Chapter 2: An unusal loon

Something was up. Sure, Linuto was a loon, but he was far from stupid, and something was definitely up. 

Dokaius was almost never the one going to Rylander, and the few times he did he always brought one of “the committed”, as the loonkeepers called them. So why would he go the day after Junia had already been, and on top of that not bring anybody?

Linuto was by nature very curious about almost everything, and since Junia didn’t want to say anything and Dokaius was away, he tried Antonius instead. The middle brother was a stickler for rules and his role as a loonkeeper, but if you asked just the right way you could sometimes get him to tell more than he had planned to.

This time he didn’t get anything out of Antonius either.

“Don’t worry about it”, the loonkeeper said, same as Junia previously. Which of course made Linuto wonder if there actually was something he needed to worry about.

His room was next door to Dokaius’ office, and in the evening he tried his hardest to hear what Dokaius and the others were discussing. But no joy.

He was woken the following morning by his two room mates Mikeloto and Joelito, who where wrestling on the floor. They were both in their twenties, same as Linuto himself, and were his friends even though they were not always so easy to deal with. He pushed them apart.

“Have Antonius been by yet?”

“No”, said Joelito. “No one. But Mikeloto has already started to cheat.”

Games of different kinds were one of the ways to make time pass when they were stuck in their room, but often devolved into rules arguments.

“No I didn’t” said Mikeloto. “You are just bad at the game.”

Joelito and Mikeloto were of course loons as well, but most of the time they were no different than ordinary people. Or at least, ordinary people that had grown up in an environment where they never knew what the people around them could suddenly do without warning. Sure, they had episodes sometimes, but who was he to hold that against them? It was way more annoying that Mikeloto was so vain, and that Joelito was so short he had to bend to talk to him.

Linuto himself was so mentally stable it was almost sick. And he assumed that was why he was placed at a manor. There were no other reasons for it that he could see.

Finally Antonius turned up and let them out. The large loonkeeper looked tired, which was unusal. Antonius was always focused.

“What did you fight abut last night?” said Linuto.

“We didn’t fight about anything”, said Antonius.

“Discussed, then”, said Linuto. “And don’t tell me not to worry. I’m not worried, just curious.”

“You’ll notice soon enough”, said Antonius. “Go have breakfast now.”

But Linuto kept asking and soon he had made Antonius tell him what had happened. Joelito and Mikeloto kept messing around during breakfast, but Linuto couldn’t let go of something when he started thinking about it.

Why is both Junia and Dokaius going? Junia took every opportunity to get away from the manor, so it wasn’t strange that she was leaving. She wanted to see the capital, she had said so many times.

But why was Dokaius joining, leaving Antonius in sole charge, even thought that was a job for at least three?

The only thing Linuto could think of was that Dokaius simply didn’t dare let his baby sister out into the great big world alone. The risk was too great that Junia finally left the calling after tasting the freedom in the capital.

Linuto looked forward to see how a manor run by Antonius would work. It was, of course, an idiotic solution for their problems, but it should mean much more freedom for him and the boys, since Antonius and the assistants would have their hands full dealing with the committed that needed more help or oversight.

Things did not go the way he had imagined.

He had been promoted to some kind of king of the loons by Dokaius before they left, and was supposed to help Antonius make sure the others behaved. Ha! That was easier said than done. Not even Mikeloto and Joelito listened to him when he tried to get them to help.

Instead it had ended up with him by himself, clearing weeds out of the vegetable patch while Antonius and the assistants tried to get the other committed to do anything.

It couldn’t continue like this, and Linuto thought until his head ached trying to find a way out of this unfortunate position he had found himself in.

“That’s enough for today”, Antonius called.

Linuto stood and straightened his back as  much as he could, and then walked over to the loonkeeper.

“We’ll make another attempt at getting the others to work tomorrow”, said Antonius.

Otherwise the crops will be lost, Linuto thought. Yes, he understood that bit. And they really couldn’t afford that now, when money was almost out. Then they would just starve.

