Chapter 5

Jowy glanced around. The winding road which he had been following for hours now seemed well traveled. Countless feet and wheels had kept its dirt surface almost entirely free of vegetation, while thick forest surrounded it. But he had yet to see another person.

Normally, that sort of incongruity could have been explained by the passage of an army. But no army could maintain advance in single file for several hours march, not with any kind of safety.

Jowy paused. There was a sound up ahead.

“There are roughly fifty humans, with animals and wagons, up ahead,” said the Star Dragon Sword.

“A caravan,” Jowy said. That was a sensible explanation. He was simply unused to encountering large caravans in terrain such as this. They were more common in the barren grasslands or lands farther from the major nations. Different world, he reminded himself.

The sword slid from his hand and floated to the side of the road. It faded into the shadows.

Jowy passed another bend in the road, and saw the caravan.

As soon as he came into sight, a crossbow bolt thudded into the ground in front of him.

Jowy leapt back, the King Dragon Sword sliding from its sheath. He held it out in front of him. “I don’t want any trouble,” he said, loudly enough for the three crossbow-armed outriders who led the caravan to hear him. To prove his words were serious, he lowered his blade a bit.

One of the men raised his crossbow. “Won’t be the first time we’ve heard that.”

“That’s enough,” said a voice from behind the outrider. “We don’t shoot innocent people in this company.”

The three outriders switched their attention to the woods and led their horses to the sides.

The man who rode out to meet Jowy looked like he was giving the large horse he rode a difficult time of it. He was easily among the fattest men Jowy’d ever seen, although he didn’t have height to go with his girth. He wore finely tailored silks that would have been at home on a merchant in Harmonia, but the rest of his attire bordered on the gaudy. Although he had the peculiar ageless quality that pudgy softness sometimes granted, he was probably well into his late seventies.

He fixed his eyes on Jowy. They were the opposite of the rest of him - sharp, clear and piercing. He smiled. “Who are you?” he asked.

“I might ask the same, since your guards were about to kill me.”

The man laughed. “You don’t recognize the great Ramus of Burg?” he asked. “I would have thought that I haven’t been the wealthiest man in the world for six decades without achieving some degree of notoriety.”

Jowy nodded. He was going to have to do his best to get around such gaps in knowledge. “My name is Jowy Atriedes,” he said. He actually hoped Ghaleon would hear that he was in the area. Jowy had won once - let Ghaleon worry about what would happen again. Fear would make him careless.

“Well, Mr. Atriedes,” said Ramus, reigning in his clearly uncomfortable horse, “you sure are lucky it was my caravan you ran into. Anyone else would have had you shot on sight for a bandit.”

Jowy nodded again. That was something to keep in mind - assuming, of course, that Ramus was telling the truth. “I’m sorry I gave you a shock,” Jowy said. “But I’m looking for-”

Ramus grinned - despite his advanced age, his teeth were big and white. Probably false, Jowy thought. “Whatever you’re looking for, Mr. Atriedes - no, I’ll call you Jowy - I can guarantee that Ramus Enterprises can provide it. Food, drink, clothing, weapons, housing... anything else... we’re here to serve.”

Jowy tried again. “I’m looking for a man-”

Ramus frowned and shook his head solemnly. “Well, prostitution, male or otherwise, is illegal around here, Jowy,” he said. He shook a pudgy finger. “You’ll have to go as far as Reza for that.”

“-named Ghaleon,” Jowy finished, refusing to be interrupted or embarassed.

Ramus didn’t have a comeback to that. Instead, he, and all the guards around him, started to laugh. None of them took their eyes from Jowy, though. When Ramus recovered from the brief coughing fit which ended his laughter, he said, “Ghaleon’s one thing even I can’t provide. He’s been dead for sixty years, friend Jowy.”

Jowy frowned. Sixty years? Could Ghaleon have been away from his homeworld that long? Well, he resembled the elves of Jowy’s homeworld, and they were notably long-lived. Still, another mystery, this one unlikely to be answered soon.

“If you’re not interested in making a purchase,” Ramus said, “perhaps you’d care to sell me that sword you’re carrying? I know good workmanship when I see it, and I’d bet my twentieth shop that yours is some of the finest steel on Lunar.”

Jowy was glad the Star Dragon Sword had slid into the woods. A merchant who saw that blade, with its powers of flight and speech, would do a lot to acquire it. “I’m afraid my sword isn’t for sale,” Jowy said quietly. He sheathed the King Dragon Sword.

“Well, that’s a shame,” Ramus said. He shrugged. “If I were you, Jowy, I wouldn’t travel this road alone. Just some friendly advice. I’d sooner take my chances with the monsters in the woods than with the men on the road.” He turned back to the wagons behind him and shouted, “Let’s move on.”

Jowy stepped to the side of the road. Celes had said that Ghaleon had gone home. But where, aside from south, was his home? “Wait!” he called out.

Ramus, his smile contrasting with the annoyed glare in his eyes, didn’t halt himself or the caravan, but he did glance over his shoulder.

Jowy pulled out a gold hundred-Potch coin and tossed it. Ramus caught it easily, bit it, and, satisfied, tucked it into his cloak. Jowy asked, “Where is Ghaleon’s home?”

Ramus pointed to the northeast, into the forest. “That would be either Vane or the Grindery, I guess. What’s left of them is up that way, but there’s nothing there but memories and crazy mages who don’t buy anything,” he said. Then he turned, his horse laboring to keep up with the others.

Jowy watched the caravan leave, then held out his hand. The Star Dragon Sword settled into it.

“Well,” said the sword, “what an obnoxious gentleman.”

Jowy ignored it. “He’s told us where we need to go. Who knows how long we’d have been on this road otherwise.”

He had the feeling that, were the sword able to shrug, it would have.

Since it couldn’t, it offered no further complaint as he walked into the woods.