Toward Likar's Keep

After slipping back to her brothers' bakery, greeting Traveller and grabbing a bite to eat, Marri set down with the journal. It turned out, she got very little sleep that night. She trusted her brothers with the task of letting everyone know to leave the city when they came by the bakery, and left with Traveller when it was barely light.

She looked a bit the worse for wear when she met her companions a little later that morning a mile or so outside of Nuln on the Westway.

"There was a great deal of information in the journal, much of it I could make nothing of at all. But... it contains a description of a "mountain retreat" and directions to get there. I think that's our best bet." Marri proceeded to give the party the directions (West of Nuln, through Dunkelberg, then follow the river through Gemusenbad and up to a small village near the source called Verghof. From there, Likar lists a series of landmarks that will keep us on a northwestern course, until we strike a hidden canyon which leads to the valley and the keep.)

When gathered with the others outside of the city, Herger finally feels safer than he has in days. He suggests riding at a fast pace to try and avoid any possible pursuit. "The cultists must have found that the book they were looking for is missing. They are sure to send out search parties into the surrounding areas as soon as possible. We must not delay."

Mounted as they were, it was an easy few hours to Arschel, the first small village on the way, where they stopped and Marri purchased some more food supplies for them. As they continued on toward Segeldorf, which they would make come nightfall, they could decide on their travel plans. Coaches ran regularly to Dunkelberg, a four day trip, so if they wished they could spend each night in the relative safety of a coaching inn. Or they could camp near the road.

Herger thought it would be a good idea to spend the journey in the coaching inns each night and made his opinion known. "Just make sure you find out who the innkeeper's daughter is before you start with any of your stories, Tibbiddo," Herger said and chuckled.

Marri had no problems with the hot food, and real beds likely to be found in the coaching inns. However, she did voice a reservation. "If someone is looking for us, they will be looking for us as a group. We are a bit recognizable when we are all together. Do you think it wise for us to leave a trail so easy to follow?"

"We could always arrive separately or some of us could camp near the inns I am not adverse to spending time out in the forest," added Maewyn.

Marri nodded. "Maewyn has a good idea there. Probably no more than 2 should go to any one inn and not the same two. And perhaps Maewyn, Tibbi and I should always camp out. We are the most noticable."

Herger thought that that was a good idea and said as much, "I suppose we could set up a rotation between Rurik, Michael and I for staying in the Inns. Apart from being comfortable we could keep an eye out for anyone that -is- looking for our group."

"And pick up extra supplies as well," Marri agreed.

With that plan in mind the party continued on their way. They dropped off Maewyn, Tibbo, Marri and Herger a mile or so outside of Segeldorf where they found a barn to sleep in. Michael and Rurik continued on to the village and the coaching inn.

As near as they could tell, if there was pursuit, they were ahead of it at the moment.

The next day they passed out of the fairly cultivated area near Nuln into the wild lands between Nuln and Dunkelberg. Except for Maewyn everyone felt a little nervous. At nightfall, Herger and Michael rode into the coaching inn while the others made camp outside.

The pattern repeated itself the next day. The day after that, they all crossed the River Grissen at the ferry, where the ferryman told them that they would be in Dunkelberg by nightfall. They had to push a little to get through the village of Ruhfurt, but they were able to take the last ferry from Steindorf into Dunkelberg.

Over the last couple of days on their journey to Dunkelburg, Maewyn was quieter than usual spending hours sitting under a tree in quiet mediations she would sometimes be seen touching a tree lovely or staring into the sky in thought. Many a night she could be seen walking alone in the forest restlessly wandering around the camp as if a difficulty was denying her sleep.

Finally on the morning before their arrival in Dunkelburg as she watch Swiftwind circle lazy patterns in the sky it appeared as if she had reached a decision. Maewyn did not know what her choice would mean to those she traveled with it had been a hard choice she had to make but the benefits if she was allowed to what she wished would benefit all if they only had the patience to wait for her. Patting a tree trunk like it was an old friend she entered the city of Dunkelburg with a more comfortable stride then one she would have ever believed she could achieve. At the inn she would tell them of her decision and she hope that they would understand.

The companions found an Inn in which to pass the night and discuss their plans over a hot meal by a warm fire. An observer who had watched them set off over a year ago would be struck by the changes in them. Herger had become leaner and more wiry. The muscles in his arms and back had hardened and he carried himself now like one used to anger and hardship, a far cry from the hauler of goods he had been in Altdorf. Marri had not lost weight, but there were lines in her face where there had been none before. She, too, had an assurance that those who had known her in Altdorf would be surprised to see. Maewyn, as is common with the elves, had changed little enough. She was more comfortable with the humans and in cities than she had been, but otherwise seemed eternal to the short-lived humans. Tibbo, Rurik and Michael were latecomers and had not known the trio before their adventures began, but even they could see that the recent events in Nuln had left their mark.

Herger suggested asking around about passage across the river. If someone were following them and heard that a group matching their description was heading south it may throw them off the trail for a bit. He also suggested trying to find out more about those strange crystals Rurik had collected from the ratmen caverns. "They don't look natural to me. But then again, I'm no prospector," he said.

Tibbiddo cleared his voice, "I agree. Rurik, I will be happy to get the best price for those worthless rocks I can." He held out his hand and batted his eyes with great innocence.

