Sommerzeit was drawing to a close, and then would come Sonnstill, the summer solstice, one of the four days most sacred to the Druids. They would wait until a few days after the solstice to allow Maewyn to spend the day in the wilderness in the solitary communion her religion required.
So it was, that on Festag the fourth day of Vorgeheim, the party again left the elves to return to Nuln.
The companions rode back through Erikspall and the attempted the Blackfire Pass. Luck was with them and the reached the crest without incident. The next day, as they descended, Tibbido and Michael perked up almost simeultaneously and halted the party. With the sound of their own horses stopped, the others heard it, too. A clash of weapons, chittering in what sounded like a foul greenskin tongue and then a single deep booming voice shouting what sounded like ... Norscan?
The sounds were coming from ahead, not far, around a twist in the pass.
Rurik looked quizzically over to his companions before dismounting. There are others in the group who no doubt move quieter than he, but damn it!... soundlessly removing his pick, he puts a finger to his lips and gestures towards the noise with his head in a sort of 'c'mon! Let's go!' to anyone willing. Waiting just a moment to see if anyone followed, Rurik slinked off toward the scuffle.
Reluctantly, Tibbiddo followed along in a parallel fashion as quietly as he could. It was important for him to get an accurate assessment should he have to run, and as long as Rurik was willing to be a target the small halfling would proceed at a distance.
Michael dismounted, cast a look around and behind the party, and followed the others off towards the sounds of fun.
Maewy not exactly willing but knowing that the more of the group that went the better their chances of getting out of the situation alive nods. Holding her staff in one hand the elf nods and moves as quietly as she can towards the sound of conflict. Keeping a distance from the other but still within their sight just in case one of the group is discovered hoping that she would be unseen to better actack from cover.
Maewyn thinks, "They are better armed, more numerous and more skill then me so I have to use evey advantage I can so if that mean stabbing the little bugger in the back so be it. Honorable combat is fine in book but in the real world sometimes it will just get you killed."
Marri dismounts as well, to be better able to hold everyone's horses and watches the others leave, sparring a sharp word to Traveller to make certain the little dog stays put. Silently muttering invocations for Bright Esmeralda's aid & mercy, she waits.
The party, save Marri, crept around the corner. A large Norscan, a mercenary warrior by his equipment, was being backed up against a large rock by five goblins. Three more of the greenskins lay dead, and there was blood on the Norscan's sword. There was blood, too, on his left leg. The goblins circled warily looking for the moment to strike.
The enemy of my enemy is... well, hell... who cares? Fortune favors the bold, and having a Norscan Mercenary in your debt is a valuable thing. Launching himself from his cover at full speed, Rurik closed on the closest goblin; saving his battle cry for when he starts his swing.
Tibbiddo's mouth dropped at the brave (although he classified it as foolhardy) charge exhibited by Rurik. Pulling a dagger from underneath his cloak the halfling skirted about the perimeter hoping to get close enough let loose with the blade into a greenskin's inviting back.
Herger joined Rurik in the charge to rescue the Norscan, and a few steps behind them came Michael. Maewyn tossed Swiftwind into the air and nocked an arrow as the hawk swirled. Maewyn's shot went high as she was careful to avoid her charging comrades.
Michael slammed into one goblin, knocking him sideways, and setting him up for a sideways chop with his sword that smashed through the arm and into the chest, slaying the greenskin.
Rurik drove his pick toward his target's chest, leaving a bloody welt and staggering the creature.
Herger delivered a pair of crushing blows with his mace, dropping one greensking to the ground, then backhanded another who staggered back a step. Maewyn launched an arrow at that one, but missed.
With a roar, the Norscan took advantage of the confusion and charged towatd the remaining three goblins. In seconds it was over as the greenskins, now outnumbered and struck from both sides went down before sword, mace and pick.
The Norscan surveyed the damage. "Thank you, my friends," he said in accented Reikspeil. "Your arrival was lucky for me. Not so lucky for them." He pointed at the dead goblins and laughed, before walking over to a horse which lay dead at one edge of the pass. "Damn greenies. She was a good horse." He shrugged philosophically. "Will you eat with me?" He began to pull the packs and supplies off the horse. "A feast! The more we eat, the less I must carry." He straightened up and became suddenly formal, "Thorvald Svenson is in your debt."
