By Brian Flood
Chapter 61 - Division of Labor
The Hungry Halfling Inn
Corm Orp, The Sunset Vale
Mid-Evening, 14th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Cyzicus and Alani return to the Hungry Halfing Inn about an hour after they departed. They find Lucas, Kjira, Dolak, Corax, and Tomar sitting at the table where the two adventurers left them. Darius, Soft Fang, and Ori are not present, however. The five still present in the tavern all have wooden bowls in front of them. They are apparently just finishing a simple dinner of some sort.
Taking a seat next to Corax, Alani looks around trying to deduce what was for supper. Shrugging her shoulders, the elf looks about the Inn.
"So, 'hear anything new about the roadblock?" Alani asks no one in particular as her eyes scan the common room hoping to catch the eye of one of the waitresses.
"Where are the others?" asks Cyzicus as he takes a seat beside Alani, also looking forward to dinner.
"We have heard nothing new," replies Lucas. "Darius is out with the wagon for the evening. Kjira and Master Tomar have taken the last rooms. Kjira does need it so she can study in peace."
"Tell us what you found out," Kjira says between sips of piping hot stew. "The only thing of note we have to say is that the inn is officially full."
"Aye," confirms Dolak, "they dinna ha'e enough rooms fer us all, so the most o' us will ha'e to stay with the wagons in the caravan lot. Still, the stew tastes like stew and not rock soup. We hadna heard any more about the merchant problems hereabouts. Did ye find out anythin'?"
"Cy," Lucas begins as he looks to the halfling, "do you think it might be possible for the rest of us to stay at your family's place? And please do tell what you discovered, if anything," adds Lucas to the newly re-arrived companions.
Noting that Alani is looking for the waitress Lucas adds, "I am sure Freda can bring out a couple more bowls of stew for you two."
"Gods I hope so," Alani exclaims as she turns back towards the group. "I fear I am about to starve," the scout says jovially.
Seeing the wine decanter sitting on the table, Alani reaches for it only to find it empty. Frowning slightly, Alani leans back in her chair and continues.
"It seems Lord Hultel knows about as much as we do," the elf says, folding her arms across her chest. "He is sending out scouts this night to learn what he can, so 'til then I guess we might as well make ourselves comfortable and partake in the hospitality of Corm Orp."
Smiling, Alani again scans the room for Freda, again to no avail. Resigning to the fact that she will have to wait for the halfling girl to come to the table, Alani turns her attention back to her companions.
"Cy, do think it would be possible to have a small tour of your family's vineyards after we sup?" Alani asks the halfling priest. Then, not giving Cy a chance to answer her first question, the elven girl's eyes light up as she leans forward and continues, "And could you please take me to your truffle patch you were telling about earlier? I haven't hunted truffles since I was a little girl and my mother took me with her and my aunts to the Greycloaks," Alani offers, batting her eyes in a flirtatious matter towards the halfling priest.
Cy responds with, "I would be honored milady to escort you to the patch. And then taking in the whole table, he adds, "I am sure all would be more than welcome in our home the eve. Now where is Freda? I simply must have some of that stew."
Turning to Corax, Cyzicus next asks, "I hate to impose, but could you postpone sampling more of my family's vintage? I would like for you teach me some rudiments of knife work later tonight if you do not mind."
The rogue looks askance at the halfling priest, and replies, "Of course. It would be my pleasure to instruct you on knife fighting." Corax frowns as he regards his traveling companion but then shrugs, deciding for the time being to make nothing more of the odd request.
As the half-elf finishes speaking, Freda reappears at the table. She smiles at Cyzicus, obviously delighted to see him again.
"Ah, you're back!" she exclaims. "Would you like some stew, as well? I helped to prepare it."
"Yes, I would love some, Freda," Cy replies. "I'm sure you put you own special touch on the meal. Could you bring us a pitcher of water as well?" he asks with a smile.