Rurik, in an unusual departure from his typically jovial demeanor, scowled at the impetuous halfling. By the time he returned his attention back to Herger, the dark cloud had passed. "Agreed. I have been unable to determine their true nature, though I doubt their value can be found in the marketplace." With a shrug he finished "I simply hope they do not serve as tracking agents. Where or to whom could we go to learn of these stones?"

Tibbiddo slowly pulled his hand back with a frown and crossed his arms definantly. "Nowhere you'd be welcome, that is for sure." Turning his chair aside he stared off into the tavern.

Turning back to Tibbiddo, Rurik looked appraisingly at the Halfling. "You know of someone who could tell us of these?" he queried in reference to the crystals.

Herger smiled at Tibbiddo's antics and said, "Apart from finding a local sage, or stoneworker, we could look for a local temple to Verena."

Rurik considered that a moment. He never truly trusted the religious types, as they frequently took fervently irrational stances on seemingly inconsequential issues. There's no talking them into changing their position on the matter, either. Apparently even the elves weren't immune from the phenomenon, judging by Maewyn's continued insistence on disrupting the mission for one odd druidic stricture or another. However, those of Verena had been reasonably helpful thus far... "That seems as good a place as any." Rurik stated, stifling a sigh of hesitation.

"Nonsense, they would know nothing about the gems," Tibbiddo replied emboldened by the attention he now warranted. "I know something about them," he beamed pulling out a gem of his own and marveling at its blackness.

"I decided to inquire about my unusual stone and very nearly paid with my life!" he embellished to impress Marri.

Marri showed how impressed she was by twisting her mouth into a grimace somewhere between amused and annoyed and rolling her eyes.

"Yes, the appraiser tried to trap me by having two of his lackeys take it from me. I, in my bravery, snatched the gem from his claw-like hand and escaped the cage of entrapment." Tibbiddo sat back pleased at his rendering of the tale and then added, "it is refined rpstone, called Skaven," he stated boldly piecing together what little facts he was able to gather in the turmoil.

Perplexed, Rurik closed his eyes tightly a moment, then shook his head to clear his mind. "So... Who do we go to in or around Dunkelberg to ask about these... Skaven... rpstone... crystal... things? Aside from the Verenans, of course."

"Well, if your sense of adventure is waning we could sell them," Tibbiddo offered. "Although the bag might bring a heftier price," he said skeptically.

Since Tibbiddo wasn't coming forward with anything useful, and since Rurik didn't know a reliable Fence in the area, Herger's suggestion for using Verenans seemed to be the best bet. "We'll check at the Temple of Verena to see if they know something about these. Even if they don't, perhaps they know someone who does." Rurik suggested at last.

With a heavy sigh Tibbiddo wished them luck.

There was a pause in the conversation as discussion on the subject of the stones stalled.

Glancing at all those around the table it was clear that Maewyn had something to say so she clear her throat and spoke softly to her companions,"I do not know if any have noticed but as of late I have been restless. I felt a calling I believe my time has come to make a decision to decide if I wish to join the ranks of those who call themselves Druids or to continue on as I am. I have felt the pull stronger and stronger of late and I now know it is a call that I must answer. I do not know what will be demanded of me but I know that I must answer and to answer this call I must leave you for a time. In the past I have seen may go off in seclusion to answer the call of the wise ones and return in a week time. Some come back with new abilities or blessing granted them by the Lady of the Grove other with tasks that they must perform. Still other have come back with their request denied. I do not know what the Lady of the Grove has in store for me but I must go out into the forest to speak with her and see if my hopes will be fulfilled or denied. I do not know what this will mean to our quest I hope there is time enough for you to wait for me but time or not I must answer the call of my Lady I have no choice."

Marri had noticed Maewyn's behavior, which was a little odd even for normally less than social elf. She'd felt it wasn't her place to say anything until Maewyn decided to speak. Now that she had, Marri found she didn't know what to say! Which was a little odd for the normally ultra talkative halfling! As she stared at the elf with a little frown, the other conversation going on among her companions penetrated her confusion.

Herger was frankly at a loss for words, both to the Halfling's claim and that of the Elf, "Er.."

"My friends. I am sure the stones are important, but I think what Maewyn has said to us is much more so." Turning to the elf she inquired, "Are you saying you wish us to remain here for a time to wait for you, friend elf, or are you saying you wish to leave us... for good?" Marri, who had been quite intimidated by the tall, sombre elf maiden at the beginning of the journey, found she was quite saddened by the idea that Maewyn might now be leaving them.

Herger sighed into his drink and said, softly, lest any other patrons hear, "We're being followed by maniacal members of a Chaos cult. We don't have the luxury of sitting in Dunkelburg for a week waiting for Maewyn to get back from communing with nature. We thought that we had some time to spare back in Nuln, but that was proven to be a misconception. They're right on our heels!" He swallowed a mouthful of ale and continued, "On the morrow we should see what we can find out about these stones. Whether or not they're safe to be carrying with us is my concern. Their value is something I don't care about. Then, we should press on. If you have to leave us now, then we can make plans for you to meet us in Gemusenbad, or Verghof; both further up the river. For one, we will be leaving rumours behind here that we crossed the river and headed south. That should give us some breathing room on our next leg. Secondly, it would be better to wait for her in a small village such as Verghof where we can closely monitor the coming and going of travelers. If I'm going to get a knife in the back from some cultist I want a decent amount of warning."