Tibbiddo cast an inquisitive eye toward the slain greenskins to make a quick assessment of anything of worth. Without pause, he hurredly ran to the forefront. "Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle, of the Greenhill Stoutwaddles. We are grateful to have been able to lend you assistance."
Marri had crept forward, once the sound of battle ceased, and upon hearing the Norscan speak of food, comes forward with the horses just as Tibbi finishes speaking.
Making a small curtsey, she says "I am Marri Gold. And these are my traveling companions..." at which point she politely introduces everyone, while looking at Tibbi in a way that she hopes conveys her low opinion of his manners. "I am afraid I have not been of much assistance to you yet. I am quite a poor fighter. But I am an apprentice healer" looking at the blood on his leg, "and quite an expert cook" looking at the pile of supplies and the dead horse "and I suspect I may be able to be of some help to you now. However, I suggest moving a bit away from here" looking at the dead greenskins "if we are to enjoy our meal."
Herger offered to help with butchering the horse and passed some light conversation with the northlander as they did the deed. In passing, he revealed that they were on their way to Nuln and offered the company of him and his fellow travelers if he were going the same direction.
Svenson said that he been intending to cross the pass in search of work, but was not inclined to do so on foot. Nuln seemed to him as a good destination as any for the nonce, and companions were welcome in these harsh lands.
After a meal of horse steak and a night's rest, the companions continued down the pass into the Empire.
Overland travel seemed the best option, much to Maewyn's delight. It seemed as though the best route would be along the ruins of the Old Dwarf Road toward Averheim. The road was not much more than a track in many places, but at least it gave them a path through the highlands down to the Aver river. They would travel more slowly with Svenson, since he was afoot, but he proved a hardy companion and able to keep a good pace.
Maewyn was happy that the best option was a land route she had enough of water travel. Also a slow pace would allow her to gather herbs, roots and such while they traveld she even give Svenson her horse so she could do this.
Marri easily resumed her normal role of cook. She delighted in making little seem much in creating meals from whatever was available. She did make some things the others thought a bit ...strange, as she insisted that some herbs really *ought* to taste a bit better than they actually did. In the main though, the food she created was delicious and filling, and since she wasn't facing anything undead at the moment, her normally chatty, inquisitive personality reasserted itself. She was again interested in everything and everyone, and probably made a bit of a pest of herself with her nearly endless questions and chatter. What saved her was her essential good nature, and the fact that when she was not cooking or eating she and Traveller spent a good deal of the time following Maewyn trying to pick up herb lore. Luckily this meant she occassionally had to stop talking!
It was the third day of the party's travel across the plateau on the Old Dwarf Road and Maewyn was out in front looking for herbs with Marri, when something caught her eye. In the middle distance, the road dipped down into a hollow before rising again, and a few clumps of thick scrub grew along the tops of both sides of the dip. Near one of those clumps, Maewyn had seen a flicker of furtive movement; movement which suggested an intelligent agent, one which was concealing itself in the cover along the top of the arroyo.
Maewyn halted moving into a shadow of a tree off the road Maewyn glancing back at the party raising her hand to tell them to halt as she did. Then moving as quietly as she can she tries to advance close enough to see what was making the distrubance. Realeasing Swiftwind if she felt the bird could get close enough to see with out getting in range of any arrows or other weapns. Sort of telling the bird to fly to a tree near the movement and check it out.
Maewyn moved smoothly to one side and then along the top of the arroyo while the rest of the party drew to a halt until she got a clearer view of the brush. From her new vantage, it looked like an ambush was being laid for anyone coming down the road. She saw at least half a dozen bandits, but there several other hiding places she couldn't see clearly, so there could be a great many more.
Maewyn moved back to the group and reported her finding that there was an ambush up ahead of about 6 bandits but there could be more since she could not since all the area where they could be hiding.
"Well so what do you wish to do shall we turn the tables on them since we know where they are? Or shall we try to aviod them by going through the forest and around them?"
"Did you get the impression that they know we are here?" asked Tibbiddo craning his neck to look down the trail.
"Well, the nice thing about ambushes are that the people setting them are usually pretty confident....This can be their downfall if we choose to use it as such," Michael offers.
