The village of Taringville was nothing more than a small collection of buildings gathered around a stone statue of a grim faced warrior set in the middle of the town square. Most of the visitors to this place soon found themselves being told the story of the stone figure within the first night that they spent here. It was a carving dedicated to the town founder of course, though there was one joker in town, a thin, energetic man named Thomas Gracile who would tell recent arrivals an entirely different tale of the statue. He styled himself a poet, and he was in fact a better artist than anything else, but he did love to spin a fable or two. All he needed was a willing ear, and then he would impart on his listener a narrative of a mighty warrior cursed to be a sculpture in rock until a person who was pure of heart would free him.
Naturally the man, who tended to dress in dark clothing to add mystery to his image, would lean forward at this point in his story and confess that he had the spell on him that would remove the curse. He would then impart a fanciful description of how an ancestor of his had passed the spell (which was written on a scroll of course) down through the generations until it reached his hands at last. Then he would drop his head as if ashamed, adding mournfully that he was not the one to do it, but perhaps his guest would be the one to free the prisoner in stone. Usually he managed to totally convince the stranger of the truth of his story, and after a small amount of coin was exchanged for the scroll he would vanish, leaving the poor visitor chanting nonsense in the middle of town.
However, this time there was no opportunity for Thomas to practice his deception. The village was filled with a small army of warriors, mages, archers and even a priest or two. That group of people was being led by the older son of a Duke, for the aristocrat had come to this formally quiet hamlet to rid the area of a terrible monster, and in the minds of most of the villagers to bolster his own image. Even the local Baron, a lean man in his sixties named Emerson Gardo, was in the village for he was awaiting word from a group of priestesses who claimed that they could hunt down and destroy the creature for him. Naturally the son of a Duke declared that the priestesses would fail, since a group of women couldn't possibly face a monster on their own, and that he would end up killing the fiend instead. The mayor of the village, who incidentally happened to own the only inn in town, had warned Thomas that he had better not pull his usual trick on any of the guests or he would suffer the consequences.
The wiry fellow, deprived of his favorite sport, had wandered aimlessly about town until he saw a group of people coming down the finely graveled road that served as the main
street running through town. As soon as he spotted the new arrivals, he stood behind a large pine tree and peered around the trunk so that no one could see him watching the newest visitors to Taringville. He was blissfully unaware of the fact that the angle of the sun highlighted his position, and that he wasn't that well hidden in the first place. Thomas could see that a tall, muscular warrior dressed in leather armor was leading the strangers. The man had black hair and walked in the manner which resembled an alpha wolf leading the pack. Thomas instantly felt that it would be a bad move to try the statue trick on that man, so he focused his attention elsewhere. He could count a couple of elves among the group, and in fact strolling casually beside the warrior was a blonde half elf wearing a blue and silver robe that didn't even reach her knees.
Thomas drew in his breath when he caught sight of the person who was talking to the half elfin woman that he had already seen. She was a dark skinned elf, a drow woman and absolutely beautiful to his eyes. She looked to be carved from obsidian, yes obsidian, by the goddess of beauty herself. Her hair was almost pure white and gleamed like a polished pearl in the sun. She was absolute perfection to his eyes, and he was determined to meet her despite the presence of the intimidating man at the front of the procession. So he put on his most charming expression and stepped out from behind the tree to introduce himself to the woman.
"Tey'Lena, do you see that strange man hiding behind that tree over there?" Elideira asked her sister, indicating a spot somewhere down the road with a slight jerk of her chin.
The C'rintri snorted, the sound somehow blending in perfectly with the creaking wheels of the cart holding the head of the beast killed during the Hunt. "That wael rivvil thinks he is hiding from us," she said with a touch of amusement in her voice. "He looks upon us like a puppy begging for table scraps. Perhaps he has taken a fancy to you, ussta dalninil and can only admire you from afar, hmm?"
Elideira peered at the stranger only partially hidden behind a tree trunk and replied, "What makes you think he's looking at me? No, I think you have picked up an admirer Tea. See how he is staring at you with longing on his face."
The dusky skinned priestess grinned wickedly and answered, "Maybe we are both wrong and he is really lusting after Merand."
"Perhaps," Elideira responded with amusement in her voice, earning her and her sister an annoyed glance from the warrior in question.
