By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 26 - Rest and Reprieve
Not far from Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 9th day, the morning hours
It takes a little effort gathering enough dry wood to make a large enough pyre to burn the Troll, but soon enough with the help of Ditalidas’ magical fire, the smell of charring meat rises into the sky accompanied by a plume of smoke. With only a little breeze blowing, the smoke rises almost straight up into the air.
During the foraging for firewood, Telsom has strained his arm a little too much, and the wound on his arms has started bleeding again. Something the paladin only noticed after he was satisfied the monster was burning properly.
The horses have quieted down, sensing the danger has passed. Qwenta and Teri have been healed and seem to have suffered no ill effects from their encounter with the large monster. Immerine has no problems gathering the horses and keeping them together.
The strange musician has introduced himself to most of the group as Nik, a gangly man, apparently afraid of dogs and horses, but with a very pleasant voice and obvious talent on the beautiful instrument he caries.
Friend, having had much fun during the collection of the wood, running back and forth with a stick, has lain himself down near Marc, and is contently chewing on the stick, as if there is nothing more important in the world at the moment.
Aside from the burning Troll corpse and the remains of the undead, the place has returned to a tranquil state. Where the sounds of the birds singing and animals scurrying through the dry leaves were subdued or gone during the fight, most of that has returned again. The sun has risen over the trees and casts its rays over the scene, warming everyone a little in the still brisk morning air.
While Emlyn takes Kalil’s warning calmly, Nik flinches as if he’s been slapped. His deep-set eyes are bright with fear once again, but this time there is pain there as well. The color drains from his gaunt face and he swallows nervously. With his shoulders now hunched and his arms hugged tight around his bony chest he warily watches Kalil head over to collect his horse, giving the young man the same fearful attention he has shown towards Marc’s dog. “I’m not a thief.“ Nik says defensively, his voice low and hoarse. “I’m not a thief.“
He sinks back to the ground, to huddle in a miserable lump with his arms wrapped around his shins and his chin on his drawn-up knees. His poorly patched cloak spreads around his hunched form like the wings of a paint-spattered vulture. He looks like a lost child, his pose a stark contrast to the age apparent in his weathered and care-worn face. His shadowed eyes are haunted and his bony face is a mask of horror as he says again – his deep voice almost a whimper now, “I’m not a thief.“
He doesn’t seem to notice Marc’s call to gather wood, nor does he look up when Emlyn goes to help with the burning of the troll. Like when Emlyn had tried a few moments earlier to offer a little help for his fear of Friend, Nik seems lost in his own little world.
Wrinkling his nose at the acrid smell, Matteo turns his back on the burning troll and crosses the glade back towards the undead where he kneels to clean his blades on their clothing.
Immerine quietly reaches behind Qwenta’s ears and gives the stallion a good rub as she watches the group gather themselves. As the pyre burns, Immerine watches the surrounding wood carefully searching for additional threats to the group. She makes no move, even as Kalil approaches to retrieve Corundum.
Looking over at the gangly figure hunched over in misery nearby Matteo rises a little stiffly to his feet and moves closer, sitting down nearby and looking back towards those gathered near the troll. “Not much of a day really, is it?“
Nik’s dull hazel eyes listlessly follow Matteo’s progress over toward him. He barely flinches as Matteo draws close and sits down. It’s obvious by the pain in his eyes that whatever little world Nik wanders off to isn’t a very nice place. It’s also obvious that he’s about at the end of his rope. His weathered face is seamed with a bone-deep weariness and his deep voice is flat and lifeless as he sighs, “What am I doing here, anyway? I was in Nashkel only a few hours ago.“ His haunted eyes gaze at some middle ground between himself and the troll as he continues “I should be in some inn, enjoying a warm breakfast and deciding what songs to play to pay for lunch. Instead I find myself here, surrounded by you bold adventuring types, with a burning troll, what appear to be even more corpses, a bunch of horses and that dog.“
Nik lifts his head from his knees, looks at Matteo and smiles a wan and tired smile. “It’s raining in Nashkel, you know. I hate the rain. So, to answer your question.“ his smile fades and he sighs, his head dropping to his knees once again. “No, it hasn’t been a nice day. And it’s only just begun, I fear.“ He shudders and mutters bitterly “That lad all but called me a thief. I’m many things, not all of them good, but I’m NOT a thief.“
He seems to realize that he’s being rude as well as depressing, and Nik gives Matteo a smile that is the barest ghost of his normal manic grin. “I’m Nik.“ He says, straightening up and forcing a little cheer into his deep, resonant voice, even if it doesn’t reach his haunted eyes. “Andreus Nikolai Estoba Winterborne the Third. You won’t have heard of me.“
Grinning in spite of himself, Matteo picks up a nearby stone and tosses it aimlessly towards the forest. “Nope, can’t say I have. But then I doubt you’ve heard of me either. Matteo Amadis Oberyn Ashgale, the first of that name.“ His brief smile fades as his eyes cloud over, turning a flat gray in the morning light. “Probably the last too.“
His mouth twists into a grimace and he nudges the earth with the point of one boot. “If it helps, I’m not a thief either; Many other things at one time or another, but never a thief. Never saw the point really. It’s just too… petty. I mean, if you’re going to commit a crime you might as well do something on a grand scale like fleet-wide barratry, starting a war, or having carnal knowledge of an animal.“
The pain in the tall man’s eyes abates as Matteo talks, he seems happy to have someone to talk to and distract him from the black mood he’s sunk into. As Matteo mentions bestiality, Nik chuckles slightly, ducking his head and grinning. “I’ve never done any of those things, either.“ His baritone voice has regained some of its expressiveness, and he looks back at Matteo with humor now bright in his eyes. “I guess I’m just not terribly ambitious in the ‘evil’ department, am I? I think the worst thing I’ve ever done was botch up the lyrics to some ancient elvish ballad that no one really understands anymore anyway. But my Master of Ballads at Foclucan seemed to think I was destined for hell over it. I can hear him now.“ He muses, and his voice takes on a different timbre entirely “‘Damn you, Nik! If you can’t learn the simplest Elven epic how do you expect to play in Evermeet?! You’ll never graduate at this rate!’“ Nik grins, his eyes merry, his voice returns to its normal pitch as he says, “He was right, you know. I’ve never played in Evermeet. At least not yet.“
Lifting his sleeve to his nose he inhales shallowly and screws his face up, dropping his arm and sighing softly. “It’s going to take forever to get the smell of that thing out of my clothes you know, though a touch of lavender might just help to do the trick. Anyway, I think I can get you a hot meal and a drink in return for helping out earlier. Least we can do really until you decide what you want to do.“
Nik smiles, gratitude now plain in his gaunt, craggy face. “I could use some hot food, and if you wish to provide it, I would be thankful.“ He shrugs one shoulder a bit dismissively as he adds, “It’s not like I did all that much to help. I’ve just found that the proper tune in the proper place can do wonders. I’m sure you brave folks would have killed the beast even if I’d still been slogging my way through the rain two hundred miles away.“
Nik shivers slightly in his sodden clothes, more at the memory of the rain than actual cold. He looks expectantly at Matteo and asks, “So what is Berdusk like? Please tell me there’s somewhere I can buy some new clothes.“ Nik picks at the unraveling end of one of the mismatched, brightly colored patches on his threadbare cloak. “I had some better clothes, but I ran into a beggar who was wearing rags I wouldn’t even patch these old things with, and I gave him my nice shirt and pants.“ He grins at Matteo, sighing “Of course, like most people he was almost a foot shorter than I am, but we cut the sleeves and legs to fit him, and I’ve got the extra fabric in my pack. I suppose I should buy new clothes to travel in, someday. But as long as I can put a patch on a hole, I don’t see the need. My ass doesn’t hang out, yet, even if my knees may.“
Turning his attention away from the flames and to his wounded arm, the man’s eyes open in wide in momentary shock. Quickly taking on an impassive look Telsom moves his hand to cover the wound and staunch the flow of blood. As blood begins to trickle between his fingers the paladin closes his eyes, wetting his lips he begins to concentrate, his eyebrows creasing ever so slightly. Turning in a slow circle Telsom keeps his eyes closed the look remaining on his face. To his relief, there is no throbbing feeling behind his eyes. The area really does seem more serene…
Marc’s new skin between his – browned and scarred – normal skin is peeking through an immense gash at the back of his shirt while he thoughtfully smiles at his dog, which so clearly is capable of enjoying the moments as they arrive. Then he looks up and examines his companions, the new ones as well as the old ones. Then again, what’s old in this matter? As he looks at either one of them he seems to be pleased with what he sees – apart from a grim on his face as a reaction on Telsom’s arm. Perhaps inspired by the attitude of the dog, he realizes he’s quite content with the apparent friends he made in such a short notice and mumbles to no one in particular, “Hmm… I might even feel at home with you, folks.“
His big brown sad eyes glow with joy and excitement. This glow gets an extra dimension as his look crosses Nik. True, there’s some amusement again, but this time that’s eclipsed by compassion. He nods reassuring at him before turning his gaze downward and next to him, where Emlyn is standing. He hesitates a moment, then takes a deep breath and says to her, “So… this should do it…? Kill the beast I mean?“
While Marc looks down on the halfling woman he clearly is confused. He opens his mouth again, closes it again and adds a rhetorical question in a thoughtful tone, “Your name is Emlyn, isn’t it?“ He looks her expressly in the eyes, frowning interested and starts to ask another question, “What…?“ But Marc doesn’t finish the question and just stands there, waiting for a response.
Emlyn smiles at the boy, and for a moment she really looks like a small farmer’s girl. She looks down on the dry wood she carries; she has gathered it with the routine of having done it for years. “Well, I hope so… the lady seems to know what she is doing.“ She answers his question. As her gaze follows his to the miserable looking bard, she quickly walks on over to the man and puts the firewood down for a moment. Rummaging through her own stuff, she produces her thin but trusty blanket; unlike the backpack and she herself, the thing is clean – if but rather modest. For Nik it is about the size of a small towel.
“I could have thought of that sooner.“ She says apologetically as she hands the soaking wet man the blanket. She grins at him and Matteo and then picks up her pile of wood again. “I’ll bring this to the others, then I’ll come back and properly meet you people.“
After having performed a complete turn, Telsom’s eyes slowly open; a smile slowly finds it’s way onto his face as he kneels before the pyre. Kissing the tips of the fingers on his left hand Telsom gently lays them on the ground before him. “Lady Firehair, thank you for letting me aid these brave souls in ridding the land of such an unspeakable evil. May the undoing of the ugliness of its presence help in some small way bring back the beauty of this land.“ Rising to his feet Telsom winces once more as he strains his injured arm. The young warrior scowls at the wound before turning his attention to the Lady Jalarghar. “It is good to see you well Lady. It is a shame that our second meeting had to take place where our first found us in each other’s company however.“ Nodding to the woman, the smile slowly falls from his face and then he moves off to see his beloved horse once more.