The next day Antonius let just a select few of the committed out into the yard and tried to get them to work, while those most hard to control were left in their rooms with two assistants supervising.

Linuto was happy to see that this worked a lot better. When he stood up from his weeds, he saw that everyone was busy doing their chores. If Antonius could keep up discipline amongst the others then this might not be so bad after all.

The following days life in the manor fell into its new routine. Antonius always left one or two of the committed locked up in their rooms during the days, which made it possible for him to keep tabs on everyone else. Linuto didn’t have to pull weeds by himself anymore, but he worked a lot harder than usual.

That was probably why it took him a while to realize he hadn’t seen Mikeloto or Joelito for probably half an hour. They had been assigned to get water from the manor well, which stood in one corner of the yard, but they were not there anymore. They couldn’t have gone inside, because one of the assistants was keeping an eye on the door. The only place they could have hidden were the stables.

The next time Antonius was distracted by an outburst from Tohoro, Linuto walked quickly over to the stables and looked inside. It was empty, apart from the doves that lived in the rafters.

There was only one explanation: Mikeloto and Joelito had run away. It was a good time to do it, with Antonius overworked and no Junia around to quickly find them and bring them back.

The question was what Linuto should do about it.

Dokaius had asked him to help Antonius, and Antonius was fully busy with supervising the others as they worked. And a break from the garden would be very nice. Mikeloto and Joelito was probably not very far away. He would find them quickly, bring them back, maybe even get praise for it.

On the other hand, Antonius would probably say no if he asked, so it was better just to leave. After a quick check that neither Antonius nor any of the assistants were watching him, Linuto entered the forest.

He was disappointed that Mikeloto and Joelito would leave without asking him, but not surprised. They knew that he wouldn’t have agreed to their plans, especially after what Dokaius said before he left.

Linuto had helped Junia hunt since he was twelve years old, and had picked up a few things. It didn’t take him long to find the first sign of where Mikeloto and Joelito had passed: the water buckets where sloppily hidden underneath a pine tree. After that it was easy to follow their trail, even if no other tracks where quite as obvious.

Linuto hoped that they would stay in the forest, he knew that as long as they did that he would be able to catch up with them. It’s true that they also had helped Junia hunt may times, but they didn’t pay attention like him, and they never tried to learn things.

If they went straight for the road on the other hand it would be a lot harder for him to overtake them. 

After another half an hour he still hadn’t found them and was starting to consider turning back, but then he suddenly heard Joelito’s voice echo over the forest.

“I want a pine tree!”

Linuto jogged in the direction of the sound, and soon he saw Joelito and Mikeloto.

“We don’t have time for this!” said Mikeloto to Joelito, who had apparently gotten stuck in one of his strange ideas and was sitting on a tree stump next to the path. “Antonius will catch up to us.”

“Where are you going, then?” said Linuto.

Mikeloto jumped and Joelito stood up and looked around. When they saw who had spoken they both visibly relaxed.

“Linuto, what are you doing here?” said Mikeloto.

“I’ve come to bring you back home.”

Mikeloto and Joelito started laughing.

“No, but for real this time”, said Joelito.

“What? That’s why I’m here.” 

Mikeloto laughed harder, but Joelito just looked disappointed.

“You have changed, Linuto. You’re still a loon like us, don’t forget that. You’re not a loonkeeper, no matter what Dokaius told you before he took a hike.”

Linuto didn’t have an answer for that.

Mikeloto had finally stopped laughing.

“Thanks for that Linuto, and for getting Joelito back on his feet. But now we need to keep going before Antonius turns up. Are you coming with us?”

“We have to go back!” said Linuto.

“Good luck with that”, said Joelito and started walking.

“Mikeloto”, said Linuto. “This will end badly.”

“You go back then”, said Mikeloto. “I want to see Vent.”

He started to walk as well. Linuto hesitated. What now?

Linuto was the only one of them that had traveled further than Rylander, since he had gone to the fall market in Vent with Junia a couple of times. Whenever he had been he enjoyed being in the centre of attention for a while, when he told stories of all the cool things he’d done and seen.

