A Plausible Tale?

[Narration]

The group descended the rise, watched all the way by the outermost guards of the town. There really wasn't any way they could have hidden their approach--they just hoped they'd be able to pass through without being stopped. But as they entered the town and endured the looks of the townspeople and guards--wary, watchful, hostility thinly veiled--they realized that wasn't likely.
And sure enough, as they reached the edge of the central square--
"Halt!"
One group of mercenaries blocked their path forward, and another had stepped in behind them. Though they weren't richly dressed or armed, their equipment was in very good repair, and they showed a military discipline not usual with mercenary bands not regularly attached to a nation's military force. One of the men in the forward group stepped forward. "What is your business here?" he asked flatly.
"We're just passing through," Garber replied.
"Are you?" The man looked them over, then gestured to one side, indicating a two-story building. "Hitch your horses here and follow me. You'd best see our captain."
Garber nodded, giving the others a warning glance. No sense in fighting yet, when it wasn't clear if it would be necessary. He climbed out of the wagon and went to Ceridon and Linna, holding Ceri's head as Linna dismounted. "Warn us of any danger out here," he whispered to Ceri. She nodded her head, still in her horse guise, and watched as the others entered the building.
[Captain Beya]
The mercenaries' captain was a tall, rangy and strongly-built woman, about 27 years old, with a square and homely face. Her dull black hair had been chopped short--with a knife, by the look of it. Her skin was dark and sallow, her eyes were the color of agates, and her nose looked as if it had been broken at some point in its past. She wore lightweight armor and carried a serviceable-looking sword.
She greeted the party without hostility, but without warmth either. "My sergeant says you're just passing through town," she said. "What's your business and destination?"
[Dwynn]
{Not one to go for flattery,} Dwynn thought and decided to wait for one of our groups leaders to do the talking. {It doesn?t seem fair though that Linna always has to start the hard conversations, just because this was her idea.}
[Sherwood]
Sherwood looked her over, but out of the corner of his eye. After all, uneasy humans are the _least_ trustworthy bipeds. (You can always trust an orc to be brutish, and goblins are always underhanded... but with a human, even the thieves among them sometimes exhibit a type of honor of sorts). He continued his perusal, looking for archers, mages, and anyone else who might be a threat from afar.
[Garber]
Garber looked the captain over. He couldn't help but be impressed that such a young woman had achieved the captaincy of a mercenary group, even one as isolated as this one. It spoke much for her leadership and discipline--though he couldn't help but wonder what else it meant.
"We're on our way to a village a few days northwest of here..." Garber trailed off as he suddenly remembered he didn't know the name of it--he hadn't cared eighteen years ago, and Kieraan hadn't mentioned it.
[Ceridon]
Outside, Ceridon was keeping an eye and ear open for her surroundings, while also staying linked with Linna. Two of the mercenary guards that had stopped them were talking while they gave the horses and wagon a cursory lookover.
"Think they're headin' for Abydos?" asked one.
"And where else could they go?" replied the other. "Though it be strange-- no one's dared come this far in a couple years."
Ceri, hearing Garber's hesitation, fed the name to Linna.
[Linna]
"Abydos," Linna said, stepping forward. "As for our business, it's on my behalf." She paused and took a breath, hoping the idea she'd just had would be reasonably plausible.
"My uncle is a merchant based in Montfort, and he decided about six months ago to name me his heir, with one rather large condition: that I try to find his son, who had become estranged from him and left home about fifteen years ago. I've been searching since then, trying to either find him or find reasonable evidence of his death. About a month ago, I received word that he may have settled in Abydos ten years ago. So--here I am. I'd heard that this area has a rather dangerous reputation, so I hired these people for protection."
::Not bad,:: Ceri sent on their private band. ::You're developing quite the golden tongue.::
::Thanks,:: Linna sent back wryly.
[Breannyn]
Standing in the rear of the party, Brea did her best to seem as unimportant as possible. After Linna's explanation however, a slight curl spread across her lips. She mentally applauded the other woman's quick thinking and changed her posture slightly to give the impression that she was indeed one of the bodyguards. It didn't take much to do so, since the moment they'd walked indoors she'd remained at the ready...muscles slightly tensed for a quick exit. Still she unclasped her hands from behind her back and crossed them across her chest instead. Then she turned an appraising look to the nearest guards. The smile she gave them then, was both flirtatious and a warning that she was not one to be messed with unduly.
Her intention was twofold. First she hoped the slight flirtation might take them off guard a bit. They were more likely to make a mistake if they were given the chance to underestimate her. Secondly, she wanted to reinforce that impression by making it look as if she were overly sure of herself. Only thing to do now was to hope the deception would work...and that their Captain let them leave without much incidence.
