"Yeah," Kya frowns, "I don't know much about faeries, but I heard some of these guys talking about them when they were deciding whether to sleep the night here. I guess if the faeries are worth considering they must be pretty dangerous..."
"They can be," agrees Hamas, seriously. He leans back against the side of the house, folding his arms across his chest, and adds, "Any faerie can turn on you without much warning. Some are much worse than others, but they're all dangerous the same way as a wild animal can be dangerous. Or the way a river or a fire can be dangerous, if you prefer. All of them, even the ones that seem harmless and merry, like the cricket people."
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
"Hmmm," Kya mulls this over with a nod, falling back against the house herself. "Do you think the faeries are gonna turn on you?"
"Yes," replies the young man, without so much as the slightest of hesitation.
Breathing in slowly, Kya continues to look out into the distance. "Your family, would the faeries try to hurt them?"
Hamas smiles a little at this question, and replies thoughtfully, "The last time your friends were here, a hunting party came onto our property uninvited. They usually respect boundaries more than that. They have rules about how to behave, strange as it may seem." He shrugs, and continues, "The next farm over belongs to a fellow who thinks he's a shaman. He called them over to the mortal world because your friends thought some orcs looked like trouble, and warned him about it. These ones weren't silly little cricket people. They were the gentry. Sluagh, if we're being proper about it. He invited them to have themselves a hunt, and I reckon they decided the rules of the chase made it alright to jump a hedge or fence. But they didn't try to come in the house. It's hard for 'em to come up with a plausible explanation why they'd be inside a home that isn't their own, except if someone invites 'em."
"He brought them here with no way to send them back? So what've they been doing ever since?"
"I don't rightly know," admits Hamas, "and I'm not going to seek them out to ask them. But we hear their hunting horns in the night sometimes, 'specially when the moon's high. So I reckon the next week or so is going to be particularly bad. Moon's full, and the weather's clearing up. There'll be plenty of light the whole night through, unless it clouds up again."
"Yeah,"Kya agrees. "Hey, why do you think they're gonna turn on you, besides that they're dangerous? Did you make some kinda deal with them where they said they wouldn't bother you if you don't bother them or something? What do you think's gonna happen?"
Hamas shrugs, and for a minute it looks like he's not going to answer. But then, a little diffidently, he offers, "There's no telling. Maybe one evening Wisym will be finishing up a bit of work on a fence. And he'll lose track of the time of day, and he'll be alone out there at twilight. Maybe he'll hear fiddle music where there oughtn't to be anyone to play it. His feet'll move whether he wills it or no, and off he'll dance. If he's lucky, and they're kindly faeries, they'll keep him at it until he's breathless and his feet are bloody, just as a joke. If he's not so lucky, maybe they dance him 'til he dies of exhaustion. Or they'll steal him, take him to Faerieland. Probably they won't steal him."
Pensively, he adds, "Or maybe one of 'em takes a liking to Elean. His wife, that'd be. And one day while Wisym's away, one might take on his shape and coax her out of the house. Maybe give her a tumble in a haystack, and her none the wiser that it's not really her husband. And then some months later she bears a faerie child."
"Maybe they catch me unawares, and they hunt me down like an animal. They tried, once. I got away, but maybe the next time I won't be so lucky."
"Yeah, maybe any of that..." Kya agrees softly, her eyes wide as she turns her head toward Hamas and continues in her normal tone. "They almost caught you! That's crazy! There's gotta be a way to send them back! There's gotta be a way to send the dragon back! Like you said, a war's coming and we don't need all this extra stuff to worry about."
She looks over at the entrance to the house. "We've got a wizard, and Lady Alannah will probly know what spell to tell him to cast to get rid of the faeries, or if that doesn't work we can hunt them ourselves..." she quiets down and looks up at the moon.
"It's alright, miss," Hamas replies after a moment. "To tell you the truth, I think they'll probably go away on their own after awhile. And if they don't, then I think the goblins had better mind their pints and quarts around here, don't you?"
