Avar plants his cup on the table and stands.
"It has been my pleasure Darragh and, hopefully, we can talk later. For now, I need to square a few things away. I'll be back."
With that Avar gets his room and prepares cleans his gear. Afterwards he will bathe and return to the common room to eat the more traditional fare.
Not long after, Afric has eaten her fill and excuses herself. She's not visibly upset, but after Garren signals for a second decanter of ari, it seems likely that the halfling woman can see the writing on the wall about how the evening is going to go. It arrives with an extra-large plate of salad, and an additional platter of the flatbread. Thankfully, Garren won't have to contend with the ari on an empty stomach.
Chuul and Oskav get their meals at about this same moment: a big heap of seasoned, roasted horsemeat with the promised flatbread, a nice bowl of radishes, carrots, onion, and peppers, all chopped very thin and tossed in vinegar, and a second bowl filled with steamed dumplings—these must be the manti that were promised. They're filled with minced meat. Famished, the dwarf and orc dig into their meal.
Meanwhile, Garren's remaining companions are enthused about his friendly gesture, and make sure that he gets the first shot poured. Since Afric has left, Garren's little buddies urge him to push in, "Here, scoot closer and talk to us. You want some horse? No? Only horse food for you? How come?"
Noticing Chuul and Oskav at the next table over, they continue without waiting for answers, "Oh, are those your friends? They can come over, too! We don't mind!"
A little surprisingly, given that each halfling is only about the size of a human four-year-old, none of them seems anywhere close to being incapacitated by drink. They're certainly drunk, having imbibed at least four man-sized shots apiece. But there's nothing so far to suggest that they're going to lose their horsemeat all over the common room.
And that is how Alannah and Kya find matters as they brush past Avar, them heading into the common room for food and he making his way toward the sauna to get cleaned up.
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, 3 and 4, 6 and 8Afric - Gray 2Paddick - Gray 5Darragh - Gray 7
Wæs se grimma gæst Grendel haten,mære mearcstapa, se þe moras heold
Kya looks around at the scene and heads to Chuul & Oskav's table, taking a seat behind halfling 4.
"That's the horse, right? I knew it! Wow, it's like a party in here! Moonguard Baur, are you ok?"
Alannah doesn't sit immediately. Instead she surveys the room and dispite her previous polite reassurances that plains food would be fine, she wrinkles her nose at the mention of the horse being served.
Kya's decision to involve herself in discussion with Garren elicits a faintly slurred chorus of cheers from the halflings.
In an undertone, Alannah can hear one of the halflings observe, "The older one's looking kind of snooty at the idea of eating horse meat." Thanks to her spell, she can understand him even though he's speaking Halfling.
And, too, she can understand quite well when Darragh, speaking the same language, agrees cheerfully, "I've got some meat she can have if she wants." He switches to Common and calls to Garren, "Oh, Moonguard Baur! Won't you introduce us to the young lady?"
"This is Kya. She's been traveling with us only a short while, but she's fast. She's been able to keep up on foot with everyone else riding horseback. As for me, I try to abstain from meat completely. It's a little like the first distilled liquor I got sick on - even the thought of it makes me queasy."
"Hi, nice to meet you guys," Kya says in her usual jovial tone after Garren introduces her to the group.
The halflings answer Kya with a round of waves and smiles. Ceremoniously, Darragh stands up from his place at the table, and replies, "It is a great pleasure to meet you, miss. I am Darragh Ewell, and I have the honor of serving as the chieftain of the Gorgon Tribe. These with me are my kinsmen and tribal allies. Paddick, here, is my first cousin once removed." He continues affectionately, "And these rascals are Iain, Aron, Shosam, Pol, and Roorig." Darragh points to each in turn, as clarification, and finishes, "My sister, Afric, already has excused herself from the table, because she disapproves of drunken tomfoolery."
Iain - Gray 1Afric - Gray 2Aron - Gray 3Shosam - Gray 4Paddick - Gray 5Pol - Gray 6Darragh - Gray 7Roorig - Gray 8
"Oh wow!" Kya is a bit overwhelmed with trying to learn all the names. "Well this is Oskav and Chuul if you dont know them already. And she," Kya looks toward Alannah, "is Lady Alannah, of...ummm...Port Hope. And she happens to be searching all over the place for a halfling chieftan, right Lady Alannah? Is he the one?"
