By Brian Flood
Chapter 24 - Separate Agendas, Pt III
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Afternoon, 18th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The Temple of Torm
Now alone, Velgardrin makes his way back to the temple. He enters through the twin front doors and soon finds Abercrombie.
“Back so soon?” the priest of Torm asks. “You look troubled, champion of Clangeddin. Come, sit. What is it that bothers you?” As he speaks, Abercrombie gestures to one of the empty pews.
Velgardrin removes his head covering then sits across from Farther Abercrombie looking deeply concerned about something as he gathers his thoughts. When he speaks, he again has no trace of his accent. “Yes I’m alone. We settled Baulin in a room to rest and I have some questions. The others went to inspect caravan merchant wares.
“We met several unusual monsters in our investigation,” Velgardrin begins. “Baulin was mauled by what Tiron called an owlbear and it truly looked like an unholy combination of those creatures. There was a bird-woman that entranced some of our group with song. Also some bloodsucking birds like huge mosquitoes attacked us one night.
“But these aren't what concerns me the most,” the dwarven priest states. “While passing through an open meadow, we found several recent graves. Against my judgment, one of them was opened for further search and the corpse in it came to life so-to-speak and attacked us. So did several more in nearby graves. The dead rising to attack the living bodes ill indeed and I suspect that these dead are some of the missing whose disappearance brought us here. I have little knowledge of such foul creatures except that they seem to yield well to a sharp axe.”
He pats the axe on his belt and continues, “The fact that these have been animated by someone or something is almost frightening and most repulsive to me. I have no idea what evil has done this.” He pauses and waits for a response as he formulates further questions.
The Tormtar’s face becomes grave as the dwarf relates his discoveries. He frowns as he considers all that Velgardrin has said. Then, he addresses the alaghor.
“The undead, you say,” Abercrombie begins. “This is serious news, indeed. Is it your belief that these unholy abominations are responsible for the caravan attacks? And have you told Jadale of your discoveries?”
Velgardrin replies, “Nay. We have not spoken to her yet. And I know not whether these were attacking caravans, but what I fear is that someone is attacking caravans and slaying all so that they can create more of these vile servants. The person in control is the one who concerns me. Would you care to offer your opinion when we speak with that lovely lady?”
Abercrombrie looks somewhat confused. “I am not sure I understand. Are you asking that I accompany you when you go to see Jadale?”
“Yes,” Velgardrin replies. “She knows you much better than us so I thought you might express your opinions on undead activity whether with us or by yourself.”
The human cleric nods in understanding. “Very well, I shall endeavor to do so. When is your audience with the lieutenant?”
Velgardrin’s brow furrows as he responds. “I do not know when we meet. Amiel, she leads us now, has not said. Perhaps when we are on our way to the meeting with Jadale we can come here first for you. Would that be acceptable?”
“Yes,” Abercrombie nods, “that would be so. Was there anything else you needed to see me about?”
“Perhaps there is,” Velgardrin answers. “Other than swinging my axe at them, is there a way to defeat these vile creations?” As he speaks Velgardrin’s right arm almost automatically moves through the motions of attacking with his axe.
“And what other abominations might we expect from one who would create such as these?” he the dwarf asks. “Skeletons, I would think – but they are naught but zombies whose flesh is rotted gone.”
Abercrombie responds with, “If your Father of Battles grants you the power, you can use his presence to repel them or even send them back to the plane from which they were spawned. As for their specifications, there are many forms of the living dead. Skeletons are simply the easiest to animate. After them, there are zombies – such as those you encountered – and even more vile species such as ghouls or even wraiths.”
“But I would not concern yourself with such dire possibilities,” the Tormtar adds. “If there were such an unholy power in the area, surely it would have more hideous machinations than mere caravan raiding.”
Surprisingly, Velgardrin chuckles lightly. “What you discuss is called ‘turning’, I know. But such a thing would be unseemly for one who truly follows the Father of Battles. Meeting them with cold steel is our way. Your assistance has been appreciated. I shall now return to my companions and will stop here again when we seek audience with the lovely Lieutenant Jadale.”
“It has been my pleasure, champion,” Abercrombie replies. He raises his hand, palm held outward to the dwarf. “May Torm the Brave guide you and yours,” he intones in parting.
Velgardrin salutes the priest of Torm as he stands to leave. He returns to his room to check on Baulin.
* * * * *
Malk, Alain, Tiron, and Amiel exit the front door of the Green Man Inn and take a few moments to look over the travelling merchants that now occupy some of the booths in the marketplace. The quartet counts seven booths and carts set up in the courtyard outside the inn. Among the wares being offered are glass containers, preserved meats, animal pelts and furs, woodcarvings, suits of armor, clothing items, and a small booth selling mugs of ale.
