He turned down the street and entered the few rooms that his large family rented, kissed his wife and children and sat down to rest for a few moments before the evening meal. His wife, Bertha, could tell that the job search had gone poorly and didn't ask him to elaborate.
They had just settled down when a knock came on the door. Bertha rose to answer it a moment later in swept a familiar figure, although one not seen in many years, Uncle Theobald.
Not actually an uncle, but an old family friend, Theobald had been a frequent guest while Herger was growing up, but his visits had been fewer and farther between as Herger grew older. He last visit had been just before Herger had moved to Altdorf, just under eight years ago.
Theobald entered, then paused as if taken aback by the brood of children. "All yours?" he commented wryly. Introductions were made to Herger's wife and children, and Theobald offered a gift of a several strings of sausages and a few bottles of wine. Bertha hurried off to enhance the evening meal as Theobald and Herger caught up. "Your mother told me where to find you," said Theobald. "I'm sorry I couldn't make it earlier." Herger filled Theobald in on his life the last few years, while Theobald deftly avoided saying anything about his own.
Then it was dinner and after dinner, putting the children to bed. Finally, though, everyone was gone and Theobald and Herger were left alone. "How are things here, Herger?" Theobald's eyes roved over the room. "They seem, hmm, not too well."
Herger tried to offer up a bright smile, but the stress of his failed job search kept a cloud over the feigned emotion. He gave a soft sigh and said, "I am only trying to make due with what I have, Uncle. Times are hard for most everyone these days."
"It pains me to see your family fallen to this. After all your, hmm, great-great-great-great-great grandfather did to fight Chaos all those years ago," said Theobald.
Herger looked up in surprise at the unexpected proclamation and said, "I know not of such a history for the Blichtrest line, but it does gladden me to hear that they did oppose such evil in the world. How do you know of this distant member of my family and his deeds from seven generations ago? How have the Blichtrests fallen? And.. where have you been these past eight years?"
"Many questions, many questions, where to begin, hm?" said Theobald. He stood and poured a drink for Herger and himself. "Where have I been for eight years? Where haven't I been? I've been East of the World's Edge Mountains, I've been North into Kislev and South into the Badlands. Most recently, I've been to the Elven Forest Keep of Lin-Adelle across the Blackfire Pass.
"And that, my young friend, is where you must go! No, do not interrupt. Listen, first.
"Two hundred years ago, the Empire was fragmented and Chaos was waxing in the world. Magnus the Pious forged the Empire anew and threw back Chaos. All this you know. But Magnus was not the only one to fight. South of the Black Mountains, Ryo-Aldenar rose to lead the elves in battle. Many joined him, including your ancestor Hermann Blichen, whose descendants would name themselves Blichtrest as time passed.
"The battle in the South was a desperate one. The forces of Chaos wished to open a rift in space to allow their foul master, Barsnarg, the Black Death God, to come into the world. Ryo-Aldenar and the elves of Lin-Adelle fought against this, and with the aid of their goddess they managed to shut the door against Barsnarg, and bar it by planting the tree of Lor-Anoran. So long as the tree lives, the way is barred to the Dark One.
"The tree lives yet, but it is dying. The elves have long known this day would come and have watched the descendants of those who fought against the evil long ago, since they have had signs that those who fought once would be called on to fight again. The tree must be watered to live, it must be watered from the legendary Fountain of Lemnar. The elves believe you are the one to fetch the water from the Fountain and return with it to Lin-Adelle."
Theobald stood and stretched, "What do you think of that, my young friend?"
"Meaning no disrespect, Uncle, I think that you may be one egg shy of a dozen if you know what I mean," said Herger. "I mean.. it all sounds a bit far-fetched. With Elves and a magic tree holding back a plague of darkness. It's like something out of an old tale. Are you putting me on?"
"No Herger, I'm not putting you on. Hmm, it does sound like something out of an old tale, because it is. Your ancestor fought to stave off Chaos, and now, lad, it is your turn. Or at least," Theobald turned back to the man, "it may be your turn. Others fought as well, and it may be that one of them will be able to succeed. But, Herger, my belief is that you are the best chance we have to succeed."
Herger looked steadily at the old man, a slighty stupefied expression was on his face and he asked quietly, "Why me?"