[Sherwood]
Although the story was obviously made up on short notice, Sherwood admired the girl's pluck. He smiled, and added, "He had straw-colored hair, and green eyes that fairly glowed in the dark. No other physical marks on him that we know of at the time of his disappearance."
[Captain Beya]
The captain looked over the group as she considered the girl's story. They were an oddly-assorted lot, but all seemed to be in good physical shape; they could well be bodyguards. No travelers had ventured as far along the road as Tyria in a few years, but the promise of gold could do a great deal--and pleading from a pretty face could do a great deal more, Beya thought, suddenly hating the girl who had spoken.
With such inducements to go on, this group was not going to be easily persuaded to turn back. They would likely go straight to Abydos, find the young man or not, and return to Montfort either way. Best to let them through quickly, so they could leave all the sooner.
"You'll have to pay a toll," the captain said finally. She looked over the group and did some quick calculations. "Five gold eagles for the whole party."
[Takayoshi T.]
The oriental sneered at the captain's at the sound of "so I hired these people for protection."
"What no combat," the disappointed ninja thought as he heard the female captain speak about being able to let them pass, "that really bites, oh well just wait on our return trip."
The smile on the former ninja was one of deceit AND thanks.
"No bother, we _do_ need to be on our way," he finished, and the smiled dissolved into a stern look of "we must be on our way".
[Linna]
Linna gulped inwardly. 'I should have realized she'd ask for something like this, with such a story,' she thought. As a rich heiress, five gold eagles shouldn't be something she'd quibble about. However, as herself, she only had a few coppers left. Her gaze roamed across the others and finally settled on Elwynn, as she silently urged them to find a solution.
[Dwynn]
Dwynn stepped forwards with an elaborate bow to Linna. "If my lady would allow I will pay these honest folk from your travelcash." The inflection on "honest folk" and the questioning look towards Linna showed that even though Dwynn still had the money from selling his house he was not sure he should spend it this way.
[Sherwood]
It was obvious from Linna's posture (and slightly crestfallen searching of the party members) that the crowns were going to cause a problem. "Certainly," he thought to himself, "they would cause _me_ a problem!" He mentally pawed through his meager belongings, but could think of nothing he owned, save his weapons, that might bring even one eagle. He noticed a visual exchange between Linna and Elwynn, though, and hoped Elwynn could indeed help.
But to distract the guard captain, he ventured, sporting his orneriest smile, "Five eagles, eh? That would be enough to feed the entire town for a month! Would you accept some entertainment of sorts in lieu of part of the fee?" At that he purposely tossed a knowing look at their resident musician, DeMorte. "There's a fellow there that can practically charm the down off a goose. I'm _sure_ he knows a tune worth an eagle or two." He turned fully toward DeMorte, then, hoping by the gods that the fellow would follow this lead.
[DeMorte]
He looked towards Sherwood and nodded as he felt he understood what he was asking him to accomplish. He then looked to the guard and gave a polite smile as he took his ocarina from his tunic and wet his lips to play his instrument. He closed his eyes as the first notes hit the air.... and the wind howled slightly along with it...
[Captain Beya]
"We aren't in need of entertainment here," said the captain sharply. She looked at the party suspiciously, as if no longer sure she believed their story.
[Breannyn]
Brea turned from the guardsmen to the Captain and then to Linna. Tallying up the coin she held hidden in their various places, she estimated she could help out as well if need be. She turned her thoughts to Ceri and hoped through her she could talk mentally to Linna. She still wasn't sure how the whole mental-telepathy thing worked, but was sure at least that Ceri would be able to relay the message. ::I've got enough to cover if you wish...more than enough actually.:: She hated to admit that last part. It always irked her a little letting people know how much she had...always afraid they'd treat her differently...which some often did.
[DeMorte]
The wind howled a bit more as the melody found the ears of its prey... And soon.... a few of the eagles in question swooped in and landed close to the guard who had questioned them. He nodded a bit more and played on until not five... but nearly twenty landed at the guard's feet. He then smiled as he stopped his music and looked on to see if it would be enough.
[Sherwood]
Inwardly howling with glee, Sherwood took care not to utter a sound to scare off DeMorte's "prey". He thought, "If only they had a golden hue," then, nearly bursting with humor, proceeded to offer up, "Speaking of eagles, here they are now!"
[Captain Beya]
The captain glared at DeMorte. Tall as she was, she had to tilt her head back to look him in the eye. Her voice was dangerously level as she asked, "Are you mocking me, sir?"
[Breannyn]
"Um," she began in a soft voice, stepping slightly between DeMorte and the Captain, "he's...uh..." She pointed to her throat, gesturing slightly, and hoped Beya picked up what she meant. It was obvious DeMorte was trying to remain perfectly silent, and hoped her gesture would make the others believe he couldn't talk...so he wouldn't have to.