A small handful of the Keep’s residents browse through the various merchants’ wares. Also roaming through the marketplace are pairs of armed caravan guards. The four adventurers note that the guards do not wear the distinctive tabards of the Keep’s militia, and thus they have their weapons peace-bonded, as is required.
Tirondalin surveys the scene before him and his eyes widen in marvel. “So this is a market?” he asks, more to himself than to his companions. “I am not familiar with so many goods, so many wares.
“At my home,” he continues, “we bartered food or clothes or tools … So much diversity!” he exclaims, wide-eyed like a child at a country fair.
“So these people travel the lands peddling their wares?” he asks whoever may care to listen. But waiting less than a second for a response, the sylvan half-elf is examining the goods at the first stall.
The half-elf picks his way through a large variety of hand-blown vials, apothecary jars, vases, bowls, and perfume bottles. The handiwork is quite good, and some of the pieces have obviously required a significant effort to produce.
As Tiron amuses himself with the glassware, and Alain and Amiel look on, Malk chats lightly with the merchant of this stall. The bard soon learns that the caravan has come from the west. They plan to head east, through the Thunder Peaks and on toward Sembia, as soon as they are finished with this stop.
Tirondalin looks up from his examinations to regard his companions. “As much as I would like to explore the goods further,” he says, “mayhap we approach the caravan guards about their journey here?”
Hefting his burden higher up on to his shoulder, Alain moves up behind his companions. Clapping one hand to Tiron’s shoulder and the other to Malk’s, Alain peers past his friends, his eyes sparkle as they find the vender peddling ale.
“Come my friends,” he announces, “I am sure that there is much investigating to do. But first an ale to fortify us from the dangers already faced and those yet to come.” In his excitement, Alain starts for the vendor, all but dragging his friends along. Looking back over his shoulder, he calls, “C’mon Amiel.” As he approaches the vendor, the warrior begins digging in his pouch belt and motions for four cups of ale.
The brewer sees the small group coming and his eyes get wide. “Well, well!” he says as they approach. “Tired of the same ole’ ale they’ve been handin’ out in the local tavern, are ya? Wull, let me tell ya, yer gonna enjoy this one, ya will! Just a bit o’ cherry ground inta yer ev’ryday brew and ya get this – Adamson’s cherry ale.
“It’s a bit more expensive than the Bitter Black that they serve in the tavern ‘ere,” he says as he fills four tankard with a dark red foamy brew, “but I think yer gonna like it. That’ll be two falcons fer the four o’ these!”
Amiel follows Alain with a merry laugh. “Then a cleansing ale it is my friend!” she says. “And the cherry-ale sounds just right, master brewer.”
“Now, I believe that it’s traditional for the party leader to buy the first round?” she declares, putting her hand on Alain’s as he searches his pouch. She pulls the coins from her own pouch and hands them to the brewer.
“My thanks, lady,” the brewer says in response to the ranger as he pockets the two silver coins. “An’ I hope all of ya enjoy it!”
Raising his drink, Malk offers a toast. “To Amiel and us all, may Milil smile on our efforts, and put a song in our hearts.”
“Well said,” says Tiron simply, charging his glass in the toast and sniffing the ale before drinking it down heartily.
Wiping the froth from his mouth and with a deep sigh, Malk turns to the brewer and says, “That is indeed a fine brew. Will it be available long here in the Keep or will you be whetting our appetites and then moving on?”
“ ‘Pends on how much the local tavern buys,” the brewer answers. “But in another day ‘r so, we’ll be leavin’, so get it while the gittin’s good!”
After the man answers, Malk adds, “I think one more for now; then I for one must get about my business. Four more of these excellent ales please, sir?”
The brewer fills the new order and hands the tankards to his customers.
“Thank you,” Malk says. Then the bard fishes two silver coins from his pouch and hands them over with a smile.
Malk looks around him with a grin on his face at the sights and sounds of the bustling stalls. He is at home in the noise and chaos. In particular, he is looking to see if there are any stalls where he may get healing and cooking herbs, or if there are any entertainers among new arrivals. He is disappointed to find that the available wares and merchants will meet neither of those desires.
After the companions have finished their second round and are wiping the froth from their mouths, Tiron speaks up again. “Alain, let us see what the furrier will offer for that pelt of yours, and then, as I suggested before, I’d like to talk to the caravan guards about their trip to the Keep.”
