|They rode all the next day through woods that gave way to fields then
to farm houses with tended gardens and small villages. As the mile markers
counted down toward Dublin, each town seemed to have a busier market square,
booths stocked with more goods, better-dressed shoppers. They stopped only
briefly to sell the silver trappings from their saddles and replenish supplies--and
to eat. Colin had a seemingly insatiable appetite for any kind of fresh
food. In the afternoon of the following day, they reached Dublin.
It was as fair a city as any Conan had seen. The dirt streets were hard-packed
and looked as if they were cleaned at night. The sidewalks were brick and
every shop door had a broom by it. Through the sparkling glass of the shop
windows they saw smiling clerks filling customers bags with a rich array
of goods. The sign on the inn on the town square proclaimed it to be The
Pilgrim's Rest. Conan and Colin entered.
The tap room was crowded with travelers and locals. Conan remarked on
the volume of business to the waitress who brought their ale.
"Oh, aye," she replied, "all summer long more and more people. Never
seen such a year. Good for the landlord to be sure; nae so good for my
"Are they all pilgrims to the Oracle?" Colin asked.
"Aye, most. But tradesman and suppliers, too. The servants of the Priestess
of the mountain been busy themselves." Then she was off to clear glasses
from another table.
"We have followed a true path," Conan said.
Colin drained half his glass and put it down. "Better than I remembered,"
he sighed, looking at the glass. Then he looked at Conan. "I don't understand.
So maybe they're building something for the Oracle. What could that have
to do with the theft of your Temple's magic? The OCLC is a benign oracle,
concerned only with providing access to knowledge."
"We shall find out when we get there." Conan drained his glass, tossed
their few coins onto the table and rose. Colin opened his mouth to protest,
but as Conan's back was already to him, drank quickly instead, put a handful
of peanuts in his pocket and followed.
At the edge of town the road forked. To the south an open road skirted
the edge of the forest toward green fields. The sign said: Miamisburg.
To the west a narrow track led into a dark wood and up the mountain. The
sign said: oclc.org.
The sun was setting behind the mountain as they rode into the wood.
Conan took the lead as the path narrowed. The horses picked their way carefully
along the switchbacks. At the steepest part of the mountain, the trail
turned left but Conan's horse refused. The bay stallion laid his ears back,
flared his nostrils and danced to one side as Conan urged him forward.
Behind him, Colin's grey whinnied loudly. The branches of the trees above
them rustled as if in a sudden wind. Colin cried out, but Conan never turned
to see why because at that moment he was swept from his horse by a creature
the size of a tiger that pounced from overhead.
© 1994, by Hadley V. Baxendale