He should have known that’s where the others were going.

Joelito was now almost a hundred meters away, Mikeloto over fifty. Linuto ran to catch up with them. 

“So you’re coming after all”, said Mikeloto.

Linuto shrugged.

“Someone have to make sure you’re not getting into too much trouble.”

Vent was an unusal town in Ireus since most of the inhabitants were varangians from Vinland, not humans. Linuto had read in one of Dokaius’ books that the town had started out as a varangian war camp. When the war ended, whichever war that might have been, it eventually turned into a real town.

Linuto was curious of the varangians, that he had only seen from afar and didn’t know much about, but that was nothing compared to how fascinated Mikeloto was with them. They were mysterious, they were good fighters and they came sailing on their longships from across the ocean. And Mikeloto was sure that female varangians were prettier than human women, even though he had never seen any varangians, male or female.

They soon reached the road which Dokaius and Junia had travelled a little over a week ago, and started their journey proper. Joelito tried to get them to walk as quickly as possible, while Linuto tried to walk as slowly as possible without being left behind. He hoped that Antonius would catch up to them, but it wasn’t likely. Antonius couldn’t leave the manor with just assistants remaining.

A short while later they came to Rylander and took the royal high road north. Linuto didn’t see anyone he knew, but hoped that someone in the village had recognized them and could tell Antonius which way they hade gone. Most assistants that worked at Dohr’s manor lived in Rylander, but they were probably still at work.

Dusk came without Antonius turning up, meaning that Linuto had been right in his assumptions. They went to sleep close together under a pine tree to try and counteract the cold.

They slept late the following morning, but finally woke up under the sharp light of the sun. Linuto had not had a good night: with rough ground underneath, Mikeloto snoring and shivering from the cold. Now he was very hungry as well.

“Do you have anything to eat?” he said.

“You didn’t bring anything when you left the manor?” said Joelito.

“I didn’t think I would be away that long”, said Linuto.

Mikeloto had a backpack with him. He opened it up and picked out bread, cheese and smoked ham. He also brought out two mugs. He gave one of them to Joelito. They had stopped for the night next to a small stream, and they sat next to it and had their breakfast. After some convincing Joelito agreed to lend Linuto his cup after he was done. When Linuto put it back he made sure to check the content of Mikeloto’s backpack. There where a couple of more things wrapped in cloth that he guessed where food, but it wouldn’t last longer than this evening. He suspected that Mikeloto and Joelito didn’t have a plan after that. 

If he had know he was going to Vent he would have brought his savings with him. It wasn’t easy to get money as a committed, but he carved small wooden figures that he sold to children on the autum market. But that money was still in his room.

After the not to impressive breakfast they started to walk again. Linuto was less and less certain about what he should do – keep following Mikeloto and Joelito to try and make sure that they didn’t starve or provoke the wrong person, or turn around and try and get word to Antonius somehow. For now he continued to follow the other two, further and further away from Dohr’s manor.

At lunch Mikeloto brought out the leftovers from a grilled pheasant, cold potatoes and more bread. They ate their full, but Linuto couldn’t help thinking about how little food remained in Mikeloto’s backpack.

After lunch they continued towards Vent until the sun started to sink towards the horizon. Linuto gathered firewood and started a fire, while Mikeloto emptied the last packs out of his bag: ham, unions carrots, a couple of left over potatoes since lunch, a bit of cheese and some bread. Joelito had somehow got hold of a knife, and they made wooden sticks and barbecued the ingredients over the embers. Once they were done Linuto got more wood, and they sat around the fire telling each other funny stories until the sun set. 

Linuto was the last one up the morning after. Mikeloto and Joelito was playing dice. Linuto joined for a bit, until his grumbling stomach made him lose focus.

“Do we have a plan for breakfast?”

Mikeloto shook his head. Joelito ignored him, like he always did when someone said something he hadn’t thought through properly.

