By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 34 - First Snow
Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 9th day, mid-afternoon
The ride back to Berdusk is a miserable one, the wind has picked up and the snow has begun to fall. The hard wind blows the tiny frozen flakes at times almost horizontal stinging the eyes of man and beast. Even the otherwise cheery Marc is subdued by the adverse weather. Burdened, the horses make slow, but steady progress, and when finally the walls of Berdusk come into view the spirits lift somewhat again.
Heading straight for the Stag, the two guards take their leave after unloading the horses. Matteo hands over the Jalarghar horse to one of the Stag’s stable boys. Carrying their load, the three quickly make for the entrance of the Running Stag.
After Kalil has left, Nik and Jez converse a little more, when Nik’s attention is drawn briefly toward the covered doorway that leads deeper into the Stag. Telsom briefly appears in the doorway, cleaned an in a new set of clothes. Scanning the room, the young paladin turns around and leaves again, closing the door behind him. The tall bard’s face pales as Telsom appears, and his breath catches in his throat. When the young paladin leaves again, the bard sighs and relaxes once more.
Telsom is but cold gone, when the outer door opens. General attention is drawn towards the door, as the sound of the wind howling past is clearly audible in the entire room. Outside snow races through the air. And though the cobblestone glistens wet where the snow melted, in shaded areas the snow has already built up into small drifts. Entering the room are three huddled persons. Matteo, Marc and Emlyn. Nik’s face brightens as the rest of the party arrives. His eyes linger on Marc, with something very close to relief in them. He whispers something under his breath, and takes a long drink from his cup.
“Is that them?“ Jez asks the minstrel as he tugs slightly on Nik’s wrist cuff. “Is that Saer Matteo and company? Odd, I do not see a priestess amongst them.“ Jez straightens his clothing and checks the message he is to deliver one last time.
Stepping in through the doorway bearing a bundled seat of plate armor slung over his shoulder, Matteo shivers at the sudden change in temperature. Casting his eye over those assembled he murmurs, “Grab yourselves a seat over by Nik.“ to the two by his side, “and I’ll see Mumadar brings you something warm to eat and drink.“ Crossing the floor towards the bar he sets the armor down and leans in to talk quietly to Mumadar.
Nik pulls his cuff from Jez’s grasp with an abrupt jerk that seems excessive for the messenger’s gentle tug, fear and distrust sharp in his face and eyes. He self-consciously smoothes the fabric of his sleeve, quickly covering up a glimpse of what appear to be bandages around his wrist. He takes a drink to cover his discomfort, and smiles benevolently at Jez. “Yes, there stands the intrepid Saer Matteo. I’m sure he’ll be along as soon as he’s done conversing with our host.“ The bard leans back in his seat, once again the picture of a lord at leisure. A small smile plays on his lips as he watches Marc and Elisa.
Crossing the floor towards the bar he sets the armor down and leans in to talk quietly to Mumadar. “Can I have some of your excellent biscuits please Mumadar? Have them sent over to the bard’s table.“ He adds, gesturing towards where Nik sits, though his eyes tighten a little at the sight of Jezbodiah. “Tanagyr’s Stout or Luiren’s Best for the boy, if you have them. Bitter Black if you don’t. You’ll have to ask Emlyn, the halfling woman, what she wants.“ Turning back towards the innkeep his voice drops as he asks, “Have the Ladies Portia or Immerine returned yet? And how goes that tab of mine? Still enough to cover expenses for the moment?“
“A Tanagyr’s Stout, some biscuits and something to drink for the halfling woman.“ Mumadar repeats Matteo’s order, “And you saer, what would you like to drink?“ Drying his hands at his apron, Mumadar looks at Matteo. “I’m not staying, Mumadar. I have some errands to run and people to see.“ Matteo replies. “The ladies you speak of have not returned. Your friend the Sunite paladin and the Amnian have returned. Though both of them left for their rooms to retire early.“ Mumadar’s hand has returned to the habit of flipping a coin. “It seems the good Lord Jalarghar has appreciated your valiant efforts in safeguarding his lovely, but adventurous daughter and he will pay for your stay in my humble abode.“
Matteo goes still at the news and he murmurs coldly under his breath, “He had better if he wants to keep that lovely daughter alive.“ Shaking his head he says, “Thank you Mumadar. I’ll just see Marc and Emlyn are settled then I’ll be on my way. Can you please have this armor presented to Telsom, the paladin of Sune, in the morning?“
“I will take the armor and have it cared for saer…“ Mumadar replies, “It will be available to saer Telsom on the morrow.“ Leaving the bar he makes his way across the inn, his eyes flickering across those gathered in the taproom, momentarily evaluating each one before moving on.
For a moment Marc stands at the door, blowing his chilly hands, his big brown eyes searching through the room. When he sees Elisa a smile appears on his face. Proudly, the sword bungling on his side, he walks to her and before she knows what’s happening he hugs her tight for a heartbeat or two. Then he steps back, holding her shoulders with stretched hands, “O, Elisa! You’ll never believe what I’ve seen and done today! The stories I could tell!“ He looks exalted and waves his hand, pointing at the folks he knows so briefly and yet so solid, “And these people! Gee!“ His eyes are gleaming as he looks in her eyes, “Unbelievable!“
Marc has to let go of her shoulders as Elisa slips from underneath his hands with practiced ease. He feels at his behind with one hand, “Riding a horse with a bruised behind is not the nicest thing I’ve gone through, though“ He says with a smile. Marc sighs and looks around again, then he says, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Ehm… heard anything about the lady yet?“
“I’m afraid not, brave knight, but you might want to inquire with the bard over there.“ With a gentle smile she points at the table where Nik is seated. When Marc is looking that way, Elisa gives Marc a quick pat on his buttocks and moves away into the crowd before he has a chance to react.
