The Decisions


The elf-maid was tinkering with another strange wand she had stowed in her pack. The wand had a teardrop shaped crystal attached to one end. She held the wand over the unicorn's head for a moment and uttered some words under her breath. She then stood a little distance away, took out a compass from her pocket and turned in a slow circle. Sure enough, when she faced northwest the wand began glowing very faintly.
"Uh huh!" she said in satisfaction, gathering up her instruments. "Northwest. That village is probably where you want to be headed. I think I will accompany you for a while, if that is all right. You can stay at the Bards Hall if you like and we can set out tomorrow morning."
::We?:: Ceridon looked at Elwynn, startled. ::I'd thought Linna and I would just get directions from Garber and head out on our own. It's not that we wouldn't welcome you--we would, certainly!--but we've no way to recompense you, and hardly enough money to get supplies for ourselves, and it sounds like it'll be a pretty long journey...:: Ceridon's voice petered out as she looked at the group with confusion and astonishment.
"Oh I didn't say I'd be going along for the whole thing." Elwynn said, "I just thought I would help you along the first part of the journey. I may look in on your adventure from time to time, if my responsibilities will permit me. As for money...."
"Money, don't worry about the money, I believe we have enough of that already," the oriental spoke up smiling, "Just think of it as a free service, with no additional charge. Satisfaction Guaranteed."
He looked around at the group and blurted, "When do we start!"
Sherwood turns his grim visage toward Takayoshi, "I agree with you, sir! Money is not a consideration. What _is_ needed is to find the source of this travesty & correct it as soon as possible. To that end," and he spreads his arms wide, encompassing the entire group, "I pledge myself to you: to do all that is possible to find the agent of this misdeed, and to try to persuade him (with all means at my disposal) to turn this girl back into a human."
"Yes, well, as I was saying," the elf-maid continued, "I think an epic quest could use a good Bard, don't you, Karyn? Somebody to record the events and maybe use them for her dissertation."
"Oh I agree completely." Karyn said. "As a matter of fact, Breannyn here is looking for a project to work on. Perhaps this will interest you, Brea?"
"Oh?" Brea perked up at Karyn's words and her green eyes brightened considerably. "Really?" She turned to smile at Linna and Ceridon. "That'd be wonderful! Truly! I'd love te help ye both." She had to force herself to stop before she started babbling with enthusiasm.
"That's great." Elwynn said, "Now we can finance the project and write the whole thing off as a business expense. If we are all agreed, perhaps we could adjourn to the Hall for the evening and set out early tomorrow?"
Linna looked helplessly at Ceridon, then at the resolution on the faces around her. "I... we're... overwhelmed," she finally said. "You'll be more than welcome--all of you."
Garber hesitated a long moment. He'd never thought to return to the village, to the scene of so much sorrow and pain. But simple directions from him probably wouldn't be enough, especially if the travelers' tales he'd heard were true. And if he went, perhaps he'd finally learn some answers, find out why such a tragedy had occurred.
"I'll come as well," he said before his resolution could die aborning. "I'll guide you there."
Melyda had watched in silence, fascinated by the proceedings. She finally stepped forward a little. "Well, I *can't* come," she said with a grin. "I do have a burgeoning business to tend to. But I might have something to help you. It's a travel-sized atlas that covers an extensive area to the northwest of here. It might include your valley, Garber. I'll bring it round tomorrow so you can take a look."
The group started walking south through the open pastureland, going around the city walls toward the Hall. As they went, Ceridon paced closer to Garber.
::You seem rather young to have retired from the guards,:: she sent. ::If you don't mind my asking, what happened?::
He smiled a bit sourly and pulled off one of his gloves. The joints of his fingers were becoming thick and gnarled. "Arthritis," he replied. "The pain of it was starting to interfere with my swordwork."
::If that's the case--::
"No, it's all right. I'll gladly endure it to find out what really happened that day."
::Still, the least we can do is try to help you,:: she replied. ::Linna, could you get some thistle?:: Linna nodded and moved off further into the pasture. ::And see if you can find some mousewort,:: Ceri added as she saw Dwynn's forehead creased from the pain of his headache.
