DargonZine 18, Issue 1

Little Yorgai and the Beast of Leagues

Janis 12, 1015


Two small, hooded figures trudged through the dark, snowy streets of Dargon. Their clothing, while not quite rags, was tattered and threadbare and did little to ward off the bitter cold. Strips of torn blanket were wrapped around the outside of their shoes, but the cloth was soaked through and their feet were numb. The larger, a stocky teenaged boy with a lock of blond hair protruding from beneath his hood, turned to his smaller companion.

“You had better be right about this, Tanner.”

Tanner, who appeared to be several years younger than his blond friend, looked up and grinned. “Am I ever wrong, Darrow?”

Darrow pursed his lips in thought, although he knew the answer. This was an exchange the two friends frequently shared. “Still, if you are wrong this time, we’re in for a very cold night. It’s a good bet that all the decent blankets and the best spots by the fire are gone by now in all the hideaways.” The hideaways were temporary shelters, mostly vacant buildings, where members of the shadow boys, Dargon’s loosely organized street children, spent the night in bad weather. “We’ll probably end up crouched in the stables at the Inn of the Serpent, hoping Ballard Tamblebuck doesn’t come out and run us off.”

Tanner laughed. “Now, why would you want to sleep curled up on the stone floor of some drafty, half-ruined old house when we could go to bed on a floor piled high with carpets, where the fire’s in a hearth instead of a pit, and the soup’s got some solid bits in it that aren’t rat?”

Darrow’s stomach rumbled at the mention of food. “Soup? Why didn’t you mention that before?”

“Because I didn’t think I’d be able to keep up with you the whole way here if I did!” Tanner said as he struggled to maintain pace with Darrow, who had sped up at the thought of soup without rat in it. “There it is, on the left.”

The pair climbed a short set of stone steps that belonged to a scribe’s shop. Tanner knocked on the heavy wooden door. The two stood, stomping the snow off their blanket-wrapped feet, and waited.

Darrow felt doubtful. “What if he’s not home?”

“Where else would he be on a night like this?” Tanner rolled his eyes. “It’s not like he frequents the taverns. He likes talking about books and playing King’s Key with his scholar friends. I’ve never seen him out past first bell of night, and it’s already third.”

“What if he’s asleep, then?”

“We’ll just have to wake him up, straight?” Tanner beat on the door even harder.

After a few moments, his efforts were rewarded by the sounds of feet descending wooden stairs and irritated muttering in some foreign tongue.

The door opened, and the shop’s owner, a swarthy man with a dark moustache, peered out at them, scowling. “Eh? What’s this?” he asked, his voice thick with an accent from a distant land. “Beggars on my doorstep? Skulking shadow boys, no doubt.” Darrow’s stomach sank at the man’s tone. He and Tanner would be sleeping with the horses for certain.

The man began to shut the door, when Tanner pulled his hood back, revealing thick brown hair and a face almost as dark as the scribe’s. “Genarvus, it’s me.”

The shop owner’s face brightened immediately. “Taneris! I haven’t seen you in a sennight or more. Come, come in!” He threw the door wide, and gestured for them both to enter. As they did, Genarvus looked Darrow up and down, one bushy eyebrow raised suspiciously. “Who is this, Tanner? Looks like a shadow boy to me.”

Tanner brushed some snow off his shoulders. “He is, but he’s a friend. This is Darrow.”

Genarvus’ eyes lit up, and he favored Darrow with the same grin as when he had recognized Tanner. The skin around his eyes crinkled into laugh lines as he did. “So, this is the brave young man who helped you save your sister, eh?” He slapped Darrow lightly on the cheek, twice. Tanner had warned Darrow that he might do that. Apparently it was a sign of affection in the scribe’s native land. “You’re a good boy, then, and welcome in my home.” The scribe abruptly clapped his hands together. “Tanner, get some wood to build the fire up! I will find you boys some food and blankets. Darrow, you sit and be comfortable!”

