Rounding the second corner of the cemetery, Sahl spotted a figure standing under a willow. The figure came out, hands held out in a sign of peace. “Hi, Sahl.” It was Korisca, the woman who had tried to steal the message for the baron weeks before, the woman who Sahl had saved from Ziedon's magic. She was cleaner than she'd been last time he'd seen her. “What are you thinking about?” she asked.
Sahl was cautious. He looked around to see if the meeting was observed. He knew that the fugitive Kreemon had intended to link up with Korsica, and he was wary of the man. Also, he thought that Korsica was being hunted by the Baron's men.
“Hello Korsica,” Sahl said, with a small smile. “I was thinking many things. I was thinking that it is good to see you safe. I was also thinking that you are looking good so you must have found somewhere safe to live. I was thinking where a woman on the run could be hiding out. I was definitely thinking if Kreemon Fangly was with you or close by, but mostly I was thinking, did you meet me by chance or were you looking for me?”
Korisca smiled nervously. “Funny place to meet by chance. No, I was looking for you. I wanted to catch up. I haven't seen you since you left Maelbourg.”
“I no longer work for Balban. I am living here at the inn 'Sir F's' training my horse and following my new cause, defeating the Zioth. Do you know that Kreemon, Ardith and Kay are wanted by the Baron for attacking the Second Clerk? Ardith is trying to prove herself innocent in the church court. Kreemon and Kay are still on the run. If Ardith is found innocent, then her testimony should clear Kay of any guilt, but Kreemon will not be so fortunate. It was his attack on the Second Clerk that started the fighting.”
“I heard about all that. I hope everyone makes it out…” Korisca looked up with a worried expression. “Sahl… is _he_ here?”
Korisca looked both ways, and then back at the graveyard, as if expecting something to leap out of it at any moment. Then she answered in a whisper, “Ziedon.”
“I have not seen him. Why do you fear him? Has he harmed you?”
“Don't you remember? He tried to kill me. You stepped in the way. And then what he did to those sheep….”
Sahl grinned. “I remember. I too was frightened at the time. But no longer. Compared to the Zioth, a mighty sheep slayer like Ziedon does not seem too bad. If he turns against me, I will destroy him. What are you doing now? As I said, I am interested in the Zioth and I plan to travel with Ardith and others to find out more about it. You are welcome to join us, we could use your skills, but our group will not allow thieving, dishonesty, or violence except in self defense. Kreemon is not welcome because he is abusive and violent.”
“He does seem different – from what I hear, I mean. He didn't used to have such a quick temper. But why just throw him out like that? Maybe he could still be useful too.”
“Why throw out who? Ziedon or Kreemon?”
Sahl rubbed his forehead in a tired fashion. “Why do I distrust Kreemon? I hardly know where to begin. First he is a wanted man for attacking the Second Clerk and killing several guards. If we join with him we will be aiding a killer and an outlaw. Second because there is one of our party called Johannes who would like to see Kreemon in jail for this crime. Third because of his lack of judgment in committing this crime. Fourth for his refusal to accept responsibility for his actions. Fifth for his acting without consulting the party in opening and damaging Balban's message scroll. Sixth because he lied to us and claimed he had not opened the scroll. Seventh because he was abusive to me and to the memory of my father when I tried to give him advice. I admit he is a fine swordsman who could greatly aid us, but that cannot make up for being a rash, irresponsible, lying, untrustworthy, violent, abusive, wanted, criminal. Am I being unfair?”
“No,” she said, looking disappointed. “No, I guess you're not. Thank you, Sahl. You've cleared some things up for me. And I'll never forget that you saved my life.” With that, she turned away.
“I am very sorry to say this about Kreemon. If I thought he could change I would move to help him. But he rejects advice. So will you be joining us then?”
Korisca stopped and turned around. “I don't know. I have to think about it…. I'll let you know.” She turned back and continued walking.
The next day, the first news came out of the court. Sahl was walking with Johannes, Mindolpha and Mineasia. Mindolpha had been doing better the past day or so, though she was sunk in a depression that made her difficult to talk to. When they came within sight of the temple, they saw that a huge crowd was gathered around it. A priest at the door tried to shoo them away, and as Sahl and the others got closer, they heard him yelling that there was no substance to the rumors. One did not have to wait long to find what the rumors were. People were talking about a miracle-worker, or a witch, who could produce fire and water out of nothing, and who had cured a high priest of an old wound. Stories flowed back and forth across the crowd, and by the time they'd made the third or fourth round, Ardith had bewitched the priests and was planning on destroying the temples and taking over the city, or she'd placed a permanent ward on the city that would forever protect it from plague.
