Riding back along the Dodligian road, Conan spotted a figure in the distance, waving. He drew his sword. But as they moved closer he grinned and sheathed his blade. No threat here, in this familiar figure.
Eldia recognized the man then, and called out: "Vitarius!"
"Aye, Vitarius," the old man said as the riders drew nearer. "No one thought to bring a horse for me, eh? Well, no matter, I can ride double with Eldia, I suppose."
"We thought you might be . . ." Kinna began.
"Dead? Aye, Sovartus would have had it so. He lent the Thing of Power to squash me. I lanced it a few times, but I was as a gnat to a bullock. When it got too close, I chose to be elsewhere."
Conan looked around the bare plain. "That must have been some trick."
"I would take credit for it," Vitarius said, "but it was hardly anything to brag about. I slipped into the entrance to one of the whelves' tunnels and scuttled as deep as I could get. What the thing smashed was merely a simple illusion. Those are what I do best."
"So I recall you saying," Conan said dryly.
"Well," Vitarius demanded, "are you going to tell me the tale or not?"
Conan grinned and related their adventures since last they had seen the old mage. Vitarius nodded and made appropriate noises as he listened.
Occasionally, he interrupted with questions.
"But-what caused Sovartus's robe to take fire?"
Conan pointed at Eldia.
"Odd. I had thought that the children would have been drained of all force by the creation of the Thing of Power."
Eldia nodded. "So it was. I no longer felt the fire within me when Sovartus enspelled me. My fires were transported to the Thing. But when I awoke and saw Conan injured, I somehow knew I still had a single spark. So I sent my final flicker of heat into Sovartus's robe."
"And glad I am that she did," Conan said. As he spoke he unwrapped the bundle of clothing he had retrieved from the dead lizard-man's pack.
While so doing, a shower of glittering green suddenly erupted from the breeks he unrolled.
"What is this?" Kinna said.
Conan laughed. "The emeralds! Lemparius must have put them there, thinking to retrieve them later! I purchased our supplies with but one of these beauties, and there must be fifty of them!"
"You are rich," Kinna said.
Conan shook his head. "Nay, rather say we are rich. We shall share them equally, for we all certainly earned them."
He apportioned the stones, and when he finished, each person had seven, with two to spare. These he gave to Kinna. "You'll likely have more use for them than I," he said. "You now have three new mouths to feed."
"Yes," she said, "I shall return to our land and build us a fine house; we won't be poor. Will you go with us, Vitarius?"
The old man nodded. "Aye. A fire to warm my old bones and such good company will suit me well enough. And I might teach the children a few conjures, just for amus.e.m.e.nt, of course."
Kinna turned to Conan. "And what of you, Conan? You would be most welcome in our house. And in my bed."
Conan shook his head. "My path lies elsewhere, Kinna. I traveled the road to Nemedia when we met, and I would continue upon it."
"I understand. You would not be a farmer or a landlord, I cannot see such for you. I shall remember you always."
"As I shall you," he said.
Conan watched the group ride away before he turned his own mount westward, toward Numalia. He had a new horse, courtesy of Sovartus of the Black Square, and emeralds worth twice the gold he had lost crossing into Corinthia. All in all, not a bad bargain, considering he was alive and whole to enjoy both.
He smiled, and rode off toward the setting sun.
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