Chapter XIV

At The Red Gryphon Inn
By: Hensbane

Tri-Nova entered the Red Gryphon Inn with Karl Strange just as young Peter Long took the lead reins and began leading her magnificent horned horse into the stables. He chose an enclosure near the outer doors and when the horse had been secured, he removed the reins and halter and hung them up on a rack located just outside the stable. Peter, always careful with each beast in his care, filled Majesty's leather feed bucket with honey sweetened oats and placed the strap over the horse's head so he could eat. When the horse was eating, Peter took the boar bristled currycombs and started brushing the dust off the horse's back and sides.

Majesty nickered in response to the gentle brushing and leaned against the wooden slats of his stable in a completely relaxed position, while Peter's gentle voice droned on.

"Ye, are such a sweet beauty, now look at all this dust on your fine coat. Don't you worry none, Peter will have you looking fine again in no time."

Peter crooned to the large horse as his hands continually brushed the coat clean. He smiled to himself when he noticed the horse now leaning against the wooden slats as he worked. It happened nearly all the time when he cleaned the stock that came within his care. When Peter had finished with the coat he bent down and cleaned the hooves and fetlocks of the horse, taking great care to insure that nothing was left inside the hooves that might cause the horse to pull up lame when ridden again. He used a metal pick to dig out any and all tiny rocks that might cause a sore foot and that was when he discovered the fang lodged in Majesty's metal shoe. Peter remembered what Karl had taught him about fangs and such and put on a pair of heavy leather gloves that the tanner had made special for his tiny hands. Peter picked out the fang and put it in a piece of leather to carry inside the Inn to give to Karl Strange.

When the fang had been carefully put aside he finished the cleaning and put fresh water from the well into the large pan inside the stable for Majesty to slake his thirst when he had finished eating. Peter removed the feed bucket from the horse's head and gave him a gentle pat on the rump and left the barn to find his master, Karl.

Outside the barn, just after Peter had finished putting away his supplies, a barrage of pinecones slammed into his small body. Peter looked quickly around, his small fists doubled against his side; he spotted several of the older lads disappearing behind one of the out buildings. Peter sighed sadly; it was a common occurrence lately, ever since he had been assigned to this job and Karl Strange had been overheard praising him on the job he was doing with the stock. The older boys did not want to work in the stables for they felt such work was beneath them, but Karl paid well and so they pretended to work and took all the credit when the adults in charge of supervising came around to check on them. Peter, being very shy, not to mention being much smaller than the others, kept silent about the other boys' lies. He had suffered far to many beatings already because of those boys teasing him about having killed his mother because she was ashamed of his small size, saying that she died in shame. He had tried to make them stop with his small fists, but had only gotten kicked and punched for his efforts. Yet when an adult would ask what had happened or where he had gotten the blackened eyes and bruises, Peter would lie and say he was clumsy, while the other boys smirked behind the adults' backs. So Peter just did the work around the stables while the others claimed the praise, it cost him nothing and saved his small body from beatings. Not to mention he preferred to be around the stock far more than having the other boys around him doing sloppy work and being careless with the creatures under his care. The beasts were so grateful for his care and they never told his secrets that he often shared with them. Thus it was that he alone approached the side of the Inn and stood nervously before the door to the kitchen.

Peter shyly peeked into the great kitchen of the Inn, he was hoping to find Karl in the area but he only found Dora, the head cook.

"How goes it this day, young Peter?" Dora asked the lad, as she continued to beat a cake batter with her wooden spoon.

"I needs to see Master Karl, Dora." Peter responded in a soft voice.

"Well, in that case I shall send one of the girls to fetch him and while you wait come in here and have a glass of fresh juice and some of my fruit tarts." Dora smiled to herself as she watched Peter scuff the mud off his thick boots so as not to bring the barn muck inside. Dora thought to herself that his father, Old Peter, had done a fine job of raising the lad since his mother had died of the fever three years past. Dora was well aware of the abuse the other lads had been dealing to Peter, but kept silent about it in front of him to save his pride, but had not kept this information to herself around Karl Strange. It was a fact that she had scolded Karl several times about not keeping a closer eye on the doings in and around the stables.