"Hmm, a good question," said Theobald. "Frankly, I don't know. Your bloodline is good, but that alone is not enough. I could say that it is destiny, and that would be true enough - the stars point to you, as do all other divinatory signs that we can follow. Beyond that, though, my boy, there is something else. I've watched you grow up, I've known you your whole life. You have a spark that I have not seen in your family for," he paused for an almost indetectable moment, "a long time. A spark of greatness, perhaps, but certainly something which deserves better than to be a servant to a thieving judge." He leaned in close, "You have the chance which is offered to only a few, to sieze your fate, to do battle against the forces which seek to overwhelm and shatter this land and all that is right and good within it, and maybe, just maybe, to win that battle."
"I've always thought that there should be something more to my life than servantry. Something that Fate has not yet dealt to me in my life. But how could I set out on such a quest? I have a family. A wife and children that I dearly love," said Herger.
"Hmm, yes. But it is for them you would go," said Theobald. "If this quest fails, then I strongly suspect that the Incursions of Chaos will begin anew and in greater force, and the Empire itself may very well fall. Oh, perhaps not immediately. You and your wife might well die in your beds. Your children might, too. But your children's children ...
"However, your family could not stay here. I would think that you should move them back to Bundesmarkt, to your mother, and to what is left of the lands your anscestor won. Once, all of Bundesmarkt was your family's, you know."
Herger appeared to maintain a constant expression of surprise throughout the entire conversation. He replied, "That is also something I did not know. I wonder why father never mentioned such a history. Unless he also was not aware of such things. You have learned all of this from the .. Elves?"
"From them and from other sources," said Theobald.
"I've always thought that there should be something more to my life than servantry. Something that Fate has not yet dealt to me in my life. But how could I set out on such a quest? I have a family. A wife and children that I dearly love," said Herger.
He sat for a silent moment in contemplation and looked into the flickering flames of the slowly waning fire. He finally said, "It seems full of uncertainty. Where are these places I would have to go? I suppose you have a map of some sort. Would anyone would be traveling with me, or would I have to do this on my own?"
"First you would go to Lin-Adelle, across the Blackfire Pass. There we would take council and plan the next step," said Theobald. "I have a map, it is at your mother's house. As for companions, hmm. Have you any companions who would accompany you?"
Herger rubbed his chin thoughtfully (an old habit) and replied, "No one that I can think of offhand.. Er, wait a moment. There is a friend of mine who was also in service to my lord Ammerung. A scribe, by the name of Marri; one of the Halfling folk."
"There is another, who is also waiting near your mother's home."
"Who is this other companion of which you speak?" asked Herger.
"An associate of mine, who has travelled with me for some while," said Theobald. "So, you shall come then? Good. I'm glad to hear it, my boy. Contact your friend and pack your goods. I shall return in, hmm, three days with a cart for your family and belongings. We will go first to Bundesmarkt and on from there."
Herger nodded and said, "I will do as you bid me, Uncle, though I do not fully understand all that your tale entails. I will have to have a long talk with my wife and children. Three days is a goodly time and I shall be ready to receive you, then. For now, won't you take some rest here in our home before you depart?"
"A night's rest would be good, thank you," Theobald said.
There was a little more desultory conversation then the lights were put out and the men retired for the night.
My dear boy, I have gone to Bundesmarkt but will return in three days with the cart. TheobaldHerger had a lengthy discussion with his wife after he prepared for the day and promised he would be back in time for dinner. He grabbed his cloak as he left the house in case of a chill and made his way to Marri's home.
Marri had been spending the last few days in the backroom of the Gold & Sons Bakery, which Herger knew was run by her family.
Upon arriving, he knocked on the back door and awaited an answer.
Marri opened the door and peered out, an expression between fear and suspicion on her small face.
"Oh, its you Herger! I thought part of that mob might have found me or," she added wryly, "that you might be one of my brothers! Come in! Come in!"
Barely pausing to let him greet her, she pulled him into the room, closing and locking the door. She gestured him to the room's single chair, bounced onto the mattress and continued animatedly.
"Not quite the same as the master's house eh?" she glanced around the small room. "Still when one has barely escaped with one's life! Did you know I hid with Jakk, the cook you know, under the laundry kettle there by the kitchen door? Lucky we halflings are so small!" Laughing and patting her belly, she continued, "Well in some ways anyway! It *was* a bit of a squeeze! The food here is good in any case! My brothers are almost as good cooks as my father! And Jakk is here as well! You know I think she's a bit sweet on one of my brothers ..."
