Gryffon turned to see his friend Xeep pushing through the crowd to catch up to him.
"Where you off to?" asked Xeep, helping the ranger with the bundles he was carrying.
"My boatís anchored off the north coast", said Gryffon. "Iím taking her out for some fishing. Why donít you come along? Iíve not seen you in a long time."
"That sounds great", said the mage, "but Iíve got studies-"
"By the gods, you can spare the afternoon. I promise to get you back by sunset."
"By sunset. You promise."
Gryffon nodded. "Letís hurry. Argís probably at the boat already. If he gets his hands on my ale stash, you and Iíll have nothing to drink but seawater."
The three Knights finished loading the supplies onto the boat and Gryffon locked down the plank.
"Gry, whatís the matter with your tillerman?" asked Xeep. The tillerman sat with his head cocked to one side, sniffing at the air.
"Donít you remember what happened the last time you hired a drunk beggar?"
"Heís not a drunk", the ranger said. "Heís just... (mumble, mumble)... Thatís all"
"Heís what?" Xeep looked at Argronan. "What did he say?"
"I said, heís deaf, alright? Alfredís still the finest sailor youíll ever see."
Argronan walked closer to the tillerman. "But whatís wrong with his... Hellfire Gry, this man is blind!"
"No heís not!" shouted Gryffon as he pushed his way between his friends and Alfred. "Well, okay, in one eye. But he sees perfectly with the other."
"Perfectly?" said Xeep, throwing up his hands. "I canít bel... What do we... ? How are we to give him directions?"
"Ah ha! Hand signals", said Gryffon, obviously proud of himself.
"You just have to stand to his left side, thatís all."
Xeep shook his head and went to sit near the prow.
After getting the boat underway and helping Argronan set up a makeshift kitchen, Gryffon settled in beside Xeep.
"You see", said Gryffon, "everythingís fine." And it was, for the boat was making good speed out of the harbor and heading for a calm sea under a cloudless sky.
Xeep patted his friend on the knee. "Forgive me for getting so excited", he said. "Of course I trust you. And before I forget-" He started sifting through his things, pulling out a long black staff.
"Iíve got a gift." Xeep handed the staff to the ranger. I made it for you."
Gryffon eyed the staff in his hands. It was knuckled along its entire length, leaving it with no balance for a fighting weapon. It could be used as a walking stick, if the bowing near the center could be ignored. The staff even had a smell to it, like stagnant water.
"Thank you, my friend", said Gryffon. "I, uh, donít know what to say. Itís, er, wonderful."
"I knew youíd like it", said the mage. He gave Gryffon a hearty slap on the back. "Use it in good health."
"Yes, well", said Gryffon. "I think Iíll see how Arg is doing with the bread."
Argronan was up to his elbows in dough when Gryffon tapped him on the shoulder.
"I think Xeep may be getting too much sun", said the ranger. He held out the staff. "He just gave me this as a gift."
Agrn threw some more flour into the mix. "A fine gift it is."
"Arg, itís a stick. A crooked stick."
"A crooked... " Argronan laughed. "Thatís a Staff of Healing. Very powerful magic. Our friend went through a lot of trouble to make that for you."
"A Staff of Healing! Really?" Gryffon turned the staff over in his hands. "But how does it work?"
Argronan laughed again. "Gry, you really do need to pay a little more attention to the Arts." His voice took on a serious tone. "You
smack yourself in the forehead with it."
Gryffon looked at his friend then at the staff. He shrugged his shoulders and started back towards the prow to give proper thanks to Xeep for the gift. "You smack yourself in the forehead", he mumbled.
"No Gry, wait. I was only-"
Xeep was on his feet shouting, "Ware, Knights. Sea serpents."
Gryffon turned in the directon Xeep was pointing. A monster, long like a snake but as thick as a Yew tree was slicing through the water straight for the boat.
Gryffon grabbed his bow and nocked an arrow. Beside him, Argronan let loose with a fireball that engulfed the creatureís head.
"Whereís the other?" yelled Xeep, his outstretched arms ablaze with blue lightning that sent bolt after bolt into the screaming serpent. "I saw two."
Suddenly the boat rose out of the sea. The three Knights were thrown to the deck, bouncing against the walls and loose equipment.
Before they could grab hold, the prow dipped forward and the boat slammed back into the sea. Waves crashed over the sides, filling the boat ankle deep with water.
Xeep climbed to his feet in time to see the second serpent swing out from under the boat. Too late he screamed warning to Gryffon who did not see the beastís tail whipping around behind him.
The tail caught Gryffon in the back and drove him with a sickening thud into the thick mast.
Argronan knelt over the ranger. "Gryffon, can you hear me?"
Gryffon pulled his friend close. He did not have the strength to shout over the serpentsí keen. "Donít let the bastards sink my boat", he said through teeth clenched in pain. "Iíll take care of myself."
Argronan nodded and joined Xeep in a battle to save the boat and them all from a watery grave.
Through courage and mystic mastery, Xeep and Argronan defeated the serpents and the sea around them was calm again.
The Knights rushed over to their friend lying motionless near the mast.
"Please donít let him be dead", cried Argronan.
"No", said Xeep, feeling the rangerís chest rise and fall with each breath. "But he is out cold. And look at that bump on his forehead."
Xeep spied the staff gripped tightly in Gryffonís hand. "Itís almost like he hit himself in the head with the staff. Why would he do such a crazy thing?"
Argronan began giving frantic hand signals to the tillerman. He desperately wanted to get the boat to shore before Gryffon woke up.