As Keng leaves the tavern he sees Jharad heading for the bridge. In the dim light of the stars it would be next to impossible to make out the elf, but Keng’s orcish heritage enables him to see for a short distance even in the pitch black of night. He also sees four shaggy young trappers in buckskins round the corner of the tavern. They are chatting and laughing and not really paying attention to Keng. In fact the leader shoves his way past Keng as he enters the tavern growling, “Don’t block the door ya moron.” The others snicker as they brush past Keng.
Keng snarls at the backs of the four trappers and starts to turn towards them, but he stops before he acts, thinking there would be no sport in clipping their ears. He is far more interested in what has the elf curious and he thinks the colored fish might be interesting. He shrugs his great plate armor with a slight shoulder roll and heads off towards Jharad who is standing on the bridge looking out over Lake Ember.
Keng walks up and stands next to Jharad and grunts, “See any fish?”
Eyes still staring out over the lake Jharad replies, “Nothing yet, quiet night. There must be a lull of calm sweeping over this town tonight. Why else would those trappers still be standing?”
“Where would be the sport in that? They are mere boys. Might be fun to set the gnome on them though,” he says with a gleam in his eye.
As they are talking they do begin to see faint glimmers of light out on the lake. Then the glimmers get brighter. They are like a cloud of fireflies beneath the waves. As they watch, the lights begin to form strange configurations that almost look like Thassilonian runes.
“By Gorum’s Balls! Jharad, do you see that?” Keng is almost giddy like a young boy as he dances from one end of the bridge to the other and pointing towards the configurations in the waters.
After only a few minutes, however, the tantalizing characters dissolve back into an amorphous collection of lights that fade away leaving only the dark and silent waves of Lake Ember.
Keng the seems to recall where he is and grunts, “Well that was…” but he is truly speechless. He then punches Jharad in the shoulder, too hard of course.
Jharad smiles at Keng’s reaction and tries to ignore his now sore shoulder. Laughing he says, “Your secret is safe with me my friend. And you are correct, that is truly an amazing sight.”
Keng looks into the darkening and mutters, “Iron Hells elf, is this caravan duty going to be this boring the whole way? What do we do now?”
“It is going to be boring… until it is not. My guess is that when it is not we will be very busy indeed. In the mean time keep your axe honed and eyes sharp. It is when we relax that the boredom is most likely to end.”
Keng nods and then studiously looks out into the gloom of the moonless night, scanning around them for potential threats. “Aye,” he replies, “good advice, one can never be sure.”
Back inside the tavern, the four trappers take their seats at the remaining open table. The leader takes his seat with his back against the wall and looks over at Lisette who is still listening to Jethrik but making eyes at Toshio as well, who is studiously ignoring her or trying to.
“Hey Lisette,” calls the leader. “Leave those foreigners be! Come over here and give us a kiss!”
Lisette rolls her eyes. “Cool it Vioric. I’m at work. A round of ales as usual?”
Toshio looks the locals over and hopes they don’t start any trouble.
At the caravan encampment in the empty lot, Sandru checks over the cargo, supplies, and strongbox. Everything seems in order so for the next four hours until midnight they settle in around the fire to make sure that no unscrupulous locals, bandits, goblins, or other creatures from the woods attempt to do any thieving. At any one time there is always at least one person making a circuit of the camp with a torch in hand while the others wait, weapons ready, by the fire.
Inside her wagon, Koya sets up a small table and begins shuffling her Harrow deck. “You know,” she whispers to Zeyala, “Between you and me I wish I had the true power of a Harrower. I can ‘read’ the cards, of course, but the true power of harnessing destiny is beyond me. Still, they are a fascination to me and they help shorten the road when the trip is long. Also, more often than not the stories told by the cards relate something relevant.”
“Still,” says Zeyala, “to be able to read the cards is a true talent. Mine is the path of healer, though I am fascinated by those who have the ability of foresight.”
Zeyala glances about in the dimming light. “Day or night matters not. My limited vision senses nothing in the darkness and it seems quiet now. Koya, perhaps there is time to do a reading,” suggests Zeyala.
“Yes, I think it may be. I was just thinking of the reading I did, or rather that came to me, back at the Rusty Dragon in Sandpoint. There were cards for each of us, and yet one of them, the Survivor who I felt must be Shalelu, is not yet among us. I wonder why not. I wonder where she could be. Remember that the survivor is one who has lost many of those close to her but is reborn by discovering someone or something thought lost. Perhaps you do not know about this, but Shalelu’s mother died in the elven village of Crying Leaf in the Mierani Forest when a dragon attacked it. She had a human stepfather named Jakardros at the time. He killed the dragon but was so saddened by his wife’s murder that he left the village forever. A few years ago, just before the stone giants raided Sandpoint, Shalelu found out that in the decades since she had last seen him Jakardros had joined the Order of the Black Arrows, rangers who had been charged by the city of Magnimar to garrison Fort Rannick. Fort Rannick was established to protect the town of Turtleback Ferry from the ogres of Hook Mountain. Unfortunately the ogres had taken the fort and massacred the rangers so Shalelu was asked by the Lord-Mayor of Magnimar to lead an expedition to discover what happened to them. Shalelu found that Jakardros had survived the attack, though she had to rescue him from ogrekin. Together they took back the fort, and both of them later helped defend Sandpoint from the stone giants. I suppose that her reconciliation with Jakardros is the rebirth that the card indicates. She has, in a sense, had her family restored to her. She has probably been spending time at Fort Rannick that is due east of here. Maybe we will be meeting her soon if she is coming from that way.” Koya begins laying down the Harrow cards in a spread.