“Ouch!“ His eyes twinkling he quickly glances over his shoulder, smiling broadly at the disappearing redhead. “Well, I’ll be …“ He looks downs at the lower part of his back, sees nothing out of the ordinary and walks to the table, mumbling something inaudible, ending with “you, Elisa!“ The mirth is gleaming on his face when he reaches the table where the bard resides. He coughs and says modestly, “Saer…? Ehm, Saer… Elisa here told me you would know more about the lady’s… ehm… hey!“ Marc’s head rises startled, while he looks at Nik “Don’t I know you?“
Nodding with the grave dignity of a king meeting a lord, Nik says “Why, yes, young Marc. It’s only Nik, of course.“ A smile of recognition shows in Marc’s eyes, “Nik! You’re looking b… ehm… You’re DRESSED better than when we parted!“ The dignity only lasts for that short moment, however, and the bard smiles his old, familiar manic grin. The years drop from his craggy face, and he seems to be nearer twenty than forty. He leans forward, eyes bright and cheerful, and says “I clean up pretty good, don’t I?“
Marc looks through the room as if he’s searching something. Nik ruffles the lad’s hair affectionately and says, “Looks like you made it back fine after all.“ He pats the guitar at his side, grinning foolishly “It seems Julia and I owe you that tune, don’t we? Perhaps you’d like to give her a try?“ The bard’s eyes gleam possessively, but there is genuine warmth in his smile. Marc, disturbed in his search, answers Nik, “Ehm… what…? Ah!“ Marc pats his nose with his forefinger. “Nah… not now. Ehm… I hardly how to play the poor thing.“ He sneakily glances at the instrument, “Well… I’d like to, but… ehm…“
Suddenly looking over at Jez, Nik says “Oh! How rude of me! Jez, this is Marc. A very brave lad with a fierce dog.“ The bard keeps his eyes from the floor, obviously not wanting to see if the dog is anywhere near him. He turns to Marc and says “Marc, this is Jez. He has a message for Matteo. Have a seat, lad, and we’ll await the attendance of the rest of you wanderers.“ He pours a cup of wine, and sets it in front of Marc. “Have some wine, dear boy. I’m sure you’ve earned it!“
Marc looks at the half-elf, nodding friendly, “G’dday saer!“ Jez shakes Marc’s hand briskly. “Good day Saer. Jezbodiah Wisp, son of Mathou and Evaleen Wisp of Berdusk. It’s a pleasure to meet your acquaintance. I finally see that you and Saer Matteo have arrived. I have a message, rather two messages for him.“ “I am right here behind you, Master Wisp.“ Matteo replies quietly from behind Jez’s shoulder. Nodding past Jez towards Nik he gives a faint grin. “I see you scrub up rather well Nik. I take it the food and drink have been to your liking, not to mention the bath?“ The tall bard smiles at Matteo, giving him a nod of acknowledgement, and a grateful smile. He seems about to answer, when Marc distracts him. Chin in one hand, Nik watches Marc with a bemused grin.
Surprised by the shaking of hands, in which he wavering participates, Marc looks the man in the eyes again. A bit stammering he answers the well-mannered man, “Ehm… well, I’m Marc, Ursula’s son… from Dryham that is.“ He looks behind Jez and then his eyes wander through the room again. “Ehm… just a moment.“ He says and walks towards the door. He looks down when he opens the door and indeed Friend steps in. Marc closes the door and returns to the table. He gets seated next to Nik, orders the dog to lay down a bit further, and over-enthusiastically slaps Nik on his shoulder, just a little too hard. “You’ll never believe what we went trough!“ He says, inviting. Now he’s found Friend his eyes wander towards the Yarting.
Nik leans back as Marc approaches with Friend, fear flickering in his dull eyes again. When the lad slaps him enthusiastically on the shoulder the tall, gaunt bard grabs at the table to keep from being knocked from his seat. He gives the seemingly unthreatening dog one more fearful glance, tugging nervously at the scarf around his neck. “Was it worse than the troll?“ the bard asks Marc absently, obviously forcing himself to keep from looking at the dog lying calmly several feet away.
Shortly after Matteo has arrived, Mumadar walks up to the table carrying a plate with hot buttered biscuits and a pint of beer. Putting the plate on the table and the pint of stout in front of Marc, the dark skinned innkeep looks at Emlyn, “Milady, what would you like to drink?“ After Emlyn’s answers he continues. “I will have a bath prepared for the two of you…“ Mumadar looks at Marc and back at Emlyn, “… and a room is being prepared for you as well milady.“
The half-elf hands the letter to Saer Matteo. “The second message…“ He says, “Is from Lady Angruatil. You are to contact her at your earliest convenience. But with the brewing storm, that may not be until tomorrow.“ Bowing, Jez takes his seat and returns to the conversation between Nik and Marc. Nodding, Matteo takes the letter from Jez and carefully flips it open, scanning the contents.
“Anyway.“ Jezbodiah says looking at Marc, I would to hear what has happened today. “Was it better than romping through the city’s sewers looking for thieving street urchins?“ Marc’s eyes are visible attracted to the biscuits and before Emlyn’s answer he already is eating the first. At Mumadar’s announcement he utters, “What? A Bath? Again?!?“ Then he turns to Nik and whispers, “Is there any news about the lady?“
Looking at Marc with a faint frown, the bard says sharply “Yes, another bath. No offense, lad, but you are a bit… ripe.“ The annoyance vanishes from the craggy face, and Nik grins “Some folks may find a touch of the barnyard homey, but I’m afraid my tastes are more cosmopolitan. That, and you’ve more than a TOUCH of the barnyard about you, lad!“ He winks at Marc.
Marc looks surprised at the tall bard. Then he looks down at his clothes and pulls on a corner of his shirt, moving the whole side, the backside coming in sight, large brownish bloodstains on it. Marc frowns and nods. “Yeah, “ he mumbles, “a bath, clothes washed… perhaps the use of a needle…“ Underneath his shirt his tanned skin is visible, with a giant blue bruise visible on his abdomen. He looks over his shoulder trying to catch a glimpse of Mumadar or Elisa.