Marri paused to draw breath.
Herger smiled throughout the barrage of speech and when the opportunity presented itself he spoke, "Jakk is here with you? That is, indeed, good news and it gladdens me to hear that she is all right. How about some brunch while we talk and I can weigh the merits of your brothers cooking for myself?"
Continuing her typical non-stop chatter, Marri jumped up. "Oh my goodness me! Yes! Yes *of course*! By blessed Esmeralda's plump butt, where *are* my manners? Continuing with a grin, "Yes Jakk is here! And more than fine she is I would be more than willing to wager! She seems quite fond of my brother Pepper!"
Marri always looked as though she was moving a little faster than most, although it was probably only that she was shorter than most, more acutely interested in everything than most, and generally had more comments to go along with that interest than most
"At least I haven't had to worry about food" she continued taking a cloth wrapped loaf of bread from one of the shelves that covered two walls of the room.
"I was *so* very pleased to find my scribe's pouch untouched after that mob destroyed the master's house! But not much else of mine survived! Whyever do you think they destroyed my clothes? And my pretty little writing desk? They could at least have stolen it! They *did* steal the bag with the coins I'd been saving! And I'd been doing so well too! I'd gotten several independent commissions!"
Not pausing to wait for a reply, she began to rummage in a cabinet, emerging a few moments later with a crock of soft butter and another cloth wrapped bundle, though this one proved to contain part of a round of cheese.
After depositing these on the chest which stood at the end of her bed, she said with a twinkle in her eye, "Now comes the adventurous part!" With a finger to her lips to indicate the need for silence, she unlocked and opened the inner door of the small room, and peered cautiously into the next room. With a smile at her friend she slipped through the door and was back a few moments later with a large bowl of wonderful smelling stew; and two spoons stuck in the pocket of her skirt. After depositing the bowl on the chest, she returned to the door and relocked it.
"Ahhh! Much better! Drag your chair over! Now", she continued with satisfaction, handing Herger a spoon, " not the smooth white bread and fine meats we got that were left over from the master's table! Still the bread is fresh and wonderfully made, by my oldest brother Sage I think, and the cheese sharp! And Jakk made the stew with some lovely vegetables! We'll have to share the same bowl I'm afraid! No extra hands to bring another! And I didn't want to make another trip! I have to be a bit careful though in going into the other parts of the bakery you know!" She paused to fill her mouth with stew.
"My brothers are becoming more and more insistent that I live with them, and work in the bakery! They simply can't understand why I would choose to stay in this storage room - alone!" Around a bit of bread, she continued. "Don't misunderstand me! I love all my family dearly! But, being older brothers, they do tend to be a bit...well, overprotective! I've rather learned to value my independence these last few years! But as I have almost no money at the moment, and not much hope of getting any short of sitting in the streets reading for pennies again..."
With that thought, Marri's face became serious, the flood of words tapered off, and she appeared to concentrate completely on cutting a bit of the cheese to eat.
Herger enjoyed his own half of the meal while listening to Marri chatter. His large bites showed that he thought the food was excellent, and he had one of those large bites in his mouth when she finally fell silent and seemed pensive. He chewed purposefully, knowing that it was his chance to steer the conversation. After he swallowed he said, "There is no need to start making talk like that, Marri. Noone is going to be working in the streets for pennies. Least of all, you, with your all-around talents. You know I can read and write, myself, but when we compare the two yours is as clear as looking straight across the river and mine is like trying to find a shilling on the bottom. Some chemist, or university scholar.. or maybe even one of those fancy lords up at the Commons, mark me, will be needing someone like you."
He smiled and bit off some more bread before he continued, "I seem to recall the many times recently you've mentioned wanting to return to the Moot. I'll be leaving on a journey ... well, a quest actually, though that sounds a bit in jest. I'll be leaving in another two or three days for Bundesmarkt to see me mum before setting off. There's important things to do and I'm told that I am the one that has to do them. I don't know that I've bought into the idea yet, but if it's the truth of things then I can't rightly say 'no.' I'd like to have you along, if you're willing, and we'll be heading in the direction of the Moot eventually, if things go as they should."
He scooped up some stew and gauged his ability to part Marri from her thoughts of working the streets.
