Goom, Murt, and Fewla went back to their game, but it took several more drinks before Goom could get Gilda's story out of his mind.
The next morning, Goom awoke to a pounding headache - no surprise there. Gilda was stirring up a bland pot of boiled oats.
The next morning, Goom awoke to a pounding headache - no surprise there. Gilda was stirring up a bland pot of boiled oats. She must have had to tear open thirty of those little packets to fill the giant pot. The intoxicating scent of warm water and mediocrity filled the tiny home.
They choked down some tasteless lumps, said their goodbyes, and that was the end of Gilda's limited involvement in their adventure.
Gellring was in the opposite direction of Viaria, and Fewla also took the opportunity to say goodbye to her friends. She had extended family in all the clans of fauns across Fairyland.
With a genuine smile, she promised that she would stop by whenever she was visiting the Woodland Fauns. She waved and took off down the road with clacking hooves that echoed through the woods.
It sounded like a team of Jehovah's Witnesses in a door store.
The morning fog had already burned off by the time they left.
Gingerly, they made their way for Gellring which was still a journey of a few hours - several hours if you were shuffling along with a hangover.
Goom didn't remember much about the night before, but he remembered the conversation about his father. He felt strange in a way that he couldn't attribute to the mead.
They were all recovering from the night before, and even Dennis was silent, so they had plenty of time for reflection and contemplation.
The walked for some time, and as they neared Gellring, they smelled smoke in the air. The smell of smoke was normal in a world without central heating, but it hung unusually thick in the air.
The hanging sheet of smoke grew darker and darker as they approached Gellring,
The hanging sheet of smoke grew darker and darker as they approached Gellring, and burning embers came into view before they could see the smoldering remains of what had once been homes to the dwarves of the Gellring Foothills.
Goom didn't need to ask anyone what had happened - clearly this was the work of Sil-kuru.
Dwarves are a hard-working and cooperative people, and their swift action had stopped the fires from destroying the entire village.
Dwarves are a hard-working and cooperative people, and their swift action had stopped the fires from destroying the entire village. Still, eight families were without their homes and belongings.
It was a miracle that only one life was lost.
Goom, Murt, and Dennis approached the weeping mother. She was on her knees in front of a house-sized pile of ash and sizzling wood.
Murt recognized her as Tira, a baker in the village and a mother to a throng of young, screaming dwarflets.
Her back was turned to the trio, but they could see that she was cradling something in her arms. They stoically approached the grieving woman.
Goom fell to a knee and placed his hand on her shoulder. He could see that her face was covered with ash everywhere save the clean lines that ran from her eyes down to her cheeks and chin.
"I'm sorry, Tira. This is my fault," Goom said at last.
Tira sniffled, "Peep was such a good boy." Fresh tears came flooding down her face once more. Goom was amazed that she hadn't already collapsed from dehydration.
"How old was he?" Goom asked cautiously.
"He- he- he was going to be nineteen this winter," she responded.
"Nineteen?" Goom asked with surprise.
"And now look at him!" she held her dead raven up to Goom. He looked like a little Cornish Game Hen that someone dropped in a pile of black feathers.
His head had remained relatively unharmed by the flames, and his little face looked serene. His little drumsticks looked delicious, but Goom didn't say so.
"Peep!" Dennis yelled, and came running over toward Goom and Tira. "Ah, nah! Not Peep." He put his arm around the dwarf woman, and they cried together.
"Damn you gods!" Dennis wiped his nose and screamed to the heavens.
It was terribly sad that the jarring squawks of Peep would be heard no more, but Goom thought they were lucky to have avoided more loss of life.
The real tragedy was that Tira had lost her bakery, and the dwarves had lost their only source of gluten-free bread.
A guilt-stricken Goom got to work helping the other villagers clean the rubble and begin the long process of rebuilding. Dennis and Murt pitched in as well.
They shared Goom's burden, but he took it hardest.
They shared Goom's burden, but he took it hardest. He took his anger into the forest and felled a good many trees, hacking away like the big kid who'd waited patiently for his crack at the pinata.
Others sought stones that could be shaped as needed. Moving the large stones was much more cumbersome than chopping trees, but it was true that the stones were much less flammable.
The sky was just beginning to darken toward twilight when Goom heard the sound of approaching riders. He turned away from his work and looked in the direction of the sound.
It was the distinct sound of horse hooves on dirt, but there were several horses, and Goom could hear something unsettling in the cadence of their hoof strikes.
The trees of the forest were quite bare; only the most stubborn leaves held on to their branches.
Goom gazed down the dirt road between the barren stands of trees, and slowly, dark silhouettes began to take shape in the hanging smoke.
He took a broad axe into his hands and yelled for Murt. His brother came to his side, staring out toward the riders.
Five dark figures approached.
"Oh no!" yelled Dennis. "I thought the Ulimni woulda left us along after you gave back those strings."
"It's not Ulimni," Goom said.
Out of the smoke, Sil-kuru emerged atop his six-legged steed. In one hand he held the reins, in the other, a long, curved blade.
Out of the smoke, Sil-kuru emerged atop his six-legged steed. In one hand he held the reins, in the other, a long, curved blade. Fewla was tied up and laying in front of him.