First Fireside Chat

by Charles Matthias

Metamor Keep: First Fireside Chat

by Charles Matthias

Evening June 30, 708 CR

Dinner was an hour past but the once delectable but now tolerable scent of cooked sausages still filled the evening air about their camp. While the annual levies relaxed about the fire chatting amiably with Maud and Jessica, Dallar the ram tread through the surrounding woods, quiet and focused. His hooves found the spaces between twigs and leaves where the soft moss would support him without betrayal, while the rest of him avoided low branches and bushes without thought.

Their first day on patrol had been peaceful with the only excitement what they made for themselves. His men, the soldiers who'd once served as the late Ambassador Yonson's honor guard before accepting commissions as soldiers in the Metamor army, had performed capably as Dallar had come to expect. The ram had once been their gaoler and had seen each of them at their worst. He trusted them without reservation and they trusted him as their Captain. Even Jessica, wife of Weyden and mage who had been in distant lands during their internment had become an integral part of their unit none of them could imagine being without.

But the levies were always a different story, each of them unique with lives of their own they all expected to return to when the patrol was at its end. For most levies this was true. They would serve, see the lands and people about Metamor they might never otherwise glimpse or meet, and then return to the few acres of farm or city their feet, paws, or hooves trod day after day. Until their next patrol called them back into bearing arms for their Duke.

Some few would never return to life they once lived, either killed in a Lutin or bandit attack, or find a new calling and join the patrols themselves. The allure of the road, the field, and the forest, the sound and scent of steel, and the twang of the bow filled many young Keepers heads with the intoxication of glory. Such a fire would need tempering if the levy had any hope of becoming a true warrior. Dallar's job for them was always two-fold: teach them enough to serve Metamor well and test them for more than just a levy.

But it was not his counsel alone the ram would use. Larssen was easy to find. The giraffe was not the tallest Keeper he'd ever met, but with his yellow and dark brown hide, even with the more typical green clothing he wore, it was difficult for Larseen to hide. Nor would he hide from his patrol captain. Instead he reclined against a large oak tree with wide trunk branching where his head could rest and see through, hiding his spots and hide from all beyond their camp.

"Good evening, Larssen, do you see anything out there?"

The giraffe moved his jaws in the slow rolling manner all ungulates seemed to share. "Just some small game. You sure you don't want us to gather some tonight? We're a Metamor patrol; it's legal for us."

Dallar shook his head. "If we're after poachers, we don't want to scare the game. What do you think of the levies? Will they fight?"

Larssen glanced back toward the campfire through the trees. They could hear the raccoon's voice lilting in a jovial song. "They certainly tried in practice. Tamsin will be fine. Not sure about his raccoon friend, but I like his singing."

Dallar chortled, ears flicking toward the campfire. The happy song was replaced with a somber ballad and the subtle chittering intonation turned into a low rolling of his words. "And the others?"

"Can't say about the Woodpecker, but the lizard and the ram, Sedric I think, seem good fellows. Need to practice their swordsmanship. The lizard... Wyaert, swings like he's breaking rocks. Good man though, didn't even complain when Tamsin broke his arm. He'll back us up for sure."

Dallar nodded. "Good, good. Leave Myrwyn to Weyden and Jessica for now, you'll be more help to the rest. Especially Elvmere and Sedric; they both need seasoning."

"I'll help any way I can, Captain."

"Good man! Keep watch for now, usual rotation tonight. I'm going to check on the others."

Van was much harder to find than Larssen, but almost any other Keeper save a dragon would be harder to find than the giraffe. Still, Van, who had been reduced in age to what looked like a stout and short twelve year old boy, had learned to take full advantage of his new stature in the two years since his cursing. Like any boy he climbed trees like a squirrel bounding between branches, and so Dallar looked up into the boughs above to find the elusive youth.

Van found him first, leaning out from a maple branch twice Dallar's height. "Forest's all quiet, sir. Except for the levies."

"I'll quiet them down soon enough. Plenty of light left this time of year. It's their first night."

Van grinned and then straddled the branch with his legs, holding on with only one hand. The other rested atop his dagger. "A decent group if you ask me. Elvmere's seen some fancy moves; train him and he'll be quite a swordsman. Sedric'll be solid too and eager to learn. Too eager almost; you might need to bridle him!"

"And the others?"

"Wyaert will be a good tracker, and once his arm finishes healing could be good with a sword. Tamsin's already a good scout. Myrwyn's quiet, good for a bird."