Alannah focuses her attention to the girl and approaches the halfling group, "No, Kya. I'm looking to meet with Chieftain Barnstead. But, it is an honor to meet you as well, Chieftain Darragh Ewell."
"Oh, you know Eulan?" Darragh seems surprised and interested at this development. He seats himself, and looks around, adding, "Do you care to join us, Lady Alannah? I can get Aphora to find you a stool to put here at the head of the—Aphora?"
Alannah smiles appreciatively and takes the stool when offered, "I know of him, I am afraid I've never had the pleasure of meeting him in person. It is why we've traveled to Winterhome."
"Do you know Eulan?"Kya asks Darragh. "Is he like...the most very important person around here? Since Lady Alannah gets the seat of honor for knowing him and all."
"Lady Alannah gets the seat of honor because I'm eager to pry into Eulan's business, and I intend to flatter her in every way possible in aid of my prying," replies Darragh, cheerfully. "He and I are of equal rank, approximately, but I am senior. But yes, I know him well."
Without having been prompted, Aphora sets two small cups in front of Darragh, which he fills from a decanter. He tops up his own drink, as well, passes a cup toward Kya, and sets the third drink in front of Alannah. Once his entourage has delivered the shot to the young woman, he prompts, "Ari! To your health!"
Alannah eyes her ari warily and responds to Kya, "Proximal honors are a matter of perspective."
"You'd have to be his senior, I suppose. I hear that Eulan has broken tradition and is one of the youngest to ever become chief."
"Proximal..." Kya repeats the word thoughtfully to herself. Shaking her head clear of the word, she takes the small cup and drinks its contents at Darragh's toast.
Darragh also downs his ari, then stares meaningfully at Alannah's cup instead of answering her.
Alannah sighs and drinks her tasty beverage as well.
Darragh immediately refills both his own cup and Alannah's. Kya, being outside of immediate reach, receives an inquisitive look as the halfling brandishes the liquor decanter at her.
Alannah looks down at her refreshed drink and smiles wryly at the chieftain. In perfectly spoken halfling, she states, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re trying to get two tall girls tipsy with drink.”
The chieftain grins back at Alannah, and replies with something that the bardess's magic struggles with for an instant, before rendering it as, "Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker." Alannah is pretty sure that it's some kind of idiom. From the way he says it, he's quoting someone.
"Wow! This stuff must be strong, I cant even understand what you guys are saying anymore."
Kya absently places the cup down and turns to Aphora. "Can I maybe have something hot to drink, and a lot of water. Oh, and extra bread with dinner, I mean if its not a problem. Any type. I love bread..."
Aphora indicates that a hot drink, plentiful water, and extra bread shouldn't be a problem.
Meanwhile, Darragh is telling Alannah, "I wouldn't say Eulan's age is against tradition. When times are unsettled like these, the tribes prefer to have a chieftain young enough to ride into battle. I'm not exactly an old man, myself." He flashes a grin with this last comment, but Alannah can see that it's true. If she were trying to apply human age conventions to her fellow guest of the Lodge, she thinks she'd have to guess that Darragh is in his late forties, or maybe his early fifties. There are lines on his face, especially around the corners of his eyes. He'd look distinguished, if he weren't always grinning like a little boy who's having a joke at the world's expense. The light in here isn't good enough to tell whether he has any gray in his hair.
Alannah comments to Kya, "It's okay, its not the drink. Darragh was just sharing a cultural aphorism. It doesn't translate well into common."
"I'm afraid that prying won't reveal any details of our salacious intentions with Eulan." She takes a much more modest sip from her cup, "Though the flattery is appreciated."
"In truth, I understand he's a collector of scrimshaw and other bone carvings. I've recently become interested in the art myself and wanted to see his collection and possibly trade for a piece. I am something of a novice bard and enjoy examining and hearing the stories behind various curios and bibelots."
Kya nods, "none of the good stuff ever translates the right way."
