“Peace be upon you Luthen, and on family. I am Sahlman, great traveler, warrior from far away. I go to Dunweig, but much snow, much cold. Tonight I stay here, horses in barn, not cold. You give me blankets for horses, grain for horses, warm clothes. I have money, I pay. Do you agree?”
'Sahlman,' a strange name for me to call myself, thought Johannes, and I must be very tired; my grammar is atrocious. Then another thought occurred to him out of the blue. 'That farmer will betray me.'
'But it won't fit,' thought Johannes. 'It's too short, and too thin.' The tailor gave him a fine suit of clothing, better than he'd been able to wear since he left Duerstadt, but it was small. When he took off his black robes and round cap, and tried on the new clothes, though, they fit well. Maybe he'd lost weight and didn't know it. Although the clothing fit well, they made Johannes uncomfortable, like he'd never worn such finery before. 'It doesn't matter anyway,' he thought. 'They'll catch me no matter what I wear.'
Johannes clutched his cloak to himself, to fend off the cold breeze. The cloak was so small, but then, he felt a bit small himself. The scenery was beautiful – the rushing river as he floated downstream, the thin layer of snow reflecting moonlight off of hectares of farmland, the snow-capped mountains at the horizon, the quiet, but handsome captain who stood calmly nearby. He would talk to him later, until the sun spread its rays over the mountains, but for now, nothing mattered but this peaceful view. He unclasped his flute from the hooks beneath his cloak, and played a beautiful melody that fit so perfectly with the scenery, it was as if the world was playing it to him. Johannes remembered hearing that melody before, played with the same feeling and intensity, by his sister Rebekah.
Johannes blinked. What a headache! And his nose was bleeding. Now when did that happen? Oh yeah – Kreemon.
Kay kept an eye on Kreemon, making sure he didn't cause any more trouble. Although to give him credit, that had been a fine defense against the surprising attack by Johannes.
“He's awake,” Ardith said. By now at least a dozen men from the village were running towards the group, some carrying lamps. Many more villagers were being fetched from their houses by Tonnel Fleminton.
Johannes rubbed his hand at his nose, absently smearing some of the blood onto his hand. He pulled himself half-upright, looking up at Ardith. “Did somebody stop him?” Then, more quietly, Johannes breathed a word to himself, eyes unfocused for a moment. “Rebekah…”
Kreemon rebuckled his sword belt and squared his shoulders at the people coming from the village. Despite that they had been summoned to stop Kreemon, however, the first dozen villagers seemed only interested in Johannes. They stopped several feet away from him, a few staring as if they knew of some reason to stare, and the rest looking at him more absently, only wondering what their neighbors thought worth seeing.
The door of the inn burst open and the innkeeper stomped out, Yilly tugging at his shirt and trying to pull him back. When he saw Kreemon, Yilly gave up and darted inside. The innkeeper looked past the group, to the outermost regions of the growing crowd. “Maralorn!” he called. In response, Maralorn circled the edge of the crowd, avoiding looking at the newcomers, and stopped several yards from the innkeeper. He looked up, the lamplight bouncing strange flickering patterns off his face. “Why don't we clear this up before things get any worse?” the innkeeper asked.
In a resigned and hesitant way, Maralorn approached the party, the crowd parting for him. He looked intently at each member in turn. After a few minutes during which every villager was silent, he said, “They've all been sopped, even the dog. Except her.” By 'her,' as his pointing finger indicated, he meant Korisca.
Johannes rubbed at his nose, pointedly looking away from Kreemon. “What are you _talking_ about? Here, this madman wants to torch the village,” he gestured vaguely back towards Kreemon, “and you're talking about something utterly obscure.”
Korisca stared at Maralorn, completely puzzled. She didn't ever hear Johannes. Neither, it seemed, did the innkeeper. “Well?” the innkeeper asked Maralorn. “What else?”
“I can't,” Maralorn replied, taking a couple steps back.
“_I_ did,” he said, bringing a fist to his chest. “We need to know.”
Maralorn lowered his head and walked dejectedly towards Kreemon. Thinking better of it, he instead approached Johannes, closer and closer, until his feet were only inches from the scholar's.
