by Charles Matthias

It was musty inside the Deaf Mule, but it was always a bit musty there. The scent of ale and mead, coupled with candle wax, sweat, and fur was quite overpowering at times. Yet, that very scent gave the place the atmosphere that made it as successful as it was. Anybody could come here to unwind, to find friends, and to tell old tales over again.

Charles came in late in the day as he always did. Feeling quite satisfied with himself, he made his way over to the usual table and saw some of his friends there. Tallis and Nahum were sitting down and watching the pool game in progress. Michael was scratching the fur on the top of his head with one cream-colored paw, while Copernicus and another smaller figure watched on from the other side. It took Charles a moment to realize that it was Gornul, the bright blue dragonette that had come to live at the Keep.

"Hey, Charles, you are just in time! Copernicus is teaching Gornul how to play pool," Nahum announced chorlting, mostly at the distressed beaver who appeared to be losing.

The rat peered quizically at the two saurians. A sudden image of billiard balls falling the pockets, and a cavorting dragonette appeared in his mind. "Are you beating up on poor Michael?"

Copernicus laughed at that. "You can't beat a reptile!" Gornul hooted in agreement.

"Is he playing for you?" Charles asked Gornul as he took his seat.

"No, he shows me the shots he wants me to make and then I make them," Cope added, patting his scaly friend on the side. Gornul, perched atop the billiards table, looked quite pleased with the way the game was going.

"You could never tell though," Michael added in amazement. "He still has Cope's luck."

"Well of course," Cope replied proudly. "He has scales, you don't. It makes all the difference in the world."

There was a good bit of chortling, and Charles ate his meal while he watched the trio finish off their pool game. As expected, Gornul and Cope emerged victorious over the beleagered Michael. They all then took their seats, with Gornul standing on his hind legs in one chair at the table. "So, what have you been up to Charles?" Nahum asked after taking a quick drink from his mazer.

"Guild business. When Channing told me he was leaving the Keep, I didn't really know what to say. That took all morning just to get sorted out."

"I'd heard about that, is he leaving for good?" Tallis asked.

Charles shrugged. "The reverened wouldn't say."

"So who did you replace him with?" Copernicus asked as the bartender delivered him and Michael drinks.

"Habakkuk," Charles said before taking a quick drink. "He's a hard worker."

"He said you saddled him with almost all of the backlog," Nahum pointed out. "That will keep him busy for weeks."

Charles nodded after a moment's thought. He got a sudden image of himself and the kangaroo arguing bitterly, and then it was gone. Glancing over to the telepathic dragon, the rat grimaced. "Given current circumstances, neither Phil nor I have the time we used to. We needed somebody who could devote all their hours to it. Since he's recovering in a bed right now and doesn't have anything better to do, I figured he was ideal."

"One might think that you and he have some issues to settle," Tallis murmured quietly from his seat. The rat dipped his muzzle in the mazer, taking a long draught.

Charles's whiskers drooped, but the gaze he leveled at his fellow rodent was quite hostile. "I don't see how that is any of your business."

The silence that followed about the table was quite uneasy, as each of them seemed to prefer to drink their beer than look at each other. Finally Copernicus spoke in a slightly uncomfortable tone. "So, Michael, how go the Timber crews?"

"Fine, fine, we just got another recruit the other day. A moose. He's nice and all, and at least I'll stop being the new kid!" Michael replied a bit diffidently. However, not even that got the conversation going again.

Charles was staring at his wavering reflection in the yellow liquid beneath him, and finally realized the significanec of what he'd done. He looked over at Tallis and sighed. "Sorry aout that, I didn't mean to snap at you. I should probably go."

Nobody really said anything as Charles picked up his mug and walked away from his friends. He set the decanter down onto the bar, and tossed a few coins down. Donny came over and collected both, his glassy eyes staring over the rat. "You look troubled."

Charles nodded a moment, "The last few days have been a bit stressful for me. Wish I could stay and chat, but I should be on my way."

"Of course, have a pleasant evening." The bovine returned to his other customers, and Charles quickly made his way to the side door.

After shutting it behind him, the rat stood still in the early evening air. The sun was hovering above the western peaks, glinting off the snow topped summits. It was a breezy day, but warm. June had just begun, and with the weather patterns back to normal, things were beginning to warm up again. All the trees were growing back their summer foliage. Laracin himself was looking quite amazing now with his branches all filld out. So much was returning to life this season, including a few things Matthias wished had stayed dead.

He was interrupted in his thoughts by the image of a rat snapping out at others. Charles turned about and saw the dragonette Gronul sitting behind him on the cobblestones. "Gornul, I'm sorry about what I said, I didn't mean to frighten you."

The bright blue figure nuzzled at the rat's paws with his narrow head. Charles smiled a moment before turning back to his own affairs. Normally he would spend quite a bit of time at the Mule, so he wasn't sure what to do.