The Winter Fair was coming close, and much of the town was absorbed in preparation. The fair affected innkeepers more than anyone else, since fairs and festivals provided the majority of their business, and the Winter Fair was the biggest. Competition was getting serious more than a week in advance. Every inn and tavern was cleaned from top to bottom, unless they were trying to attract a different sort of crowd, in which case dirt was added in strategic places, and spiders were encouraged to spin webs in corners.
The fiercest competition by far was between the two largest inns in town, the Andan Huerten Trader's Lodge, owned by the baron, and the First Knight Inn, owned by Sir Jerenil. Johannes, sitting in the common room of the First Knight, frequently heard Sir Jerenil talking about the baron's unfair practices, what with redirecting fair traffic past his inn, and having gatekeepers and guardsmen advertise for him, but at the same time, Sir Jerenil was paying certain guilds off _not_ to work for the baron. “I have to do something to stay afloat,” he said when asked. “Otherwise the baron's going to run this place to the ground. We won't let him get away with that, will we?” The barmaids laughed. They knew the game well.
There was a good side to this for current patrons of the inns. For the same money, they were getting the finest food and music in the barony, as chefs and musicians vied with each other for the most lucrative jobs of the season. As good as they were, though, regular patrons knew that few of them had much of a chance. Both Sir Jerenil and the baron already had their eyes on specific people, and they were fighting over the employees, not the other way around.
With the Winter Fair only a week away, the weather wasn't about to give anyone an easy time. On the first day of Saulturithagon, in the middle of the afternoon, it started to snow. The snow was light, so people went about their business, but an hour later, it suddenly picked up and became a full-blown blizzard. Windows were hastily boarded up, shops were closed, and teams of struggling horses dragged bags of sand to the shore to keep the icy water from flooding nearby homes, and to weigh down ships that had lost their anchors. One ship didn't make it ashore. Most of its crew was lost, but two members managed to row to the docks in a lifeboat. They wouldn't have made it had it not been for the shoreward wind that nearly capsized them over and over the entire way.
The next day, the blizzard continued, only tapering off after dark, and as soon as people were able to wade through the chest-deep snow, news began to spread. The mysterious healer or witch being questioned, held or exorcized in the temple (depending on who was telling the story) had caused the blizzard, people said. The exact connection between Ardith and the blizzard was vague, but the coincidence was too clear to ignore. Stories were told of great blasts that had destroyed all the windows in the temple (though no one thought to ask why this hadn't been noticed before the snow), or of intense flames that had melted holy artifacts, or of magical winds that wiped away the pentagram made to hold the witch at bay. The stories became more and more dramatic as the night wore on.
When the city woke up the next morning, there was already a major effort underway to clear all the snow before the fair. Temporary jobs were posted in every tavern at cried out at every corner. People were needed to shovel and haul out snow from every major thoroughfare in the town. The path leading from the east gate, past the Andan Huerten Trader's Lodge and to the main fair grounds was cleared long before any other, and somehow, it took the longest to clear the path to Sir Jerenil.
The town worked through the night, but by dawn, the snow was already beginning to melt. By mid-morning it was quite warm, and by noon it was swelteringly hot. Men who had been working in winter coats the day before now worked shirtless, nailing spikes into the mud for tents, and trying unsuccessfully to get poles with numbered flags on them to stand up straight. On that day, Ardith was released from the temple on condition that she return daily to serve with the high priests, and she immediately found that she had to go right back into hiding to stay away from the mobs.
When Ardith first got out, she wasn't sure whether to tell her friends what had happened. She still didn't understand it herself. Her strange dreams had become more frequent during the trial. A voice told her to come, but she could see no source. The next night she tried to follow the sound of the voice, but she couldn't move. Then she tried to reply, but the voice still insisted she approach. She tried remaining silent, but the voice would not leave her alone. She woke screaming each time and couldn't fathom why. In the final dream, she again replied, but this time, she did not stop speaking. For lack of anything to say, she told the voice all about her life, about her deepest secrets, about the things she most feared and most loved, and all the while, she kept raising her voice louder and louder, so the distant voice might think she was approaching. This worked. The voice smiled (it made sense in the dream but Ardith couldn't visualize it when she woke) and said, “seek the answers inside yourself.”
It was during that day's session when Ardith blew out a few of the temple's windows, along with the almost opaque slab of glass protecting an ancient tome. Even the bits of glass embedded in some of the priests' symbols cracked and fell out. Ardith hadn't even known a spell that would break glass. Hearing glass shatter all around her, she instinctively cast another spell she hadn't known, which negated all sound. The glass fell silently to the floor, and the priests' panicked shouts were nothing but the movement of lips. When the spell wore off, the priests and Ardith alike were in shock.