Herger reined in his horse and rested both hands on his pommel. He gazed down the trail as if he could see the bandits himself and said, "We've wasted enough time as it is. Going around the bandits would slow us down more than is acceptable. However, if some of us could be wounded in a melee." He turned his head to look back the way they had traveled.
"I wonder how long it will be before the dark riders are once again after us. Maybe a couple of us should continue along the path and the rest attempt to flank these bandits. If we could get them in a disadvantageous position we may be able to parley for our passage."
Tibbiddo listened intently. Parley sounded good, although most bandits he knew (and he knew a few!) were not the negotiating type unless there was a greater profit from doing it -- often their very lives did qualify though. "Their type would only be persuaded by superior numbers or superior position, without knowing the land it would be hard to gain either on them. They have probably used this pass many times and know it better than any others," he whispered.
Marri glanced at Tibbi. As certain as she was that her new traveling companion was much given to hyperbole and exaggeration, she suspected this was something he understood very well. Lowering her own voice she said "I believe I have to agree with Tibbi .. and with Herger. We need to go forward and to do that, we need to think of some way to ambush the ambushers, and quickly! Maewyn, is there anything we can roll down on them, or something we can set fire to... or anything that will confuse or frighten them long enough for us to get pass?" Marri knew the warriors in the band relished a good fight. For herself she simply wanted to get through this and hopefully live to tell the tale over a tankard of good wine. And if upsetting these bandits, and moving quickly - one need not say running - away from this worked, she was all for it! On the other hand, if they did need to fight: "Or perhaps" she ventured after a short pause "Traveller and I might continue alone down the road whi! le the rest of you come at them from behind? Without offense to Traveller, we are the least of the fighters, so mayhap our best use is as... well... bait?"
Tibbiddo stood astounded at what Marri was suggesting and could not believe his own words when he spoke, "I should be the bait." As all eyes looked to the less-than-brave halfling, he continued. "I know about these ambushes. A lone halfling like myself can cause them to drop their guard. They won't expect a fight."
Maewyn thought back trying to remember if there was any area that could be used to launch a counter ambush. Coming to stand near the brave Mari Maewyn laand a hand on the arm of her friend, "That is very brave of you to offer I would rather we did not have to do that but I also agree with you that Tibbi has the right of it I am sure they are very professional. What ever we do we must do it fast they must be wonder were we are if we take to long to walk down the road.
The bandits that Maewyn had seen were arrayed on both sides of the little arroyo the road dipped into. Their plan was clearly to wait for a victim to go down into the dip then they would be both surrounded and facing an uphill fight to escape - unless they tried to flee down the arroyo. In either case, they would be vulnerable to attack from above.
There was enough cover that some of the party might be able to sneak into a position to cover the road on this side of arroyo, if they could draw the bandits out of their cover. Dismounted, some of the party might also be able to either slip down the arroyo, or even cross it and circle around.
Tibbiddo listened to the description of the landscape and posed his idea. "I could venture down the road and distract them while you ready yourselves for a surprise attack. We should act quickly though so as to not raise their suspicion." Despite the danger, Tibbiddo's eyes lit up at the prospect of a deception.
Maewyn nods, "Yes something like that."
Rurik listened quietly with his trademark jovial 'I know something you don't' grin as the group discussed the ambush. Before the planning got too far along, he proffered a suggestion. "An ambush only works because of surprise and position. Once that is lost, there is nothing left for them to do. Bandits aren't like regulars, and are unlikely to engage in a straight-up ground skirmish - especially against skilled opponents." He looked at the group pointedly. "They are businessmen to certain degree. If we make a show of force and offer payment for passage, we may be able to save ourselves both time and blood."
"If we laid in arrow fire from where we are, that might bring them out onto the road and as least let us see what we're facing? It also has the advantage of being a pre-emptive strike, and of the possible attack options is least dangerous to our team." Michael offers.
Herger rubbed his chin out of habit while he considered the situation. He listened to the others speak before saying, "If they are on both sides of the trail, then I would suggest Rurik and myself on one side, with Maewyn, Michael and Thorvald on the other. We should only consider ambushing the ones on this lip of the arroyo since it will save time. The bandits will probably not attack until Marri and Tibbido get to the bottom of the dip."