Ditalidas looks at Matteo’s back as he leaves without a word of reply. Somehow it hurts a little that he ignores her. She shakes her head, calling herself a fool and too sensitive but still she follows his movement towards the shattered undead with her eyes. As Matteo moves on Ditalidas keeps looking at the shattered figures, feeling something is not as it should be, over there.
She is almost startled as Telsom speaks to her. She hadn’t seen him coming. She looks up at him her eyes cold with a glitter of anger, remembering the note he left her and the danger he put himself in so very foolishly. As he leaves without waiting for her to reply, she drops her chin to her chest and sighs deeply. Suddenly she feels very lost and lonely.
She closes her eyes and squeezes them close for a moment, feeling grieve inside taking over control again. For a moment she wants to give in to the feeling and drop to the ground and cry. She feels a little drained, as if the power she used took away parts of her own energy and with that a part of her resistance to the emotional whirlpool inside her. She swallows, her thoughts drift back to the prayer she had this morning at her mothers rosebush. And with that she thinks of her mother. She pictures her mother’s face as it is on the painting in the study. Then she pictures her mother dancing in a field full with flowers. Suddenly a flash of the undead woman stirs up the image she was creating. Ditalidas’ eyes flitter open and she looks at the shattered figures on the ground. It is then that she leaves the troll at fire and walks towards the undead again. ‘She is not there… why is she not among them… Did I imagine her…? Was she ever really there…?’
With these questions in mind she kneels down again near the shattered bodies and looks attentively at their faces. Then she closes her eyes and tries to remember the face of the undead woman. But as clear as the woman’s face was in her dreams and vision, now she seems not able to remember how she looked like. Frustrated she opens her eyes again and looks at the bodies again, but none of them seems to remember her of the undead of yesterday.
Immerine looks down on her newly acquired companions and lets her mind wander. She finds her gaze following Matteo and a frown crosses her lips. If they were in Rashemen such a bold man would find himself at the wrong end of a Witch’s spell. She sighs. But, they weren’t in Rashemen.
Immerine forces her gaze to the paladin, what a fiasco this rescue mission became. And, that boy – Marc! His bravado almost got him killed. Immerine looks up at Qwenta, Marc wasn’t the only foolish one this day. Her own actions almost cost her dearly – the possible loss of her only true friend, Qwenta. The reality of what happened finally hits Immerine and she begins shaking and is forced to sit down or fall over.
When Telsom and Kalil arrive to collect their steeds, they see Immerine huddled next to Qwenta’s forelegs repeating something in a strange language and rocking back and forth while tears stream over her mask. Seeing Immerine in her current state, Telsom’s mouth drops open. Forgetting about his beloved steed for the moment Telsom quickly moves to Immerine’s side. “Are you wounded? What…what is the matter fair one?“
When Kalil arrives at his beloved horse, he caresses Corundum, comforting it with words one speaks to children. Those who hear Kalil spot he speaks Amnian. After a few moments, Kalil is about to walk back to his chest, guiding the beautiful build elegant Amnian steed with him.
Immerine continues rocking back and forth, but stops uttering the odd language. She raises her masked visage to meet Telsom’s worried gaze. Her eyes are red and the leather mask shows tearstains as the crystalline river continues to flow. Her hands shake almost uncontrollably as they rest in her lap. She says nothing, but closes her eyes and draws a shuddering breath as she tries to calm herself.
As soon as Kalil sees Immerine sitting in her awkward position, he halts. Corundum’s reigns slip out of his slender hands, as if he’s paying no attention to it anymore. Kalil just stares to Immerine, tears welling up behind his eyes. He shakes his head, not wanting to cry. With his hands, he removes the tears from his eyes. Again, he looks at Immerine, in pity. “Poor thing“ he mumbles in Amnian. Then he walks over to hear, kneels at her side and hesitates.
Again he looks at Immerine; compassion and surprise seem to fight for dominance. Then he wraps his arms around the woman and hugs her. He tries to comfort her, speaking softly to her. Just after a few seconds, Kalil begins to weep himself…
When Kalil carefully wraps his arms around Immerine, it becomes clear he doesn’t intend to insult or be rude. It is clear he’s uncertain about the local customs. After hugging Immerine gently, he whispers softly in her ear “Oh, dear Immerine, what’s the matter? What’s bothering you, please tell me. Let me help you. Shared pain counts only half, or so we used to say at home. Please, share your pain, maybe…“ Then he hugs Immerine more tightly, and only now Immerine feels Kalil’s tears, which are running freely from his face. She can hear him sob softly.
Emlyn puts down the wood near the dead troll, then looks around for a familiar face; when her gaze finds Telsom and Kalil, it brightens a little but the expression fades when she sees the woman who is the subject of their concern. She walks towards them, the question mark clearly in her big brown eyes. “Can I ask what is the source of your pain?“ She asks softly, when she is near enough (but on a modest distance). “I know I am a stranger, but…“ She nods approvingly at Kalil. “Both experience and the teaching of my god have learned that sorrow should not be borne alone.“
In the mean time the pyre burns steadily and the roaring fire consumes the wood and the troll hungrily. It will take probably until after the sun has reached the zenith, before the dead monster is reduced to a pile of bones and ashes. The horses seem to have quieted down, and behave as normal, browsing the grass and regarding their riders with curiosity. Friend, having retrieved his chewing stick, walks over to the horses, her tail wagging, and lays herself down near them, contently chewing the piece of wood.
As Kalil embraces Immerine, Telsom’s left eyebrow arches. Chuckling the man stands. “If you have need of anything, than all you have need to do is ask. I should go see to Lady Jalarghar. Please excuse me.“ He finishes with a smile and nod to Emlyn.
Nik looks over at Emlyn as she approaches, his expression guarded and wary until he recognizes her. Then he smiles warmly, obviously glad to see another friendly face. When she holds her blanket out to him, he blinks, confused. His long, bony hand shakes slightly as he takes the blanket from her. He smiles at her again, an almost comic blend of surprise and gratitude on his face. “Why, thank you, Emlyn.“ He says, obviously pathetically grateful for such a gesture. “I do believe this is the nicest thing that anyone has given me in the past month. I promise to return it clean and dry, once I’ve found a laundry in Berdusk.“
He watches her go to add her wood to the pyre, a small wondering smile on his lips. “Wasn’t that nice of her?“ He sighs to the world at large, and quickly throws the towel-sized blanket over his head and starts vigorously rubbing at his long hair in a futile attempt to dry it. After a few moments, when some of the water is absorbed and his long brown hair is a wild, ragged-looking mess, he drapes the towel around his shoulders and sighs again. Then he starts combing the tangles out of his hair with his fingers. Nik looks over at Matteo, a slightly self-conscious smile on his face. “Eh, well.“ He starts, then clears his throat and continues, “That was awfully nice of her, wasn’t it?“
Nik notices the group gathering around Immerine at the horses and his expression becomes sad and resigned. “It seems I’m not the only one having a bad day.“ He comments, his eyes dull and haunted once again. “Maybe you should go see to the lady as well. I’m the stranger among you folks, after all.“ It’s clear that he doesn’t really want to be alone, but it’s also obvious that he’s worried about Immerine. Nik makes no move to get up, however, and tugs in what is plainly a nervous habit at the gaudy scarf wrapped around his throat.
After listening to Emlyn answering his question, Marc stands dumbfounded as she quite suddenly walks away. His left eyebrow frowns and he mumbles, “Hmm.“ while he follows her with his eyes until she starts unpacking the blanket. By this time his frown decreases. From Nik and Emlyn his eyes wander towards Immerine and the others near the horses. With a wistful smile he decides there seem to be enough hands on her already. A smile touches his face when he sees Friend enjoying herself. His look roams to Ditalidas near the ambush-site for a while with a thoughtful face. He shakes his head a bit, sighs lightly and starts walking in her direction. After a few steps he sees Telsom approaching the lady in a tender way, so he stops and stands still, frowning.
Moving to Ditalidas’ side, Telsom tries not to surprise her with his words or actions this time. Placing his hand on the woman’s forearm he gives her a tender smile. “What have I done to earn you anger Milady?“ The words are spoken softly, in a low tone so that only Ditalidas might hear them.
After a moment Marc turns and walks to where he laid unconscious a moment ago, to pick up his crook and sling. When he’s about to pick up his fur coat as well he smiles at Nik and hesitates, looking at the leather shape at Nik’s back, still bend to reach for the coat. He starts to address the man humbly, but gets more inspired while he speaks, “Ehm… The music I seemed to ‘ve heard… Was it you…? Ehm… Saer…? I thought to hear a… Yarting…? It WAS a Yarting, wasn’t it?!“ Marc’s eyes are wide open in excited curiosity while he looks at the bony figure.
Nik, who had been watching the group around Immerine with something very like longing in his dull eyes, didn’t notice Marc approach. When the lad speaks to him Nik cringes, his head snapping around as if he expected to be attacked. When he sees its Marc, the fear on his face quickly becomes with a wide, friendly smile. As the boy finishes his question, Nik’s smile gets even wider. “Why yes.“ He grins, pride now brightening his deep-set eyes and filling his resonant voice. “That was me playing, and yes, I play this Yarting.“ He reaches around to pull the leather-wrapped bundle of his guitar into his lap, and his eyes fall on Friend.
Friend observes all what’s happening, chewing her stick. When she sees Marc collecting his things she stands up and watches his behavior. Then she collects her things – which happens to be only her stick – and walks, still waggling towards her boss.
Friend, who notices her boss talking to someone and decides to get acquainted, drops her stick in front of Marc and starts walking very slowly towards Nik, with bend paws – so her head is almost touching the ground, waggling like a maniac and showing her teeth with a tilted head. Nik’s smile vanishes and is instantly replaced by terror. He hugs his guitar to his chest and draws his knees up once again, making himself as small as possible – which isn’t really small at all. Nik stares fixedly at the dog, a small strangled whimper coming from his throat. It’s obvious Nik wants nothing more than to clamber to his feet and run away, but he’s clearly had some experience with dogs, and seems to know that the if he runs, the dog will more than likely chase him. Of course, he could just be too scared to run, too.
When the dog doesn’t immediately leap on him and tear out his throat, Nik asks Marc “That your dog?“ His deep voice is a strained whimper, and his terrified eyes don’t leave the dog.
Marc’s eyes are focused on the leather bundle Nik’s retrieving with great eager. Not knowing what to expect it takes him a moment before he realizes Nik asks him a question and what the question was. He sees Friend approaching the artist and nods enthusiastically, “Yes.“ He says with a proud look in his eyes, “isn’t she just great?!“, then Matteo rises and start talking so Marc’s attention is kept with Matteo a few seconds.
