Chapter Two - Chicken Business
This is Chapter Two in Mederei's story. Chapter One introduced the characters.
It was like every other dead end town in every other part of the Forty Isles. The same people probably lived there as well - the poor, the lost and those running away from whatever chased them. Of course, there were those who claimed to love their town. Those who wanted to see it grow into something better; those who fought tooth and nail to keep it the same. Those who loved the peace and solitude coming from small town life.
How could anyone choose to live in this hot part of Caergwlân when the main island was - for the most part - a lush, verdant land of wealth and beauty? Surely the ones who lived on this island had lost their minds.
Ramses pushed open the door to the doctor's office. It was a normal office of one who practiced medicinal herbs. There was a waiting area and two examining rooms between the entrance and surgery. A locked cabinet indicated the location of the powerful herbs, while a glass cabinet held most of the medicine.
Doctors in the Forty Isles had magic, but most depended upon medicinal herbs and other knowledge to heal. Adding a little bit of magic to a poultice or a syrup took less energy out of them than healing someone. Normally, healing was a last resort.
Several books on the shelf were dedicated to local diseases such has heat stroke, scorpion stings and poisonous plants. A large number of books focused on blindness in children, sources and recovery. One book focused on natural means of healing.
"Find anything?" Hugh asked, stepping into the hallway separating the surgery area from the four rooms in the center.
"Just the library. Blindness has more books here than anything else ... Well, normal ones."
Hugh looked at the books. "Strange, especially these two here. They're from one of the kingdoms on the far side of the world."
"You speak those languages?"
"It was considered part of my upbringing to learn at least one other language beyond the Forty Isles. I'm not fluent, but I know those words. It's one of their medicinal books." Hugh straightened. "They don't have magic in that kingdom, so all their healing is connected to knowledge and experience. It's nothing like ours and involves a great deal more cutting and sewing."
Ramses, who had an aversion to sharp objects, rolled his shoulders.
Hugh glanced over. "Just don't get sick there, should we ever visit." He stopped talking to cough. "That smell is horrible."
"The sulfur. I ignored it earlier, but now it's overwhelming. It's like there's a sulfur springs nearby."
Back outside in the heat, Hugh fanned himself. "How are you not affected by this?"
"Earth mages, like fire mages are unaffected by heat. Cold bothers me, though, but heat feels good. Besides, I'm from a land that is hot. This is normal." Ramses cocked his head. "What do you make of those books on blindness?"
"Probably someone here is blind, but I wouldn't know why there's so many books. Healer's magic would eliminate it."
"What if it doesn't work?"
"What do you mean it doesn't work?"
"What I said - they tried it and it didn't work. Healing magic doesn't work on Luna and her siblings. Maybe there are others like them."
"The odds of that, though."
The wooden sidewalk creaked under their weight. As they walked towards the center of the town, the sound of people could be heard. Turning a corner, they ran into the back of a line of people. Many fanned themselves from the heat; children kicked at the dirt; all had expressions set in dutiful horror.
"What do you think happened?" Hugh whispered.
Ahead of them, Luna waved the paper she held in front of her and sighed as well. She looked down the line of people, and fanned herself with the job offer. Both she and Mederei were talking, but the topic was unclear until Hugh and Ramses approached.
Luna stopped waving the pamphlet. “Where are the boys, anyway? I should call them.”
“Ah-ah, you know the rules …”
Luna snorted. “If I cannot be called a woman unless I'm unmarried at twenty-five, then I refuse to call them men, even if they are legally adults now at eighteen.”
"And what would you do if they find out you call them ‘boys’ still? Ramses’ earth mage skills are bad enough, but you know what they say about sleeping dragons.”
“I can handle Hugh.”
“Hand me what?”
Both girls spun around to find the topic of their conversation standing behind them. Hugh rolled his shoulders. “What are you two complaining about, anyway?” Hugh inquired. "We found the people by the way. They're all lined up for some reason."
Luna nodded to the line of people. "It's lunchtime, according to the ones we've spoken with. There was a girl here who was blind, but she can see now thanks to the card mage."
"Which begs the question why he chose to help her," Mederei murmured more to herself than anyone. For as long as he had known her, Mederei had always thought out loud especially on missions. It may have come from being in such a large family where someone was almost always nearby to answer.
Hugh shrugged as they moved forward, the conversations behind them fell silent. He said something to Mederei in the language they used for private conversations. It wasn't the demidrake language, but another one indigenous to the island, but long forgotten. Not even Luna, who knew several dead languages, knew this tongue. Most likely they discussed Gwion matters for whenever the Gwion were involved, the language arose.
Mederei, however, chose to answer in the common tongue. “It protects me from magic and from physical attacks, but it cannot act as an air coolant when it’s hot enough to fry eggs.”
“It’s not that hot,” Hugh placated in the common tongue as well. “That’s a story people in places like this tell unsuspecting tourists like you.”
Mederei crossed her arms. “Then why is there a man frying eggs without a lick of fire on the street behind you?”
