By Brian Flood
Chapter 7 - Triningl
The Sword Coast Backlands
Late Morning, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The quartet travels for two more days through the prairie lands. The dry, arid weather reminds Rashid of his desert homeland in Anauroch. The small band's progress is markedly slower, now. Yassir continues to groan in agony and suffers from severe nausea and cramping
But as the days slowly creep by, Yassir's condition gradually improves. By dawn of the second day of Marpenoth - slightly over two full days since he was bitten - the D'tarig has regained full health. At this point of the journey, Aranor estimates that the travelers are only a score or so miles from Yarthrain. With Yassir's vitality restored, the group should reach the town before sunset. Aris, in turn, assures Rashid that they will soon come into sight of the Winding Water River - and event that the Bedine has been anxiously anticipating.
The quartet breaks camp and packs their mounts for one last day of travel before a well-deserved rest. A few hours after sunrise, they are on the move again.
They have been moving for about two hours or so when a shrill whistle breaks the serenity of the prairie. Glancing into the distance, the travelers can see a mounted individual in the tall grasses to their west. Whoever it is appears to be mounted on some sort of swift raiding horse. He or she trails a second mount behind. The rider raises an empty hand over his or her head - a signal that implies that the stranger means no harm.
Rashid looks at the two elves questioningly, and then returns the signal. "I think that one of you had better go forward to meet the rider, as camels can cause panic amongst horses that are not familiar with them. I will keep my bow to hand." Saying this, he takes his bow from its quiver and nocks an arrow as the stranger approaches.
Aris and Aranor exchange glances and then Aris nods slightly to her brother. "I will go forward," Aris says, "Aranor can stay here to provide cover as well." The minstrel then deftly brings her harp from its saddlebag and plays a few notes while singing in a rapid, lilting voice. The words seem like honey to Rashid but he finds they flow past him so quickly that he is unable to grasp their full pronunciation. A few seconds later, a shimmering aura flows from the harp to cover Aris' body. Just as quickly, it vanishes.
"That should provide some assistance, should he be hostile," she says as she replaces the harp into its saddlebag. With another wordless glance and nod to Aranor, the minstrel snaps her reigns and slowly walks her horse forward toward the stranger.
As Aris directed, Aranor remains behind. Rashid sees that somewhere in the last few seconds, the elven warrior has dismounted his steed and drawn his longbow from its saddle scabbard. The elf holds the bow down by his waist, a bow held against the string, as he watches his sister ride forward.
Yassir has produced his crossbow and holds the weapon across his lap and he sits atop his camel. Rashid notes that the D'tarig has one of his poison-coated quarrels loaded. From past experience, Rashid knows that the toxin is harmful only to goblinkin and their ilk. It poses little added threat to others. The use of such poison-coated missiles is, in fact, quite common among the short desert nomads.
The elven maid closes the distance to the rider - a ride of about six score yards or so. She raises her hand, signaling her own desire to parley and then the two appear to converse briefly. As they talk, Aris looks over her shoulder and gestures to the three waiting males.
After a minute or so, Aris waves the trio forward. When she does, Aranor replaces his bow in his saddle scabbard and heaves himself up into the saddle.
As the three companions ride forward, closing the gap to Aris and the stranger, Rashid lowers his bow to his side. Leaning over to Aranor, he quietly asks, "What did Aris do with her harp, just before se rode out?"
"She used it to enchant herself with some form of protective magic," Aranor replies. "Most likely to ward her from evil."
The trio closes on the Aris and the stranger. As they reach speaking distance, Rashid notes that the stranger is a human male. He is clad in armor made from animal hides that covers some of his clothing - which appears to be made from the tanned skin of some prairie game animal. He sits astride a light, raiding horse. A short bow rests in a saddle scabbard and a quiver of arrows rests on the horse's opposite flank. Low to his side, the man holds a spear, decorated with multicolored bird feathers near its tip. Various feathers also protrude from the leather band that holds his dark ponytail in place. A long bladed knife hangs from one side of his belt mirrored by a short handled hand or throwing axe that rides on the opposite hip. The man's mature face is very tanned and weathered - indicating a life spent mostly out of doors.
Aris says something to the man in the soft, melodic language that Rashid now recognizes to be elvish. The Bedine is able to catch a few words from his short time with the elves. Among them are the elven words for 'desert' and 'traveler'.
The plainsman warrior nods briefly and then addresses the newcomers in Common. "I am Trinfingl," he says, "and I am the guardian of the lands near here. I shall see you safely to the town."