Peter walked over to the stool that Dora kept handy for her kitchen staff to rest on and climbed up and took his seat. He waited for no further invitations to take a drink of the ice house cooled juice, then he turned his attention to the fragrant tart Dora set before him. Today it was a strawberry tart, Peter's favorite.

"This is the very bestest tart I have ever ate, Dora." Peter mumbled out between mouthfuls of the juicy fruit tart.

"It is an honor to have such an expert, as yourself, enjoying my tarts, Master Peter." Dora had deliberately used the honorary title of Master with the boy's name.

"Aw, now I am not no Master, not yet anyway." Peter sputtered and then blushed a deep crimson.

"The way you care for all the stock around here and the way they all succumb to your charms? Nay, it would be negligent of Master Karl not to so name you, Master Peter." Dora only half teased the lad because he had more than earned his place at the Red Gryphon Inn. She thought that perhaps it might be time to talk the Master of the Inn once again.

"I agree, Dora!" a voice boomed behind them, making both Dora and young Peter jump in surprise.

"Master Karl!" Both Dora and young Peter blurted out in unison.

"The very same. I agree with you Dora, it is time Peter gained permanent status here at the Inn. I have seen how well the stock has done under his care and I am impressed with his diligence and patience he has shown in his duties." Karl smiled over Dora's short head at the stunned lad. "I also know that some of the older lads were supposed to be helping out in the stable, but for reasons of their own they chose to make themselves scarce when there is work to be done. You have worked alone for more than three years now and my stables are cleaner than they ever were in the past. I don't believe that a single louse could ever be found within those interior walls. So I have decided to make you Master Peter. Of course there will be a raise in your wages that go along with the title and we shall have a party tonight here in the dining room where it shall be announced to all." Karl explained to the now pale lad. Karl was well aware of the code of silence Peter had maintained about his treatment by the other lads.

"I. I. I." Was all Peter could get out of his mouth.

"No need to thank me, Master Peter. You have earned the title and all that goes with it." Karl nodded to the boy, then he turned to Dora. "I believe that some of your ground beef patties roasted over the fire and fresh buns will make an appropriate menu for the children. Perhaps you could make a cake in honor of Master Peter's new status?"

Dora was beaming from ear to ear at Karl's request. She knew how the other children had harried Peter and left him to do all the work while they played in the woods. Peter would never tell anyone that he was doing all the work, but at least Master Karl knew all the circumstances going on about the Inn. Master Karl always seemed to be on top of everything about the place and that pleased the old cook very much.

"It will be an honor to prepare the meal for the children and staff for this occasion. I am looking forward to Peter's, excuse me, Master Peter's induction as the Master of the stables." Dora bowed her head in Peter's direction and turned to give the orders for the grinding of the meat. She loved cooking for parties but this one was extra special to her.

"Now, word has been brought to me that you found something that I should see, Master Peter." Karl turned the conversation away from the party and back to the matters at hand.

Peter sat up straight on his stool and replied in the most adult voice he could muster, "Yes, sir!" He then unrolled the leather piece that he had stuffed into his pocket.

"Yes!" Karl said as he sucked in his breath in disgust and shock. "So, they have regrouped and are once again inside the valley." Karl carefully examined the fang, noting the poison sac still attached to the end where Majesty had stomped it out of the beast head just as Tri-Nova had told him.

"See, Master Peter, this is from one of the Night Stalkers and it is as deadly now as it was inside that foul creature's mouth. You once again have shown very good judgment in this matter and reaffirmed my opinion of your capabilities. Yes, making you Master of the stables is one of my better decisions this year."

Karl ruffled the thatch of blond hair on Peter's head and left the kitchen area to return to those guests that had gathered for the meeting in the Great Hall of the Inn.

Peter sat in stunned silence as he watched Master Karl depart the area. He could not have spoken even if his life had depended on it, he was that shocked and pleased by all that had transpired in the past few minutes.

