Scintara knew immediately that something was wrong when she saw the gatekeeper go back into the small stone gate house leading behind the wall. She had been nearly arrested by paranoid guardsmen for so long that she knew the signs to watch for. Earlier, Scintara had seen the guardsman wearing that silly cone-shaped helmet watch them approach and then ring a warning bell. The man's eyes had nearly popped out of his head when he heard Quillion speak for the first time. It was almost as if he had recognized something. All together, the signs indicated trouble.
The nimble thief ducked away immediately when the guard left them alone. Avoiding the watchful gaze of the guard standing on the wall was child's play in a downpour like this. She lurked off to the side, searching for a way to climb onto the guardhouse itself when the main gate opened and the guards challenged the companions. Things were not looking good for the team. There were fifteen or so guards and only eleven companions, and even that number was not really correct since Mari had gone catatonic.
Scintara drew two of her assortment of hidden throwing daggers and held them lightly in her leather gloved hands. If use of these became necessary for the companions to escape this mess, then they would all have to flee the city. The Knights of the First Order might ignore some suspicious characters at the front gate, but would hunt down and capture any suspected criminals who had killed a guardsman. Scintara hoped that Quillion and the others were thinking the same thing. She skillfully climbed her way up to the top of the guardhouse without making a sound. When she finally reached the roof, she could see that the guardsmen had their pikes aimed towards her friends and the gatekeeper was mentioning something about them being traitors to Windsong. Traitors to Windsong? We are all trying to save the bloody country, not betray it.
Movement from the top of the wall caught Scintara's eye. She looked up to see one of the guardsmen holding a crossbow aimed towards the companions. She edged back into the shadow of the wall, away from the soldier's line of vision. She gave thanks, as always, for the dark colors of her cloak, silk shirt and leather pants that blended well into darkness. Her daggers even had black paint smeared along the blades so as not to catch any reflected light. She was one of the few thieves who had the foresight to coat their blades. In fact, as far as she knew, she was the first one to think of it.
The gatekeeper strode up to the front of the gate, puffed up with self importance that was buoyed by the fifteen guardsmen behind him. His reedy voice was difficult to hear in the gale force winds, but Scintara had learned long ago to read lips at a distance. A person who traded as she used to, in contract assassinations, could not afford to not be versed in knowing the content of conversations from out of earshot. She had a clear view of the gatekeeper's mouth and made out his words easily.
"I order you all now to lay down your arms and surrender!" he yelled.
"Not until you explain to us what we supposedly did!" replied Malaryn, his voice booming in the howling winds.
"We'll be explaining everythin' to you once we get you inside!" said the gatekeeper. At least that was what Scintara thought he said. The infernal man could at least move his lips when he talked!
"No, I don't think so, my rude friend!" said Tersiano, moving up to the front of the group. The wild mage had taken his staff and presented it in front of himself, speaking softly in the heavy wind. He then began to shout in some type of strange words that Scintara did not bother to decipher. She knew she could not understand the words of magic. The tall, blue-robed mage's staff began to glow and he swung it in a slow circle in front of himself and the companions. The guardsmen facing them began to back away, shielding their eyes with their gauntleted hands.
Scintara knew what was about to happen, she had seen Tersiano do the same thing many years before. Nonetheless, she was still startled by the sudden disappearance of the companions from the road. One second they were all standing there, weapons in hand, and the next, poof, they were gone. However, she was not nearly as flabbergasted as the guardsmen who stood stock still in the gateway, their mouths hanging open as if they had been hit on the head with a brick.
Scintara could not help but to smile to herself as she scanned the wall for a good climbing route. A smart person would notice the sudden appearance of ten puddles of water in the strangely depressed grass on the side of the road. Tersiano had rendered the companions invisible, but even he could not stop the rain from pouring down on them and leaving a trail. Scintara hoped that the guardsmen would remain as dense as they were now and not notice the weakness in the wild mage's plan.
After resuming her scanning for a moment, the curly-haired thief eventually found a good path up the side of the wall. Sheathing her daggers, she began to secure anything that might make a noise before she scaled the city wall. The loose mortar outer wall overlying the brick inner wall gave plenty of good handholds for an expert thief such as herself to use. She scrambled up the bottom fourth of the wall with almost no effort, gliding across the surface as if she was crawling on the dirt path below. She then saw some movement from within an arrow slit just to her left, less than a stride away. She held still as an archer from the wall guard poked his head out of the arrow slit to check on the commotion from the front gate. His head had just cleared the interior when he stopped suddenly, turning his head slowly to look at Scintara.