Finishing the second mug with gusto, Alain wipes his mouth with a flourish. “Good idea Tiron, as much as I would like to spend the afternoon here trying to see what is at the bottom of one of the Master Brewer’s kegs, there is still much to do.” Returning the cup to the merchant, Alain turns and heads for the furrier.
* * * * *
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
Salik enters the One-Eyed Cat and finds that only a few customers partake of its services at this time of day. Several of the tavern’s ten tables are open, as are many of the stools that border the bar. Most of the patrons are clad in simple cotton or leather peasant clothes, with the exception of the pair of caravan guards that stand at the bar, chatting softly with the bartender. The rest of the customers sit alone or in small groups. Most are chatting softly. One, a young blond man, is sitting alone and his intent upon a large leather tome that is opened on the table in front of him.
The rogue’s quiet observation is interrupted by Jess, the young serving girl that he remembers from his previous visit. “Good afternoon, sir,” she says. “Can I get you something?”
Salik turns to Jess and flashes her a smile. “Yes, I don’t know if you remember me and my friends, but I was supposed to meet them here … have you seen them?”
Jess shakes her head, indicating a negative response. “Um … I believe I remember all of you – adventurers or caravan guards or some such thing. But no, I have not seen any of the others.”
After the girls response, the rogue asks, “Can I have a mug of ale please Jess?” As she goes to fetch his order, Salik takes a seat by the door.
In a short time, Jess returns with a single tankard of foamy, dark ale. “One mug o’ Bitter,” she says. “That’ll be three copper thumbs, good sir.”
After paying the girl, Salik sips his ale contentedly and sits quietly waiting for his friends. Although it may look like he’s absorbed in his own thoughts, he’s actually trying to listen to various peoples’ conversations, trying to catch any useful information.
His discreet listening is interrupted a few minutes later when the door near him opens. In through the door steps Cob. The hunter nods briefly to the rogue as he walks without pause to the bar. “One mug o’ Bitter Black!” Salik hears Cob announce to the bartender.
The rogue’s amusement of Cob’s determined course continues for few minutes more and then the door opens yet again. This time it is Declan who steps into the tavern.
Declan scans the occupants of the One-Eyed Cat as he stands just beyond the doorway. He notes the scattering of commoners that occupy a few of the ten tables and then notices the two armored guards at the bar. Taking a brief note of the men’s peace-bonded broadswords, the mage’s study of the room ends when he notices that Salik is sitting at the table just to the other side of the open door.
The mage approaches Salik with a grin, “How did the shoppin’ go, right, my mate, eh, squire? Find wot yer were after?”
“Not so bad,” Salik replies, “I got rid of a few things to make my backpack a bit lighter. I found a merchant who would be willing to buy that owlbear pelt for about fifty gold. Might be able to haggle a bit with him and get the price up a bit, though. How ‘bout yourself?”
“I'm learnin’ the spell yer requested,” Declan says as he sits, “but I’ll be the morrow befor’ I can cast it.” He waves for an ale to be delivered to him. “Let me enjoy this ale and we can talk abu stuff and then I can take yer up to tee the room -- wich we are sharin' wiv Alain, by the by – and tomorrow I will cast it.”
In response to Declan’s wave, Jess – the young serving girl – arrives at the table carrying a foamy tankard of dark ale. Setting it in front of the mage she says, “That’ll be three thumbs, master.”
Declan digs out the copper and passes it to her, handing her three thumbs. The mage then turns to Salik to see what he has to say.
* * * * *
The Green Man Inn
Velgardrin slowly makes his way back to the Green Man Inn, thinking over his conversation with Abercrombie as he walks. A slight shiver of disgust chills his spine as the thought of someone raising the dead as an army flashes through his memory. As he nears the market, he notices some of the rest of the party still mingling through the various stalls and carts.
The dwarf considers heading over to join the others but then he remembers the condition of his nearly empty pouch and how little it could purchase. He elects instead to check on Baulin before discussing his findings with the others. The dwarf turns into the Green Man Inn and heads up to the room that he shares with Baulin.
The priest enters the room and closes the door behind him. Moving over to stand beside his stricken friend, Velgardrin notes that the warrior’s condition has not changed. He is no longer feverish but is still resting soundly without a sign of consciousness.
Velgardrin dampens a cloth with water and sponges the dried sweat from Baulin’s forehead before lightly bathing the rest of his bare skin. Although Baulin is sleeping, Velgardrin tries to get him to drink a few sips of water from his waterskin. Almost unthinkingly, he comments quietly, “Ah Baulin, ye needs ter be goin’ ter Clan Silverforge. There be those what can heal wounds like yers there.”