"Peter. Please close your mouth!" Dora spoke in a voice that was near to bursting with laughter and pride for the boy. He had endured so much since his mother had died and now he was getting all the credit he deserved. "You look like a carp." Dora couldn't help but tease.

Peter shut his mouth with a sudden snap and looked at Dora in stunned surprise. "He made me Master of the stables! I cannot believe it." Peter finally found his voice.

"Well, deserved too! Goddess knows that you have run the place single-handed for more than three years now, and it does the Inn credit that all the stock in your care has prospered. Even those over grown Trencherons act like cuddly ponies when you are near them. I think that Master Karl has chosen well, Master Peter. Now let me get you another strawberry tart and maybe a meat pie as to befit your new status." Dora turned and filled a platter with the large fresh meat pies, their crusts as flaky as those served to the finest guests, and placed it along with a mug of icy milk before the beaming boy.

Peter made short work of the feast and then turned his attention to the fresh tart, the one Dora had added a large spoonful of sweetened cream on top.

Out in the stables Majesty had just begun to slip into a deep sleep when something buzzing in his ears awakened him. He flicked his ears irritably and tried to regain that elusive dream state when he felt the gentle push once again.

"Are you awake?" Came the mental voice.

"Who are you and how do you talk with me? You are not Tri-Nova, my rider." Majesty grumpily relied.

"I am Shadow Dancer, and Karl Strange's mount. We are brothers, you and I." Came the voice once more.

"Brothers? I have no equal in this land!" Majesty snapped in reply.

"You have much to learn, brother. There is a power growing in the land, and our kind is once more needed to preserve the balance." Shadow Dancer patiently responded. He had long known of the others of his kind, but like Majesty he thought that he was the only one living inside the Talos Valley.

"You have been in the stables too long!" Majesty snapped again. He was quite out of sorts with this intruder.

"Today you and your rider were attacked by the Night Stalkers. Did you not feel the evil residing in those foul beasts? They were created by Karl's mortal enemy, Karnak, they only live to destroy human lives." Shadow Dancer told Majesty. Then he continued to relate all that he knew about Karnak and his vendetta against Karl Strange and all those who dwelt within the valley.

Majesty, no longer drowsy, paid close attention to the words, nodding his head as the other horse spoke to him. His mistress and her family could be in mortal danger if he did not learn all the he could to protect them from these beasts, the Night Stalkers.

"Oh, I should impart that none of the others know of my abilities and I would appreciate your keeping the secret also." Shadow Dancer told Majesty. " I have my reasons for keeping everyone thinking that I am no more than a simple mount, one of the silent ones." Shadow Dancer then nodded his head at the other beasts sharing the stable with them.

"Then I shall keep your secret, brother in the mind." Majesty answered and then bowed his head toward the shadowy horse in the far stable. He then returned to his rest after taking a drink from the cool water in his pan. He had much to think on before he and Tri-Nova ventured away from the Red Gryphon Inn. It troubled him that he had not known of the other's presence in the valley, but there were indeed unnatural things occurring lately.

"Before you drift off to a well deserved sleep, be warned that they is more trouble brewing than just the Night Stalkers. The dragons are on the move once again and word had reached me that there have been several attacks on villages outside the valley. Master Karl will be no doubt informing your rider of these facts, but we who watch over our riders must beware also. Once more we shall be called to make the blood sacrifice to save our land." Shadow Dancer fell silent and let the large horse rest.

While Majesty slept, Shadow Dancer talked to a bird that had flown into the barn, what the bird had to say made Shadow Dance whinny in delight then snort in anger. The first tale the bird told was of a fiery haired woman who now rode on a silvery pale horse with a black mane and tail who traveled with a pack of wolves and two very large black panthers. The strange group was gaining a reputation of hunting down villains and putting them to the sword.

The second part, that had angered Shadow Dancer concerned another small village that now lay in ashes after another dragon attack, there were no survivors; Shadow Dancer's ears now lay flat against his head to show the intensity of his emotions at hearing this unwelcome news.