While Rakhanar stood, hugging Wildstreak’s neck just to stay on his feet, Ehacofi was chattering away in her excitement. She was a bright-eyed, cheerful little Ratonga with a very simple outlook, it seemed: life was a lot more fun with a fat purse. She had apparently decided that following Rakhanar was the key to achieving that.
“So yous haves friends? Can I meets thems? I haves money, I buys drinks!”
Exhausted, Rakhanar groaned. He really wanted to just call to the guild hall and get out of his battered armor, but he was growing fond of the little Ratonga and didn’t want to leave her behind. He thought of Carroway and the gentle fae priestess, Evaine. It had been a long time since he had seen them, more than a month that he had been roaming Faydwer and fighting orcs, alone but for Wildstreak.
“Aye, I have friends, back at the hall.” His voice was a dull monotone. With an effort, he dragged himself up on Wildstreak’s back and looked down at Ehacofi. “Come…”
The Ratonga female hopped up on her little pony’s back and squeaked with glee, falling in behind as Wildstreak moved out. The golden unicorn chose a smooth gait, while the little pony clattered along at a trot behind him.
He headed back to Kelethin with Wildstreak aiming his horn threateningly at any orcs near the path. When Ehacofi noticed how they cringed and scattered, she pulled up beside him, puffing out her chest with pride as if she were the cause of their terror. Rakhanar couldn’t help but chuckle at her antics.
As they neared the tree city, he pulled up his hood, ducking his head to hide his face. He led the little Ratonga to the magic globe, the city guard saluting him as the mysterious warrior who was known to be defending their homeland with great passion.
“New Halas,” he said, glancing toward the little Ratonga as he reached out to touch the globe. She nodded and followed him into the sparkling whiteness of in between.
They came out on the other side as night was falling. The smell of salt air hit him in a blast of freezing wind, and Wildstreak moved into a smooth canter, knowing the way to The Frosted Brew as well as how sensitive Rakhanar was to cold. Actually, Rakhanar found that the brisk air was refreshing, and he found his second wind. Once they made it to the cavern where the living quarters were, Rakhanar slid off of Wildstreak’s back and gave him a grateful pat.
“The Frosted Brew. This is where you can meet some of my friends.” Rakhanar glanced at Ehacofi and nodded up the hill to the sturdy building with its heavy crossbeams high on the peaked roof.
Ehacofi beamed happily and wrapped her pony’s reins around the hitching post. Wildstreak nodded and nuzzled Rakhanar’s shoulder, then trotted into an explosion of sparkles, disappearing.
Rakhanar trudged up the snow-covered stairs to the wide wooden doors and pushed inside the building. He found the door to the tavern and headed in. Immediately, he was met by the warmth and the mouth-watering scents of freshly baked bread and flame-broiled steaks, along with many other enticing odors.
Lord Toran was there, seated at a table upstairs, casually leaning on the rail. He nodded as Rakhanar entered, and Rakhanar waved a casual salute, smiling. Carroway was there also, tending bar as usual, along with quite a few other patrons milling about. Rakhanar pulled up on a stool at the bar and the little Ratonga trotted in after him, then climbed up on the seat next to him.
Carroway smirked at the little Ratonga, then turned to Rakhanar. “You get a new friend there, or have you taken to carrying some smelly cheese in your backpack?”
Ehacofi sniffed and crossed her arms, but Rakhanar couldn’t restrain a chuckle. “This is Ehacofi, and you might want to keep her on your good side. I saw her take down an orc that was about your size not too long ago. Single-handed.”
The little Ratonga looked up at Rakhanar and grinned, pleased that he had taken the role of her champion.
Carroway turned his gaze to her and raised his whiskery eyebrows. “Is that right?”
Not one for humility, she nod nod nodded enthusiastically. “Meeses rodes the orcsie down likes a choppsed tree!”
Now Carroway chuckled. “I would’ve liked to have seen that!”
Lord Toran, done with his business upstairs, had apparently overheard this tale and decided that the ratonga might make a good addition to the guild. He headed down the stairs and made a beeline for Ehacofi. Rakhanar was glad to introduce her to him, and the little ratonga happily followed the Erudite to a table to discuss the matter.
At that moment, the door swung open, and a creature like none Rakhanar had ever seen pushed in from out of the cold. It looked like a dog walking upright. It peered around with bright eyes, sniffing the air.
Rakhanar had never had a dog or any other pet, since his fostering with the fae made that unlikely. Fae folk looked more to a dog like something that should be chased than someone to obey as master, and dogs to fae looked more like something to be teased to wild fury. It wouldn’t be impossible for a fae to raise a dog as a pet, but it was not likely to even occur to them to try. Cats, with their independent natures, were more their style when it came to pets and were often seen mincing about the platforms of Kelethin. Dogs, however, he had only seen from a distance, sometimes serving the elven nobles on a hunt in his foster homeland, and once or twice as a child in Qeynos with human masters. In fact, wanting a puppy of his own had been the trigger for one of the tantrums that led to his fostering.
Some of the patrons turned and gasped at the entrance of this creature. Rakhanar heard snippets of a whisper. “…trouble. What in the… a gnoll just walking in!” One warrior went so far as to reach for a sword that he apparently had forgotten was not at his hip, since the tavern required everyone to disarm on entry.
Rakhanar noted the reaction from the patrons even as the normally smiling Carroway turned a frown on the warrior, staring him down with a shake of his head. He turned a more relaxed gaze on the others, willing them to acceptance as he addressed the creature.
“Grau! Come in, girl, come in, get out of the cold.” Carroway extended his white paw to a seat at the bar, welcoming.
The creature – a gnoll? – fixed bright black eyes on the Kerran and yipped happily. “Yes, yes, yes! Grau come in! Nice warm fuzzy place, yummy food smells…”
Rakhanar smiled in spite of himself as the creature, which he gathered was a female gnoll, inhaled deeply again. “Food! Yes, food! Hungry, happy, happy!” The gnoll trotted over to the bar and pushed between Rakhanar and another customer seated there, pressing her nose into Carroway’s huge furred paw in greeting.
Rakhanar beamed at the gnoll, charmed, his battering forgotten. “I couldn’t have put it better myself.”
The gnoll looked up at his wide smile and nodded vigorously. “Food! Good food! Kitty furr face is friend!” She peered at Rakhanar and tilted her head, reaching up with a paw to curiously pat his beard. “You furr face, too! You like food, too?”
Rakhanar chuckled at the light tickle of her touch. “I do, at that. We seem to have a couple of things in common.” He couldn’t resist reaching over to scratch her scruff. It seemed a natural greeting, and she wiggled appreciatively, tail thumping the stool behind her as she turned to him. “I like wild things like you,” he admitted. “I’ve a bit of a wild streak myself.”
And with that, Rakhanar had sealed their friendship before the little gnoll even knew his name.
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Wizard of Wildfire & Shadow Walker Wordsmith ((a/k/a The Real Me ))