Stifling the urge to laugh as the halfling shifts in his seat, apparently uncomfortable to Freda's affections, Alani turns towards Freda. "I would love a bowl Freda." Then looking into Corax's empty bowl, she adds, "better make it a big bowl, for I am sure it will be as good as it smells. And from my friends, satisfied looks, I am sure it is," Alani says pleasantly.
Turning to Cy, the elven scout continues. "I will be happy to stay with your family, Cy. Let us eat a bit first, then we better head over there before the hour gets too late. Perhaps we should ask Darius if he would like to join us in the hunt for truffles. I am sure the druid would enjoy it," Alani adds nonchalantly.
Rising, Cyzicus announces, "I'll be right back. I wish to tell Darius and Ori of our change in plans." With that, the halfling priest leaves the table and exits the taproom.
* * * * *
The Caravan Campgrounds
Cyzicus returns alone to the caravan camping area to find Ori waiting impatiently on the front seat of the wagon. A loaded crossbow also sits on the bench, within an arm's reach for the gnome drover. Darius and Soft Fang lie curled up underneath the wagon, man and wolf both sleeping soundly.
Cy leans down and shakes Darius shoulder, then backs up and waits for him to awaken. The druid does not seem to move for a second, but the halfling can tell by the slight quickening of his breathing that the young man is waking.
After a few moments, Darius sits up and looks around. Noting that Soft Fang is still asleep, and seeing only Cyzicus, he queries, "So, has some decision been made? After you left the Inn, the talk quickly fell apart."
"Yes," replies Cyzicus, "we're were going with the original plan. After dinner, we will be heading out to my home. Make any preparations you need - we should be out within twenty minutes at the most."
The druid growls quickly and shakes Soft Fang. As the wolf wakes up, Darius growls some more. "<Time to go>". He grabs his spear and gear and says to Cy, "Ready. Let's go."
"What of the mounts and the wagon?" asks Ori, who has been listening in. "Does Master Tomar wish to leave the wagon here or is he also accompanying you to your home?"
Cy responds with, "I'm not sure, but an educated guess would say he will want to go, since that is where the guards will be."
* * * * *
The Hungry Halfling Inn
Shortly after Cyzicus has left the taproom, Freda returns with a tray and two bowls of steaming stew. "Now where has he gotten off to?" she asks no one in particular as she sets the bowls on the table and glances around.
Snickering at the halfling girl's question Alani smiles as she takes her bowl. "He'll be back Freda. He is just excited about this roadblock business and all," the elf says pleasantly.
Taking up her spoon, Alani scoops up some of the stew and gently blows on it a few times. Satisfied that it won't burn her mouth, the young girl tastes the stew.
"Mmmmm," she mumbles as she chews the meats and vegetables slowly, enjoying the mix of taste her mouth is enjoying. Swallowing, the scout looks to the young halfling and says, "You must give me your recipe Freda, this is the best stew I have ever had, my compliments to you!"
After Freda leaves, and after taking a few more bites, Alani looks to her rather irritated employer. "Tomar, there may not be anything we can do about this roadblock, save wait it out." Taking another bite from her supper, Alani enjoys the splendid morsel as she thinks out her next words. Swallowing the woman continues speaking.
"We should also watch ourselves. If this road block is because of us, we can bet the Zhents have eyes and ears in town," Alani says, taking another bite as if to emphasis her last words.
"Of course," replies Tomar in agreement. "So then, who of you will be staying to guard the wagon? I could not help but hear that you and Cyzicus intend for us to stay at his family's residence. And this after Kjira and I have already paid for our lodging here!"
Hearing that Tomar concerned is so concerned for his goods, Lucas turns to address the merchant. "Fear not, Master Tomar, your goods shall be watched after. After a quick trip to find where Cy's family resides, we shall set up a watch to relieve Ori and make sure your goods are secure this evening. I propose we leave Kjira out of this rotation since she will be needing all the quiet she can get to study. I would like to volunteer for the last shift, so that I can study my book as well - since I plan on memorizing a new spell so that I can try and discern some of the unidentified items we still carry, tomorrow. That leaves us with Dolak, Alani, Darius, Cy, Corax, and myself."