As Tanner and the scribe bustled out of the front room, Darrow had a chance to take in his surroundings. The front of the scribe’s home was his place of business, but also his sitting room. It was dominated by a great desk, strewn with writing instruments and scrolls. On one wall was a hearth, its fire low, casting a dim light. Several cozy-looking chairs stood in front of it, and the floor, as promised, was piled thick with carpets. He felt uneasy sitting while his friend and his host worked, so he wandered around the room instead.

His attention was soon captured by an enormous tapestry that covered most of the wall opposite the hearth. It depicted a green countryside dotted with farms and villages, bounded by mountains and the sea. Through it all wound an enormous serpent. As Darrow’s eyes adjusted to the light, he could see knights in brightly colored armor attacking the creature from horseback.

Tanner returned, bearing an armful of wood, which he started loading into the hearth. As the fire began to burn brighter, he turned to his friend. “Found Yorgai, did you?”

Darrow realized he meant the tapestry. “Yorgai? Is that the name of the snake?”

Tanner laughed. “No, that’s the Beast of Leagues.” He grabbed a candle off the mantle, lit it in the fire, and carried it over to the tapestry. He brought the candle close to the serpent’s tail and pointed to a tiny figure nearby. “That’s Little Yorgai. He slew the beast.”

Darrow thought that was unlikely. Yorgai was small even compared to the knights, who were in turn miniscule beside the Beast of Leagues. A tiny crimson dot near Yorgai’s head drew his attention. “What’s that supposed to be?” he asked, pointing at it.

Tanner looked closer. “I don’t know. I never noticed it before.”

“Boys! Come sit!” The scribe had returned with blankets draped over each shoulder, and bearing two large bowls with steam rising from them. Darrow’s stomach rumbled hopefully.

In moments, the three were gathered by the fire, wrapped in blankets. Darrow was enjoying a thick, savory stew, redolent of spices and with potatoes and chunks of beef floating in it. Beef! After seven or eight mouthfuls, he finally remembered his manners. “Thank you for the stew, sir; it’s delicious!”

“Don’t thank him too much,” Tanner said, with a wink at the scribe. “He’ll make us work it off in the morning. That’s why I don’t stay here more often. I almost wish I’d never let you teach me how to write, Genarvus. Darrow, last time he made me copy the same letter, from some Olean priest warning about the dangers of the Manifest religion, four times!”

Genarvus laughed. “Can you write, Darrow?”

Darrow shook his head and looked down into his soup. One didn’t get much chance to learn reading and writing while growing up on the streets of Dargon.

“No matter,” said the scribe. “I am sure I can find something else for you to do tomorrow. It is the custom of my country.” He gestured with an upturned palm.

“What country is that, master scribe?” asked Darrow between mouthfuls.

“Oho!” Genarvus exclaimed as his eyebrows shot up and he wagged a finger at Tanner.

The dark-haired young man shook his head. “I didn’t put him up to it.”

Darrow looked back and forth between the two. It was obvious that he had missed something.

“He won’t tell me where he comes from,” Tanner explained. “He says that if I were a good gypsy, I’d be able to figure it out.” Tanner was a member of the gypsy folk called the Rhydd Pobl. He had been living in Dargon for two years, since his father and brother had been slain by the same people from whom he and Darrow had rescued Tanner’s sister. Tanner had remained behind to spy on these enemies: a group known as the Bloody Hand of Sageeza.

The scribe grinned behind his thick moustache. “And what would your people think of your seeking shelter in the home of one of the ‘rooted folk’?”

“My people,” Tanner shot back, “are generally smart enough to go south before it snows!”

Darrow was enjoying the exchange, but he knew better than to let Tanner think too long about the Rhydd Pobl. His friend’s thoughts would eventually turn to the death of his family. “I bet there’s not much snow in your homeland, is there, sir?” he asked.