Emlyn has remained quite silent; the little halfling woman only seems to be defrosting now. Lacking the protection of a cloak or something, the snow crests have attached themselves to her hair, shirt, face and limbs. As the innkeep speaks to her, she throws him, however, a warm and thankful smile. “Something hot, please. And I’m more than grateful for the bath… heh, probably your other guests are too.“
“I will prepare you a hot tea milady.“ Mumadar says bowing to Emlyn, and he walks towards the bar and the kitchen to prepare the tea. Returning possible strange glances, Emlyn shrugs. “Marc is right, we’ve had quite the day. Well, that plus spending a couple of days as a troll’s pet doesn’t do much for your looks.“ Turning her gaze back to Nik, she looks for a seat and asks: “Have you already heard something from lady Ditalidas? Or saer Telsom? They should have returned safely, and earlier than we.“ Marc nods heavily, looking at the gathered, “Yes, anybody? Any news?“
The tall bard’s expression turns serious again, and he sighs and looks gravely at Emlyn. “Yes, Telsom and Kalil have arrived safely. They are around here somewhere. As for the Lady, well, Telsom said she was taken ill, and is resting comfortably at her home, but other than that I have no news.“
Another frown touches Marc’s tired face. He sighs. “Gotta know more than that.“ He whispers to himself more than to anyone else. “And where are the elves? Where’s the redh… ehm… priest. And… ehm… Kalil?“ He turns his upper body to search the room for one of their faces. “Ouch!“ Marc holds a hand against his belly. He smiles awkwardly, hoping no-one sees him suffer. He stares at the opposite wall for a while, thinking, then he nods and says to his faithful pet, patting her on her head, “We might go out tonight, snow or not.“
After a while, Mumadar returns with a mug of steaming and fragrant tea, as well as another plate with hot buttered biscuits. “Whenever you are ready milady, saer“ Mumadar looks at Emlyn and Marc, “Your baths will be prepared.“
“I thank you with all of my heart.“ Emlyn closes her hands around the warm cup of tea for a while, and as soon as she can drink from it, starts to take small sips. As the snow melts, she watches the small puddles of water forming around her. Seeing Friend, she smiles. “You dogs wear always the same.“ She mutters, “yet it is warm at least, and it always looks good.“ She takes another sip of her tea. “Maybe I *should* buy a cloak or something.“ Marc smiles at the cold halfling, “You ARE cold, aren’t you.“
Marc stands up to talk to Mumadar. “Yes, prepare me a bath too please… but make hers first.“ He giggles while he looks the man in the eye. Than he says to him, “It’s so silly being a guest myself… Ehm… Could you find someone to fix my shirt and cloak while I bathe? They seem to be torn up a bit…“ Before he sits down he looks amused at the man again, shakes his head and says, “So silly“ Then he takes one of the eggs he took from the breakfast table from his pocket, inspects it, peels it and puts it on one of the buttered biscuits. He smiles proudly while he eats the combination.
Removing his dagger and twirling it for all to see, Jez takes great care to stab a buttered biscuit with his clean blade. He raises the dagger towards himself and removes the morsel with his fingers. He sheaths his blade in its scabbard. Raising both feet and legs, he relaxes by placing them on the table in a reclining and most comfortable position. Taking a chalice with his free hand, he swirls his wine in his cup, and drinks deeply from it. Tilting his head and looking at Saer Matteo, he says with some concern, “well Saer, is it good news or tidings of woe? Come and share with us.“ He bits into his biscuit and waits for a response.
Looking up from the letter, Matteo carefully folds it over and slides it into the interior of his jacket. “Nothing to concern yourself with, Master Wisp. A friend of mine, Portia, seems to have gone missing. Just a personal matter, but something that requires my attention.“ He replies. Smiling down at Emlyn he crouches down before her, his back to the others, and whispers something quietly in halfling. “I’ll try to get you a cloak tomorrow, any favorite colors? Portia was helping us, the Zhentarim have taken her. Can you tell Telsom in the morning?“
Emlyn smiles at the mention of buying a cloak, and softly replies in her heavily southern-accented halfling; “Thank you, and I’ll make sure to repay your kindness. Just keep it simple, nothing flashy.“ She frowns for a moment. “It is worrying that your friend was taken – especially seeing our latest… encounter. But I will gladly lend all aid I can give into getting her back, and I’ll speak to Telsom as soon as I see him.“
Rising back to his feet he says, “I am off to see the guard briefly then going to check in with Lady Angruatil.“ Glancing at the puddle around Emlyn the corner of his mouth twitches into a smile. “Considering the state of the weather I might not bother returning until after breakfast tomorrow. I suggest you make use of the Stag’s excellent resources to pamper yourselves thoroughly.“ “Missing?“ Marc looks at Matteo with worry on his face. “Then?…? Should we just stay here and…?“
“It’s not my habit to pamper myself.“ Emlyn replies, “but not to freeze either.“ She frowns. “Portia? That would be your other priestly friend? Marc mentioned her… strange that she’s gone missing.“ She looks a touch worried. “May I ask what faith she serves?“ “The lord of the dead.“ Matteo replies tersely, glancing towards the door, “Kelemvor.“
“Interesting.“ mutters Jez to himself in between bites of his biscuit. “Does this matter with the Kelemvorite temple and its clergy have anything to do with the letter? I was in their temple earlier today.“ Marc sees Matteo looking at the door, “Saer, please not so fast… ehm… anything we can do for Portia?“ He bows a bit in Matteo’s direction and whispers, though not so silent others can’t hear it, “Besides, I’d like your advice on something… Ehm…“ He prepares himself another egg-sandwich and starts eating it, awaiting Matteo’s reply.
Eyes half-shut, elbows on the table and chin resting in his hands, Nik silently watches the others converse. The tall bard seems tired, although the haze in his dull eyes suggests he is instead simply mostly drunk. He rouses himself slightly to glare at Jez when the messenger puts his feet on the table, but with a resigned sigh and a drink from his cup, Nik decides he’d better not make yet another scene. Jez merely grins like a Cheshire cat when Nik makes eye contact. “Minstrel, uh saer, there’s no need to glare at me. I’m merely keeping my feet dry. Ya never know what’s going to get wet around here.“ Jez then merely whistle a convincing but innocent tune.
Finally noticing Emlyn’s state, Nik mumbles to himself “Idiot!“ and turns to rummage through the backpack at his feet. With a grunt of triumph, he pulls Emlyn’s blanket – cleaned and dry – from his pack. He stands too quickly, and sways a bit, grabbing at the table to catch his balance. “Oops!“ He says, chuckling and grinning his manic grin, and walks carefully around to Emlyn (making sure to give Friend a nervous glance and a wide berth). Once he reaches her he drops to one knee, presenting her blanket to her with a flourish and a wink. He drapes it around Emlyn’s shoulders as if it were a cloak for a queen, then gets to his feet again with the exaggerated care of the frequently drunk.
“There ya go!“ Nik grins, as he looms over the halfling. “Clean and dry, like I promised!“ At this close range he reeks of wine, and water glistens in his hair and darkens his gaudy scarf and the front of his deep red shirt. His eyes are merry, bloodshot and slightly unfocused. “You should get that hot bath, you’ll feel much better.“ He pats her gently on the shoulder, and makes his way back to his seat. Once seated again, he pats his guitar possessively, and pours himself another cup of wine. Resting one elbow on the table, and with his sharp chin cupped in that hand, the bard gazes thoughtfully at Matteo and Marc. His left hand fusses with his wine cup, finally raising it to his lips for a long drink.