Marri turned to Herger, the beginnings of an angry comment about the value of friends on her lips, when she realized that *he* too was her friend, that the others were also valuable to her, and that time *was* critical for their journey, so that what came out of her mouth was a heavy sigh.

"I think you may be correct, Herger" she began as softly as he "but I do not wish to simply leave Maewyn. Nor do I think it prudent for one of us to travel alone. And perhaps, since it is all of us as a group that are being searched for, it might be as well if I stayed here while she visits the Grove. It might even prove a positive thing if I can find a physician in the town who will allow me to study with him while she is gone. It's going to prove more and more difficult for me to stay long enough in a town to continue my studies, and I will have to do this if ever I hope to be more than a student. And if there should prove to be no physician here, I can most likely earn my keep cooking in an inn hereabouts."

She looked at Maewyn and continued, "What say you Maewyn, are you agreeable to having the rest continue and you and I catch up to them in a bit?"

Maewyn opened her mouth to speak then closed it again as it appears the group were not finished talking about her desire to delay a week.

Rurik closed his eyes tightly and started rubbing his temples as if with a bad headache. Frowning, he looked from Marri, to Maewyn, then back to Marri. "I have to agree with Herger. I'm all for the pursuit of personal fulfillment; believe me. But we're being pursued, and we were on a time limit to begin with. If there is a split it's quite likely that, for any number of reasons, we won't be able to link up again."

Rurik hesitated a moment, rapped the table with his knuckle, then continued - this time a little more softly. "Plus, Marri, you hold Likar's book... and I was hoping you'd teach me how to read it."

"You have many good points but on one hand you say that the mission is more important then any personal goal and then you, said closing her mouth in mid sentence. She glance between Rurick and Marri clearly what she was going to say concern the two of them. Opening her mouth she glanced around the table about to continue then closed her mouth once more. She was having had second thought on speaking her mood was such that she knew if she said anything more she would surly regret it when she had a chance to calm down. "Words spoken in anger are always regretted I will take my leave of you now. I will return in the morning and tell you my decision. Until then good night."

Walking out the door she whistled for Swiftwind heading towards the gate of the town her plan to camp in the forest and return after she had mediate on the problem of what her Lady of the Grove wished for her to do.

Rurik watched the fuming elf leave with a perplexed look on his face. He thought to call after her, but decided it best to let her cool off. Instead, he looked at Marri apologetically to clarify his position. "The main body of the group will need Likar's book, and someone who can read it, in the event that those who remain behind are somehow unable to rejoin us. Since the book, and a companion who knows how to read it, is vital to our fulfilling this leg of the journey, my request to be taught to read while en-route does in no way hinder our progress. In fact, it might also help us better familiarize ourselves with the material." With a sigh and a glance toward the door, Rurik stops there.

Once the elf was gone, she turned to Rurik and said quietly but firmly "I will not leave her if she wishes to stay. If I stay, there is no harm in me studying a bit. Herger can read, and teach you to read if you wish it and think it needful. It is at base his quest we are on. When we are in a more private place, I will give the book to him." With that she fell silent, and it was obvious that any further discussion was not likely to change her mind.

Tibbiddo, too, remained silent. The troublesome elf constantly preached sharing, thinking of others, and nice things to him in particular. And now this! He shook his head and sighed at the confusion caused by the contradictory messages. Smugly he felt warm all over, for at least everyone knew the consistency of his life philosophy; unlike most others who professed one thing and practiced another. Softly he whistled a little tune.

Rurik nodded at Marri's words. "Maewyn may have need of a good friend by her side if she stays."

Herger also nodded at Marri's words and swallowed another mouthful of ale.

"So, who will stay, and who will go? This seems to be the crux of the problem...we need to keep one another safe, and yet keep to our tasks. Should we leave the two ladies to catch up, defenseless?" Michael frowns. "I'm not sure that makes me pleased."

Marri immediately said, "We are not defenseless! Maewyn is quite good with her bow, and she has Swiftwind! And I have Traveller, and my.... skillet!" She could not keep a straight face and began giggling, though she tried hard not to! It seemed the little halfling needed something to laugh about for she found she could not stop giggling for a bit once she started. "Oh my!" she said, shaking her head, when she could finally get a breath. Seeing the look on Michael's face, she hurried to say, "I am not laughing at you or your suggestion! It might well be a good thing for someone with a strong sword arm to stay behind with us. On the other hand, it would weaken the other group who are going faster into danger!"

Herger said, "Marri and I cannot both stay as one of us needs to continue on with the book. Michael can stay behind with you, Marri, since you -will- be alone here until Maewyn gets back from her devotions. Gemusenbad can't be very large and Verghof is probably even smaller. We'll wait for you in the latter, or in a camp near the road if we cannot secure any accomodations in the village."

"We're decided then....One to stay and ensure the ladies' safety, and three to move on..this is an equitable split, and may we not spend too long thus." Michael says.

"In the meantime," said Rurik, as he took the crystals, including Tibbo's, and went to look for a temple.

There was only a small temple of Verena, but the Priestess who saw him was utterly appalled when he showed her the crystal and refused to touch it, demanding that he drop it immediately. "It is warpstone," she shouted. "Pure crystalized Chaos. Foulness given form. Merely to touch it is to court madness, mutation and death."

