(Another barn, by a ransacked cottage)
Slowly, silently, Spark crept toward the nearest wall. Stepping toe to heel, being careful not to land on any twigs or brambles, he settled himself beneath a shuttered window. Turning back to the undergrowth he just left, Spark nodded once, then listened to the voices inside the house.
“... tell thee, there is nothing.”
“More looking and less talking, Doyl,” a deeper voice replied. “Remember, worthiness proceeds reward, and all that.”
“’Tis been two days already! Even Ekkot’s ready to give up.”
“What, even after his -illuminating- experience?”
“What was that?”
“He didn’t tell you? Old fool didst claim to hear his ’inner voice’ when cutting firewood by the barn yesterday.”
The one called Doyl burst out laughing. “What did it tell him?”
“He said it was singing. Some rot about how a horse is a horse and no one can talk to a horse, of course. Barmy, that one is.”
“Thou sayest it.”
Spark once again turned to the undergrowth and held two fingers up, then pointed to the cottage. He then held another finger up and shrugged. Turning he attempted to continue circling the building. Suddenly, a wild-eyed, unkempt, bearded man emerged from the surrounding trees, one arm looped around a bundle of cut wood, the other slinging a woodsman’s axe over his shoulder. Seeing Spark, his eyes widened and he dropped his wood bundle.
“Mick, Doyl, get out ’ere. We’ve got a visitor!”
Spark sneered, and tried to put on a fierce expression (fierce as can be expected from a gangly adolescent, anyway). He pulled his red-pomelled dagger from his belt and waved it at the man.
“Drop the axe and nobody gets hurt,” said Spark.
Grinning, the man took a wild swing at Spark’s head. Spark countered with a horizontal swing of his knife, which shimmered briefly before extending its blade into that of a six foot Zweihander. This quickly cut through the handle of the axe, and was barely slowed by the astonished expression on poor Ekkot’s face.
Spark replaced his dagger (now returned to normal length) in its sheath. He then turned, seeing exactly what he expected, namely Sentri cleaning his sword off on the tunic of one of the other fallen Fellowship ruffians. Feridwyn emerged from his own hiding spot, shaking his head.
Spark quickly searched the pockets of the three luckless bandits, and relieved them of any coins he could find.
“It never ceases to amaze me how thy vaunted virtue system allows for casually looting the corpses of people thou slayest,” Feridwyn remarked.
“Yes, convenient, isn’t it,” Sentri remarked, then began walking towards the barn. “Come, let us get this over with.”
The sole occupant of this barn, owned by the legendary Iolo the Bard, was a brown stallion (though he had once gone through a phase of being dyed white) by the name of Smith. Smith was looking a bit uncombed and undernourished, but well enough for all that.
“Hey, Smith,” Spark greeted him.
“Hey, thyself,” Smith replied.
Feridwyn’s eyes widened as if he were trying to become an anime character. “Did that horse just...”
“Yes,” Sentri cut him off.
“Thou humans have such an amazing grasp of the obvious,” Smith observed. Then his expression changed, as if he just remembered something. “Spark, Sentri, thou must warn the Avatar! When she gets to Serpent Isle, she must not, under any circumstances, step through the Wall of Lights. ’Tis vitally important.”
“Uh, Smith,” Spark swallowed. “We have dire news. The Avatar already went to Serpent Isle. The Guardian captured him and...”
“... he or she is dead,” Feridwyn finished when Spark’s voice choked off.
“Dead? No! Iolo too?”
“We do not know,” Sentri said. “Which is why it is vitally important that thou dost help us, horse. We need to find the chart Gwenno did make for her husband, showing the location of the Serpent pillars.”
“Yes,” said Smith. “Those others were looking for the chart, too. But I did brilliantly keep it from them.”
Sentri looked disgusted. “Listen, we haven’t the time to listen to thee congratulating thyself. Tell us what we need to know, now, or I shall ask Miranda to write an edict calling for the immediate hanging of all horses in Britannia.”
“Lord British would never sign such a thing.”
“Thou art assuming Lord British actually reads the papers he signs. Where is the chart?”
“Uh...” said Smith. “I ate it. To hide it from the bandits, of course.”
Feridwyn and Spark groaned, while Sentri’s expression turned murderous.
Smith quickly added, “But I did make sure to memorize it first. So I could draw it again whenever asked.” Smith tried not to look proud of his foresight.
“Uh, Smith,” Spark tried to think of a way of putting it diplomatically, “Thou art... a -horse- Thou hath no hands with which to draw.”
“Oh yeah,” Smith looked embarrassed. “Oops.”
“Thou knowest,” Sentri muttered. “The Gargoyles are really fond of horse chops, if I recall.”
“Sentri, there is only one thing we can do,” said Spark.
“Thou art not seriously suggesting that we...”
“It’s the only way.”
“Excuse me,” said Smith. “Is there something I should know about?”
Feridwyn smiled wryly, remembering asking exactly the same question himself. “Thou shouldst know two things, Smith. First, it dost look as if Sentri is in for another bad week. And second, welcome to our little group. Thou hath just volunteered for a long sea voyage.”
To be continued...