I woke the following morning shortly before true dawn, rested but unsure what had startled me into wakefulness. My nerves jangled until I heard a cock crow loudly from the yard below. City life had obviously left me unaccustomed to country noises.
I pulled my clothes on and made my way down stairs to the kitchen where the morning’s baking was already well underway. The kitchen was warm and the smell set my appetite off. Before settling down I went out to the yard where I had spotted the innkeeper in deep conversation with another local, presumably my assistant. ‘Ah, Master Kvothe,’ the innkeeper began his introductions, ‘this eer is Tam. ‘Ee’s ‘ere as ya asked.’ To my relief he had lost the anxiety from the previous evening. Tam himself was a sturdy looking man, probably around 40 years of age. He had the toughened look that some country folk get, like he’d been preserved rather than aged, and I didn’t doubt that he was every bit as hardy as he looked. He was broad chested , though not excessively muscled and had a spattering of grey through his hair. It was easy to see why he’d be keen on anything that would get him away from his mother for a few days.
‘Morning,’ I ventured, shaking Tam’s hand ‘shall we head along for a bite of breakfast?’ and nodded towards the kitchen door.
We settled around a table in the, now empty, common room. I began to outline the venture to Tam as we broke into a warm loaf of bread. ‘So you see,’ I finished, ‘I need someone with a pack horse to act as a second pair of hands and eyes. I can pay a full talent, plus expenses, for three days and possibly a bonus if everything goes well.’
Tam nodded his assent but I could see he still wasn’t quite satisfied. ‘Fair enough, I can do all tha’ for ya, but what are we actually gonna be pickin’ up? Seems ta me ya could be doin’ this by ya self.’
‘Sorry, I can’t tell you yet, not until we’re out of town. I don’t want word spreading until I’m sure it is safe in our packs. I’ll tell you in just a few hours, but until then you’ll just have to wait. Can you agree with that?
‘Aye, seems fair. But if I dinna like wha’ I hear the deals over,’ replied Tam with a caution in his voice.
‘In that case I’d like to depart within the hour. Can you pick up a few extra bits and pieces to add to the pack? We’ll need a pick and shovel, plus I’ll ask the kitchens to prepare us a bundle of food for three days.’
‘An hour? Can manage that,’ said Tam as he rose from the table and nodded before turning to leave.
The hour passed in a quick rush of packing and final preparations. Before too long we were stowing my meagre possessions in Tam’s saddle bags. I kept my lute in its case slung over my back and the finder was stowed securely in one of the many pockets of my heavy green woollen coat. The horse Tam had brought was nothing much to look at, a typical farm work horse; strong and tough like Tam himself, brown with various blotches of grey. ‘Her name’s Bess,’ Tam said, patting her flank affectionately. She whickered back at him and stamped a foot impatiently.
I led the way at first, north along the road out of town. The road here was good under foot, crushed rock from the local mines, but this gave way soon enough to bare earth and mud. We continued like this until out of sight of casual observers, before slipping into the trees and heading west.
Up until this point casual conversation had been limited, the hidden purpose of this expedition was a barrier for both of us, but one I intended to remove now. I withdrew the finder from deep in the folds of my coat and gestured Tam to come close. ‘Know what this is?’ I asked?
Tam shook his head but went on to venture ‘Looks a bit like a north finder, but its ta big, and pointin’ the wrong way.’ His curiosity was obviously tweaked though and I took my cue to elaborate.
‘Actually it is similar. We Arcanists call this a finder needle. This particular one is tuned to certain items of value that I know to be in these hills. I intend to use it to track these down and recover them.’ So far so good, but this is where it might get a bit sticky. I unscrewed the based of the finder, prised out my draccus scale and passed it over to Tam. Much like Master Kilvin had he hefted its weight and looked at it closely. ‘This is a scale from the hide of the beast which devastated your town and destroyed your work shop,’ I continued. ‘Each scale is worth a small fortune to a skilled Arcanist. When your mayor falsely declared the draccus a demon and ordered the body burned he destroyed a fortune that could have paid to rebuild Trebon many times over. While the draccus itself is dead any scales it shed will be scattered where they fell. With your help I hope to recover as many as possible.’