Lucas looks around to make sure his has not missed anyone. "Shall we divide the shifts into groups of two to be safe? Any thoughts everyone?" asks Lucas of his fellow companions.
Rolling her eyes as the blacked robed mage brings up the subject of watch, Alani surrenders to the fact that she can't wait any longer to tell her employer and companions about the meeting with Lord Hultel. Rolling a potato that is left in the bottom of her near empty bowl with her spoon, the young elf speaks, her eyes not leaving her bowl.
"That sounds good save one thing Lucas, "Alani says her voice barely loud enough for those at the table to hear. "You know the scouts we told you Lord Hultel was sending tonight " the girl pauses, as she lifts the potato from the bowl with the spoon Alani lets out a sigh and continues.
"Cy and myself - along with Corax, Darius and the wolf - are that scouting party," she says softly. Taking the potato in her mouth, Alani slowly chews as she waits for the group's reaction.
Before anyone can respond to Alani's revelation, however, Cyzicus returns to the table with Darius and Soft Fang in tow. The druid's stomach audibly reacts to the empty bowls of stew that litter the table. Ori is not with the trio; apparently, the gnome has stayed behind to watch the wagon.
Kjira ears perk up as Alani mentions the makeup of the scouting party. "Wonderful," she decries. "We arrive in town and can't wait to rest before volunteering for more excitement."
She shakes her head. "Don't you EVER rest? I mean, surely the town could have sent a few guards to do the basic scouting first..."
She does a quick mental count in her head. "So we have Lucas, Dolak, Tomar, Ori, and myself left to guard the wagon tonight. We can rule out Master Tomar immediately so that leaves four of us to cover the watches. Not that I had any other plans or anything, either."
"Didn't we have this discussion a little earlier tonight?" asks the exasperated lady mage.
Darius, walking in on this conversation, turns to Alani. "What scouting party?" he asks.
Dolak finishes the last of his meal by wiping the stew residue from inside the bowl with a small piece of bread. He glances at Darius and leaves the druid's question hanging for a moment as he answers Kjira.
"It willnae be a problem t'night," the dwarf assures the lady mage. "I kin pull much o' the watch while the others rest and work their magicks tonight. In the morn, I can sleep in while the sun rises some. We'll ha'e t' wait fer the scouts t' rest some in the morn anyway. We shouldna be seein' o'erly much trouble in town tonight, I'm guessin'.
"We do need t' be getting' along down the trail soon," the smith continues. "The sooner we find a way around the block, the sooner we get to the next town along our trek. Dinna get me wrong, Cy, this is a fine town, but we're needin' to keep movin' if we're to stay ahead o' trouble, if ya know what I mean."
Turning to the confused Druid, Dolak adds, "I see ya didna know you were volunteered to work for the town watch tonight. You'll have to be askin' the others here," Dolak gestures at Alani with his tankard in the left hand, "fer a few more of the details." The dwarven warrior covers a grin with a long draught from his tankard.
"Aye Dolak," agrees Lucas with a nod. "I shall pull the last watch and study my spells then. I will try and discover what I might from the other items that still need identifying once everyone is up with the rising of the sun."
"I suggest we settle down for the evening," the conjurer adds. "Those of us staying at the inn, I wish you a good eve."
Turning to Cy, Lucas then says, "My good friend in arms, please show us to your family's house so that we too may get some rest until our watch is due."
Keeping quite as Dolak comments on Kjira's statements, Alani looks up from her bowl, her head nodding in agreement. The young girl smiles sheepishly as the stout dwarf answers the druid's question and points his tankard at her.
"Cy and I just kind of figured you would want to go, Darius," the elven scout says with a smile and a wink towards Darius. "Cy and I knew you two," she says, gesturing to Kjira and Lucas, "had things to do this night."
"I spoke with Tomar and Corax earlier about it, so we didn't see the harm in volunteering, "Alani adds, feebly trying to explain her and the Truesword's actions.