Starting to rise to his feet at the sight of Immerine’s distress Matteo slumps back down again. “I… what could I do that they are not? It’s not as though we are… she’ll probably get up and hit them with her staff in a moment.“ Picking up another stone he absentmindedly turns it over continuously in his fingers, his eyes constantly stealing back to the group huddled around Immerine. “Or set her horse on them.“ He adds as an afterthought.
The fear in Nik’s eyes seems to reach a new height as Matteo adds his quip about Immerine’s horse. With a low, terrified moan, the gaunt man huddles into an even tighter ball, even with the awkward bundle of the guitar digging into his bony chest. “Oh, no.“ Nik whimpers, afraid to take his eyes off Friend, but now also afraid of Immerine’s ‘attack horse’ on the other side of him. “The HORSE attacks, too?! What have I gotten myself into?!“
“She doesn’t have to set the horse on you.“ He mutters almost to himself, “It attacks all by itself.“ The stone Matteo was absently turning over slips through his fingers to fall unnoticed on the ground as he flexes one hand, his gaze once more drifting over towards the horses and the group of people there.
Shaking his head he shifts on the ground. “Enough of this.“ He says testily, getting to his feet, “I’m not sitting here all day getting a damp ass, I want some breakfast. Nik, can you take a look at those corpses just over there and let me know if you see anything unusual?“ Brushing down the back of his jacket and seat of his pants he adds, “Marc, why don’t you… oh hell, I don’t know, keep Friend away from Nik. When Lady Jalarghar finishes talking with our mighty hero let them know we’re heading back to town.“
Nik’s voice is thin and strained as he says weakly “Sure. Check out the corpses. I’ll get on that right after I’m eaten by this dog, I’m sure.“ He tries to smile, but it comes out a grimace. His huge, fear-glazed eyes don’t leave the dog play dancing in front of him, however. Nik has obviously finally recognized the behavior as non-threatening, but he also does not seem at all reassured that Friend will not actually attack him.
Marc, who gazed silently at the peculiar actions of this peculiar man, and slowly gained a slice of understanding, is roughly interrupted in this process as Matteo mentions his name. He shakes his head, thus making his brown curls dance around his head, and tosses a smile at the musician before turning to Matteo. “Ehm… why don’t I…? Ehm… Huh?“
Marc looks at the creeping dog and suddenly realizes the trouble she brings to Nik, smiles and bends to pick up the dog’s stick, “Ah… but you don’t have to worry.“ He says with a smile as he erects himself, “She doesn’t bite, you know… Ehm… well… no humans anyway… ehm… that is… well, ehm…“ Then he calls Friend by name and throws the stick far away with a high arc and Friend just runs off to collect it.
In reaction to Matteo’s words Marc looks at Ditalidas and the paladin for a moment, sees they are still engaged in close conversation and turns back to Nik.
“Sorry.“ He says with a humble smile, “I mean… I’m absolutely sure she won’t do you any harm… as long as you don’t attack me physically that is.“ Then the eager look returns in his eyes, “Now for the Yarting …“ He interrupts himself and looks at Nik, the returning dog, Nik, Matteo, the horses and eventually at Nik again. By this time his eyes are wide open; finally he seems to comprehend what this man might be going through. Marc asks him in a worried tone, “Ehm… Saer… are you alright?“
Pausing for a moment to stretch his back Matteo proceeds to cross the ground towards the horses, making a line for Teri. For a moment Ditalidas doesn’t move but then she looks first at the hand on her arm and after that up to Telsom. In a long two seconds she doesn’t say anything but only looks at him. “You really don’t know?“ She asks him at last, her voice filled with a suppressed anger.
“I can only assume you are angry at me, for leaving before you were to rise today.“ Raising a finger to Ditalidas lips, his eyes full of compassion the paladin continues. “Please hear me out before speaking further my dear, for I had your best interests at heart even if it might not seem that way to you now.“ Wetting his lips, the young man cocks his head slightly to the side obviously admiring the woman’s beauty despite the anger evident in her eyes. A tender smile crosses the man’s face and then he continues. “My lovely Lady Jalarghar, I never meant to hurt you, you suffered enough just yesterday. I had planned to come and dispose of the fetid corpses left on the road. I had also planned on finding your mother’s remains and bringing them to your estate for a proper burial. A child should never have to go through such a thing as you did with the trickery presented to you in the guise of your mother.“ Telsom stops for a moment, sadness in his eyes. “I was prepared to destroy a hundred Velsharans and twice that many undead to save you grief, it was not my intention to be stock for a troll’s larder or to bring you grief.“
Telsom listens to the question and replies a second later, raising a finger to Ditalidas lips, his eyes full of compassion the paladin continues. After about thirty seconds of one-sided conversation he stands there a sad expression on his face, his finger still on the woman’s lips. The air around Telsom and Ditalidas has reached an almost tangible level of tension as the two are talking.
Ditalidas is about to say something when the paladin puts his finger on her lips. Though anger flashes through her eyes she keeps quiet and listens to him. As he calls her ‘child’ she makes a face at him, making clear that she doesn’t like to be called like that. As he is finishes talking she raises her hand and shoves aside his hand. “You are right.“ She says, a fire of anger still burning in her eyes. “That’s why I’m mad. And I’m mad for all the excuses you just gave me for doing it. Leaving me with only a note was not the worst thing. What really pisses me off just now is you leaving on your own to meet dangers yet unknown all by yourself while at the Running Stag help was available. But no, you had to face it alone. And by doing that you forced us in a rescue mission that could have us all killed.“ the tone of her voice raises a few notes during her monologue and the volume goes up a bit. It’s not unlikely that the others can hear some of what she said. She sighs for a moment in a futile attempt to regain her calmness. She glances at the group before she continuous. “I cannot and will not keep my promise to stay out of danger in combat if that means that I have to wait for you to sneak off in the night and get yourself killed. You cannot ask that of me if you are not willing to make the same sacrifice.“ She snaps at him.
Telsom listens to the young woman’s words his face sagging slightly at times. It’s obvious her words cut him deeply. “I never asked for rescue, my goal was not to seek out trouble this day but rather to eliminate an eye sore and save you grief. The problem I ran into today was one that could have happened on any number of occasions in the past, for I work most often by myself. I was torn on whether to invite you along. The intervention of your manservant last night was enough for me to make up my mind. It was unfair of me to not speak of this to you in person, but I really did think that the way I did things was best. It appears that I was wrong. I’ve told you that I never lie, that stays true. I never said that I am always right. Obviously I’m not.“
“Yes I almost came to the end of my life, and had that happened then Lady Firehair would have taken me to her realm so that I might serve her for the rest of time. I do not fear my own death Lady, but the thought of seeing you in pain is what truly does scare me…“
Looking at his wounded arm and then back to the woman he continues. “The one fear I have about my death at this moment is that I would not be able to explore the feelings taking hold of my heart these past two days. I’ve reassessed my choice of arms, I find myself currently ill-equipped and must rectify that situation. My skin seems as poorly shielded as my heart these past few days. The Sembian has earned my anger in placing my beloved steed in harms way, I will not bow down to a man who holds secrets from those who place their trust in him. The man has a good many of those, the fact that he almost fed Teri to the troll angers me to no ends, but I will let it go. Should he push me though…then things would come to blows. If you still wish to keep company with me, then I shall work along side these brave souls, I will not force my ways on them, but expect the same in return, I answer to Sune, and only Sune.“
Looking down at the hand Ditalidas pushed away moments before, Telsom brings it up once again and strokes her cheek tenderly. “I am truly sorry for wounding you, my precious flower, I hope that you will let me make amends to you.“ Telsom locks eyes with Ditalidas, his smile gone instead a look of pain rests on his face, his eyes almost pleading.
During Telsom’s monologue the fire disappears from Ditalidas her eyes. At his last words she closes her eyes and squeezes them tight for a moment when he strokes her cheek. When he is finished she looks up at him again. Tears pouring down her face. “I was scared to death about you… And I was not the only one who cared you know. They all came because they cared. Yes, even Matteo. They did not come because they wanted too annoy you or something like that…“ Then she closes her eyes for a moment, sighs and adds with broken voice, “Maybe you don’t care whether you die or not, but…“ Pain is visible in her eyes as she turns her head away. She sighs deeply before continuing softly: “No I don’t want you to leave.“
“I do care Lady, I care a great deal. I think that I have much left to do in this life. And I appreciate that you all came to rescue me, I believe with the help of the hin, I would have made it back to Berdusk regardless, but the sentiment is very nice.“ Moving closer to the woman, Telsom runs a hand through her hair. “If I leave you again, I’ll show you the courtesy of discussing it with you first.“ Bending in close Telsom takes in the scent of the woman’s hair and kisses her tenderly on the forehead. “I just wanted to do something nice for you…“ The paladin remains close to Ditalidas his body tense, and eyes closed.
Ditalidas closes her eyes as Telsom kisses her forehead and nods in understanding at his last words. As she opens her eyes again she notices his bleeding arm. Carefully she takes his arm in her hands. “I see you didn’t get a way unhurt.“ Between her eyes appears a worried frown. “I don’t know much about healing I’m afraid.“ She glances over at the rest of the group and though she noticed Aluar and his group had arrived she looks at them for the first time. “I believe Lieutenant Aluar has a priest with him. Maybe he is able to do something for you.“ She regards him, studying his face with her blue eyes.
The masked woman freezes in place the moment Kalil touches her. She opens her eyes again. Anger and outrage vie for dominance, then she breathes deeply once more and resignation and compassion win her over. She slowly raises her arm to pat Kalil on the back. Kalil knows nothing other to do than to take the comfort Immerine is offering.
Looking beyond Kalil, Immerine sees Emlyn nearby as well. Suddenly her hand drops away from the man and she shoves herself backwards and almost under Qwenta. Terror and fear are evident in her actions and in her eyes. “I – I – I… you must forgive me. I am not used to being touched or surrounded by people.“
Surprised by Immerine’s sudden movement, Kalil looks at her questioningly. Qwenta neighs softly and steps back butting his mistress forward toward Emlyn and Kalil again.
“Never, not even during the darkest moments of my life have people been interested in how I feel. Your customs are strange to me.“ She stops and takes a deep breath again. “In my homeland it is death to touch a member of the wychlaran. We are inviolate. Since leaving, I have learned I must change my views, or at least be more accepting of others. This is very hard for me, I am also not prepared for the assaults to my emotions.“ Immerine looks over her shoulder at Qwenta.