“This column of three on the left indicates what has gone before. See, here the Publican is on top, but now I don’t think it indicates me but rather all of us. Comradeship and fellowship have been established and that is at work in the present. Below that is the Big Sky, which here I believe indicates throwing off old ruts and taking up the freedom of the open road. Desna would approve I think. Below that is the Tangled Briar. Hmm… That came up before and I believe it is something we must face in the future. It indicated some awful tragedy in the past and here it is setting things in motion. I suspect that when we meet it again we will know what that event was. Now, let’s see what is going on now, the middle column will tell us. Here at the top is the Joke. Apparently Jethrik’s good humor is very important at this particular moment for I believe it is the next card down that shows who he has encountered, the Mountain Man. Below that, is the Beating which shows what will happen if he fails or does not rise to the occasion.” Koya looks to the direction of the tavern with concern, and then looks back to the cards. “Let’s see what lies ahead in our immediate future. Ah, here at the top is the Survivor. I think Shalelu may appear very soon. Below that is the Marriage. That’s curious. It’s a meeting or merger between people or forces that could be ruinous or advantageous, but this position indicates it could go either way. Below that are the Crows, a gang of evildoers. That card came up back in Sandpoint, the first of six of which the Tangled Briar was the fourth. I think we may meet up with this gang very soon. We must be careful.”
“With Toshio, we generally take very great care,” says Zeyala. ”But with your insight, we will now be prepared and can at least predict where and when the danger will meet us. Thank you for sharing, Koya. I am always fascinated by your wisdom.”
In the Dead Wolf Tavern, Jethrik says to Toshio who is sitting next to him, “Where did the odd-fellow twins go? Should we ensure they are safe and well?”
“I’m sure they’re alright. Besides, it’s just outside to door and around the back to the caravan. If anything happens out there they’ll call and we can be there in the blink of an eye.” In a lower voice he adds, “Besides, I suspect our help may be needed here first.”
Jethrik raises his eyebrow and mumbles, “I’m not comfortable stepping between that loudmouth and what he thinks is his. If we make a fool of him, he may take it out on her when we leave. Are you ready to take this girl away if need be?”
Speaking quietly in response, Toshio says, “But he’s just that – a loudmouth. And some things need doing even if we don’t like them. If he makes trouble for her while I’m here, I’ll stop it. I can’t help what happens where I’m not or when I’ve left. Only now.” He looks around the room before continuing. “Did you hear Koya? It might not be so bad for her to come with us. We could find a place for her in the caravan, and I know people who can help back in the city. But all that may be unnecessary. Let’s wait and see.”
Jethrik replies, “And some things do not need doing. And one thing we often do in the present is create a mess for others to clean up in the future.” After a brief pause the gnome continues, “Am I really arguing restraint with a paladin? Fall to Lance! Don’t even glance at the lady in the tower.” Jethrik refers to the legend of the Lady of Shallot who died of heartbreak for Lancelot after seeing him once and knowing she could never have him.
While Toshio and Jethrik are speaking about this, Lisette has gone over to the trapper’s table with a handful of mugs and a pitcher of ale. As she sets these down, Vioric reaches out and grabs her around the waist. He pulls her down into a tight embrace and kisses her hard on the lips as his friends laugh and clap. As he does this he glares over Lisette’s shoulder at Toshio and Jethrik as if to say, ‘See she is mine!’ Lisette squirms against him and finally breaks his hold and pushes him back, almost causing him to fall over in his chair.
“I told you I’m at work Vioric!” she hisses venomously.
“Hey you, enough of that!” shouts Kronug. “Keep your hands to yourself Vioric. Maul your betrothed somewhere else. This isn’t a bawdy house but a respectable tavern.”
Vioric waves his hand dismissively at Kronug. “I’m just giving my girl a little kiss in greeting. Don’t be such a prude.”
“I’m not yours yet,” growls Lisette as she clenches her hands into fists at her sides in anger, “and maybe I never will be unless you give me some respect.”
Vioric’s friends raise their eyebrow and whistle at this. Realizing he’s been challenged, Vioric rises from his seat and snarls, “I’ll give you something all right. I saw you making eyes at this outlander and acting the tavern wench. Then you don’t even want to give me, your betrothed, a little kiss? Maybe I need to teach you a little respect?”
Vioric and Lisette commence staring each other down, and is clear that they are both on the verge of saying or doing something regretful. Kronug is clearly concerned and comes around from behind the bar but two of Vioric’s cronies get up from their seats and bar his way to keep him from interfering. As Kronug and the two trappers are confronting each other right behind her, Ameiko quickly gets up and backs off. She has seen these kinds of scenes too many times back at the Rusty Dragon and doesn’t want to be sitting right in the middle of a brawl. The three teamsters also get up from their seats, ready to jump in to protect Ameiko or perhaps to defend Lisette or even Kronug. Jethrik hops off his chair and moves to Ameiko’s side in case things get out of hand.