"I guess," Kya shrugs, "I mean...I don't know what that means exactly, but if none of those terrible things happen and they go away..."she trails off, not sounding convinced.
"Supper's probly finishing up soon, do you think?"
Kya stands up straight and brushes herself off. "In that case I should get back and find out where I'm supposed to be for the night. If you wanna talk some more I'll definitely be around." She makes her way to the door, pausing to look back to see if he will join her or head in a different direction.
Hamas inclines his head. But he doesn't move.
"You sure you're gonna be ok? I mean,you did a great job clearing up all the misunderstandings and stuff when it was your family talking in there, but out here," she shrugs. "If there's something bugging you besides goblins or faeries that may or may not...just meet me out here at twilight before the sun comes up if you're still uneasy. I'll be up going through my routine."
Kya heads back inside if Hamas continues to stand there.
"I'll be alright. But thank you."
When Kya returns to the Fifalls' dining table, the ranchers are just finishing up a discussion with the Bastards about the intricacies of the "Cold Market." Lina, Harder, and Wisym all concur that it's not a formal market with all the rules that would characterize the ones in Port Hope, or even the much less regulated market or fair days that might happen in a place like Golden Sheaves. Instead, the halfling tribes (or more properly, their chieftains) gather at Winterhome to make law, mediate disputes, and conduct other business of that nature. The opportunity to deal with this council of chieftains all at once and in person is valuable enough that a substantial portion of the nomadic population converges on Winterhome. This concentration of halfling plainsmen draws merchants from as far away as Riverguard, because it's much easier for outsiders to do business with them if they don't have to chase them all over the plains.
Most autumns, Harder, Lina, and one of their sons drive a portion of their stock north to Winterhome to sell them. According to them, it's a good market because the halflings live in wagons, and although the shorties ride around on ponies or huge mastiffs, they rely on full-size horses to draw them. The Bastards get the impression that they've been doing this for years, maybe even decades, and that this is why they're relatively knowledgeable about the nomads.
Kya nods agreement with the conclusion of the explanation like she's been to Winterhome a million times and knows all about it and everything rings true. She slips back into her seat.
The meal is already winding down to a close, so there's a bit more desultory talk about weather, news from Port Hope, and other things of that nature. The Fifalls don't make any move to rush people, but by the time everyone has eaten his or her fill, twilight is drawing on, and Fifalls comments, "Well. We'll all be up tomorrow with the sun, so I reckon it's time to turn in for the night. You folks have everything you need?"
When it's clear that yes, you do, the old man slaps the tabletop with a callused hand, and replies, "Good! You know the way, so I'll see you at breakfast tomorrow. Hamas or Wisym will come by to wake you."
Night, 14 Verdil, 973 IRFifeleah SteadholdMereflow Valley
The Bastards make their way out to one of the storage buildings adjoining the farmyard, where Kya is slightly surprised to find that the interior has been tricked out with cots and even a brazier to provide heat and light. The storehouse clearly is still used for that purpose, as well; there are crates and barrels stacked against the walls, some of them still sealed and others crammed with loose goods. But it's reasonably clean, the roof and walls look like they'll keep out weather and intruders, and there are brackets on the inside of the door to allow it to be barred from the inside. Kya has slept in much worse places than this.
Before bed, Alannah enacts a strange little ritual, dancing in a circle while chanting some kind of arcane gibberish. The young woman ends her performance by shrugging and telling Chuul, "Still nothing." And with that, Kya's new companions bed down for the night. A few minutes later, only Avar is awake. After a couple of hours, the paladin wakes Chuul for his turn on watch, since the ring encircling the orc's grey, sausage-like finger means that he needs only that little bit of sleep to remain alert and well-rested. Alone in the dark and quiet, the barbarian passes the time by reading from one of the theological treatises that Sister Felicia loaned him all those weeks ago.
Around midnight, when the full moon is at its highest, Chuul hears the mournful sound of a huntsman's horn. But it's far off, and it grows fainter the second and third times he hears it until silence returns to the night.