Ardith's magic behaved unpredictably for days. It took a many hours in meditation to learn to control it, but when she did, she found that her abilities had been greatly expanded. She still didn't fully understand her dreams, but they clearly had had a purpose.
Once she was released, Ardith spent most of her time in the various temples, repaying her dubious debt to the city. The priests were fascinated with her abilities, and even the high priests treated her with awe and reverence, and sometimes fear. She had proven to them that what they thought was a myth was reality, and they were a little shaken up by that. Some of them started to take out the old writings to find out what else might not be a myth. If magic was real, what about dragons and fey, and the evil wizards from the Battle of the Magics? What about the Zioth? Could things change so much in eighteen and a quarter years that everything they knew would be gone? Would all those whose belief in Andritha was questionable really be destroyed, leaving only the pure behind to inherit the earth?
Unlike the pragmatic Healer of Dunweig, the priests of Huerten weren't quite sure what to do with Ardith. They had her heal minor injuries, but other than that could assign her only the ordinary duties of a priest. She cared for relics, sat in on meetings (many of which were to discuss her, and included almost as much silence as her spell had produced) and trained acolytes. The priests did not dare ask her to teach her powers, and their restraint was visible.
Some thought all this crazy weather was a bad omen. A few of the priests told their congregants it was a warning not to partake in the less respectable events available at the fair.
By evening, the mud was finally dry enough that work could move along quickly, and the most progress yet was made during the morning of the fifth, at which time Kay's much less publicized trial began in the public courts. However, all progress was lost by noon, when a heavy rain began that didn't let up until the next morning.
Now, the fair was only a day away, merchants were already arriving from out of town, and nothing whatsoever was set up. Businesses and merchant companies were competing for labor, and the value of the untrained worker rose so high that some professionals were closing their shops to take temporary positions. Traffic was conveniently routed past the baron's inn, but Sir Jerenil hired criers to advertise the First Knight at the gates. He made sure people talked about his lowered prices, the high quality of his food, the comfort of his beds, and the friendly atmosphere and wonderful music of his tavern. The baron did the same, of course. Sahl and Johannes, who had taken turns as shovellers, haulers and organizers, tried their hand at advertising, something at which Johannes turned out to have reasonable skill.
Finally, the day of the fair arrived. Kay's trial was cut short, and she was let off with a hefty fine of a hundred fifty attles, which fortunately, she was able to pay. Mineasia was thrilled when Johannes offered to take her, but Mindolpha, for obvious reasons, preferred to stay inside, buried in blankets and with her hands pressing hard on her ears.
Word of Ardith's magic seemed to have brought more people to the fair than had ever come before. Usually, three or four representatives came from each village to pick up whatever unusual supplies were needed, participate in competitions whose prize was a seasonal reduction in taxes, or just enjoy the scenery of the city after a good harvest. This time, it seemed like each village just picked up and left, setting up camp outside the city. There were thousands of tents along the road and in nearby fields. The baron and landed knights were no doubt making a killing renting out plots on their land. Rumors had spread far about the priestess who could heal wounds with a touch, create fire and water from nothing, cause great blizzards and bring flaming hail from the heavens, control minds, kill with a touch and then raise the dead by breathing life into their mouths.
At the gates, guardsmen sang the praises of the Lodge, while private hires always just happened to be within earshot when they marveled over the wonders of the First Knight. All along the route that had been redirected to the Lodge, people offered samples of the food in the First Knight, bragged about the good prices and fine music in both inns, and talked about the chance of meeting the baron, who was going to stay at the Lodge for the duration of the fair. The second-rate musicians who hadn't earned prime stage time at a good inn played along the main road, enticing people one way or another. In the end, business was split roughly equally between the two inns, as it was almost every year.
Miraculously, the fair was set up in time. People were exhausted but happy, because they'd been paid more in the past couple days than they usually made in three months. This year, they could really enjoy the fair instead of watching it as spectators. More residents breakfasted at the taverns than ever had before.
The Fair was about to begin.
This is the last of three turns being sent out at the same time. The action will be continued in a separate post to the players. I wrote most of this turn myself, so experience awards are lower than usual.
So Ardith and Kay are now free. Yay!
Johannes was an NPC for this turn.
Your Bill, Sir
- Sahlman: -120ag (food+lodging+stabling), +1ag (shoveling), +20ag(labor), +20ag (advertising), +80ag (teaching knights). Total: +1ag
- Johannes: -350ag (food+lodging+stabling at expensive inn), +5dy (shoveling), +210at (advertising). Total: -139.5ag
- Kay: -1500ag (fine)
I figured out wages like this (in aglars):
- Shoveling: (STR+CON+d20)/10
- Labor: 5x(STR+CON+d20-10)