5. The Burrs and the Bees

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"Now what is it we're looking for again?" Hrago asked for what must have been the dozenth time that morning.

"I told you, we'll know it when we see it," Kadav replied tetchily, wiping sweat from his brow.

"You think there's something out here in these woods that can help us fight off the dragon? How come you ain't said what it is, then? If we don't know what it is we're a-looking for, then how are we going to know when we found it?"

Kadav sighed wearily. In hindsight, bringing Hrago along may not have been the best idea. Not only had the cabbage farmer failed to provide any helpful suggestions, but his incessant nattering was wearing on his nerves.

The task had seemed so simple when they set out from town that morning. Having conceived of the perfect lure, all Kadav needed was a place to set the ambush. The town was too exposed and vulnerable; the incident with the poisoned cow was proof of that.

Surely, somewhere in these rugged, overgrown hills was the perfect trap just waiting to be laid: a steep embankment for rolling down boulders, a large cave with a bottleneck entrance that could be sealed off, or maybe a leaf-strewn clearing where a net could be concealed. His mind brimmed with ideas, but all they had found so far were a lot of itchy burrs, shin-bruising roots and heckling birds.

"So what is it we're looking for again?" Hrago asked.

"How many times do I have to tell you?" He rounded on his companion. "I'll know it when we see it. Sometimes you just have to have a little faith." He chuckled ironically. It struck him as something the priest might have said.

"It's funny you should say that 'cause ever since the dragon come, I been doing me some thinking..." The steady drone of Hrago's voice blended into the background noises of the forest. "What'll become of the farm when I'm dead and gone? My dogs don't heed no voice but mine, and if the dogs run off then the rabbits will come in and eat up them cabbages. But if I had me a son or three, I wouldn't have to fret 'bout them sort of things. That led me to decide I need to get me an able and proper wife. Ain't no sporting gal going to bring up a proper man-child, and I ain't got no time for the raising of children myself. Only I ain't never met a woman that suits me for living with though I reckon there's got to be one out there somewheres, just like there's got to be fish at the bottom of the lake even though you can't see 'em for staring.

"So the other day I'm coming out of the butcher's when this here lass is walking out t'other way. She weren't paying no attention and dang near smacked into me. She was right startled, she was, so I took her by the shoulders to steady her up a bit. It was the dangedst thing, the way she felt in my hands. She didn't weigh but nothing at all, and she were all soft and gentle like a little fawn. Now I must have seen her a hundred times 'round town, but I hadn't never given her two blinks on account she was just a young sprout of a thing. But she was all growed up now, I'll tell you sure. Why, I ain't never held no gal like that. She got these big green eyes remind me of my sister's. You remember, the one that drowned down yonder at Willow Creek..."

Kadav led them down a natural arbor and through a thicket where he came across a game trail. It went on for some distance before arriving at a swift-flowing stream. He picked his way along the steep embankment, looking for a place to ford. "You know of a crossing hereabouts? Hrago, you hear me?" But his companion was nowhere to be seen. He tried to remember when he had last heard his voice. Back by the arbor perhaps? With a sigh of exasperation, he began to retrace his steps.

He found the cabbage farmer standing petrified behind a waist-high shrub. His face was pale and bloodless.

"Is it gone?" Hrago asked in a tremulous voice.

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