"Good, good. I am relying on all of you to help keep them alive and to bring out any hidden talents they have. There may be some new warriors and scouts among us. Metamor expects nothing less."

"I'll do it, sir, aye. They'll work their tails off this patrol! Going to have them on watch duty tonight?"

"Not yet, usual rotation tonight. Tomorrow or the day after we'll start. It's a two week patrol, we have time. Keep watch now, I'm going to check on Weyden and then quiet our friends down."

Van chuckled before disappearing into the tree again. Dallar stretched his back and neck after staring up for so long. He continued his walk, always keeping the camp off to his left just in sight. The sun had fallen behind the mountains and the sky, where he could see it through the heavy trees, was beginning to darken, but it was still bright enough the flames did not shine quite so far as they would in an hour or two.

The last of his scouts standing guard over the forest was Weyden. He found the hawk perched upon an oak limb shrunk down to his beastly form. He had no illusions about sneaking up on the sharp-eyed Keeper, and was grateful the fellow had elected to perch close to the ground. Weyden waited until Dallar was a dozen paces away before growing himself large enough to speak clearly. There were a few bird Keepers who could manage to talk even in their most feral forms, but most had to take on some semblance of manhood before regaining their tongues. Weyden was one of these.

"Captain," Weyden greeted with a slight bob of his head. One golden avian eye fixed on him, while the other continued its sentry over the woods.

"Weyden, see anything out there tonight?"

"Nothing we didn't expect to see. Plenty of small game, but nothing larger than a grouse. How are Van and Larssen doing? Have they seen anything?"

Dallar smiled to himself. Of course Weyden would have seen Dallar speaking to them first. Except what the forest blocked the hawk would see. "Things are quiet tonight. Hopefully they stay quiet. Tonight we're on our usual rotation. I'm going to let the levies get their rest."

"You did march them a very long way today. Even Elvmere looked exhausted by the end, and I know he's walked the length of Sathmore."

"Do you know Elvmere?"

"Not really, only he apprenticed under Malger Sutt and traveled with Murikeer the mage. I know him better from his work as a Temple acolyte, but until now our paths have never truly crossed. Tamsin I've known a little longer but again, only from the Temple. The others I met yesterday."

"And what of them?"

"Myrwyn does what he's asked and does a good job, but he's very quiet. I don't think he's happy being a bird yet. It takes some time to get used to wings instead of hands and to all the things we cannot do anymore. But he'll learn. I'm happy to take him under my wing to teach him."

Dallar smiled openly. "Good! He couldn't ask for a better teacher than you and Jessica. What of the others?"

"Wyaert has a good head on his shoulders. We'll be able to trust his judgment. Sedric is young and it shows. He'll make a better swordsman than Wyaert, but he needs a steady hand to guide him. Elvmere gets lost in his own thoughts too often, but if he could stay focused he'd be a good soldier too. Tamsin is already a good soldier. I am very interested in seeing what new things he's learned at the Temple. And what do you think of them, Captain?"

Dallar's smile faded a bit but lingered. "I think we have a good group of levies to train." He cast a glance back toward the fire and started to turn. "I'm heading to check on them now. I'll relieve you at midnight. We're all going to enjoy these next two weeks."

The scents around the campfire were filled with woodsmoke, sausages, pine needles, and the particular musks from each of the Keepers relaxing nearby. Maud sat cross-legged running a whetstone along her sword, a pleased smile creasing her face. Jessica perched next to her on a stone, bobbing her head up and down and side to side in a way only birds can as she listened to the song. Elvmere had a knife in his paw and a short hollow stick in the other he idly carved while singing a jaunty tune in a pleasant tenor voice. Sedric sat next to him keeping time by slapping his knee. Tamsin and Wyaert watched the rest while the tapir checked on the lizard's injured arm. Myrwyn perched on a log near Jessica, watching but otherwise keeping still, a veneer of exhaustion drooping his feathers.

Several heads turned at the ram's approach. He nodded in return before settling down next to Maud and stretching out his arms and legs toward the fire. Elvmere finished his song a moment later and lifted his snout toward Dallar. "I hope my singing was permitted. A good song can comfort a weary traveler, and... no one objected."

"You sing well. Some nights it will be permitted, like tonight where there is little reason to fear, but most nights we will need to keep quiet. Our job is not usually about stealth and silence, but it is something we must practice. There will be times when it is necessary and may be the only thing to keep you alive. Do not be afraid, we will train you. You all should have had basic training from DeMule before coming. But some things can only be learned out here. Wyaert, how's the arm?"