"Ah," notes Darragh, "Eulan and his bones." He rolls his eyes, good-naturedly, but remarks, "He's a bit possessive of them, my lady. No doubt you'll be able to talk him into divulging his secrets, charming as you are, but it'll be a steep hill to climb with him. The more so as his clan's territory is in the deep northeast of the steppe. Nearly in the foothills of the Desertwalls, in fact. Granting that he's mad for his little bits of carved bone, I think it'll take some explaining to have him accept that another collector is willing to travel so far, and into the very teeth of a goblin invasion to boot. Things aren't quite safe in that stretch of country, even in peaceable times."
Alannah lowwers her gaze in disappointment, "I didn't realize he'd be so far out, but I suppose I should have assumed from the season." She sighs, "Maybe we'll keep going. We've encountered goblins before, but what else makes the trek dangerous?"
"Oh. The goblins are dangerous enough, that's true. Also there are blink dogs, gorgons, cockatrice, giant ants, giant bees, wereponies, and worgs. And if you go far enough east, the occasional behir or chimera, or whatever. Athachs. Oh, and giants. Ogres, too. All kinds of things live in the hills, really. Sometimes they try to come west to hunt." Darragh shrugs, "The plains are beautiful, but dangerous."
Alannah's eyes light up, "Oh! I've never seen many of those things! Maybe that trip wouldn't be so bad afterall."
"That sounds like the kinda place where if you go, you should probably bring somebody to guide you through so you won't accidentally step in a chimera or whatever, and get yourself killed" Kya shrugs.
Darragh grins and agrees, "Ah, yes indeed. The best thing is to be sure that you wear a pair of special boots to protect your feet. All of the eastern tribesmen wear them in case of stepping into a stray chimera, and in truth their leatherwork is peerless in that regard. A proper guide to the territory will be able to recommend a reputable shoemaker."
"Yeah, hopefully those boots won't slow me down," she examines her leather sandals and nods. "Plus, if we get some bahir teeth, that should definitely be enough for you to trade with Eulan, Lady Alannah!" Kya turns back in her seat to check on the progress of the food.
Kya's food arrives very quickly indeed, as does Alannah's—it's obvious that Aphora was paying attention, and had the kitchen forewarned about when the two women were likely to want to eat. As requested in Kya's case, there's a hot drink (some kind of herbal tea, Kya thinks), a whole pitcher of water, cold enough that moisture is beading on the outside of the container, and a huge heap of the nan.
Aphora delivers Alannah's meal to her as she is sitting next to Darragh, eliminating a good excuse for the human woman to excuse herself from conversation with the chieftain. But that may not be a problem; Darragh busy asking the noblewoman, "I couldn't help noticing that you were excited at the idea of having a brush with some of the great beasts of the steppe, miss. Are you a huntress, by chance?"
Alannah pokes at her food as she answers the chieftan, "Maybe not by the standard definition, but I suppose I could be. I seek to see what I have never seen before. I've studied many things from books and tomes, but nothing matches the experience of tracking down and viewing a subject with your own eyes."
At the mention of books and tomes Kya begins phasing out the conversation taking place behind her and starts on her own meal, scooping up the contents of her plate with pieces of the flatbreads.
Morning, 16 Verdil, 973 IRTrackless WildernessSomewhere on the Halfling Steppes, Mereflow Valley
The evening came to a drunken but largely mayhem-free end, as Alannah, Oskav and Garren pumped the halfling nomads for information about the likely whereabouts of Eulan Barnstead. By the time they began to think about getting some sleep, the trio managed to at least get a general sense of what direction to go. The nomads were closed-mouthed about where Clan Barnstead's noncombatants might be encamped, but they were reasonably helpful about suggesting where the chief of the Behir Tribe might be. They can't be as specific as Garren would like, because Chief Eulan is busy fighting the opening stages of a war. This is going to be one of those times when you have to deal with life in an imperfect world.
It turns out that Aphora and the rest of her staff at the Barnsley Lodge are early risers; shortly after dawn, you're awakened by loud knocks at the doors to your rooms. That's probably for the best, though, because you traveling to do, and warm weather has rolled in overnight. It's going to be a scorcher of a day, so the more ground you can cover before noon, the more pleasant you're going to find your travels.