“Oh, forgive me“, Kalil stumbles, “I didn’t know. Did I offend you? Didn’t mean to…“ He looks embarrassed a just a little nervous. “I’m afraid I’ve got the same problem. Don’t know the customs, here. Didn’t realize, didn’t know you had a set of your own. By the Black Forecloser, what have I done?“
“Qwenta is my best friend. I raised him from a foal. We have lived almost every day in each other’s company. I almost got him killed today because I rode him at that beast. He is not battle trained and I used him wrong.“ Immerine stares at a spot on the ground about five feet in front of her, “This realization was why I broke down. I never thought about losing someone I care about. I don’t like thinking like that.“
At Immerine’s wise words, Kalil can only nod. When her words sink in, he seems depressed. “I’m afraid it’s our pearl, either lost or found. We all have to leave behind those who we love, at a given time – sometimes.“ Reflecting his own words, Kalil adds, “Gives us the strength and stamina to pursue our goals of the heart. Or to stay alive, or something…“
Immerine looks around at the others and sees Matteo near Nik. She watches the Sembian for several moments before she realizes she is staring. Immerine jerks her gaze back to Kalil and Emlyn. “Thank – you. Thank – you for caring, it is something new to me. So, please, do not be insulted by my actions.“
Defensively, Kalil counters Immerine’s apology “No, no, not at all. You are the one who should feel offended, if anyone should“. Not longer able to look at Immerine for the moment, Kalil’s gaze wanders off. Still sitting, he looks directly in the eyes of Emlyn. Embarrassed, Kalil heaves up his right hand. His finger spread out in an uncertain greeting. “Hi“ is all he’s able to say before grinning nervously.
“It would take a lot more to insult me, milady.“ Emlyn says honestly. Then she looks up to Qwenta, the horse nuzzling his mistress. “Looks like your friend has already forgiven you.“ She smiles. “I may not know you, but it seems to me you are a brave woman… obviously it takes courage to charge a monster like that, for which I am sure Marc is grateful – but it maybe takes even more to, as you say, ‘change some of your views’. And you are not at all lacking in the department.“
Immerine replies softly, “Courage? Some would say foolishness.“ Her hand snakes up to caress the stallion between the ears. “I would say recklessness.“ She falls silent and winces as she realizes how much it hurts to sit on the ground. She stops petting her horse and shifts her attention to her hip. A couple of studs have been driven through the soft under jerkin and into the flesh beneath.
Somewhat restored to his former self, Kalil chooses sides with Emlyn. “I think you have acted very courageous, dear Immerine. Although I was skeptic at first, because rushing off to combat isn’t exactly my idea of dealing with life, I’ve seen that things can be done otherwise. I thank you for that valuable lesson. You indeed endangered your horses’ life by charging at the troll, but you endangered your own as well, and it was a good bet for by token of your courage, we were able to rescue Telsom and this remarkable halfling. Without actions like yours, they would have perished at the vile claws of the troll“
She looks up at Qwenta and down at her hip again. “That is going to bruise, my beauty. Why do you always have to dump me on my rump?“ The horse tosses his head and whinnies, almost sounding like laughter. Deciding his mistress is doing much better, the horse butts her with his head once more and trots off to graze with the others.
Immerine leans heavily on her staff as she struggles to stand. Once up, she offers her hand to Kalil.
Without saying a thing, Kalil accepts Immerine’s hand and stands up, making sure not too much of his weight is lifted by Immerine. He smiles at Immerine, his eyes twinkle for a moment then, and abruptly he walks towards Corundum, and brings him to his chest.
“Foolishness? Maybe.“ Emlyn says, “but you did save a life in the process. And I have never encountered a foolish wychlaran… of course I have never encountered one, up until now. A witch I mean – not a fool. There are enough of those.“ She throws the lady an encouraging smile again. “Maybe now I should go back to meet my tall but rather soaked friend over there…“ She points at Nik, who has made enthusiastic use of her towel-sized blanket and now looks even more like a scarecrow. She greets Immerine, and, struggling a bit with the language, manages a greeting in somewhat broken Amnian to Kalil.
The sound of thundering hooves approaching can be heard. The horses seem to have noticed as their ears are pricked up and swiveling toward the sound. It seems to come from the direction of Berdusk.
Shortly after several riders crest the ridge, the uniform of the Berdusk Guard clearly recognizable. The men are carrying torches and large boar spears, and some of them are wearing full sets of plate armor. Brandishing a flaming sword, Lieutenant Aluar is leading the detachment. After quickly surveying the area, he motions his men to halt and he rides towards the group, sheathing the sword, apparently the flames don’t do damage to him or his equipment.
He lifts his helm from his head and rests it on the saddle. “Well, it seems that the cavalry has come too late to join the fray…“ His eyes are scanning the scene once more and rest briefly on Telsom, Emlyn and Nik. “Seems you have even been able to rescue your friend and get some assistance along the way…“ As his horse makes a few nervous sidesteps, the lieutenant’s gaze rests once more on Telsom standing with Ditalidas. “Are there any more wounded?“ And he looks at each of the group again, scrutinizing to see if there are any more injuries.
One of the boar-spear wielding guards rides forward and dismounts. Besides the colors of Berdusk, this man is also wearing Helm’s symbol prominently on his armor. Dismounting, he drops the spear and unties a leather bag from his saddle. Seemingly oblivious to the new arrivals, Telsom continues in his talk with Ditalidas. Listening to the woman’s words, the paladin runs a hand through the maiden’s hair and kisses her forehead gently.
Ditalidas listens to Telsom and nods. Then she takes his arm and looks at the wound. She says something and glances at the group. She speaks to him some more and after she’s done speaking she looks attentively at him.
Looking down into Ditalidas’ eyes, Telsom smiles at her. “As a warrior of Sune, I am immune to disease. The wound will heal over a day or two which will give me time to think on matters of faith.“ Flexing the wounded forearm Telsom scowls at the wound. “I might have to make a journey to Silverymoon in the coming days. Father, I’m sure won’t be happy to see his wayward son, but I’m sure my Mother will be ecstatic. She will fund new arms and equipment so that I can try to avoid such wounds in the future. I’ve not seen Aunty Alustriel in some time either. I think you would like her. Think we can convince the others to take a road trip? Once this mess with the Velsharans is cleared up of course.“ The last is said with a playful wink, letting Ditalidas know Telsom will stick close by her side, until the troubles have been resolved.
Crossing the clearing towards the horses Matteo pauses to reply to the lieutenant. “A couple of the horses were injured but I think they’ve been seen too, I’m just checking now.“ He adds, “Telsom over there took a wound.“ Gesturing towards the paladin, “You may want to check on him. Otherwise I believe we are almost finished here.“ Nodding to the lieutenant Matteo continues on his way over towards Teri.
Immerine watches Kalil as he tends Corundum, “You are a very confusing man Kalil. Perhaps we can teach each other a few things.“ The Rashemi turns at the sound of hooves and watches the Lieutenant return with reinforcements.
Amused by Immerine’s remark, Kalil smiles broadly as he looks Immerine in her face. “You learn from confusing people? But you’re right, it might be very interesting to have a conversation in a better – that is: less dangerous and more comfortable – place“. At that, Kalil turns his attention to Corundum. Only a few moments later, though, the reinforcements interrupt the grooming. Kalil listens intently to the conversation going on, but he doesn’t stop his job at hand.
Immerine gives a piercing whistle and Qwenta’s head snaps up and he trots to his mistress. She rubs the stallion’s neck and kisses his velvety soft muzzle. She murmurs something in her native tongue and mounts. Qwenta remains perfectly still as his mistress gets atop his back. She nods and Qwenta moves steadily toward the others. She pauses near Matteo and Immerine looks down at the Sembian, “You know, I doubt Telsom will share his mount with you. You are welcome to get on behind me for the journey back to Berdusk.“
Glancing from Teri up at her, Matteo wets his lips apprehensively. “Behind you, on that thing? Where would I…“ Flushing slightly he breaks off then asks softly, “Are you alright Immerine? I mean… you were not wounded in the battle were you?“ Immerine sits up stiffly when Matteo calls Qwenta a ‘thing’. Simmering anger is doused by surprise when he asks her if she is okay. “I can honestly say I was not wounded in the battle. By that I mean the troll never touched me – I am merely bruised.“ She continues in a very dry tone, “My horse has a name, your Lordship. Perhaps if you would use it he would not feel the need to snack on your hand.“ She rakes her gaze across him and turns her attention to Lieutenant Aluar.
Matteo stiffens under her gaze and his jaw clamps tightly shut. “I am glad you are not injured, my lady.“ Spinning on his heel he stalks away towards Teri muttering, “I doubt calling that horse anything under the sun would improve its disposition.“ As Matteo walks by Qwenta, the stallion kicks out at the man. The iron-shod hoof comes within inches of bunting him in the rear. Immerine chides her horse, “Qwenta, behave!“ The stallion shakes his head and neighs softly.
Skipping out of range, Matteo gives the pair an intent look before backing away and then turning to continue towards Teri, muttering something about a, “devil horse“ under his breath. When the grooming is done, Kalil loads Corundum with his chest and crossbow. Then he mounts and waits for the others to be ready to leave.
The blind terror eases from the tall bard’s shadowed eyes as the boy talks to him, although he still stares at the dog with the frightened fixation of a rabbit watching a nearby cat. “No.“ He says simply, his voice a soft, ragged whisper. “I’m not alright. I can’t find ‘alright’ with a map.“
Moments ago Marc lifted an eyebrow for half a second when Nik mentioned ‘eating the dog’, but almost immediately a smile glowed on his face for a second. Now Nik answers his question something similar happens. On first impulse Nik’s statement that he isn’t all right, makes Marc bends his knees in a movement towards squatting next to Nik. The mentioning of finding on a map in the same sentence confuses Marc briefly, but then he sniggers.
With obvious effort, he forces himself to straighten up from his defensive huddle, one shaking hand running absently over the leather-wrapped instrument that had been crushed to his chest. His bony frame is now trembling with reaction, and his gaunt face is ashen under the tan. Nik heaves a shaky sigh and forces himself to look away from the approaching dog and at Marc. Even though the worst of the fear seems to have abated, it is plain that any aggressive move from Friend – or Marc – will send the man back over the edge.
“I’m really not fond of dogs.“ Nik says, smiling a wan and sickly smile at the boy. The bard’s deep, resonant voice is still hoarse and weak, but much stronger than it was a moment ago. He looks away suddenly, self-consciously picking at the leather wrapping on his guitar. He clears his throat, and adds bitterly “Actually, as I’m sure a blind man in Waterdeep could see, I’m terrified of them.“ He looks back at Marc, the last of the fear now replaced by a bitter, self-deprecating smile. His eyes are dull and haunted as he says “It’s not your fault, lad, and I’m sure your dog is a good one. But could you please do poor Nik a favor and keep her a small distance from me?“ The deep voice takes a bit of a pleading note as he continues, “Just give me a bit of time to get used to her. I…“ He looks away again, plainly embarrassed now that he has control of his fear. He swallows whatever he was about to say, and instead says “So you like music, eh, lad?“
When Nik confesses he’s not keen on dogs, Mac gives him an understanding nod. The special way of formulating his fear makes Marc chortle again. Still, Marc moves forward and bends over to the bard. Again Marc nods three times. Then he answers the skinny man with a reassuring smile, “of course I will… of course!“ He turns to Friend and whistles stridently. Friend lies down at once, facing the two men.