Then remembering that he still had to pick up his dresser, the rat set off towards the town past the gates. Scampering about his feet was the little dragonnette. He enjoyed the company Gornul gave him, and did not say anything when the fellow followed him into the carpenter's shop.

"It's not ready yet, Charles," a high pitched voice called out as the two of them came into the pine-scented enclave.

Charles stopped walking forward, his chest heaving in a sigh. "I suppose I should have known. When will your master be back?"

The girl stood up from behind the counter. "He doesn't tell me much about his comings and goings."

"Well, it seems like everybody is leaving these days. What about you, Samuel?"

The woman shook her head, her reddish skin flecked with sawdust. "Either that or showing up. Have you heard that the court ambassador has not yet returned?"

Charles nodded. "But that's nothing knew. Sciver always takes forever in his negotiations."

Samuel looked past the rat at the figure behind him. "Who's your friend?"

The rat gesturedto the dragonnette to step forward, and he did so. "Sam, meet Gornul, one of the newest Keepers."

Gornul bowed to the tall figure behind the counter, and she laughed at the reptile's antics. "It is nice to meet you Gornul."

"So what are you doing these days?" Charles asked. "I haven't seen you outside these walls in the last few months."

"Well, my master is having me do more of the work of late. Malcolm is just too busy with his own projects to handle the minor day to day things anymore."

Charles leaned against the counter, tapping it idly with one claw. Gornul jumped up beside him, perching like an inquisitive cat might. "What are you working on now?"

"Oh," she blushed, "nothing important."

Gornul peered over the other side of the counter, and Charles got a quick flash of what looked to be a bust of a man's face. Samuel gave the dragonnette a startled look, but laughed quietly. "That's quite a talent you have there!"

Charles laughed, patting the friendly creature on the head. "It's the only way he can communicate. And I hope he feels about you as you do about him." Matthias pointed behind the counter as he said it, his whiskers wiggling.

"Thank you," she whispered beneath her breath.

After saying his goodbyes to Samuel, the rat and dragon left the carpenter's shop and walked along the road. Charles contemplated where to head to next, but was not quite sure. When he saw the library appear as if from nowhere behind two buildings, he decided to check up on his friend Fox Cutter.

Gornul followed him into the densely packed room. Shelves stood behind the front desk where the reynard was busy scribbling down notes to himself. He looked up abruptly as the door swung shut behind the rat. "Ah, Charles! Good to see you so late in the day. What can I do for you?"

"Oh, nothing really, I was just stopping by to see how things were going," Charles leaned against the table, glancing down at his friend.

"Nahum came by a few momnets ago. He said you were in a bit of a bad mood."

"He did, did he?" the rat replied a bit defensively.

Fox Cutter glanced up at Charles, his eyes passive. "Yes he did. Do you need to talk about it?"

Matthias shook his head. "No, it's nothing you need to worry about."

"Are you sure?" Fox crossed his paws, rhythmically tapping the table with one claw. "Ever since we had our little chat, strange things have been happening, and they all center around you. Loriod takes the only books we have on the southern continent, and then burns them. Chris gets into a terrible fight with a fanatic Follower noble. Suddenly, you nearly kill the Duke, and are just as suddenly whisked off on some bizarre adventure. Now, rumor has it that you and that new fellow, Rick or something, had a rather interesting first meeting, you've turned against Habakkuk, and have broken your dresser again. Do you deny any of that?"

"I had nothing to do with Chris being hurt by that nut," Charles insisted hotly. "And I don't care for the tone of your other implications."

"Look, I only know what you told me. I just don't want you or anybody else getting hurt."

Charles nodded to the reynard. "Fine. Thank you for your concern." He was about to turn about and march off, but the dragon flashed the rat an image of him snapping at Tallis again. Grimacing, Matthias turned about again and looked back to Fox. "I'm sorry for that. I guess I am under a lot of stress. Maybe I need to just get away from this place for a while."

"Maybe," Fox agreed. "Maybe that is exactly what you need."

"Sleep well my friend, I shall see you another time." Charles then patted the fox on the shoulder, and left, disgusted with himself for letting his frustratons control him so easily. He felt like a neophyte Sondeckis all over again. He'd learned to control that so long ago, yet he was letting them come back to the surface again.

Charles turned to the smallish reptile about his ankles. "Well, I did it again. I hope you never have to see something like that from anyone else. I should go to bed now."

The dragonnette sadly nodded, looking wistfully at the yonder castle. Charles trundled along, happy to have the companonship as he made his way back towards his home. It was a long walk, conducted in silence. Gornul did not speak because he could not. The rat did not speak because he choose not.

However, just as he was passing through the ivy covered doors, he ran into a figure that he rarely saw above ground. "Sir Saulius?" Charles asked in a bit of surprise.