Linuto looked around. If he had one of Julias traps they might have been able to catch something, but the only gear they had was Mikeloto’s now empty back pack and Joelitos knife. They didn’t even have blankets. He might be able to find blueberries or wild raspberries in the forrest, but that was not much of a breakfast and even less of a lunch.

“Let’s just go home, guys. I’m hungry, and it’s at least two more days to Vent.”

“You can go home”, said Mikeloto. “I want to see varangians.”

Joelito said nothing. Linuto hoped that he wasn’t heading for one of his dark periods, because if he was they wouldn’t be able to get him to go with them, no matter the direction.

Mikeloto packed up the dice and stood up.

“Are you coming, Joelito?”

Joelito stood as well, and they started to walk. Linuto followed, still with a rumbling stomach. It was a slow march today, hungry as they were. Joelito still didn’t say anything, while Mikeloto tried to fill the silence with a constant chatter. Linuto didn’t pay attention, instead keeping his focus on the forest on both sides of the road. After about an hour he spotted a bush with wild raspberries. The berries were overripe and many had been eaten by animals or other travelers, but they picked what remained and at it all, which at least gave a small energy boost. Joelito looked better afterwards, and started to interrupt the ramblings of Mikeloto with sarcastic remarks. This made Linuto calmer. A hungry was easier to handle than a depressed Joelito.

With that out of his mind he straight away had an idea for how they could get food, but to test it out they needed to find an inn and probably wait till nightfall. He continued to keep an eye out for berries and other edible things.

The forest they walked through was old and dark. They should be able to find mushrooms. He had helped Junia pick enough times to be able to identify many safe kinds. If only they had had some butter (and a frying pan), then they could have had fried mushrooms for lunch, but if he found some they could at least heat them over the fire on sticks, same as last night’s dinner.

He mentioned this to the others, and it was a clear sign of how hungry they were that both were easily convinced – mushroom was not a huge favourite for any of them, unless it was hidden in a stew with lots of meat. Linuto was quite sure they wouldn’t find anything along the road, so the next time a path turned up they followed it into the forest and spent an hour looking for edible mushrooms. Joelito immediately found several poisonous once, and Linuto had to stop him from tricking Mikeloto into eating one of them.

Once they had gathered a reasonable amount of fungi in Mikeloto’s backpack, Linuto found a good place for lunch next to another stream, and soon the simple food was eaten. They even got some left over.

For a second Linuto was worried that they wouldn’t make it back to the road, but with the help fo the sun he managed to get them back more or less to the same spot where they had first left it. They continued their journey, with a bit more strength in their legs. He and Joelito started to talk and joke before Mikeloto could start another monologue. For a few hours Linuto felt like just one of the gang again. 

They reached a little village. It was smaller than Rylander, with just a few farms and an inn. A prayer house from the church of the Most High stod at the end of the village, and a pastor sat on the porch and followed them with his eyes as they past.

Linuto stopped outside of the inn.

“I have an idea”, he said. “I’ll tell them that we are travelling storytellers, that we can entertain the guests of the innkeeper if we get food and lodging for the night.”

Mikeloto laughed. 

“This is a much better idea than picking mushrooms for hours. You’re getting back to your old self, Linuto.”

“I don’t know any stories to tell”, said Linuto.

“That’s fine”, said Linuto. “I know a lot.”

“Me too!” said Mikeloto.

“Just let me tell the first one”, said Linuto. “If the innkeeper is even interested.”

The innkeeper turned out to be a robust woman in her fifties, and looked very skeptical when Linuto told her his suggestion. For a long while she said nothing, looking at the three young men, and Linuto had the time to get nervous. Then she nodded.

“You can sleep in the stables and have one bowl each of the stew. If my visitors like your stories I’ll throw in breakfast as well … if they don’t like them they will throw you out and you’re not welcome back.”

That did not calm the butterflies in Linuto’s stomach at all, but he shook the hand she offered. Her shake was almost as powerfull as Antonius’.

