She shifted her concentration to her bond with Ceridon. ::Ceri? Would you like to meet them all, and let Ms. Evindem take a look?::
::I'm not sure what good it would do, but all right. Perhaps seeing me will sober that Sherwood fellow a bit.:: Ceridon's voice was a bit sour, but she knew the sympathy and suggestions they were receiving from most of the group were more than they'd expected. ::I'm not too far from the Inn now, actually. I thought it would be better to be close by. There's a small stand of oaks about a kilometer to the northeast. Head that way, and I'll meet up with you.::
Linna nodded. "Ceri's not too far from here, and you're all welcome to come and meet her."
But before anyone could move from the table...
"Unicorns, is it? Aye, I know of them." This statement came from a man standing next to their table. He looked to be in his mid- to late-40's; his black, roughly clipped hair was liberally sprinkled with grey, he had a salt-and-pepper beard, and wrinkles were beginning to etch themselves into his forehead and around his steel-blue eyes. His clothing--leather breeches, long-sleeved shirt, sleeveless jerkin, black leather gloves--were clean and fairly neat, but certainly not costly. Although the only weapon he carried was a long-bladed knife, he had the look of an experienced, rough-and-ready swordsman. "I know of them," he repeated. "It was eighteen years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday."
::Eighteen years,:: Linna sent to Ceri. ::The timing seems right.::
::Perhaps...Let's hear his story before we get too excited.::
"Please, sir," Linna said to the stranger. "I'd like to hear what you have to say."
Garber had listened avidly to the girl's story, especially the criteria they'd established for their search. He wasn't sure why they'd narrowed it down like that, but his story might fit what they were looking for. He sighed, took a drink from his ale mug, and began.
"M'name's Garber, by the way. I was in a mercenary company back then. Timon's Tigers, that's what we were. Timon was a friend of my father, and the best fighter I ever saw. It was a small company--usually no more than 50 or so men--but we were the best. At least, we were when I first joined 'em."
He sighed. "Time I'm talking about, we'd had a string of bad luck. Disastrous campaigns, employers who stiffed us--we were getting badly into debt. The best of our fighters left, and the only replacements we could afford were scum no reputable company would touch. I was second in command by then, so I felt obligated to stay, but it wasn't long before I was about the only original Tiger left.
"Anyway, we were up near the mountains way off to the northwest of here, looking for work. And let me tell you, we took any job we could get if there was a chance of success. We couldn't afford to pick and choose, and try to fight for the Right Cause. So when this mage came to us and offered us money and lootings to attack some village, we jumped at it.
"He never told us why he wanted us to do it. He didn't even come with us-- sent his apprentice to guide us to the village. Fellow by the name of Kieraan--the same guy that caused all that trouble here yesterday, as a matter of fact.
"He led us to a village stuck up in an isolated valley--seemed like it was three days travel from anywhere. When I saw it--well, that's when I started having doubts about the whole thing. It was a sizable place, but it sure didn't look prosperous enough for the kind of pickings the mage had promised. Still, Kieraan kept saying we'd get it all, so we formed up and attacked.
"I've got to hand it to those villagers. They may have been farmers and craftsmen, but they were no slouches when it came to fighting. They held us off at the edge of the village, while the kids, the old people, and most of the women got to the woods. But of course it wasn't too long before they started falling back through the village. That's when I started poking around in a few of the houses on the edge of the place. They weren't any better or worse than any of the other houses, and there was *nothing* in them worth looting.
"I started fighting my way toward Timon, who was in the vanguard as always. I wanted to tell him to call off the attack--I was sure there was something very wrong about the whole thing. But before I could get to him, before I'd even got a yard closer...*they* came.
"There was no warning--just a sudden scream from one of the men. I looked over to see twenty, twenty-five unicorns sweeping down on our flank, nostrils flared and red-rimmed, teeth bared, horns pointed at our hearts. Nearly two-thirds of the company, including Timon, went down in that first charge, bitten, trampled, and speared. They made pretty quick work of those who were left. But Kieraan and I, and a couple others--we were farthest from the charge--we managed to fight our way back to where we'd left the horses, and rode hell-bent-for-leather out of there.
"I'm sure Kieraan didn't know what the mage had planned--he was as shocked by the appearance of the unicorns as the rest of us. And he was just as furious when we got back to the old keep where he'd lived. Not only was the mage not there, but the place looked like it hadn't been lived in for decades. That damn mage had screwed us all."
Garber took a long drink from his ale mug. "Well, there wasn't anything binding the four of us together, so we each drifted off in a different direction. I'd had enough of the mercenary life, so I came here to Montfort. Eventually got a job in the Tower Guard. I retired not too long ago--just before that whole Redeemer mess exploded in our faces."
He looked at Linna. "Dunno how much good this story of mine will do you, but I figured I might as well tell you. You said you were looking for unicorns near a human village, and that's what I saw. How it might connect with what you talked about, though, I can't figure."
Even Linna's invitation to meet a magically contrived Unicorn fails to dent Sherwood's humorous armor. At the stranger's eye-witness recounting of _real_ contact with Unicorns, however, the grin fades from Sherwood's face, to be replaced by a thoughtful look, perhaps even a frown.
"If the offer is still open, Dams & Gentlemen, I would like to accompany you. I apologize," he says, looking directly at Linna, "for my cynical disbelief. I hope you - and your friend - can forgive me." At this juncture, he bows deeply to the group.
Karyn listened to the strange man's story carefully, not just his words but his manner and inflection. Her Bard's ears had given her a keen sense for truths and falsehoods. As far as she could tell, this Garber seemed to be legitimate, and with a slight nod of her head in Elwynn's direction she relayed her confidence to the elf-maid.
"Well, that's a better lead than I could find for you, I'm sure." The Bardmistress said, "Well told, by the way, Garber. It seems that you have at least a starting place for your search. I'll offer you the assistance of the Hall, if you wish. Is there any other assistance you require?"
The oriental did not say much; instead he was listening intently and with interest.
"Sad to be an orphan," the oriental man thought as he heard Linna's story, "I was an orphan once...I know how they feel."
He continued to to listen, this time from Garber.
"Unicorns," he thought, "Heard about them, but never seen them though. Their shyness explains alot about. However, they could help us about our little problem."
The oriental heard the comment made by Karyn and spoke up.
"Well, then what are we waiting for, let's go and rid this young woman of her curse, and find some unicorns!"
Dwynn frowned near the end of Garbers tale, but then he sighed with relief. "You left the Tower guard before the redeemer probelms? If you would not be opposed to putting my stray thought at rest, prey tell how have you supported yourself since? I humbly ask your forgiveness, if this seems to forward, but you seem a dangerous man."
Looking at Takayoshi, "Yes, lets up and go. By all means."
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