Genarvus turned back to him, his finger in the air once more. “Ah, but there is. In the mountains. My village was in the mountains. We would sometimes be snowed in for a sennight or more.”

“A sennight? What would you do to pass the time?”

“Ah, we would work. My uncle, too, was a scribe. He would give me piles of scrolls to copy. In the evenings, we would play a game like your King’s Key, or tell stories.” Genarvus clapped his hands together. “Perhaps I could tell you boys a story!”

Darrow shrugged, eager to hear a story, but trying not to appear childish. “I think we’re a little old for –”

The scribe held up his palm and shook his head in negation. “Vosh, you are never too old for a story, Darrow.” He stroked his chin. “What tale shall I tell …?”

Tanner swallowed a mouthful of stew and looked up. “How about Little Yorgai and the Beast of Leagues? Darrow and I were looking at your tapestry earlier.”

Genarvus clapped his hands together again and shook them. “Ah, Little Yorgai, of course. Tanner knows, Darrow, Yorgai was my boyhood hero.”

***

Ages ago, in a house near the tiny village of Yamaran, there lived a boy named Yorgai. He lived there with brothers Sergai and Anatov, and his mother, who loved him very much. His brother Sergai was tall and strong, and a fierce warrior with a sword. His brother Anatov was lithe and swift, and famed for his skill with a bow. Yorgai was none of these things, and much younger than his brothers, so they would call him “Little Yorgai”, cuff him on the head, and make him brush their boots when they returned from hunting.

Yorgai’s father, it is said, was a mighty warrior in the prince’s army, taller even than Sergai, and twice as fierce. Yorgai did not know if this was true, for his father had been away in the prince’s army for as long as Yorgai remembered, but his brothers told him so. Yorgai would often wish that he would grow to be like his father, so that he could cuff his brothers on the head and make them brush his boots.

One day, the magistrate came with terrible news. Yorgai’s father had been slain in battle. A huge serpent, which stretched longer than a horse could ride in a day, was attacking the country. Its coils could crush a house like kindling wood, its mouth was wide enough to swallow an entire flock of sheep, and its fangs dripped deadly poison. The Beast of Leagues, as the creature had come to be called, was coiled about the prince’s castle, yet it was still able to attack the nearby towns. The prince’s army had fought with the beast for sennights and not managed to wound it.

Yorgai’s mother wept at the news of her husband’s death, but she wept even more at the other news brought by the magistrate. The prince had decreed that the eldest son of each family must serve in the army and fight the Beast of Leagues. She pled with the magistrate for Sergai to be spared, but Sergai, who had heard all of this, went to his father’s closet and donned his father’s old armor, put on his father’s old helmet, and girded his father’s old sword over his shoulder. He looked magnificent in the armor, which was lacquered in purple and gold and only a little too big for him.

“I am not afraid, mother. I will go fight the Beast of Leagues, and slay it to avenge my father,” he said.

Yorgai’s mother was sad to see Sergai leave, but she gave him a sack full of bread and cheese, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodbye.

Yorgai was sad to see him leave, too, but he knew his brother was strong and fierce with his sword. If anyone could slay the Beast of Leagues, Yorgai knew it would be Sergai. He watched as his brother set off on the road to Yamaran. As Sergai passed the tall bariya tree that stood beside the path, a kukri bird landed in the highest branch. The kukri bird, like all of its kind, had bright red feathers, a long tail, and a cry that sounded like laughter. The kukri bird cried its laughing cry. Sergai, who did not like to be mocked, ignored it as he strode beneath the tree in his father’s old armor, which was only a little big for him.

Days passed, and then sennights, with no word from Sergai. Finally, the magistrate returned with terrible news. Yorgai’s brother Sergai had been slain in battle with the Beast of Leagues, and the prince had declared that the next eldest son of each family must serve in the army. Anatov, who had heard all of this, went to his father’s closet and donned his father’s old leather jerkin, put on his father’s hooded cloak, and strung his father’s mighty bow.

