As the group trod back into town, Sherwood studied his companions-to-be, and smiled to himself. They weren't necessarily the most experienced group he had ever spent time with -- oh, Dwynn had some good experience behind him, the oriental, too. "I'll have to work on the pronunciation of his name, though," he thought. And Elwynn, of course -- but for the most part, they were young & just plain energetic. _Exactly_ what he needed just now. He picked up his pace at the end of this first appraisal, wondering just how their talents would meld, and if they would truly call each other 'friends' when the adventure was over. A sigh was followed by an exuberant, "The first round at the Inn is on me!"
"I need to get a few things from my rooming house, actually," Garber said. "But I'll join you later."
He drew Elwynn aside for a moment. "Two questions, Elwynn. Will there be horses available for us? I'm afraid I sold mine ages ago. Also, would it be possible for me to go see Kieraan tonight? I'm hoping he might be a little more forecoming with information than he was eighteen years ago." He smiled wryly at her skeptical look. "Aye, I know, it's not likely. But it's worth a try. Any information we can get would help."
"Well, I don't think we have enough horses to go around." Elwynn said. "Although I was thinking we might be able to scrounge up a wagon or some pack animals. As for Kieraan, he's currently incarcerated in the Tower Guard jail. We could go over and talk with him, although I doubt you will get much information. He's in a pretty foul mood ever since we busted him."
"I don't doubt it," Garber replied with a wry smile. He winced inwardly, though, at the thought of having to ride in a wagon. 'Ah, well,' he thought. 'Better a wagon than walking, I suppose.'
He followed Elwynn to the jail, thinking about what approach to use. Not *too* friendly, of course--they hadn't been friends before. But not too belligerent, either, or Kieraan would never talk.
A Tower Guard guided them past the various cells, until Garber found himself standing in front of Kieraan's cell. He peered inside, and nodded slowly to himself. "So, Kieraan--it really is you," he said in a carefully neutral tone. "Never thought t'see you again."
The defeated mage was lying on the metal bed staring up at the ceiling.
"Garber!" he said, not bothering to look. "How nice of you to come! Here to be a character witness at my trial? Ah! The loyalty of old comrades. I see you have brought the lovely Miss Evindem with you. My compliments on the wards you placed in this cell, madamoiselle. I can't so much as pluck a rabbit out of a hat, if I had one."
"Well, Kieraan," the elf maid replied, "I will see if the cook can prepare rabbit stew for your next meal. In the meantime, here's a chance for you to catch a break. We might be able to pursuade the judge to be lenient, if you co-operate with us."
"Ah the wonder of a civilized legal system. Bartering lives and years for bits of information. What is it you wish to know?"
"I'm heading back to that old haunt of ours--looking for a few answers, among other things. I would appreciate it if you would tell me more than you did eighteen years ago. Why did your master send us to attack that village? What was he really looking for?"
The mage sighed. "I have no more idea of what Hathor was after than you do, my former comrade. Whatever his plans were, he did not choose to inform me, and for that breach of trust I am eternally scarred. Of course if I had known, I would have taken it myself, but still, there is a principle involved. I will tell you, however, that it will take more than the macarena to stop a mage as powerful as Hathor was. He may actually prove a match for you, elf-maid."
"Well, we shall see about that when the time comes. Very well, I will speak to the judge on your behalf Kieraan. Have you anything else you wish to state for the record? Anything at all?"
The mage smiled. "I would have gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling elves. Good evening, lady."
Garber listened with a carefully neutral expression, though he chuckled inwardly at Kieraan's 'scarring' experience. 'I'll bet you were scarred long before then,' he thought.
When Kieraan had finished, he nodded to him. "My thanks, Kieraan. And good luck." He followed Elwynn out of the jail complex, deep in thought. Finally he said, as if in response to a question, "I think he's telling the truth. I know he didn't know about the unicorns. My guess is that Hathor--you know, I never did know that mage's name until now--" he smiled wryly at Elwynn. "My guess is that he was hoping we'd all be killed by the unicorns...though he certainly had a good back-up plan ready. At least I now have a name to put to his face."
At the entrance, he paused. "I need to pack some things. Will you need help getting supplies ready for tomorrow?"
"No, we should be all right." Elwynn said. "We keep a wagon and horses ready for situations like this. I'll send word to the Hall to have everything prepared by morning. In the meantime we might as well join the others at the Inn. I think they are having dinner there."
"I'll be there in a bit," he replied as he parted company from her. He made his way through the torch-lit, but still crowded, streets to a weapons shop. A friend of his owned it, and let him rent a room above it for his living quarters.
