The fires were getting worse, a tell-tale sign that autumn was on its way. The dry leaves, twigs, and old trees provided perfect fodder for the wild dragons’ attempts at keeping their territories warm.
“Why they can’t just fly south for the cold season like birds, I’ll never know,” Brom grumbled. “They’ve wings, don’t they?”
“They’re more reptiles than birds,” Simon said, hefting a couple of buckets of water over to the trough. It was to keep a ready supply of water in case some of the crops did begin to burn. “With their territorial instincts, they’re more apt to warm up their surroundings than go elsewhere. I’m sure most have hoards to protect—”
“Spare us the biology lesson, please,” Luella said. She was resting on an overturned bucket, having used her energy on creating a raincloud to quench a brush fire that had gotten dangerously close to the local town’s wheat fields.
“I’d be able to spare it if Brom paid attention when I explained it last year and the previous year before that,” Simon said. He ducked away from the handful of sand Brom tossed his way. “Seriously, you complain every year.”
“Probably because I don’t like using my skills to shovel dirt around to prevent forest fires,” Brom said. “I’d rather be getting paid for bashing in the skulls of bandits.”
“Oh, c’mon.” I dumped out half a bag of sand on a pile of dead undergrowth, ensuring that it wouldn’t catch fire should the dragons make their way over to the crops. “There’s plenty of payment opportunity in helping villages with chores like these.”
Glancing up, I stared at the villages doing the same work as us in the distance, working hard to prevent their fields and homes for burning should a dragon arrive.
My gaze caught Luella’s narrowed one. “How many of these villages still have their coin purses?” she asked.
“Most of them, I suspect,” I said cheerfully, nudging around the pile of sand with my foot to even it out. “Honestly, I haven’t lifted a purse from a person today.”
“But if you found one unattended,” Brom said, “say, with other supplies lying about, then…”
“Finders-keepers,” Simon and I chanted in unison.
Luella’s baby-blues rolled. “You’re all horrible.”
“Says a lot about how used to us you are if that’s your only reaction,” Brom said.
Our mage gave him the driest look I’d ever seen her muster before turning to watch some of the other villagers. I kicked some more sand around, more than ready to quit for a snack, as my attention wandered to the inn rooms we had secured for the night.
“Are we done yet?” Apparently Simon had similar thoughts.
“Perhaps.” Luella stood up, stumbled momentarily until Brom caught her elbow, and added, “The headman is coming closer.”
I stood up straighter, my hands deftly double-checking that the “found” purses were well hidden in my pockets, and waited with my companions as the headman caught up to us.
“Thank you all for your help,” Elsworth said, giving us a small bow. Luella gave a brief one in return, Brom inclined his head in a nod, I didn’t even think to join in, and Simon’s gaze was fixed on the smiley face he was toeing in the sand.
“The preparations went so much smoother with such strong help.” Elsworth clapped a hand on Brom’s shoulder, and our warrior’s free hand twitched. It was a feat that Brom didn’t shake off the contact. Had it been a few years prior, I would have marveled at Brom not outright punching the headman.
“We’re always happy to help for the right price,” Simon chirped with a cheeky wink.
Elsworth chuckled. “Ah, that’s right, always know what your work is worth! Come on back to the square and I’ll get my assistant to give you your wages before you turn in for the night.” He turned away to head back before glancing over his shoulders at us. “By the way, if you happen to find a red-skinned coin purse, please let me know. I seemed to have misplaced it.”
As soon as Elsworth was a few paces away, Luella shot me a glare while Brom raised an eyebrow inquisitively.
“Finders-keepers,” I whispered to Simon’s muffled laughter.