Marri visibly brightened at the compliment to her calligraphery, of which she was, justifiably, proud. But it was Herger's comment about traveling to the Moot that truly caught her attention.
"Home" she mumbled under her breath, sounding wistful and not at all like her usual bouncy self. Walking over to the cabinet from which the butter and cheese had come, she pulled out two large apples. Handing one to Herger, she said quietly. "Its been almost five years since I've been home or seen most of my family. I left barely a month after my sister Rosemary's wedding." Continuing with a smile: "She was a lovely bride, you know? And married her childhood sweetheart. Such a wonderful day." More quietly. "But we'd always shared a room, slept in the same big bed in fact. Felt as if I was rattling about abit, after she was gone, there all alone."
Brightening and sounding a bit more like herself, she continued. "And if two loving brothers can be a bit overwhelming in their concern, oh my goodness, imagine what five times that many were like? Oh yes" she said noting the look of surprise on Herger's face when he realized how many brothers she must have "we are an unusually large family for halfings: eleven brothers in fact and ..."
Thump! Thump! Herger and Marri both jumped before realizing the noise was someone knocking on the door. Thump! Thump!
"I wonder who that can be?" Marri breathed as she hurried to unlock the door. Opening it a crack, and peering out, she was surprised to see Sage, looking a bit uncomfortable, holding the leash of a compact looking, black and white dog. Backing away from the door, she performed the introductions. "Ummm... please... come in Sage.This is my friend Herger. He also worked for the Magistrate before... well, before." Although at 4 feet even, Sage towered over his sister by 7 inches, he was still a great deal shorter than the human who stood before him. This didn't seem to intimate Sage at all as he examined Heger carefully before firmly extending his hand.
"Sorry about, well, the you know," said Sage. "Uh, Marri. You seemed kind of down the last week or so, and Pepper and I thought you might like a friend. So, well, here!" He thrust the leash at her.
Marri squealed with delight, causing the little dog, who had been sitting studying her with intelligent brown eyes, to jump up and give one sharp bark before sitting down again. Marri, clearly torn between hugging her brother and hugging the dog, decided on her brother, grabbed him and held on tightly for a few moments. "Thank you so much!" she said squatting down beside the little dog. "I'm going to call you Traveller!" Engrossed in petting her new friend, Marri missed the pained look on her brother's face when he heard the name she had chosen. Marri jumped up and hugged him again. "She is the most wonderful present Sage! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! And tell Pepper a thousand 'thank you's' as well!"
Looking a bit uncomfortable with her enthusiasm, Sage mumbled something about the baking he still had to do, and after shaking Herger's hand again, left the room.
"Isn't she beautiful?" Marri said, taking the little dog in her lap.
After petting the dog enthusiatically for a few minutes, she turned to stare at Herger intently, continuing, in that disconcerting way she had of skipping around in a conversation, "What do you mean 'quest'? And whyever would you want me to come?"
Herger pushed his bowl away and chewed on a bite of the apple he had been given. Between bites, he said, "For one, you were talking so much about returning to the Moot. As it is not too safe to be traveling the roads I was considering how it would help both of us to have a companion along." He had taken another bite after speaking and munched thoughtfully on it, swallowed, and continued, "Secondly, I knew that you are just as out of work as I am and something good just may come of this venture. Lastly, and not the least in importance, you are my friend and I don't think I can do this alone."
Marri's hand stilled on Traveller's back, and two pairs of eyes regarded Herger intently. With a small smile, Marri said softly "Thank you Herger. It *is* nice to have a friend, especially in times like these." Traveller, as if understanding this comment, gave a sharp bark. With a laugh, Marri said to the small dog "Two friends are of course better than one!" With a snort, as if glad Marri understood this, Traveller pushed her head under Marri's hand. There were a few moments of companiable silence as Herger and Marri munched their apples and Marri scratched behind Traveller's ears.
"However," she continued to Herger "you still haven't told me anything about this 'quest'! "
Herger continued to chat over the remnant of his apple as he revealed the details of his mission to her. He began with the visit from his Uncle Theo, who actually is not an uncle, but a family friend, "So Uncle Theo is revealing this family information that I never knew I had about my ancestors and their struggles against the powers of ... I hesitate to utter the word. Chaos. My first task is to reach the Elven Forest Keep of Lin-Adelle across the Blackfire Pass. You see, two hundred years ago a black death god attempted to open a rift and come into this world. An Elf hero named Ryo-Aldenar lead the forces of Good and with the a id of their goddess, bless her, they managed to shut the rift and bar it by plan ting the tree of Lor-Anoran. So long as the tree lives the rift will remain clos ed."