“I am not afraid, mother. I will go fight the Beast of Leagues, and shoot it in the eye to avenge my father and my brother,” he said, as he slung the bow across his back.

Yorgai’s mother was sad to see Anatov leave, but she gave him a sack full of bread and cheese, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodbye.

Yorgai was sad to see him leave, too, but he knew his brother was swift and skilled with a bow. Anatov had never missed his target. If anyone could shoot the Beast of Leagues in the eye, it would be Anatov. He watched as his brother set off on the road to Yamaran. As Anatov passed the tall bariya tree, the kukri bird landed in the highest branch and cried its laughing cry. Anatov, who did not like to be mocked, shot an arrow at it as he strode beneath the tree. He missed, and the kukri bird laughed at him again.

Days passed, and then sennights, with no word from Anatov. Finally, the magistrate returned with terrible news. Yorgai’s brother Anatov had been slain in battle with the Beast of Leagues, and the prince had declared that the next eldest son of each family must serve in the army. Yorgai, who had heard all of this, went to his father’s closet, but his father’s closet was empty except for an old walking stick.

Still, he went to his mother and magistrate and said, “I am not afraid, mother. I will go fight the Beast of Leagues, and slay it to avenge my father and my brothers.”

When the magistrate saw this he smiled and said to Yorgai’s mother, “Is this your eldest son? He is far too small to fight the Beast of Leagues.” He patted Yorgai on the head and went up the road to deliver terrible news to another family.

Yorgai’s mother was relieved that her youngest son did not have to go fight the Beast of Leagues, but Yorgai was not. He was determined to go fight the monster for his brothers who had mocked him and the father he had never known.

The next day, Yorgai stole a pair of shears from his mother while she was at the market. Then he took an old carpet from his family’s common room and dragged it out to the barn. He laid the carpet on the ground and cut a strip from it that was as wide as his shoulders and longer than he was tall. He cut a round hole in the middle of it, poked his head through so that it hung almost to his knees, and tied the whole thing around his waist. It didn’t look as magnificent as Sergai’s lacquered armor, nor was it as stout as Anatov’s leather jerkin, but it would have to do.

Setting aside his carpet armor, Yorgai returned to the house, replaced the shears and put back the rest of the carpet. He went into the cupboard where his mother kept her iron pots. He tried almost all of them before he found one that fit his head comfortably. It would not protect him as well as Sergai’s helmet, nor shade his eyes from the sun as well as Anatov’s hooded cloak, but it would have to do.

Yorgai piled the pots back in the cupboard, set his helmet beside his armor, and went back to his father’s closet. The old walking stick was not so mighty as Sergai’s sword or Anatov’s bow, but it was sturdy and came almost to Yorgai’s chin. It too would have to do. Yorgai returned to the barn and began to gird himself for battle.

As he was slinging the walking stick over his shoulder, Yorgai’s mother returned from the market. “Little Yorgai!” she cried from inside the house. “What have you done to this carpet? What have you been doing with the pots?”

As his mother came out of the house looking for him, Yorgai emerged from the barn wearing his carpet armor and his iron-pot helmet. The walking stick was slung over his shoulder, but it was so long that the end dragged in the dirt. “Mother,” he said, almost tripping over his stick, “I am ready to fight the Beast of Leagues.”

He had prepared himself to be brave when his mother cried and to be firm when she begged him not to go, but his mother didn’t cry or beg. She smiled and touched his cheek. “Of course you are, Little Yorgai.”

She went back in the house and emerged with a sack of bread and cheese. This she gave to him as she kissed him goodbye. He wondered why his mother did not cry, but decided that she, too, was being brave.

Yorgai set off on the road to Yamaran. As he passed the tall bariya tree, the kukri bird, which had been perched in the highest branch, cried its laughing cry. Yorgai, who did not mind being mocked, stopped and broke off a piece of bread, which he cast upon the ground for the kukri bird to eat. The kukri bird followed him all the way to Yamaran, laughing each time he tripped over his stick.

