The following day, the group had a hot breakfast, cleaned out their temporary shelter, gathered their gear, and headed to the village.
“You survived!” said Jorund, running up to the group.
“After a fashion,” said Skrie. “I’m afraid the cultists weren’t kind to the village.”
“Ye again,” said Sheriff Varla, approaching the growing knot of people at the edge of the village. “W’ot ye know about w’ot’s goin’ on ‘ere?”
By this time, Lieutenant Barnes was listening in.
“We were hired,” said Theren, “to come to the town and investigate reports of lost relics in the area.”
“Tomb robbers, eh?” smirked the sheriff.
“No,” said Skrie. “Those would have been the cultists.”
“Aye,” piped up Jorund. “Them cultists rounded up all us townsfolk an’ made us dig up the ruins. These folks saved us from th’ guards tha’ tried t’ kill us.” He looked over at Garrick and gave a wink.
“When we arrived,” said Skrie, “the cultists and a dark priestess had the villagers confined in two of the homes. Their children had been taken to a separate location that we managed to discover.”
At that point, Jackson, one of the guards they had rescued, saw the party and rushed over to shake their hands.
“Hail, friends!” he said with a grin. “I told ya I’d bring help.” He turned to Lt. Barnes. “These are the folks I told you about, lieutenant. They were the ones that saved the villagers and the littles.” Turning back to the party, he said, “We found some of the bodies,” Jackson looked down at the ground. “The cultists were ruthless.”
“Aye, and worse,” said Skrie. Turning to Jorund, the halfling continued, “the guardian said that the village is no longer needed to guard the tomb. She sealed the entire thing.”
Jorund looked at her, a series of emotions playing out on his face. In the end, he said nothing. Nodding at her, he turned and walked over to the rest of the survivors.
“We’ll be staying a few days,” said Lt. Barnes, indicating herself and the sheriff. “We’ll help the remaining villagers sort out what to do next. You can stay and help here and travel back to Suncall with us if you like.”
Skrie looked up at Malusk, who shrugged.
“We need to meet our employer, and we are already late to our rendezvous,” said Theren, making the decision for them.
“How are you set for food?” asked the lieutenant.
“We could use a bit of flour for trail bread and maybe a little salt, but that’s about all,” said Skrie, who had been doing most of the cooking.
Barnes called over an aide and instructed him to get the requested supplies. While they waited, Garrick told the lieutenant about the villagers’ bodies he had discovered near the Valley of Irewick to the east.
“Let Sergeant Stiles know what happened when you reach the fort,” said Barnes after the requested supplies arrived.
“Will do, Lieutenant,” said Malusk.
With that, the party said their farewells and headed north along the road to Suncall.
Three days on the road back to the Merchant’s Way passed with no incidents. They heard wolves in the distance each night, but this was the forest, after all. The sound raised the hair on Skrie’s neck by the time they reached the trade road. Wolves meant messages. The question was: Who was sending the warning? More importantly, why?
Checking out the area where Geordo camped, they found a stone with a feather scratched into the surface. Beneath the rock, they discovered a piece of parchment with a simple map showing the way from Fort Bridale to Irewick.
“You think he’ll mind if we go back to Suncall for a hot meal and a bath?” asked Skrie.
“I’m with you,” said Garrick. “I could use a pint or three.”
“Agreed!” said Malusk, clapping the smaller man on the shoulder. Garrick stumbled forward a step.
They stopped at the fort to pass the lieutenant’s message to Sgt. Stiles.
“Wow,” said Skrie, looking around at the progress that had been made since they had last seen the walls. “They’ve really gotten a bit done.”
“Aye,” said Malusk, glancing from side to side. “More soldiers, too.”
They found Sgt. Stiles talking with the blacksmith. When the man realized who they were, he pulled the group into the office he shared with the lieutenant.
“Not that I’m trying to pry,” began the sergeant, “but I need to ask about your whereabouts for the last tenday or so.”
Once more, the party told their tale of rescuing villagers in Nemeademore.
“That tracks with what I’ve heard from the survivors,” said Stiles. “A Hin named Jorund showed up a handful of days ago asking for soldiers to help rescue the town. He said something about a small group wrecking havoc with the attackers.” He looked around at the group. “I assume that was you?”
“Aye,” said Skrie.
“The reason I ask,” he said, reaching into the desk and pulling out a roll of parchment, “is this.” Stiles unrolled the scroll to reveal a rough sketch of a half-orc with a nasty scar across his face and a broken tusk. The drawing had a resemblance to Malusk. “The poster was found on some bounty hunters crossing the border between Freyland and Grayard a few days ago. When the patrol approached to question them, there was a fight. The bounty hunters lost.”
“W’ot’s tha’ gots t’ do wit’ us?” asked Malusk, eyes narrowing.
“Have you ever been to Freyglen?”
“Where?” asked the half-orc, picking up the poster and looking at it closely, brows furrowing.
