The two of them woke, alone and stinking on a bed of pine needles that they had obviously occupied on and off for some time, given all the evidence. No sign of Saar or Guaer or Fodan.
Somewhere nearby, over their stench, Bayeo could scent water and sulfur.
Up a hill out of the pine woods of … wherever they were they climbed.
They found a sort of wide path halfway up the hill, among, the ferns, that led to a grotto. In front of the grotto was a low, square plinth, of the kind commonly seen in Cahál and old sections of Tuhál. Moss had grown over it from the grotto’s breath.
The grotto was filled with hot, steaming water, pouring forth from the wall of the grotto – out of the carved mouth of a dragon. Desire and fear played upon the two men, the hot water calling and calling to their stench, but the dark deeds of sacred places blackening their hearts.
The red snake – who it seemed had in fact stayed with Bayeo – wrapped itself around the plinth and considered the water, as if urging them in.
Finally, their need to be warm and clean won out. They bathed, and scrubbed and sat in the gentle quiet gurgle of the hot hot water.
Later, they made their way down the path to the edge of a fine meadow where a camping place had been set and wood laid in, and some small wilderness supplies. They hunted and foraged and the land was bounteous. They had a knowing in them that this was the Dragon’s land, and that it would always be grateful to them, and they would always be safe in it. Perhaps all of Mawr would be kind to them from that time forward. The land, not its peoples, who are as incomprehensible and unmoved by the Dragon as roaches are to a man in his house.
Later that night, as the fire died down and its sparks were rare fireflies in an early winter, it became obvious that a man was moving toward them from the direction of the hill. He made no stealth in his approach, and they greeted him at a reasonable distance.
Once he came into the light, Caerdwyn recognized him as the Draoi that he had felled back by the bridge. His name was Dain, and he was a native of Cahál, and a wandering member of the Draoi, of the green rank (uthaine). It was he to whom the chance gift had been given to care for them after their ordeals with the Dragon and the Serpent. Whatever they had done, the Bandraoi had given his life to the Powers and not succeeded. The Draoi and unknowing Mawr owed these two a great debt.
They talked a bit over many things, including their close proximity to the Dragon’s Mouth.
Eventually, the pair decided they had no stomach yet for a return to civilization and that they still wished to follow the Avae’s message to go into the Maevan Fens, to the old capitol. and light a fire to which, presumably, Telsara would come.
They asked Dian if he would guide them and he said that – within reason – any request they had of him would be fulfilled if it lay within his power to do, for whatever period they required. This was the gratitude of the Draoi and the test for him. Perhaps one day wisdom would come, and power and sight and he would aspire to join the Ban Draoi (the white druids).
He had a little extra clothing and a spare bedroll. They made comfortable before setting off across the rolling hills of northern Cahál south, into the heart of the broken kingdom.