Then Nik asks about music and Marc answers, “Like music…? Well, yes! Love it actually! Ehm… but that’s not what I meant… ehm… you see… it felt like… how shall I it put it…? A truly welcome back for me in this world.“ He smiles at the thought, “not that I’ve been away… ehm… or… well, a nice welcome anyway… A bit weird too though… You see… my mother had a Yarting and…“ While Marc is touched by memories his warm voice goes softer, only Nik can see a glint of apparent moist in his eyes, “… it is a marvelous instrument… ehm… when played right that is.“
With his head tilted a bit he looks at Nik. When he addresses him again his voice is warm and dark as before – as if a cloud eclipsed the sun for a moment, but has moved on and the sun is shining again, “and you do“.
Then Marc lifts his head as he hears horses draw near. He looks intensely over Nik’s shoulders, his muscles tense. When he recognizes the shining figure of Aluar from a distance he relaxes and smiles relieved. While the guards come closer Marc looks at Nik, “no, really, it’s a nice piece of woodwork, a Yarting. My mother once even wrote a song about it.“
Nik looks up as the guards arrive, and for a moment the fear is back in his face. Just as quickly it’s gone, and he mutters “Oh, goody. We’ve been saved.“ The sarcasm in his rich baritone voice is surprising, as is the distrust now in his narrowed eyes. The color has come back to his craggy face, and a cynical half-smile pulls at his lips. He quickly shoves his nearly forgotten inkwell and pen back into the belt-pouch they came out of, and returns his journal to his backpack. With a grace that seems unusual for his tall and gangly form, he stands and slings the guitar back to its accustomed place on his back.
Smiling down at Marc from his towering height, he says “Well, Master Matteo asked me to take a look at the bodies over there. I suppose I should, although if they’re runny I’m quite likely to lose what little remains of last night’s meal.“ He raises one eyebrow in self-deprecating amusement, humor now replacing the shadow in his eyes. “Would you care to brave them with an abject coward like myself?“ His smile widens and the twinkle in the dull hazel eyes becomes impish as he adds “You can have Julia, here, if I die of fright.“ He lovingly pats the instrument on his back as he says its name.
As Emlyn walks back to Nik and Marc, she stands still as she hears the sound of the horses approaching. As soon as it is clear that the new ‘cavalry’ are friends or at least acquaintances of her current companions, she relaxes. She greets the soldier with a small bow. “I am not sure whether I fall under the category ‘assistance’ or ‘saved’.“ She smiles, and then vaguely gestures at Telsom. “I believe nobody is injured, except for young saer Telsom – but he seems to be in the middle of, ehm, more pressing matters.“
Marc giggles at the sarcastic remark of the bony man and rises too, grabbing his crook. At Nik’s question he looks in the direction of Ditalidas and Telsom and says, “Well… I don’t know what good it will do looking at those bodies, but if you like me to come with you I will!“ He looks *up* at the tall man for a second. “Rather you keep her then.“ He says with a smile. As they start walking towards Telsom and Ditalidas he looks at Nik from top to toe and says, “You look… hungry?“
Scratching absently at the dark stubble on his sharp jaw, Nik looks somewhat confused at Marc’s comment. “Ehm, what? Hungry? Well, I suppose I am a little peckish, but I’m quite sure that I’ll lose my appetite when we get close to those dead folks over there.“ He swallows nervously and adds in a low voice “I’m only doing this because Matteo asked me to. I’m sure I won’t see anything of significance, mainly because I don’t plan to look too closely.“ He gives Marc a crooked smile, and continues towards the corpses in question, giving the horses – and the Guardsmen – as wide a berth as possible without being too obvious about avoiding them. He slows his long strides so that Marc will not have to hurry to keep up with him. Or it could be he’s purposefully dawdling, since he’s clearly uncomfortable with the idea of searching the dead.
Then they approach Emlyn as their ways cross and he nods at Emlyn, “Hi!“ He looks up at the tall man next to him and at the tiny woman in front of them, shakes his head and asks her, pointing at his mistress and the paladin, “We’re having an outing to those bones over there… Care to join us?“
Nik smiles down at Emlyn, but his smile is a bit tense. “Master Matteo asked me to check out the corpses there, and being the worthless fighter that I am, I’ve gathered this stout-hearted lad to protect me. I’d be indebted to you once more, if you’d accompany us.“ His voice is light, but it’s clear that he’s nervous about going near the bodies.
He touches her blanket, which is thrown casually over his right shoulder. “I promise to get this cleaned in town, and returned to you.“ He gives her a slight, bitter grin and adds “I also promise not to vomit on it, no matter how messy those corpses are.“ His grin widens and he says softly “Mainly because I don’t intend to get too close if they’re going to make me ill. I’m many things, but I’m not the conquering hero.“
Emlyn’s gaze shifts to Marc and Nik. “The bones, eh? I already thought this was somewhat a strange place for a burial ground… of course, you don’t have to go really near.“ She adds to Nik. “I cannot see what gain there is in having four people staring at a poor dead body… ‘t is not as if they would run away.“ She frowns for a moment, realizing she might have said something wrong, frightening the man even more, and quickly adds: “Was there a battle here?“
Emlyn, Marc and Nik are walking toward the remains of the undead, where the tension between Telsom and Ditalidas seems to have dropped. The guard with the symbol of Helm on his tunic follows the trio on a short distance, carrying a small leather bag. He appears to be an elderly man, with a gentle face and a very large mustache. He is walking toward Ditalidas and Telsom.
Matteo is caressing Teri, after a near miss from one of Qwenta’s hooves. Immerine guides Qwenta away and is shortly after followed by Kalil on Corundum. The Amnian seems to have come to himself again.
Lieutenant Aluar has followed the going on between Matteo and Immerine with quiet amusement, slowly shaking his head and stroking his panting horse with his right hand. It is obvious that the guards have ridden very fast. Even though most of the chill has gone from the air, steam is rising from the guards’ horses. The men are walking their horses slowly in lazy circles to cool them down somewhat.
Lieutenant Aluar focuses his attention once more on Matteo, while gesturing in the direction of where his guard is walking. “Unless you want to investigate the scene here some more, I would suggest leaving for Berdusk, after Borwin has helped your wounded friend over there.“
While checking Teri’s wound Matteo tries to slip Dita’s rose from the saddle strap and place it in his belt, under his jacket. He’s not particularly bothered if the Lieutenant notices, he just doesn’t want the rest of the party to see.
Adjusting his jacket and sword, Matteo takes Teri’s reins and murmurs something softly to the horse before looking up at the lieutenant. “Thank you lieutenant, we were just in the process of organizing ourselves to leave. Our investigations here are complete, you may inform the Captain that she will have a report this evening.“
With a nod for the lieutenant Matteo leads Teri back towards the others, making a line for Telsom.
Nik smiles gently down at Emlyn. There is gratitude in his deep-set eyes, as if he sensed her concern about his feelings. But there is also the shadow of bitterness in the dull eyes, the resigned look of a man who knows his own flaws all too well. He tugs at the scarf around his neck, and looks over at the bodies. “You know, I have absolutely no idea what happened here.“ He says slowly. “I’ve only just arrived myself. As to why Master Matteo wanted me to look at those bodies, well, perhaps he thinks I’m more than I appear. He’s wrong, I’m afraid, I am just what I seem to be – a bard, a scholar and a coward.“ The bitterness now bright in his eyes comes out harshly in his voice as he names himself a coward, and he shoves his now – clenched fists into his pockets and glares at some middle distance. “I’m your man for a song or two, and I occasionally have a scrap of useful knowledge in the rubbish-heap I call a mind, but I’m not skilled at arms or brave like you folks. Hell, that lad’s DOG scares me witless!“
“Ah, let others be the judge of that, won’t you?“ Emlyn comments. Friend still lays flat 5 feet from where Nik sat a moment ago, quiet as a mouse, wondering why his bright and giant boss asked her to lay flat and then left, while there are no sheep at all. The tall bard seems to be winding himself up for a full-blown self-pitying rant, and then his shoulders slump and he heaves a deep sigh. His chin drops to his chest and he says softly “Sorry. Didn’t mean to carry on like that. It’s been a hard day, and it’s not even lunch time.“
Suddenly Nik straightens up and squares his shoulders, a look of determination now replacing the bitterness in his gaunt, careworn face. “Well, shall we go have a look, then?“ He asks briskly. Without waiting for an answer he strides over to the nearest corpse, drawing the slim rapier at his hip with an ease that is flat denial of his claim to be worthless with a sword. Crouching down beside the body, he prods it with the point of his rapier, peering intently at the corpse as he searches for anything that might be important.
Looking around and poking in the remains Nik sees the various decayed and decomposing body. On some of the pieces fresh teeth marks are evident. And some body parts are downright missing. Though dirty and half gone, there are still pieces of clothing and armor, which might provide a clue as to where these undead came from. Yet none of it is immediately recognizable to Nik, though for some reason stories about the Fields of the Dead seem to come to mind.
Ditalidas turns her attention from Telsom’s arm to Nik who is investigating the bodies. “Something is amiss with these bodies. They are not how they should be…“ She frowns as she realizes that she’s probably talking in riddles. “When I was attacked yesterday the bodies were far better preserved… that is… so it seemed to me. Their clothing was better and one of them should be wearing a tunic with my family’s crest on it. But it’s nowhere to be found… I did find two items that were glowing. I’m not sure what it means, but my guess is that they are magical.“
When Marc reaches the ambush site he stops a bit earlier than Mr. Big and Ms. Small – as he smilingly realizes this couple looks to him for a second, seen from the back, near Ditalidas and glances briefly at the decayed bodies.
