alton croppedI have to admit a distinct fondness for Alton. He’s confident, self-possessed and not afraid to stand up to protect friends and family. A wood sprite, he’s lived far longer than he looks, but let there be no doubt in anyone’s mind – he’s a formidable opponent. Only the very foolish cross him. It would seem that the tavern keeper of the inn where they spent the night, is one of these. His friend, Revanth, is a man made horse by an evil witch.

“Where’s my horse?” Alton demanded. “I left him here, in your care, last night. Where is he?”

“What sort of horse, good sir?” The groom appeared somewhat touched in the head. His speech was slow and deliberate.

Alton wasn’t sure the man understood him, but he described Revanth in detail.

The groom shook his head. “Warn’t narry sech horse here when I come to work dis mornin’. I check ’em all. I’d o’ remembered a horse that sleek—all black, you say? And a stallion? Rare, that is.”

“Very rare, hence my irritation that my—horse—is—gone! See here, this is his bridle and saddle.”

“Likely run off,” the groom said, scratching his stubbly chin.

“He wouldn’t do that.”

“Why not? All animals like freedom like us folk.”

“Not Revanth. Who’s the law around here?”

“You don’t need the law, young master. . . .”

“The name is Sir Alton of Lyndon Mead. Not young master. I want the sheriff or constable—whoever the authority is here.”

“You be wanting Tom Joyce, t’ Magistrate.”

“That will do. Where is he?”

“Out back. He owns the tavern.”

Alton barely thanked him. He went behind the tavern and found a stout, balding man. His pants and shirt were homespun and grubby from hard work. He was trying to fix a wagon wheel without much success.

When Alton approached the tavern keeper turned toward him, touching his forehead in respect. “What can I do for ye, milord?”

Revanth from Alton and Velda cropped“My horse is missing from your stable. I saw him put up last evening. My traveling companion curried him before bed. His tack is where I left it, but my horse is not.”

Tom Joyce pulled on his forelock. “Well, then. It appears we’ve a problem.”

“Do you think so?” Alton said, surprise in his voice.

The chubby man had enough intelligence to know he was being chastised. He frowned. “No need to be like that.”

“There is, I’m afraid. I have places to go. I need my horse.”

“He’s worth a lot of money, is he?” The older man’s expression changed subtly.

Alton frowned, leaning over the much shorter man. “He’s worth more than your scurvy life, old man. He’s the war horse for a knight of the realm. The mud in his hooves is ten times the cost of this flea ridden tavern. If you know where he is, I’ll have him back. If by your ineptitude, you’re hoping that the thieves will spirit him away, let me assure you.” He took a step closer. “There’s no place he can go where I can’t find him. And when I do, I’ll make it my business to come back here, lay you open from groin to gorge—nice and slow. Am I clear?”

“As crystal.” The taverner gulped, his flabby chins bobbing nervously. “Some lads may have took him,” he mumbled. “Early this morning. They might have walked in and led him out, like.”

“And what direction might they have gone?” Alton played with the hilt of his sword.

“They might—might be taking him to the horse market. Down to West Farland.”

“And how does one get to West Farland?”

“Follow the road for two days—or the faster way is by river, about a day.”

Alton stepped forward, touching the man’s shirt with his fingertips. “You had best hope I find him swiftly and without hurt, or I will be back and I’ll do what I promised.” He stepped back. “Out of curiosity, how often do horses go missing from your stable?”

“Fairly often, my Lord,” the man replied with a leer.

“Then you’ll accustomed to guests who don’t pay,” Alton replied. He turned away once more.

“Now see here!” Tom bellowed, coming hastily after the Wood Sprite.

Putting a hand on Alton’s shoulder, he intended to stop him. He found himself looking at the business end of the Wood Sprite’s dagger mere inches from his eye.

“My horse is worth more than your house and land. It’s only fair that you not only gift us with our night and meals, but guarantee our safe passage. And if my horse or friends come to harm, no place on this Earth will be safe for you—neither land nor water. Are we clear on that?”

The man blinked nervously, not daring to nod for fear he impale himself on Alton’s blade.

They made a hasty departure on foot, following the road to where it crossed the river. Alton knew either he or Velda could pick up Revanth’s trail.

© 2016 Dellani Oakes

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