Rurik considered the what he heard and watched the priestess warily for signs of artifice. Her immediate and visceral reaction to the stone was enough to convince him that she truly believed what she was saying, which in this case was good enough for him. Rurik produced the full bag of crystals. "If you would be so kind as to destroy these, then? I will tell you all I can of what I know of where we acquired these."

She called for a servant to bring a wooden box and had Rurik drop the bag into the box.

For security reasons, Rurik apologetically left out the details of their specific mission - unless she appeared to have useful information about Likar and/or his sword. Otherwise, he was uncharacteristically disposed to supply as detailed a description as possible of the encounters and the underground lair.

The priestess asked many questions to determine the provenance of the crystals. When Rurik poke of the rat peope, she gave him a name for them, Skaven.

Upon learning that the crystals had been found in Nuln, she wrote down as much information as Rurik could supply and said that she would send it on to the Temple in Nuln. Rurik slipped away before it occurred to her to try and detain them.

Herger, Rurik, Tibbiddo and the book departed the next morning for Gemusenbad and Verghof. It was an easy day's ride to Gemusenbad a tiny village ekeing out a bare living on the banks of the river. They spent the night in the only inn, and it was barely deserving of the name, having only a single room to let above a small common room. The village clearly existed only to provide the outlying farms with a place to bring their wares before the shipped the meagre excess down river.

They did learn that the village of Verghof had failed several generations ago and was now uninhabited. Their host did put them on the very faint old trail which had led to it at one point. They couldn't go too far wrong by following the river, and indeed a full day's ride brought them to the abandoned village. A few structures still survived in a much depleted and skeletal form, but over the next few days as they settled in to wait, they were able to shift beams and planks from a couple of collapsed or collapsing buildings and make a fairly comfortable lean-to.

They also scouted around for the next landmark on their way, hoping that it hadn't changed too much in the last few hundred years. After a few false starts and a little debate, they found what they were fairly sure was the right road and settled in to wait for the others.

While they waited, Herger spent time practicing his fighting techniques, focusing more on hand fighting and targeting with his mostly unused short bow.

Rurik tasked himself as sparring partner, and badgered Herger to teach him how to read whenever appropriate.

Tibbiddo grew restless. "How much longer must we wait?" he whined. "We could always go on ahead, find the sword and meet them!" he offered optimistically.

Herger looked up from the mid-afternoon cookfire and, with a smile, said, "Hoping for some treasure that you only have to split three ways?"

Rurik smiled at Herger's comment, then shrugged. "If we must wait for the elf to finish her woodland frolic, perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad thing to scout ahead and find a good path to our destination. We might be able to make up for some lost time when they do arrive."

"If they find us at all," muttered Tibbiddo. "Even with your humble scout," he bowed," we had to backtrack several times to make it this far." The halfling hopped atop a fallen tree and looked ahead shielding his eyes, "Rurik is right, we should look ahead so the trail doesn't hold any surprises for the ladies," he said with a mischievous grin.

Scratching his head, Rurik looked at Herger for his opinion. "Someone will need to stay here and wait, and I believe the others will be expecting you to greet them, Herg. Tibbs is probably our best scout, which leaves the question of whether I should assist him, stay here, or go back for the others and guide them here."

Herger pondered the points of each possibility briefly and said, "I think it would be best if you went with him. I can handle the camp while you two are gone. Unless, of course, the cultists manage to find their way here. Until you get back, I'll keep an extra fire going in one of the older buildings to draw any possible forward scouts to there, rather than our lean-to, and I'll keep an eye on the place."

Marri and Michael paid for a week's lodging at the inn and then saw Maewyn off to the edge of town. After they made their farewells, Maewyn struck out to the northeast to fast, pray and commune with nature.

Marri sought out Dr. Udo Schimmelschnieder. Her intent was to continue her studies with the Herr Doktor as well as she could while Maewyn was gone. The Doctor was completely charmed by the small halfling [rolling a fellowship test of 01 will do that for you] and agreed to let her accompany him on his daily rounds and provide instruction for a very modest fee. He invited her and Michael to dine with him so often, and provided such food and drink on those occassions that Marri doubted he made any money at all on the deal. He was delighted to have someone witty, knowledgeable and interested in the profession to pass time with and so all the parties felt the time agreeably spent.

Maewyn walked north and east toward the deepest part of the woods trying to clear her mind and attune it to the deep rhythms of nature. Soon she felt the familiar pull of water and followed it to where a little brook trickled along. She rested there for a while and drank deeply, although she would take no food during her week of meditation and rest. Swiftwind circled above her head and she found her thoughts drifting as though borne on the winds of the bird. For a while, she followed the bird as he flew. Night fell and she slept.

Swiftly and silently her dreams held her as she flew above the world Swiftwind at her side. In her dreams she watched as Swiftwind hunted for her bring his spoils back with which he feed her tiny morsels as if she were his hatchling. Every night the only solid food she ate was the dream food that Swiftwind provided. Every morning the only substances she had was water but she did not hunger nor feel the effect of an empty belly. In fact the reverse seemed true her senses sharper the world brighter more defined the color crisp and crystal clear.

This continued for several days, until one night she had a dream, a vivid dream, in which the Mother came to her in the form of a huge eagle. There was a sense of peace and acceptance in the dream, and when she woke, she felt the direction she should walk that day. Her vision seemed clearer and her identification with Swiftwind was stronger than ever.