Scintara struck without hesitation, throwing a small, weighted needle at the man. The barbed steel struck him in the throat, lodging its tip deep into the bloodstream flowing to his brain. The man gave a quick gasp and started to move his hand to his neck, but it never made it. The man slumped forward, cracking his forehead on the stone wall, his body lying draped over the edge of the arrow slit. Scintara edged over to peek cautiously over the man's fallen body at the interior of the chamber in the wall behind him. Luckily, it appeared that no one was inside to notice the man's sudden incapacitation.
Scintara reached out and pulled the needle from the soldier's throat, cursing softly about using too much force in throwing it. She was lucky that she had not dislodged herself from the wall with the force of that throw. She wiped the needle off on her cloak and tucked it safely away in a hidden sleeve on her belt. She would re-coat the needle later with the drug she used for just such occasions. She resumed her climb, sparing a moment to shove the archer's body back through the arrow slit. The man was lucky Scintara was not still an assassin these days, else there would have been deadly poison on that needle instead of a swift-acting anesthetic.
Once she reached the top of the wall, Scintara looked carefully for marching guards patrolling the parapets. Nothing. Well, so much for the vaunted impregnable walls of Haven. One lone thief had penetrated the defenses and gained entrance to the city proper. She knew that she had better not get too cocky, for she was not actually all the way inside yet. Besides, she knew had been helped tremendously by the raging storm Aramari had summoned. The thought brought a quick flash of grief for the priestess of Meyasha. Scintara hoped the others could protect her. Shaking off such distracting thoughts, she quickly scurried along the top of the ten foot thick wall and peered over the opposite edge. There was no mortar on this side of the wall. It appeared that the way down would not be as easy as the way up. The storm should provide enough cover for her to get down, but the longer it took the greater the likelihood of her being spotted.
She decided on speed over subtlety as the best course of action. Setting a grappling hook into the stone parapet, she hopped over the edge and began to rappel down the side of the wall. Once she had touched the ground she took a quick look around for anyone nearby. The action going on up front appeared to have everyone occupied and away from her. Good. She gave a practiced flick of the rope she had been rappelling on, causing the grappling hook to dislodge from the parapet above. She deftly caught the metal hook just prior to it clattering onto the brick road.
Gathering her cloak about her, Scintara sped across the section of ground behind the wall until she could just barely make out the outlines of the guards standing in the gateway. She knew that the others would find their way inside shortly and she wanted to get an advanced look at where they might get some shelter. She stopped beside a building leading directly into the main street and took a piece of chalk from one of her pouches. She quickly scribbled a sigil on the wall, an uneven ellipse with the narrower side towards the street.
She moved along the street, stopping every ten buildings or so to repeat the sigil, until she reached a building that fit her purposes. A single, small, thin-leafed plant grew from a pot secured to the railing on its porch. It was a two story building made of shabby timbers that, from the outside, looked as if it could not possibly keep out the drenching rain. She knew that the building was more than it appeared since it had that particular plant growing in front of it. Only someone with an assassin's expertise would recognize the truchen leaf as the source of the most common debilitating poisons on Mer.
Scintara looked up to the second floor windows that were barely visible in the darkness and rain and saw a figure outlined in one of them staring down at her. Scintara quickly checked her weapons and walked up the stairs to the porch, stopping only to draw a full circle on the support post with her chalk. She casually strode up to knock on the door of the assassin safe house.
Melina stood in the grass watching the rain puddles form around her feet. The water was quite easy to see since her feet were no longer visible. She had been on the receiving end of Tersiano's magic before, but she had never gotten used to it. There was just something about being totally under another person's control that unnerved her. Not that Tersiano was attempting to control her, it was just that she did not like the fact he could turn her invisible without even having to ask. It was a silly argument she was sure, but she could not help how she felt about it.
A more pressing problem than fear of magic was shaping up for her and the other companions. One of the guardsmen was starting to move towards the section of road where the companions had been previously standing. They were no longer there, of course, as they had scattered to either side as soon as they had recognized the results of Tersiano's spell. It was a maneuver they had used with success in the past. One of the advantages of having traveled together for so long.
