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Bauerndorf’s market square bustled with the arrival of the freed slaves. Oil lamps and torches mounted on poles illuminated the area. The staff of Crimson Snowfall, with the aid of several intoxicated farmers, worked to erect festival tents. Erdan, with the help of the other slave leaders, directed the survivors where to go.
“I am going to leave you here,” Kalista said as we entered the village.
Wyanet dug into her rucksack. “Before you leave, take these, as payment for your help.” She extended a fistful of coins to Kalista.
“You stayed to help us. These people are free, and that girl is safe because of you. You deserve an equal share of the reward.”
Kalista smiled, shook her head, and pocketed the coins. She turned to me and wrapped me in a bear hug. “Try to loosen her up a bit,” Kalista whispered in my ear. “And don’t take life so seriously. You’ll find a reason to stop running eventually.” She kissed me on the cheek and winked at Phebes. “Take care of each other. If you need my help in the future, get in touch. A new adventure is always a nice change of pace.” Kalista took off down a side street and vanished around a corner.
Wyanet, Phebes, and I continued through the village toward Crimson Snowfall. The tavern hadn’t changed since we left. The smell of chicken stock hung in the air. Chairs had been strewn about. Half-filled tankards and unfinished meals cluttered the tabletops.
Ineni, Crimson Snowfall’s owner, backed through slatted wood doors. He carried a steaming pot the size of his torso. He thunked the pot onto the bar top and beamed a warm smile at us. “The blessings of the Everlight are upon me, look at who she sent back through my door.”
Wyanet stepped up to the bar, pulling the Baronet’s satchel from her pack. “We returned to make amends for our robbery.” She counted out twenty-four gold dragons, our combined share of the reward, onto the bar. “If you have an opening, we also need a room for the night.”
Ineni picked up three of the coins. He weighed them in his hand, inspecting their authenticity. “Your tab, before you ran off, was two dragons a day plus meals.” He shifted some of the coins into a smaller pile. “Food was extra.” Another four coins shifted to the second pile. “And alcohol. That bottle Kalista smashed wasn’t cheap.” Five more coins. “For a room tonight, that’ll run five more dragons plus security, paid upfront.” Ineni moved the spoken amount to the other pile, leaving no coins on the bar. He tossed a coin in his hand to Phebes. She fumbled the coin and collected it from the floor. A second dragon flew to me. I caught the small coin with no effort. Ineni extended the third to Wyanet, pinched between his thumb and forefinger. “Minus one, each, for services rendered to the community.”
Wyanet took the offered coin.
“Word in town is you freed all those people outside, and brought sweet little Katerina home. Normally, I wouldn’t house vagrants, but I’ll make an exception for heroes.”
“We aren’t heroes,” I said.
“We did what we could, but it was not enough,” Wyanet added.
“So the rumour about Killian is true too? That’s a shame, he was going to be a better man than his father.” Ineni shook his head. “The room you used last time is still open.” He handed an iron key across the bar and swept the coins into a wooden box. “I need to get back to work. Those refugees need food.”
Wyanet and I made for the stairs.
“Um, is it okay, it’s cool if it’s not, but if I, uh, stay with you guys?” Phebes wrung her hands and held up the coin Ineni had given her. “This is all the money I have.”
Wyanet tossed the satchel with the last of the reward in it to Phebes.
Phebes’s eyes got wide. “Uh, thank you. But, um, is it still okay if I stay with you? I’m not really used to being alone.”
Wyanet quirked an eyebrow. “If you wish, but we do not plan on staying here long.”
“That’s totally cool. Thank you. You guys won’t even know I’m here.”
I awoke late the next morning. Sunlight gleamed through the little window. Phebes and Wyanet continued to sleep in the small beds. I pulled on my clothes and went down to the common room. Erdan sat at a table, hunched over a glass, an empty liquor bottle his only companion. I pulled out the chair and sat opposite him.
The Elf jumped at the sound of my voice. He focused on me. “Daymin!” he hiccuped. “Share a drink wit me.” Erdan emptied his glass, and reached for the bottle. He bumped the bottle, knocking it off the table. The bottle clattered on the wooden floor and rolled under another table. “Whoops.” Erdan giggled. “What… Can I do you?”
“Where are you going, now that you are free?”
“I.” Erdan pointed a finger at me, then dropped his hand back onto the table. “Don’t know.” A fit of giggles wracked the Elven warrior.
“The people here need help. They don’t know how to protect themselves.”
Three sets of thunderous footsteps rumbled up behind me. Heros, the Minotaur, hauled another table over to ours. Another Minotaur, even bulkier than Heros, dragged over a handful of chairs. A Half-Orc, miniscule compared to his companions, retrieved the lost liquor bottle and returned it to the bar.
“Oh! Hey guys!” Erdan hiccuped. “What are you all doing here?”
Heros shifted to look at the Half-Orc. “Sark, can you help him please?”