Yorgai found the magistrate and asked where he could find the Beast of Leagues. The magistrate patted him on his iron-pot helmet and smiled. “Little Yorgai, the Beast of Leagues is to the west, but you are too young and small to fight it. Go home. Your mother will be worried about you.”

Then Yorgai knew the truth: his mother had not cried when he had left because she did not believe that he would reach the Beast of Leagues. She expected him to get tired and return home. “It is not my fault that I am so young and small,” he thought, as he left the village of Yamaran. “I deserve a chance to fight the Beast of Leagues, just like my brothers.”

He followed the sun as it made its way through the sky toward evening. That night he made camp and prepared a meal from the bread and cheese his mother had given him. He slept soundly, wrapped in his carpet armor.

The next morning, he was awakened by a mocking laugh. He opened his eyes and found himself staring into the golden irises of the kukri bird, which was perched on his chest.

“Good morning, kukri bird,” he said. “Have you come to laugh at me again, or would you like some breakfast?”

The bird hopped off his chest but continued to stare at him. Yorgai opened his sack and tore off a piece of bread for breakfast. He tossed part of it to the kukri bird, which ate it hungrily.

“Come along, kukri bird. I think we will have a long walk until we find the Beast of Leagues. Or I will have a long walk. I suppose you will just fly, and laugh at me.”

Yorgai walked for most of the morning, and saw no sign of the Beast of Leagues. Near midday, he found himself beside a dry riverbed. Mounds of dirt lined the banks. Yorgai thought that the river must have been swift when it flowed; the riverbed was smooth and rounded, and was lined with flattened trees and shrubs.

Because the riverbed was smooth, and wound its way toward the west, Yorgai decided to follow it. He walked along the rounded river bottom for the rest of the day. When evening came, he climbed up on the banks to make his camp. If the river started flowing again, he did not want it to catch him asleep in its bed. He had another evening meal of bread and the last of his cheese. He shared some more of the bread with his red-feathered companion.

“Good night, kukri bird,” he said as he wrapped himself in his carpet armor. “I hope you are not growing as tired of bread as I am. It is all we have left to eat.”

The following morning he was awakened again by the bird’s laughter. When he opened his eyes, though, the bird was not perched on his chest. Instead, it was sitting in a bush, staring at him with its golden eyes. As Yorgai watched, the kukri bird dipped its head into the bush and plucked something off it. Yorgai looked closer. Blackberries! Yorgai jumped up and ate his fill, being careful not to have too much. He had a lot of walking to do that day and couldn’t afford a sick stomach. When he was done, he plucked some more berries and put them into his sack with the rest of his bread.

Cheered by his breakfast, Little Yorgai climbed down into the riverbed and continued his journey. As he walked, he realized that he had not tripped over his walking stick in more than a day. At first, he thought he might have grown taller, but then he realized that the end of the stick still dragged in the dirt. He had just gotten used to it being there. Still, that was better than tripping over it all the time, so Yorgai was happy.

Shortly after midday, Yorgai noticed a hill ahead of him. He was surprised to see that his riverbed ran up the hill instead of winding around it. “That’s odd,” he said to the kukri bird, which had perched on a branch beside him. “Why would the river run up a hill?” This puzzled him, until he realized that the river had probably run down the hill. He laughed at himself for being so foolish, and the kukri bird laughed with him.

Not wanting to abandon his fine, smooth path, Little Yorgai decided to climb the hill. It was difficult going, because the hill was steep and the riverbed went almost straight up it, twisting only a little. Yorgai’s chest was heaving beneath his carpet armor when he reached the top. Sweat ran from underneath his iron-pot helm.

The kukri bird landed beside him. It had flown up and was neither breathless nor sweating. “Kukri bird, this is odd,” Yorgai said once he had caught his breath. “The riverbed goes right down the other side of this hill. Why would a river climb up a hill and back down again?”

