A portal opened on the commons of Shallow Waters and out stepped Martis with Muffeena seated on his left shoulder. Bright sunlight filled the well-kept greensward and a breeze played tag with the bright green leaves on the trees that bordered it.
Above their heads, high in the cloudless sky, a flight of oddly shaped birds circled the village. When Martis first saw them, their single circle was larger than the village, yet, as he watched, the circle grew tighter and tighter until they were forced to divide into several circles, one outside the other, with their wingtips nearly touching. The center circle held, at most, a dozen oddly shaped birds. Outside that circle was five more circles, each bigger than the next closer one to the center. The outer circle held so many of the odd birds that Martis had to guess at its numbers. His best guess was two hundred.
“Martis,” whispered Muffeena, “I don’t think those are birds at all.”
A flash of gold glinted off one wing and the young mage knew exactly what the odd looking birds were. Muffeena was right, they were not birds at all, but griffons. Next to dragons and wyverns, they were the third most dangerous predators anyone knew of.
As if to prove just how vicious they could be, one of the griffons swooped down and attacked a village that had not sought shelter quickly enough. While the griffon was bigger than the young woman it had attacked, it wasn’t big enough to fly off with her in its talons.
The woman’s screams echoed from house to house and were answered by the sound of a dragon’s roar. Martis and Muffeena looked around, but could not see any signs of a dragon.
Even without a sighting of their enemy, the griffons broke ranks and flew westward as quickly as their wings could carry them. Last among the fleeing predators was the one that had attacked the woman, in its claws, it held the woman’s blood-soaked shirt.
A second dragon’s roar added more speed to the griffons’ flight, and soon the half lion and half bird of prey were disappearing over the horizon.
From the doorway to the inn that sat near the river’s bank, an old human male walked slowly toward Martis. Silver hair circled his bald head in a long fringe and was only a shade or two lighter than the silver colored robe he wore. His long beard hung down past the wide leather belt that was covered in many pouches and circled his expansive belly. In his left hand, he held a staff that was taller than he was and was topped with a glittering diamond trapped in a silver cage.
Martis watched the old man’s approach and then chuckled.
“Let me guess, you’re the Silver Mage?”
“Hardly,” replied the man. “I am Argent Dracontine.”
Bowing low, the old man kept his eyes on Martis, as if he expected the young elf to attack him at any time. When he straighten up, Martis noticed that the man’s eyes were of a blue so deep that the ocean would have been envious of them.
“I am the emissary of the Silver Dragon, leader of the Southern Clan and successor to the First Council Seat on the Dragon Council. He’s assigned me the task of following the griffon to make sure they migrate to the west coast of this continent and make no more trouble for any of the people that live here. Frankly, it’s been rumored that the griffons have aligned themselves with the Darkness, so I’m to hustle them on their way.”
“Whatever the reason for your being here, I’m sure that the family of the young woman you rescued will be most appreciative of your timely intervention. Personally, I’d like to invite you to dinner, as I was most likely next on the list for a quick snack.”
The old man chuckled and then nodded.
“To make things easier for us, I am called Francis, or, that is the name my parents gave me and it will do for now. Might I know the young wizard I address?”
“I am T’Xana Martis and the young sprite on my shoulder is Muffeena.”
“Ah,” Francis sighed, turning his attention to Muffeena.
“I’ve often seen the sprite’s migration, and have watched the fairies, but to be introduced to one is truly an honor.”
“Just out of curiosity, how did you know I’m a magic user?”
“So, not a wizard, and you’re not mean enough looking to be a sorcerer, or at least you don’t appear so. That leaves only one type of magic user, as a young male. A mage?”
“Yes, sir. Freshly graduated.”
“Ah, that explains the lack of a staff. Now, as to how I knew you were a magic user,” Francis paused for a second, smiled, and then bowed to Muffeena.
“Only a magic user can speak to, or even see, a sprite. With a one in three chance, I picked the wrong type. Sorry.”
“No need to apologize, having just graduated, I came home to see my parents, some of the people I grew up around, and to find a suitable dead branch to create a staff from.”
“I might be of some small assistance in that, young mage. I was in the woods, uh, watching the griffons, and happened to spy a likely fallen branch from a rowan tree. I know that most rowan staves are made from the heartwood of the tree, but this one limb was long, and straight, and with a little work could be shaped into a perfect staff, suitable for embellishing.”
“If you would point me in the right direction to. . .”
“Oh, there’s no need for you to wander around in the woods, I’ll summon it here and save you the trouble.”
Lifting his staff high, Francis hammered it on the ground and held out his right hand to grasp the rowan tree limb that answered his summoning.
“Here you go, young sir. Hum?”
Martis shook his head when Francis looked at him with more interest than he’d shown a few minutes ago.
“Martis? Martis? Martis! You’d be T’Xana Martis, the last T’Xana Knight. The first child of the Shallow Water’s tribe. How fortunate that we meet. My employer is very interested in speaking with you.”
“Perhaps when I’m through with my visit home. But for now, I’ve people to see and favors to ask. Supper will be at dusk, and I’ve got to beg the cook at the Inn to prepare her best dish, fresh caught trout stuffed with truffles and smothered in a wine sauce. Will that be sufficient for supper?”
“Trout and truffles? I’ve not had that combination in many, many years. The last time I had it, the cook’s name was,” scratching his bald head, Francis suddenly took his hand away and snapped his fingers.
“T’Xana Mara. That wouldn’t happen to be the ‘cook’ you refer to, would it?”
“Yep, Aunt Mara is the best cook this side of the hereafter. If I can conjure up an old, well used, cast iron skillet and some Raspberry Wine, I just might be able to persuade her.”
“I look forward to dining with you tonight then.”
“Until tonight Francis.”