Emlyn grins at the Presentation of the Blanket and graciously accepts it with all the mock air of an uppity Calimshan noble. “Thank you.“ As Nik makes his way back to his table and the half-elf, she puts the blanket in her pack while slowly shaking her head. Nibbling from a biscuit and finishing her tea, she waits until she can take her bath – when she can, she’ll make sure to have a word with Elisa or Mumadar and ask to bring Nik a large pitcher of water cause he will need it in the morning.
Setting his cup back on the table, Nik says to Matteo “So, there’s more of you? And one has gone missing? Anything I can do?“ He sighs and rolls his eyes, muttering under his breath (but audible to everyone at the table) “What have I gotten myself into?“ Nik reaches for a biscuit, fumbling slightly before managing to grab one. Grinning triumphantly, he mutters “Hah! Gotcha!“ and eats it slowly, seeming to savor each bite.
Sighing, Matteo replies, “No, there is little we can do at present. I will drop in to see Lord Sillisten on my way to the guard barracks and try to find out what she was doing. I suspect the temple knows very little or he would have said more in the letter. Its really little more than a courtesy call.“ Stifling a yawn behind an upraised hand Matteo adds, “He did say that he would attempt some divinations tomorrow to try and locate her. So our best bet is probably to wait until after they are completed.“
“Now, Marc.“ He says quietly, turning slightly away from the others but not so that they cannot see or hear him, “What is it you want to talk about?“ Marc stands up and walks to stand next to Matteo, swallowing the last bit of the egg-biscuit. “Saer.“ He says, starting a brief monologue. But as close as he stands to Matteo others can’t overhear him. They can see him nodding at both Nik and Emlyn twice while he harasses the man with another long monologue, with lots of interruptions and ehm’s. Marc walks to Matteo and starts talking to him softly, not intending to be unheard by the others, but as a reaction to Matteo’s turning away.
“Saer…“ Marc says, “I’ve learned to value your opinions.“ He smiles at a new thought, “Trusted my life to you…“ He lays his left hand on Matteo’s right shoulder and squeezes it slightly, fleetingly winking, “and deservedly it was.“ Then Marc sighs and the smile subsides. “Well… ehm… I’m glad we made it… ehm… home safely, but… well… it’s not right.“ He nods at Nik and Emlyn. “I’d like to stay here with them and have a good meal.“ A humble smile appears briefly, “haven’t eaten since breakfast…“ He inserts, “…and I’m curious to hear whatever this bard may render… but… well…“ He shakes his head. “It’s not right.“
He looks Matteo in the eyes solemnly, “I heard this Nicolas Something…“ – Marc nods to point at the tipsy man – “… tell my master’s taken ill and resting at her home.“ Marc shrugs awkwardly, “I wanna know more about her well-being and…“ He shrugs again, “… well… report on my doings… perhaps get a new assignment or something.“
A frown emerges behind the brown stain on his young forehead, emphasizing his sad brown eyes in which a distant fire seems to burn. He slowly shakes his head again, sighs and adds, “I just have to hear from her she’s doing alright or not… You know… see her eyes while she tells me.“ – Are there tears in Marc’s eyes? There surely is a trembling in his voice when he ardently adds, “I just have to!“
Marc stares over Matteo’s shoulder with worry in his eyes. “So… after our brave companion…“ – Marc nods to point at Emlyn – “… has had her bath, I will make myself presentable.“ Thoughtfully he nods approvingly at this idea of his, “And then I’ll have a walk with Friend… well… she’s had exercise enough, but…“ – another sigh, another shrug – “I want to pay the lady a visit… Show her my respect… Wish her well…“ – Yet another shrug – “Know how she’s doing.“ He looks Matteo in the eye with a very pleading expression on his face. “You know you’re way around Berdusk. Please tell me how to find her dwelling.“ After a breath or two he adds “Please“
Matteo is quiet for a moment as he regards the young man before him. Finally he nods briefly and replies quietly, “I have to see Lady Angruatil before visiting the guard barracks and Lord Sillisten. And all that before a few hours of paperwork, Marc. I can show you the Jalargharspires now if you wish, they are not far away at all, but I cannot spare the time to visit with you.“
Marc’s eyes grow and a thankful smile emerges on his face. “Would you? Ehm…“ Marc quickly glances around, more considering options than really looking at something. “Now…? Great!“ The thankful smile grows further while he grabs Matteo’s shoulder again and squeezes it briefly, “Gee, thanks!“. Marc tinkers at his cloak, arranging it around his shoulders, preparing for a cold walk. He waits for Matteo to leave and will walk outside with him.
Straightening up from talking to Marc, Matteo says, “If no one wants me for anything further I’ll be off then. I’ll see you tomorrow.“ Nodding to Emlyn and Nik he turns to take his leave.
Walking outside, Matteo hunches up slightly against the cold and the snow. “This way Marc.“ He says and begins to walk briskly towards the castle that looms against the night sky to the south. However, as soon as he clears the few small buildings near the Stag he draws to a stop and gestures out towards the West, down toward the harbor. “You see that building over there, Marc?“ He says, pointing towards a manor house dominated by a series of tall, spired towers. That is the Jalargharspires, where the Lady Ditalidas lives with her family.“
Marc follows Matteo outside and looks in the direction where Matteo points. Matteo can hear Marc’s breath stall. In disbelieve Marc looks at Matteo, checking whether he’s fooling him or not, but Matteo’s face looks serious enough*. Again the young man looks at the impressive building and swallows twice before resuming his breath. He looks at Matteo while he addresses him, “Saer…? Ehm…“ Marc glances briefly at the manor, “Are you quite sure?“ Marc frowns, “I’m expecting to find a merchant’s home and you seem to direct… ehm… it is the towered building, is it?“ When Matteo confirms he continues, “Gee! I mean… gosh!“ His eyes are big from wonder, staring at the house of his master, “This is a palace! A castle.“ He briefly grabs Matteo’s elbow, and speaks loudly, “Look, it’s as big as the great castle of Dreights! Bigger!“
It takes some time for Marc to accept the fact that the house Matteo points out to him really is the humble home of the friendly woman he only shortly tries to consider not being a princess. But Matteo succeeds convincing him and Marc returns to the inn. Matteo sees him mumbling and shaking his head; every now and then he stops and speaks to his dog, even while Marc disappears in the distance Matteo can hear fragments of amazed utterances like “Imagine…“ and “… all these towers…“
Smiling cheerfully at Matteo, Nik says “Don’ get buried inna snowdrift!“ The slur is creeping back into his voice, and he waves in Matteo’s general direction before fumbling for his wine again and nearly spilling it. “Bugger.“ He grumbles, sucking the wine off his fingers. “Table mus’ ha’ a warp innit.“
Asking one of the bar patrons, Jez says, “Help me to his room. If you need any moneys for expenses or such, talk to my parents. Ya can’t miss their shop, Mathou’s Masterworks. Ask for Mathou and Evaleen. Let them know I’m at the Running Stag.“ Jez ponders for a moment then looks at Nik. His face illustrates no emotion of expression to what he is about to do next. “The only thing warped around here.“ Jez says, “Is your voice. C’mon minstrel, I think you’ve swum enough in the bottom of your cup for one day. Something tells me we may need your services tomorrow, sober or hung-over.“
Marc returns in the main room and remains surprisingly silent for a while.