Herger paused and rose from his seat. He glanced around the room and asked, "Have you anything to drink, Marri?"
Startling the dog, Marri jumped up and exclaimed, "By blessed Esmeralda's round thighs! How I could I have forgotten?" After she peered out the back door to make certain no one was in back of the building, she rushed out, and called over her shoulder "There's a bit of ale out here!" In only a few moments, she hurried back into the room and carefully locked the door: a wet bottle clutched in her hand. She pulled out the cork and poured a generous amount into a large mug which she handed to Herger. Retaining the bottle for herself, Marri again settled herself on the bed beside a slightly disgruntled Traveller and returned her full attention to Herger.
Having settled back down, Herger continued his revelation, "The Tree, you see, yet lives. However, it is dying. The Elves have known that this day would com e and have been watching the descendants of those who fought against that dark god so long ago. I am one of those descendants. The Tree must be watered to live, and the water must come from the legendary Fountain of Lemnar. It is believed that I am the one to acquire this water and return with it to Lin-Adelle. I do not know my true connection to this Tree nor why the Elves cannot fetch the water without my help ... but, if this is all true, how could I refuse?"
"How indeed?" Marri mused to herself. Stroking the dog with one hand, and drink ing her ale with the other, Marri stared at her friend, and considered his tale of a quest for several long moments. "Well certainly I have never thought of my self as the quest sort, and I'm not so awfully certain I think Herger is either," she thought with a smile. "On the other hand, I certainly wouldn't mind leaving Altdorf," she thought wryly, what with mobs and brothers, and I *would* dearly love to see the rest of my family again, especially my sister's new babies! I dare say they are toddling about under their own steam now!" With another intent look at her friend, she thought "I don't think I quite trust *quests* but I would certainly hate to see him travel alone to face... whatever!" With a surge of determination and a small shrug, she concluded, "Well, I won't then!"
And with that last thought, and another swallow of ale, she said to her friend " When do we start?" Adding with a smile, "I hope we shan't need much money for the journey, for I've little left as you can see!"
Two days later, Herger and Marri met at Herger's rooms. Herger had packed up his family and their few goods, and Marri had gathered her belongings as well. Marri had brought a loaf of fresh bread and the assembled group chomped on it while they waited.
A few hours after dawn, a cart turned down the alley and pulled to a stop. Theobald leapt down. "Good morning, good morning," he called in obvious high spirits. "Ready to go, hmm? Good." After being introduced to Marri, he began to supervise the loading of the cart with the goods and children.
Soon, they were all loaded and Theobald tossed the reins to Herger, "You drive, hmm? It'll take most of the day to get to Bundesmarkt." Theobald kept up a running stream of chatter with the children and Bertha, making sure they were comfortable and the goods were secure.
It wasn't until the cart had rolled across the Nordenbrucke that Herger and Marri had anytime to ask him any questions.
Sitting with a contented air on the driver's bench, Herger glanced back with a loving smile at his wife and kids. His gaze turned to Uncle Theo and he asked, "Uncle.. I'll need to know more about this quest before I am to fulfil the duty of it. For instance, how am I supposed to find the Fountain? Should I travel to Lin-Adelle first thing? Is the Blackfire Pass safe this time of year, or should I expect to meet the deadly goblinfolk on the way? I have heard many tales of them from Skeld, my eldest brother, as you know, but have never seen any myself, of course."
"Hmm, yes," Theobald mused. "Lin-Adelle first, I think, though how you want to get there is up to you. The Blackfire Pass should be allright, although one can never tell. Travel carefully."
Uncharacteristically quiet, Marri took a couple of apples from her pack and cut them up and divided them among the children. Though it didn't appear she was listening, she was following the conversation closely. She pulled the youngest girl into her lap before saying "About the goblins sir?"
"Well, you didn't answer when Herger asked if we might meet them. And well... um...." here Marri looks a bit embarrased "not that I still believe them of course, but Father did tell us stories when we were children... about how the huge, powerful and very wicked goblins would come and get us and eat us up if were weren't good little halflings.... So I just wondered... I mean... well... what are they like *really* sir?"