When Nik starts stabbing the harmless pour soul Marc smiles and opens his mouth to make a teasing remark, but quickly decides not to. The witty gleam still in his eyes he turns to Ditalidas. “Ma’am?“ He asks and in a trice his eyes look more concerned than laughing. When he gets her attention he asks her softly – not like whispering, more not to disturb the attention of Nik and Emlyn, who’ll probably still be able to overhear him, “Ehm… Hope you’re alright!“ He looks at her face to get an idea of her state of mind. “Well, so here we are… ehm… Did you find what you wanted to return for?“
While his attention is still with his master’s well being, a more thoughtful look grows on his face while he deciphers what she just told them. After a few seconds he continues, speaking more slowly, still thinking, “Ehm… not how they should be… Hmmm“
A deep frown arises above his dark eyes while he stares over Ditalidas’ shoulder and touches his lips with his left forefinger. “You don’t mean… ehm… well…“ Suddenly his eyes grow with the birth of an idea, “… Not as if someone’s removed them?“ With a fierce look in his eyes he stares at the lady, then he continuous louder, “Could be just that, couldn’t it! I told Druth it sounded like… well… something aimed at you… ehm… deliberately.“ Anger and concern are both evident in his look. “I’m beginning to think I was right.“ He looks unpleased when he utters, “Don’t want to be right!“
Ditalidas looks at Marc with an almost apologizing look in her eyes. She massages her temples before saying: “I don’t know Marc. I have no idea why they did what they did. Though I don’t doubt they think they have a very good reason for doing it…“ Ditalidas sighs “… I cannot think of a reason though.“
Friend has put her head down by now, but her blue eyes are intensely looking at his master in the distance.
Emlyn looks up from her examination of the body. “So you are the famed lady Jalarghar Telsom spoke of.“ She smiles at the noblewoman. “You say you were attacked? These were *walking* dead?“ She shakes her head in pity. “Maybe the vile animator of these will-less ones has taken back what he thought was most valuable…“ She frowns. “But why then has he or she or they left items of magic?“ She turns to Ditalidas again; “I do not want to intrude milady, but – your family’s crest? You or your family must have made a powerful enemy.“
Surprised Ditalidas murmurs under her breath, “Famed? Me…? He did?“ While tossing a glance at Telsom, a smile escapes her and a blush is coloring her cheeks. She swallows to get back her composure. At a normal tone she addresses Emlyn: “Nice to meet you my Lady. I get the impression you know more about me than I do about you.“ She says with a grin and a wink.
Ditalidas turns her gaze unwillingly back to the bodies on the floor and the mirth disappears out of her eyes. “As for your statement; I know nothing about a powerful enemy, but I have a faint idea somehow this all has something to do with my mother. She died in very mysterious circumstances. Yesterday my father promised me to tell me more about what has happened, but there was no time just then… One of the undead that attacked me yesterday resembled my mother… She called me daughter…“ tears moisten her eyes again. With a wild gesture she wipes them away, apparently angry that she can’t keep her tears at bay. “…But now… I can’t find a track of her. I’m still not sure she, or at least her body, wasn’t really here, but I’m starting to doubt. Maybe somebody is indeed playing tricks on me and my family…“
For a moment she falls silent. “Something strange is going on here. A petal of my mother’s favorite flower led Telsom and Druth to me… I wonder…“ again she pauses and she closes her eyes briefly “… I have the feeling I’m missing something obvious… Maybe there are just too much pieces of this puzzle lacking.“ Ditalidas tosses Emlyn and Nik a sad and apologizing smile, again wiping away a tear. “I don’t even know why I am telling you all this.“
“That is indeed a burden that would weigh heavily on anyone.“ Emlyn says, sympathy in her eyes and voice. “It is only just that you share it with others…“ She smiles. “Even if they are complete strangers. But I do not know much about supernatural things like these, even though I do intend to study the paths of the miraculous and the divine… The only thing I can offer you and this mystery is my assistance.“
Immerine sits astride Qwenta and watches the others. She nods to Kalil when he joins her. She seems to be introspecting and says nothing. However, her gaze keeps returning to the Sembian leading Teri.
Kalil rides forward to the point that he’s riding next to Immerine. When Immerine nods him, he nods back in agreement. Like her, Kalil keeps quit and seems to be lost in his thoughts. He is, however, watching his environment, and keeps an eye on the newcomers.
Telsom’s attention seems to be scattered, his head cocks this way and that taking in all around him. Giving Ditalidas hand a gentle squeeze with his own he looks to the priest moving towards him and gives the man a friendly nod. He then looks to the ground and back up to Aluar. “Has anyone seen a discarded rapier?“ He says with a chuckle, the humor is short lived however as pain and fear crosses his face. “It’s worth a great deal of gold, but more than that it is priceless in my eyes for it’s a family heirloom.“
Emlyn remembers Telsom’s concern with the weapon; she has already looked for it once, and has not much hope of finding it; still, she decides to keep her eyes open to a gleam of the rapier. Then she walks over to one of the other nearby dead and kneels down to inspect. “I do wonder what happened here.“ She mutters.
The guard with the large mustache has reached Telsom, a slight frown on the gentle face, a face that seems to contrast with the man’s martial attire. “Let me see your arm valiant warrior.“ And he reaches out carefully for Telsom’s arm. “Might you have lost a helm as well as your sword? Hmm?“ “If so, then they are at the castle in Berdusk. The lieutenant took them there when we left to gear up to fight an army of Trolls.“ The last words are said with a big smile on the gentle face.
Lifting his arm and offering it to the older man, Telsom gives him a warm smile. A sigh of relief escapes his lips when the rapier’s location is mentioned. “Aye, in my initial battle with the beast my choice of weapons and armor left me at a great disadvantage, as quickly as I poked the beast with my grandfather’s sword, the quicker he seemed to heal. It’s a shame none of the fabled magic remains within the blade. The helm was of little aid to me as well.“ He says with a chuckle. “One blow from the creature and he sent it flying through the air.“ Looking over to Emlyn, he continues speaking to the priest. “The hin was a prisoner as well, for a good time, the beast has been forcing her to cook it’s food, I find that odd for I had thought that Trolls cared little for good cuisine. I had heard the foul beasts would go so far as to eat rocks when hungry.“ Looking to Ditalidas, and the others he goes on to explain what happened after his capture. “The beast strung me from the ceiling with chains, I was too weak from blood loss to call on Sune’s favor to heal my wounds.“
Telsom looks straight ahead at this point, but his attention is elsewhere and not at what ever his gaze falls on. “Emlyn, managed to detangle me, I fell to the ground fairly hard but managed to keep my wits about me, between Sune’s grace, and Emlyn’s healing potion I was well enough to remove our shackles. I then went on to make a torch and set the beast’s dwelling to flame. We were about to make off when we heard Marc’s anguished cry, two of the horses were wounded in the battle, and I received this scratch. We were lucky nothing else happened.“ Looking at the wounded arm in the priest’s hands he continues. “If your healing magics would best be served elsewhere, I will managed until the wound heals on it’s own, or until I have the strength to once again heal wounds.“
Ditalidas shakes her head at Telsom’s amazing story… she decides it must be his goddess and her merciful hand that saved him from a certain death. With a glimpse of a smile she tosses a silent prayer of thanks to Sune.
“My healing magic is best served where Helm deems it’s worth.“ The priest of The Watcher says. Touching a small silvery symbol of his faith to the wound, he starts to murmur his prayer to Helm. A silvery-blue glow spreads from the symbol and seems to flow into the wound, causing it to heal. When the priest is finished, not a scar remains on Telsom’s arm.
In the mean time Matteo has led Teri to Telsom. When he stops, the white mare snorts as if to thank the Sembian, and starts browsing.
Flexing his arm, Telsom smiles down at the lack of scarring and his face seems more relaxed with the pain gone. Reaching out he clasps the priest’s shoulder. “Many thanks, my friend.“
Stepping up to Teri, Telsom runs a hand through her mane. Closing his eye he touches his forehead to hers, giving her a small kiss on her nose. A single tear runs from Telsom’s left eye, winding it’s way down his cheek it drops from his chin to land on Teri’s snout. The beautiful steed snorts once and rubs her master’s face lovingly with her own.
Stepping back away from Teri and Telsom, his face expressionless, Matteo turns to look over the others. A slight smile tugs at the corner of his mouth as his gaze comes to rest on Nik and he crosses over towards the tall, lanky man to gaze down upon the recently punctured corpse. “Well.“ He murmurs, a soft drawl coloring his tone, “he won’t be getting up in a hurry. Why don’t we head back into town and get you that meal I promised?“
When Matteo chooses to walk to the tall lanky man instead of accepting her immediate offer of a ride, Immerine shakes her head almost imperceptibly. “Perhaps we should return to the city now Kalil. I cannot wait to speak with you more in comfort.“ She gingerly adjusts herself to keep as much weight as possible from her bruised hip.
Kalil just smiles back at Immerine, his eyes showing understanding and curiosity. He thinks a moment or two about Immerine’s message before answering. “Returning to Berdusk is fine with me. In my humble opinion we’re here at a great risk. Greater than I’m willing to take, anyway“. He turns his mount towards the soldiers, and says, “Immerine, I’m looking forward to our conversation. I sincerely do…“ with a twinkle in his eyes.
From between the yellow blades of grass Friend’s two sad pale blue eyes look eagerly at the mounted couple, as if to say, “I don’t want to be left alone“.
Whatever courage Nik’s wounded pride had given him is long gone by the time Matteo arrives. Nik’s gaunt face is pale and drawn, his sharp jaw clenched. It is obvious that only force of will keeps the man where he is. His hand shakes as he uses the point of his finely made rapier to move clothing and body parts to get a clearer view of the corpse. He has seemed oblivious to the conversations going on around him, but at Matteo’s words he sighs and stands quickly, staggering a step back before he can regain his balance.
Looking down at Matteo Nik says flatly “I’m afraid food is the last thing on my mind right now.“ He swallows a few times, still looking rather ill. Absently he wipes the point of his sword on the grass sheathes it, and then he turns back to Matteo. “I thought perhaps I remembered something of relevance.“ Nik says, a vague and thoughtful look on his face now. “But upon further reflection I’m not sure how useful it is.“ He shakes his head, and sighs, “I just don’t know what I should have been looking for. Sorry. All I saw were dead people.“ Nik shudders, and continues, “You are right, though, that I’d like to leave this place. I’d like to get a bath, and a change of clothes. Then maybe I’ll feel like taking you up on that offer of food.“ The tall bard gives the growing crowd a hopeful smile.
“A bath, a change of clothes and some food.“ Emlyn sighs happily. “In that order…“ As she sees that Matteo, Kalil and Immerine are ready to go, she looks around as if looking for her own mount and her face clouds over. “Then again, my riding dog… the monster killed it. And I do not blame any of you if you don’t want to transport one as filthy as I am.“ She looks towards the remains of the troll, and contently checks it’s still burning.
“And who are you?“ Matteo asks gently in fluent halfling as he squats down in front of Emlyn. Continuing in the same language he adds, “I think you might be able to persuade Telsom to give you a lift. Teri should be able to bear your added weight for the short trip back to town and when we get there I’ll see about getting you a bath and some breakfast as well.“
“I am Emlyn Ashenleaf.“ Emlyn replies in halfling, though oddly enough it is less fluent than Matteo’s. “My thanks and greetings, saer Matteo – I haven’t heard your last name yet.“ She smiles at him. “I apologize for my accent… I grew up in a village of halflings and humans alike – in Calimshan.“
The Helmite, having finished curing Telsom’s arm acknowledges Telsom’s thanks with a friendly smile and a nod of his head. Gathering his bag, he takes a quick peek at the undead, shakes his head and walks back towards his horse and the rest of his unit.