“If you want beer or anything stronger you’ll have to pay in coin”, she said. “I’ve had way too many bards and storytellers costing more than they were worth.”

“We’ll have what is served”, said Linuto. “We don’t need any beer.”

Mikeloto looked like he wanted to protest, so Linuto stood on his foot. The innkeeper looked at them skeptically again, but didn’t say anything. Instead she turned and picked up three bowls and three cups and put them down on the countertop. She filled the bowls with steaming hot meat stew from a big pot over the fire, and poured small ale in the cups. Finally she put down three spoons.  

“Most of my guests will show up after sundown, when they have finished work and had their supper. Make sure to be ready.”

“Yes, mam”, said Linuto.

For the first time he though he saw the shadow of a smile on the innkeepers lips, but before he was sure she had gone into the back room.

“What story will you tell first?” asked Joelito.

Linuto considered. There were many to choose from, storytelling was a strong tradition at Dohr’s manor and he hade many stories in stock. It had to be something exiting, not too long, something that most would recognise. He considered “Nerham’s tale”, but it was a bit too religious for this place. But something historical was not a bad idea.

Then he had it.

A couple of hours later and the main hall in the little inn was crowded. Some ate, but most were just drinking.

Linuto was off in one corner, feeling that he had bitten off more than he could swallow. No one was even looking in his direction or showed in any way that they knew why he was there. How would he even start?

He looked over at the innkeep, who nodded at him that it was time. This wasn’t such a good idea after all.

“What are you waiting for?” said Joelito.

“I don’t know how to draw their attention”, said Linuto.

“Seriously”, said Joelito. “Well well. I guess this is my contribution for tonight.”

He jumped up on a chair, which made him just slightly taller than the people standing on the floor. Some turned to see what was going on, but far from everyone.

“Dear guests at this fine inn!” he shouted loudly, so loudly that those at the closest tables flinched. “Allow me to introduce the storyteller Linus, all the way from northern Maruka – here to entertain you this night.”

Now everyone was watching Joelito, until he jumped down from the chair, took a bow and pointed at Linuto, who was doing his best to disappear into the floor when all eyes turned on him. But it was too late to back out now, it was do or die time. He took a deep breath and started talking.

“Lightning struck. For a moment they saw nothing but light. Then thunder came, thunder that pushed the air out of their lungs and made them fall to the ground. Another lightning. And another thunderclap. Lightning struck the mountainside like hammers on an anvil, and the thunder they brought made it hard to think, hard to breathe, hard to survive.”

Linuto swept across the room with his eyes. It looked like he had their attention.

“Slowly the strongest of them focused and fought their way back onto their knees.

“The oldest of the men – and in this group that really meant something – was the first one to stand. With light and sound raining down on him he slowly lifted his staff. He closed his eyes and a short crackle was heard. Then silence.”

Linuto was silent as well for a few seconds, to let the silence in the story reflect in the real world. Some of the patrons had started talking again, but most were still looking in his direction. He continued the tale.

“The others also got on their feet and supported the old man that was now close to falling down from exhaustion. Together they kept the lightnings at bay, fought the force that had summoned them.

The attack had been sudden, before any of them had any idea of what was coming. But nothing could stop them now and they continued. As they fought against the force behind the lightnings the moved along narrow paths over steep cliff faces, until they reached the hiden cavern opening that lead further, into the heart of the mountain. One by one they entered and let darkness claim them.”

Linuto had heard Dokaius tell this story many times, in many different version. He himself had performed it at Dohr’s day last year, the time all the loonkeepers and “committed” of Jenis celebrated the foundation fo the first manor. That date the committed from Pehr’s manor usually visited Dohr’s manor, and storytelling and theater was a big part of the holiday.

“The sound of a voice struck against them as they fought through the darkness. A chanting voice, a voice filled with distain for all living things, a voice of what seemed to be pure unadulterated evil.

“That the traitor was still chanting was a good sign: He had not discovered them, and he hadn’t finished the horrifying task he had started and that the eleven men hoped to stop.”