Johannes blinked heavily, shaking his head, distracted by the ache in his head. He spoke again, voice raised slightly in curiosity and confusion. “What do you want?”
Maralorn didn't answer, but instead struggled to lower himself to his knees. The wagon-driver answered instead. “He's going to examine your face.”
Kay interrupted. “It's nothing. At worst a broken nose.”
“It won't hurt,” said the driver. “I wish these people wouldn't make such a big deal about an old man getting a better look at someone's face.”
Johannes sighed heavily, looking resigned. “I'm tired, and confused, and nobody is explaining anything. I don't mind Maralorn looking at me, but if somebody could explain what you meant by 'sopped', and explain what it is Maralorn is looking for, I'd be thankful.”
Maralorn leaned forward so far that Johannes could smell the fish he'd had for dinner.
A second vanished.
“Would you leave him alone already? He's an old man!” the wagon driver yelled.
Each person felt separately as if their vision had skipped a second of time. One moment the snow had been falling like _this_, and the next moment like _that_. The only real confirmation that something had been missed was that Maralorn was convulsing on the ground, a hundred shadows shaking with him, growing and shrinking as people moved their lamps closer or further away. The wagon-driver rushed to Maralorn and tried to hold him in place so he wouldn't hurt himself. Before Ardith could get to him to offer real aid, he stopped, and lay exhausted on the ground, covered in snow.
“Well?” the innkeeper asked, as if the convulsions were nothing to worry about.
“He's safe,” Maralorn managed to get out, “as far as _that_ goes. There's something else….”
The innkeeper relaxed. “And the rest of them?”
The wagon-driver answered this time. “No, that's it.”
“I think we should get Rielicca.”
A middle-aged man from the back of the crowd said, “do we have to involve her? It's late. She's sleeping.”
“No,” the wagon-driver said again. “This is over. If Maralorn says he's safe, he's safe.”
“But he also said –” began the innkeeper.
“Enough about what he said. All of you have made such a fuss that we owe these people an explanation, and this is the second time in ten years. You all know what can come of that.”
“Well they're not staying _here_. Not with him,” he gestured at Kreemon.
“You can lock up your inn. They'll stay with me.” The wagon-driver looked at Kreemon. “We have nowhere to lock you up, so you'll just have to promise not to shoot anyone, and I'll put away your weapons for the night. Either that, or you can sleep in the snow.” The reminder of the snow set a large portion of the crowd heading back home.
Johannes relaxed a little, half-bowing to the wagon-driver. “Thank you. If you lead, I'll follow.” He let out a long sigh, massaging his head. “It's been a long evening for me.”
Kreemon bared his teeth and with unusual patience replied, “First, explain what is going on here, this magic, this 'sopping'; I think we deserve some answers.”
“Go home!” the driver yelled, not at Kreemon, but at those elements of the crowd who were still standing around, waiting for something to happen. “Tonight's show is over!” The crowd hastened their dispersal. Maralorn was lifted by two strong men, who helped him home, his feet leaving two long tracks in the snow. Tonnel Fleminton had to be shooed away two or three times. Finally, the last person had left, and the innkeeper closed his door and barred it from the inside. “You're right,” the driver said. “You do deserve some answers.” The driver started to walk, so that anyone who wanted to hear him had to follow. Kay ran back to get the horses while the man continued speaking. “But I have a question first. When you were in Dunweig, did anything seem strange to you? Besides the murders, which were unusual enough in themselves.”
“Yes,” Kreemon said. “There were some strange occurrences. I will be happy to talk about them after you tell us what is going on here. My arrows went through the boy like he was a ghost and the innkeep had some sort of compulsion voice that made me do things against my will. Then you start talking about 'sopping' and the fellow goes into convulsions…. Some clarity would be very nice right now.”
Johannes paused for a moment, seeming to hesitate, then he sighed, shrugging. “There were some instances I saw of illogical behavior on the part of people in authority, difficult to explain. And then there were the ruins of the Orithoran temple in there. They seemed to tamper with memory.”
“So you know about that. It's not easy to leave Dunweig knowing about the ruins.” The group arrived at the man's house, and he opened the door for them. “Those who wish may enter. I'll answer your questions inside, where I can take off this heavy cloak.”