Nik looks up from his wine, and the cheer in his face is replaced by slow, hot anger. His hazy eyes narrow, and he scowls “‘M no’drun’.“ His deep voice is quite slurred now, but the anger in it is unmistakable – even if the words themselves aren’t clear. He plants both hands on the tabletop and levers himself to his feet, where he sways slightly. Looming over Jez, he glares down at him from his towering height. “Who’re ya ta tell me wha’ ta’do?“ He raises one fist in a threat, but almost loses his balance and quickly puts both hands back on the table.
Glaring at the others, almost daring them to comment on his obvious drunkenness, Nik is no longer the cheerful, rather timid man he seems. There is something menacing about the gaunt figure now, a flicker of madness in his alcohol-fogged eyes. “Buncha chil’ren…“ He growls, wobbling unsteadily. “‘M old’r tha’ the lot ov ya, an if’n I wanna sit ‘ere an’ drin’ th’n I will…“
Jez merely looks at the tall bard and whistles a tune. “Aye, you’re scary all right minstrel. But only when your this close and your breath smells of liquor. I’d hate to see you play an instrument much less sing in key with thick slur. People may think your from Zhentil Keep instead of Silverymoon. But if you want my opinion, the elder woman didn’t dunk you hard enough. Care to go for another swim?“
The scowl deepens on the bard’s gaunt face, and Nik snarls, “G’wan an’ try, pup.“ He straightens slightly, left hand balled into a fist. His right hand stays on the tabletop, but he no longer seems about to topple over – the anger starting to override the alcohol.
Marc looks at the heated couple with a hazy look. Then he shakes his head and says to them as well as Emlyn, “Well, I think I’d better have my bath now.“ and stands up. “I think I’ll join you again later, ehm… hope there’ll be something to eat.“ He picks up another biscuit and walks through the door, chewing at it.
Shortly after Marc went for his bath, Elisa enters the taproom again, and upon seeing Nik and Jez, she hurries over. Taking Nik gently by the arm, she pulls him slightly away from the table. “C’mon handsome singer, if you want to perform more tonight or tomorrow, you’d better get a nap.“ She reaches for his backpack and hoists it over her shoulder. “Let’s go, I’ll take you to your room.“ She lets Nik reach for his Yarting before half-dragging him away from the table and an amused Jez. “Milady?“ Elisa looks at Emlyn, if you’d follow me as well, I’ll show you to your room.“
As Jez is about to comment, someone in the crowd hails him. He recognizes the young man and beckons him over. While Elisa leads Nik and Emlyn to their rooms, Jez and his acquaintance engage in a conversation that lasts for a while.
The rest of the afternoon and evening seem to pass fast. The events of the day are taking their toll of Emlyn, Nik and Marc. They soon fall asleep in their rooms. As the snowstorm outside rages on, the three remain blissfully unaware and venture deeper into dreamland.
The person Jez speaks with is someone one of his friends often ‘deals’ with. Jez and he have a conversation and as soon as the other finds out Jez is willing to treat him to a few drinks his tongue starts wagging a little. The man passes some information on to Jez. It seems that despite the weather and the end of the caravan season there are still a few caravans trekking through the area. Even away from the beaten paths. Though he cannot confirm it, the man believes they are either bound for Darkhold, or returning from that fell fortress.
“Interesting.“ Jez whispers. “When you learn more tell me. I also want the name of the caravan and its caravan master. See if you can dig up anything about him. His allegiances, his religion, and especially what he’s transporting.“
“I’ll see what I can come up with.“ The man answers, “I’ll leave you a message. It will be in the stables, there is a loose tile in front of the tack room.“ He takes a swig of his drink. “Be careful though, those stable boys are like snooping kobolds, nosy little brats.“
When Jez asks about the kobolds in the sewer, the man doesn’t seem surprised. He tells Jez that these kobolds have long been there. Supposedly the harpers have tried to eradicate them, but failed and now have some sort of pact with the little beasts.
“I was chasing a street waif yesterday when he, or yet that I believe, entered the section of the city’s sewers. He likes sticking his fingers in small places.“ Jez adds. “Find him and let me know about it. I want to speak with the lad.“
Shaking his head behind his mug of ale, the man sniggers at Jez, “I’m no nanny for street waifs. Besides those I deal with are not interested in such. But I do have something else that might be interesting to you.“ He leans over the table, bringing his head closer to Jez. “Last night some mugging took place not far from Clearspring Tor. I don’t know who it was, or who got mugged, but it seems to have been a woman that was the victim.“
“A woman?“ Jez looks genuinely surprised, “Look into this situation for me. Find out who the woman was, what was stolen, and let me know it. Chances are it will end up in Hullybuck’s Fence Shop.“ Finishing his ale with one last swig, the man sets the mug down on the table and stands up. “I will, any information you’ll find where I told you.“ Without another glance, He picks up his cloak and walks out of the Stag.
When Marc passes the doorway he looks around sees the back of Elisa who stands working there. The left corner of his mouth curls up in a naughty smile. He silently walks up to her, until he’s standing right behind her. Then he pricks with his forefingers in two side of her waist. Elisa squeaks and turns her head. She releases her breath and says, smilingly, “O, Marc, it’s you.“ Marc smiles triumphantly.
A teasing gleam is in her eyes as she adds, “So… you’ll have another bath…“ Marc nods, while he smiles as reaction on the chaff in her voice and her eyes, “Yes… it should be ready by now…“ He spreads his hands – as if to tickle her – for a moment, but chances their position into a gesture pointing at his damaged clothing, “…And a chance of clothes… If Mumadar found a way to fix these that is.“
“I think he has.“ Elisa replies, drying her hands with a towel, “C’mon, follow me.“ When she turns to walk off, she quickly turns to Marc again and says with an apparent imitation of a severe tone, lifting her forefinger, “And don’t you dare!“ Marc follows the barmaid through the kitchen. Just before the doorway he pats Elisa softly on her behind, but she decides to ignore this action.