The outer door opened and more visitors entered. They started out loud but soon picked up on the mood in the room and became quiet. 

“The men walked on with conviction, strengthened by the knowledge that is was not yet too late. For every ordinary person the journey would have been impossible, but the eleven men that traveled deeper and depper where not ordinary men. By themselves they could stop armies, control the elements, strengthen body and minde beyond the natural. Together they had performed miracles that the world had never seen before them. To see in the darkness was not a problem. The lack of air was of no importance. 

“The oldest of them, the man the world knew as Tika, listened carefully to his former apprentices voice as it spoke this the darkest of spells. How much time did they have? No time at all he suddenly realized – he needed to do something right away! Quickly he mumbled a few words and then raised his voice …”

“Meishur! Your foul deed have been discovered”, said Joelito with a loud voice.

Linuto almost lost track of the story. They hadn’t discussed this beforehand, but he shouldn’t have been surprised. The other two knew the tale almost as well as he did (no matter what Joelito had said before), and unlike Linuto himself they liked being in the center of attention. He gave Joelito’s line a few seconds to sink in before he continued.

“Tika’s voice echoed through the tunnels of the cavern, magnified itself a thousand times before it reached it’s goal. The chanting voice stuttered, cursed and went silent. The air was immediately easier to breathe and to walk.

“A short while later the eleven men entered a huge cavern hall, bigger than the royal hall in the castle they had left behind just an hour earlier.

“The men had been here before, even though it felt like a lifetime ago. And even though they had seen it before, even though they were the ones that had brought it here, the sight of the enormous creature that filled the hall still transfixed them for a moment. An elongated green and shiny body reached from where they had entered the cavern and beyond. Two folded wings protruded from the creatures back. Powerfull legs were drawn up along it’s sides, big pikes cowered the crown of it’s back. In one end a head big as a two story building. Eyes, currently closed, the size of boulders.”

Linuto saw that some of the visitors now nodded with recognition. He had drawn out the start of the story on purpose, not told them what story it was before starting. But now all the pieces where on the table: the good wizard Tika, the evil wizard Meishur, and of course: the dragon.

“The dragon, the only dragon, the true dragon, rested here in this cavern hall, since it had been finally defeated by the twelve – yes twelve – men that now again was gathered in the place that they had chosen as it’s prison. The hall that one of them had suggested, the hall that one of them had improved and prepared. One of them then, but now their enemy. One of them then, but now a threat that needed to be dealt with at any cost. Meishur.”

Linuto grew silent. It was time for another line, and he wondered if he would get to say it himself this time. But as soon as he stopped talking, Mikeloto stood up.

“So you have finally come, Tika. And brought your lapdogs as well, I see.”

Mikeloto did his best to make the line drip of disdain. Linuto thought he overdid it, but considering he played one of the most hated characters in the history of the country it was suitable. Over 800 years after Meishur’s death, his name was still used as a curse.

“The trator stood on the cliff at the head of the beast, where all of them had stod on the day they bound the dragon in it’s sleep.

“He had short hair as always, clean shaven and uptight. In strict garments of cloth and leather, with a sword at his belt, he looked nothing like the rest of them. They, who at most carried a staff to support old bones, were dressed in robes beter suited for a stroll through the forrest than treks through the mountains. Whose long hair and bushy beards were wild and unkept. Who had maybe become tired in their old age, while he stayed in shape? Who had maybe lost their spark, while he was at the top of his game?

“Doubt ate at each and every one of them, but then the silence was broken. It was Watzek, the hothead, the most fiery and the youngest of all of them, save for the traitor himself.

This time the line came from Joelito, not quite as loud as the last time:

“You are a disgrace for all wizards, traitor. Your time is up.”

Linuto was not nervous anymore. He was fully engrossed in his storytelling. 

“At with that the spell was broken, and the eleven could act again. With speed and security they moved forward through the hall, toward their enemy that was calmly waiting for them on the top of the cliff. They were all there: Tika, the one that more than anyone understood the riddle of all creation; Danziger the green, lover of nature, friend and confidant of animals; Watzek, master of fire and at the same time it’s slave; Elte Touch, the teacher, he who walks in darkness, the suspicios one; Ureli of Hulting, the warrior, Meishurs best friend before the treason, and all the others.