By the time his watch is over, the eastern sky is tinted with the pinks, yellows and purples that herald the sunrise. A look out the window suggests that the weather will be calm and sunny all day, just as he and Garren predicted when they discussed the topic before leaving Port Hope. Provided the others don't linger too much over breakfast and there's no serious delay on the road, Chuul sees no reason why he and his friends can't be at Winterhome by midafternoon.
Speaking of breakfast, he can see lights in the windows of the Fifalls' farmhouse, especially in the kitchen. Vluba must be awake and working on breakfast—and as the farmhouse's back door opens and the Fifalls men step outside into the cool of the early morning, Chuul can see that the rest of the household clearly is awake as well. As in many other places, including the fly speck of a village where Chuul was raised, country people here get up and do chores for an hour or so before the morning meal.
Chuul easily hears Avar walking up behind him when the paladin stops to stand next to barbarian.
His rumble slightly above a whisper, the aasimar looks toward the house and offers, "Well, lets get at it."
With that Avar exits the storehouse to see where he can pitch in.
At Avar's steps Kya's eyes snap open and she sits up, scanning the room seeming startled or surprised by her surroundings.
"Oooh," she exhales, relieved. "Is it time to get up?"she whispers in Chuul's direction.
Having roosted in the rafters above where the Bastards spent the night, Baldr croaks in response, "You're burnin' daylight." Oskav's eyes flicker open at the sound of his familiar's voice and begins to stretch his old bones, groaning in protest. The dwarf is even more sour and dark of spirit early in the morning before he has grown accustomed again to the pain in his ruined leg or cleared his thoughts with arcane study.
"Yes, Mistress Kya. Baldr speaks true; who knows what troubles have befallen the people of this land while we tarried here? Of course, everyone needs rest. But that the Bastards would have come to someone's aid if only they did not have to stop for the night in relative safety must be cold comfort to anyone who died last night on faerie spears."
"Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag and begin slitting throats." - H.L. Mencken
Alannah rolls her eyes, “You were free to sleep outside, no one was dragging you in. Maybe we’ll find a nice corpse of one of those unfortunate souls for you to study on the way.”
"Dont feel too bad. They could've been speared here too. Hamas said the faeries almost captured him one night."
Kya attempts to use her hand as a comb and tie her curly hair into a ribbon.
She heads outside to find a clear spot to perform her kata and practice defensive tumbling before breakfast time.
It's around that time when she realizes Oskav's raven can talk too...
Oskav shakes his head. "I have no interest in the secrets dead men keep. We will hear all about them, anyway, sooner than we would like to admit." Trusting Alannah to insist on having the last word, the wizard leaves the conversation there and begins his morning calisthenics before cracking open his tomes to study his most recent arcane acquisitions.
Having already formulated several retorts for Oskav’s cutting response, Alannah is stunned momentarily when he replies simply. “Umm,, okay.”
Chuul leaves the others to their own rituals and goes to find a task to make himself useful until breakfast.
Early Morning, 15 Verdil, 973 IRFifeleah SteadholdMereflow Valley
Chuul (and after a moment, Avar) busies himself splitting firewood down for kindling—there's never such a thing as enough kindling, especially on any kind of working farm.
Meanwhile, Garren takes advantage of the détente between Alannah and Oskav to celebrate his morning devotions to Lady Moon, and Kya slips outside and finds a quiet corner of the farmyard for her exercises.
About an hour later, it's breakfast time. This meal is a lot less formal than supper was; Vluba dishes up big bowls full of a thick rice porridge with a dollop of apple preserves and a big hunk of melted cheese in for flavoring. There's tea to go with it. Harder, Wisym and Hamas devour two servings each, standing in the kitchen.
Before long, you're fed, and it's time to saddle up and get on the road.
Kya has a big serving of breakfast and will eat all the food that Lady Alannah leaves behind as well.
Not having a horse of her own, she grabs her backpack and helps prepare the other horses. This consists mostly of petting their manes.
