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            Movement was my first sensation. I struggled through the darkness of unconsciousness and woke. I had stopped moving and finally realized what was happening. Raziel was carrying me! At my return to the land of the waking he put me down. My legs didn’t want to hold me right away, but eventually I stopped swaying. Raziel reached behind him and removed Grandmother’s Walking Stick from where he’d been carrying it on his back. He twirled it a few times, expertly, before offering it to me. I reluctantly took it, as if just being in his hands had made something as harmless as Grandmother’s carved walking stick a deadly weapon. Looking up at him, I realized that I was right, anything in his hands was a weapon.

            “I-uh,” I really didn’t know what to say to him. The last thing I remembered was being cocooned by a spider. Raziel had obviously saved me. “Thank you.” I looked him over, he didn’t seem worse for wear, his clothing wasn’t any more ripped and he wasn’t bloody, but I gasped at the sight of his arm. What looked like black cracks under his skin were on his left hand, and arm. I had never seen anything like it. I took his arm, and examined it. He did not protest. There was a black bump on his arm. I remembered him slapping at his arm before I ran off like a frightened rabbit.

            “One of the spiders bit you?” I asked looking around for my pack. I had brought a type of cure-all salve, one that would ease pain and promote healing, but I hadn’t expected to come across anything like this. Raziel shrugged my pack from his shoulders and refrained from hugging him for his thoughtfulness of saving it, at the same time, this spider bite was because I had tried to go back for my pack. Maybe Raziel wasn’t such a bad guy after all. My mind tried to wander as I removed the small clay jar, untied the top, and dipped my finger into the herb laced contents. It was gooey, meant to stick to the wound and seal it. The spider bite was probably painful but Raziel gave no indication that my touching it hurt him. I tore a piece of my petticoat, trying to find a clean spot, and wrapped his arm where the spider bit him. He flexed his arm and made a fist a few times.

            “That feels nice, what is in it?” He asked, his baritone voice was soft, and the kindest I’d ever heard it.

            “Just some herbs and beeswax,” I replied realizing I was blushing. “How far are we away from the dragon?” I quickly changed the subject. I had no idea where we were, we seemed to be out of the spider forest.

            “We’re about halfway there, Prachull is that direction,” he pointed. I nodded though I was not familiar with Prachull. Grandmother had had maps, had had an interest in what happened in the land, but we had never traveled further than the seaside village that was our home. To me, Prachull was a dot and a name on a scroll that Grandmother had in one of her trunks. Then I understood. Next to Prachull and cutting the kingdom in half was a river. The Sribus, a wide winding thing, and the only way to cross it would be the bridge at Prachull.

            Prachull was a larger town than my own seaside village of Blomuset. The homes were better built than the sandstone huts I was familiar with. I noticed a severe lack of men in the village, but there were some who seemed to have escaped the call to join Athdyn’s army who seemed the prime age to be dragon fodder. However they were extremely well dressed and looked obviously wealthier than the women who had remained. The town sat on a bluff overlooking the Sribus River on one side, and the Kingway on another. Raziel seemed to expertly navigate what felt like a maze of cobbled streets.

            “If King Saerus is dead, who is ruling the kingdom?” Searus had no children I was aware of, he had come to seek my aid in choosing a wife.

            “The Wizard Gerfast is the Steward of Athdyn,” Raziel answered my question. Grandmother had kept up with kingdom gossip, I had not. I followed him as he walked purposefully towards a more rundown and out of the way tavern. I could smell stew and bread over the normally rank smell of village streets. My stomach growled audibly and I felt embarrassed.

            I followed Raziel into the tavern. It was a great room, with a set of stairs leading up to a balcony with doors. In the great room were tables and benches, and men hunched over mugs of ale or mead. A woman who was wiping down a table in a blouse that so low cut, and breasts so large I wondered if she ever bent low enough they’d pop out of her blouse. She was pretty in a country fashion, pale skin, blonde hair that was in braids, and wearing plain but serviceable brown skirts, a black bustier over her low cut white blouse. The woman looked to be only a few years older than myself.

            “Roz!” She greeted Raziel warmly seeing him. She immediately stopped wiping the table and hurried to him. The woman threw her arms around Raziel and kissed him. I suddenly felt a pang of jealousy as he returned her kiss, pulling her up to him. I had not deeply considered Raziel as husband material, and maybe this woman was his betrothed, but the intimate greeting gyrated on my nerves. Why was Raziel a jackass to me and yet here he stood kissing this woman who was only one step away from employment at a brothel?

            “Galienne,” Raziel breathed her name after they had finished kissing. I felt extremely out of place, forgotten, and useless. I just watched, not realizing that if my white knuckle grip on Grandmothr’s walking stick was any tighter, I’d have broken it.

            “I saw the wanted poster, I was so worried you’d been captured!” She spoke with an accent, her words sounding broad.

            “Takes more than a few castle guards to catch us Nightsorrows,” Raziel replied in what had been the most jovial tone I’d ever heard from him. Perhaps this Galienne made him happy, and though I’d cursed him, I would not intrude on his lightened spirit by reminding him I was standing behind him. Galienne gave a light hearted laugh at his words then began to look around.

            “Where is Zeke? Tending the horses?” She asked, seeming not to notice that Raziel looked battle worn and dirty, or the blackness in his veins that made his skin look cracked. She did notice me. “Hello.” She greeted me. Raziel turned slightly and seemed to remember he had brought me with him. I felt embarrassed again, I was standing here in a tavern before a lovely, confident, young lady who was well known enough to Raziel that they had embraced like old lovers, and I was wearing only a blouse, and dirty petticoats under my overcloak. I could only imagine how much like a street waif I appeared.

            “We need a room, Galienne,” Raziel stated not introducing me.

            “A room?” She looked incredulously at me then to him.

            “I’ll explain everything later,” he told her and that seemed enough to satisfy her. Galienne walked, or sauntered to a long counter which separated the great room from a row kegs and shelves of wine. She returned with a key.

            “Three is empty,” she stated pressing the key into his palm.  He kissed her forehead.

            “Thank you,” he whispered and began to ascend the stairs. I followed silently and seething. I was angry at Raziel, angry with myself and angry that this Galienne could just walk up and brazenly embrace him. Angry, hateful Raziel, who had treated me as nothing more than a means to an end. I sighed there was no future with the Raziel, and I wondered why I had been so stupid as to think there might have been, because he saved me? Carried me?

            The room was utilitarian. A bed, a quilt, a small potbellied stove, a pile of wood for the stove, a lantern hanging from the ceiling, a wash bowl and pitcher. The room was also not large. Raziel’s form seemed to crowd it.

            “We’ll stay here tonight, and cross the Sribus tomorrow,” Raziel stated our intentions.

            “Are we going to the capitol?” I asked, surprised that my voice came out even.

            “No, the dragon’s lair is in the Pumn Overhang,” Raziel stated. I knew where that was, everyone knew where that was. That was the legendary home of the dragon that Saerus’ ancestor had slain to become the monarch.