A sound like thunder filled the air, and Yorgai looked up. The sky was free of clouds, and the afternoon sun shone brightly. He heard the distant rumbling again, and with it something else. He listened carefully, for his hearing had always been quite good. Between the sounds like thunder, he could hear the distant cries of men and horses. A battle!

Yorgai realized that the prince’s troops must be engaging the Beast of Leagues somewhere ahead of him, but he could not see any sign of it. Looking ahead, he saw an enormous green hill flecked with gold that he thought must be flowers. It was even larger than the hill on which he stood.

Thinking that he might be able to see the battle from there, he set off down the hill running. Halfway down, the walking stick that he had become so accustomed to wearing slipped between his feet. He tripped, and fell tumbling the rest of the way down the hill. As he landed, he heard something snap. Afraid that he had broken a bone, Yorgai felt his arms and legs, and then his ribs. He was bruised from the fall, but nothing was broken. Then he looked on the ground and saw what had snapped. His father’s stout walking stick had broken into several pieces. Sighing at the loss of his fine weapon, Yorgai picked up the largest piece of it and stuck it in his belt. It would have to do. At least he would not trip over it.

Yorgai realized that he could no longer see the big green hill, but he knew the river had run toward it, or away from it, so he started running along the riverbed. He ran and ran until he was out of breath, but he still didn’t see the green hill. Finally, as his lungs were burning and his legs were about to give way, he spied the green mound in the distance.

He stopped to catch his breath and bent over. When his chest stopped heaving, he looked up. The green hill was moving! He took a step forward and rubbed his eyes in disbelief. Then he understood. What he stood in was no riverbed, but the track of the Beast of Leagues. The green mound flecked with gold was the beast itself.

Yorgai rushed forward, crying out his brothers’ names. As he rounded a bend in the beast’s track, he came upon the monster’s tail, where the massive wall of green and gold scales came to a tapered point. He dropped his sack, tore the broken end of his father’s walking stick from his belt, and began to strike the Beast of Leagues with all of his might. He slashed and stabbed the Beast, but the monster’s scaly armor was too strong. The kukri bird landed in the branches of a tree that had been overturned in the monster’s wake and laughed at him.

Little Yorgai threw down his stick and sat down heavily, exhausted from his run and from his futile efforts to harm the creature. “The magistrate was right, kukri bird. I am too young and small to fight the Beast of Leagues. The only reason that I am still alive is that it did not even realize I was attacking it.”

The kukri bird cried its mocking laugh and flapped up to a higher branch.

Yorgai stood up and dusted himself off. “I did not come all this way to avenge my fathers and brothers simply to turn back in defeat. The scales of the beast are too hard for me to pierce. If I could reach its eyes or mouth I might be able to hurt it there, but its head is leagues away. Besides, that is where much of the prince’s army must be attacking it. That is where Anatov went to shoot the monster in the eye with his bow. What could I possible do with this broken walking stick when I can’t even hit it hard enough for it to notice?”

Little Yorgai pondered this for a moment. “Perhaps, kukri bird, that is the answer. I am too young and small to do battle with the Beast of Leagues. But if I am so young and small as to be beneath the notice of the beast, I do not need to attack.”

He picked up his stick and walked back deliberately to the tail of the beast, which had moved some distance away while he sat. Instead of slashing and stabbing at the creature, as he had done previously, he stuck his fingers under the trailing edge of one of the creature’s scales and pulled up. He immediately cried out in pain and pulled back his hand, which was bleeding. The edges of the beast’s scales were sharp!

Yorgai pulled off his carpet armor and wrapped the edge of it around his hand to protect it while he pried back the scale again. Underneath, he saw soft green skin, much lighter in color than the scales. He took the pointed end of his walking stick and drove it as hard as he could into the beast’s flesh. It penetrated no more than a finger’s width. The beast’s flesh was much tougher than it looked!