She bids farewell to the family, thanking them for their kindness and hospitality and adds to Hamas, "if you come across someone kinda dressed like me asking about someone who kinda looks like me, can you tell him it's all good and I'm still headed toward Golden Sheaves with these guys. And don't worry, I'll be praying for the Moon Lady to keep the farm guarded against the faeries until one of us can get a crew to come get rid of them."
She is ready to depart at any time.
Avar makes use of his morning efficiently mixing tasks of helping out, eating, prayer, and preparing for the road with practiced ease. He will make small talk if required but is primarily focused on getting on the road.
Once the party is ready he will call Zeelar and find his place in the line.
Midafternoon, 15 Verdil, 973 IRThe Barnsley LodgeWinterhome, Mereflow Valley
The day turns out warm and sunny, just as expected, and you make good time on the road north to Winterhome. Having stopped for the night at Fifeleah, you expect that if you indulge in no lollygagging, you'll arrive at the village almost exactly at the tail end of a hard day's march—and, you hope, to an inn with rooms available and plenty of food.
The next eight hours consist of a strenuous but otherwise boring march northward, made the more strenuous by the fact that your route of travel is ever so slightly uphill: you can't see it with your eyes, but Kya can feel it in her legs by the time noon rolls around. Still, by midafternoon you can just see Winterhome on the horizon. And beyond that, there's a smudge on the otherwise clear air from the cookfires of the Horsekiller camp. Evidently the Agonite mercenaries are still engaged in their contract, whoever hired them.
Half an hour later, your horses are stabled at the little village's livery, and your saddlesore and trail-weary bodies are headed for the double doors at the front of the Barnsley Lodge. A slim, pretty halfling woman is in the common room, just finishing some business with the patrons who're already at a table. That entire group is made up of halflings, attired in a mixture of buckskins and brightly dyed cloth.
Before you've made it more than about ten feet inside the inn, Aphora is bustling over to you. It's clear that she remembers Chuul, Alannah, Garren, Oskav and Avar, as she greets you, "Back again so soon! What a delightful summer surprise! We don't have many regulars in the summertime, but perhaps you'll change that. Will you be wanting rooms tonight?"
Weary, Alannah nods at the question, "Yes, rooms please. And a meal would be excellent, if there's any to be had."
She pauses for a moment in thought and adds, "We've come back hoping to find Eulan Barnstead of the Behir tribe. Do you have an idea of where he could be this time of year or how to get a message to him that we're seeking a favor of him?"
"And a bath," Kya thrown in quickly at Alannah's momentary pause. If she's learned anything during life away from home, it's never to pass up an opportunity to bathe.
"Just for the sake of clarification, the favor and the bath are in no way related."
Alannah gives Garren and wry glance, "No, they are not." Then to Kya, "Kya, they do not have baths here. But if you want to wash and maintain your modesty, I'll go with you to the cold pool before the rest of the men go."
Aphora seems completely unruffled by this exchange. Either she understood that the bath is something Kya wants from the inn, or she finds it unremarkable that someone wants a tribal chief to give her a bath. Or possibly she just has a great poker face. In any event, she replies first to Kya, "We also have a sauna. If you're not familiar with that, it's a heated room that we fill with steam. Most people wash first, then sit in the steam for a bit, and then take a quick dunk in a pool of cold water. Sometimes they like to alternate back and forth between the steam and the water. It's very invigorating. The sauna is already hot, if that sounds like something you'd like to try."
To Alannah, she continues, "Milady Alannah, we have the same bunkroom open as you stayed in last time, if you'd like that again. Since your group is smaller this time, I think we also have enough private rooms to go around. Supper is available whenever you like, if your party is amenable to plains food; we opened the kitchen a little early because we have other guests, but as you can see they're all plainsmen. While you're getting settled in, I will be happy to see if any of them would care to speak with you about Chieftain Barnstead. I think they'd know his whereabouts better than I."