Through a corridor, a door and another corridor Elisa leads Marc to the bathing room. It dawns on Marc that the inside of the Stag seems like a maze with doors and corridors leading everywhere. When Elisa shows him into the bathing room, Marc sees several bathtubs. One of them is filled with water; it must be warm as the water steams lightly. Mumadar, who just emptied the last kettle hot water in it, looks at the two arriving and says to Marc, “Ah! There you are, the young lord Marc.“ He slowly bows his head a bit. “Well, saer. If you put your clothes over this chair here…“ Mumadar gestures at a chair near the tub, “I’ll take care of them being fixed.“ Mirth is visible on his face as he sees Marc’s surprised look, being addressed so solemnly.
Mumadar shrugs with a smile and spreads his hands. “Your clothes will probably not be ready before dawn, washed and all…“ His brows crease slightly as his gaze falls over Marc’s dirty clothing.“…On this table here, are some clothes you can wear in the mean time. They used to belong to my son, but he has outgrown them long ago.“
Marc looks at the table and sees some clothes, neatly folded, lying there. Mumadar even thought of his nightly walks with Friend and has provided a cloak as well. Marc smiles, knowing to be fooled and nods, “Well, thank you, Mumadar!“ He walks towards the bath, puts a finger in it to gauge the temperature and nods again. Then he looks at the man and asks him, “Ehm… Put them here… Ehm… now?“ He glances shortly at Elisa, who remains standing in the doorway, leaning against it.
Mumadar nods and answers in deep voice, “Yes, please, if you would. Then I can have one of the maids wash and fix them.“ He stands next to the bathtub, with his arms emphatically crossed before his chest and looks at Marc. Marc puts down his crook, turns his back at the door and hangs his fur over the chair. He looks over his shoulder at the very patient Elisa briefly before he takes off his shirt. Elisa looks at the scars, which are so strangely interrupted with a strip of unscratched pink, and the bruises lower at the young man’s back and tilts her head slightly.
While Marc carefully puts his bow, knife and longsword up and against the chair, Elisa winks at Mumadar. Again Marc glances at the woman. Then he bows and pulls his shoes off. But the rising color on his cheeks is not from bending over.
He rises again, sighs and turns to Elisa, who seems to be in no hurry to leave at the time. “C’mon, boy!“ Mumadar sounds irritated – Marc doesn’t see his wink at Elisa, “Haven’t got all day!“ Marc looks at the man, blushes more deeply – even Elisa can see red spots appearing in his neck – and drops his pants. When he stretches his arm to hand it to the waiting man, who suddenly seems unpleasantly far away, he glances over his shoulder again, but the doorway is empty.
After having had his bath Marc gets himself dressed. The clothes Mumadar has put ready for him appear to be large. They look huge on the slim lad. Marc tweaks his dressing, using his rope to tie up his trousers and turning them up as well as the sleeves. A different style then what he was used to at home. Returning to the common, Marc sees that the crowd has diminished somewhat. Apparently the weather has sent the regulars home early. The table where his friends were sitting at is empty save for Jez, who is engaged in a conversation with one of the guests.
Looking once more about, Marc shrugs and walks outside. Friend follows him and doesn’t seem to notice Marc’s new clothes. Marc walks to the building Matteo pointed out to him earlier, wrapping the cloak around him tightly against the driving snow. When he gets there he looks up and shakes his head in disbelieve. Marc looks at his dog, “Can you believe it…? Our lady seems to live in this palace! ‘Merchants daughter’, Right! And you’re a unicorn!“ He sighs and shakes his head while he strokes the dog’s head, “no, there’s probably something I overlooked“
Marc smoothes his clothes in order to make him look a little more presentable and he steps towards the gate of the impressive building. The many-spired townhouse is one of the largest mansions in the city. A low wall surrounds the building. A wrought-iron gate leads toward the main entrance. The gate is closed and behind it Marc can see a guard pacing about. As Marc looks up at the building, he realizes that it is taller than the old keep back home. And beyond on the hill is the real castle of Berdusk, and even taller building than the Jalargharspires.
The somewhat annoyed looking guard walks up to Marc, “Yes? Your business please?“ A little flustered by the guard’s manner, Marc says, “Ehm… Saer…? Excuse me please… Ehm… Well… is this the… ehm… house of the… ehm… noble lady Ditalidas?“ Marc looks insecurely at the guards, “is it…? You see… well… ehm… Me and this lady… no… Ehm… I’m Ditalidas’… ehm… fr – well… ehm… servant?“
“Yeah, yeah. And I’m a griffon. Move along now, and take that dog with you.“ The guard glares at Marc. Suddenly the spear-like weapon the man holds looks less ceremonial to Marc. “C’mon move along, or I’ll have the guards pick you up.“
Marc’s eyes flick back and forth from the man’s fierce eyes to the weapon. “Ehm…“ Marc gasps, taking a step back, No… ehm… I don’t think you are, saer… a griffon that is… don’t know, saer… but… ehm… really… I mean… I am… ehm… “ Marc chuckles nervously, “ well, I’m not a griffon, but… you see… I am her friend, her servant.“ Looking at the increasing menace in the guard’s eyes, Marc takes another step back. “I really am!“ Eventually Marc shambles back to the Running Stag, his shoulders bend.
Marc shakes his head as he enters his room and throws his crook from the door opening on the bed. The tool bounces on the straw mattress, hits the wall and falls back on the bed. “Pfff.“ Marc sighs while he waits at the door for Friend to enter, “Quite a day it was!“ He closes the door and steps forward to the bed. Again he sighs and looks down at his awkward clothing. He smiles as he sees the sword hanging from his belt. His smile broadens while he looks at the impressive booty. Still smiling he takes out the sword and weighs it in his hand, moving it from one position to another, stretching and withdrawing his arm, feeling the balance.
Soon Marc is in a sham fight with invisible enemies. For quite a while he ducks and pricks, dodges and wards off. He is jumping from side to side and from back to front. He mostly ignores the pain the bruises cause with some movements.
“Take this, you wicked goblin!“ He says fiercely and he stings the point of his dangerous weapon into the chest of an imaginary enemy. “Forget it.“ He says to the twosome attacking him from the right and in one heavy swing he beheads one of them, swinging back he treats the other alike.
