At dawn, Master Henrick bellowed orders to the drovers and guards as the camp stirred. As men, dwarves, and elves moved around the wagons, a short, squat figure approached the area where the group had laid their heads the previous night.
“Top o’ th’ morn’, to ye,” a gravelly voice hailed with a slight bow of the head. “I be Hilda, life-mate to Henrick, master o’ this caravan.”
“Greetings,” replied Katra, “I am Katra, in service to Minerva.” She swept her arm toward her cousins and Sam. “These are my cousins, and our guide, Sam. My cousins do not speak your tongue, and have little understanding of your words.” Katra introduced them, each bowing their head toward Hilda in acknowledgment of their name. “We offer our thanks to you and Master Henrick for your hospitality.”
“Oh, lass,” the dwarf laughed, “don’t think it be fer charity that we be lettin’ yer travel wi’ us. Ye made a promise t’ lay Minerva’s blessing on th’ wagons in exchange fer passage.”
Katra was a little taken aback at Hilda’s directness, but the dwarf was right. She had made the promise of a blessing.
“Aye,” she replied, inclining her head, “that I did. Allow me a few moments to prepare.”
“Very well,” said Hilda. “Ye have less than a thumb a’fore the master is ready t’ move. I suggest ye use yer time wisely.” With that, she smiled at the group, turned on her heel, and marched back to the lead wagon.
“Well, well,” said Dreyah, “I guess we were put in our place with that little speech.”
“Yeah, well, I did promise to bless the wagons,” said Katra wryly. “I suppose I need to figure out how to do that. Time to talk to a goddess.”
Sitting cross-legged on the ground, Katra closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and turned her focus to the goddess, Minerva.
My Lady of Fortune, I ask that you guide my hand as I lay your blessing on these wagons as we travel to our destination.
*Ah, my new novice,” the voice of Minerva whispered through Katra’s mind. *You learn, child, that is good.*
In her mind’s eye, Katra bowed her head in a gesture of respect. She felt a ripple of amusement course through her mind.
I ask for your guidance to protect this caravan from harm as we travel to your temple in Blackmoor. As the young novice sat in meditation, the goddess showed what she needed to do. It was such a simple thing she was surprised she hadn’t thought of it herself.
A few minutes later, still in a mild trance, Katra stood and walked toward the front of the caravan. Laying her hands on the wagon, she mumbled a prayer to Minerva and felt warmth spread from her palms into the wood. Wagon by wagon, the young woman felt her strength ebb until she could barely stand when she reached the last wagon. Taliesin helped her to a place she could sit.
Closing her eyes, she took more deep breaths, willing strength back into her limbs. When she opened her eyes a few minutes later, Hilda stood before her, a skin and a piece of … something that looked like a honey-covered granola bar held out as an offering. Accepting the offering, she bit into the bar. The only flavor Katra could identify was the sweetness of honey, though the under-flavor was unfamiliar. She chewed the conglomeration, not sure about the texture or taste.
When she tried to swallow the mass, thirst got the better of her. She pulled the stopper from the skin and tipped it to her lips. She almost choked on the burning liquid as a sweet, yet sour fire coursed down her throat. Katra felt her belly burn as warmth spread throughout her body. Re-energized, the young novice breathed in a few more times and stood from the rock. She felt better than she had since she landed in Wonderland.
“My thanks, Mistress Hilda,” said Katra with a slight bow. “For all that the … taste was unexpected, I am ready to travel.”
Hilda grinned at the girl, turned on her heel, and strode away.
“Isn’t she charming,” said Chase as he watched the dwarf go.
“Yeah, well, we did insinuate ourselves into their caravan,” said Taliesin.
Katra translated the conversation for Sam.
“The Folk ain’t known fer their hospitality,” said the Dashae. “There again, a blessing from Minerva ain’t nuthin’ ta sneeze at, neither.”
One of the merchants approached the group, eyes on Katra.
“My pardons for the intrusion, my lady Cleric,” she said.
Almost as one, the group turned toward the woman, watching as she approached. Katra tipped her head to the side as she tried to discern the woman’s motive.
“Yes?” she asked.
“Some of us wish to express our gratitude for your blessing,” she began, lifting an arm toward the wagons lining up to travel. “The master and his lady are not known for their … generosity. Word has spread that you narrowly escaped with your lives some days ago.”
“Indeed,” replied Katra, turning to “translate” for her cousins.
“What do you think?” she asked them.
“I don’t think she’s trying to hurt us,” said Taliesin. “But I don’t feel like she’s on the up-and-up, either.”
“I don’t trust her,” said Chase.
“I’m not sure I do, either, brother. It can’t hurt to hear her out, though,” said Dreyah.
“Agreed,” replied Katra. Turning back to the woman, she asked, “How may we assist you?”
“You lot seem in need of supplies and such,” she said as her eyes slid over them, taking note of the rough, ill-fitting clothing and lack of footwear. “Some of us would be willing to, say, provide those supplies … for a price, of course.”
Katra narrowed her eyes at the woman and turned to her family.
“Don’t know about you, but I feel like I was just dipped in oil,” she said, lip curling in disgust.
Sam stepped forward, a wicked gleam in his eye.
“And jes’ what do ye ‘ave in mind, me lady merchant,” he said smoothly, turning to give Katra a wink. “These younglings from far t’ th’ east ‘ave ‘ired meself t’ ensure they arrive safely in Aernon.”
“Have they now?” she asked, looking to Katra once again.
“Indeed,” Katra replied. “Master Sam saved our lives when he could have let us die. As we are strangers to this land, the goddess has provided this young Dashae as our mentor and guide.”
“You trust a Dashae?” she laughed. “Oh, my dear, you are naive, are you not?”
“No, Lady Merchant,” replied Katra coolly, “I trust my goddess, Minerva.”
By the time the caravan rolled toward Blackmoor, each cousin had a pack, a change of clothing, a dagger, and a pair of sturdy boots. Sam knew the value of Minerva’s blessing, indeed.