The guard was edging uncomfortably close to where one of the companions was standing. Hopefully, as long as they remained still, he should not seem them. It was then that Melina saw the fatal error in their plan. The rain coming down was forming a small outline around the companions near her. True, they were all invisible, but the rain was not. Looking closely, she could see the outline of Lysinthia's cloak faintly by the water trails running off of it. The guard had already walked by one of the companions, intent as he was on the road in front of him, but it would only be a matter of time before he looked to either side and noticed the outlines standing near him.
Suddenly the wind gusted directly underneath Melina's cloak, causing the length of black, shaggy sheepskin to billow out, popping loudly in the gale. The guard stopped immediately and turned to look in her direction. Without hesitation, she dropped into a crouch and gathered her cloak up under her with her left hand, her eyes never leaving the guardsman. The man stepped cautiously to the edge of the path, peering intently into the night, trying to see anything in the horrid storm. He appeared hesitant to walk into the grass, preferring the imagined safety of the man-made path.
An idea occurred to Melina, and she cupped her hands over one side of her mouth and turned her head away form the guardsman. Through long, unending hours of hunting in the wilderness surrounding Consul, she had learned to mimic the cries and calls of the wildlife indigenous to there. She knew of a few calls to animals common in the Northlands as well. One of those, the kimir, a form of wild pig that lived in the plains was what she was imitating now. She tried to echo the grunting sounds she made off of a grove of trees just to the South. Throwing her voice was another trick she had leaned, this time from Scintara. She only hoped this fool city man would recognize the sound of a kimir.
The guardsman turned to look towards the trees, and Melina watched as he squinted his eyes, vainly attempting to pierce the gloom and rain. She heard one of the guardsmen still standing by the front gate yell, "Hey Rikus! You're never gonna find anythin'. Dey probably teleported into de city anyway."
The guardsman Rikus took a final look towards the tree grove, then turned to stride back to his men. Melina could hear his orders drifting back to her through the wind. "Get a squad together. We gonna check dis place out when dey get together."
Melina watched as the gatekeeper rejoined his men and went inside the wall, closing the gate behind them. She took a glance along the castle wall looking for more guards, spying one man with a crossbow who turned to walk back to his sheltered area out of the rain. She gave a quick hiss to get the others' attention and then continued to emit a low rumbling hum until she was fairly certain the companions had gathered around her. Judging by the rain outlined silhouettes gathered nearby, the companions had heard and responded to her call, following the sound of her voice since they could not see her.
She heard Quillion's voice speak softly from the night behind her. The others' silhouettes gathered in even closer to hear his low-pitched voice over the storm. She shifted in her position, squatting in the knee-high grass, to allow herself a view of the Half-elf's dripping facial outline.
"Well, we barely slipped out of that one," said Quillion. "Now we've got to find a way into the city, then find someplace dry to plan out our next move."
Melina found it fascinating to watch the watery trails running down and around the Half-elf's mouth as he talked.
"We still have a bit of a problem." Melina almost jumped upon hearing Dealyon's voice so close beside her. "Scintara was not nearby when Tersiano turned the rest of us invisible."
Melina saw Quillion whip his head around, spraying water like an opening fan. "What do you mean? Where is she?"
Ell's voice purred from behind Quillion, saying "I see her. She's just climbing the wall, just about to reach the top. Look to the right, above the gate house."
Melina turned and peered through the rain to where Ell directed. She could see something moving up there, but her eyes were not sharp enough to make it out. She would just trust the Yerracht's senses on this one. Her eyesight had been steadily growing worse over the past few years, but she would volunteer to be sent to Tartarus in chains before the others would know about it. She was not going to let her brown eyes cause her any trouble now.
Quillion spoke softly, almost as if to himself. "Well, at least one of us will make it in." His voice rose in volume again as he continued, "We've got to get in ourselves. Does anyone have any ideas?"
Melina wracked her brain for a way to get over the wall or past the guards, but kept running across the same problem: Aramari. There was no way they could get the priestess of Meyasha over that fifty foot wall, nor could they sneak her unconscious body past guards who were on the lookout for it. She briefly wondered if, once Scintara was inside, she might be able to open a way for them to get in. She shook her head slowly. No, Scintara was good, but it would be impossible for her to eliminate fifteen guards without any of them raising the call to arms.
Tersiano interrupted Melina's ruminations as he said, "We have more important matters to worry about, my friends. This invisibility spell will last only a few minutes longer. If we're out here in view of the guards when it wears off, we'll have a tremendous fight on our hands. I, for one, am a bit too weak to handle that right now."