The tokay lifted his arm and moved it back and forth, flexing his fingers. His large yellow eyes tightened a bit. "Better, still stiff though. Mistress Jessica does good work."

The black hawk spread her wings. "I will check it again in the morning if it still feels stiff. The bone should be mended; it was a clean break."

Dallar nodded and pulled his legs beneath him, sitting up higher. His ears flicked against his horns as he swept his gaze from the tokay round to the woodpecker and back again. "You've all done well today. We will not be traveling so far in the next few days; we'll be here in these woods for three days before we move on. If we find the poachers cleaning out the game here, all the better. We will have more time to work on your skills and to learn what other skills you have, be they learned in guilds, the temple, or because of what Metamor's curses have done to you. Myrwyn, you can fly, there's one. But it cannot be the only one."

"What sort of skills would help, Sir?" Wyaert asked, leaning toward the fire.

"Healing always helps. Mending weapons, armor, and clothes. Fletching arrows. Digging ditches and shoring up tunnels. Fishing. Climbing trees and mountains. Any skill in magic. Anything could help a patrol; you never know what will happen out here. And there's other skills only a Keeper will have, those things you can do and be in your beast form. Myrwyn, again, you can fly as a woodpecker, but there's still more you can do. We have the time tonight to learn, so tell me, what are your hidden skills? Wyaert, let us begin with you."

The tokay lizard had started to turn about so his back and tail were toward the fire, but stopped halfway so he could still keep his eyes on them all. "I'm a journeyman stone mason, Sir. I grew up in Bradanes and spent many years covered in rags. But I can hunt small game, can set some traps, and well, thanks to this," he waved his scaled hands and long fingers, "I can climb up walls and pretty much anything dry."

"Do you have to be in beast form to climb or can you do it as you are now?"

Wyaert rubbed down his injured arm and shrugged. "Well, before this afternoon I could have done it even as I am, but not as well as I can when I shrink. I tell you, the first time I tried out my littler form... heh, never in my life did I imagine being an animal. Everything was so large."

Dallar smiled a little at the lizard's expressiveness and good nature. His big yellow eyes got even bigger if it were possible when he spoke. The ram stretched one leg and flexed his hoof, tilting his head to the side to ask, "How comfortable are you in your beast form? And how large are you as a beast?"

"I've only tried it a few times so far. Does no good for a stone mason to turn into a lizard only a little bigger than your hand. Do patrols need to use their beast forms?"

Dallar chuckled before a bit of cud came back up. "Oh, no," he said even as he began to chew. "Not all of us and certainly not all the time. But if you can use it, and it helps, then I want to know about it. Perhaps we need to climb a rock face and do not wish to scout around for a path. You could climb up first, as you are or small with one end of the rope tied to your tail, and then change back to help the rest of us. So you see?"

Wyaert's expression widened and a chittering almost croaking laugh emerged from his throat. "Clever! Your curses have been a blessing to me and my people already. What beastly aspects we have are also gifts, eh?"

"Indeed they are. Tamsin, what of you? What sort of things have you been learning in the Temple we could use?"

The tapir patted Wyaert on the back before sitting forward and grinning, floppy nose lifting upward before rolling from side to side. "Ah, well, I do get plenty of time for helping teach the other acolytes," he paused to pat the raccoon at his other side on his bare shoulder, "all about being a soldier. But I've been learning some simple magic and herbs for medicine and even new weapons and techniques. There's lots of history about the valley too and prayers for every occasion. And yeah, I'm pretty comfortable in my beast form, but I'm big and fat and look strange and out of place so I don't think you'll find it too useful."

Dallar nodded and chewed. Tamsin was a soldier at heart and understood what he wanted to know. And it seemed the Lothanasi at the Temple understood what best to train him in for the day he returned to the field. "You told me once, how far do you have to travel to find a land where tapirs live?"

Tamsin's grin grew wider, almost proud. "About three to four months by boat if the currents favor you. There are none at all who make their home in Galendor."

"Then we likely won't ask you to take it on. I don't ask Larssen to do so either. Tomorrow morning, I'd like you to show Jessica what sort of magic you can do. You can discuss the herbs for medicines with Van as well; he usually gathers them for us." He tilted his head toward the human woman next to him. "And Maud knows a little as well. Hopefully you can all teach each other something."

Tamsin nodded and leaned back, stretching out his three-toed feet toward the fire. "And of course you know I know all the practices of the patrols and patrol sign. I have taught Elvmere a little of it and can help teach everyone else too."

