The morning of the all hands summon to the Blasted Lands, Aely went for a walk. The late fall air was clear and cool, and leaves crunched under their feet in the less-traveled parts of the streets. She and Roger took the long way around Old Town, south through Tanner Circle and down Bulwarks, across Willum and then up Irandun’s way. Roger treed a squirrel at one corner, and read his dog-mail at every mailbox and fence post.
At Rose’s Lane they turned north, and the sounds of smithing rang out over the street. The Silver Shield sat on the corner with Irandun. Aely opened the shop door with a gentle ringing of small silver bells. Two wolfhounds looked up from their blankets in one corner, noticed Roger, and came to greet him. Monk and Lily and Roger were well acquainted, and Roger joined them on their blankets as Aely went and waited at the counter.
“Aely! It’s so good to see you.” Bess Cross’ round face beamed with delight at seeing her former tenant. “Do you want a biscuit? They’re still warm!”
“I’ll ne’er turn down one ay yir biscuits, Bess, an’ ye ken it well. How’s th’ new tenant?”
“Gilbert’s a good lad. He’s working with Bryan, training to become a smith himself. It’s good to have someone downstairs again. So what brings you here?” Bess produced a basket of biscuits and a small ceramic bell of butter.
Aely helped herself. “It’s… well, it’s na a fun errand. They’ve called us ta th’ front – they’re asking fir volunteers ta go through th’ portal.”
“Through the portal? Don’t they not know where the foul thing goes?”
“They dinna ken, no, but there’s no way we’ll win this war against these Orcs without closing it down, an’ that’s goin’ ta take bein’ on the other side of it. I’ve decided to go – with Arrens gone, and most of the Riders takin’ posts there, I figure I could be of good help.”
“Oh Aely, are you sure?”
“Yeh, I’m sure. I’ve been idle too long, an’ I dinna ken what will happen if those of us wi’ experience dinna go through and figure this mess out. Except, I need a big favor of ye, before I go.”
“Of course – if it’s in our power, we’ll do it. Is it your armor?”
“No, that’s in good repair. It’s… well, it’s Roger.” Roger looked up at the sound of his name, tail thumping on the wooden floor. “I dinna think I can take him with me.”
“He’s na as young as he used ta be, an’ I dinna want ta bring him inta th’ wilds ay some Light forsaken place where he’ll na be able ta get proper rest. If we manage ta stabilize this thing an’ get a forward base set up, I’ll try ta send fir him, but … I canna think it’s fair ta expect him ta be a fighter wi’ me anymore. Na when he canna even go runnin’ with me in th’ mornings.”
“Well, of course he’s welcome here. He gets on so well with Monk and Lily, and this place was his home too for so long. But are you sure? He’s been with you on the front for so many years.”
She bit her lip. “Aye, I’m sure.” She sat down on the floor next to the mass of dogs, ruffling Lily’s ears and offering all three of them bits of jerky. “I’d rather him be here safe, than lose him on th’ field. He deserves better than that.”
Aely opened her bag and produced a large sack of jerky treats, a tattered cotton rope knot, and an exceptionally shaggy looking stuffed rabbit. “These are his things. He dinna need much, an’ I ken he’ll enjoy walkies wi’ Monk an’ Lily. An’ I’d like ta pay a little fir his room an’ board. I’ve six months or so here fir ye an’ Bryan, so ye dinna have ta feed him on yir own.”
“You don’t have to…”
“… yeh I do. He’s mine, an’ I ought ta do what I can fir him,” Aely interrupted. “Please, let me do at least this much.” Aely stood up. “An’ thank ye, both, fir doin’ this fir us.”
“Of course, I’m happy to help, you know that. And if the buzzboxes work on the other side of that foul portal, I’ll keep you up to date on how we’re all doing. Maybe Rog can even say hello.”
“Yeh, maybe. I’d like that.” She called Roger over. He sniffed at her hands, looking for more jerky. “No, Rog, no more jerky for now. Ye need to be a good dog, an’ mind Bess an’ Bryan okay? Dinna torment Monk either – share yir toys. I’ll send fir ye as soon as I can.” She wrapped her arms around his neck, and he leaned in against her, almost toppling her over backwards. “Oof, an’ be careful about yir leanin’, ye big oaf!” She laughed, wiping away tears.
“Okay, I’ve got ta go before I lose my nerve. Thank ye again, Bess. An’ Roger, I’ll be back fir ye as soon as I can.”
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