[Garber]
Garber nodded at Breannyn, mentally applauding her explanation, even as he discreetly rolled his eyes. "Magic," he once again thought with exasperation. He wasn't sure what they were trying to prove, but the changed tone in the captain's voice told him he'd better try and use it to their advantage--and quickly.
"Not at all, captain," he said with a half-bow. "Merely a...demonstration. One to show that we're not entirely helpless, if nothing else. And I think we all know that five eagles is a rather steep price. Perhaps we can come to a compromise. Three now, two on our return. I'd call that a reasonable arrangement." He strove to keep his voice casual, even as he studied the captain intently, hoping she'd agree. He wasn't sure what their resources were, and he hoped that such an arrangement would keep this mercenary captain, or her soldiers, from following and attacking them.
[Dwynn]
{This is getting out of hand quickly,} Dwynn thought and raised his voice. "It does not reflect well on the lady if we haggle in her presence. Our friend here was merely trying to entertain us all. Here are five eagles and one more to show our lady's good will. Pray let us pass in peace and be on our way." As he offered the money a small note he had just written, saying 'Have plans? Talk to me,' went unnoticed with the sixth coin.
[Garber]
"You have the right of it," Garber said to Dwynn, mentally kicking himself for adding to their problems instead of solving them. He bowed toward Linna, a rueful smile half-showing on his face. "My apologies, lady."
[Linna]
"Ah. Well...it's...all right," Linna stammered a bit, trying to figure out what had been going on. She looked at the mercenary captain, who still had a rather skeptical look on her face, and gathered herself together. "My apologies, captain," she said as Beya added the coins, one by one, to a small coffer on her desk. "I trust this will satisfy you?"
[Captain Beya]
Beya had managed to glance unobtrusively at the note as she turned toward her desk. "Plans? What *is* the man talking about?" she wondered. Her only plan at the moment was to get this group out of her office ... and perhaps it would be as well to keep them under observation. After the trick with the eagles, the squabbling over what should have been a trifling amount of money, and now this cryptic note, Beya no longer believed the young woman's story about looking for a missing relative. This group still might not pose a threat, but they should be watched.
Beya turned back to the party. "Thank you, that will do nicely." She nudged aside an eagle which was inspecting her boot hungrily and added, "I don't recommend leaving the main road to Abydos. There are orcs hereabouts."
[Takayoshi T.]
The former silent assassin stood watching and listening to the ongoing conversation between the Captain, Dwynn, and Garber.
"I say we just fight our way out of here..." the oriental started think until he heard the captain's voice.
"Ogres, I'll bet they're better trained then her little puny 'army'", smirked the oriental in thought, "Finally, we can get out of here, but I for some reason, that seemed a little too easy. I have that strange feeling that either she doesn't trust us nor believe us. Thus, we must keep an eye out for both the ogres AND her men."
On that mental note, the former assassin's face looked a little more cautious and suspicious, yet still stern.
[Dwynn]
"Thank you captain, we will depart presently." Dwynn turned around offering Linna his hand and went for the door. And he gave everyone a look that said, the sooner we are out of here the better!
[Linna/Garber]
Linna gave the captain a respectful nod, saying, "Thank you." She turned and headed for the stairs, hearing the others following her. They emerged into the bright sunlight, blinking against the glare, to mount horses and wagon under the watchful eyes of mercenaries. Still silently, they rode through the town, and for some distance beyond, at a sedate pace.
Finally, Ceri broke the silence. ::Well,:: she sent mildly to all of them. ::That could have gone better.::
Garber emitted a bark of laughter. "Too right," he said ruefully. "And I'm as much to blame as anyone. Never thought we'd need a cover story, and I got too concerned with saving us money." He turned in his seat and nodded at Dwynn. "Thank you for your sacrifice."
"I thank you, too," Linna said. "We'll repay you...somehow."
"In the meantime," Garber continued, looking at Takayoshi, Breannyn, and DeMorte, who were on foot, "why don't you three climb in here? We should put some distance between us and Tyria."
He watched them clamber in, eyeing Takayoshi especially close. The oriental had seemed to be positively itching for a fight back in Beya's office. 'I get the feeling he'll have plenty of chances for it soon enough,' he thought as he shook the horses into a ground-eating trot.
[Beya's Office]
As the door closed behind the party, Beya turned to her sergeant, who had been standing silently by the desk. "I want them watched," she said. "Tell the patrols to report any time they spot that party. I particularly want to know if they stray from the road to Abydos. But the soldiers are not to take action without direct orders from me."
The sergeant saluted and turned to go.
"And get these damn birds out of my office!"

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