Dallar nodded and swallowed his cud. "And I expect you to do so. Thank you. Elvmere, we all know you can sing and sing very well. And it seems carve. What are you making?"

The bare-chested raccoon had been whittling at a short stick the entire time, though his gaze had been upon Dallar and the other levies. What he'd crafted he'd done entirely through feeling with his dextrous fingers. He blinked when asked and lifted the object, bringing it up to his snout. "It's a flute, or will be." He blew across a hole he'd bored into the hollow middle and a faint whistling sound almost like a note emerged. "Will be, aye, not there yet."

"Can you make other things? Wooden knives, arrows?"

Elvmere blinked and lowered his knife. "I don't know, I've never tried."

"Maud can teach you to craft arrows and fletch them."

The woman smiled and nodded, holding out her hands. "Can I see your flute, Elvmere?" The raccoon handed it over, all trace of his earlier anger erased. Dallar was glad to see him calm and composed again. Maud turned the flute over in her hands and ran her fingers along the length, nodding at the work. "You've smoothed the wood down nicely, still a few bumps here and there, but after carving a few arrows you'll have them straight in little time."

Maud offered the flute back and Elvmere took it and ran his fingers along the length nodding. "I see what you mean about the bumps. How do you want to teach me?"

"I'll gather some good branches tonight and tomorrow morning before we break camp I'll show you want to do."

Elvmere nodded and hooked one claw through one of the holes he'd bored into the flute before turning his eyes back to Dallar, his other hand reaching up to brush against a bronze medallion with Dokorath's emblem nestled in the fur of his chest. "I do have a few other skills; I'm literate and very good at writing letters. I know a little patrol sign thanks to Tamsin. I can fish with either a rod or a net. I know how to preserve and clean water even on the hottest days. I'm willing to learn anything you want to teach me if you think it will help. And... I am very comfortable in my beast form. I've spent days in my beast form before. One time I was smuggled on board a ship inside a lady's canvas bag while I was a normal raccoon, and another I was in a wine barrel. I've done a lot of exploration of Metamor and its grounds while a normal raccoon, and raccoons are common in Metamor valley, so... you'll probably find a reason for me to use what the curses gave me."

Dallar had begun fiddling with his pipe while the acolyte spoke; the faintest of scents of sweet tobacco clinging to the bowl, burned in from many years of use, relaxed and focused the ram. Tonight would be the last night he could enjoy a bowl for a few days because the scent would carry on the wind more surely than his own. He needed the focus and clarity it brought.

But Elvmere's brief tale of stowing away as an animal not once but twice caught his attention even better. "And you've spent days as a normal raccoon? As in you've spent your day as a raccoon many times, or you've gone days in a row as a beast?"

Elvmere shrugged. "Both actually. When traveling in southern lands sometimes it was the only safe thing to do."

"I think we're all going to want to hear your stories some night." The raccoon appeared anxious at the suggestion; it was only a broadening of his eyes and stiffening of his ears and a shudder running through his fur like a wave through water but Dallar saw it. The ram had thought a minstrel's apprentice would welcome the chance to regale them with a tale of his own adventures. Perhaps there was something unpleasant about those tales making the raccoon nervous. Perhaps it was part of why he hated Followers so much. Best not to push too much there until he learned more.

Dallar let out a bleating laugh to settle the acolyte's nerves. "Another time though. So you have a lot of experience as an animal. Excellent. If we need to filch from an enemy encampment I know who I'm going to send. How quietly can you move as a raccoon?"

Elvmere shook his head, tail flicking back and forth behind him. "I honestly do not know. But I'm happy to try. I like being in my beast form as you call it and will happily do so for you. Would you like me to show you now?"

"No, I'll have you give a demonstration later. One last question and then I'd like to hear from Sedric. Can you speak in beast form?"

Elvmere blinked and a curious light filled his eyes quite unlike the anger he'd seem smoldering there in the afternoon or the anxiety trembling within a moment before. Dallar wasn't sure if it was just a trick of the light from the fire dancing between them or the birth of a new quest for the young acolyte. "To be honest I have never tried. I will certainly do so when time permits."

"It is not an easy thing," Jessica warned him. "Even among birds it is not something everyone can do. A raccoon's tongue may not manage."

"I know a fox who can do it," Elvmere said with a wide grin, "I may not succeed but I'm going to try." He turned his gaze back to Dallar and added, "Sir."

Dallar waved his pipe in the air. "Of course, but later, we're a patrol and must know each other better. Now, Sedric, how are the bracers? Did they help you walk today?"