Arriving in a small glade Maewyn knew this was the place that the Mother wished her to go the task the Mother required of her. Against a small outcropping was a dry pond a rockslide had cut off the source of the water and it no longer flowed. Maewyn could sense the water trapped behind the rocks and knew what she should do. Pushing up he sleeves she set to work removing first the rocks leaves and debris in the depression that was once the pond. With that accomplished she set to work removing the rocks that blocked the flow of water. The sun rose and fell as Maewyn worked through the day the moon rose and she continued to work finally to the sound of babbling brook Maewyn fell asleep.

The next night, the spirit eagle came to her again. It spoke to her in the screeches and calls of its kind, but she felt she knew what it was saying. Her spirit and the spirit of the bird called to each other. Again, in the morning she knew where to walk. As nightfall for the first time she felt hungry, almost dizzy with hunger, her mind felt somehow clearer than ever. Her dreams were again full of the spirit eagle. This time no speech was needed and she flew by the side of the eagle the whole night through. When she awoke, she looked up. Swiftwind was perched on a branch nearby and next to him was an eagle, pure white save for glowing amber eyes that regarded her with a keen intelligence. At that moment she knew: the Mother had embraced her and this was the sign, the eagle was her familiar spirit, proof that her calling was true.

Reaching her arm up she called to the eagle that was the other have of her soul her mind reached out to it and was answered the eagle told her it name. Together the three of them hunted at it was with a full belly and mind that they made ready for the journey back to town. As she left the only evidence of her stay was the clear pond filling with water and her staff lying discarded upon the ground.

Each evening, Marri stole a few moments away from her studies, to bounce a ball for Traveller. Knowing she had very little time under the kind doctor's instruction, she tried to take advantage of it and study as much as she could -- even cutting short her sleep and asking questions during meals to such an extent she sometimes forgot to eat, which was quite a departure from the norm for her. Traveller spent most of each day with Michael and Marri was very grateful for that and for his sturdy presence. Marri smiled and shook her head a bit as she watched Traveller tear after her ball. "Poor Michael! So bored that cutting wood and repairing the doctor's house passes for entertainment for him! Still.. I wish I had more to give the good doctor! The wine alone! Sweet Esmeralda smile on him!" A little frown appeared on her forehead as a thought occurred to her. "I wonder..."

Grabbing Traveller's ball, she said "Last time for the night girl! I think it likely Maewyn will return tomorrow and I have much to do tonight!" The next morning a very tired, but contented halfling showed up at the doctor's house bearing baskets of fresh bread and sweet rolls that she'd made in the inn's kitchen in the wee hours of the morning. The inn's cook had been agreeable enough to letting Marri work there in return for a generous share of the baked goods. The inn's customers that morning were in for a pleasant surprise indeed. "Good doctor" Marri began, "You have been so kind and I have learned so much! Would that I were rich and might pay you to the true value of your knowledge! What I have to give you this morning is little enough, but I vow you will find no finer bread, no lighter rolls in all the Empire!" With that she began piling on his table loafs of bread still warm from the oven, and sweet rolls, perfectly spiced and fragrant. Adding with a mischevous smile as she did so "Of course my brothers, or my father, might have a bit of a different opinion on that, but then *I* at least am certain I am the finest baker in a family of fine bakers!" She took a step back to survey her work, then looking the doctor very directly in the eye, she said quietly "Thank you!" And with that she gave him a deep, and surprisingly graceful, curtsy.

"That sounds almost like a farewell, little one," he said tearing into a roll.

That day, after their rounds, Marri retired to the inn to meet with Traveller and Michael. Michael had not been idle. He'd spent some of his time at target practice and some working on adding to his repertoire some of the fighting moves he'd seen Rurik and Herger using. They had just started sopping their soup up with some bread, when the door opened and Maewyn entered, looking thinner but happier than when they had seen her last.

"Maewyn!" Marri exclaimed, jumping up and hurrying to give the elf a fierce, hard hug. Traveller had hurried over as well and was barking and jumping at Maewyn, clearly as excited as her owner. "I am so glad to see you!" she continued, tugging Maewyn toward the table. "By Sweet Esmeralda's Rotund Rear! You are so thin!" she bubbled on, gesturing for the innkeeper to bring over another bowl of soup. "You must tell us everything! You look so happy! No that isn't quite right! Content! Yes, that's closer! Definitely content! Why aren't you eating? Oh my, I am glad to see you! I didn't want to admit it, of course, but I *was* just the tiniest bit worried! Traveller do stop and let Maewyn eat!" She didn't stop speaking as she pushed some bread and ale in the elf's direction. "I mean you were all alone out there! But here you are! Back! Safe! Thin but safe! This soup is actually quite good! And the bread is excellent, if I do say so myself! I made it you know! And..."

Maewyn smile as she noticed the group siting at the table. Wandering over to them she patted Traveller on the head as she sat down on a chair next to Marri. When the serving girl came to see if Maewyn wished anything Maewyn refused all suggestion of food and only accepting a mug of ale for her order. Maewyn whispered after the girl had left the mug behind, "Seems I have a couple of dietary restriction now that will make any stops at the local inns much more interesting from now on."