“It’s a province to the west,” said the sergeant. “It’s a rough coalition of former war-lords forced to work together and form a government or be wiped out by the Dimere state forces. Freyglen barely maintains any kind of order or laws. Their, er … citizens are mostly former or current bandits, raiders and brigands.”
Malusk shrugged, setting the parchment back on the desk.
“I had a visit from a half-elf bounty hunter not long later, carrying the same poster. She said Gosten identified this rendering as you, my friend. I wouldn’t give the arrogant wench the time of day the way she came in demanding to talk to who was in charge. Honestly, so as far as I’m concerned, this isn’t you.”
The half-orc gave the sergeant a measured look, then nodded.
“Ye ‘ave me thanks, Sgt. Stiles. Yer a good man.”
“Watch your back if you stay around here for long,” he replied, clapping the half-orc on the shoulder as they left the office.
“You need a disguise,” said Skrie when they reached the road to Suncall.
“You could grow a beard,” said Garrick.
Malusk glowered at the man.
“I have an extra robe you can wear,” said Theren. “It might be snug, but no one would expects to see half-orcs as priests or mages.”
Malusk shot the elf a withering look.
“I got a disguise kit,” said Skrie. “I used to be able to add a little charcoal here and a little ash there to make someone’s face look different.”
“Ye ain’t puttin’ no powders on me face!” roared Malusk.
Skrie snickered while Garrick and Theren laughed.
“‘Sides,” said the half-orc smugly, “I gots me a’ idea.”
“Do tell,” said Theren.
“Nae,” said Malusk, “ye’ll see when we gets there.”
When they reached Suncall, Malusk, Skrie, and Garrick headed to the blacksmith while Theren diverted into the tailor’s shop.
“Hoy, Master Grindell,” said the half-orc when the hammering ceased.
“Hail, my friend,” said Alton, laying the hammer aside. “Need more repairs already?”
“Nae,” said Malusk, “I be wantin’ a face shield added t’ me ‘elmet,” he handed the helmet to Alton. “An’ can ye do somethin’ t’ keep the chill of’n me broke tusk? A matched set o’ shiny an’ impressive spikes’d be good, if’n ye got’s th’ time,” finished the half-orc with a wink.
“Aye, Master Malusk,” replied the smith, looking at the big fellow’s tusks with a critical eye. “All that’ll cost ye about six gold. Come back in two days, an’ I’ll get ‘em fitted.” He turned to Skrie, “w’ot ‘bout ye, m’lady cleric?” this made the halfling snicker.
“How much would you charge for a set of balanced throwing daggers?” she asked.
“A full set?” asked the smith.
“Aye,” replied Skrie with a grin, “unless you can craft them to return.” The halfling raised an eyebrow and then winked.
“Ha!” the smith let out a laugh. “If’n I could do that, I’d own this town. A full set of balanced throwing daggers for you, let’s see …” Master Grindell did a quick calculation in his head. “For you, miss, that’ll be nine gold.”
Skrie counted out the coins and handed them to the smith.
“I’ll have these ready when I have Master Malusk’s helm and tusk sheathes ready,” said the man.
Theren re-joined the pair as they left the smithy, having visited the tailor to order a new robe. Head to the First Place Inn for a meal and ale, they noticed a merchant’s wagon parked near the stables. They had not seen a merchant’s wagon here even when they were in Suncall nearly two weeks ago.
“I wonder if they brought anything good,” said Skrie as they entered the inn.
The usual group of locals occupied their regular tables, indulging in their late afternoon ales. Skrie poked Malusk on the leg, and when he looked down, she pointed at Sgt. Goston sitting at a corner table with a pair that looked like mercenaries. The halfling had not seen the sergeant in the First Place Inn the last time they were in Suncall.
“Hail and well met, my friends,” said Filice, approaching the group. “Welcome back, can I get you anything?”
“Heyla, Filice, it’s good to be back,” replied the halfling. “We need lodging for a few days, and were wondering if you had adjoining rooms we could occupy.”
“I’ll do one better for ye,” replied the innkeeper. “We gots a private suite upstairs and it be empty. I’ll let it to ye fer a gold piece a night for each o’ ye plus breakfast and supper.”
Skrie accepted the offer without haggling, handing over four gold pieces. Besides, the halfling had a reputation for tipping the staff well, and Filice knew she would probably get more from her than the room was worth. As the innkeeper led them to their room, up the second stairs, and to the right, Malusk nudged Skrie and pointed toward the corner where Gosten had been sitting with the mercenaries. The man watched them as Filice led them to the stairs near the bar.
Soon after they settled in, Dayne, Filice’s husband, who ran the tavern, arrived carrying a tray laden with a selection of meats and cheeses and a tray with ale and hard cider. Skrie grinned and handed the man a silver piece. He had remembered that she preferred cider to ale.
“I’ll send Della up later when yer baths are ready,” said Dayne as he left the suite, closing the door gently behind him.
Previous: The Lady of Light
Next: Malusk’s Confession
To read from the beginning: Exploring Everine
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