The brown-furred ram reached down and ran his two-fingered hands across the leather bracers secured about his leg between the hooves and ankles. The lobes of his hooves stretched and tightened as he touched them. "It felt strange at first, but I like them, Sir. I'll definitely want some made for myself when I get back. All the walking and they still aren't sore. How does it work, Sir?"

Dallar lifted one of his legs to show off a similar bracer. "I don't know everything; but it works for horses, and our legs are not much different now. What I think they do is keep the leg from twisting in ways they aren't meant to, which means you don't hurt them when you walk. Now, your father is on the timber crews and you've done some hunting with bow. What hidden skills do you have, young ram?"

Sedric leaned forward, ears straight out, and eyes wide as he spoke. "I'm an apprentice carpenter so I can shape wood too. I've already spent a week shaping arrows as part of my apprenticeship; I didn't fletch them, just shaped them, so I can help there. I would love to learn to fletch, because I know I can do it, Sir. I know I can! And I also helped make a bow one time, shaped the notches and all. Good springy return, made those arrows bite deep in the target. I didn't get to shoot it myself, but I do know how to handle a bow and have had plenty of target practice. I know how to chop down a tree really fast and I know how to make pitch for fires and even how to use tree sap to make something really sweet to eat. Oh, and I know which berries and mushrooms are safe to eat out in the woods, well, maybe not mushrooms. I usually found the right ones; I always checked with my father first. I've never tried my beast form before. Only been a ram for a few months now. Do you want me to try? What do I do? I hear you have to imagine yourself as an animal and you just change. Is it really so easy? I'll give it a try now if you like. How does it feel to change? I..."

Dallar waved his hands in the air, "Enough, Sedric, enough! Nay, I do not want you to try changing right now. I can work with you tomorrow morning before we break camp. There are fields with grazing sheep where you might fit in further south; if you have not attempted grazing then you should do so; we can live on grass if we must and if you have not the taste for it you will before this patrol is done. Also, you might find having four hooves helps in the mountain passes. But otherwise there is little reason on a patrol other than knowing and being comfortable as a beast for either of us. And it is important you are comfortable as a beast because neither of us will ever know when the curses of Metamor will save our lives." Wyaert nodded his head and croaked.

Before Sedric could speak Dallar waved him back and continued, "And as for your other skills, aye, we can find a use for them. Knowing how to live off the land is very important when you are on patrol, and while we must use only our own supplies these next few days, the remainder of our patrol we will help you better learn which mushrooms are safe. And aye, you can help Elvmere with shaping and fletching arrows."

Sedric tried to pipe up again but Dallar's hand bade him silent. "Now, you are excited, Sedric, but too much excitement, hurrying when you should pause and observe, will get you and others killed. Myrwyn, it is your turn. What hidden skills do you know?" Sedric grunted as he sat back down.

The woodpecker spread his wings for a moment, and the lowered them back against his back. He opened his beak and trilled a long sigh. "I fear there is little I know to help, Sir. My father is a stone mason and until the day the curses took me I was an apprentice mason too." Wyaert leaned forward, broad mouth opened in a reptilian grimace as Myrwyn spoke. "Now I can fly, but these little claws," he wiggled the pair of claws protruding from the bend in his wing, "aren't good for much, at least nothing I know how to do. Been trying to figure out what sort of apprenticeships will accept birds these last three months and practicing flying. I suppose I'm comfortable as a normal bird; it's easier flying when I'm smaller."

Dallar rolled his pipe bowl around with one hand while the other fiddled with the pouch of tobacco he kept at his side. "And you've never been out here in the woods? Not even to practice flying?"

Myrwyn turned his head in a way only birds can, dark eyes beneath his bright red feathered crest. "I am getting good at darting between buildings. They're almost as close to each other as trees are. I never felt safe enough on my own before."

Jessica stretched out her wing toward him. "We'll help you, Myrwyn. You can use your feet in ways you never imagined now."

"Aye," Myrwyn lifted one foot, flexed his toes, and then clutched the log beneath again. "I suppose I will. Not sure what I'll do."

"Your father will help," Wyaert assured him. "He's proud of you, you know."

Dallar pinched the leaves between his hoof-tip fingernails. "You know Myrwyn's father?"

Wyaert smiled and spread one long-fingered hand as he spoke. "His father is Master Dunkirk. I serve as journeyman under him. It is how Myrwyn and I know each other. I arrived in Metamor and became as you see me only a few months ere Myrwyn became a handsome woodpecker."