The priest of Clangeddin does what he can to make Baulin as comfortable and then heads out to the One-Eyed Cat to check on Declan.
* * * * *
When there is space free at the furrier’s stall, Alain moves in and spreads out the owlbear hide. “Greetings, my friends and I came across this fine hide recently and were wondering if you would be interested in purchasing it?”
“An’ ‘ello to you sir!” the furrier replies as he bends to study the pelt. “You know, this is the second time today someone ‘as offered me an owlbear pelt,” he says as he tests the hair with a firm tug of his wrist. “Must be open season on these things.”
The man finishes his inspection and addresses the potential sellers. “I kin offer ya fifty lions for it,” he announces.
Stroking the pelt fondly, Alain responds to the furrier. “I was hoping to get fifty five lions and some tanned leather.”
The fur dealer frowns at the offer. “I can do forty lions and the leather, then.”
Alain continues to smile at the merchant. “Ah well, it seems that hard times have touched us all. If it’s all the same to you master furrier, we will take the fifty lions.”
“Very well,” the man says as he nods. He unlocks a small coffer and rummages around inside for a few seconds. The sound of sifting coins comes from within the container. Finally, his hands emerge holding a small purse and bar made of silver.
“Don’t wanna give up all me coinage,” the furrier explains. “This ‘ere’s a score-an-five lion trade bar. And there’s ano’er score an’ five lions in the purse for ya.”
Reaching out, Alain accepts the trade bar and small purse. Giving a half bow, he says, “May all the gods protect and provide for you and your family, master merchant.”
Turning back to his comrades, the Cormyrean warrior continues, “Well, do we continue looking at the stalls or approach the guards?”
“There’s nothing here for me to purchase at the moment,” Malk replies. “If you and Tiron want to speak to the guards, I’ll come along unless you want meet my ass sooner rather than later. Otherwise, I’ll just skip around to the stables and meet you back at the rooms,” says the bard as he relishes the last of the cherry ale.
Tirondalin nods his acknowledgement of Malk’s suggestion but turns to Alain to answer the warrior’s question. “Perhaps upon further speculation there is little knowledge to be gained from the guards that we don’t already know, even if they were attacked by some sort of bandit group,” the young half-elf admits whilst leaning on his sturdy bow. He offers his hand up in the air in a gesture of indifference, “I’ll go wherever either yourself or Amiel wishes,” he states, looking at each of them in turn.
Amiel looks in much better mood after the ale. Her eyes seem to have regained some of their earlier playfulness notable during the party’s conversations with Jadale days ago. “Gentlemen, let’s go have a chat with those guards,” she says, nodding to the watchful men around the stalls.
Malk glances across the market at the guards, as well. “Alright folks,” he urges, “as the boss says, let’s go talk to the guards; though some look as if they may have trouble with social graces. Tiron, this is your call – the rest of us are just along for safety in numbers.”
The bard continues, saying, “After that, if we can go back via the stables, I need to settle my bill, check my Haynuss and pick up some clean things.”
Tirondalin shakes his head in reply to Malk. “I believe Alain is more familiar with the region's social graces,” the half-elf states. “But perhaps the ale has sufficiently loosened my tongue,” he adds with a broad grin.
“Look,” argues Malk, “the guards will be here for a couple of days yet. I’m going to sort out my ass. We should stick together,” he says with emphasis. With that, he turns away from the market to go past the quartermaster stores and the smithy, heading towards the stables.
* * * * *
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
“What did you get up to in town then, Declan?” inquires Salik. “I was a little bemused to return here and find that you weren’t already drinking all the beer!”
Declan looks at Salik strangely, “Didn’t go into tahn. I’ll get out me spoons. I got the rooms and then started ter study me spells. I thought yer knew that. Were yer able ter barter or sell that bracelet?”
“I got a price at eighty gold,” the rogue replies, “but haven’t sold it yet so we can find out if it’s magical or not.”
“Good price that, do wot guvnor!” Declan exclaims. “If it ain’t magical. I will be able ter tell that in the mornin’. ‘Ere any fin’ else from the rumor mill in tahn?” the mage asks as he sips his ale.
Salik shakes his head in a negative reply. “Nope. Didn’t really ask around, though, either. Went to the quartermaster and sold some of my gear and then to the locksmith – who is also apparently a pawnbroker, by the way – to get an estimate on the earring. Then I came here to wait for all of you.”
Declan shrugs, “We'll find out soon enough I think. The rest of them are eever up the apples and pears arguin’ about the bloody rooms or gone ter the market for stuff.” Declan takes a longer sip of his ale, “In any case, enough of this adventurin’ stuff, time for some civilized carousin’! Honest guv!” he grins at his friend.