Lieutenant Aluar has been pacing about, cooling his horse down. Seeing the priest is finished with the paladin and returning to the rest of the patrol, he rides up to Kalil and Immerine. “Your friends seem busy with examining the remains. As it appears the area is secure.“ And his gaze roams over the entire scene again. “I’ll leave two of my men with you, and return to Berdusk. Any who want to ride with me are free to do so.“
“If it is alright with you, Lieutenant, I will ride with your company. I would like to get back to the inn and remove my armor. I am sure you understand.“ Immerine says softly. She keeps her gaze averted from him and is focused on removing a twig from Qwenta’s mane.
“Count me in as well, Lieutenant. I’ll accompany you and lady Immerine, and any others who want to come along.“. When Kalil rides next to Immerine again, he asks “Are you sure you are alright? Are you still suffering from wounds sustained during the fight with that awesome troll?“
Immerine readjusts herself again, “I am just battered from my fall. Once I am able to get my armor off and into a warm bath I will be better able to tend my hurt… Ehm, pride. My wounds do not stem from direct contact with the beast. Rather they come from direct contact with the ground. Besides, they serve to remind me of my foolishness for riding Qwenta into danger. It is not painful, merely uncomfortable.“
In wonder Kalil looks at Immerine. “Those wounds will indeed heal with a good bath and some amount of time“ he replies. “You shouldn’t feel too guilty though. My uncle always told me that things are as they are and we are only here to wander the path of the Gods. Personally I do not share this view, I think we are here to make our own choices. Some of those choices will be wise; some will be – well – otherwise. Still, the wrong choices aren’t there to remind you what kind of fool we are, or to make us feel guilty. They’re here to learn from, to make sure we don’t make the same mistake over and over again…“
Marc listens to the two ladies talking intensely. When Emlyn is finished he expressly pauses for a second, nodding slowly. Then he looks at the apparent emotions on his master’s face for a moment and turns to Emlyn, saying, “I don’t know much either… Nor am I good at solving mysteries… Glad to help though.“ He adds, glancing with a smile at Ditalidas.
Then he stares at the smelly human remains before declaring in a conspiring tone, “But I don’t think solving mysteries is the point right now, is it…? Ehm… We should…“ Then he interrupts himself: “No… What happened yesterday happened yesterday… What’s more important is what might happen today.“
Marc briefly looks at Nik, Emlyn and Ditalidas and when no one seems to respond he adds, speaking softly, but more swiftly, “Or tomorrow! Ehm… I mean… Well, what *do* I mean…? Well… whatever we do, we got to be careful.“ He looks around sneakily at everybody and everything except the two women in front of him and then softly adds, “Whoever the foe is… and whatever his plans… He might attack again, won’t he?“ Below his lowered brows his dark eyes bounce back and forth from Emlyn to Ditalidas. After a second or two he suddenly says, “Ehm… or she.“
Ditalidas nods in agreement. A concerned look is visible on her face. She runs her hand trough her dark, almost black, hair. “I am afraid that that is the only way. If we ever want to find out who or what is behind this we shall have to wait until they attack again.“ She looks down at the corpses once more. “Should we put them in the fire with the troll?“
When the noblewoman suggest she should take this risk, perhaps even provoke an action, Marc’s mouth falls open and his eyes seem to pop out of his skull watching the woman in disbelieve. Still he manages not to speak before his time. To be more exact: he manages not to speak. To be absolutely precise: not even to breathe.
Nik scratches absently at the stubble on his jaw, and seems to come to some decision. Squaring his shoulders he strides over towards Ditalidas. He ruffles Marc’s hair affectionately as he passes him and says “You ARE a brave lad, aren’t you.“ Gratitude sparkles in his green-flecked brown eyes and he winks at Marc. “Clever, too.“ The tall man’s action distracts Marc attention; he releases his breath and a tiny smile grows on his face. Without lifting his head he looks at the man, modest and prideful at the same time.
Reaching Ditalidas, Nik smiles gently down at her and says softly “I am truly sorry that you seem to be at the center of this terrible mystery.“ His deep voice is a husky whisper full of sympathy, and he bends down slightly so his concerned eyes are on a level with hers. “I may not be a knight in shining armor, but I am not the village idiot, either. If I may be of any assistance at all, I would be honored to help.“ Still smiling, he straightens up and adds, “You said that when you searched the bodies you found two items which seem to be magical.“ A bit of pride gleams in his eyes, mingled with the eagerness that had burned in them when he looked at Kalil’s little box. “It so happens that the study of magic is a hobby of mine. Perhaps I may have a look at what you found? When we’re in a safer place, of course.“
Rising back up to his feet Matteo looks back to Nik, hoping that the man has regained some composure. “Can I persuade you to ride with someone or are you going to insist on walking?“ Nik, who had been distracted by thoughts of the mysteries surrounding Ditalidas, looks up sharply at Matteo’s question. His face pales again, and fear is bright in his eyes. “R – Ride…“ He stammers, then swallows, looks down at his feet, tugs anxiously at his scarf, looks back up and continues in a thin, tight voice “I’d really rather not ride, if it’s all the same to you…“ In Nik’s frightened eyes is a silent plea, but he forces himself to add “But I’ll ride if… if we go slow and the horse is gentle…“ He tries a smile, but it is a ghastly rictus on his ashen face. “Horses seem to be as fond of me as I am of them.“
“If you don’t mind.“ Matteo replies softly, “Look at it this way, you’ll get your bath, clean clothes, and food all the sooner. Probably a stiff drink or two if you feel the need as well.“ Glancing at Ditalidas he gives her a slight smile and adds, “The Lady Jalarghar’s horse is kind and gentle.“ Ditalidas smiles back, but her smile is sarcastically. “Thanks for asking me first.“ She murmurs angry under her breath, her deep blue eyes sparkling with the fire of her anger.
Raising his voice a little Matteo speaks loudly enough to be heard by those nearby. “Let’s get back to the Stag. We can go over any information we might have found there.“ Clapping Nik on the shoulder he murmurs, “Its not far Nik, you’ll be warm, clean, and fed shortly.“
For a moment, Nik’s eyes glaze and he looks like he’s about to either pass out or to throw up. But he swallows hard several times, and clenches his jaw with the mix of determination, resignation and terror usually seen in people about to be executed. “If I fall off and die, I’m going to haunt you until the end of your days.“ He mutters to Matteo, the horrible fixed grin still on his face.
Looking around himself wildly, his frightened eyes fix on Marc. Suddenly he pulls his guitar from his back, and shoves it into the boy’s arms. “Here.“ He says sharply, with the desperation of the dying man. “You hold Julia. If I fall off and die you can have her.“ Marc looks dazzled at the precious artifact in his arms, a bit scared to damage or drop it. He looks at the bard with a desperate look in his eyes.
“Ehm, Saer!“ He nervously addresses him, “Saer… ehm…“ Marc looks at the man with fear in his eyes, carefully embracing the instrument with two arms, his crook and coat fallen in front of him, “Saer, you’re too kind and… but… how…? I can’t… ehm…“ Then he seems to surrender to the situation and shakes his head, smiling softened at the wet man, “Nah, no-one dies falling off a horse!“
Nik gives Marc a thin smile, the fear still bright in his eyes. “Oh?“ He says softly. “When I was six I saw my uncle fall off his horse and split his head open on a rock. He was quite dead. And my uncle was a fine rider, and his horse well trained.“ Nik shudders, his eyes bleak, and adds, “I’m a horrible rider, and if it’s anyone’s fate to fall off and die, it’ll be me.“ Marc, still holding the instrument, nods silently and humbly looks down. When Nik adjust the instrument’s position Marc lets him be, a bit embarrassed.
The tall bard takes a deep breath, visibly forcing calm upon himself. Then he gently takes his guitar from Marc’s hands and places the wide, worn strap over the boy’s head and onto his shoulder, so the guitar hangs across Marc’s back just at it did Nik’s a few moments ago. The fine instrument, made for the much taller bard, looks huge on Marc, and Nik fusses with adjustment on the strap until the guitar hangs out of Marc’s way. “Be careful with her.“ He says, his eyes suddenly wild and desperation harsh on his face. “She’s the only thing I have left to remember…“ His eyes harden suddenly, and he bites off whatever he was saying. Straightening up to his full height, he says instead “I’m sure you’re in less danger of falling off than I am, young master. If… WHEN we make it back safely, you can return her to me.“
Ditalidas shakes her head for a moment and, though she tries to hide it, she looks at Nik almost pitiful. “Don’t worry Nik. You don’t have to ride her alone. What I think Matteo meant.“ and she tosses Matteo a quick angry glance, “is that you can ride with me. Alana is indeed a very kind horse, but maybe you prefer to ride with one of the others.“ She tosses Nik a wink, “You are very welcome to ride with me though. I will do my very best to make sure that Alana behaves… As for the items.“ She continuous, changing the subject for Nik’s comfort, “I would be glad if you could tell me something more about them. Maybe they hold some kind of explanation.“ She tosses him a grateful smile.
Still holding onto his meager store of courage with both hands, Nik smiles at Ditalidas. “If you say your horse is kind, then I will believe you. If she, and you, would consent to lugging my weight to town, then I will do my best not to be a burden.“ He gives her a self-deprecating grin and adds, “I also promise not to shriek like a dying rabbit or to pass out on your horse’s back. I can’t promise I won’t whimper a bit, however, and if we go much faster than a jog, I can’t be held accountable for my behavior.“
His eyes lighten, as if his self-mockery has pushed the fear aside. “As for the mysterious items, well, I’m a man of much knowledge, most of it useless. But I have made quite a study of the uses of magic, and I will do my very best to make those things spill whatever secrets they carry.“
Giving Teri one final kiss, the paladin quickly mounts the horse. Turning to Emlyn he speaks softly. “Lady Emlyn, would you like to ride on Teri with me until we can get you another canine companion?“ Emlyn watches man and horse with a smile on her face. “I certainly would.“ She then answers his question. “And at least you are less bothered by my unwanted troll-resemblance…“
Giving the halfling woman a hand, Telsom lifts her up and places her in the saddle with him. He then urges Teri forward towards Lieutenant Aluar, who is riding next to Immerine and Kalil. “Lieutenant. You have my thanks for bringing my discarded equipment to the castle. Is there any specific action I must take to retrieve my sword and helm? Or anyone in particular at the castle I should speak to?“
Lieutenant Aluar, who had his attention focused on the priest remounting and re-joining the unit, wheels his horse around and replies to Telsom. “No thanks necessary Saer, you can either accompany my unit when we return to the barracks, or I can have someone deliver your sword and helm to where you are staying.“ As he reaches over to pat his horse on the neck, he continues, “I could imagine you and the young lady here might want to refresh yourselves first.“
Immerine and Kalil in the mean time are engaged in a conversation that seems to go in a philosophical direction. Emlyn and Telsom catch last part of Kalil’s reply to the veiled woman: “…to make us feel guilty. They’re here to learn from, to make sure we don’t make the same mistake over and over again…“
Marc, having shifted the weight of the Yarting to a more comfortable position, listens attentively to the attempts of Ditalidas and Matteo to convince Nik to ride on Alana. Patiently waiting for a next command, Friend, in turn watches Marc intently.