At the compliment Myrwyn's bearing straightened and he turned his head to look back on himself, as if realizing for the first time how dashing his feathers made him appear.

Dallar pressed the leaves into the pipe bowl offering the bird a laconic smile. "You couldn't have better teachers than Weyden and Jessica here. You're going to be fine, Myrwyn. I trust them completely to help you. Now, it seems we have three of you here who will from time to time take on their feral form. I want everyone of you to recognize each other when on two legs or four. So, for the rest of this evening I'd like Wyaert, Elvmere, and you Myrwyn to assume the beastly shape the curses gave you. Interact with us as you might, show us signals so we know it's you. Wyaert, I don't think there will be any doubt about who you are, but Elvmere, Myrwyn, we've raccoons and woodpeckers aplenty in the valley so we need you to show us, without transforming back, who you are."

"What if we have something we need to say?" Elvmere asked even as he set his whittling aside and got his feet beneath him to stand.

Dallar shrugged and lowered his eyes to his pipe. After so many years as a ram with thick two-fingered hands he had become adept at filling the bowl with the musky tobacco grounds even when he wasn't looking. Only a tiny piece dangled over the edge, half-in and half-out, which he nudged back into the bowl with the tip of one hoof-like nail. "Then I suggest you say it now I'm going to send you to bed in an hour, we're soon going to have only this fire for light, and we have a long day ahead of us tomorrow. So this is your last chance until then."

"I for one am happy to try," Wyaert said with a wide-mouthed lizard grin. "I never imagined in all my life I would know how Eli's beasts experience this world. I am grateful for it, and this fire. Please don't extinguish it before I have changed back, Captain, I do not know how well I will handle a cool evening."

"I have known other lizards, Wyaert. You needn't worry."

Elvmere stood and brushed wood-shavings from his trousers. "I'll be right back then." He walked toward the lean-to he shared with Tamsin and climbed inside, lowering the tarp so they couldn't see.

Neither Myrwyn nor Wyaert bothered. The woodpecker shrank down where he perched until he was only a single hand high with bright red crest, black wings and breast, a narrow black beak and short, spindly black legs. White feathers ran along his face, down his neck and beneath his wings. He hopped back and forth on the branch until he reached where Jessica perched. He fluttered his wings and hopped atop her large talons, nestled beneath her black feathers. Even in the radiance of the firelight he almost disappeared beneath her. Jessica bent forward, spreading her wings to balance as she peered down at him. He pecked at the wood between her toes. Maud laughed and offered Myrwyn bits of leftover bread which he pecked up.

Wyaert shifted to be a little closer to the fire and then shrank into his clothing until all of it collapsed in a pile with a moving shape inside. Tamsin knelt and sorted through the fallen gear, lifting shirt, trousers, leather mail, and the like until a bright blue and red-speckled lizard with big yellow eyes scampered free, landing with barely a thump on the hard dirt. He hissed for a moment, opening wide his mouth to reveal a long red tongue within. He took a leisured pace up a nearby stone around the fire and settled there, four lizard hands gripping the rock firmly. They could see his chest and skin stretching with every breath. His tongue stretched from his mouth up over his face and eyes as he seemed to clean himself. Dallar almost dropped his pipe when he saw it.

A moment later a small hunched shape pushed free of the lean-to, covered in dark gray fur, and ambled toward them with a relaxed gait. The raccoon had wide curious eyes in the middle of its black mask, and its front paws rubbed over this once before scampering the rest of the way toward the fire. He climbed over Tamsin's knees to the tapir's surprise, and then settled on his haunches where Elvmere had sat singing and fiddling with the makeshift flute a moment before. He picked up the flute with his dexterous paws and gnawed at the end for a moment before setting it down. He then stood as tall as he could and waved his arms about in the air. Dallar stared for a moment before recognizing some of the symbols of the Pantheon in his gestures.

The ram snorted and shook his head. There could be no doubt this beast was Elvmere the devout Lothanasi acolyte.

Dallar heated the end of a stick in the fire until it started to burn. "Very good. Now, while I enjoy my pipe, I'm going to tell you what I expect of each of you tomorrow. Rest well tonight, because tomorrow you will begin assisting us in taking watches during the night." He set the smoldering end of the stick in the bowl of his pipe; the leaves crinkled with a delightful aroma. Dallar smiled as it filled his nose.

All of the Keepers, beasts and men, turned their eyes upon him to listen. Dallar set the now smoking pipe between his lips and breathed in deep.