The rogue’s eyes twinkle as a bemused smile crosses his lips. “Whatever do you mean by that?” he asks.
Declan shrugs, “Just ‘ave a lookin’ forward ter the bloody more ‘onest dangers of the bleedin’ tahn ravver than flyin’ demon-mosquitoes and odd bird-owls!”
* * * * *
Malk makes his way along the southern wall of the Keep’s outer bailey. He rounds the corner at the southeastern corner and then heads north through the courtyard, finally arriving at the large double doors that mark the common stables.
Soon after entering the typically warm and smelly stables, Malk is confronted by young Tella, red-haired, freckled, fourteen-year-old stablegirl. “Hoy there, sir!” she says in greeting. “Come to look after yer arse, have ye? I’ve been lookin’ fer ye fer a couple ‘o days now. Ye owe a full score o’ falcons for boardin’ since the fifteenth to today.”
“Yer arse is fine,” she adds. “Tho’ I think he’s been wonderin’ if ‘is master was gonna return er not! As was I.”
Malk smiles at the young girl. “Hello it’s Tella isn’t it? Haven’t I got a trustworthy face?” Malk digs into his purse and takes out three golden coins. “Here’s what I owe you and enough to cover the next couple of days. Can I go and see Haynuss now and the gear that I left with you for safe keeping?”
“Sure,” the girl replies with wide eyes as she admires and then quickly pockets the currency. “Haynuss is right where ye left ‘im. I’ll be getting yer gear.” With that, she scampers up a ladder and into the loft.
As the stablegirl fetches his gear, Malk makes his way down the row of wooden stalls until he finds his steadfast companion. With a glance, he can see that the mule has been seen to; there are no burs in its coat and its hay manger is full.
The bard renews his acquaintance with his friendly beast. He runs his hands over its shoulders and pats its neck, then picks some of the choicest hay and offers it to Haynuss on the flat of his hand. When Tella returns with his gear, Malk checks it and takes out the small sack with his change of clothes in it.
When he has finished, he smiles at the girl and passes the gear back for stowing. “Thanks Tella, for taking such good care of things. Here’s a couple of coppers for yourself. I expect to pop in most days while we’re here. Will you let me know if anyone is asking about me or the group that I’m with, please? I’d consider it a real favor.”
“I sure will, sir!” the girl exclaims. “But whaddya mean, ‘while yer here’? Are ye leavin’ again?”
“I’ve no definite plans at the moment Tella,” Malk replies, “but I have to earn a living somehow. If nothing turns up I’ll have to work, just to keep Haynuss in the manner that you’ve made him become accustomed,” grins the bard across the stable.
As he is leaving he adds, “You could let me know tomorrow if you think of any paying work for an entertainer and traveler around here.” With that, Malk sets off back to the tavern, carrying his small sack and whistling his current favorite tune.
* * * * *
Seeing the general confusion prevailing in the remaining members of the small group, Alain takes the initiative and approaches the caravan guards. On his way over, he straightens his tabard and adjusts his hat.
“Greetings gentlemen,” he begins, “I am Alain Mornswith. I am soon to leave the Keep, and as you have recently been traveling, I thought you might have word of the local roads and any possible dangers they may contain?” With a friendly smile, Alain tucks his thumbs into his weapons belt and waits for a reply.
The guards return Alain’s smile. Addressing the warrior and his two companions, the taller of the two returns the greeting. “Well met, Master Mornswith. I am Davon, this ‘ere is Jorgie,” he adds jerking his thumb at his companion.
“We just got in yesterday,” Davon explains. “Came in from Arabel. Nothin’ out o’ the ordinary on this leg so far. Whereabouts are ye goin’?”
Churning his stubby little legs, Velgardrin steps up to join the group from the direction of the Green Man Inn. He stands politely to the side, not wishing to interrupt the conversation just yet.
Noticing Velgardrim’s arrival, Alain gives him a quick nod and a smile. Turning back to Davon, he continues, “We where headed out of the Keep’s main road to the East, when we ran into an owlbear. We where lucky to survive the encounter, but one of our companions was injured, so we returned to the Keep. We will probably head out again in a day or two, so if you hear any word about the road to the east, we will be staying at the Green Man, or drinking at the One-Eyed Cat.”
Davon nods and replies, “Aye, we’ll see what we kin do.”
The quartet thanks the guards for their answers. Then, noting the time, they head toward the One-Eyed Cat to rendezvous with their other companions.
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