"I hope the two had as good results with your stay in the village as I did in the forest," Maewyn said sitting up straighter in her chair then continued with a look of pride on her face, "For I have been accepted into the embrace of the Earth Mother. The Lady of the Grove has accepted me as her priest and granted me blessing to help us on our journey."

Michael, Maewyn and Marri did a little shopping the next morning outfitting Maewyn with some lighter clothes and a new sword. Then the trio set off to meet the others. Their trip was uneventful and two days later, on Aubentag the 21st of Nachgeheim, they arrived at the place which had been Verghof.

Herger and the others were glad to see them and told that they had spent some time scouting the next leg of the trip. Marri made a splendid celebratory dinner and the next day, they set off.

Maewyn seemed more cheerful and willing to talk to the group. Her hand rested on her new sword as she ate from a bowl of meat that Marri had made just for her. She seemed interested in learning how to hunt and asked many question to any who could answer her about ways she could go about learning.

Their travel was slower now, since they were not following any trail, but the scouting Rurik and Tibbo had done helped keep them on the right track. They prepared to camp that night in the foothills of the Grey Mountains, when Michael and Tibbo heard what sounded like the beating of hooves closing in on their location.

"Horsemen, coming from that direction," Tibbiddo pointed out into the darkness. A quick survey of the area told him that attempts toward making the their campsite inconspicuous would be a wasted effort. Dancing eyes fueled by a lifetime of sneakiness instinctively picked out a good spot to hide.

"Maewyn and Marri, fade off into the surroundings quickly!" Michael says, as he moves to stand in front of the fire, keeping his back to the flames and peering into the direction of the hoofbeats

Their travel was slower now, since they were not following any trail, but the scouting Rurik and Tibbo had done helped keep them on the right track. They prepared to camp that night in the foothills of the Grey Mountains, when Michael and Tibbo heard what sounded like the beating of hooves closing in on their location.

"Horsemen, coming from that direction," Tibbiddo pointed out into the darkness. A quick survey of the area told him that attempts toward making the their campsite inconspicuous would be a wasted effort. Dancing eyes fueled by a lifetime of sneakiness instinctively picked out a good spot to hide.

Maewyn as she moved out of view in the direction that Tibbiddo was pointing spoke to the tree next to her,"Amber go check out who is coming but be careful take no risks. Tell me what you see but do not attack for now."

"Maewyn and Marri, fade off into the surroundings quickly!" Michael says, as he moves to stand in front of the fire, keeping his back to the flames and peering into the direction of the hoof beats.

Maewyn already was moving to fade into the surrounding pulling her bow and notching an arrow. Her eyes seemed to follow the flight of an unseen bird as she fading into the surrounding trees.

Marri didn't need to be told twice! Grabbing Traveller's collar, she hurried into the nearest bushes, and flattened herself as much as someone as round as she could manage. She drew her little knife, and lifted her head just enough to see what was going on in the camp. She breathed a silent question to which she was quite sure she already knew the answer, "Sweet Esmeralda, couldn't we have had a few quiet meals?" Then settled herself to stillness to see what would happen.

Rurik's first instinct was to head for cover as well. That approach had seen him through many tough times in the past. However, with fully half of the group already heading for the trees, he thought it best in this case to hold fast with Michael and Herger.

He pulled his pick, rested the head firmly on the ground and leaned against the handle. "Anyone wish to lay odds on whether these are horse-bound rats or walking dead? Whatever happened to the good old days of something as basic as a Warden chasing down poacher's?"

Suddenly, a figure broke out of the tree line twenty yards away and began to thunder up the slope toward where Herger, Rurik and Michael waited. Clad in a sleeved mail coat of blackened metal, with a matching coif, riding a black warhorse and carrying in its right hand an evil looking black sword, the Dark Hunter charged the companions.

Maewyn, from her position, had a clear shot and fired, missing narrowly as the horse gave a burst of speed. Michael fired his crossbow but the bolt glanced harmlessly off. He dropped his crossbow and drew his cutlass.

Then the rider was among them! An almost palpable aura of evil flowed from the Hunter and Michael and Rurik, hardened and experienced men though they were balked before it. Herger stepped forward and blows rained down on his head. He crouched beneath his shield and weathered the storm.

Marri eyes widen with horror and she finds she cannot look away from the evil in front of her. Though her mind is racing, and she desperately wants to help her companions, she finds she cannot force herself to move. "Nor, to be honest, can I think of anything useful I might do! I would probably not even prove a distraction!"

Suddenly wishing he had followed his initial instincts and gone for cover. It served him right for making the comment about ratlings and the living dead. Frozen by fear and indecision, he backed away a few steps and watched dumbly as the horseman hammered at Herger. Maewyn aimed at the horse to try to spook it and give Herger some help. The arrow flew true and the horse reared, but the Dark Hunter mastered it and kept attacking Herger.

The Hunter's sword opened a shallow gash on Herger's head and from it a chill seeped through his body. The Hunter gave a deep and evil chuckle, which was cut short as Herger's mace crashed into his sword hilt and sent it flying from his hand.

The Hunter reined his horse which rose on it's hind legs, then turned and raced for the woods.

Herger watched as the rider galloped towards the woods, hoping that one of the archers would shoot the dark figure before it was engulfed by the trees. Blood ran down his forehead in a rivulet over his left eye and he turned from the retreating foe and ran his right wrist across the mark to wipe away the gathering red fluid.