"Goblins are cretures of evil, they run in packs and delight in cruelty. It is fortunate for us that they tend to be stupid as well. You may well run into such creatures, far from human habitation or deep in the woods. If that is the worst that you face, then count yourselves lucky. But," he said looking at the children, "no more of this now, hmm?"
Marri nods her understanding at Theobald and says nothing more. Eventually, she, the dog beside her and the child in her lap fall asleep.
Around noon, the cart passed through the village of Braunwurt, extracting curious looks from the tiny children playing in front of the huts, and turned left, following the trail toward Bundesmarkt.
Out of Bundesmarkt, they almost immediately began to pass through cultivated land and farmsteads. After a few more hours, they arrived in Bundesmarkt, a village of perhaps eighty souls. The cart rolled down the muddy track that was the only road and through the village.
The Blichtrest farm was on the the northwestern edge of Bundesmarkt, and was home to Herger's mother Anne, his older brothers Skeld and Klaus, Skeld's wife, Marte, and his three children. His younger brother, Willem, had married a girl from Geldrecht and lived there now, making his living as a fisherman.
The farm itself was looking a little overgrown in most places, and Skeld's face as he came to meet them was set in a scowl. He tried to turn it into a smile as he saw Herger and his brood, and managed to at least put on a neutral expression. "Welcome, brother," he said.
The homecoming was bittersweet. Although his family was glad to see him, the addition of extra mouths to feed was not completely welcome. Still, Skeld's children were happy to have new playmates and this infected the grownups. The cartload of supplies that Theobald had brought also went some way toward easing the strain.
After the cart was unloaded, Theobald tapped Herger on the shoulder and drew he and Marri aside. "Let Bertha finish unpacking," he said. "Come with me, I told Skeld we'd be back in an hour or two."
"Maewyn!" called Theobald. "We've arrived."
The recorder music stopped and a wood-elf popped out of the tent. "Herger Blichtrest and Marri Gold, may I present, Maewyn Earuthin Salamandril. And vice versa, of course."
"My goodness what a lot of names!" thought Marri as she stepped forward and offered a small curtsy to the very tall figure before her. "A pleasure to meet you," she said aloud.
Herger stopped in shock as the Elf popped from the tent and looked at Theobald for an instant. He turned back to Maewyn and offered her a polite bow. He said, "Maewyn Sa.. Salamandril," stuttering over the foreign name, "It is a pleasure to meet you. Only once before have I ever seen one of your kindred and that was from afar. Forgive me if I am not familiar with your customs."
After introductions were made, Theobald settled the group down around a flat rock and put a map out on it. "We're here," he said indicating Altdorf. "Lin-Adelle is here," he indicated a point across the Blackfire pass, at the foot of the mountains just south of the Black Water. "How you travel is up to you, of course. But let me know your plans. I have some errands to run, but will meet up with you later.
"It seems to me that your best plan would be to follow the Reik River to Nuln and then either head East through the Moot along the Aver, or go all the way south along the Upper Reik. Most of that distance you could travel on the river."
"Of course, you must do what seems wise to you, and if you wish to travel afoot or cross country, then so be it."
Marri studied the map intently for a few minutes. Then addressed herself to Theobald.
"Sir," she began with a worried frown between her eyes "I very much want to see my family in the Moot, especially as its been sometime, and I am certain this journey will not be without risk. And if something ... well.... final were to happen to me, I should certainly like the comfort of having spent a bit of time at home. But" and here she glanced worridly at the map again "if we take the Aver to my home, it would seem we will have to backtrack to continue on the river or else travel overland to reach the Blackfire Pass. I don't know the urgency of what we do... but I suspect most quests are more the "hurry along as fast as you can" sort of thing, then the "stroll along whenever you feel like it" sort. What is your best judgement sir?" Marri drew a deep breath before continuing. "We do not *have* to travel to the Moot."
"There will be some overland travel to the pass, regardless. One could travel through the Moot and all the way up the Aver to the source of the Blue Reach, which would put you about the same distance, overland, from the pass as if you travelled up the Reik to Hochslaben."
A look of intense relief crossed Marri's face. "Oh thank you sir!"