Down the road the man spying on the group left the safety of his tree. He leapt onto the road rather dramatically, but since he was already seen his performance fell flat. However, Tey'Lena was not yet done teasing Merand, or she may have been able to spot how the approaching stranger kept his gaze firmly fixated on the C'rintri and no one else. She turned her head to face the Harper next to her sister and said, "You are quite muscular underneath all that ky'ostal oh mighty protector of women. I would not blame that skinny little fellow if he wants you for a lover. Perhaps you would care to indulge him for an hour or two of pleasure? We can wait right here if you want."
Merand glared fiercely at the woman that he had sworn to protect after the sisterhood ceremony that she and Elideira went through. He had been around enough clerics dedicated to Eilistraee to know that the two half elves, the light and the dark, were made true sisters as if they had been born from the same womb. Since he had made himself a servant of sorts to Elideira he had, after the events of the last couple of days, included her sister into his circle without even giving such an action a second thought. But the black skinned half elf was sorely trying his patience, and if she had been a man instead of a woman he would have tossed her into the nearest river for making that remark.
Instead, he turned away from the C'rintri, the silvery laughter of the two women reaching his ears. He could not brood for too much longer as the man that the pair of sisters were recently discussing had reached their location. "Hi travelers and welcome to this fair town of ours," the stranger, dressed in dark blue clothing said by way of greeting. Would you by chance be looking for a guide?"
Elideira signaled to her companions to stop walking, and since they were not moving that fast anyway it did not take too long for the train to come to a standstill. Feeling quite irritated at the moment Merand found a perfect outlet for his anger in telling the fop to go away. "No and we, no I, have been to this village already so leave us before I am forced to chase you off at sword point."
The stranger backed up for the warrior was very good at communicating a threat without even trying, and right now he was trying. It was a measure of the man who spoke to the
group that he stood his ground and stayed near them, although he did make sure to move himself safely out of Merand's reach.
"Oh Merand, I want to hear what he has to say," Elideira said with a winsome smile. "And we were just teasing you anyway. We meant nothing mean with our words, you know that. Now stranger, we really don't need a guide though why don't you introduce yourself and tell us what's been happening in the village recently?"
As usual the half elf's diplomacy won the jittery man over. She only asked him about recent events to put his mind at ease, though if the truth were to be known she could listen to someone drone on for a long time about the weather, as long as they were decent towards her and her friends. She didn't need the information, although the nervous young man didn't know that. "Oh yes, my name is Thomas Gracile and I can tell you that a lot has happened to the village in the past few days."
"Pleased to meet you Thomas," Elideira greeted him warmly. She realized that Thomas kept stealing glances at her sister, so she decided that it would be a good idea to introduce everybody. "This lovely woman to my right is my sister Tey'Lena."
Thomas's eyes opened wide, and he cautiously approached the Drow half elf with his hand held out in greeting. The priestess reached out to shake his hand, knowing that this was the custom in this part of the Realms. The man took her hand and brought it to his lips to kiss her fingertips, all the while under the watchful gaze of Merand. "Such a beauty that you possess, oh one who hails from the Underdark."
"Dambrath," she corrected, wondering how long he was going to hold her hand. It did not help her at all that Elideira was silently encouraging him in his actions. "I come from Dambrath actually. And what is it that you do, aside from recklessly confronting travelers?"
The man smiled warmly at her, releasing his grip on her hand at last. He informed her that he was an artist, one of the best that there was, and that he could make art out of any material. He promised her that he would give her a picture of her face if she were going to stay in town. After that Elideira introduced the rest of the group, and while Thomas was exceedingly polite, he did not show anybody else the same reverence that he had shown Tey'Lena. He did tell Merand about what was going on in the village after the warrior told him to hurry up and tell him some real news, or he would find that the flat of a sword applied to a pair of buttocks would make them tender to sit on.
The artist cleared his throat nervously and coolly informed everybody that Baron Gardo was stationed in the biggest house in town, waiting for word from a bunch of priestesses that the terrible monster roaming the hills was slain. He also informed the companions that the son of Duke Iorn, a haughty man named Nathiel, was in town for the very same purpose of hunting down the fiend in the area. Not only that but he had brought a lot of people with him, all well trained in the arts of combat, or so the young noble had claimed. Then Thomas frowned, saying that the noble told everyone that he expected to lose some men in the battle with the monster, and that he had calculated well for what he called acceptable losses.