Kreemon and his canine companion entered and stepped to the side to allow others to enter while their eyes adjusted to lamplight. Johannes stepped in after Kreemon, nodding a bit at the driver as he entered, and Korisca slid in a step behind, her eyes on the ground. “Maralorn will take your horses now, if you want to stable them.” Kay looked to Ardith, who nodded, indicating with a glance that she'd fill Kay in later. Then Kay left with the horses, while Ardith, atypically, entered and took an inconspicuous place near the door. As much trouble as there had been, Ardith acknowledged that Kreemon's violence and Johannes' poor health were combining to get a greater amount of useful information than the group had gathered in days.
“I haven't introduced myself,” said the driver, while closing the door and hanging his lamp from a hook on the low ceiling. “My name is Lutont, and I operate a trade route between Dunweig and this place. I also make sure no one around here gets into too much trouble.
“I can see you're all anxious for some answers, so you'll have them. The basic answer is that Osander River Village is an unusual place. No one around here has the wherewithal to find out why, but for the past hundred years, maybe longer, people have been knowing things they couldn't and doing things they shouldn't. It might have something to do with Dunweig.
“Kreemon Fangly, Yilly isn't a ghost, but if you thought so, I can hardly be surprised that you shot at him, superstition being what it is. The boy just has a powerful sense of danger. He saw your arrows coming before you thought to shoot them, so he threw himself out of the way in time. Harran, the innkeeper, can't see danger coming, but he can make it go away. The two make a good team, which is probably one reason Harran adopted the boy when his parents died, even though he was deaf and dumb. I can understand if my answers don't put your mind at ease, but you wanted answers, so you got them.
“Oh sit down if you want to. I only have these three chairs, but the floor isn't too hard, and the fire keeps it warm enough.” Lutont sat on the floor himself, leaning against the wall.
Kreemon sat down on the floor, turned to the side so he had a view of the door and of Lutont.
Johannes sighed a little, stepping forward and settling into one of the chairs. His expression had grown more thoughtful as he listened to Lutont, and he finally spoke. “So, I'm guessing that 'sopped' means something to do with having been affected by the old temple in Dunweig. The only thing that fits, if all of us but her,” he gestured toward Korisca,” are 'sopped'.” Lutont nodded while Johannes continued. “But that's not the only thing Maralorn was looking for… what can _he_ see? What does he know?”
“Normally, he can only tell when a mind has been altered. Tonight, he saw more. When he said you were safe, he meant that your mind had been altered, but that it wasn't being controlled. The alteration happened once and was over.”
Johannes nodded. “We discovered the effect of the Orithoran temple upon memory the hard way.” He paused, considering.
Kreemon frowned, mulling over what he had heard. “So this is how you know our names and where we are from… You violate our minds. Do only locals exhibit these 'gifts,' or have people that have visited here gained these talents? Do you lose them if you leave here? Maybe it is something in the water or a local plant that you all eat.”
“I've never known a stranger to gain anything by staying here, but who can know for sure? Honestly, I've never considered that.”
“Why do you think it has to do with Dunweig? What is the connection between this village and Dunweig? No one there seemed to posses devil gifts.”
Lutont stood up and looked annoyed. “The people of Osander River Village can't help what they can do. Tonnel knows where you're from whether he wants to or not. Melenia knows your names because she knows everyone's name. No one has violated anyone's mind, and if you're looking for 'devil gifts,' you need go no further than Dunweig. Dunweig wiped your memories clean, not us.”
“The people of Dunweig didn't have any of these 'gifts', just the ruined temple. What other 'gifts' are there in this village?”
Johannes interrupted before Lutont could answer. “Don't say that we didn't see anybody with unnatural knowledge in Dunweig, Kreemon. You yourself stated that Moren knew the coming of his own death!”
Kreemon scoffed. “What a talent, to know when you are going to die. I see all sorts of applications for that one. No one in Dunweig showed such 'gifts,' only here in this village. So why are you so critical of Dunweig? What have they done to you?”
“To me? Nothing, as Maralorn affirms every time I return from there, but to you? To your friends? To Moren? That butcher was sopped so many times I'm surprised his head still held together. Did it ever occur to you that it might not be a pile of rocks that was stealing your memories?” Lutont took a breath and calmed his voice. “The people of this village don't want any harm to come to anyone. Neither does most of Dunweig, I imagine, but there is something in Dunweig which is not to be trusted, if it must hide its existence so thoroughly that even those who come near it never remember doing so. Maralorn said that Johannes Eltermann was safe. Why would he bother if there weren't others who were unsafe?”
