The priest, seeing he would be unable to persuade his friend that night, let out a deep sigh. “I can’t even offer you a ride back to your house. Lightning isn’t exactly in the right condition to be riding.”
“It’s alright,” Maximus insisted. “One thing Charcoal left me was a field free of wolves. They must have thought he was a feast, but a few days after I put him to rest, I found a dead wolf on the northern edge of the field. There was a nice hoof-sized dent in its head, too.”
“Charcoal certainly had his fair share of adventurers.”
“I think Lightning would tend to agree,” Maximus teased.
Richard rolled his eyes and shook his head. “And at that, I think I’ll bid you a good evening.” He clapped his friend on the shoulder and turned to the door.
Maximus took that path below all the way to the front gate. Before he could swing it open though, he noticed something in the distance. The young tinker narrowed his eyes in an attempt to see through the fading light of dusk. There, a carriage driven by a pair of horses barreled forward.
“Are you expecting company, Richard?”
The priest, lingering just at the doorway to his house, peered out, and saw what his friend did. “That’s… that’s Salvatore. But I wasn’t expecting to see him for another two weeks.”
Those horses never relented, and Maximus felt a sting in his chest as he recalled his own recent misfortune. “Whatever brought him here today, it’s urgent.”
The horses drove the cart up alongside the picket fence, and the tall man hopped off to the ground. He wore a look that was caught somewhere between rage and sorrow.
“Salvatore,” Richard called out. “Is everything alright?”
The older man threw up his arms in exasperation. “It’s getting worse, Son.”
Richard arched his eyebrow. “What is?”
“They’re raising the prices of the cure,” he growled. “At this rate, people will be forced into poverty just to survive.”
“It was already that bad,” Richard said as he swung the gate open. “People have been struggling for a long while.”
“They say they’re running out of it as well. People are going wild, worried that they won’t be able to purchase it before it’s all gone.”
Richard shook his head. “That’s nonsense. When I was there, we had thousands of bottles in the underground storeroom—maybe tens of thousands.”
“Well the citizens of Seramore don’t know any better. None of them have seen what you’ve seen. And if I had to guess—” Richard’s father-in-law ceased speaking, as the third man, the youngest among them, finally caught his attention. “Maximus?”
“Hello, Salvatore,” the tinker said.
At once, the big man’s eyes were brimming with moisture. “It was you,” he said.
Maximus stared for a moment, confused. But then a flash of realism overwhelmed him, and he looked at his friend. “You never told him? You’ve been back to Seramore three or four times since I’ve returned, and you never bothered to tell him that it was me who found the cure for his daughter?”
“It never came up,” Richard teased.
“You know what this means?” Salvatore asked. “This proves more than ever that God exists. Fate was constructed by Him, and we were all interwoven in it. My praying for my daughter at the temple; Richard’s sudden arrival when I needed him most; Alice getting sick and you showing up when she needed you… I could have just as easily missed when you left your horse alone.”
Maximus bowed his head as he remembered that terrifying event. He considered, then, that if Salvatore didn’t apprehend the equine, he might still be alive.
All three men heard the creaking of the door, and turned toward the stars that led to the entrance.
“Father?” the feminine voice called out.
Salvatore spread his arms out wide. “My beautiful girl.”
As he made his way to his recovering daughter, Maximus turned to his friend and flashed his eyebrows. “I’m reconsidering leaving for the night.”
Richard grinned and clapped his friend on the shoulder again. “Let’s head back inside.”