Well, at least the rain’s stopped, Peino Starhand thought as he slumped against a tree near the snow line.
The trick with beasts like dragons is not to run from them, as that only gets their attention. Nevertheless, without breaking into a run he likely couldn’t have sustained anyway, the elfen prince had made good time through the forest, down the mountainside. He stuck to the dense growth to discourage the boat-sized, winged creature, which made the footing rough for one with a dislocated shoulder, some broken ribs, and wrenched, possibly torn muscles. If he’d wanted to feel ridiculous, he could have reminded himself that he’d had worse at sea, but that wouldn’t have made it hurt less.
Now, with his energy flagging and the pain rising, he took his first pause of the day. He judged that he’d escaped the dragon’s area of immediate interest as he could no longer smell the telltale odor of its burning, acidic breath and drool. He was near the snow line. Below, a valley in soft green shadows beckoned, and the day began to warm as the Calinda’s wind and sleet had gone with the Calinda.
“Nothing else for it,” he growled through gritted teeth.
The shoulder. He had dislocated a shoulder a few times before and even relocated it — or reduced it, as the healers say — once himself, that time after that incident in that tavern in Boborunu. He knew the procedure.
After relaxing a few minutes to try to let the muscles ease out of the grip of pain, he decided use the tree as a support. Standing, moderating his breathing, he slowly raised his injured arm sideways in as straight a line with the joint as he could. He reached slowly and smoothly behind his neck towards his other shoulder and, when he felt a slight resistance, pressed slightly against the tree. The joint popped back into alignment with an explosion of expletives and curses from the flash of sharp, hard agony that burst through Peino’s body.
A few minutes later, he was still cursing, but his shoulder was starting to feel a bit better. With his other arm, he rummaged through his bag until he came up with one of Jeneyeru’s healing potions. He checked the handwritten label – “For relief of pain and swelling due to minor injuries.”
He downed it in a gulp and while he waited for it take effect — and hoped it would help his ribs as well — he took stock of his equipment. Leather britches and strong boots with a knitted jerkin over his shirt and the winter cloak of inverted seal skin, a bit the worse for unusual wear. He’d lost his hat in the fall. The long bow was in one piece, and he’d recovered six arrows and the leather quiver. He had his blades, though he suspected the long rapier’s blade was bent — and that its hilt and scabbard had put some dents in him. And in his shoulder bag, among other things, the Box of Nothing and the magical atlas of Raurugia. He took out the book.
“You are here!” it announced in the papery little voice of enchanted documents when he turned to the appropriate map. A small dot appeared on the page.
“Plot a course to the nearest habitation,” Peino said, and a squiggling line began to draw itself across the page from the dot that represented Peino to another dot a bit further down in the valley.
“Hermitage and hostelry at the temple of Flidais,” the book declared happily.
Flidais, goddess of animals, patroness of hunters and foresters. Peino, a devotee of the sea god Lyr and palladin of the mariner’s god, Manawydden of the Winds, had little experience with the Guardian of Beasts.
“Ah well, there are beasts in the sea, too.”
Gathering himself up, he laid out another arrow in fallen branches and sticks to show which way he’d gone, and set out again, into the gentler terrain of the lower slopes, towards a river, as the atlas indicated.