Chapter 5: Reunited

Chapter 5: Reunited

Sweating profusely, exhausted and thrilled, Boudreaux and Arden sheathed their weapons and locked their calloused hands together with an audible smack.

“Good show, my friend!” enthused Arden. “I haven’t had that much fun in a long time. We must do this again, and often.”

“Anytime, anywhere,” panted Boudreaux, grinning his broad toothy grin.

The children watching them were gone now.

Approaching the Dancing Deer, with lunch on their minds, they spotted Gnome and X’andria ambling slowly toward them from the opposite direction.

“How was the bridge?” shouted Arden through cupped hands.

Looking up from what seemed to be an intense conversation, X’andria waved enthusiastically and shouted back, “It was amazing! You have to go see it!”

Closer together now, Gnome added mischievously, “Yeah, you two could spar out on the bridge, see who falls in first.”

Both Boudreaux and Arden privately considered this suggestion far more seriously than Gnome intended.

They entered the Dancing Deer together.

The inn was filled with people, all of whom bizarrely seemed to be expecting them. At their arrival, the dense crowd clapped loudly, cheering and smiling. The four friends surveyed the scene, flummoxed.

“Helga! My gods, it’s you!” shouted Boudreaux ecstatically through the din.

Knocking over a table, two chairs, and very nearly several people, Boudreaux raced forward to embrace the squealing girl in a slippery, smelly hug.

“I can’t believe it. I am so glad you got out. Oh my gods, it’s so amazing!” he blathered. And the two of them fell to excited chatter.

Rowena stepped forward from the gaggle. Arden, tears mixing with sweat on his cheeks, could hardly believe his eyes.

A thin boy named Joseph raced over to Gnome. “It’s you!” he cried, “I can’t believe it’s really you. I wasn’t sure if I just dreamed you up, or if you really existed.”

“Oh, I exist,” Gnome replied bluntly, then—remembering Joseph’s struggling gait to keep up with all the other fleeing prisoners in the goblin lair—he sweetened his reply, “And I’m sure glad you still exist, too, young man.”

“I’ll go get Ohlen and Ruprecht; they need to be here,” whispered X’andria in Gnome’s ear, and she vanished into the bustle.

“Ale!” Boudreaux was shouting, larger than life, when Ohlen, Ruprecht, and X’andria came back down the stairs.

A warm and raucous reunion commenced. While all parties did not know each other well, they had experienced a lifetime of terror and triumph together. The Westoveran prisoners had gotten out. They had made it to Bridgeton alive. Rowena had alerted the village elders to the tragedy of Westover and to the looming threat beyond. So when the starved and exhausted prisoners straggled into town, families had opened their doors, fed them, bathed them, and gave them shelter.

The children who had seen Boudreaux and Arden sparring in the field north of town had told their parents, and word spread quickly that the heroes had arrived.

“Ruprecht?” Rowena ventured, cautiously approaching the lone, cloaked figure sitting silently away from the group. He turned and regarded her as though looking across a wide expanse.

“It’s me. Rowena, remember? You saved my life.”

And something inside Ruprecht broke. He began to cry. They hugged each other for a long time. Rowena cried, too. Locked in that embrace, sobbing and swaying, they felt each other’s warmth and life.

Boudreaux and Helga talked long into the night. Gnome was the first to notice that Mathilde now regarded Boudreaux with a whole new level of interest, and took special pains to refill his horn of ale whenever he needed it. And sometimes even when he didn’t. Late in the evening, Boudreaux finally suggested to Helga that it was past his bedtime. He disappeared up the stairs, as did Mathilde, and neither was seen again until the following day.

Several blissful days passed in Bridgeton. There was much celebrating punctuated by a lot of work. The elders asked about the goblins in exhaustive detail. Their main concern, of course, was to know if they should expect resurgence. Ohlen and Gnome agreed that it was best to keep details about the demon statue and portal, if that is what it was, secret for now. But they freely described the location of the goblin lair, the complex of tunnels, the dwarf palace, and the enormous tentacular worm.

“We killed everything we saw,” growled Boudreaux ominously at one point in the discussions, “but if I were you I would take more fighters than you think you’ll need just in case any of the slimy bastards escaped our notice. Plus,” he added wryly, “you’ll need all the able bodies you can muster to haul back the loot we left behind.”Boudreaux scanned the eager faces before him, feeling satisfied with himself.

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