He looked askance at Marri, "Are you sure you want to be the one to draw them out? Our stout companion here can probably do just as well on his own. If you must go I suggest that you both make for cover off the trail as soon as we begin our own attack."
To the others he says, "Please consider giving the men quarter if they ask for it. Our purpose here is to get past them as quickly as possible with little or no bloodshed. If they will not yield, of course.." He left the rest unspoken. "Are you with me Rurik?"
With a gameful grin, Rurik nodded "Agreed."
The party split up, with Rurik and Herger creeping along one side, and Maewyn, Michael and Thorvald on the other. After giving them a few moments to get in position, Tibbido and Marri set off down the road, singing merrily and somewhat drunkenly as they went. They presented a comical picture, two halfings on ponies leading another four horses down a ruined road in the middle of nowhere.
The pair maintained their pose as they passed nervously by the clump of scrub that made up the first ambush point. They began the descent into the arroyo, then reined in sharply as they saw figures appear in front and behind them. "Stand and deliver," said one of the ones in front.
There were more than they had thought, perhaps an even dozen, four with bows and the rest with a motley selection of hand-weapons.
"Stand and deliver," the chief repeated. "And if aint worth our while, you're both dead."
That was enough for Tibbo and Marri who went scrambling for cover down the arroyo, leaping from their ponies. As they did, their comrades who had crept close enough to hear every word, opened fire. Maewyn with her elf bow placed an arrow directly through the chest of one of the bowmen who dropped without a sound, Herger wounded his man as did Thorvald.
"By Ulric's Bloody Axe," shouted one, and the others spit out similar oaths, as they broke and ran.
"Stand and fight," shouted the leader, trying to rally his men, but it was no use. "I'll cut you down myself, you swine!" He swung at one man and the two struggled for a moment while the rest of the band fled up the far side of the arroyo as the ambushers fired a few more shots generally toward the bandits, but mindful of Herger's admonition, not directly at them.
"Idiots," said the leader as he dropped the bandit he had just murdered. He turned and started down the arroyo on the side of the road covered by Michale, Thorvald and Maewyn, which fortunately was the opposite way than that taken by Marri and Tibbo.
Herger came up short as the bandits broke and scattered. He gave a cursory search of the bushes for any more hidden foes, then said to Rurik, "A far cry simpler than the other enemies we have faced together. Come, friend, let's gather our companions and our horses." He stepped through the undergrowth back towards the road and began making his way down into the arroyo to check on Marri.
"Indeed!" Rurik stated cheerfully. "And look!" he exclaimed in exaggerated emphasis as he tugged at his comparatively clean leather jack "I don't even have to wash chunks of flesh off my clothing!"
He followed Herger with a calm casualness - only his eyes flitting from place to place betrayed his continuing apprehension.
Marri, upon hearing the fighting stop, had stuck her head up and then had started moving back toward the road when she saw Herger moving toward her.
"Everyone all right?" she asked once she was back on the road.
Michael moved down the arroyo to cut off the bandit chief and discovered what he was heading for - a few horses were tethered out of the line of sight of the ambush. He turned as the bandit came around a bend in the arroyo.
"Anothe one?" said the bandit. "Out of my way!" Sword in hand he charged.
Michael calmed awaited the villians's charge, and then struck at his weapon attempting to disarm his foe. The bandit proved wilier enough to avoid Michael's attempt, and struck back, but Michael turned the blow easily with his shield. The two traded blows for a moment, with Michael receiving a nasty cut on his sword arm, and giving a scratch to the bandit's left leg, before the bandit overextended on a cut at Michael's head and Michael buried his cutlass in the man's side dropping him to the ground.
Maewyn and Thorvald joined him a moment later, near the bandit's horses.
Maewyn glanced at the dead bandit and then over at Michael, "Expertly done."
Her inflection was flat giving neither approval or dissapproval on what Michael had just accomplished. Moving over to the horses Maewyn began to check them over seeing their state of health, age and over well being.
There were four, mostly poor animals suited to their use as bandit-haulers. One was ridable, the other three were in much worse shape and were clearly being used as pack animals; one of the three was nearly dead from age and overwork.