Alannah flashes Aphora a smile, "Thank you, we are always grateful to you and the Barnsley Lodge for it's welcome hospitality. I am sure the food will be delicious. I can't speak for everyone, but I think the private rooms would be prefered, as many of us prefer to conduct our daily study, prayer, and meditation in solitude when the opporunity allows it."
"Everything works out perfect!" Kya smiles at Alannah. "We'll just throw our stuff in our rooms and we can head to the pool before your meeting. I never got to do this before 'cause I was always working. I heard it's really good for your blood circulation" She is ready to move, excited about the prospect of alternating hot and cold.
Alannah grins at the girl's eagerness despite herself and drops her formal facade, "It is pretty amazing! I've only gotten to do it the one time when we stopped here before. We didn't have anything like it."
"Very good," comments Aphora, showing a polite smile. "That will be a golden Imperial per room, please. If you want supper immediately after you finish your sauna, that will have to be plains food. We have horse manti, followed by a dish of nan bread with zabrek, and then a salad of radishes with onion, carrots, garlic and sweet peppers. If you want a dessert, the kitchen probably will have barsak by the time you finish, which is a kind of sweet fried dough." Frowning, she addresses Garren, "I think I remember that you wanted to avoid meat last time you were here, sir. But if you can be patient, we will have a borsh that I think you will like. A soup made of red cabbages, this would be. With sour cream and boiled eggs. And maybe some nan bread to dip it into? Is that acceptable?"
"All of that sounds wonderful Lady Aphora," Avar burbles pleasantly while handing over a crown.
With that Avar moves towards the group of halflings.
"The salad and nan is fine. The horses eat similarly, and they're doing well."
Not really understanding much of the dinner and why everyone thinks it sounds so wonderful, Kya lightly nudges Garren, "I don't think the horses are doing well considering they're on the menu."
Aphora laughs at Kya's comment, the corners of her eyes crinkling up to show a faint tracery of lines. The innkeeper tucks away Avar's payment, collects money from the rest of the bastards, and provides directions to the rooms--they're lining the hallway down the length of the west wing, on the ground floor.
Meanwhile, the gaggle of halflings eating their supper at one of the tables plainly has noticed that Avar is on his way toward them. A buzz of quiet discussion rises in response, but none of the Bastards speaks so much as a word of Halfling. They don't sound hostile.
Alannah - Blue 1
Avar - Blue 2
Chuul - Blue 3
Garren - Blue 4
Kya - Blue 5
Oskav - Blue 6
Aphora Barnsley - Green 1
Halflings - Gray 1 through 8
Avar activates his helmet for the first time, and it's as if the halflings' conversation snaps into "focus" of a sort. Their utterance starts as gibberish, there's a strange sensation in his head, and then he can understand the gibberish. The halfling furthest from him is saying, ". . . be fine. Just don't do anything to set him off, and follow my lead, alright? They're tall, but they aren't monsters, or anything."
Another halfling, a woman, objects, "This is foolish, Darragh. You know how touchy biggers can be! They don't get good circulation to their brains. And look at this one! His skin's all shiny and yellow. That can't be normal."
The first halfling snorts, "He's just a funny-looking kind of human, most like. Remember the one with the black skin? They come in all colors, like horses. Nothing to worry about. This one's just a palomino."
"Well met," Avar offers respectfully, pupiless eyes scanning the group. "Does anyone speak common, (in celestial) celestial perhaps?"
Avar will also Detect Evil.
The first halfling Avar understood speaks up, in Common. He has a funny accent, but nothing so thick as to prevent him from being easy to understand, "We speak your language, certainly. It is essential for the trading." Unabashedly, he demands, "Are you a strange-looking human, or something else?"
The other halflings erupt into nervous laughter as their spokesman cuts past ceremony and skips right to asking what species Avar belongs to. Or at least, they do with exception of the same woman who gasps, "Darragh! Rude!" To Avar, she adds, "Forgive him, stranger. Darragh is a buffoon. Harmless, but foolish."
Avar gets not so much as a whiff of evil off of any of the halflings.