Still thinking of her own family, Marri turned to Herger. "I do wonder though, Herger... would you like to stay here for abit, to visit with your family and to try to help out on the farm? Perhaps I could even travel on to the Moot, and meet up with you later."
Herger smiled at Marri and said, "Very kind of you to think of that on my behalf, however, I have spoken at length with Bertha and my little ones. They know that I must set out to do this thing, and as Uncle Theo says, haste is required." He glanced at Maewyn as he added, "I do not think that any of us want this tree to die and have the gateway open. Then I think that none of us would be spending any time with any of our families. As for my mother and brother here ... I'm sure that Uncle Theo has told them all that they need to know about the task that lies before us."
"We will take the time to visit the Moot. I have already given my word to go there on the way," he concluded.
Looking relieved, Marri smiled at Herger, then said to Theobald "Then I guess the only question is how soon we leave, and... however shall I earn the money for passage on a boat?"
"Yes, hmm," said Theobald. "You should be able to find passage to Nuln for five or six crowns each on a cargo boat. Here is a purse with twenty-five crowns, which should leave you a little to spare. I'll meet you in Nuln for the second leg of the journey. Hmm, it should take you about three weeks to make the trip. I would think."
Herger smiled at Theo as he accepted the purse and said, "Thank you, Uncle. This is already aid unlooked for. I was worried myself about how we would afford the trip to Nuln. Not to mention support ourselves in the wild. That is, of course, unless the lady Maewyn here knows how to hunt?" He looked at the well-tended campsite and added, "And that would seem to be the case."
Maewyn quickly demurred, saying that hunting was not one of her skills. She did say that she could often forage for food in the wild, but it tended more towards nuts, berries and wild vegetables. Although the idea of river travel among humans was a little disconcerting, she seemed willing enough to try.
"Thank you sir for the compliment on the camp site I am pleased you appreciate it," Maewyn glanced at Theo with a smile. "So how did everything work out. I am sorry but my mind has been elsewhere and I do not remember if you spoke to me." Looking around at the group the elf managed to look embarrassed, "I am sorry if I appeared to be not here lately but I have a lot on my mind and this is really quite disconcerting. Please accept my apologies if I have not responded to your question." "We all have much on our mind, Maewyn," said Theobald. "All is well, maybe better than we had any right to expect. Herger will attempt the quest, and Marri will travel with him. With you, there is three - a good number. A good number, indeed."
"As you know, the number three is a very holy number among those of the old faith I will be honored to bring the number up to three for our little band," Maewyn replied.
Looking at Theobald she realized that if she made three he would not be going with them she was not sure if he had already told her that but with a shrug she prepared for the evening and an early start in the morning.
Though she said nothing, not being at all sure how she felt about the tall quiet elf, Marri privately thought that having someone along who could hunt would be very useful. Rabbit stew could be quite lovely! Which reminded her "Herger, I think Bertha, and your sister-in-law are making a big pot of stew for dinner! I'd like to get back, and bake some bread! It can be my guest-gift to them! And we can take some along with us as well! I think we should get up early tomorrow and head back to Altdorf and see if we can find a barge heading south! By Blessed Esmeralda's rotund wrists! Sooner started, sooner success!" After delivering herself of this thought, and clearly already engrossed in determining which of the many recipes for bread she should use, she dropped another small curtsey to the elf, a deeper one to Theobald and with a wave at Herger began bustling back along the way they had come.
Theobald watched her go somewhat bemusedly. "She'll help keep your spirits up, no doubt." He spoke a few words quickly to Maewyn in what Herger assumed was Elvish. He turned back to Herger, "Maewyn will stay here tonight and join you tomorrow morning."
After a filling, and remarkably relaxed supper, Marri spent some time watching the children play with Traveller. Then she presented everyone in Herger's family with his or her name written on a small piece of her precious parchment. She was quite gratified by their delighted reactions, although in most cases she suspected they could not read the fine lettering. She carefully re-packed her writing supplies, her personal belongings, and loaded the coarse burlap sack Herger's sister-in-law had been given her with small loaves of fragrant bread. She settled down with Traveller at her feet, and although she had expected a sleepless night, she fell asleep at once and did not stir until the first light of day drifted across her face.
Herger had enjoyed the fare himself and spent a fair amount of time socialising with his family before finally turning in for the night.