Their packs contained little enough: some food, about thirty crowns, mostly in shillings and pence, and some camping equipment. Banditry in these lands was not paying too well, it seemed.
Marri had followed along a little behind Maewyn & Thorvald, and now walked up to Michael to inquire "May I look at your arm? It looks to be a bit of nasty cut."
When Michael presented his wounded arm, Marri clucked over it and began bustling around with her medical bag, wrapping a poultice and bandage over his injury.
As Marri fusses over Michael's wounds Herger kneels by the bandit captain to see if he is still alive.
Michael sighs. "It wasn't my intention to kill him, you know. Justice was my motivation. But he wouldn't yield, and was competent with his weapon...A shame."
Herger nods by way of response and reaches out to close the man's eyes. He looks towards the bandit mounts and says, "Is there a cloak or bedroll on one of those.. something to cover his face with?" While waiting for a response his voice gains a far-off timbre as he muses, "I'm out to save the world for all of those not fallen in with the powers of darkness. Even poor bastards such as this." His motions indicate that he was talking about the bandit as he rises and takes whatever cover was offered him, tossing over the body.
"I'm fairly sure that those who waylay travellers on the road for their money and endanger their lives aren't working for the light, you know." Michael shakes his head. "If it had been merely the two decoys, and they'd resisted, do you think he'd have spared them?"
Herger said, "A distinction well worth noting is that 'not working for the light' does not mean that you work for the dark. This man was evil, yes, but I do not see his corpse getting back to its feet and attempting to kill us all in the name of some dark god. Neither am I faulting you for having to kill him, it was your decision. He was obviously trying to mount his horse to ride off and you could have just let him escape, but you chose to stop him. That was your choice and his blood is on your hands." He indicated Michael's wounded arm, "Sigmar has balanced the scale and taken whatever due he felt necessary. I am no judge of man to decide if what you did was right or wrong. Death saddens me. That is all."
Rurik tried not to make a face at the invocation of deity, and mostly succeeded. "What's done is done," he spoke with careful neutrality. "This man will no more waylay travelers, nor delay our voyage any longer."
Stepping away from the carnage, he noticed Maewyn collecting the brigand horses and shrugged. "I suppose we should take what we need and be on our way." With that, he set about helping make whatever preparations needed to once again continue their quest.
Tibbiddo approached, still brushing off the soil which had smeared his cloak when he dove for cover, and asked joyfully "Bravo! what's the haul? They were disorganized but probably still had a few coin."
Marri had been about to speak when Tibbi bustled up. Frowning a bit at him, she says "Thank you all for making certain the 'bait' lived. 'Tis much appreciated." After a sharp bark from Traveller, she continues "And Traveller thanks you as well!" Then to Michael "I'm sure they would not have spared us. You are correct about that. I am sorry I do not seem to have applied the correct herbs to your wound. It is not looking much better. But at least it is cleaned and bandaged."
Standing up, she looked around her. "Do you think it might be safe to make camp near here? Michael could use a bit of rest. It *is* a nasty wound. And I'm sure we could all use a nice meal, and a little ale! Nothing like a full stomach to take your mind off whatever has just tried to kill you! And perhaps Maewyn and I could look about for some additional herbs! I might yet find something that will help that wound!"
Rurik smiled broadly at Marri's suggestion of food and placed his hand on his stomach. "Marri, as much as I'm looking forward to your next meal, we should probably put some distance between ourselves and this ambush point." As an aside, he shugs and looks at the sky "Also, we're on a tight deadli... err... schedule. I'm sure Micheal is fit for travel - at least for a few more hours."
Tibbiddo patted his substantial belly and concurred, "Yes, I could use a good meal. 'Tis hard work thwarting common highwaymen." The halfling waddled over to Michael and looked at his wound with a crinkled nose, "That looks painful, you should be more careful." With that synopsis Tibbiddo Stoutwaddle of the Greenhill Stoutwaddles stretched with a groan of relief.
Maewyn still by the horses begin to lighten the load of the oldest looking horse petting the noses of all of them. Checking to see if there was anything she could do to make their existance a little easier on them.
She redistributed the loads more to her liking and realized they now had enough mounts for everyone to ride, or they could still have one or two walk and lighten the burden on the pack animals even more.