Speaking to the trappers blocking Kronug, Toshio says, “It’s never a good idea to get on the bad side of the only tavern owner in town. It doesn’t look like your friend needs any help with Lisette, and I’m sure they’ll work it out peacefully.”
Kronug grins, “He’s got a good point there.” The two trappers duck their heads and back off muttering apologies. Kronug walks past them and grabs Lisette by the arm even as she cast her eyes down, unable to hold Vioric’s stare. Kronug pulls her away saying, “Get upstairs girl. We’ll send supper up to you. And you, Vioric, I’ve had enough of your foolishness. When you’re properly married you can run your home the way you like, but this is my business and my home and if you want to eat and drink here you’ll follow my rules. Do you understand?”
Vioric looks away and mutters, “Sorry Kronug. Won’t happen again.” He sits back down and his three friends also take their seats.
“Very good then. Enjoy your ale.” Kronug returns to the bar. Lisette heads upstairs. Aula, who had remained by the hearth stirring the stew, visibly relaxes.
Toshio raises his mug to the trappers, pleased that they made a good choice. He finishes his ale and stays just a bit longer.
Jethrik raises his mug to Toshio. “Well done sir knight.” He toasts discretely.
Seeing that things really have settled down, Toshio heads to the lake for a swim; hoping to see the glowing fish or whatever they are.
Jethrik walks alongside and once outside and out of earshot of the trappers says to Toshio, “We should discuss offering the girl a ride out of here, but this way she doesn’t have to be smuggled out.”
Outside it is very dark due to the new moon. There is only the very dim light of the stars but that is enough for Jethrik, who is able to guide Toshio down to the lake. No glowing lights appear there at the moment. On the way down, Jethrik sees that Jharad and Keng are on the bridge over the river looking out onto the lake.
Jharad, with his elvish vision, had indeed noticed Toshio and Jethrik leaving (peacefully) from the tavern and walking down the trail along the east bank of the river towards the pier. Perhaps Toshio is going for that night swim after all. Pointing in the direction of the tavern Jharad comments to Keng, “Looks like our paladin and comedian are heading to the pier for a swim. I am going to join them, care to brave the nighttime waters of a werewolf infested forest?”
“I’ll watch your stuff, I care not for frolicking in the water,” replies Keng.
Jethrik puts a finger up to his lips and motions and though he knows that Jharad at least has seen them, he begins casting a spell under his breath and with his left hand hidden under his cloak makes the esoteric signs and passes until dancing lights appear in the depths of the lake under the bridge. He makes the lights swirl around and change color in the depths. Before they pass the bridge, Jethrik’s display under the bridge begins. It is easy enough to see, however, that the dancing lights are not the same as the charigs. As they pass the bridge the display ends as the lights pop out into the air making a loud farting noise and leaving behind a foul odor as they fade. Toshio tries not to laugh.
Keng elbows Jharad and snorts, “Pretty boy sure draws an interesting crowd, eh?” Then his face wrinkles up and he sneezes. ”Iron Hell! The smell!”
Jharad grins at the comedic display and odor without answering Keng. When the newcomers are close enough to hear, Jharad continues to face the lake and says, “Ah Jethrik, I thought I smelled your foul stench a moment ago. You really should try something greater than childish pranks some time, or is that all you are capable of?”
“Pffft,” Jethrik shrugs. “Who wants to move mountains? I would never be able to decide where they should be!” He finishes with a bright smile.
Toshio chuckles at Jethrik’s response as they continue to the dock. “Where to put a mountain? Where indeed? But if you could move mountains every caravaner you met would be fighting to hire you.”
Keng follows them out to the dock but has no wish to go swimming. He is too keyed up about the werewolf stories and thoughts of a sneak attack. He studies the surroundings constantly scanning for threats.
Jharad casts a spell to create a soft torch effect over the water and then strips down to swim. Jharad and Toshio both remove their armor and clothing and dive into the now lit waters.
As they are enjoying the warm waters of Ember Lake, a thin lithe figure walks out of the shadows. It is Lisette, who appears to be delighted to have found them. “Well, this certainly looks more fun than bustling ale to group of backwoods louts.” She smiles at Keng as she walks up to him on the pier. “I think I’ll join you all.” Very quickly she shrugs off her blouse and dress. She dives into the water to surface right in front of Toshio. She giggles and comments on how lovely Jethrik’s lighting up of the lake is.
Keng stands still, paralyzed and struck dumb by the sight of the lovely girl. His first impulse is to jump into the lake, armor and all following her. Lisette seems to be attracted to Toshio, but really she seems to appreciate attention from anyone who will give it to her. He’s seen this type before among the orcs, half-orcs, and Shoanti outcastes in Urglin. Back home there are plenty of wenches who parley their beauty (a relative term in Urglin) to get a leg up in the world, though the lucky few end up as the trophy wives of some warlord or other. Keng comes back to life and stops himself before he jumps in the lake with his armor on. He shakes his head and his dreadlocks make subtle clicking sound.
Jharad smiles, clearly happy that Lisette has joined them. “I was already enjoying the evening swim, now you have made it a purely delicious,” he says to her, swimming closer so that the paladin is no longer compromised by his singular proximity to the naked girl. “How sweet of you to join us.”