Melina spoke in her usual low, moderated voice. "I have a suggestion. We can use the storm as cover to our movements until we get close to the wall, somewhere away from the main gate. I can fashion a bit of cover for us as we find a way into the city. That way we can remain close to the walls and stay out of their vision. Provided this storm lasts, anyway."
Quillion's voice echoed from the dark rainfall. "Sounds like the best idea I've heard all night. Let's do it. Head for the wall about five lengths to the right of the main gate. That should be far enough from prying eyes to allow us to work."
Ten minutes later saw the companions huddled together under a makeshift lean-to that Melina was fashioning from branches blown down due to Aramari's storm. Melina had used a some thin hemp rope she always carried with her to fasten the branches together. The shelter could not be of a tight enough weave to keep the rain completely out, but it did take the sting out of the howling wind. More importantly, it gave the companions a brief respite to plan a way into Haven.
Melina watched Tersiano doze softly, huddled in his cloak and leaning against the chipped mortar of the city wall. He had instantly fallen asleep after complaining half-heartedly about having ten people to turn invisible as opposed to only himself. Melina had felt like telling him to get used to it, he was part of a group again, but she wisely held her tongue. She had no desire to start a petty fight this close to the guards walking above.
She busied herself with tightening the weave along the lean-to, half listening to the companions arguments for getting in the city. Dealyon favored the idea of simply eliminating the guards and gaining entrance to the city through the front gate. Lysinthia offered to conjure another of her floating disks and just hover over the wall, hoping that a guard would not see them. Malaryn wanted to have them break up into groups and disguise themselves, bluffing their way past the guards. Melina listened to the ideas flow from her friends, knowing that none of them stood a chance of succeeding. She was sure that Quillion felt the same way, judging by how he simply sat and scowled, hoping for a good idea to issue forth from the group.
Melina was about to suggest an idea of her own when she noticed movement in the grass to the Southeast. She gave a quick hiss, forcing the others to silence as she looked closer at the form shuffling through the wind-flattened grass. She heard Ell creep up beside her and peer out into the night. The Yerracht woman ever so softly said, "It's a small boy. He's seen us and is just sitting there, watching."
Melina edged out from under the shelter and walked slowly towards the boy's shadowy form. She put as much of a motherly tone in her voice as possible as she called softly out towards him. "Hello there. Don't be afraid. We're not here to cause any harm."
She kept up a soothing string of words as she approached the young man, hoping to keep him from bolting before she got close. She drew within a few strides of him before she saw him shift his weight as if to run. She quickly stopped and held out her hands in front of her, palms up, to show she was unarmed. She was finally close enough to see the boy through the downpour. He wore a tattered old brown shirt with sleeves that just barely came to his elbows, and his weathered pants were open at the knee and had the look of being patched many times. His short, brown hair was plastered to his head by the rain, and his big brown eyes watched her like a frightened doe as he stood there, clutching a small metallic rod in his hands.
Melina squatted down and said in a voice just loud enough for the boy to make out, "What do you have there? Is that a sword?" She kept a smile fixed on her face as she studied the boy's reaction to her question.
The boy shook his head slowly, never taking his eyes off of her. Melina could just make out his voice as he answered. "It's a glowstick." The boy held it out in front of him like a prince holding a royal scepter. "My ma and pa didn't want me ta have it, so I brought it out here ta use. You gotta use a glowstick on de Feast of Winds, you gotta." He eyes went to the stick and he gave it an irritated shake. "It's supposed ta work, even in de rain, but I can't get it ta glow."
A sudden thought occurred to Melina and she tried to conceal her excitement as she asked the boy, "How did you get outside the walls? Did you come through the gates?"
The boy shook his head again, this time a bit faster, as he puffed his chest out with pride and said, "I know a secret way in and out of de city. Only me and Jerr know about it." He gave a quick nod of his head, as if to emphasize his secret knowledge.
Melina edged a bit closer to the boy as she spoke. "What if I make you a trade? I'll show you how to get the glow stick to work, and you show me and my friends," she said, pointing behind her in the direction of the makeshift shelter, "where the secret entrance to the city is."
The boy leaned to his right to look past her at the companions still sheltered beside the city wall. "You really know how ta get dis ta work?" he asked, holding the glow stick in front of him with both hands.
