise? Ha! I wish I felt wise.’ They continued walking, although she noticed both had slowed their pace as they neared the Inn. Back to reality, she thought. ‘What age are you? I always put you at twenty-five. But you can’t have been twenty-five for three years.’
He squeezed her hand. ‘I was twenty-five when we met.’
‘I was nineteen.’
‘That was a round about way to find out your age!’
She shrugged and gave him a sideways look. Then she stopped. ‘Do we have to go back yet?’
He glanced towards the market square and the large clock on the guild hall. ‘We do need to sit down with everyone and decide what to do next. Although it’s too late to leave here today.’
She tugged his arm, walking backwards. ‘Then there’s no rush.’
‘Kintra…’ She watched as his jaw dropped. He stared at something above her head. Turning quickly, she looked up, just as yells intermingled with a few screams echoed among the market stalls. People began running. Five large dark shapes were flying towards the town, with two much smaller ones bringing up the rear.
‘Dragons!’ Farron said. He grabbed her arm, steering her into the cover of a doorway.
‘Are you scared?’
He looked down at her, surprised. ‘Aren’t you?’
‘No! There are plenty of dragons in Erania. I expect that’s where they are going. I heard they had settled in the Mantonian Mountains, when I was on the road. Some dwarves were planning to go and find them.’
‘Don’t they attack towns?’
She shook her head. ‘Not if you leave them alone, they are happy with a few cows every now and then. But mostly they hunt deer and wild cats, the odd wolf. They don’t eat that often.’
‘There are so many stories…’
‘Tales you mean.’ She grinned. ‘Come on Farron. You’re not one to fall for fairy tales.’
‘I suppose I am safe with you. I expect you are more than a match for a dragon.’
She gave him a swift kick in the shin. ‘I told you before. It’s not a joke.’
‘I was being serious! Anyway, I think we should go back to the Inn.’
She stepped out from the shelter of the doorway. ‘They’ve gone. Look.’
He joined her. ‘Were they babies at the back?’
Kintra nodded. ‘It’s a rare sight. They give birth once every fifty years or so.’
The marketplace was beginning to come back to life. ‘We could go get a pie?’
He smiled at her. ‘One pie, then we go back.’
Helian sat in a corner of the Inn, his hood hiding most of his face. Farron spotted him before she did. He grasped her arm and pulled her back before she entered the room. ‘What’s he hiding from?’
‘No one’s looking for me.’ He entered the room alone, glancing once at Helian before approaching the bar. It was enough. Helian had seen him but didn’t approach. Kintra felt a tiny tendril of cold fear creep into her belly. She stepped back a little further. A prickle touched the skin of her neck. She whirled around, pulling her knife free from her belt, just as Florian lunged towards her.
‘Farron!’ She heard Helian shout behind her as she jabbed forward quickly, keeping the elf at bay. She leapt back, crashing into Farron and stumbling awkwardly. He grabbed her arm, side swiping his sword in front of Florian. There was the sound of metal on metal behind them. The landlord shouted something. She regained her footing leaping aside as Farron parried a blow.
Helian was beating Selamia back against the bar. The landlord stood, a tankard in his hand. ‘Get our friends!’ she yelled at him. He shot from behind the bar and through another doorway. The fear in her stomach had changed from ice to fire. She put her hand on it, forgetting the elf. Farron steered him away from her, though both were evenly matched. She clutched the bar, trying to breathe.
‘No, no, no!’ she shouted. Helian stuck Semalia through the stomach. The smell of innards as he pulled free making her cough. Smoke rose in front of her eyes. She could taste fire.
Zorbel was suddenly at Farron’s side, beating Florian backwards. Helian pressed a cold lump of rock into the palm of her hand. ‘Kintra. Can you hear me?’
She nodded, gasping. She couldn’t speak. It would erupt from her.
‘Put your other hand over the rock so it’s enclosed in both palms.’ She did as he said. ‘Now focus on the cold, nothing else. You are safe. Danger has passed.’
She nodded and felt the smooth cold surface. ‘That’s good. Now breathe in that cold. Draw it up your arms, and down into your chest and stomach.’
She closed her eyes and did it. Slowly but surely the fire receded. She opened her eyes and found everyone crouched around her. How had she ended up on the floor?
‘Are you alright?’ Farron asked.
She nodded. ‘I feel drained. But the fire has gone.’
‘Keep the stone,’ Helian said removing his hand from her shoulder. She had been unaware of him placing it there.
‘Let’s get you to bed.’ Farron slid an arm around her, helping her to her unsteady feet. The expected dizziness didn’t occur, and she was happy to find that she wasn’t as drained as she had thought. Farron was taking no chances. He scooped her up and made for the stairs.
‘Hey…where do you think you’re going?’ An officious man in local livery marched up to them, the landlord and half a dozen other men in pursuit.