Toshio appreciated the view as she dove in. It’s just as well that the water obscures her, but he carefully avoids temptation and keeps some distance anyway. “The lake is lovely” he comments. “Do you think we have much chance of seeing the glowing fish?”
Jethrik splashes water at Toshio “You would think a glowing fish a wonder after what we have just witnessed?! By the gods, were I taken to the hells at this moment, no power could steal the joy this night has brought!” Turning to Lisette he takes up a reverent tone “Lady, command me! For I wish no honor greater than to be at your service.”
“Yes, command him! Command him to go far from here.” Splashing Jethrik back playfully Toshio says, “Don’t paint me as unappreciative, oh jester of exaggeration.”
With an exaggerated swoon Jethrik says, “And that is the one command I could not follow! To cherish such beauty and be parted from it would be death!” And with that he sinks under the surface as though sinking to his death.
Lisette laughs. “You are all so funny. Not like the sour pusses around here.”
Jharad smirks, shaking his head slightly at the gnome’s boyish antics. “Mudaris” he invokes then gathers some clean mountain water into both hands cupped together. Blowing lightly on them, he changes the liquid into a nice honey mead he remembers from an elven pub when he was at university in Kyonin. He drinks half the liquid first then puts his hands up to Lisette’s lips and gently lets the sweet liquid enter her mouth. As he withdraws he lets a single finger linger lightly and brush the side of the maiden’s left cheek.
Keng watches Jharad flirting with the girl in jealous interest. He goes back to scanning the surroundings wondering when he is going to see a werewolf. The stories were so interesting.
“Mmm, that’s nice,” says Lisette, though whether she means Jharad’s mead or his touch is unclear. “Well, you two,” her glance takes in Jharad and Jethrik, “don’t seem to be afraid of me like some people.” She smirks and looks over at Toshio who has already swum some yards away, though still near the tip of the pier. “Well, if my wish is your command good gnome, then maybe you and your friends could convince the caravan master, Sandru, to allow me to come with you. I’m a fairly good cook, and I have plenty of other talents that might make your travels more comfortable.”
That last comment causes Toshio to think that maybe taking her along isn’t such a good idea. Almost without thinking, he tries to sense any evil within Lisette. In Toshio’s experience, the evil of commoners, fortunately a small portion, is very ephemeral, usually nothing more than pettiness and egoism that does not even radiate as an aura but only a slight flickering. Lisette, however, actually gives off a faint aura of evil, possibly meaning that she is either some form of very weak undead, a very weak outsider (demon or devil), a junior cleric or other kind of initiate of an evil god, or a mortal (human or otherwise) of some considerable skills and determination, or perhaps someone under the influence of some powerful curse. Of course it is possible that she is even a werewolf, despite the proud claims of the town of Wolf’s Ear that they were rooted out long ago.
Jethrik responds to Lisette’s request to come with them. “As it so happens, my wooden colleague,” he nods at Toshio, “and I were seeking out my conspiracy of friends to get their input on just that topic. So now that I have been honest, please I pray, tell us why others fear such a delightful creature.”
“Well, most people aren’t afraid of me. It’s not like I bite, well, not unless someone asks me to.” Lisette winks at Jethrik. “I usually have to beat guys off with a stick, but I guess your friend is shy.” She pouts in Toshio’s direction, and then turns her attention back to Jethrik. Were you really talking about taking me with you? That would be so wonderful! I want to see the world, not spend the rest of my days in some backwoods dump like this.”
Toshio is liking her less and less. Even if it is a tiny excuse for a burg, there’s no need to badmouth it even if she doesn’t like it.
Jharad grins at the girl then whispers so that only Jethrik and Lisette can hear, “Lets not tell Keng she is a were.”
Lisette laughs. “You all really are silly. There are no more werewolves or any other type of shape-shifters in Wolf’s Ear. The followers of Old Deadeye killed or drove them out long ago.” She shrugs. “Besides, it’s a new moon.” She swims up closer to Toshio. “You really have nothing to fear from me.”
Toshio swims casually toward the dock, putting himself between it and Lisette. “Jharad, there may be more here than meets the eye.” The others look to Toshio and realize that the last time there was “more to meet the eye” concerning a girl – the girl in question was a blood-sucking fiend.
Suddenly they all hear the sound of a throat being cleared. It is Ameiko, politely letting everyone know of her approach as she walks onto the pier. She stands next to Keng and looks down at Toshio, Lisette, Jethrik, and Jharad skinny dipping in the illuminated waters. “Why is it that you guys always seem to find yourselves in the company of scantily clad young girls in questionable circumstances?”
“Because the odds favor it?” Jethrik quips. “Although this circumstance is even more frustrating than most. She tantalized us with a little mystery and now she is dancing around the answer. It really is most unfair!” The gnome pouts. “I’m not sure I like our little playmate anymore. And here I was going to argue her side with you and Sandru and she won’t be nice to me.”
“Us who? We are just catching a nice swim with Toshio and his new girlfriend,” Jharad replies with a deep grin to Jethrik.
“Ah…” Toshio says lamely, then remains quiet. He tries to swim somewhere out of sight from Ameiko, but stops when he realizes how silly he’s being. “Um, hi Ameiko. Care for a dip?” He cringes inwardly following his weak answer and really tries to keep quiet this time.