Hugh and Ramses turned to follow the finger Mederei point. Behind them to where an older man sat on the ground with a sheet of metal in front of him, covered in fried eggs
“There is a man frying eggs on the street,” Hugh whispered. “I thought it was a story?”
"It is a story," Luna insisted. "It can't be that hot."
“Apparently this part of Caergwlân doesn’t understand hyperbole.” Ramses tapped the man’s shoulder. “Pardon me, Sir; why are you doing that?”
The old man looked up. “Lunch.” He motioned to the people in front of him. “All of our lunches.”
Mederei snorted. "I told you they were in line for lunch." She looked down her nose at the uninspired meal. "However, I would have considered something besides hot eggs."
Egg Man leaned forward to look between Hugh and Ramses. “And just what else are we supposed to eat? The chickens lay eggs at all times; it’s worse in the heat, but if we don’t eat them then they go bad.” He pointed his flipper at Mederei. “Do you know what rotten eggs smell like?”
“Actually, I do. My brothers' have thrown them at me before.”
The man lowered his flipper. “I’m sorry for your childhood.”
"Don't be," Hugh said. "She probably deserved it; or if not, they received their comeuppance in due time."
Luna leaned over. “Did they really?”
“It was the closest thing on hand,” Mederei whispered back. “I was throwing mashed potatoes.”
Ramses and Hugh looked over their shoulders and shook their heads. Hugh, having grown-up with Mederei ignored the story whereas Ramses couldn't. “Why?”
Mederei shrugged. “They were making fun of me.” Mederei took the paper Luna used to fan herself, and stepped in front of the egg man. “Have you seen this man around here? Goes by the name Monyyak.”
Egg Man looked up then spit in the dirt beside him. “Yeah; I’d like to fry him up too.”
Behind him several loud complaints concerning the man could be heard, but not distinguished.
“Oh?” Mederei folded the paper back up and sent it back to Luna with a flick of her wrist. “Why?”
“He spoiled the town, and made the chickens lay twice their normal amount.” He flipped the eggs. “I’m sick of fried eggs, but what can you do?”
It was a rhetorical question, but Mederei couldn't let a question go unanswered. “Boil them? Scramble them? Oh, I know, make a quiche with extra cheese and onions. I've heard eggshells are good for the soil. You could decorate them. Blow the yolk out. Maybe make a cold noodle soup. Hugh, what's that soup they serve in the capital. The one with ice and ..."
"Not the time, Medi." Hugh put a hand over Mederei’s mouth to silence her.
Egg Man stood up. One of the other men in the town took the flipper to work while Egg Man studied Mederei. “He was hear about two days ago when we decided we were through with his robbing us blind. If you can have him take the curses he put on us, off, we’d appreciate it.”
"We're not allowed to take jobs unless they come through official guild channels," Mederei stalled. "It could take a couple days for that to happen."
Ramses poked Mederei in the side, causing her to step to the side. "How about this," Ramses began, "we handle your job here in exchange for information?"
“Fair enough trade,” Egg man agreed.
“What were the curses?”
“He made it hot, and he made the chicken lay twice their normal amount.”
“I’ll handle the heat if you handle the chickens,” Luna said to Mederei.
Mederei eyed one of the plump black and red chickens squatting in the middle of the street. “Can I cook them?”
The chicken squawked at Mederei who glared at it in return.
Egg Man laughed. “We need the chickens, just not with as many eggs.”
Refusing to look away from the chicken, Mederei continued, “Can’t you sell them? Make more money?”
Egg Man pushed his hat back. “Now that you mention it, we never considered the possibility of making money off this.” Sticking two fingers in his mouth, he whistled. Several men came running forward. He waited until all had arrived before thumbing at them and himself. “I’m the mayor of the town and they are the town council. Our people have been complaining about the eggs, but if we were to sell them?"
The seven members of the council looked at each other then began talking rapidly in their odd dialect. It was a mixture of standard Caergwlânian plus the odd inflections of the language indigenous to the region.
Finally, one of the members looked at the mayor. "How do we keep them fresh?”
“You’ll need someplace cold for that,” Ramses said. “Someplace underground, but doing that happens to be my specialty. Just point me in the right direction." He flexed his fingers and toes getting a feel for the earth beneath. It was hard and dry on the surface, but below, and not very far, was a solid layer of rock and water - perfect for climate control.
"What can you do?" One of the other men inquired.
“I'm an earth mage, and can build you most anything underground.”
“How about here?” Egg Man motioned around them. “Can you manage to build us a tunnel to the ocean five kilometers away? That way we could send them underground. We'd also need several cool storage areas.”
“Now she’s done it,” Luna muttered, leaving the others to deal with the mayor’s plans.
“Now I’ve done what?” Mederei grumbled. “Geez, just because I’m hungry, and rather have chicken than eggs.” She snapped her fingers. “Say, can you allow some of the eggs to hatch and start a chicken food place?”
“Like a restaurant?”