‘I think she was hurt Sir,’ The landlord explained, ‘But him and him,’ he pointed at Farron and Helian, ‘killed them elves.’
Zorbel appeared, his hulking frame seemed larger in the confined space of the crowded hallway. ‘These two men were defending the maid,’ he said.
‘And who are you?’ the Officious man asked, a little more politely than he had spoken to Farron.
‘I am the leader of this company.’ Zorbel stared the man down.
‘Well who were these elves?’
‘No idea. This maid was attacked from behind by one.’
Kintra wished he would stop calling her maid. She was feeling better but decided to play along. She closed her eyes and lay her head pathetically on Farron’s shoulder.
‘Right well, take her up to her room to recover,’ he blustered, waving at Farron. ‘But I want to talk to the rest of you. Nige, Boris, Harry, come and see to these bodies.’
Farron walked calmly up the stairs. When they reached the top she opened her eyes. ‘I’m feeling fine now.’
Farron glanced behind them, before putting her down. He looked at her. ‘You had smoke coming from your mouth like a dragon!’
‘I am finding it harder to control. I need to read Helian’s book. And I should probably speak with him. I think he knows more about this than he has told me.’
Farron pulled a face but nodded.
‘You can always stay in the room!’ She grinned at him and tugged his hand, drawing him towards their room. ‘Let’s lie low for now.’
‘Lie low…. Sounds good to me.’
As she opened the door the sound of footsteps stopped them. It was Petra. ‘Farron they want to talk to you. Just tell them exactly how things happened in the Inn, nothing more. That will collaborate Helian’s story.’
Farron grimaced and nodded. ‘Won’t be long.’ He kissed her on the cheek and disappeared down the stairs. Kintra entered the room leaving the door for Petra to follow.
‘Are you alright?’ the Amorian asked.
‘Yeah. But it’s getting harder to control. That incident seems to have activated something. I have to find a way to control it.’ She reached into her bag and took out the book. ‘Helian gave me this. Apparently, he stole it from a sorceress…who he then killed…if you can believe that. It’s all about Earth Magic.’
Petra took it and examined the cover and the frontispiece. She pursed her lips, handing it back. ‘I can believe it. I think he possesses the same, talent, if you can call it that, as you. I’ve been watching him. You two need to sit down and talk.’
Kintra sighed and sat down on the bed. ‘I know. It’s just…awkward.’
‘Well I’m going to make it a little more awkward. I want Vlarimar to sit in on these talks. ‘
‘Listen to me. Does he have any Eranian blood?’
‘How would I know?’
‘Your countries share a border. It would make sense that a marriage between both happened at some point. Anyway…when I’m near him…that stone Helian gave me lights up.’
Kintra stared at her friend. ‘That doesn’t mean he possesses Earth Magic! Have you checked he isn’t communicating with the Sorcerers? He might have led the Elves to us!’ The warmth crackled into life in her belly once more, and she stopped, holding her stomach.
‘What’s going on? Is it the fire?’
Kintra took a deep shaky breath in, nodding.
‘Where’s that rock Helian gave you?’
She fished in her pocket and felt the cool stone. Quickly she placed it between both palms and focused on the cold. The fire shrank back. She looked down at the rock, smooth as a river stone, yet a deep blue, like the ocean, with flecks of ice. A rune was carved into one side.
‘Helian seems to have a thing for stones,’ Petra said, staring at it too. ‘Look, I know your concerns about Vlarimar, for a while I shared them. But I think they are unfounded. I am not often wrong about someone. Even when I was unsure of him, a part of me was surer of him, than of anyone. If you know what I mean.’
‘I do. You love him. Which is why your surety counts for nothing!’
Petra looked her in the eye. ‘Do one thing for me. Look past what you think he is. Sense the real Vlarimar. Please. I will trust your judgement, if you will put away your prejudice. You have the ability to know if he is what I think he is.’
Kintra put the stone back in her pocket, placing her hand over Petra’s. ‘And what do you think he is?’
‘I think he is the person who can reunite you with your Kingdom and bring peace to Erania.’
‘If anyone else said that I would scoff.’
‘I know. Please Kintra?’
She let out a long sigh. ‘Alright.’
‘I know it’s late in the day, but I think we should leave.’ Everyone stared at Zorbel. The town militia had gone, and the landlord reluctantly brought them out a meal. ‘If those Elves knew we were here, they could have told someone else.’
They carried on eating in silence. Zorbel, as usual, was right.
‘Which direction do we go in?’ Farron asked. He had devoured the bread and stew, and now leant back on the bench, his hand on Kintra’s thigh.
‘That, I don’t know,’ Zorbel admitted.
Helian leant forward, speaking quietly. ‘I know where we have to go. It’s risky, but it has its rewards.’
No one spoke. Helian looked at her. Her forehead tingled. She could almost hear his voice in her mind, but it kept slipping away. He held her gaze.
‘We follow the Dragons.’