“Care to join us?” Jharad asks Ameiko.
“Yes, I would,” says Ameiko. She quickly starts throwing off her clothes in full view of the others without a hint of self-consciousness.
Keng finds all this frivolity shameful given they could be attacked at anytime and he continues to maintain his vigil on the pier.
“Oh!” says Lisette. She’s not Toshio’s girlfriend is she?” She asks Jharad and Jethrik. Her eyes narrow at the woman she now perceives to be her rival.
“Ha!” Jethrik snorts trying to hide a bit of real annoyance “He wouldn’t know how to love a woman like her.”
Ameiko pauses in her strip down and arches her eyebrow at Jethrik, as if to say, ‘That was a rather bold statement to make.’
“What do you know? Promiscuity isn’t the same thing as love,” quips Toshio.
Jharad continues to tread water, smiling and enjoying watching Ameiko undress, clearly no longer interested in the tavern girl. “I am happy you decided to join us, the water is quite nice.”
Ameiko dives in. “You’re right. Quite warm.”
Keng grumbles to himself, thinking, “Whats wrong with these people! Am I the only one on watch?”
Lisette turns to Jethrik, “What did you mean when you said I was being mysterious? There’s nothing mysterious about me. That’s my problem. My life was meant for more than this. Please ask Sandru to take me with you.”
Toshio swims close to Ameiko, keeping himself between her and Lisette. Taking a lesson from Jharad, he moves in suggestively close to Ameiko – from their angle perhaps it seems he’s kissing her? Let them ooh, aw and think what they will. He’s now more concerned for Ameiko’s safety – and whispers so only she can hear, “Lisette is evil. It is not safe here.”
Ameiko whispers back, “She may be evil, but I don’t think we’re in danger from such a tramp. Unless you get too close and get crotch crickets of course.”
Toshio laughs aloud and gives himself some room to swim. Speaking so the others can hear he says, “Ha! Well, I’m glad you think so.” He still keeps himself between Lisette and Ameiko.
Jharad glances over at Lisette. Knowing humans, he is curious what her reaction will be. As he assumed, she is not pleased to see that Toshio already appears to be involved with someone else. In fact, she seems infuriated by them, as though she could hear what they were whispering about.
Lisette angrily hauls herself out of the water and back onto the pier. She grabs at her clothing, muttering, “I can tell when I’m not wanted. You don’t have to whisper lies about me.” Before she can stalk off, however, four new figures emerge from the darkness into the light cast by the gnome-lit waters. It is Vioric and his three friends. They step out onto the pier and Vioric grabs Lisette roughly by the arm. “What are you doing? Finished with your orgy and now running off? You think I’m going to let you get away with this?”
Lisette angrily shakes off his arm and goes back to putting on her things. Fiercely she hisses, “The question isn’t who is going to let me, it’s who is going to stop me.”
Viorc slaps Lisette, almost hard enough to knock her down, “You little hussy, I’ll have you put in the stocks and scourged for all to see.”
Ameiko, who had already climbed back onto the pier and thrown her tunic back on, immediately moves to get between Lisette and Vioric, “Good sir, please calm yourself!”
“Uh oh” mutters Toshio. He starts heading to get his things. He wonders if enough abuse will trigger Lisette to show her colors.
Jethrik moves to shallow water and uses mage hand to retrieve his material component pouch. ”I’m getting very tired of this bully showing up.”
Quickly realizing how Keng will undoubtedly react to this, Jharad swims for shore.
With a horrific screech of rage, Lisette reaches around Ameiko and scratches Vioric’s face with her nails.
Keng seeing anyone bullied like this throws back his head and screams, charging into the midst of the four thugs while swinging his axe by the blade side – using the handle like a club to drive them back.
“Lisette, Keng, no!” shouts Ameiko, but too late. The fight has begun in earnest.
Vioric pushes Lisette off the pier and into the water, clothes and all. His friends work together and do the same to Keng, who lands in the water with a great splash. Fortunately for Keng, the water is only chest deep or his armor would sink him to the bottom.
Ameiko backs away from the four angry trappers, her hand reaching down to the pier for the hilt of her sword.
Toshio, Jethrik, and Jharad, meanwhile, make it to the pier and scramble up it behind Ameiko as fast as they can.
Lisette surfaces with a sputter and then begins swimming away from the pier towards the river. As she swims into the deeper and darker waters away from the light cast by Jethrik she shouts back, “Frack you, Vioric! Consider our betrothal off. I belong to myself alone! I’ll do as I wish, and you just see what happens to anyone who tries to get in my way!”
Vioric shouts back to Lisette, “You whore! You’d best get out of town or I’ll have you run out!” He turns and stomps back down the pier to the shore. His cronies follow him with a wary glance back at Ameiko, the waterlogged half-orc, and the others who are still grabbing their gear.
Keng, spluttering, hauls himself out of the water and stands next to Jharad panting heavily and leaving a large pool of water at his feet. One can clearly see he is angry and all he needs is a small excuse or leave and he would slip into a rage and attempt to pound the snot out of the four bullies.
Reaching for his gear Jharad says, “I believe there is something odd about that girl,” motioning towards her wake. “I would bet that all is not precisely what it seems. Toshio, what would you like us to do about your girlfriend and her apparently betrothed?”
