Chapter 9: Horse Thieves

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Ailbhe and Iain looked at one another. “Okay, but who are you? And second, there’s the matter of a horse. If you haven’t noticed, sir, neither of us have one,” the now healer said.

“I am the ranger Arth and I’ve just come from the village of Shropshur where your berserker is ravaging. And the second is problem easily remedied,” the man said. He turned in his saddle and whistled towards the trees. All was silent for nearly a minute before something crashed through the underbrush towards them.

Ailbhe grabbed at her sword and Iain at the spear strapped to his back as the bushes before them shook.

A large, black stallion emerged and stepped out onto the track. Miraculously it wore a bridle, though no saddle. It snorted and pawed at the earth before thrusting it’s snout against Iain’s chest, much to the former berserker’s dismay.

The mounted man watched with amusement. “You do not seem acquainted with horses and yet you are a paladin.”

Iain glared. “I’m not a-” he was stopped mid sentence by an elbow to the side.
“What Iain is trying to say is that he has not been a paladin for long,” Ailbhe said. She took hold of the stallion’s bridle and gently pulled its head towards herself, whispering to it.

“An honorable job choice, sir,” the man said.

“It wasn’t exactly a choice,” Iain muttered.

Ailbhe swung herself up onto the stallion and offered a hand down to Iain. He took it and used it to help pull himself up behind Ailbhe.

Arth swung his horse around. “I suppose there is an interesting story behind that statement, but now we must ride.” He spurred his horse and took off back down the track.

Ailbhe followed with Iain bouncing along behind her. “I hate horses,” he muttered as he clung tightly to her waist.

They rode for a few minutes before she asked. “Where do you suppose he got this one?”

“What do you mean?” Iain asked. “Maybe it was wild or something.”

“I hate to break this to you, but horses don’t come with bridles, or trained to take riders,” she said.

“I knew that,” he muttered.

“So,” she said, ignoring him, “We’re still left with the question of where this horse came from.”

“Since when have you ever cared where something we needed came from?” he asked. “I swear you’re acting more like a paladin now that you’re a healer.”

Ailbhe grunted. “I just don’t want whoever’s horse got stolen coming after us,” she said. “I don’t know if we could take them right now.”

Iain grunted. They rode in silence and soon Arth’s horse slowed its pace. The ranger looked around, twisting in his saddle.

“What’s going on?” Ailbhe asked.

Arth swung his horse around. “There’s something in the woods. Can you not feel it, paladin?”

“Er, sure I do,” Iain said. He whispered in Ailbhe’s ear, “What am I supposed to be feeling?” He held on tighter as the horse they sat on flattened its ears against its skull, and sidled up away from the direction which the Ranger looked.

“Judging from our horse’s reaction, it’s probably a demon,” she murmured.

Arth nodded. “Ride quickly. Even with a paladin, I should not want to fight with a demon.” He spurred his horse forward again and Ailbhe followed suit.

They rode for another ten minutes before they came to a village. A gaping hole marred the wall surrounding it.

“That was not there when I left,” the ranger mumbled as they approached the gates.

Inside was worse, with whole buildings collapsed and others in flames. Even with such destruction, it seemed none of the residents were too grievously injured. Several were forming a fire line to try to put out the blaze.

“What happened here?” Ailbhe asked.

“This is all the work of your companion, Ciardhe the Berserker,” the ranger said.

“She’s not a ‘serk,” Iain said. “Well I mean I guess she is now, but she’s not supposed to be.”

Arth gave him a hard look. “Then what is she ‘supposed’ to be.”

“A healer,” Ailbhe said as her fingers brushed the hilt of her sword. “I’m supposed to be a paladin, and this is supposed to be your berserker.” She put an arm around Iain’s shoulder and ignored the death glare he gave her. “It’s my fault we’re like this. I was in a fight with hellspawn and well,” she shrugged.

“Demon sorcery! I should have known,” he said. “That certainly explains the way she was acting.”

Iain slithered off the horse and looked around. A few women moved quickly from one building to the next. He approached them. “Where’s Ciardhe?”

“We’re sorry, good paladin, but you have arrived too late. Ciardhe left when she had finished raping and pillaging.”

“Well damn,” Ailbhe murmured, “She might be the worst healer in the history of existence, but she’s a better ‘serk than Iain.”

“And the horse you road in on, Ailbhe,” Iain growled as he stalked back. “You’re the worst paladin ever and I don’t know how you keep your job.”

“I didn’t mean it that way, Iain, and you know it.” She turned in her saddle and offered him her hand. He ignored it. She shrugged. “Which way did she go?”

Arth pointed to a hole in the wall. “That was not there when I left.”

“Great, let’s go,” she said and turned the horse.

They continued in silence for several miles before Iain let Ailbhe pull him up. Afterwards they sped up and cantered through the forest, following the distinctive trail. Ciadhe hadn’t run through the forest so much a bulldozed her way through it.

“I wonder if hellspawn is still with her,” Ailbhe muttered.

“Of course it is,” Iain said from behind her. “She might be a ‘serk, but there’s no way in heck she could do this all on her own.”

“Great,” she said. “Just great.”

They rode a while longer before the woods opened up into farmland and the trail abruptly ended. It looked like Ciardhe had changed tactics. That did not, however, explain the angry mob that stood in their path.

One of the men pointed at them and yelled, “That’s it! That’s my horse!”

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