It didn't take him long to pack. Extra clothes, boots, a few medical supplies, and his carving kit fit into a pack. He put on his leather jerkin, leather vambraces, and a close-fitting steel cap--they were easier to wear than to carry for now. He slowly took down his sword from its resting place on the wall. The sword itself was a plain shortsword, though forged from high-quality steel. Its scabbard, though, was of tooled and decorated leather, with five sets of initials ringing the top. Five generations of his family had carried it and the sword into battles. Though he hadn't used them for months, he'd cleaned and polished them every day. Old habits died hard. He buckled the scabbard around his waist, letting it settle into its accustomed place.
He went back downstairs into the showroom, where the proprietor, Marvin, was just closing up shop. Marvin raised an eyebrow as he saw how Garber was outfitted.
"Marvin, I need to buy a longbow, a quiver, and a dozen or so arrows."
"You're off somewhere, then?"
"Aye. Met someone at the Dragon Inn who needs help. There's a group of us going, and we'll likely run into trouble at some point." The prospect of seeing some action again lit Garber's eyes. Marvin noticed it, but didn't comment as he found what Garber needed. "What news of the Tyria road these days?" Garber continued. Many merchants' guards frequented Marvin's shop, and he made a point of gathering information and news from them.
"The Tyria road?" Marvin looked up, startled, from the arrows he was sorting through. "There's been only one or two merchants who made that run in the past five years! It's not a healthy place to travel--you've got bandits, wolf packs, flash floods, and other creatures that no one's been able to describe satisfactorily. You sure you want to go there?" Garber smiled wryly and nodded. "That's where the answers we need lie. How much do I owe you?"
"No charge." Marvin held up a hand before Garber could break in. "You've paid me rent for the next three months. Since you're not going to be here, may as well apply that to this purchase, and it more than covers these things."
"Thanks." Garber shook Marvin's hand warmly. "I'll let you know how it all turns out." He slung the bow and quiver over his shoulder, waved, and left the shop, heading to the Dragon Inn to join the others. He walked with a swinging stride, his head held high. It felt wonderful to be useful again.
Linna caught Sherwood before he left the Hall's grounds. "I'll take some of that mousewort now, Sherwood. Thank you very much. And if you're going to the Inn, I'll join you in a few minutes."
She and Melyda went to the stables, where Ceridon was comfortably ensconced in a large stall, with a nice supply of oats and hay. ::Tsk, tsk,:: Ceri sent with a trenchant laugh. ::Only a month away from the orphanage, and you're already going out carousing half the night.::
Linna whacked her on the whithers, then dropped her saddle and bag in a corner of the stall. "Very funny. I happen to be rather hungry; and since we don't have to worry about supplies so much now, I'm willing to spend some coin to get a good meal. You know my cooking was never more than adequate."
::True. You've got the mousewort?::
"And the thistle." She looked around and saw that some of the others had followed her and Melyda inside. She grinned and continued, "So go ahead and do that voodoo that you do so well."
They watched as Ceridon lowered her horn to touch the mousewort and thistle that were resting in Linna's hands. The slowly-swirling colors in Ceri's horn blended together, until it glowed a bright white. The glow suddenly expanded to include the plants, then died away. The mousewort leaves and the thistle plants were now two handfuls of finely-crushed herbs.
"Amazing," Melyda said as she looked at the plants with her mage sight. "You've added so many properties to them, they're almost unrecognizable to mage sight."
::T'weren't nothing,:: Ceri responded modestly.
Linna chuckled and stroked Ceri's muzzle. "I'll see you bright and early tomorrow morning."
Linna left the stable, muttering to herself, "Let's see...I'll go to the Hall kitchen and get some butter fat...set that and the thistle simmering-- I'm sure they've got a night hearth I can use...then off to the Inn...and I've got to get this mousewort to Dwynn..."
::Do you know where Dwynn is?:: she sent to Ceridon.
::I'm not sure,:: Ceri replied. ::But let's see if I can find out.:: She shifted a few mental gears. ::Dwynn? Are you nearby? Linna's got the mousewort for you.::
The oriental watched Melyda, Linna and Ceridon, do their magical things. Not knowing much of what was going on he just stood there trying to figure it out. Even though he hasn't said anything he watched and listened at the turn of events that unfolded before him.
Brea regarded her earlier drinking companion a moment then leaned closer to him and whispered, "Ye look about as lost with all this as I am." She smiled and gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder. "Well, I'm goin ta get my stuff ready ta go in the mornin. Then, I'm headin back to the Inn for some dinner." She looked off towards the others for a moment, then returned her green-eyed gaze back to Takayoshi. "Care ta join me?"