Not needing to hold the scale up any longer, Yorgai released it and his carpet armor. He had barely pierced the Beast of Leagues, but it would have to do. He took his iron-pot helmet from his head and began to hammer the stick in deeper. He hammered for almost a mene before anything happened. Then the ground began to shake.

The trembling increased, throwing Little Yorgai from his feet. He landed on his back and looked up, just as an enormous shadow blocked out the sun. Yorgai could see why his brothers and the prince’s army had been unsuccessful attacking the beast’s head. No mere serpent, the Beast of Leagues had an enormous golden crest around its head that shielded it. The jaws of the beast gaped wide as it prepared to strike, and Yorgai saw that its mouth was indeed wide enough to swallow an entire flock of sheep, and its fangs dripped deadly poison. Seeing that he could not escape, Little Yorgai stood bravely.

The Beast of Leagues dipped its head and struck down toward Little Yorgai. As it did, a flash of red darted in front of its eyes and Yorgai heard a cry like mocking laughter. The kukri bird! It could not harm the beast, or stop it from striking, but the bird did distract it. The Beast of Leagues missed Yorgai, and buried its poison fangs in its own tail!

***

Darrow raised one eyelid and peered at the scribe, who had stopped speaking. “What happened next?”

Genarvus grinned through his thick moustache. “Ah! So you are not asleep after all.”

Darrow shook his head groggily. The warmth of the blankets, the fire, and the soup in his belly had made him sleepy, but he was certain that he had stayed awake through the story.

“I’m not asleep either,” said Tanner thickly, from the opposite chair. “What happened to Little Yorgai?”

Genarvus spread his hands with his palms up. “That depends who you ask. Some say that there was no way Little Yorgai could have survived the death throes of the Beast of Leagues, and that he died having avenged his family. I always ask them how we could know Little Yorgai’s story if he did not survive. Who would have told it, the kukri bird? Others say that Yorgai was brought before the prince as a hero. They say that the prince ordered the Beast of Leagues cut open, and that Yorgai’s father and brothers emerged from the belly of the beast unharmed, but …” Genarvus waved his hand dismissively. “Vosh. That ending is so happy that it rings false.

“I always prefer the ending that my uncle told me. Little Yorgai returned to the tiny village of Yamaran and to the house where he lived with his mother. The kukri bird went with him and lived for many years in the highest branches of the bariya tree. Yorgai always remembered to leave some bread out for the kukri bird, especially in the winter when the berries were off the bushes. Years passed and Yorgai grew tall and strong, but the kukri bird still mocked him when he was being foolish, and Yorgai never failed to heed the bird’s advice. In time, he became the magistrate of Yamaran, and never once did he tell anyone that they were too young and small to do anything.”

Genarvus rose and stretched. “Good night to you, boys. The bell is late, and there will be much work for you do to in the morning.”

As Genarvus’ footfalls receded up the stairs, Darrow turned back to his friend, whose eyes had shut again. “Tanner? Do you think that story is true?”

Tanner opened one eye and yawned. “It’s probably based on something true. You know how tales grow in the telling. Like that tale we heard the other day about the gypsy boy that faced the entire Bloody Hand of Sageeza to save his sister.”

Darrow laughed. “Straight. There were only two of the Bloody Hand there that day, weren’t there? So, you’re not quite the equal of Yorgai.”

“I guess not. Still, I felt like him that day. I was alone in a strange city, and it seemed like my enemies were everywhere. In a way, it was almost as daunting as facing something as vast as the Beast of Leagues.”

“You weren’t alone that day, though,” said Darrow, recalling his own part in the rescue of Tanner’s foster sister.

“True,” said Tanner, as he nuzzled deeper under his blanket, “but neither was Yorgai.” The young gypsy, smiling contentedly, closed his eyes and turned his head to one side.

Seeing that the conversation was done, Darrow let his own eyes drift shut, enjoying the warmth of the fire and the blanket. Then a thought occurred to him, and his eyes popped open. “Tanner, did you just call me a kukri bird?”

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