Ditalidas walks to Alana but halfway there she freezes in the middle of a step. She looks to the ground to the bodies shattered across the field and looks than up in the woods. She shakes her head and frowns. “Wait a moment…“ She says softly and turns back to look at the party. “What kind of investigating party are we anyway?“ In a clearly audible tone she continuous: “Dear people.“ She waits for a moment until she has their attention.
“I’m afraid I don’t agree with some of you. I think this investigation would be incomplete if we leave now.“ She puts one hand at her side and runs one trough her hair as she looks at the bodies again. “You see, we almost all looked at the bodies here.“ The hand that was running trough her hair points at the shattered bodies. “But these bodies here weren’t all the undead around. When we left yesterday in a hurry, an armored group of undead was approaching from the woods.“
Ditalidas points at the spot were she saw the other undead the day before. “I don’t believe they could have disappeared without leaving any tracks. Telsom felt the evil presence controlling the undead somewhere in these woods. With the general direction he can give us we might find the spot where this man or woman was located. It is possible he left tracks. Or maybe we find even more than tracks…“ She pauses for a second, “We will never know though, if we don’t search for it and abandon this investigation now.“ Ditalidas gaze drops momentarily to the ground. She fumbles a little with a piece of her riding jacket. When she looks her hands fall loose behind her side and her gaze is firm. “I will not abandon this search now. I cannot and will not force any of you in helping me with this. But I would.“ and her gaze locks eyes with each of them, “Be very grateful if you would help me with this.“ She glances to the woods again. “I would surely feel much saver with you people around.“ She raises her hand to stop everybody from replying on her too soon. “And while I am at it, there’s something else I’d like to mention. I think we should pick a leader from our midst. If everybody keeps doing what he or she feels like we are not going to get anywhere.“
Marc follows the words, gestures and expressions of the fine lady with interest. He does however – now the instrument is safely on his back – bend to pick up his precious fur, which he lays over his shoulder. When the lady mentions her appreciation of some assistance Marc spreads his hands and fingers and nods. Then he bends again to pick up his crook. At the remark about a leader he nods again, pauses a second – looking thoughtful and a bit surprised – and says, “But… we already have a leader, haven’t we?“ He quickly looks left and right to pick a glance of approval, then he looks at Ditalidas and simply adds: “You.“
Turning his horse around Telsom moves back towards Ditalidas. “Although our wounds are minor at this point, both Emlyn and the bard appear to need rest. I am sorely lacking in weaponry, and Immerine has admitted her greater spells of healing have been used up for the day.“ Closing his eyes and letting out a small sigh he looks once more to the noblewoman. “If you choose to stay, then I shall stay at your side, for I have sworn to do so… but I do not suggest it as a wise course of action at this time.“
Bringing his horse to a stop before Ditalidas he continues in a lower voice. “As I mentioned earlier my ties bind me to Sune, although I will accompany on whatever tasks you set out for, for as long as I can, I answer only to Lady Firehair. If I disagree with a command from someone not linked to the divine chain of my goddess, then I do as my heart tells me.“ Running a hand through his hair he continues. “Know that I would give my life for anyone here, and would not abandon anyone to the fate of a beast such as the troll, or a throng of undead warriors.“
Marc looks disturbed at the shining young man while he makes his statement, then looks at him with tilted head and says thoughtfully, “So… if you disagree with a command, then you do as your heart tells you?“ Marc shrugs his shoulders lightly, “…Seems not too bad an offer if one follows a chosen leader, is it?“ He adds to the standing friends nearby – Matteo, Nik and Ditalidas, “Isn’t that what leadership is all about?“ A smile appears on his face, “As Peter said: a leader is a leader until… he isn’t“. He looks up at Telsom awaiting a response. Telsom looks to Marc with an upraised eyebrow, but says nothing returning his gaze to Ditalidas, his face impassive.
Glancing from Ditalidas and Telsom to Marc and then back to Dita, Matteo purses his lips then gives a small shake of his head. “Lady Jalarghar, now is not the time to discuss issues of leadership, if for no other reason because not all involved are present to express their thoughts. It should wait until we return to the Stag and those that remained in the city are present.“ Turning towards Telsom he asks, “Can you lead us to where this presence was in the forest? I doubt any predators would cohabit in close proximity to a troll so we might as well have a look now that we know about it. If we find anything then we can decide what course of action to undertake.“
“I sensed the presence from that direction.“ Telsom says while pointing north westerly of the rotting corpses. “The being I sense was of a much stronger evil than the troll.“ Emlyn shakes her small head. “Is it still there, that’s the question… if it is, well it’s likely we are too weak as of yet to just stumble in and say hello.“
The tall man had been silently watching the discussion occurring around him, his shadowed eyes wary while his gaunt face reveals nothing of his own thoughts. Finally he clears his throat to draw attention to himself and begins speaking, his deep voice soft yet carrying to everyone in the clearing with the ease and skill that is the hallmark of years of bardic training. “I have only just met you good folks, and I’m afraid I’m lagging far behind you on current events. I feel a bit adrift in the choppy, murky sea of this conundrum, but my curiosity is well and truly roused and there is no turning back from that reef.“ Nik says, seeming a far cry from the timid, nervous man he has appeared. Now he stands straight, shoulders squared not with forced bravado but with confidence and dignity that is quite surprising given his recent behavior. His arms are crossed comfortably across his chest, without any of the nervous twitches. His lined, weathered face seems a bit aloof, but his eyes are warm and gentle as they roam from person to person.
“So. We find ourselves at a bit of a crossroads, do we not? I can understand your eagerness to pursue the other undead you saw last night.“ Nik smiles kindly at Ditalidas, and a bit ruefully continues “But unless there is the better part of a regiment hidden in that chest the Amnian lad carries, I’m afraid we’re a bit outnumbered and underpowered. I myself am a scholar, not a soldier, but it seems to be simple sense not to rush after a greater force with a weary smaller one.“ He smiles sadly and says, “Unfortunately, I can assure you that the ‘glorious victories against overwhelming odds’ sung of in romantic ballads are a complete load of bollocks. I will stay with you, Lady Jalarghar, if you wish me to, but I think it best to return to the city and recover our strength and the rest of your group, and to prepare for a more thorough investigation of the undead. I can’t imagine that a large group of them could conceal their tracks without magical aid, and if they do have such aid then it will not matter if we look now or in two weeks. And when your group is all present and accounted for, then you may decide who is to lead. I myself have no opinion in the matter, as I seem to have invited myself along on your little magical mystery tour.“
Nik sighs, and looks down at his feet for a moment, then looks back up. The aloof dignity is gone from his face now, and he gives a self-mocking twisted grin. His posture returns to its normal slight stoop and he says, “That’s not to say that I’m actually eager to ride a horse, you understand. I’d still rather travel on my own two feet. But I’m not at all eager to slog to town on my own, especially if there are more undead lurking about.“ His eyes have the shadow of fear in them again, and his smile turns bitter as he adds “But I do suggest that if we are returning to town, perhaps we should do so in short order. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to force myself on a horse if we tarry too long. My store of courage is finite, and sadly very small.“
While several others of the group voice their opinions, Emlyn nods. “I share your desire to confront whatever is out there.“ She says to Ditalidas, “But I fear Nik is right, and so is saer Matteo. At this moment, we are no match for such a presence.“ Emlyn stands still, and seems to think for a moment, suppressing her weariness. She pulls a hand through her dirty curls and rubs her eyes. “On the other hand, concerning tracks, you may be right… is it possible to determine whether some evil presence is still there? If it is fairly safe, at least some of you… us… can stay here to investigate.“
Kalil turns his horse again, to address Telsom and the others. “Dear Friends“ he begins “If I understand the words of our Lady well, she is putting two things into our attention. The first is her wanting to further investigate this place. The second is that we should appoint a leader. Personally I’m very much in favor of the last, because it would give so much more direction to our investigation. As I recall it we’re investigating the brutal murder of our friend Tharkas. Right now, we act just a bunch of school kids, impressing each other with our muscles, and we do as we see fit. This can hardly be called a good way to deal with the problems we face. I say we need a leader. Not to tell us what we should do, but to coordinate our actions, so our – if I may say so – pretty high potential can really put to good use“.
Kalil holds here, just to catch a breath. Then he continues “I’m not overly concerned with who will act as the leader. I’m not the person to do it. Neither is Marc or the newcomers. Telsom already said he’s not the leader type. I think Immerine is just like me in this respect, more of a second person than a leader. I don’t know about the others. What I do know is that lady Ditalidas can count on respect from us all. Furthermore, she’s from the local ruling class and is used to the decision-making. Even more important, she is willing to do the job. I say we elect her as our de-facto party leader!“ Glancing around, Kalil hopes to see how the others take in his words. After looking at each of them individually, he simply says, “All in favor of lady Ditalidas, say Aye“.
When Kalil begins his enthusiastic speech, Telsom looks to Matteo and lets out a small sigh. Waving away Kalil’s words a scowl forms on his face. “It matters not to me who leads, I think I’ve made my position here clear and that will not change.“ Looking towards and past the corpses, Telsom’s eyebrows knit together and the muscles in his neck tighten, his eyes looking distant.
Somewhat confused, the halfling’s gaze darts from one to the other. Now apparently the subject is not whether to stay here and investigate, but who to elect as a leader. She doesn’t even know if she has a right to vote, let alone that she knows every member of the company in detail. So she just sits on Telsom’s horse and waits, her arms crossed over her chest and a little bit of an unhappy expression on her face.
The bard’s eyes narrow warily during Kalil’s speech, his face calm and emotionless. He glances at Telsom when he comments, an appraising, thoughtful look in Nik’s shadowed eyes. For a long moment it looks like the bard is about to say something, then he looks at Emlyn, smiles and shrugs slightly.
When Kalil rides back a few paces toward Ditalidas and the others to give his speech, Immerine remains where she is, riding next to the lieutenant. As their horses step forward, slowly climbing the ridge, he looks at Immerine and then over his shoulder at the others while speaking to the veiled woman.
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