Toshio is ready to take on the trappers, naked if need be, but since things have stopped without injury he pulls on his trousers. “Shut up, Jharad!” Toshio retorts. The situation is too tense for him to abide Jharad’s quip. “Swim after her. Ask if she’ll come back. I’d like to ask her something myself. It may be good to take her with us after all.
With the hint of a smile Jharad responds, “Quips aside, I think she is more likely to listen to you than me. I will travel with you however. I suggest we don our equipment and find a boat.”
“I kind of think it might be better to let the lady calm down a bit.” Jethrik interjects “Besides do we really want her on the caravan at the next full moon?”
“Keng, stay with Ameiko please, and see her back to the inn.” Toshio looks around, hoping to spot a readily available boat they can borrow. “Alright Jharad. Let’s go catch up with Lisette.”
As Toshio looks around, Jharad points at the boat they can ‘borrow’ and gestures for Toshio to enter first.
Jethrik pulls on his gear quickly. “You boys do your thing. I’m going to watch Vioric the Dorik at a discreet distance.”
Keng looks to Jharad for confirmation.
At Keng’s look, Jharad realizes for the first time that he and the half-orc have become good friends and comrades in arms. Smiling at his friend, he nods in agreement. Keng nods back to Jharad and watches them climb into the boat. Kicking off sharply from the dock, Jharad rows the paladin and himself after Lisette.
Keng turns to Ameiko and with a slight bow, gestures with his arm towards the inn. “After you, lady.”
As they walk back to town, Ameiko says, “Y’know Keng, I feel bad for that girl. I also left home when I was young. Well, actually, I ran away a couple of times – when I was 13 and later when I was 16. The first time I went to Magnimar and by the grace of Shelyn I survived without being raped, kidnapped, or sold into slavery. I lived on my wits and learned quite a few useful skills there.” She grins. “But I had to go back – family problems. I ran off again to become an adventurer. Once again, I was fortunate to get out of that alive, not everyone did…” After a pause she says, “Anyway, I cashed out and bought the tavern and settled down. Still, it’s nice to be on the road again. So I understand why Lisette needs to get away from here. Probably she would be better off going with us, rather than running away on her own. Also, she’d probably head to Roderic’s Cove or Riddleport. Rough places for a young girl. Toshio, thinks she’s evil though. She may be at that, but perhaps she just needs some good influences and guidance. Then again, I guess its possible she could be a werewolf or something.” Ameiko stops in her tracks and turns to look back at the lake. “I hope Toshio and Jharad are careful. Oh! Vioric and his friends may be werewolves too!” She turns around to look towards the village. “I hope Jethrik is careful! Wait a minute. We’re out here alone without any silver weapons. I think we’d better be careful too, dark of the moon or no. Let’s hurry back to the caravan Keng. Sandru still has some of the silver arrows he bought back in Galduria.”
Keng turns a deeper shade of green and mutters a silent prayer to Gorum for protection… “Aye we need proper equipment lady, let us make haste!” As they make their way back the caravan Keng says, “My mother was kidnapped into slavery.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. My mother died while I was in Magnimar. She fell from the cliffs near our home.” After a moment she touches the hilt of her sword and says, “Now that I think about it, my rapier was forged of mithral or ‘true silver.’ Maybe that will work if we have to defend ourselves against any weres. Still, I’ll feel better when we are all together again.”
Keng mutter, “I am not… pleased… splitting up. Bad tactics given the threat.”
Following four humans without a single torch or lantern among them on a moonless night is child’s play for a stealthy gnome like Jethrik who can see almost as easily in starlight as a human in twilight. Vioric and his cronies head back up the path but before reaching the village they head off a side trail. From their conversation it seems like they are going to turn in for the night, so it is likely that their homes lie somewhere along the path ahead. Vioric, naturally, is fuming about Lisette and what a bitch she is and how he was a fool to get betrothed to a tavern wench. His friends commiserate with him, and remind him that her family is an odd one anyway. They live too deep in the Churlwood and it wouldn’t surprise them if she had were-blood in her. One of them says, “You’re better off without her. How about Yoric’s daughter? She’s pretty enough, and a sight more stable. You know she won’t run off to Riddleport if she gets tired of you.” His curiosity satisfied, Jethrik slips away and heads back to town.
Back at the lake, Jharad and Toshio easily overtake Lisette. “What do you two want?” she growls at them as she continues to swim east along the shoreline and towards the mouth of the river.
Toshio responds, “I would like to sit and talk with you. I think it may be good if you came with the caravan. But we should talk first.”
Lisette stops in the water, treading with her mouth agape. Then her whole face lights up, though Toshio cannot really see more than a shadow among the dark waters. “Really?!” she squeals. “Oh thank the gods! You are my savior. Thank you, thank you! We can ‘talk’ as much as you want. There’s a nice little spot by the mouth of the river. Follow me.” She starts swimming again.
Once they are all on the shore Lisette asks, “So what did you want to talk to me about?”
“I didn’t mean to pry, but it’s clear you’re having a hard time in this village. My friends and I are inclined to help if we can. That would mean coming with us in the caravan, at least for a while. But before we agree on that, you should know more about us – and we need to know more about you.”