Herger glanced at Michael and Rurik, but didn't speak as he stepped away to look for the wicked blade that had wounded him. He continued to wipe at his forehead as the wound continued to leak. He began to put away his mace and shield as he searched for the sword, noting the new marks and gashes on the shield's surface. He offered a silent prayer to Sigmar for the deliverance of him and his friends.

He found the weapon where it had fallen. The blade was strange cold to the touch and dark, darker than iron. There was no visible poison on the weapon but he was not comforted by the discovery.

He followed the prayer with a quiet curse at his wound as blood continued to trickle onto his brow unabated. He said, "We must hurry on to the next landmark. The forward scout of our foes has found us. Their pursuit will not be long in returning with greater strength. This is.. damn it.. does anyone have a bandage?" He felt it best to not mention the chill he felt around his wound, given the circumstances of the encounter.

Marri, finally able to force herself from the ground, hurried to Herger and after making him sit down, began to examine his wound. "My! You were brave!" she said, as she carefully cleaned the wound with some water and then some ale. "Do stop squirming! Of course it stings!" She applied some crushed herbs then carefully wraps some clean cloth around Herger's head. "Head wounds generally bleed a lot even if they are not serious, although.... " She trails off thinking of the thing which wielded the blade, and wondering if that blade might perhaps be poisoned. Shaking her head, and making a mental note to watch the wound carefully, she continues, "I do think Herger is right! If you are all right, old friend, I agree we should move along and perhaps be a bit more careful how and where we camp!"

Under Marri's care, after finding or losing the rider's blade, Herger briefly felt that he was safe back in Altdorf once again. He recalled the time he knicked himself in the foot when he was splitting logs and all the fuss she made over it. With a small smile for her he said, "I'm fit enough to travel, so, let us away!"

Herger found a moment to thank Maewyn for her arrows during the brief fight as the party gathered their things.

They carried on as best they could in the fading light and then the darkness for several hours. The companions noted with concern that Herger's steps faltered at several points and he was visibly growing weaker. They found a new place to camp and led the horses a little distance off as Herger slumped into a fretful slumber.

"I'll take the first watch. With any luck, we'll rest uninterrupted this night." Michael stations himself with his bow on his knees, trying to listen intently to the surroundings.

The night did pass quietly, except for Herger's tossing and turning. In the morning, he seemed worse: drawn and pale. He clearly had not rested well that night.

Herger groggily tried to rise from his bedroll, but slumped back down with a soft grunt. He squinted up at the light of the morning sun and mumbled to himself.

Greatly concerned, Marri hurried to Herger's side and removed the cloth binding his head. She examined the wound closely. The wound was still the awful blue color and the discoloration seemed to be spreading. A clear liquid streaked with blood was oozing from the wound and Herger felt cold to the touch.

With a deep sigh Maewyn hurried to sit next to Marri as she examined the wound. She did not have the training of the halfling but she was learning enough about her friend to know that Marri was concerned.

Speaking low to Marri Maewyn asked if their was any herb that she should be on the look out for.

Rurik's mood darkened considerably since the attack. He spoke not a word nor looked at any of the companions, except to assist Herger where need be. As his friends conditioned worsened, so too did his shame and anger intensify.

As Herger slumped to the ground, Rurk reached his boiling point. "Unless the Elf learned something useful in her forest romp, I declare this leg of the mission over! The nearest known temple lies the way we came, and if we had time to wait A FULL WEEK for the that pointy-eared to shove a few pine-cones up her instead of distancing ourselves from exactly that sort of , then we have plenty of time to go back and save this man's life!"

Maewyn glanced up she calmly looked at Rurik allow his anger to wash over her like water off of a ducks back. She did not say anything she just sat next to Herger trying to think of anything that may help him. If only where the words that went through her mind if only she had learned more.

"Clearly my herbs have done little good," Marri said, her fear for Herger evident in her voice. "And whatever it is does appear to be spreading! If there are no elves nearby, then perhaps we should go back to the temple. I was thinking that perhaps I might seal the wound with fire, fire is cleansing, but I have no idea if that would work. I might only be inflicting more pain without accomplishing anything! Oh how I wish I knew more!"

"Ignoring the man that seemed to think that she was the center of all the troubles that happen or may happen to them. She looked at the wound then at Marri, "If we seal the wound would it not be possible that we be sealing the infection inside as well?"

"Your whining does not become you. Did you think this to be a romp in the park, then? I'm all for seeking aid to heal this wound, but before you plant the blame on another, look to yourself! Do you think I'm happy knowing that I cowered rather than taking the stroke of that sword? But I'll not divide the rest of the group because I find fault within myself!" Michael stalks over to place himself squarely in front of Rurik, crossing his arms and glaring. "And before you think to demean someone else's search for their inner peace, think on the potential costs to our quest if our fellowship falls apart for hard feelings!"

Herger was watching the ground before him as the group descended into squabbling. He could understand the feelings that were being expressed and the stress that was beginning to eclipse their mission. At a break in the banter he said, "I'm feeling pretty worn out, apart from a chill I cannot seem to shake, but in my gut I feel that we need to press on and find the sword. The quest before me, us, is more important that my health and I can carry on at the moment. We're close to finding the sword.. Can't you feel it? Just let me get on my horse and I'll be fine."