"I don't myself, but one of my friends does," answered Melina. She watched the boys shrewd eyes narrow for a moment. She guessed that this little street urchin was used to having people attempt to cheat him a dozen times a day, so she did her best to keep an honest look on her face.
The boy finally nodded his head slowly, saying, "All right, but you gotta have him get it ta work first."
Melina nodded her head in a agreement, her rain-soaked brown hair swaying in the wind. "All right then." She spit on her hand and held it out in front of her. "We got a deal?"
The boy's eyes lit up as he spit on his own hand in return and clasped it with hers. She led him back to the lean-to and had the companions introduce themselves to him. They boy introduced himself in return as Melgin, smiling and politely returning each one's greetings. He then looked at Melina and held out the glowstick. Melina took it from his hands and scooted over to where Tersiano sat watching the boy with his whirling eyes. She sat on her heels next the mage and said, "We need to get this glowstick to work before he will show us his secret way into the city. Can you do it?"
The wild mage took the glowstick from Melina's hand and studied it a moment. "No. These things were never made to function in the rain, I'm afraid. It's useless." He held it back out for Melina to take.
The Accabashi woman refused, placing her hand on Tersiano's arm. She lowered her voice to a whisper so that Melgin could not hear her and asked, "Can you do that trick you did back in the cave in Ravenwood? That light thing you did with the rock?"
The wild mage's whirling eyes studied her as he said, "I can. The question is, do we really want me to? If I make that thing give off light, we'll be spotted from the top of the wall. I really don't think we want that now. Do we?"
Melina was growing irritated and leaned over Tersiano to say in a tense voice, "Don't be so stubborn! This is going to be our best chance to get into the city carrying Aramari without being caught. We can have the child cover the stick with a blanket or something after you get it to glow."
Quillion, who was sitting too far away to have possibly heard their conversation, said, "Go ahead and do it Tersiano. She's right. It's our best chance." Melina frowned to herself. She should have known that Quillion's sharp hearing would allow him to make out the words exchanged between the her and Tersiano.
The wild mage gave a soft sigh and said, "Whatever you wish, but I still believe it's a risk."
He wearily gathered himself and closed his eyes in concentration. When he reopened them he chanted the slippery words of magic that triggered his spell. "Moerhyn Villijde Jerahnch." Suddenly, the small metallic rod glowed with a brilliance that flooded the room with light like a dam bursting. Ell quickly pulled a scarf loose that was holding back her hair and wrapped it around the glowstick, muting its light. Melina could hear the Yerracht woman grumbling to herself. "If all of this light keeps popping up, I won't have any scarves left by the end of this adventure."
Melina took the radiant stick from Tersiano's hands and carried it to Melgin, who accepted it from her hands with eyes widened in wonder. The small boys eyes began to tear up as he looked around at the companions with a joyous face. "Dis is de best glowstick ever! De others'll be so jealous!"
Melina saw Preosha lean over to Tersiano, who sat wearily watching the scene, and said, "You're a good man, wild mage. No matter what the others say."
The miserable rain was seeping through the tightly woven wool cloak that Malaryn had wrapped around himself. He could feel the cold drops that leaked through the hood drip down the back of his neck, forming a wet trail inside his steel breastplate that he could not reach. The sensation was about to drive him insane as he did not have the time to unbuckle his armor to allow himself to staunch the flow of frigid water. He though briefly about wadding up some cloth from his pack and placing it over the back of his neck to cease the drippings, but he knew it would only be a temporary respite. The cloth would soon soak through and the rivulets of water would resume their steady trek down his spine.
He really did not have the time to take care of small, irritating things like that anyway. The child, Melgin, was leading the companions to where his supposed secret door was located, and Malaryn knew he needed to keep an eye out for any signs of enemies. Unfortunately, it was becoming exceedingly difficult to concentrate on the task at hand when an icy river was running down his back. To top things off, he was hungry enough to eat a plate full of treiegh, a particularly disgusting Orcish delicacy he had sworn he would never touch again. The big warrior wondered how Ell was doing with her own battle against hunger. He knew that no matter how bad it was for him, it would be much worse for the Yerracht. He knew that he would not even notice such small things as hunger and rain if he had a little action to occupy his mind. He silently wished for something exciting to happen to take his mind off his misery.