“Well, I know Sandru, Jethrik, and Koya already. They’ve come through before. I’m assuming you are new guards, right? Now what do you want to know about me? There isn’t much to know.”
“I’m body guard to Ameiko, the lady who was swimming with us. And yes, I’m also a caravan guard. I wanted to find out about your background. Who you are – more than your name. What have you been through in your life? How did you end up in this village?”
She shrugs. My family has lived here since it was founded. My ma and pa live up in those hills.” She points westward to the forested hills of the Churlwood. I guess it was my grandparents who came from Magnimar, or perhaps even Korvosa. They’ve been trapping or clearing ground and planting crops ever since. I didn’t want that for myself, so I came down out of the hills to Wolf’s Ear and took a job at the tavern. I got betrothed to Vioric a few months ago, but he’s a crude and violent man. I just want something better for myself, and I know I won’t find it here. Here I’m a nobody, a bedwarmer for travelers, or at best the house slave and broodmare for some hairy smelly trapper.”
“That seems simple enough, and many another has wanted to ‘escape’ their home village” Toshio says with sympathy. “You have a spunk that makes me think you can do better for yourself if you get half a chance.” He smiles a bit as he says this, thinking that if she betters herself, she can’t help but benefit those around her.
“For my part, I am a devotee of Iomedae, and my concern is this; through Iomedae’s power, I have seen that there is the taint of some evil on you. I would like to understand how that came to be before offering to allow you to join the caravan. And if you were to travel with the caravan at all, it would need to be with the understanding that you and I will work together to remove that taint.” Toshio is very curious to see how she reacts to his statements.
“Evil! Well, if looking after myself because no one else will is evil, then I suppose I am.” She nods toward the hills. “My ma and pa always taught me that you’re either the predator or the prey. I refuse to be anyone’s prey. You want to teach me to be a lady?” She shrugs. “That’s fine with me, but I won’t be anyone’s victim ever again.”
“No doubt your parents meant to protect you.”
Lisette scoffs. “My parents couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. If I hadn’t run off they would have sold me off to the trappers for a few jugs of rotgut. You sound like you come from Magnimar or some other big city. Out here young girls are traded like cattle or chickens soon as they’re old enough to have babies. You know what they say, ‘old enough to bleed, old enough to butcher.’”
A bit taken aback by such crudity and callousness, Toshio responds, “Look, none of us would ask you to be a victim again. But being a predator means you make someone else the prey, putting them into bad situations. There are ways to live that don’t make people suffer.”
“Well, that sounds nice. Show me this way to live. As long as I can do as I wish, I have no need to bother or hurt anyone else.”
Trying to get to the source of the girl’s bitterness, Toshio asks, “Who made you be a victim? What happened?”
For a moment, Lisette seems at a loss as to how to respond to this. She shrugs and looks away. “Look, I don’t want to talk about the past. It’s over and done with, especially if I can leave here. People are little better than animals sometimes. They take what they want if they can.” She laughs harshly. “Let’s just say I don’t have to worry about anyone looking for a virgin to sacrifice.”
Toshio looks her in the eye while he pauses a moment, clearly evaluating what she’s said and deciding what to say next. “Okay, how about this? If you come with the caravan, you share the work as you’re able. More importantly, for as long as you’re with the caravan, you and I spend part of each day talking about living in ways that won’t hurt others. If you ever decide you are willing to talk about your past, I’d like to hear it.
“Meanwhile, nobody in the caravan will abuse you. More than that, everyone in the caravan defends everyone else in the caravan. We look out for each other in a way you’ll like. We can talk with Sandru about what jobs you’ll have, and if he doesn’t want to pay your wages I will. I doubt he’ll object, but he needs to approve it before you can join the caravan. How does that sound to you?”
She nods, “Fair enough. Thank you. You won’t be sorry.” She smiles and then embraces him, but in a grateful and not lascivious way.
“Good, then let’s get Jharad here to row us back.”
Jharad, who had been sitting quietly listening to the conversation, says, “Sure thing, hop in Lisette and we will get you back to the tavern.” When she is in the boat he waves his hand slowly from her head to feet, drying her and adding some warmth in the process.
“Thank you,” she says in response to Jharad’s thoughtfulness.
Toshio says to Jharad, “We’ll probably find Sandru at the encampment. I’d like to ask him as soon as possible if he will agree to our plan.”
Keng and Ameiko return to the caravan where Keng proceeds to ask Sandru for some silver tipped arrows. Sandru is happy to part with some of the arrows (there is a quiver left after selling the rest at the general store) but is wondering why they think they are needed. Also, Jethrik is not there. He is either still following the trappers or he went back to the tavern.
Keng responds emphatically, “There are werewolves running around this town, were it not for a new moon we would be overrun by now. We need to prepare defenses and send out help to Jethrik who is tailing a few now. And pretty boy-pantywaist unwisely set off after another with Jharad.”
Ameiko eyebrows rise. “Uh, Keng, we don’t actually know that any of those people are werewolves. They certainly act like they were raised by wolves, and Toshio told me that he feels that Lisette is certainly evil-hearted, but we have seen nothing to indicate that any of them are werewolves or anything else supernatural.”