"I'll help you, Linna," Melyda said. "We'll meet you at the Hall." She and Linna waded through the tall grasses, heads bent and hands poking into the underbrush, while the rest of the group continued south.
"Hey, Linna!" shouts Sherwood. "I've got some mousewort here in my backpack!" He puts his pack down, unlaces the flap, and reaches in to carefully withdraw a tied leather roll. "If you'll just take a look at these, maybe you can find something else to go with the mousewort..." Holding the leather roll by the freed end, he allows it to unroll, reaches into a pocket cleverly sewn into the belt, withdraws some slightly crumpled greens, and smiles. "My family always _did_ like t'keep fresh spices & such ready at hand."
Linna waved back at him. "Thanks, Sherwood. Could you keep it until we get back? I also need to drop by the Dragon Inn to get my things."
As Linna and Melyda went of into the underbrush, Dwynn turned his horse. "I shall be with you all anon and shall find you all in good states at the hall." He said to the group as he rode back to where they left the road. He watched them as they went further into the tall grass. The memories flowed from it as he absently thumbed his axe.
{A boy still, he walked the streets of Montfort at night avoiding any passers- by with the grace of experience. It's amazing what you can find lying about in the streets at night. Why won't mam just let me walk the streets at night while she works? She lets me sell the stuff I find without much argument. Anyway, tonight is a good night. It's still early and I've found this genuine steel sword already. That's easily 5 silver. People! I'll have to hurry to make that alley.}
He still flinched at the image of the huge axe coming for him as he rounded the corner just in time to avoid the group of people coming down the street. That was the first time he felt the magick like he had today.
{Blackness... What's this tingling feeling... I'm wounded. I'm alive? With this huge... and heavy axe stuck in my chest?! I can pull it out but I know it's too heavy for me to lift. What's going on? Soft gentle hands helping him up.} He glaced at Lina and his mind shifted in response. {Later. Where a procession of bleading, headless man and servered heads in pools of blood could not, the look of disgust in her face made his guts wrench. Both of them wachted as a slow drop of blood drifted down from the axe and their eyes didn't meet again for far too long.}
As she and Melyda slowly gathered a double-handful of thistle, Linna explained their need to Melyda. "After Ceri changed to a unicorn, we discovered, through a *lot* of trial and error, that her unicorn magic can substitute for most of the ingredients in the herbal remedies we knew. The arthritis lotion we're going to make usually requires about twelve different ingredients, but with Ceri, all we need are thistle and butter fat. The mousewort is also all we'll need for Dwynn."
Melyda chuckled as they headed for the Inn. "That's a handy talent."
Linna nodded. "We've discovered more than a few of those in three and a half years."
They squeezed into the common room of the Dragon Inn. It took a few moments, but Linna finally got Hugh's attention, and he brought her saddle and bag from the back room he'd stored them in. Laden with these and the thistle, she and Melyda made their way through the crowded streets to the Bard Hall.
As the others were entering the Hall's grounds, Ceri was just finishing a similar explanation to the group. ::The lotion won't *cure* your arthritis, Garber, but it will deaden the pain. And it *might* reverse your condition a bit.::
"That's more than I'd ever hoped for," Garber replied. "My thanks." He hesitated a moment, then said, "When Linna was telling us your story, Miss Ceridon--"
::Ceri, please.::
"All right. Ceri." He smiled. "You first. But I don't see that bitterness in you now."
::I *was* bitter when it happened,:: Ceri replied. ::It was so unexpected-- and all I could see was how it separated me from those I loved. I soon realized, though, that if I were going to succeed in finding out what had happened and how to remove the spell, I'd have to accept what had happened and become more...comfortable with this form and its magic. I do still want the spell removed--but this body no longer seems quite the prison it was at first.::
Ceri looked around and spied the stables. ::There's my bunk for the night. I'll see you all in the morning.:: She dipped her head to them, then trotted away toward the stables. After three and a half years of avoiding strangers, she was feeling rather overwhelmed at suddenly being flung into such a group of them, and she wanted some time by herself to assimilate these new conditions.

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