But that was not the end of his narrative for he also added the tidbit that the aristocrat Nathiel had insulted the priestesses by scoffing at their ability to confront a monster, and the first sighting of the thing would send the women running away and squealing in fright. Upon hearing this, Elideira invited the man to look in the back of the cart at the severed head of the creature in question. The half elf didn't even bother to lift the tarp covering the head as her fellow clerics had completely removed the cloth, exposing the wedge shaped head and the gleaming black horns. Selona had asked the man while he was admiring the priestess's trophy if he would like some canvas to paint on. When he had replied that he would love the cloth, the woman handed him the huge tarp that had previously covered the monster's head.
Soon after that Thomas left their company, struggling the entire time under the load of canvas that was given to him. He was so pleased by the gift that he had rushed off, forgetting to ask for help. Merand commented on his behavior, saying that he should act more like a man and less like a silly fool. Tey'Lena in turn pointed out that the real fool was waiting in town, and that his name was Nathiel. Then the warrior had suggested in his abrupt way that not only should they see the Baron right away, but they should give the mouthy noble a good, long look at their frightful prize.
So the women resumed their aborted trek into town, and as they finally reached the center of the village, a small crowd of people came out to greet them. When one of the priestesses called out to the gathering of the local citizens and the visitors to the town to come see the remains of the beast, they all rushed the cart in anticipation. The entire village guard, which in fact consisted of two burly sons of a local farmer, came walking out of the inn when they heard the commotion gong on outside. Using their muscle and influence they reached the gathering of the clerics, one elfin historian and a human warrior, and stood guard around the cart. Almost immediately, the local citizens calmed down and took turns staring at the beast's wedge shaped head, oohing and awing as they did so. Merand, after some prodding from Elideira, had left to go find his fellow Harpers who were supposed to be staying at the inn.
Shortly after Merand had gone off to seek out his contemporaries a snooty noble approached the clerics. Elideira and her sister Tey'Lena both knew this new stranger was an aristocrat in several ways. If his arrogant manner or his carefully combed and oiled hair didn't give him away, then his armor sure did. Few others apart from a noble convinced of his own superiority would wear a set of plate mail with such widely flaring shoulder plates as he wore. The entire suit was bad enough on its own, but someone had convinced the dandy that a good set of armor should have jewels set on the breastplate, and that all the joints should be outlined in gold. To complete his look, which Ser'lentianna had said came straight out of a bad adventure novel; the approaching aristocrat had a gold colored cape thrown over his shoulders held together by a large, gaudy clasp.
He was also surrounded by half a dozen of his flunkies, and when he caught sight of Tey'Lena he paused, clearly not knowing how to deal with a Drow that the crowd was aptly listening to. The C'rintri was having a great deal of fun telling her audience how the servants of Eilistraee had slain the monster, who's head even now rested in the cart she was standing on.
Merand returned to the group at the same time the noble was about to confront the clerics. Elideira saw his approach and briefly left her sister's company to go talk to the warrior. She saw the look on his face, the same expression that always said that her friend had not received the information he was searching for.
"Is something wrong Merand?" she asked him, her voice full of concern. Was he still upset over the teasing that she and her sister had dealt him?
The warrior sighed, keeping a close watch on the discussion that Tey'Lena was now having with the gaudily dressed noble. "It may be," he answered her in a steady, low tone. "My fellow Harpers, the ones we were supposed to meet here, have not yet arrived. The mayor thinks they must of got delayed somehow, and although I believe him I still hope that nothing bad has happened to them."
"I hope so too," Elideira answered him. "Is there anything else we need to know before I help my sister deal with that overdressed fool over there?"
Merand thought about it and replied, "Oh, there is one more thing. The mayor I mentioned has sent his youngest son to fetch the Baron, though I don't see how that man could miss this commotion,"
Then the pair turned and peered at the cart and the crowd that now had something more interesting than a part of a monster corpse to look at. Most of the priestesses and the local citizenry were calmly watching the Duke's son having an animated discussion with both Tey'Lena and a pair of elves. "Let's go help them get rid of that spoiled man, shall we?" she told Merand, who was only too happy to oblige. The only question that remained was, where were the Harpers?
Dreams and Sacrifices: Part 6
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