Sandru nods. “We’ve seen Lisette on previous trips, and never had any trouble from her or anyone else here. They’re a bit weird but no weres have been sighted in more than a generation. The followers of Erastil make sure of that.” He gestures in the direction of Erastil’s shrine.
“Better safe than sorry,” grunts Keng, “we need to prepare and find Jethrik.”
“That is a good idea,” says, Sandru. “Take Zeyala, Bevelek and Henrik with you.” Sandru calls out to them. Zeyala is in Koya’s wagon speaking to her mentor, while the two teamsters are lounging by the fire playing dice.
Keng walks over to Koya’s wagon and apprises Zeyala of the situation repeating his concern that we are now split into three groups. He asks Ameiko, “Can you help us find Jethrik?”
“Wait. What?” starts, Zeyala. “Werewolves? I thought they had been killed or driven from the village.”
“Exactly,” says Keng. “They have spread that lie as a cloak. We must make all speed. Our party is in grave danger.”
Fortunately, Ameiko, Keng, and Zeyala run into Jethrik, who is just coming from the tavern to the encampment. He seems a little nervous as he has a feather in his hand and is ready for action.
“By Gorums Hairy Iron Balls! Jethrik! Are you okay?” asks Keng.
“Just fine, just fine… I was just a little concerned walking around a strange town on my own. I followed Vioric back to his home. I don’t expect any particular trouble from him. He sounded upset and humiliated, but the only thing he is plotting is which girl help him wipe the egg off his face.”
It is not too much longer before Toshio, Jharad, and Lisette return to town. They head right over to the encampment so that Toshio can speak with Sandru about Lisette.
“Sandru, have you got a moment? I’d like to speak to you alone, if so.”
“Sure,” replies Sandru. “Let’s step into my office.” With a grin he leads Toshio into his wagon.
Once inside the wagon, Toshio says, ”Is there room in the caravan for one more? Lisette would like to travel with us, and I think it will be good if she does.” He goes on to relay his concerns for her if she stays, his concerns about her taint (of evil), and why he thinks it will be good if she comes along. “She says she can work and make herself useful. If it’s a matter of her wages, I’ll pay them. This may really help her better her life.”
“Whoa! Bring Lisette with us?!” Sandru can’t help but smirk at this. “Let me see if I have this right. You, a paladin of Iomedae, are saying that we should bring this village girl with us, effectively helping her to ‘run off and join the circus’ as it were. In addition, this village girl is actually a tavern wench of very loose morals who you have just stated is tainted with evil and who Keng, at least, believes will turn into a ravenous beast on the nights of the full moon. But you think it would be a good idea to bring her along. Do I have that right?”
“In a nutshell, yes…although I didn’t know that Keng suspects her of being a shapeshifter.” Toshio rubs his chin in thought. He continues, almost to himself, as if this only added a minor consideration, “Hmmm… We’ll have to talk to her about that, and take steps during the full moon – just in case.” Looking up at Sandru again, he says “But yes, that’s about the size of it. What do you think?”
Sandru sighs. “I think it’s a bad idea, but I do have a soft spot for strays myself. Anyway, its only four days up to Roderic’s Cove if the good weather holds. Plenty of time to get there before the next full moon. Once we are there, I think I have some contacts who might be able to find her a respectable job. You are responsible for her though. If she transforms before then and eats one or more of us, it will come out of your share. So go ahead and tell her to pack her things and be ready to leave in the morning.”
“Thank you, Sandru. I’ll go talk to her.” As he leaves he mumbles to himself “Hmmm… four days…” thinking about how big (or small) his window of influence with Lisette may be.
Jethrik is nearby the wagon smoking his pipe and pretending not to eavesdrop. However, he has a coughing fit at the mention of loose morals.
Jharad, who is standing next to Jethrik (and presumably Lisette) and not trying to hide the fact that he is eavesdropping, smirks widely at this comment and looks directly at Lisette. “And yet you wouldn’t play with me in the water after I clearly flirted with you?” he comments in a low voice to her.
Lisette, who has been at least pretending not to overhear what is being said inside the wagon, responds to Jharad’s gibe, “Well, there will be plenty of time for flirting if Sandru agrees to take me along gentle elf. But I must confess I have heard how fickle elven lovers can be.” She arches her brow at him.
Keng mutters (loud enough to be overheard) to Jharad, “That damn paladin is going to get us all killed!”
Jethrik looks over at Lissette during the conversation with a hard look of distrust.
“What exactly happened out at the lake?” asks Zeyala. ”Not about flirting in the water, but Keng, can you enlighten me and Koya? Anyone?”
“Nothing.” whines a clearly disappointed Jethrik “Oh, she talks a good game, but all that happened is her boyfriend showed up and they got into a big spat. Why is it that skinnydipping always holds such promise and never fails to disappoint?”
“I will be happy to tell you,” Lisette responds to Zeyala. “I joined your friends for a swim and asked if I could join your caravan. I have decided I no longer wish to waste my years in this one tavern town. Some unkind speculations were made about my character, and I was starting to think better of my request but then Vioric showed up and slapped me around on the pier. She and he,” she indicates Ameiko and Keng, “came to my defense, for which I thank them.” She bows. “I called off the betrothal with Vioric then and there and swam off. Your friend Toshio, and this good elf rowed after me in a boat and convinced me that I should come with you after all.”