Herger briefly surveyed the site with a glance and said, "We should ride on for at least another hour or so. As stupid as these bandits were a couple may come back seeking their mounts and supplies and we would not want them falling upon us when we're resting. I mean, honestly.. who would actually believe in this dangerous world that two drunken Halflings would be wandering down the road with a herd of horses?"
The party saddled up again, except for the scouts, Maewyn and Tibbido, and moved forward for another hour or so. They stopped when Maewyn found a fairly defensible place not far from the "road" where they could settle down for the night.
The next day, a summer storm blew in in the morning, and the rain began to come down heavily. It would be a miserable and wet day to travel, far better to sit in the tents which kept most of the rain off, and wish that a fire could be lit.
Herger pulled up the hood on his cloak as he stepped through the slog to the tent where Michael was laying. He leaned in, keeping his mud-clogged lower half outside and said, "How is your wound? We really should be pressing on, but it wouldn't do for you to come down with some foul humour if you are in any pain."
"If we needs must move, we'll move. I have no desire to linger when we have business to see to." Michael replied. "Pain is temporary, and may be mitigated by reaching our goal."
"Well said!" Rurik stated grandly, his mood undimished by the inclement weather. Without further word, he set about striking camp and preparing for departure; all the while softly whistling a cheerful tune.
Marri shook her head at the foolishness of men of all sizes, and began to pack up her pots and pans. She carefully stowed away her cooking spices and medicinal herbs - lavishing equal care on each. Looking at Traveller who sat watching her intently, she commented with a sigh "You will be a good deal wetter and colder than I will, my friend, but I cannot think of any way to protect you from this weather." Traveller barked and shook herself, throwing water in all directions. Marri yelped and said with a laugh "Perhaps I will be wetter than you!"
Marri smiled at Herger as she walked up with a hot mug of soup in her hand. She stepped around him into the tent and offered the soup to Michael. "We'll warm up your insides a bit, to make up for the miserable chilly weather affecting your outsides. Mind you keep that blanket around you though!" she scolded gently when Michael set up to take the mug from her.
"Herger" she continued "unless I can find something to help this wound, or you are really certain we *must* travel, let us not take Michael riding through this rain! Though I am but an apprentice, and I do not think the wound is deadly, still... it will heal a good deal faster if we can let him rest, especially out of this miserable wet!" She saw no reason to add she was none too fond of being cold and wet herself!
Herger glanced back out at the downpour through the tent flap and said, "If I knew that the storm was only going to last this one day, or afternoon, even it would not hurt to stay here until tomorrow. But there is no guarantee. Maybe some of us could ride on ahead and begin the investigation in Nuln ahead of the others. I'll see what the others have to say."
He made his way around the small camp, asking the opinions of the other travelers.
As Herger began to make his way around the camp, Marri sternly admonished a secretly smiling Michael to finish his soup, then moved quickly over to Maewyn. "Have you any ideas about another herb we might try on Michael's arm? It would really help if I could find something to make it heal a bit faster! I *know* we need to hurry, and he makes the best of it, but I also *know* he's in pain and I'd so much like to help!" Marri's words came out even faster than usual, as she continued "By Sweet Esmeralda's rotund rear, there must be something I can do!"
With that the rush of words stopped as suddenly as they had begun. Marri looked up fixedly at Maewyn's face, with a small intent frown, as though to will an answer from her tall traveling companion.
Maewyn finger a belt of different colored cords and knotts tied in a eleborate pattern since she did not read she use the strings as a memory device fingering the knots stones of different colored strings help her remember the lesson she had learn on the day it was created.
Maewyn saw nothing wrong with the dressings on the wound. Sometimes, she and Marri were forced to admit, wounds just healed slowly.
Tibbiddo puffed on his pipe and listened to Herger's proposal. The stout halfling was no fan of the rain, preferring comfort above nearly everything (except profit, of course), so the prospect of getting soaked to the bone weighed upon him heavily. "What you put forth," he said with a curl of smoke escaping from his lips, "makes sense. I would be inclined to push forward and find a nice tavern to dry out in and pursue our goals." A smile crept over his face as he had visions of sumptuous feasts and gullible travelers ripe for the taking.