Proudly he crosses his hands before his chest, looking down at the scattered bodies and still rolling heads, the sword fiercely upward. “Ouch!“ He tilts his right wrist to make the sword point outward and moves his left hand to his left ear. “Bloody bulge of black beasts!“ He looks at the blade of the swords and sees a drip of blood sliding an inch or two down before falling to the ground. Still holding his ear he cocks his head to the right. “It hurts.“ He mumbles frowning. He moves the palm of his hand in front of his eyes and sees more clear red blood. He squeezes his eyes and opens his lips in a mean looking grim, showing his bright white teeth. Then he lifts the sword up, his right wrist near the left side of his jaw and in a strong move to the right and down he pitches into another couple of wretches. “Eat this!“ He shouts angrily.
He turns on his feet towards the door and lifts the sword with both hands high above his head. Loudly he proclaims: “And this is for the lady!“ He slays another man, cleaving his skull. In a supple move he raises the sword on his left side again. TONK! The sword hits the wall and Marc feels the full strength of his blow reflecting in his wrists. Startled by the noise he lowers the weapon until its point rests on the floor. He sighs and lets his shoulders hang down. He wrinkles his lips and nods. He cleans the sword with a slip of his shirt, accidentally cutting it. “Oh bother!“ With his ear still dripping a bit he sheaths the sword and sits down on the bed.
After some time he pats Friend on her head, stands up and lays the weapons next to the bed. Then he undresses and briefly washes his face and armpits. He dims the candle and looks to the gray sky through the sky light and thanks Chauntea for the gift of life, the new friends he met, the miraculous healing of his back and how he survived a number of adventures all in one day. He mentions his worries about Ditalidas, still not well while the threat lingers.
With a worried face he stands there, nakedly, looking at the dark window for quite a while. Then he slams his fist three times against the wall in powerless concern. Then he regains strength in softly singing Chauntea’s song of circles. The thought of his mother comforts him as well.
He steps into the bed and lays down to sleep. But for some reason sleep doesn’t come over him. He looks at the vague forms of the ceiling while he thinks back of his homeland. He thinks of the waving landscape, colored in a thousand variations of pink and purple when the heather blooms, the scattered rock formations, the birches and the lonely form of a praying buzzard in the pale blue sky. In his mind he sees the sheep grazing contentedly and Friend lying on a hillock overlooking the area. He knows Frey is there, and tears roll out of his open eyes over his temples unto the pillow. The image of the flock on the fields slowly gets clearer and he hears the bleating of the sheep and the soft stumbling of their hooves on the solid ground. He sees some lambs bouncing cheerfully at the right side of the flock. There’s a sad smile on his wet face while he suppresses a sob.
He overlooks the grazing animals and looks wondered at a few horses standing on the left side of them. They are saddled but no one is sitting on them. He holds his hand above his eyes to examine the mounts more thoroughly. Then he sees someone is kneeling between the horses. A woman. Is it Frey?? And what is wrong with her? Drips of sweat appear on his forehead while he looks intensely, but no, it isn’t Frey. The hairs of the woman are not the sweet copper-colored hairs he used to stroke a year ago. It’s a dark haired woman who sits there and, yes, she seems to be weeping. He sees her shoulders jerking. Marc pulls himself up with the crook and keeps looking at this unexpected phenomenon, his eyes wide open. He walks to the left, rounding the herd towards the mounts. As he comes closer he saddens in empathy. Why is this unknown woman weeping? What has happened to her? His heart beats irregularly when he realizes he recognizes this woman, but he can’t recall how. Or even who she is.
When he is as close as some ten feet away from her, she suddenly stands up and mounts one of the horses. Startled Marc stops. The woman, wearing a veil, glances at him and then, suddenly, as he sees her eyes he knows who she is. Immerine! It’s the warm but distant young witch he met a few times, the pretty woman who disappeared soon after they met every time. She isn’t disappearing again, is she? Marc opens his mouth to shout to stop her, but the air is stuck in his chest. No matter how hard he tries, there’s not the slightest sound coming out his open mouth. It is as if a leather belt is tied firmly around his ribs. And Immerine spurs her horse; she, as well as the other horses, trot off and disappear over a slope in the blink of an eye.
Marc stands near the flock and gazes at the top of the green hillock where she rode out off his sight, powerless. While he stands there he suddenly hears a woman’s cry, loud and long, resounding down the slope. The cry fades away over the fields like the last rags of a morning fog blown away by a soft breeze. The sun has disappeared, the sky is gray and the heather lost its color. The chill makes Marc shiver. Cold fingers seem to squeeze his heart. “No! Please Immerine… Stay!“ the words come out at last, but too late and only in a soft whisper. The landscape darkens and the sound of the flock slowly fades away.
Stars are sparkling in a black sky and Marc sits with a group of workers around a large pile of wood. The workers and Marc hold mugs with beer and seem to be telling stories and jokes. As dark as it is, Marc can see their mouths move and the laughter running around the gathered, but the scene is absolutely silent. It seems they all are particularly listening to him, but he has no idea what he was telling them. The farmer, Jones, nods friendly at him, leaning on a pitchfork. His square-built wife sits next to Jones and is eagerly waiting what Marc has to say next. But what should he say? Marc has no clue. He swallows. He stares in the fireplace, at the branches and twigs that are lying there. Marc frowns. Why isn’t the fire burning? He looks around at the circle of co-workers but he seems to be the only one noticing there’s something wrong.
They’re still laughing, but the laughter slowly decreases and, with silence still holding Marc speechlessly, one by one they start looking at Marc, expecting him to say something of importance. Marc’s nervousness grows as the silence continues. He stares at the woodpile, silently asking it to provide him the answer. He stands up and opens his mouth, pointing at the unlit fire. Everybody stares at him as if he has farted at the Kings dinner. Marc takes a step backward, still pointing with his finger.
Then a stylish lady stands up at his far left and takes a step forward. She stretches her arms in front of her, moving her fingers in a strange way, and suddenly a beam of fire emerges from her trembling hands. The rays hit the fire with a hissing noise and immediately flames are dancing in the campfire. The towering flames lighten the group. In the reddish flickering light Marc can see that everybody keeps gazing at him while the lady steps back and sits down next to an old man. It’s Jack, the slattern hawker from Hoursmound. The way the two interact suggests he is her father. Strange how such an ugly hunchback can have such a handsome daughter.
