“She’s a buxom wench, with hair on her chest, and a dwarvish gold mine if I swive her!” The shriek and resulting laughter was so loud Londe’s ears twitched back, and I wanted to cover mine.
‘You have to be kidding me,’ Londe said. ‘You can hear her out here! She’s drunk already.’
“Not likely. She gets the hiccups when she’s drunk, and there wasn’t a single hic in that whole verse.” I slid off Londe’s back in front of the Bleating Banshee. The ramshackle building stood on the edge of a town barely big enough to call it that, but the crossroads at the other side of the lane ensured it got plenty of traffic through.
With stones starting to fall from the mortar in the foundation, peeling bark on the boards making up the sides, and the thatching showing a bit bare in spots, a more dubious place of rest probably couldn’t be found.
Then again, it was the only public place to get a bite, a beverage, and a room that probably had bed bugs the size of my hand within hours. So dancing light shone through the dingy windows, smoke curled from the slanted chimney, and there were many voices inside.
But Grif was definitely one of the loudest.
“You stay out here,” I said.
‘No, I thought I’d go inside like this,’ Londe snarked. He tossed his head, the spirals on his horn catching the late afternoon light, then wandered away from the building and closer to the field to the right.
We didn’t have time to stay long. The humans might get out of their castle and come after us. We had killed a duke, after all. I needed to get Grif, get her away from the bottle of whatever was making her so happy, and get going west to find the foals.
Taking a bottle away from that harpy was a chore and a half, and I was down a hand. I grimaced at the blistered flesh, wishing iron wounds didn’t heal so slow. It was still raw and threatened to crack open if I flexed my hand.
Okay, one-handed harpy wrangling it would be.
“Did you have to claw my face?” I complained.
Grif cackled out a laugh. “You would prefer I let the pixie bite you? Besides, it’s a tiny scratch.”
Her tiny scratch was a solid stripe from my temple to nearly my nose, burning across my sharp cheekbones every time I spoke. This quest was piling on the injuries, and we had no time to seek out a healer or even a decent apothecary to stock my stores of herbal remedies.
“Your aim was off, I think. Can you please fly straight, you’re making me dizzy.” Thankfully I could ride Londe, and he wouldn’t let me fall. I’d taken an ale pot to the back of the head from a half-Cyclops who insisted Grif was the twinkle in his eye, and the pixies who’d been apparently working for him went after me when I tried to lead her out of Bleating Banshee.
I think he just wanted Grif to work for him, and when she was drunk she’d agree to just about anything. Which was why she’d agreed to join my quest and help us seek the red diamonds we’d need to rescue the foals.
See, Londe might not have known who the trolls were who had them, but I did. I’d heard of them before, and their avarice was well-known. They horded the rarest of the rare—why they’d undoubtably bought our foals from the nefarious being who’d stolen them.
To even get near them, we’d need a shiny distraction. Red diamonds were rare, shiny, and in the direction we needed to go to get to the foals. Grif could sniff out shiny things just like any other harpy, her love of glittering and glamorous objects well known to both her friends and enemies.
Fortunately, I was her friend.
“I am flying straight. You’re riding crooked.”
“Am not,” I huffed. She was still drunk. She was lucky we’d left the forest behind and the road wound through fields and meadows, otherwise she’d have a bunch of scrapes to match mine.
“Can I ask where we’re going?” Londe finally broke his silence. His attempt at protesting Grif’s presence with a practiced indifference and ignoring her having been completely ignored by the still drunk harpy probably irked him immensely. I leaned down and wrapped my arms around his neck, thrilling at the feel of his warm flesh against the unmarked side of my face. His chest and neck muscles flexed with every step, and I closed my eyes.
“Somewhere safe to camp for the night. We have a few days to travel, yes, Grif?” I asked with my eyes closed. I’d worked from before first light, my forge lighting in the predawn darkness. I’d experienced battle surge, a flood of hormones when I saw Londe trapped like a beast by those foul humans, and we’d traveled for hours before I’d been assaulted by a cyclops with a harpy fixation and his tiny, murderous winged friends.
“Oh, yes. I know of so many sparklies closer, but the red ones? Those are at least three days away.”
“Spectacular,” Londe huffed, his neck expanding under my petting hands. “Three days with this drunk lout. Please tell me you frisked her and didn’t forget her neck cowl this time?”
“I did. All the liquor was left behind. I think that’s why she actually scratched me,” I said quietly.
Life had been getting harder for Beings in recent years. The humans had spread, and far too many were willing to band together to defend against the strength, or magic, or whatever else they found threatening about Beings even if they hadn’t been threatened first.
It wasn’t defense if you were striking first. It was just an attack.
And sheer greed prompted the rest. A unicorn foal?
I had to get them back.
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