The little boy had led the companions around to the East side of the city walls. Each step of the short journey had seemed to last for days for Malaryn. Especially when he was shouldering the straps which carried the litter bearing Mari. He grumbled to himself a bit about that situation. The rest of the companions had just assumed that he would be the one to carry her over the domins it took to get here from Ravenwood. He was going to have a talk with them all when they finally stopped about the differences between him and a pack mule.
An elbow in the ribs brought Malaryn's head up and he looked at Lysinthia's frowning face. "Pay attention Muscles, or you're going to get an arrow through the head from one of the guards," she said.
Malaryn glared at her with undisguised anger. She should try carrying this thing around for a day and then he would hit her in the ribs! See if she would like that! The green eyed bard noticed the expression on Malaryn's face and backed away a bit, her eyes growing wider. She gestured nervously to her left and said, "We're at the secret entrance."
Malaryn turned and saw the rest of the companions gathered around the little boy, who was fidgeting with something on the side of the wall. He suddenly realized he had been about to walk right into Tersiano, who had stopped to lean on his staff and rest. Chagrined, he looked back at Lysinthia to apologize, but the bard woman had turned away and was studying the group clustered ahead. Malaryn dropped his head, feeling lower than he had felt in a long time, and busied himself adjusting the straps across his shoulders which bore the weight of Aramari's litter.
When he looked back up he saw the boy push on a section of the wall which opened easily to his touch. So there really was a secret entrance. Maybe things were going to get better after all. The child looked back to whisper something briefly to Quillion and then disappeared into the tunnel. Malaryn watched Ell jump up quickly and dash into the hole after the boy. Malaryn assumed that she was not going to let the boy get too far away. At least that is what he assumed. It seemed the rest of them never told him anything anymore unless they wanted him to do something.
In the old days, he was used to being the first one to go anywhere. His physical power and the armor he wore generally made him the perfect candidate to stride into the unknown. Not these days, though, as the others were no longer as defenseless as they were. Not that they were ever really defenseless, they had just grown more powerful than they used to be. Maybe that was the problem, Malaryn did not feel as strong as he used to. It seemed as if everyone else kept changing, but he always stayed the same.
A light tap on his shoulder brought Malaryn's attention back to the here and now. Yayenger's Blood! He had to stop letting his mind wander like this. He was getting as bad as Preosha. He looked for the source of the tapping and saw Ephirea looking at him strangely. The dark haired archer said, "Let's get going pack mule, Ell said the way is clear." Her gaze darted briefly from Malaryn to Lysinthia and back. So that was why she came over, she had been talking to Lys. Malaryn knew that he needed to talk to Lys quickly or this was going to grow out of proportion.
A few minutes later, Malaryn emerged from the far side of the tunnel into the city of Haven. At least, he assumed that was where he was. He could not really tell much from the alleyway where he was standing. He thought briefly about going back in to stay in the secret tunnel for a while, but one look at Aramari lying on the litter behind him forestalled it. He had enjoyed the break from the insistent rain and roaring wind, but there was work to be done. He really hoped Quillion knew what he was doing, trusting this kid might not have been the best move.
The boy, Melgin, started creeping through the streets, trying his best to imitate a spy for the Knights of the First Order. In the tunnels Malaryn had overheard Ell talking to the grubby little kid about the importance of being unobserved when they walked in the city. The boy had seized upon the idea that he was a spy for the Knights and needed to get the companions back to his house. Malaryn chuckled to himself sarcastically. Sure, it was easy for a boy to walk around and be unnoticed by the guards, but ten armed adults creeping through the city was another matter entirely.
As the child led them down a dark street, Malaryn looked around at the houses to either side of the drenched companions. The light that spilled out of the windows into the stormy night gave out a promise of dry warmth that belied the cold wind howling across the eaves and porch railings. Malaryn would give his last coin for a meal and a night in front of one of those Crantin wood fires with a soft pillow to lay his head on. He thought he must be getting old, a night like this would not have bothered him at all six years ago. He corrected himself on that. It would have bothered him, he just would not have been grumbling about it like he did now.
After spending a bit of time of leading the companions through the shadows of the Haven's buildings, Melgin finally led them to the front of a two story house near the eastern wall of the city. Malaryn looked up at it, assessing its defensibility. It was two stories tall, but it was still a small home, and it had a large porch with a pair of interesting chairs sitting on it. They had some type of curved rails attached to the bottom of the legs. Malaryn wondered how anyone could sit still in them without swaying back and forth. Luckily, the house itself looked fairly well built and maintained, despite the funny chairs. Malaryn was sure it was a testament to how exhausted Preosha was that she was not hunched over one of the chairs, examining its construction.