“They all drew closer to Meishur with anger and hate in their eyes. But hate is the feeling of the Evil one and anger can easily get out of hand, and none of them noticed the small signals of warning, the subtle signals that something was wrong.

“Meishur watched them come closer, and he knew that he was victorious.

“Tika walked at the front of the wizards. As he walked he mumbled to himself, prepared the spells needed against the traitor, centered himself. He reached out to the spirit of the mountain to draw from it’s power and felt how several of the others did the same.

“Meishur felt it too. He smiled – and sprung the trap.

This was an old story, and most people had heard it before. Still, Linuto let the phrase hang in the air for a bit, let the twist sink in before he moved on. He had no idea where Dokaius had gotten all the details from, how much was true and how much was embellishment. It didn’t matter. The tale had a truth of it’s own.

“At once many of the men fell to the ground, screaming in horror and pain. Only Watzek and the other two from the School of the Word was unaffected. With desperate force of will, Tika managed to tear himself away from the power of the cave. Because it was no normal mountain spirit that ruled the cave where they were standing. Tika saw how several of his friends recovered from the pain, but two were still on the ground, screaming. And then the screams stopped and were replaced by the scornful laughter of Meishur.”

Mikeloto laughed his best evil laughter, before he gave his line:

“You thought you could come here to the place I myself prepared an use it’s power? Fools!”

Linuto resumed the telling, with Mikeloto laughing in the background:

“Tika saw the madness in the traitors eyes, and only now did he realize how far Meishur had gone, what forbidden knowledge he was using. The spirit of the mountain had been cast out, driven into the void and dispersed. In it’s place something terrible ruled the hall.

“Then Watzek finished his spell and the place where Meishur stood exploded into an inferno of flame. But the traitor just continued to laugh.

“And then the dragon moved.”

Linuto grew quiet again, and stayed quite for enough time that some of the listeners started to look at each other in surprise, wondering if the tale was over. Then he raised his voice again.

“The wizards fled. There was nothing else to do. The chanting had been a sham, the whole mountain a huge trap to catch and disable the traitors most dangerous enemies. He had killed two of them already, and they knew they couldn’t stand against him, not here, not with the dragon at his side, not without the strength of the mountain spirit. With only a small ounce of their own power available to them they fled out of the mountain on foot. They heard the crazy laughter of Meishur increase behind them, and the top of the mountain exploded like a vulcano and they could see how the dragon flew across the sky again.

“Slowly the terror lost it’s hold of the nine wizards, who had changed the world and up until just a month ago had been twelve. In it’s place came rage, rage at being fooled by someone that had been a friend and brother, rage at seeing to friends die a horrible death, rage at the horrible thing that Meishur was trying to do.

“And with all that rage the remaining nine wizards of emperor Khomondur entered the war that in later years would be know as the Dragonwar, where the one dragon and Meishur’s army of evil kobolts fought the allied armies of emperor Khomondur.

“But that is another story.”

Linuto stopped talking and held his breath. For a few seconds nothing happened, but then someone at the back of the room started clapping, followed by another one, and another. Soon the applause had spread to the entire main hall. He looked over to the innkeeper. She nodded, and for the second time he thought that he saw a half smile on her lips.

Mikeloto told the next story, a funny and a bit rude one that made the audience laugh and stamp their feet. After that they took a break, before Linuto told another suspenseful tale, but more current. Once he was done most of the guests were standing up and leaving the inn.

The innkeeper came up to them.

“Good job”, she said. “My boy will show you where you can sleep. Breakfast is served rom seven. If you ever pass here again you are welcome back.”

Linuto smiled. This had gone better than he could have imagine.

Everyone wanted to listen to me, a simple loon.

Maybe this trip wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

(Photo: Jed Owen/Unsplash)