Rashid looks once again to his elven companions and guides for their thoughts on the matter. He feels somewhat uneasy at Aris' use of magic, although less so than many of his people as a result of his association and tutorage under Falin - especially when the magic emanates from enchanted items. He makes a mental note to add it to the various items that he would wish to discuss with the elves before the journey's end.
Seeing the Bedine's quizzical look, Aris responds, "Trinfingl can be trusted. He has some mutual friends in common with Aranor and I. Plus, his knowledge of the local area may come in handy once we reach the gates of Yarthrain."
Aranor simply nods mutely in support of his sister's statement. Trinfingl shifts in his saddle and addresses Rashid. "I understand you are from the great land of few grasses that lies many leagues east of here. Welcome to my lands."
Rashid inclines his head to Trinfingl. "Thank you. I think that 'few grasses' may be something of an overstatement, however."
The plainsman raises his eyebrows in surprise. "Is that so? I find that hard to imagine. Even here, in the prairie, we do not get rain for many moons at a time. But still we have grass. How do you survive without fields to harvest or orchards to feed you?" Trinfingl asks.
"We do not get rain," Rashid begins, glazing slightly as he remembers times past. "My people are mainly nomadic, travelling the Mother Desert from oasis to oasis. We have milk from our camels to drink, and bitterleaf grass, sandgrass roots and palm leaves for those with the skills to find them. We also hunt desert hare, lizards, bats and snakes when we can."
"If the tribe is fortunate and travelling near the desert edge, we feast on antelope, basted in honey and spices," the Bedine adds, "and dates from the oases that we pass through. Honeyed fruits are also eaten, sometimes in milk. The sand sea is a harsh place to those who are nor familiar with its ways, strengthening those that are."
"As are the plains," affirms Trinfingl. "My people follow the herds of bison. We have no one place we call home. From the time we are born until the day that we die, our lives are tied to the great beasts. If we are lucky, we may see a herd on our way."
The small but growing group rides on past highsun and into the afternoon. It is about midafternoon when the sun is suddenly blotted from the sky by dark, roiling clouds. With little warning, a heavy rain cascades from the heavens and onto the travelers.
Then, as rapidly as it arrived, the cloudburst ends. In its wake, the tall grasses the line either side of the road drip with moisture and small puddles form in the road. The emerging sun soon takes effect, however, and as fast as the period of moisture arrived, it comes to an end.
Soon thereafter, Rashid's earlier wishes are answered. At about the same time that the small village of Yarthrain comes into view on the southern horizon, the Bedine heard a lyrical trickling sound from the west. The tall grasses prevent him from seeing the river, but as the small band gets within bowshot of the population center, Rashid is able to spy the winding, flowing waters of the Winding Waters River.
The small village of Yarthrain is located at a bend in the river. It consists of two concentric circles of dwellings. The outer ring consists of commoner homes constructed from baked mud bricks and topped by thatched grass roofs. The inner ring has a handful of stone and wood multi-story buildings and a centrally located keep. The fortress is rather austere - four simple towers and a gatehouse protect its main building. Any one side of the keep is slightly over one hundred feet in length; sixty feet of wall flanked by two twenty-foot square towers.
The party passes by the riverside dock as they near the northern entrance to the town. A small collection of skiffs and small rafts populate the otherwise empty pier.
Rashid slows and stares at the river in awe. He whispers, "So much water. And the falling from the heavens. What a place my people could make with a fraction of this bounty."
"Indeed," Aris says, nodding her head in agreement.
"This is Yarthrain," Trinfingl announces. "I will wait for you by the southern road. How long will you be?"
"We should be no more than the night and possibly a short bit in the morning," Aris answers for the group.
"A word with you plainsman," she says next to the party's guide. The two walk their horses away from the rest of the group and out of earshot. They exchange a few short sentences with each other and then Aris returns to the group.
"There is an inn here known as the Silver Blade," the minstrel announces. "Trinfingl says we can receive a good night's meal and lodging there. As he said, Trinfingl will meet us at the southern road - the one leading toward Drawn Swords - on the morrow. For now, we should move to the inn. Does anyone disagree?"
"I know nothing of these lands, their people and customs," Rashid replies, still gazing at the river, watching the flow of the waters and the play of the light on the surface. "I will be guided by you on these matters."
"Then we shall do as the plainsman suggests," Aris decides. With a wave to their mounted guide, the four companions take their leave of Trinfingl and spur their mounts and ride into the town.
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