“Store, plant, whatever. Make the town a guild and enter into one of the other guilds - chefs or something.”
The mayor scratched his head. “I like that. Merchant guilds are a pain, and expect too high of a price. The chef guild is more reasonable.” Egg Man rose. He handed the flipper to another person as he stood beside Mederei. “Say, what are your friends doing?”
Behind Mederei, Hugh and Ramses walked away from the mayor and his eggs towards the edge of town. Ramses walked ahead while Hugh walked a couple lengths behind. As he walked, Hugh stretched his arms over his head then behind his back as his stride lengthened. Within a few more steps he was on all fours as his body lengthened and thickened.
Two leathery wings flapped slowly, kicking up a wind as they moved. Ahead of Hugh, Ramses started to run and in three bounds, using the earth as his support, he leapt into the sky where Hugh caught him on his back. Together, they soared skyward.
The town ahhed at the sight. Better than to run in fear, since dragons were probably a rarity in the area. Not that there weren't dragons around the world, but in this part of Caergwlân, dragons were unusual.
I can smell the sea from here, how fast do I need to go? Like all dragons, Hugh could communicate telepathically through touch, though with other dragons, he didn't have to touch. How much dragon blood an individual needed to communicate was unknown, though, Mederei's very limited amount seemed enough.
"Normal speed," Ramses answered. He stretched his hands before him and began carving the line. "Out to the sea, and back. I'll carve then cover."
The action could have been finished at the same time, but this allowed them to see what was happening in the earth below. Thankfully, there were no fissures or other issues which could cause problems. One of the hard parts about magic was knowing when to stop. Too little was almost as bad as too much.
At the edge of the island, Hugh banked around and hovered a moment looking at the gulley formed. Aren't you going to make it more finished?
"No, I'll leave that to them to finish off," Hugh answered. "It'll make it their own then."
On the way back, Ramses covered the top of the gully, forming a roof over the space. It would be enough to do whatever they wanted.
Back at the town, the people all stared at the sky. Luna and Mederei sat fanning themselves while they chatted with some of the locals. The only sound was the rhythmic beating of leathery wings as Hugh and Ramses descended.
"All sorted," Ramses assured. "I gave you the basic structure, including a way down." The earth opened beside them with a ramp leading below. “Goes right into the sea, but you might have to be concerned about high tide. You'll have to finish it all off, sort the rooms, lay tracks, make the entrance more to your liking, but you have the groundwork laid out."
“Not to mention it will be a great way of escaping should bandits roll through,” Hugh added.
Egg Man whistled. "Didn't know there were still dragons in the territory."
Mederei shook her head. "And the giant black dragon crawling up Hugh's back with the word hunter under it doesn't give it away?"
"We hear stories of humans who can turn into dragons, but never thought they were real." Egg Man nodded to the East. “That man you want left two days ago for Amaite, a port town at the other end of the island. You know it?”
“Yeah,” Mederei muttered, wiping off some of the sweat. “We know the place; it’s where we landed." To Luna, she muttered, "We should have just remained there.”
“Ah, but look at all the wonderful places we’ve been able to visit, and the interesting people we've met. Now you can say you've been to a place where it's hot enough to fry eggs.”
Hugh stepped to the side as a child pressed closer to him. “What do you want?”
“Are you really a dragon or are you a wizard who dresses as a dragon?”
“Wizards can’t do what I can do, kiddo.”
“Wow,” the child answered. “I’m going to be a dragon when I grow up.”
Beside him, his friend snorted. “You have to be born a dragon to be a dragon.”
The boy glared at him. “I’ll figure out a way.”
“We found the place. It’s the port where we landed,” Mederei informed the other two. “We might as well go on. You want to fly or walk?”
Hugh shrugged. “Flying’s quicker.” He nodded to the town, and started walking away.
“Thank you for the help,” Mederei said to those around her as she bowed slightly. “We appreciate it.”
“Thanks to you, our town doesn’t have to worry about excess eggs anymore,” Egg Man answered. He pulled out a small pouch and handed it to Mederei who dropped it into the bag she carried on her back. “It isn’t much, but will get you something to eat.”
The ground rose beneath her and she turned to jump onto Hugh’s back along with the other two.
“They’re so cool!” The boy yelled. “I’m going to be a mage.”
“You don’t have any magic.”
“Then I’ll learn some.”
“Then you’d be a wizard. Mages have magic naturally, and wizards have to learn magic, and wizards don’t join mage guilds.”
“Then why were those two girls in the guild? They aren’t mages. Didn’t you see the wands they used? If they can be in a mage guild, I can be. Don’t want to go to a wizard school.”
Above the earth, Hugh flapped his wings and banked right towards the port town. “This guy is becoming a pain in my arse,” Ramses muttered to the girls.
“Completely. We’ll catch him, though,” Luna promised. “Mederei’s ticked.”
Between them, Mederei clenched her grumbling stomach. “I’m hungry. All that talk about eggs and chicken made me hungry.”