Sark nodded and hoisted the drunk Elf into bulbous arms.
“Where. Are we, going?”
“You’re going to sleep this off,” Sark replied in a gentle voice.
Heros sat in Erdan’s chair and the other Minotaur sat beside him. Their chairs groaned under their considerable bulk.
“I, we, wanted to thank you, Damian.” Heros grabbed the other Minotaur’s hand, lacing their fingers together. “Without you and your friends, Adrastos and I would have never seen each other again.”
My posture stiffened, my cheeks warmed. “What are you going to do next?”
“We are heading to New Horizon. It has been too long since we’ve seen home.” Adrastos replied. “It should be simple enough to book passage back to the Isle of Horn from there.”
Wyanet came down the stairs, wearing simple clothes, and joined us. She sat down beside me as Heros leaned in.
“What danger is there?” Heros whispered.
Sark returned and pulled up another chair.
“Goblins,” Wyanet said. “The camp we lead you through was active a few days ago. They have captured many farmers and sold them into slavery alongside you.”
“We bled them some before we went below ground, but got overrun.”
“I know the tribe,” Sark interjected. “A Bugbear named Clarg raided my farm a year ago. They slaughtered my goats, and burned down my barn.”
“It is my understanding, the Baronet and the other settlers pushed them off the lands here.” Adrastos replied.
Wyanet nodded. “Their leader was killed, and one of his brothers took over. I believe they are gathering strength to destroy the settlers who have come to this area.”
Heros leaned back in his chair rubbing his snout.
Adrastos leaned in. “They are nothing but farmers and craftsmen here?”
“A volunteer soldier or two, but no true training.”
Heros kissed the back of Adrastos’s hand. “Whatever you choose to do, I’m with you.”
Adrastos leaned back in his chair and exhaled through his nose. “Sark, are you okay staying another week or two?”
“If it means protecting others, I can wait a lifetime.”
Adrastos pushed back from the table. “Go speak with the others. Gather together anyone who wants to stay and help. Heros and I will go speak with the Baronet.”
“What do you plan to do?” Wyanet asked.
“Training these people will be a near-impossible task. They’ve got lumber, and we’ve got the manpower to build a solid palisade, with the help of the other freed slaves. Heros and I will negotiate payment for us. We all just left slavery, I’m not going to force these people back to it.”
The Minotaurs and Sark left together.
Phebes, half asleep, stumbled down the stairs. She plopped in a chair and yawned. “What’s for breakfast?”
“We haven’t eaten yet.”
A girl in her early teens, her bright red hair in a braid, walked up to our table. She stumbled on the hem of her dress and caught herself on the edge of the table. “What can I get for you?”
Phebes yawned again. “I’ll have coffee if you’ve got it.”
“What’s coffee?” The girl squeaked.
Wyanet frowned at Phebes. “Tea, and whatever Ineni has prepared will do.”
The girl nodded and disappeared back to the kitchen, tripping twice as she went.
“Did I do something wrong?”
Shouts and laughter penetrated the glass from outside.
“You did nothing wrong. This is a new settlement, and many things are unknown to them.”
“Oh, okay, I think I understand.” Phebes adjusted her shirt. “What are we… you guys doing today?” Phebes slumped her shoulders and lowered her head. “Is it okay if I, like, travel with you guys? I don’t really have any friends, and I’m, like, far from home, and I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“You are welcome to travel with us, if you choose. We will not force you to do anything you do not want to. Damian and I have not yet decided what our next plan is.”
“We could stay in town a bit longer. I’m sure Heros and Adrastos would welcome more help.”
The door to the tavern flew open. A garish Gnome dressed in a bright violet doublet marched into the tavern. A dark-skinned Human, in a vibrant, puffy, orange shirt, followed the Gnome.
“Ah! Finally! Some living people!” The Gnome clapped his hands together. “I was beginning to think I’d stumbled into a ghost town.” The Gnome and his Human companion sauntered over to our table. “Why, I don’t believe my eyes! Milosh, is that Wyanet? Princess of the First People, captain of the Ghost Nation, the Avenging Raven herself?”
Wyanet shrank in her chair.
“I do believe it is.” The Human responded in a low vibrato.
The Gnome grabbed Wyanet’s hand. “You simply must come to our show tonight. It’s free to the public, and anyone who is anyone will be there.”
Ineni emerged from the kitchen. He crossed his arms and glared at the flamboyant duo.
The Gnome glanced at me and jumped back. “Except for you, you have to pay. Unless, you bring your cute friend.” He winked at Phebes and let go of Wyanet. “Milosh, give them a flyer.”
Phebes blushed. Wyanet scowled. The Gnome skipped over to the bar. Milosh leaned in over our table and placed a small paper in the centre. “Madam Rada wishes to speak to you.”
The story will continue, October 3rd.
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Written by: Sweeney
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