Korisca raised her voice hesitantly. “If you don't mind, may I make a suggestion?” She frowned, bit her lip and continued, her eyes quickly shifting from Kreemon to Johannes and back again. “Maybe we should just… leave. If there _is_ something there, I don't want to know what it is. Particularly if it isn't 'safe.' Let Balban deal with it when he gets there.”
Johannes frowned. “We certainly aren't equipped to defend our minds against whatever was happening in Dunweig, where any _reasonable_ person will acknowledge we saw more evidence of evil than we saw here. There we saw forcible interference with minds, and unnatural murders. Here we simply see people who have knowledge beyond what they naturally could, but with no malice I have seen.” He sighed deeply, then flicked a meaningful glance to Ardith. “If we had some miraculous means of resisting such assaults on our minds, I would suggest returning to Dunweig to unravel the mystery we have seen there and ensure that justice is done, but, since I know of no means to gain such ability…”
“Nothing is beyond Andritha's power,” said Ardith from her corner, “but alas, she has not granted me this particular ability. I agree that we will not be able to solve the mystery of Dunweig until our minds are safe.”
Korisca looked at Ardith pleadingly then turned to the others. “I mean no disrespect to Andritha, but you all seem to be ignoring the most important thing here. The mystery of Dunweig is beside the point. What does it have to do with us? What is important is out lives, our safety and our gold. Why risk any of them needlessly? How does getting involved with Dunweig affect any of them positively? Let's get out of here as quickly as we can and never look back.”
Johannes frowned for a moment, then answered. “There are things to be learned from Dunweig, that's clear enough, and good clear evidence of current magic-use would be an absolute revolution to those involved in studying natural philosophy and moral philosophy both. Besides which – 'You may see no benefit in stopping he who would take your neighbor's right, but nonetheless he will have no more regard for that which is yours come the morrow.' I'm not comfortable leaving such an injustice unchallenged, so long as we have the power to challenge it.”
“Yet we have an errand to run,” Ardith quietly interjected, “and a promise to fulfill. I suggest we complete the journey we have undertaken, and then we can return to Dunweig. I certainly shall return, for I promised the Healer.” While Ardith spoke, Kay came in quietly and closed the door behind her.
“And I do not propose that we abandon our errand,” Johannes replied. “Once we have taken our rest for the night, we should continue on our way.”
Korisca said, “I like that idea.”
Kreemon looked around and said, “As long as they keep their devil gifts out of my mind and my free will.”
“Your mind is safe here,” said Lutont. “As is your will, as long as you can resist attacking little boys. Now I suggest you all get some rest, and finish discussing whatever you have to do tomorrow. I can't offer you beds,” he said, indicating with an outstretched hand the visible extent of his one-room shack, which clearly was very low on furniture, “but I have one straw mat which someone may use, and the rest of you should sleep near the fire. I suspect it will get pretty cold tonight.”
Kreemon lay down on his side near the fire with Bork, and went to sleep, his hand lying comfortably on the hilt of his sword. Lutont did not take Kreemon's weapons as he'd said he would.
That night, Ardith had another dream, shorter than the last.
“Ardith,” said the voice. “Come here.”
Ardith looked for the source of the voice, and saw nothing anywhere, not even darkness. “Is this truly a dream, or something else?” she mused. She stepped towards the voice, but had no feet. A sense of panic gripped her until she woke up.
Yay! Turn 50! Let's have a party! [note - turns were renumbered since this turn was written]
Ok. Back to the game.
There were a couple inconsistencies in this turn (where the horses went, and Lutont not taking Kree's weapons), so I filled in the answers.
Ardith and Kay have been under my control for this turn, except for the paragraph beginning “Yet we have an errand to run….” Karl's characters will remain under joint control of myself and Karl until he has enough free time to play the game regularly again.
The next turn will be 52. Turn 51 consists of an event that took place during the night, about which most of the characters know nothing. Those characters who were not involved should not read that turn.