There weren’t always dragons in the Valley. During the colder months, they mostly stayed in their warm caves deep in the mountains, though some few species chose to leave all together and chase the warmer weather. The most effective guides knew exactly when to cross the Valley; unfortunately for Grace, none of them were particularly interested in helping her on her journey.
“No. You’ll not find a guide for such little coin, girl.`` With that, Veda walked away. The old guide at least offered Grace an explanation rather than laughing in her face as many of the others had. Grace sighed. She debated entering the Valley alone, but there were other dangers beyond the dragons that a proper guide would help her avoid and her journey was too important to gamble with the outcome.
“Excuse me, miss,” Grace was shaken from her thoughts by a light tug on her tunic. She looked down to find a small boy looking boldly up at her. “My Da used to guide adventurers through the Valley.”
“Did he, now? Could you perhaps take me to him?” Grace smiled at the boy as he nodded, grabbed her hand, and set off through the city.
The city of Daen was large and vibrant. It shared many similarities with other port cities though its travelers traversed the Valley rather than any body of water. Still, it offered supplies for the long journey as well as various inns and taverns for those preparing for or recovering from a journey through the Valley. Grace followed the boy away from the more frequented shops in the main square. The colorful signs, large buildings, and high archways soon gave way to simpler homes of unpainted wood and stone. She was surprised when they continued on beyond the plain but sturdy homes, into the thinner streets and alleys where ramshackle homes leaned precariously against one another.
“Wait here,” the boy said, stopping in front of one such house, if it could still properly be called that in its condition. The thatch was thinning, the shutters hung crooked on their hinges, and it looked ready to fall over with the slightest breeze. Grace frowned as she watched the boy slip through the door, closing it lightly behind him. Crossing the Valley with any decent guide was expensive; she wondered what the man must be squandering his money on, but immediately felt ashamed of her judgment. I of all people should know better, she thought.
“What’s all this, then?” A man exited the house, the boy all but dragging him by the hand. Grace was pleased to find that he had very little in common with his dwelling. His dark beard and hair, though long, were neatly trimmed, his clothes and boots were thread-bare but clean.
“Hello, good sir. I’m seeking a guide for passage into the Valley and your boy here says you can do the job.”
“Did he, now? Hmm. Well, I haven’t taken the journey in ages; I’m afraid you’ll have to look elsewhere.”
“I’m more than willing to pay for your efforts.” Grace tried not to let her desperation show; he was her last hope.
“I’m sorry, but the answer is no.” To his credit, he did seem sincere in his apology, if unwavering in his refusal. Perhaps desperation was her only option after all.
“Please, I’ve tried every other guide in the city. I don’t have much coin, but I’ll pay all I can. I have a few things I can sell if need be; just name your price.”
“Listen, miss, even if I wanted to make this journey, and even if you had enough to make it worth the trouble not to mention buying the supplies for a two week journey, it’s too dangerous to cross for the next two months at least. The dragons won’t migrate before then and, if the fine weather holds, it could be even longer. I don’t believe you’ll be wanting to spend that much time and money staying at one of our ‘lovely’ inns. Now then, off with ya. I’m sure you’ll find passage around the Valley or perhaps you can return later in the seasons.” With that, the man turned to his door and would have left Grace where she stood if she hadn’t placed a hand lightly on his arm to halt his progress. He turned with a displeased look and Grace quickly removed her hand.
“I’m sorry. It’s just that…well…this is of the utmost importance. I must enter the Valley as soon as possible. Besides, it won’t be a full two week crossing. I only need to venture part way into the valley and back.” He looked equal parts skeptical and intrigued as he fixed her with his dark eyes.
“What business do you have in the Valley, if not to cross it?”
“Well,” Grace hesitated, unsure of just how much she should reveal to this man she had only just met. “I…that is…I need to find a dragon.” The man’s eyebrows shot up, then dropped into a frown. Grace waited for a reply until she began to feel uncomfortable under his scrutiny and turned to leave.
“Never mind. I’m sorry to have bothered you, sir. I’ll go myself.”
“Wait,” she turned at his call to find him still frowning, seeming to struggle with his thoughts for a moment “No. You can’t do that, it isn’t safe. How much coin do you have?”
“I can offer you two gold pieces now, plus three silvers for each night until we return.” Grace smiled.
“Three gold, five silvers a night, and you buy the supplies for the journey.” he countered.
After taking a moment to calculate what she had left after paying for room and board while seeking out a guide, Grace finally nodded and held out her hand.
“My name is Grace; when do we leave?”
“Terin.” he said, shaking her hand firmly, “As it is midday now, we can return to the market right away and gather supplies. I’ll need to make arrangements for my children, but we should be ready at first light tomorrow.”
“Excellent!” Grace smiled again. Finally, she was making progress.