A Quiet Winter

Herger, Marri, Michael, Rurik and Tibbo stood on the dock on the Eastside of Altdorf and watched as their horses were unloaded from the riverboat they had taken from Nuln. It was early in the day and each of the companions considered his or her options. Herger's family awaited him a half day's ride north and west in the village of Bundesmarkt, and he would set off thither shortly. The others had not set their plans.

Altdorf! The Imperial Capital! Built on the mudflats where the Reik and Talabec join. Home to the Imperial Colleges of Wizardry and the greatest of all Sigmarite Cathedrals, a city ripe with promise.

Tibbiddo breathed out with satisfaction as he gazed over the city ahead. "An enterprising young halfling with the right business ventures could become quite wealthy in a city like this!" he exclaimed for all to hear.

The company decided to ride out to see Herger's family before going their seperate ways and so they set off along the road with Traveller nipping at their horses heels. It felt a little odd not to have Maewyn's hawk circling above their heads.

They rode into Bundesmarkt, drawing no little attention. They realized they were quite a warlike looking little band after their adventures. Word raced ahead of them like wildfire and as they reached the farm of Herger's family, the clan had already started to spill out onto the road. His mother Anne, his brother Skeld and Skeld's wife Marte, his other brother Klaus, his wife Bertha and eight children of varying ages all watched as the company rode close. The youngest girl, three years old by now, Herger realized, ran to Bertha and hid behind her skirt.

Herger looked upon his family with an overwhelming sense of relief and love. His eyes grew wet as he drew nearer and thought of where his journey had taken him and how far away from home he had traveled. He kicked his heels and urged his horse out ahead of the others, closing the distance between him and his family.

He reined in his horse and dismounted in a hurry. He realised that he probably looked much rougher and more built than he had before leaving, but he was briefly thankful that his armour and weapons were stowed away on his mount. As he dropped to the ground, he turned and sought out his wife's embrace, crying out, "Bertha! My sweet lady!"

He held her for a long time and Klaus clapped him on the shoulder while Skeld ruffled his hair. The Blichtrest clan all became very emotional and there was much crying and hugging and laughing. All his children greeted him happily, but for the littlest girl who seemed to be afraid. Eventually, though, she remembered the kind smile and loving warmth of her father and, though he looked much different, she realised that this was indeed the man she knew. Upon her realisation, she threw herself upon Herger, all the while crying happily, "Daddy is home!"

After the greetings settled down, Herger introduced his friends and companions; they were all welcome, of course. The horses were led inside the wooden walls of the farming compound and a small celebratory feast was in the making, during which no one could stop Marri from poking her way into the cooking chores.

Within a few days, the various members of the company had begun to put their various plans in operation and get their lives ordered.

Marri was the first to go, returning to Altdorf to stay with her brothers Sage and Pepper. Her intention was to seek licensing as a physician then set up her own practice. She was delighted to find that while she had been gone, her old friend Jakk, the cook, had been wooed and married by Pepper, the quieter and younger of the brothers.

Tibbo and Rurik were next, having spent a few days with their heads together, they finally announced that would be moving into the city as well. Neither one mentioned what they planned to do by way of employment, but promised to send word to Marri at Gold & Sons when they had found lodgings.

That left Herger and Michael. Michael, quiet as always, showed no sign of interest in living in the city, and seemed to be enjoying the quiet country life. He arranged to pay a small stipend to Herger's mother for room and board, and soon was helping out with some chores. After making a trip to the blacksmith a few villages over to get some of the tools repaired, he began spending more and more time at the blacksmith's asking questions and sometimes trying his hand at small tasks.

With the guests gone, the family got to know each other again. In the time he had been gone, Herger's family had developed a mode of operation that didn't take him into account and he had to find his place again.

After a few weeks with his family, they recieved another jolt to their routine. Herger gathered all the extended family together and told them that he would be moving his family back into the City as well. He had, it seemed, decided to seek admittance as an initiate in the cult of Sigmar.

Within a few days they were gone, leaving only Michael who occupied himself with the smithing and other chores around the farm.

By the middle of Brauzeit, most of those who had returned to the city had settled in somewhat. Marri had spoken to the Honorable Guild of Physicians and with the recommendation and help of her brothers, who were well respected in the area, had been allowed to pay a fee and take a test. She had scored moderately well but was assigned to serve an abbreviated apprenticeship with Herr Doktor Hans Zumfahre. With luck, she could expect to receive her own license before the winter solstice.

Herger had petitioned the Holy Church of Sigmar and, as he told his friends, had received a sign from Sigmar himself that his calling was true. His examiners had agreed that the sign was a true one, and he had been admitted as an initiate. He had moved his family into small lodgings owned by the Church and was now working at the church and continuing his studies.

Tibbo and Rurik had bought a small house near the University, and, after a few weeks where they did little but wander about and get the lay of the land, they had begun to pursue their seperate activities. Or, at least, Tibbo did. Rurik was still enjoying his vacation although he couldn't help himself from making contacts with various dealers that in the old days might have proved useful to him in converting objects found on his excavations into ready cash.

