Maruc laughed goodnaturedly, “Ninety crona indeed? Indeed you are a merchant. Very well, I have no desire to ride into the north without some idea of what is ahead.” Maruc delved into his pouch and produced the money. “This may save us much trouble of one sort or the other.” He counted the money into his hand. “Please, tell us how you know of us. Who has been asking and all you can of Golthar the Yellow. Where and when you came by this information. Also the dangers on the road ahead.”
Miklos paled as he watched the priest just hand over enough money to keep his church in Specularum going for a week. However, he couldn’t fault his logic, merchants can be bought, but it is rare. They usually try to remain neutral in most affairs, or so his father had taught him. It is bad for business if your reputation for honesty suffers. His word was probably good.
“Indeed, a mage in yellow has recently appeared in Kelvin. Just as we were preparing to leave, he was visiting various bars and establishments in the accompaniment of a tall dark woman. I believe that one went by the name of Jolenta. Together they made inquiries about a unique group of wanderers that, as described, were most strangely like yourselves,” the Thyatian grinned. “As for the dangers ahead, there are increasing reports of bandits on the road between Kelven and Threshold. A number of caravans have failed to arrive. As you can see, I take no chances in this regard,” he said, gesturing proudly to his guardsmen.
Taking leave of the caravan and its wily host Miklos skirted the train helping the marshal the horses under Stephan’s direction. He pulled in beside Maruc as the northward road to Rifllian stretched before them.
Hasan dropped all pretense of horsetrading immediately. “How long were you in Kelvin? When did you hear your story? Quickly now, man, we haven’t all the time in the world.” The rat-a-tat nature of the questions, and the elf’s lilting accent, weren’t new to Feldard, but the dwarf guffawed rather loudly none-the-less at the world’s most impatient elf.
The merchant was no stranger to this sort of questioning, and he provided more answers, though they did not shine much more light on the situation. He did not know where Golthar or this Jolenta were still in Kelvin or headed to some other location. He had seen the two with his own eyes and some of his crew encountered them in other venues as well.
Feldard shook his head at the priests lack of bartering skills. The man could have easily been brought down to at 70 crona if the priest and elf had sounded less desperate. He had his doubts as to what the merchant knew and his source. The dwarf moved away from the group, sidling his mount nearer to one of the caravan guards. “Ahiktos has a rather loud mouth,” he commented quietly to the man, “Is he worth the bother to listen to? Or is he as full of himself as he seems?” It was a means to test the loyalty of the merchants retainers and a measure of the merchant himself.
Stephan maintained his silence, listening carefully to what Ahiktos had to say. He kept his eyes on the horses and on the rest of the merchant caravan. To hear that the party was already marked was troubling.
To Hasan he said out of Ahiktos’s earshot, “We must leave the road. Our first encounter and we learn of us being marked already. We should seek the shelter of the woods.”
Ludo herded the horses past the caravan, when out of earshot of Ahiktos he said “it will be difficult to move these horses through the woods, I think we have no choice but to keep to the Duke’s road and make our way to Rifillian as quickly as we can”. When we approach the town, Stephan, Maruc and I shall take the horses to the market, sell them and then we move straight onto Threshold, meeting up with the others on the other side of Rifillian. Golthar and his cronies will be looking for seven of us, including a Dwarf and an Elf. If they are not visible, there is a chance we can move past Rifllian without being reported on or attacked and give Golthar the slip.”
Stephan took in Ludo’s plan. “Aye, good plan, Ludo. If we’re to stay on the open road, perhaps some of us may ride in the woods so we don’t look like a party of seven at first glance.”
Hasan listened admiringly to the humans’ plan. It was a sound way to disguise the group, and splitting up might be helpfully tactically if it came to combat. But first, they needed to hear from what may lie ahead. “Out with it now, Akitos. What have you heard of the fall of the great tower, or the Scourge of the Iron Ring?”
Word had not spread yet of the battle at Xitaqa. The members of the Iron Ring were not known for gossip or naysaying, and they had not left many goblin survivors to tell the tale. Thus, the Ring had kept a lid on its recent troubles. However, Ahiktos had learned of the recent decimation of the goblin clans in Western Dymrak, but the details had been vague. “With all the carnage you have left in your wake,” he said, “it is no wonder they are hunting you!”
* * * * *
On the far bank of the Windrush river, enfolded by the Radlebb woods, lied the elvish village of Rifllian. An outpost of the Callaari elves, it served as a trading post for those wishing to do business with the elves. The buildings in the village were all made of wood and stood two stories high.
It had taken three thankfully uneventful days to complete the journey to reach the elven village of Rifllian. As they arrived in the early afternoon, a magnificent vessel, almost 50 feet long, was just casting off from the jetty. As it moved out into the river, its sail unfurled revealing a rearing unicorn emblazoned across it. At the head of the ship stood an elf dressed in dazzling armour and a surcoat that also bore the rampant unicorn symbol. Soon, the wind caught the sail and the vessel glided down the river toward Kelven.
Stephan had been here quite a few times to trade with the elves or as a stopover on the way to Threshold. He was a frequent guest of the Silver Swan Inn, a friendly establishment run by a halfling innkeeper named Stubbs Plattermann. Another person he looked forward to seeing was Prestelle, the main trader for all wishing to buy and sell goods.