Dwynn's thought surfaced with the voice still unfamiliar in his mind. ::I... wait.:: He looked around and collected his thought. ::I don't know. Where are you, exactly? I'm still on the road.:: Seeing no one, he slowly continued in the direction they had been going. ::Wait! You are somewhere in the direction of town aren't you?::
::Aye,:: Ceri replied. ::I'm in the Bard Hall complex, but most of the others are going back to the Dragon Inn for something to eat. Why don't you join them there?::
She shifted her attention back to Linna. ::Dwynn will meet you at the Inn.::
::All right,:: Linna replied from the kitchen of the Bard's Hall. She'd just finished putting together her ingredients for the lotion, and set the pot in which she'd mixed them over the small night hearth to simmer. She ran back out and followed the others through the city streets to the Inn.
The oriental looked back at his drinking companion.
"Yes, why not? I am hungry, but first I've got go back to my hotel room and get my stuff. Then I will meet you for some good eats," the oriental said with a big smile on his face. The oriental was about run off before he turned around and looked at her eyes.
"Oh thanks for asking me out to eat, not many women ask me to eat out. A 40 year old man with no wife, but if you ask me it really isn't such a bad life after all. Anyways, I will tell of my mission here in Montford at dinner. If that is okay with you, because you did ask at our cups of ale?"
Brea gave Takayoshi a somewhat lop-sided grin and nodded. "Sure, no problem, and of course," she stammered, then shrugged. "Well, I'm a 20 year old with no life, so don't feel bad." She laughed then at her own words, before waving to him and turning to head into the Hall. "I'll see you at the Inn, then. Save us a table if you get there first."
With that, Breannyn turned and walked across to the front door of the Hall with a lightness to her step. Once inside she nearly ran to her room to get her things and began stuffing items haphazardly into her threadbare knapsack. She left her old guitar behind, figuring it would be too much to carry on their mission, but did include her leather-bound sketchbook and charcoals. Then slinging both the knapsack and her quiver over her shoulder, she took her bow in hand and ran out the door. She didn't slow her steps until she was outside the main gate and on the road to the Inn.
For perhaps the first time, since Brea had arrived in Montfort, she finally took a good look around at the buildings and people milling around in the street. The place was much like any of the other towns she'd been to in her travels, save for the fact that for once she was certain she wouldn't be ran out of it. She chuckled softly to herself at that thought, delighted with the idea that she could finally come and go as she pleased. For the most part at least, she reminded herself, since she was after all under Karyn's apprenticeship. Even then, she already felt a greater freedom than she'd ever known traveling with her father. She let out a light sigh as she neared the Inn, both of relief and joy. She was finally doing the things that she wanted to...making of her life something SHE could be proud of.
"Breanynn, is it?" asked Sherwood on the way to the Inn. "I'm Sherwood. Pleasure to meet you." He offered his hand as they walked down the path. He kicked at the occaisional stone, as if in thought. "What is it sold you on the ideas of Unicorns, anyway? You seemed so sure of the idea, even from the first moment you heard it."
Brea looked up at her name. "Oh, hello. Yep, Breannyn O'Connor." She takes the offered hand with a smile, and shakes it heartily. "Nice ta meet ye Sherwood." She shrugged at the mention of unicorns, then chuckled a little. "Not sure really. I'm kind've a bookworm. So I've read a lot of stuff about them." She looks a bit thoughtful for a moment, then adds, "I s'pose it's more curiosity than anythin." Then looking at Sherwood with piercing green eyes, she asks, "What about you? What's yer int'rest in alla this? If ye don't mind my askin?"
A glint of delight enters his eyes as he warms to the conversation. "What know you of Rangers, M'Lady? Not much, I'll warrant. We're charged to watch over things of nature and mankind in this wide, wild world. As such, we wander the continent, often alone. We do our utmost to see the things _of_ the wild are not utterly destroyed, and to watch over the Races of Man. Aye, they're often up to mischief amongst themselves -- that's _not_ what I'm talking about. But where we can, we try to promote peace and understanding between the races, and to safeguard the weaker ones." He pauses to stroke his youthful (that is to say, scrubby) beard.
"In this case, I am disgusted to find out that _some_ force, as yet unidentified, has apparently thrown a spell, or a curse, on a human girl. I need to get to the bottom of this, and do what I may to rectify the situation." He looks away from his companion and kicks particularly viciously at a dirt clod.
Brea watched Sherwood as he kicked at the dirt, and tried to think of something to calm him down. The more she thought about what he'd said though, the angrier she actually became. "Well, if I have anythin ta say about all this, the culprit'll get their due. And big time." She tried to smile then in hopes it would lighten his mood a bit. Then she looked back to the road as the Inn finally came into view.
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