After getting through your morning ablutions, you retrieve your mounts from the stables nearby (and Avar retrieves Zeelar from whatever extradimensional paradise the celestial charger inhabits when he's not working as a mount). And you're off to travel.
It's nearly two hours later that Oskav's familiar, Baldr, begins to fidget on the dwarf's shoulder. Unhappily, the raven croaks, "There's something flying up there. A long way off, and really high up. I don't want to do any errands while it's anywhere around. It's a lot bigger than me."
Once the bird says something, Kya is easily able to pick it out, too. She can't quite make out what it is, but her binocular vision is helpful—she thinks it's probably at least a quarter of a mile away. She thinks it's big.
But not "oh, no, it's a dragon" big. More, "oh, no, it's some kind of really big bird that would probably eat Baldur the Talking Raven if it had a chance," big.
"Oh wow! That thing does look pretty big. It's probably a chimera! What do those look like again?" Kya shields her eyes from the sun and tries to get a better look and see if the thing's headed for the party.
Avar scans the skies but his pupil less eyes don't see anything. The paladin resumes his survey of the immediate area.
Kya isn't sure because the speck in the sky is so far away, but she thinks that it may in fact be closer now than it was when she first noticed it.
"Fuck. I think it sees us," agrees Baldr. The raven hops awkwardly into the shelter of Oskav's immaculately trimmed beard. "I'm not coming out until it's gone."
Chuul also begins scanning the sky, looking for the chimera Kya is talking about.
"It's right out that way," Kya tries her best to point out the bird as Chuul searches the sky. "Its getting closer. Do you see it now? It's either a chimera or a halfling riding on a big eagle I think." Kya keeps looking.
Alannah and Chuul finally manage to pick up on the flying creature's location, although in Chuul's case it's pretty difficult because the sun is in his face, and the orc doesn't like bright light at the best of times.
Kya, meanwhile, is trying to sort out, first of all, whether the plural of chimera is "chimeras" or "chimerae." And second of all, whether they have four wings. Because she's pretty sure this thing does.
"No wait! It's either a mom with a baby chimera on her back or this one's old and has its second pair of wings already. What do we do if it turns us to stone?"
Kya looks toward the group for imput.
Alannah squints at the flying object, "I don't know much about Chimeras or Chimerae or whatever, but I've never heard of one turning anyone to stone. At least not from the stories I've heard. Are you sure that's what it is?"
She glances around their environment for suitable cover or a defensible spot, "Regardless, perhaps we should do something other than stand and stare?"
"I'll continue to ride," Avar rumbles.
"Since we don't know what it is I don't feel the need to do anything yet."
Oskav frowns at Kya but realizes her excitable nature is something she can't really control, and the real culprit here is Baldr anyway for chattering on about how scary flying creatures are. "I think, if we are all turned to stone, the time for us to continue making decisions and wishing for things will come to an end. So that's some small comfort, at least."
Turning to Avar, the dwarf nods and calls out, "Master Chuul, if the beast threatens us and has some way of attacking more than one target at once, the column should spread out. I recommend keeping the horses at least twenty feet apart."
"Men are the only animals that devote themselves, day in and day out, to making one another unhappy. It is an art like any other. Its virtuosi are called altruists." - H.L. Mencken
"If we're going to let it catch up, we should get ready for it." Garren swings down from Celene and readies his longbow. He plants a half dozen arrows at his feet but doesn't draw one to the string.
Avar swings around to watch Garren and smiles, "Maybe we should ascertain the creatures intention before we make our last stand Garren?"
Avar finishes the sentence by pointing at the planted arrows.
Alannah looks again, shading her eyes with her hand. Her eyes light up with recognition. "It is not a chimera. It's an arrowhawk. Think of them like... well, storm spirits. They are territorial hunters and always hungry. It's intention is either to eat us or chase us away."
"That one is not very big, but it won't likely fly down to attack. They can generate lightning bolts, so it if its going to attack, it'll try to hit us with lightning from a distance. They can be smart... like really smart, so it may not attack if we look threatening enough."
Avar turns his gaze to Alannah, "You can determine that all the way from here? Why can't it just be flying? Maybe it sees something else? How do you know what it considers a threat? If it's smart can it be reasoned with?"