Finishing what is left of her meal as the Lucas and Dolak work out the watch schedule, Alani pushes her bowl to the middle of the table and leans back in her seat as suggests settling down for the night. "I agree, it seems like it is going to be a long night, so we might as well get started," she says, her eyes sparkling in anticipation of the night's events.
"I'm not sure I understand," announces Corax. "Lucas has mentioned a watch schedule - I would imagine he means for Master Tomar and his goods. But our employer," the half-elf nods toward the merchant, "is staying at the inn - and the guards are staying at Cyzicus' family homestead. Are the guards to march from Cy's home to assume duties here, at the inn?"
"We'll more likely walk from Cy's home t' the wagons in the merchant's parkin' area," Dolak surmises in response.
Corax shrugs. "As you will. I will apparently be involved with this scouting mission that Alani and Cyzicus have arranged. I was only thinking of the work that you and Lucas have ahead of you, this 'eve."
"Why not take the wagon to Cy's place? That is, if Cy's family wouldn't mind," Alani's says nonchalantly, looking to the halfling priest she continues, "What do you think Cy?"
"I'll tell you what *I* think," replies Tomar before Cyzicus can answer. "I think that my wagon - and my goods - shall stay near me. And since I have already rented a room - after some among you had rented one, I might add - the wagon shall stay here, near me."
"Well then, Master Tomar," replies Dolak. "Yer quite the charmer, but I dinna think even Freda will be wantin' ya to drive yer wagon here in the tap room. The doors are a wee bit narrow t' be drivin' through. And ya kin see there's not much room here between the tables. And then there's the smell, too. I'm thinkin' I'm lookin' forward to seein' this.
"Oh," the dwarf continues, apparently enjoying himself, "and since yer t' be sleepin' here on the tables near yer goods too, might'n one of the other mages be usin' yer unused bunk?"
"Cy," Dolak then says, turning toward the halfling, "I dinna think we'll be needin' t' bed down at yer place. Master Tomar has graciously arranged for some paving stones outside in the street fer the rest o' us to bed down."
"So much for not alerting any spies," Cy mumbles under his breath as he eats his dinner. He then swallows his stew, letting Alani do the talking since she inclined to anyhow.
Seeing that Cy seems to be upset, Alani frowns slightly as she addresses the halfling. "Sorry Cy, I had to tell. Lucas started diveying out the watch for the wagon, I had to say something," the scout explains apologetically.
Ignoring the side conversation between Alani and Cyzicus, Tomar looks to Dolak with a wry smile. "I had planned to leave the wagon in the caravan campground, where the other wagons are located. I supposed that some of you would stay in the room you rented and the others would stay near the wagon with Ori."
"I agree with you, Master smith," the merchant tells Dolak. "The proprietors of this establishment would be most displeased if I were to bring my wagon into the taproom."
Exasperated by this, Cy intercedes. "Can you hear?" he asks Kjira, looking at her ears. "The Guard had made the decision to wait and see, before leaving the inn. Master Tomar is on a schedule - which he says he already behind on. As for volunteering people, we only volunteered those who expressed an interest in going before we left."
"Any other problems you have this night?" asks the halfling.
"Nothing a scroll of halfling-slaying wouldn't solve," Kjira retorts sarcastically. "And as far as the militia was concerned, if my ears and memory serve me correctly, Lord Hultel made no such decision to 'wait and see'. I seem to recall him mentioning planning a small force to reconnoiter. He did say they could make no plans to send a full fledged force out to meet the brigands since the militia was over-extended, if that's what you were referring to..."
Standing from her seat, Alani shakes her head as the group seems to be in disagreement. "It doesn't matter what was said now. The fact is, we have volunteered to do the job and that is exactly what I plan to do, whether I have to go by myself or in the company of friends," the young scout says quietly. The expression on her face shows the determination of the elven lass.
"So I suggest that if we are going to do this we had best get a move on. From what the wagon master said earlier, the block is about a half a day away by wagon. We should be able to cover that distance in half the time," Alani explains. The elf then places both hands on the table and awaits any comments from the gathered group.