Tibbo, after a few weeks, began to show signs of having an income, and when pressed would admit only to friends who liked his company or persons who had purchased from him items of value. From this, Rurik deduced that Tibbo was practicing confidence games on those who, doubtless, deserved nothing better.

In the third week of Brauzeit, Marri began her apprenticeship. She got up early, washed well, combed her hair carefully, and put on new clothes and boots. She was glad that she hadn't accepted Tibbi's invitation to go out for drinks with him the night before. She was very fond of her fellow Halfling, but she'd wanted to be at her best this morning. After all it wasn't every day that you met the person who was going to have such a profound affect on your future. "Now you've no reason to be nervous, you silly girl!" she scolded herself as she walked along to Herr Dr. Zumfahre's.

Zumfahre's practice was near the barracks and his clientele included many of the higher ranking officers and their familys. This wasn't too far from the district where Gold & Sons was located, but Marri did face a brisk walk everyday.

"You're well trained! No better teachers than the elves after all! And goodness knows you've gotten in a bit of practice! Nothing to worry about at all!" She lost track of the number of times she repeated this to herself before she found herself standing in front of the door to the doctor's home. She eyed the door knocker somewhat warily, as it was in the shape of a snarling dragon's head. Knowing she could procrastinate no longer without being late, which would not do at all on the first day of her apprenticeship, she took a deep breath, stretched up on her toes, lifted the heavy door knocker and let it fall.

A harried looking student opened the door, looking right over her head until she coughed. Then he looked down. "Oh!" he exclaimed. "You must be Marri Gold. Come in, come in." He hurried her in, "This way. The doctor is showing us his technique to remove shrapnel. There was accident with one of the cannon this morning."

Marri followed her fellow student as quickly as she could, while trying to look around at the same time. "An accident?" Marri asked, curious as always, words tumbling out in her excitement. "Shrapnel, eh! I've little experience with shrapnel wounds! How fascinating! Oh," she continued, "how rude of me! You know my name! What is yours?"

"Oh, my name is Carlo!" Now Marri could detect a very faint Tilean accent, he was probably a second generation immigrant, or third. Carlo continued, "None of us have much experience with this sort of thing. It's lucky we'll have the opportunity. I mean, lucky for us, not that poor man."

"Oh, indeed not!" Marri quickly agreed. "How many students are there?" she continued. "How long have you been here? Does the doctor have a lot of patients? This is an extensive building! And... well... what is the doctor like?" Marri didn't even draw breathe, until she had to scramble around a large plant in the hallway they were hurrying through.

Her questions were answered when they came into the surgery. There were four students, counting Carlo and herself, watching the rotund doctor probing wounds and removing shrapnel. Rather, she and Carlo were watching, the other two were holding the man down as he writhed in pain. The doctor spoke soothingly as he poked in the wound, then made a sound of triumph as he pulled out a bit of metal. "Aha, and I think we are done here. Take him away and give him a drink, red wine to replenish the blood." He turned to Marri, "And you must be the new one. You will be assisting me for a few weeks, yes? When I am clean, we will talk and you will tell me what you know."

Marri, who had been watching Dr. Zumfahre's work with intense interest, turned bright red when he turned her way. She gave him one of her surprisingly graceful curtseys, and managed to reply "Yes, Sir" while silently repeating her elven mantra once again -- "You're well trained! No better teachers than the elves after all! You're well trained! No better teachers than the elves after all!" She also managed to give him a shy smile. But she was feeling a bit uncertain. "This is a long way from Lin-Adelle!" she thought.

In a few moments the freshly washed Doctor joined her in his consulting room. "So, you are trained with the elves and with a Dr.Schimmelschnieder in Dunkelberg, yes?"

Marri nodded.

"Good," he began to fire questions at her rapidly, trying to ascertain her level of knowledge. After a rough half-hour of interrogation he leaned back. "Well, you have a solid groundwork. Enough to be of help here, I think. My patients are mostly of two kinds, those suffering trauma like that man," he waved toward the surgery, "and those who have nothing wrong with them physically but want a little attention. Wives of officers, mostly. The latter pay the bills, but the former is where the work is done. You will assist me with both types of cases. You can also help with the preperation of herbal medicines," he stopped and looked pointedly at her, "and make very good notes about what you do, it is a subject which interests me but of which I have not had time to make a dedicated study."

Relaxing a little now the worse seemed over, Marri nodded and began eagerly "I've quite a few notes already, Sir. I traveled with an elf for a bit, and she pointed a number of plants out to me, and of course the elven healers specialize in herbal medicines! So, of course I took notes on all of that! I even brought some samples back with me in fact from ... um... some of the places I have been recently! I have to admit I have been a bit disappointed that some of the most lovely looking and smelling plants, that I have just been certain would make the most wonderful teas have tasted a bit less pleasant than I would have hoped, but..."

Suddenly realizing she had probably said a bit too much, Marri concluded with, "I would love to help out with the medicines, and the patients, of course, Sir. When may I begin?"