Travel was slow that day, in the pouring rain. The mud pulled at the horses hooves and made slick the stones of the road, when they could even be seen. They still managed to put a few miles between themselves and the site of the ambush. Maewyn was content that no one would be able to track them in this weather, but it did occur to her that if the remaining bandits did want to catch them, they could just follow the road.
As night fell, the rain tapered off, and the party was able to build a fire to dry themselves and their gear. Marri prepared a lovely hot stew from their stores and from some of the plants and tubers that Maewyn found near the campsite. They made a strong watch and rested.
In the morning, there was still no sign of pursuit. Marri changed Michael's dressing and was pleased to note that the wound was healing. Then they mounted and continued their journey.
They travelled for another several weeks without incident. Then, the morning of the 21st of Vorgeheim, they saw ahead of them Averheim. From here, they could either continue on via the roads toward Nuln, in much greater comfort, for once they struck the Mootstrasse there would be coaching inns to stay at, or they could take ship up the Aver to Nuln.
Marri stretched and, after petting a disgruntled Traveller whom she had awakened by moving, crawled out of her bedroll and poked her head from beneath the tarp that sheltered the two small beings from the elements. "Its dry!" she thought with some pleasure and a swift prayer of gratitude to Esmeralda for not picking today to dump the pot liquors from her cauldron. Pulling on her cloak, she went over to squat near the fire, where she stirred the banked embers into a flame. Two pots filled with water were soon heating, one for tea and and one for porridge. Marri had some sliced apples and sweet spices ready to add to the porridge, and an interesting new herb she had discovered along the road the other day to add to the tea, although if pressed she would have admitted she wasn't entirely sure how that one would taste! "But it *looks* lovely and at the very least, no one will have a headache this morning!" she thought. She thought for a moment about what some of her companions had said about the flavors of some of the other "lovely looking" herbs she had tried in the tea - and snorted. "For adventurers, they are not very willing to explore new foods! I mean, however, shall we know what they taste like if we don't try them!?"
She paused for a moment to stare at Averheim. They would be entering the town in a few hours. There had been some discussion last night about whether they should continue their journey on land, or take a boat down to Nuln. Marri had said little, and she admitted to herself that she had no desire *ever* to journey by boat again. She was seized for a moment with deep fear and pain, the world grew dark and her breath grew short - almost as if she again lay on the boat in the night, the weight of the dead man with her knife in his chest on top of her. Traveller picked this moment to bounce up to her and begin rubbing against her leg, yelping softly and demanding to be petted and fed. Marri pulled herself out of the memory and focused on the little dog. "Thank you, dearest," she said softly, scratching Traveller behind the ears "I don't often lose myself that way anymore. And I would ... kill him again, if someone threatened us as he did! Still I suppose it will be with me always! I suppose it should be! It wouldn't do to end someone's life, even someone like him, and simply go on as if it never happened!" She walked back over to the fire, and, after finding some food for Traveller, she was mostly back to herself and continued preparing breakfast. "I must remember though that not all boats are *that* boat! And I believe it is a bit faster to travel on the river, and time does matter very much to us! For it is much too dreadful (Verena, Lady of Justice spare us this) to consider what might happen if we cannot finish our task quickly enough!" Traveller barked softly, as if in agreement, then bumped her head against Marri's leg. Marri smiled at Traveller, and was apparently her usual bustling, chatty self when her companions began to come to the fire for breakfast and the experience of the lovely new herb tea.
The party spent the night in Averheim, resting in an inn and replenishing their supplies from the money captured from the brigands.
Then they pressed on. The roads were far better north of the Aver and they made good time, despite the occasional summer shower. If they made the same time as the coaches, they would arrive in Nuln on Geheimnistag, the day of mystery.
By travelling in this way, they could spend each night at a coaching inn in relative comfort. Tibbido came into his own in this milieu, and the party found that their meals and drinks were often bought by patrons amused by his wit and stories. One one occasion, though, they found themselves turned out and forced to camp when the butt of one of his humourous stories was the sister of the innkeeper.
The bandits money was nearly gone by the Day of Mystery when they rode through the outlying village of Brandtstadt, the last settlement before Nuln.