“Somebody, please!” the old man burst into the common room as Skrie and Malusk ate breakfast and discussed what to do with their day. “Those bandits took my Precious, please someone, help me.” He traveled from table to table, imploring the diners.

The pair looked at each other, and Skrie shrugged at her friend. Her purse was getting lighter, and the old man looked like he could pay. When the gentleman approached their side of the room, Malusk signaled to him.

“Oh, thank you, thank you,” he simpered.

“Sit,” the half-orc instructed, motioning to a chair. The man sat across from the fighter. “Breathe.” Malusk looked over at Skrie; he had apparently reached the limit of his ability to help the bloke.

The halfling patted the man’s gnarled hand and looked up at him.

“Aye,” she said, “take a breath and tell me an’ my friend about it.”

The chap took a few deep but shaky breaths before he began.

“They took my Precious.”

“We can’t help you if we don’t know who ‘they’ are, and what your ‘Precious’ is,” said Skrie. “Why don’t you start from the beginning ….”

He pulled his hand from hers.

“Not here,” he said, eyes darting around the room. “My wagon. It’s parked near the river. We can talk there.”

Introducing themselves, they finished their meal and gathered their belongings. The pair escorted the distraught fellow … Geordo, they learned … to his wagon, a mile or so from the inn. Geordo claimed to be a traveling merchant, and bandits had stolen his “Precious.”

“Start at the beginning,” said Skrie when the group reached the wagon.

“Well,” Geordo began, “we got here ….”

“Wait,” the halfling stopped him. “‘We,’ who?”

“Er,” the old man faltered as if he had said something he shouldn’t have. His shoulders sagged, and he continued, “my niece, Aquila, and I arrived here yesterday. This morning, I woke, and she was gone! My Precious was gone!” He sobbed into his hands.

“Your … Precious?” Skrie prompted.

“Aye,” he faltered, chewing a nail. He hesitated as if debating how much to reveal to the pair.

Skrie had to admit she and Malusk made an odd duo. She, one of the smallest halflings she had met outside childhood, and Mal, a massive half-orc, almost as big as her friend, Tiny.

“What else can you tell us?” she asked.

Geordo began pacing the campsite, adding water to what appeared to be a teapot. He mumbled to himself as he prepared tea for the three of them. Malusk watched the old man as he puttered around, muttering. Skrie sat as patiently as she could but couldn’t stop her leg from bouncing as she waited. Finally, the old man turned to where they sat.

“We are traveling merchants,” he hesitated, “Aquila helps me identify the rel … er, the items we find.” Geordo wrung his hands, “we hire escorts and guards as we need them, and we hired a pair not long ago.”

“Where are they now?” prompted Skrie when he stopped.

“I don’t know!” he whined. “Illeyrl was quite enamored with the girl. Or at least he seemed to be.” The old man chewed a fingernail.

Skrie and Malusk looked at Geordo, then back at each other. The half-orc shrugged.

“I find er, old items at, er, beggar’s stalls,” he said, “Look, Illeyrl was fine when I first hired him and Grubak. But then he started paying attention to Aquila, more than any guard ever had. But she’s maturing into a young woman, nothing I can do to stop that. Somehow, he talked the girl into taking a few, er, items and when I woke this morning they were all gone!” he paced the clearing.

“So, you want us to find them and bring the girl and the goods back?” asked Skrie.

“Yes!” he said, blinking owlishly. “Haven’t I made that clear?”

“Right, then. Do you know what direction they might have gone?”

“No, I wish I did,” he went inside the wagon and rummaged around. A few minutes later, he came out holding three vials: one with clear liquid, one with blue, and the other with red. “Take these,” he handed them to Skrie. “I don’t know what they do, but they might be helpful.”

The cleric took the apothecary’s bottles and tucked them into her belt pouch.

“You keep those, and I’ll pay the pair of you 50 gold to bring my Aquila and the ring back.”

The halfling looked at her half-orc friend; he shrugged, then nodded. She stuck out her hand to the old man.

“You got yourself a deal.”

Previous: Exploring Everine

Next: Finding the Runaway

To read from the beginning: Exploring Everine

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