‘I can see why ya didna wanna talk of this in town. If they mayor had got wind of it ya would have been run out of the place in an hour. Feelin’s run pretty strong there right naw.’
I relaxed, and let out the breath I had unconsciously been holding back. It looked like Tam was going to go along with things; I had half expected him to go haring off back to town screaming of demons. I reassembled the finder carefully and checked again the direction. ‘Well if you are still with me let’s get going. I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you everything before.’ I gestured onwards and Tam fell in beside me, clucking at Bess to move her on. ‘What has happened in Trebon since the fires? I was surprised to see so few repairs taking place.’
‘Well, I guess folks have lost ‘art. Most have moved in with others but some ‘as packed up and left.’ Tam shrugged rather eloquently. ‘For me sel’ I’m stayin’. Been here since I were a lad. Folk’ll always need boots and I make the best ‘tween here and Imre. Or I would if ma shop were open.’ We walked on a while further in silence. Quiet of the forest was scarcely disturbed by our passing. Tam walked with the steady tread of one well used to the outdoors – perhaps I’d had the good fortune to hook up with a local poacher – and Bess was scarcely louder. Tam clearly wasn’t big on exchanging pleasantries and, after a few more words, we settled into a comfortable silence.
I halted our small party periodically to check the finder. The signal was strong but at the same time indistinct. I suspected that it was picking up multiple fragments of draccus hide and the conflicting signals were confusing it. Fortunately they all seemed to be in the same general direction and it wasn’t long before we stumbled out into a cleared swathe of foliage.
The damage caused by the stampeding draccus was tremendous. Whole trees had been snapped at the trunk like they were no more than match sticks. Root balls had been ripped from the earth scattering rocks and soil across the loam of the forest floor. Huge gouges in the soil, and across timbers, showed where the lizard had clawed in its haste and a broad swathe of light shone down through the broken canopy. Our first encounter with the beast’s path was daunting, a reminder of the devastation it had caused in Trebon.
I gestured Tam to stay back with Bess and proceeded to clamber out over the damaged terrain. ‘Believe it or not the draccus was actually a herbivore. I saw it devouring whole trees, smashing them to the ground and crushing whole trunks in its jaws. I found the scale that is in the finder in the debris from such a feeding. It must have been dislodged when the draccus brought the tree down.’ I pulled the finder out of the recesses of my coat. I suspected we were very near now, the needle had stopped its confused wavering and directed me steadily along the path. I clambered over and round obstacles, checking the finder often, while Tam directed Bess through the clearer space under the trees. After a few hundred paces of such erratic progress the needle had settled on a small patch of disturbed soil, perhaps a stride across. I hollered to Tam who hitched Bess up to a tree and joined me with the spade.
It didn’t take long to find our prize. Tam dug the area with the spade while I checked each load over with the finder. In this case it was unnecessary as the spade quickly rang out against something metal. Within a few minutes we were passing between us an object both familiar and surprising. I had expected to find scales loosened by the draccus’s passing. Instead we’d found something even more substantial – an iron talon, the length of a child’s forearm but weighting at least three kilograms. A piece this size would be worth a small fortune, at least fifty talents, back in Imre and had already justified the trip. Its size also explained why the finder had been drawn so strongly to it, rather than some other piece of scale nearby.
‘Let’s get a brew on,’ I suggested ‘I’ve some thinking to do before we continue.’ The strength of the signal from the talon was going to continue to interfere with our search. Indeed the finder was pointing directly towards Bess’s pannier bags where it was stowed. Unless I could find someway to break, or weaken, the link between them our venture was doomed to frustration from here onwards. And even if we did find more pieces of draccus the combined signal would just get stronger. Our one advantage in this search was about to be lost unless I could come up with something.
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