The Doktor opened a book on his desk and looked at a list. "Now. In fifteen minutes the wife of a captain will be here. There's nothing wrong with her, of course, but we'll give her a little attention, give her some valerian tea and send her on her way. As for what she *thinks* is wrong with her ..."

The two doctors bent closer together as they began to discuss the case.

"Tibbs..." Rurik stated distractedly from his vantage point by the window; peering into the street as a small cluster of university students pass by. His eyes never wandering far from a particularly buoyant brunette. "...you're right. I think I'm going to like it here."

Plans to kickstart his new career had been put on hold for the moment. Marri would be another several months before she was ready to go into private practice, and the others are all fairly distracted with their individual endeavors. The house wasn't really suited for his professional needs, either. He nearly backed out of the deal, but Tibbs got a good price, and the Wastelander simply couldn't tell the enterprising young halfling 'no'. As it turned out, Rurik was liking this particular part of town. Tibbiddo said it best when he single-mindedly described it as 'full of opportunity'. Besides, his financial situation was better now that it had ever been. Now was the perfect time to acclimatize himself to a lifestyle of 'means'.

"In fact, it is time for me to pursue an education!" he announced with a wink towards his roommate as the brunette and friends turned a corner and were lost from view.

"An education?!" Tibbiddo exclaimed while lighting his pipe. A serious of grunts and puffs followed convincing him that he was not to be understood until he withdrew the pipe. After doing so he continued, "tis good to hear you say such a thing. I was thinking the other day, that we could run the Hungate swindle in this town. It would take some studying on your part mind you....that and 43 live chickens, a platinum watch fob, and a blue-dyed ox." Rurik's expression told Tibbiddo that somewhere a point was missed.

"Or, we could spend this evening getting to know our neighbors," he said with a grin.

"Chickens?..." was all Rurik managed to say behind a look crossed equally of amusement and exasperation. Moving from his window perch, he tossed a shoe at the preposterous halfling. "Let's get ready." Obviously referring to the social option.

The stout little man avoided the flying footwear with surprising grace and smoothed his curly top. "Just remember, if I give you the sign; you're cramping my style."

"I've got a sign for you..." Rurik shot back good-naturedly from his room amongst the thuds, thunks, and clatters of his rummaging. "We'll just see who's the cramp!" He emerged from his room with his ever present 'I know something you don't' grin turned up just a notch. He was wearing his 'lucky' white lord's shirt, which was actually clean - at least everywhere that wasn't covered by his burnt orange and burgandy accented, Marienberg-style wool & black leather vest. Sadly, his shirt and vest were all he still had of his old garb. Too much travel and quick escapes to keep a full wardrobe. Still, with his better pair of travel breeches and his well worn yet recently brushed and waxed boots, he cut a handsome though decidedly rogueish image. Somewhere between 'Can Take Care of Himself' and 'Needs a Woman's Touch'.

Tibbiddo puffed on his pipe squinting at Rurik. He turned a bit to the side and gave a glance, then puffed some more, turning his head to the right and then the left appearing deep in thought. A swirl of smoke climbed from his mouth and soon dissipated above his head. "If I turn my head as so," he cocked it to the left, "and stand here," a quarter turn, "I'd say you were nearly passable...for a lovestarved milkmaid." Tibbiddo broke into a grin and darted out the door to avoid more flying footwear.

As the months wore on, the companions began to be fully occupied with their new pursuits. Herger's new duties and training kept him busy, as did Marri's work with the Herr Doktor. Rurik and Tibbo somehow seemed busy a lot of the time although neither had any visible means of support. Even so, they all managed to get together for a meal every few weeks, with Michael riding in from the country to join them.

Tibbiddo speared a potato and turned to Herger. "Congratulations on your acceptance to Sigmar's service. What have you learned thus far?" he asked in seeming sincerity.

Unaware of the thin veneer of Tibbi's sincerity, Marri learned forward. "Yes, old friend," she encouraged, genuinely interested and unable to image that everyone else might not be, "do tell us about your training!"

Herger sat at the table surrounded by his friends. He was clothed in his warmest clerical vestments. On a leather cord about his neck hung the symbol of Sigmar. He was clean shaven and appeared much more pleasant and happier than he ever had during their adventure. He began to speak at length about his religious experience and the new things that he had learned. He said, "I have been learning to tap into my inner moral strength and beseech Sigmar for his aid. "

Eventually, he ran out of things to say about it. It was not surprising since he had never been one to talk overly much. He was, as usual, very curious to know how everyone else was doing. He had already spoken to Michael about how his family was doing in Bundesmarkt.

One of the recurring topics of conversation at these dinners was Likar's keep and their vague plans to return.

Herger was neutral on the matter of going back to Likar's Keep. They would pass once again near the fateful spot he was scarred by the blade of that Black Rider and he suspected that the old wound would act up again the nearer they got. However, he had no doubt that there was a task of some sort that the higher-ups could assign to him if he asked which would take him in that direction.

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Jeff Berry, nexus@panix.com
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