Melgin wasted no time opening the front door and dashing inside. Malaryn could hear the child's shouts for his parents even through the storm winds. Quillion reached out and grabbed Lysinthia by the sleeve and pulled her along after him to the entrance to the house. The Half-elf did not appear to want to violate the sanctity of the boy's home without being invited. He did, however, tell the rest of the companions to come onto the porch and out of the rain. Malaryn was about to do that anyway, because of how sick of the rain he was. He eased the straps from the litter off his aching shoulders and propped them on the porch railing. Holding the rails of the litter in place with his hip, he proceeded to rub his suddenly throbbing shoulders, hoping to get the tight knots out of them.
A few moments later the doorway was darkened by a man wearing a finely cut woolen coat and breeches. Malaryn looked at the man in surprise. Someone who could afford to live in this well-made, but plain house was not usually the type of person to spend stormy nights at home dressed in fine clothes such as what this man wore. The man had a polished white wood pipe in his mouth and he spoke in clenched teeth around the pipe stem. Malaryn could not hear what he was saying, but he was sure it was not very encouraging. The big smith had faith in Quillion and Lysinthia, though. Lys, in particular, could talk her way into a wizard's conclave if she was wearing Czak Myar armor. Malaryn really did not care what they said, but he hoped that those two managed to talk the man into giving the group a little time to dry off by the fireplace Malaryn had spotted over the man's shoulder.
The man was talking softly and shaking his head slowly, but insistently to everything Lys seemed to be suggesting. Malaryn could see the first signs of frustration crossing Quillion's brow. The man of the house was about to say something else when a woman walked up behind him and place her hand on his arm. He turned to look at her and smiled, patting her hand gently, and whispered something in her ear. The woman placed a hand over her mouth in alarm and took a step around the man. Malaryn could see that she was wearing a finely embroidered blue dress and even had some somewhat expensive jewelry on. Another expensively dressed commoner at home on a stormy night. What was going on here?
Lysinthia motioned in his direction and Malaryn saw the couple's eyes gaze at him. No, he corrected himself, not at him, at the litter next to him. Lysinthia said something else briefly and the woman rushed forward, brushing aside the man's restraining hand. Malaryn tried to give her as much room as possible as she approached so as not to brush against her expensive blue dress. The woman knelt down beside Aramari and drew back the blankets that had been wrapped around her. She gave a gasp and stood up quickly.
"A priestess of Meyasha!" she exclaimed, looking at Malaryn.
Malaryn nodded his head gravely before responding. "Yes madam, she is, and she has been hurt."
The woman spun on her heels, causing her blues skirts to billow out and brush against Malaryn's muddy armor, much to the warrior's misery. She ignored the mud, however, and strode over to stand next to Lysinthia, across from the man Malaryn assumed was her husband. She said something in what Malaryn could hear was a no nonsense tone. Her fists were planted on her hips and she leaned forward intently. The man bit down on his pipe, listened to her finish and considered for a moment before shrugging his shoulders and stepping aside to make room for them to enter.
While the others did their best to remove the mud from their boots, Malaryn gently reached down and gathered Aramari in his arms. He turned to follow Tersiano into the house, and almost fell over in relief when he walked in the doorway and felt the heat from the fireplace. Maybe today was not such a bad day after all. The woman instructed him to lay Aramari down on a doubly wide chair she had prepared by throwing pillows across its length. As he lay the priestess of Meyasha down on the chair he heard the man behind him speaking to the companions.
"We were just about to sit down to celebrate de Feast of Winds," he said. It was then that Malaryn noticed the smell of cooking meats lingering in the air. He turned his head with a snap an saw a table set with a veritable banquet of food: roasted meats, vegetables, and pitchers of milk set with bottles of wine. His hunger returned three-fold and he thought he might double over in agony.
The woman picked up where her husband left off, oblivious to Malaryn's groan. "We were preparing for a meal with some relatives dat were supposed to come down from Hogun Wrath. It looks as if dis unexpected storm has kept dem away. Oh, but I forget my manners." She went to stand next her husband, who stood there, complacently smoking his pipe. "My name is Morena and this is my husband Geryld, welcome to our home."
© 1998   C.A. Lutke