"Hail, Sir Matthias! Mine eyes dost spot a venerable vermin and thus endeth mine own quest! Verily, I sayeth unto thee, thou thyself art the goal of mine endeavors!" the rat finished with a flourish of his paws, waving his miniature sword into the air, and setting it back down onto the stonewrok with a proud expression on his face, the finely trimmed whiskers wiggling in self-satisfaction.

"Hail indeed, Sir Saulius!" Charles greeted in the infectious lilt. Gornul skipped up in delight at the knight rat.

"Ah, and who wouldst thy companion be?"

"His name be Gornul, a dragonette is he."

Saulius leaned down and patted the bright blue figure upon the brow, "Charming fellow art thou!" the rat declared, and though Charles did not see it, he knew that a warm image was put into the knight's mind.

"Whyfor was I the object of thy quest?" Charles asked his fellow rodent.

Saulius stood back to his full height and proudly placed his paw upon his chest. "It was mine desire to inform thee that I wouldst participate with all the other brave lords and ladies in the upcoming tourney. I willst take to horse and joust!"

Charles found himself grinning from ear to ear and patting his friend upon the shoulder. "That's wonderful! I'm glad to hear it. You are certainly going to surprise a lot of people." Matthias did not even realize he had slipped back into his normal tongue.

Saulius bowed graciously, "Thank ye, Sir Matthias!"

"I have to get to bed now, I'm glad to have that bit of good news before I retire."

"Then may thine rest rejuvinate thy bones and spirits," Saulius crowed. "I shall see thee in the morn!"

"Good night, Sir Saulius," Charles waved as he continued on his way, and the other rat headed for the cellar. Still smiling from the pronouncement, Matthias failed to notice that Gornul was still with him till he'd reached his door.

"Gornul?" Charles asked apprehensively, the fact that the dragonnette had been his companion since leaving the Deaf Mule finally dawning upon him. "Is anything wrong?"

Gornul shook his draconian head, the bright irises piercing the rat's heart. The image of an otter shouting flashed through his mind, and suddenly he understood what the dragonette had experienced. "Oren yell at you?"

Gornul nodded sadly. Charles leaned down and looked his friend in the eye. "Well, if I can't make up with my own friends today, perhaps I can help you make up with yours. Would you mind if we went to Oren's place?"

The bright blue figure nuzzled Charles's paw gently with the side of his head, almost like a cat might. The rat grinned, and stood back up. "Let us go then, it is not far."

It only took the two of them a few minutes to make their way to the otter's room. Gornul romped a bit ahead of Charles as they went, his demeanor at times friendly, and then at other times he seemed very sad. Matthias had never seen a dragon mope before!

When Oren answered the door, he had at first smiled, but upon seeing the dragon hiding behind Charles's legs, his face fell. "What do you want?"

"I was hoping I could help you two sort out whatever problems you had. Gornul seemes really upset about whatever it was that made you yell at him."

Oren stepped away from his door and sighed. "Come in if you want."

Charles and the dragonette entered the little abode that the Keep had provided, with the still mostly empty shelves of books as well as the small pond off to one side. They both took a seat on the small fur rug that Oren had acquirred in his time here.

"Why did you yell at him?" Charles asked as he curled his tail up around his paws.

Oren sighed, shaking his had, and looking at his friends a bit sadly. "Because he just won't have any confidence in himself! He always comes up with an excuse. I just couldn't hold my tongue anymore."

Charles looked at Gornul, who was hanging his head in shame. The rat could see an image of a dragonette bringing disappointment to everybody. "That's not true at all," Charles countered. The bright blue figure did not seem to notice, still looking down at the ground.

"I've tried to tell him that, but he just won't listen!" Oren said in exasperation.

Charles nodded to the otter, but kept his attention on his little friend. "Gornul, do you remember how you played pool with Cope today? Do you remembe rhow much fun everybody had, because you were there?" The little dragonette nodded. "That's what Oren's been trying to tell you. You don't bring sadness to others, you bring joy! You certainly have for me."

The rat saw an image of himself and Gornul hugging. The dragonette then walked over to Oren, sending the otter another image that caused the look of frustration on the mustelines face to melt.

"I'm sorry I shouted at you," Oren admitted, coming over to sit next to his companion. "You've been there for me, and I wasn't there for you."

Gornul nodded after a moment, his tongue darting out to lick Oren's palm. The otter's whiskers twitched, and then the two of them collapsed together in a hug. Charles sat back, watching, feeling a bit of their joy in his won heart and mind. He stood up quietly, leaving the two friends together, and made his way towards the door. Just as he was about to leave, he took a brief look back, Gornul was smiling a draconian smile, and a brief image of Gornul and the rat about the pool table came to mind. Chuckling lightly, Charles nodded, and then shut the door behind him.