The workers look at Marc in a disapproving manner. He looks at Jones for confirmation, but the friendly man looks angrily at him. Marc takes another step back. He spreads his hands and tries to say some excuse, but he can’t speak. Then Jones stands up, his skin looking older in the light of the flames. His expression changes in a broad and unpleasant grim, showing all his teeth, making Jones’ head look like a skull. Marc suddenly notices Jones left eye is missing; a dark eye-socket indicating where is was just a heartbeat ago. Jones lifts his pitchfork – no, it’s a scythe – above his partly decomposed head and with his brown stained arms – some fingers suddenly seem to be missing too – he swings the sharp blade wildly in the air, walking towards him. His wife rises too. Her dress is ragged and her face and arms look like the corpse he found in the forest years ago, dark grayish skin flapping down from her shoulders and a black substance on the bones of the arms. Instead of a face there’s a spotted skull, with thin hair hanging down like straw. While he looks at her he sees one breast falling off her impressive bosom, gliding underneath her dress and falling on the ground with a nasty sound.
Marc grabs his bow and shoots at the approaching Jones. He aimed too high; it won’t work. But his arrow hits the man right above his eyes in the forehead. There it stands, pointing at him from the farmer’s face, which suddenly looks as it always did. Jones looks surprised at him with two wide-open eyes, his lips forming the word “why?“ Then Jones slowly falls forward and his wife kneels beside him. She too looks as her normal self again. After a breath or two she looks up at Marc with sad acquisition in her eyes.
Marc turns and runs away. He sees lady Ditalidas sitting on a horse, gesturing at a pony, which stands aside of her mount. Marc runs towards the side of the animal and jumps forward on the saddle. He slides off, takes a step back and runs and jumps again. Now he hangs over the animal and he sees his mistress beckoning him to follow. With his feet floundering he sees that she slowly rides away. Then he manages to get seated on the saddle and turns the pony in her direction. Marc sighs as he sees the lady isn’t too far away yet. He spurs with his heels in the sides of the pony, but his heels penetrate the mount’s abdomen, spreading a sickening odor. He spurs again, digging his feet deeper in the pulpy substance. And while he sees his mistress riding further and further away from him, the pony where he sits shakes and falls apart. Marc sits on the ground between the stinking bones and other remains of the large animal, while Ditalidas rides out off sight.
Marc sits against a tree on Moondown Isle. The sun is shining warmly upon his face while he gazes at the maneuvers of some vessels on the river. Contentedly he looks down at the pretty face of Frey, who’s lying on her back next to him. Her head rests against his chest, and his arm lies protecting around her waist. He feels the softness of her belly against his wrist. He smiles at her and lets his eyes wander over this beautiful woman. The friendly eyes – familiarly closed right now – in her pretty face, her hairs – which are draped over his own torso and look nearly reddish in the light of the warm sun, her slender neck, the straight lines of her collarbones, the intriguing smooth raising of her skin towards her breasts, her breathtaking breasts themselves – beneath the embroidered front of her white dress, slowly raising and lowering with Frey’s peaceful breathing, the flowing curves of her slim waist passing into her rounded hips. She has one leg pulled up, which made her dress slide up, and he sees the muscular form of her tanned thigh.
He looks at her serene face again. Content he pats her belly softly and as a blossom in the sun she slowly opens her clear eyes and looks up to him. There’s a warm and satisfied look in her eyes and he feels warmth filling his chest. Frey! He seems to drown in these eyes. She smiles at him and briefly forms her lovely lips in the shape of a kiss before she very slowly closes her eyes again. Thoughtlessly Marc strokes her side. He stares in the distance, not seeing much, as he’s only aware how close Frey is. He feels her warmth against his arm, the hard sphere of her shoulder against his upper arm and the pleasant weight of her head against his ribs.
This should last forever.
Although it’s nearly noon, somehow the moon – in its last quarter – is standing high in the sky. Marc gently squeezes Frey’s waist with his hand. He feels how a soft smile sits on his face. He wants to hold on to this moment forever. But the image fades away, leaving Marc alone in the bed, staring at the dark ceiling with a lump of pain deep down in his belly.
He closes his eyes, which seem to burn in his head, and tries to grasp the image again. Instead he finds himself walking though a forest. Huge trees are surrounding him and he sees a squirrel jumping from tree to tree. Matteo and Emlyn walk beside him and he feels safe with these sturdy warriors by his side. They look from side to side, prepared to confront any danger. Marc follows their example and looks left and right; Trees, some toadstools, traces of rabbits, a troll’s nose and a few blackbirds hopping in a blackberry bush. At unease he looks over his shoulder. There he sees more friends: Telsom, smiling and shining, Druth, silently listening, Ditalidas, with pain behind her eyes, Kalil, with the strange clothing, Aluar, with his impressive uniform. He is encouraged by their presence. While he turns his head to look in front of him again, he sees the gray glimpse of a wolf behind the trees. He aims at a point where he expects the beast to reappear and shoots as soon as it does. Direct hit.
Then he hears a rustle behind him and he turns on his feet, just in time to see the lady collapse unto the ground. He wants to run towards her but knows the wolf may still be alive and dangerous. In doubt he doesn’t move. Aluar lifts the lifeless lady and walks off with Telsom and Kalil following him. He knows this is wrong and starts walking after them. Soon he’s running. Every time he sees a glimpse of them between the large tree trunks but he doesn’t get any closer. He knows they are going to bury her, but lifeless as she may seem he knows she isn’t dead. He has to save her from such a terrible mishap! He runs through the forest, jumping over low bushes and running around larger obstacles, but he does not close in on the departing friends.
They must be approaching a clearing; Marc can see more light between the trees. Then he walks between the last trees and finds himself standing on paved road, facing a high palace. Guards standing watch at the sides of the gate where his friends walk into. Marc sighs. He’s close enough. The raven black hairs of the lady are dancing slowly on the rhythm of Aluar’s footsteps, the movement of her dress on his other side seems an echo of her swinging hairs. Marc runs to follow them into the gate when the guards stop him. While he tries to explain his need to follow this lady the large gates closes with a loud bang.
The guard to whom Marc is talking looks very skinny and mean. Suddenly his skull rises high above his body, shadows emerging from it. While the skull looks angrily down at Marc it says “Whelp, I know my place, it is time you learned yours. Speak to me in such a manner again and we shall finish the conversation with steel.“ When Marc stammers the beginning of an excuse the skull adds, “That is your final warning, I’m a griffon!“
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