Lucas nods to Alani. "Then let us all retire for the evening and the majority of us shall stay around town and meet back up here tomorrow eve to discuss whatever you discover on your walk-a-bout," says Lucas to his fellow members of the Iron Wolf Company.
"If all goes well Lucas, I hope to be back before the morning," Alani says. A small smile breaks the young elf's determined look.
Pushing in her chair, Alani places a silver coin on the table. "Be sure to tell Freda the stew was the best I have had in a longtime, please." With that, the scout prepares to leave, waiting for those who are going to finish.
Dolak's empty mug clunks on the table as he sets it down and stands up from the bench. "Let us be off, then. I'll take the watch 'til the wee hours of the morn. Cy, how long a walk is it from yer house t' the caravan paddocks?"
At this, Cy rises from the table and leaves his own silver piece. He silently wishes he could tell Freda that her attention to the stew was most appreciated.
At the door, Cy turns and answers Dolak's question. "About a mile," he says, "you may wish to spend the night with the wagon."
Dolak nods at Cy. "Aye, I'll be stayin' with the wagon and cart t'night, then. I'll need someone t' take m' place durin' the wee hours o' the morn. Who'll it be?"
"Just to make sure I understand this," Kjira says as she listens to the others finalizing the plans for the night. "Everyone not going on this ill-timed scouting adventure will be spending the night at Cy's family home, with the exception of the person currently standing watch at the wagon?"
"And his home is some mile or so, roughly speaking, from where the wagon will be stowed for the evening? So what's the point of a watch? If anything were to happen, the person standing guard would have to travel a mile to wake the others and then everyone journey back to engage the enemy. By then, the wagon would be looted or stolen completely!"
"What I said for Dolak was meant for any standing guard," replies Cyzicus. "I never intended for the group to be separated from the wagon. When I invited all to my family burrows, I had intended for us all to be there. Obviously, that is not to be."
"I'm plannin' on spendin' this eve with the wagons," repeats Dolak. "Who is t' be the other guard, and will ya be spendin' the eve with the wagons, too?"
"Ori shall be the other guard," Tomar says in answer to the dwarf's question. "That will leave the two of you able to support one another."
"And if I understand the previous arrangements," the merchant continues, glancing toward Kjira, "the lady mage here has rented a room at the inn. If there were a disturbance, surely she would hear and be able to react. Correct?"
"I shall relieve you two in the early morn so that you can get some rest as well," assures Lucas.
Standing back as the others delegate the night's watch, Alani shakes her head in wonder as the group talks. 'Are humans' memory as short as their lifespan?' the young elf thinks to herself, her mind wandering back to when the group was traveling the road in the direction of Corm Orp. It was a usual fall day and all were in good cheer. Dolak and Cy were talking about meals and brews, then Cy lets out a mighty chuckle as he slaps the dwarf on the back and invites the caravan to stay at his family place where the food and drink would be the finest any has ever had.
"Who else will not be busy tomorrow?" Lucas asks of the others as he stands up and readies his cloak to depart.
The mage's question snaps Alani back to the conversation at hand. Staring at the black robed mage as he readies his self to leave, Alani smiles as she shakes her head. 'Humans, they are so worried about tomorrow they don't have time for today,' the young girl jokes to herself.
Turning towards the seemly frustrated halfling, Alani moves to his side. "Come on Cy, what's done is done. I have the fears you do, but the longer we sit here is more time to prepare for us if there is a spy nearby," the elf says softly.
"Aye, let us be going," answers Cyzicus. Then, suiting actions to words, the halfling makes his way out the door to his pony for the ride to the burrow.
Looking to the others, Alani shrugs her shoulders as the halfling heads for the door. "Well be better follow him, he may not wait," the elf says with a chuckle.
"Corax, Lucas, Darius - would you fellows do me the honor of being my escorts?" Alani coos as she offers her arms to the gentlemen and winks playfully.
"Let us ask the gods for a quiet evening, then," Kjira says as the others depart. She stands herself a few moments later and gathers her things round the table.
"I should get started upstairs as well," she excuses herself. "Hopefully I will see you all in the morning...and not any sooner."
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