Return with us now to the thrilling days of our last chapter, when repentant monk Achidan of Abyrline took up the post of local healer to the village of Nottingham, deep in the wilds of the Sylvan Vale. There, he was summoned to the bedside of the fallen Sheriff, a man known only as Jericho Pale… a man who once awakened, drew his six-shooter and aimed it right at Achidan’s head!
Part Two (of Five)
Though I did not know it at the time, the metal device in the sheriff’s hand that I stared down the barrel of was known as a “gun.” Despite that lack of knowledge, however, I was still very aware that I was in danger of my life.
“Ten,” the man in the bed said.
“I assure you, I mean you no harm, sheriff,” I blustered, the unexpected turn of healing a man only to have my life threatened by his unusual weapon having put me on nervous footing.
“Nine,” he said, my reassurances obviously not an acceptable enough answer. I tried to remember my name, but the only sound in my head was the hot thrumming of my heart in my ears. I put my hands up, palms forward, trying to ward off the sheriff’s hostility with my own docility. It failed to work, as his thumb cocked back some kind of switch on the back of his weapon with a menacing click.
“Eight,” he said.
The panic that had stolen my sense did not abate–in fact, it became more acute–but with that came an odd clarity, and I was able to once again take control of my words.
“I am Achidan, of Her Lady’s Brotherhood. I have come to offer my healing arts in place of Carolus… those same arts that have healed your goblin-blade wound.” I nodded to his blood-soaked sheet covering the convalescing injury.
Without either his eyes or his weapon leaving me, he slid aside the sheet and probed the wound with his finger. He did not flinch.
“Itchy Dan, huh?” he finally said. “Guess I owe you thanks, stranger, not a gun in the face.” He lowered his weapon and concealed it in whatever fold of the bed he had originally pulled it from. Sitting up (with no unlikely discomfort) he offered me his hand.
“Jericho Pale. Guess I’m kinda the law around these parts.”
I shook Pale’s hand, not knowing that that moment began the one great friendship of my life.
Pale seized upon the opportunity of the handshake to pull himself up into a sitting position. It was apparent that he didn’t care for finding himself in a position of weakness.
“I do advise you rest a bit longer,” I offered, though it was clear by the way he was already removing the bloody shirt and probing his wound with a calloused fingertip that he was determined to do anything but.
“Hh,” he said by way of measured response. “So you know about gob poisons, then?”
“I… have some familiarity,” I said. Pale looked at me suspiciously, but did not press the issue.
“Then you’re gonna ride with me while we go round up some lawbreakers.”
Truth be told, the idea of battle stirred those baser urges of my youth, but I remembered my vows and demurred. “I am a man of peace, Sheriff Pale,” I said. “I am more than happy to aid you, but I will not harm others in the service of doing so.”
“You padres are the same no matter where you are,” he sighed. “Don’t matter. You can patch us up after we do the violence.”
He had carefully folded the torn shirt and laid it upon the wooden table with the basin. Rooting through his closet he removed a dark green tunic and put it on. From the bed, he pulled out a thick leather belt with what appeared to be two custom-made pouches, each containing a “shooter.” He finished his ensemble with a strange hat that shaded his face. It was the first time I had seen Jericho in his work clothes, but he looked more natural in his unusual garb than most men did in their favorite tavern.
He headed out of the room with a determined gait, a man who knew where he was going. He carried the wound not without pain, but without acknowledgment of it in his stride.
The aleroom of the Sixth Shooter was packed with people, almost all of whom fell silent as Sheriff Pale walked down the creaky wooden stairs. I scanned the crowd for Dorienne, the elf maiden, and found her sitting at a back table with the girl who had taken me to Pale and the young man she had given my horse to.
“Three cheers for th’ Sheriff!” the redheaded girl shouted, raising a glass of beer over her head.
“Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!” the bar resounded with real emotion. Apparently the “stranger” that Father Onree had been so curious about hadn’t had any trouble making friends in Nottingham. I could already see what Onree meant when he said the man might be a hero. I had yet to discover why my mentor and Carolus had felt the need to watch him.
As he crossed the tavern floor to the back table, farmers and merchants raised glasses and bowed at him respectfully. I noticed that no one touched him, though; no friendly claps on the back or handshakes. It was easy to follow in his wake, and walking with the Sheriff seemed to make me unremarkable despite being a stranger in a small village.
“Welcome back to life, Sheriff!” the girl said as Jericho reached the table. He turned a chair around backwards and straddled it, leaning on the back with folded arms.
“Thanks, Eliza,” he said. “How long was I out?”
“About two weeks, sir,” the young man who had (hopefully) stabled my horse said. His accent was Northern, and looking at him closely, I could see that his skin was too dark to be native to the Sylvan Vale.
“Damn,” the Sheriff muttered as a serving girl placed an unordered tankard of beer in front of him. He touched the brim of his hat with what I can only assume was some kind of short-hand for doffing it.
“So the pray-healer got you all fixed up?” Eliza asked, her excitement visible in her form like a wolf about to leap. “Are we going to take it to the ‘dayum’ gobs?” The word that came so easily from Pale was awkward imitation coming from her mouth.
“That all depends,” the Sheriff said. “Did you find out where they were comin’ from? Can’t much kill gobs you can’t find.”
“We…” Eliza started.
“No, sir,” the young man said. “There’s been no sign of them since the raid where they, um, wounded you…”
Eliza glared at him.
“Then the first thing we gotta do is get some hard facts ’bout what’s really goin’ on here. Up ’til this last time I thought it was just gobs bein’ gobs… but the way they attacked Doff’s farm, that was strategized. Gobs ain’t that smart.”
“Well no one here tells me anything,” Eliza complained. “If we were still in Tobrinel I’d know who to ask… but here in Mudville the closest thing they have to a rumormonger is Ol’ Lady Stitches and she’s just going to want to dress me up like a girl and tell me who I should be mooning after. Probably try to set me up with Hencher here.”
The young man blushed visibly despite his Northern complexion.
“There is one way to learn the unknown in the Vale,” the elfin Lady Dorienne said, her first words since our arrival. “But it is not without danger.”
“Danger?” Pale asked, the way a shepherd standing in the center of his flock might ask, “sheep?”
Eliza added unnecessarily, “Ha! Ain’t any danger our Sheriff can’t handle!”
Dorienne never took her eyes from Jericho. When she spoke, it was just for him.
“We can go to the Oracle of Teeth.”
Even Eliza had nothing to say to that.
© 2013 by Douglass Barre, All Rights Reserved.