This is the first part of Bixby Quartertail, a series of speculative fiction written by Daniel Mullen set in the world of Loaerth & Feywyrd.
The rough waves between the mainland and the island lapped at the sturdy, cedar ship.
“I don’t think we’ll make it before nightfall, sire.”
“Nonsense, Jackson!” called Prince Lazlo as he ran across the waterlogged deck to the bow of the ship, nearly slipping, grasping the rail tight. “There it is! Just at the horizon.” He surveyed the sky with a quick motion of his head, then stared back at the small tuft of land jutting from the water, willing himself upon that mysterious place. “We should be upon that land within the hour.”
“Sire,” called Jackson, the Prince’s personal escort. His unfortunate duty was to keep the Prince safe at all costs, which would prove difficult given Lazlo’s current obsession – the Shard of Feywyrd. “Sire, let’s gather our things.”
“See to it, Jackson. I want to be right here when we arrive in the harbor.” The order was clear: leave me alone. Lazlo wanted nothing more that to hide himself in his daydream until they arrived. Fortunately, Jackson was a loyal man who knew how to follow orders.
“Yes, sire.” I don’t know whether the Prince is more captivated by the Shard or by the Island itself, thought Jackson. The tall, slender man ducked low as he entered the lower cargo hold and left his charge on the wet deck above.
“This way, sire…”
The young Prince glared at him for his forgetfulness.
“Er…this way, Henry, my boy,” he corrected himself. It felt disrespectful to speak so casually to royalty.
Glancing around him, Lazlo grabbed Jackson’s tunic and brought him close to whisper in his ear. “I’m sorry, my friend. I know it must be difficult for you, but discretion is of the utmost importance. No one must discover the nature of our quest, save Bixby, and even he must not be made aware of our true identities.”
Jackson, a.k.a. Fielding, nodded and the two left the docks with their gear in tote. “I believe that’s the establishment,” he said, motioning toward a modest inn of four rooms and a drinking area.
“Are you sure this thing is trustworthy?”
“Yes,” said Fielding confidently. “He’s the best tracker and guide the world has known. If anyone knows the resting place of the Shard of Feywyrd, it’s Bixby Quartertail.”
The two companions entered the inn and quickly spotted an oversized possum, half the size of a man, sitting at the bar. Having noticed the newcomers, the possum nodded to the bartender, who set down his bar towel and glass and left the three to their business.
“Bixby Quartertail?” asked the Prince.
The possum slid off the stool and walked casually toward them. His leather helmet shielded any light from his eyes, making it difficult for the humans to keep track of what the creature was looking at. “Yes, that is my name,” he said without cracking a smile or extending his hand as a gesture of goodwill.
“You are Hodolu?” asked Fielding.
Allowing his fingers to dance over the hilt of his short sword, Bixby paused. “Problem?”
“No, no, not at all, sir,” Henry chimed in. “You have received our request for your services?”
“Yes, though I’m at a loss as to why you want the Shard. It is useless to humans,” he responded. “No offense intended, but humans handle magic like a troll handles confined spaces.” There was no humor in his voice.
“That is our concern,” said Henry, not giving Bixby the slightest implication that he wanted to continue the conversation along those lines. Reaching into his satchel, Henry removed a good sized leather bag and tossed it to Bixby, who caught the bag with ease.
“About 400 gold?” Bixby held the bag at arms length to wiegh it. Any tracker worth their salt could tell if the sum was short by more than a two pence. “We depart now.” The Hodolu whistled and in walked the bartender. Bixby flipped the bag of gold to him and walked out the door. Henry and Fielding followed quickly after him.
The bartender shook his head. “Poor saps,” he said. He knew Bixby well and had many times been tossed a bag of gold by the possum. Never had he seen any human return from an outing with Bixby. This time, however, the Prince would return, alone, and the whereabouts of Bixby would be the subject of speculation by many for years to come.