Softly but loud enough for all to hear, "I wish that I had learn something that would help. There is so much knowledge just outside of my grasp, Much that if I only knew it now could help. I say we seek help. I wish I could do more but maybe this could help a little."

Pushing a sweat soaked lock of hair from a cold to the touch forehead Maewyn spoke, "Rest my friend and may your dreams bring you peace and escape from your pain."

Rurik turned his attention to Herger's words, and nodded. If Herger wished to move on, then move on they shall. The Wastelander turned to prepare for the next leg of the journey as he tried to ignore whatever it was that the difficult elf was saying. However, something in what she was saying froze him in his tracks.

Herger slipped down into unconsciousness at the elf's touch.

Rushing to his friends side, hand tight on his pick, Rurik checked to make sure the elf's spell hadn't snuffed out Herger's existence. Satisfied that he was simply sleeping, Rurik cast a sharp angry look at Maewyn. "You didn't even ask if he wanted your help! Do you still not understand the urgency of our situation? We don't have time to wait for him to wake up! What do you suggest we do now? Tie him to his horse and drag him to the sword? " He spat if angered frustration.

Standing, he shook his head and rubbed his forehead as he tried to push the anger from his mind and think. "Actually, we may have to do just that" he muttered to himself.

"This is what I propose. Tell me what you think." He stated as preamble. "Tibbiddo, you would scout the path ahead and mark the way as we discussed earlier. If you had any doubts as to how to proceed at any point, either stay put or come back. Perhaps Maewyn would be willing to assist you in that task."

He then turned to the other Halfling. "Marri, Your task would be most important of all. We will need you to take care of Herger, and also consult Likar's book to give Tibbs all the guidance he needs to find our way. Marri, we'll also need you to supervise Michael and I as we assemble a litter to transport our friend until he wakes up once again."

Looking at those assembled, he simply asked. "What do you think?"

Tibbiddo nodded somewhat reluctantly. He couldn't help but notice that Rurik had saddled him with the mystical elf, and realized they he now had to watch ahead and his back else he become prey for her magic. "Will do," he replied slyly with a glance toward Maewyn.

The company moved on. Maewyn was noticing a few odd things as she and Tibbo scouted ahead -a broken twig here, a few piled rocks there. Soon she was sure. These were signs such as Druids used to mark trails and so on. Somewhere near by dwelt a Druid Priest and the signs would lead to him or her. The signs led east, back into the woods and away from foothills where their trail led.

Maewyn stopped at one of the signs pointing it out to Tibbo she called softly to him; "There is a help for Herger in that direction. I am sure that if we follow the signs we will find a druidic priest that will be able to help him."

Maewyn took a couple of step down the druidic trail turning to look at Tibbo to see if he was going to follow her or if he was going to accuse her of all sort of nonsense instead.

Tibbiddo looked into the thick forest and then back along the marked path. Something inside him said to trust the elf, especially considering the altercation before. "Okay," he whispered back. "But you better let me tell the group, I can be a bit more persuasive," he added with a wink.

On short legs he hurried back along the path to the party. "We have found signs ahead, Maewyn has identified them as leading to a priest. Herger's recovery is assured!" he said with joy hoping to convince his companions even though he himself had doubts.

Rurik's mood had lightened considerably since his earlier outburst, enough so that he actually laughed. "Herger's recovery is assured, you say? Well then, we can't ask for better than that now, can we?" With a smile and a wink, Rurik gestured toward the way Tibbiddo came "Very well, good sir. Lead on!" Looking around at the others, he looked cheerfully chagrined as he realized he may have overstepped. "Unless anyone else thinks otherwise?"

No one said anything to the contrary, and so it was decided.

Rurik had his reservations, but that was natural. This had to be checked out, so there's no point in fretting about it.

The party turned east as Maewyn led the way following the signs only she could read. After a few hours they hit a small stream and after following it for about an hour it widened out to a pool surrounded by willows with a clearing in the woods on one bank. A small hut sat in the clearing and as they approached a woman dressed in white robes came out of the hut and watched them ride up.

The clearing filed her with a sense of peace. Dismounting her horse Maewyn walked forward respectfully towards the druidic priestess. Standing before the woman in white Maewyn bowed her head bending down to one knee her hand on her heart as she show the proper respect for an elder.

Her head lowered showing the proper respect the elf spoke in druidic, "May the love and guidance of the earth mother be with you elder. With full knowledge of the power of the Lady I followed the signs that lead to this grove. I place my hope in the earth mother knowing that although my abilities are limited she would lead me to one who would be of assistance. I pray that you are the one I seek." Standing she indicated the group with her hand speaking once more in the common tongue, "We have come to you seeking assistance. One of our number has taken a deadly wound that is beyond our powers to treat. We respectfully ask for your help."

"Welcome sister," said the woman. "I am Alinette." She spoke with a lilting Bretonnian accent. "Where is your wounded one?" She was walking toward the litter even as she spoke.

Maewyn nodded as she showed the way to the litter even thought she was sure that Alinette knew where to go.

Rurik dismounted and leaned against his horse; waiting calmly with arms crossed and wearing a pleasant casual half-grin.

Although Marri didn't understand most of what Maewyn said, she understood the respect Maewyn conveyed, and she felt the aura emanating from this new druid. Though there had been little she could do for him, she had insisted on walking at Herger's side. Now she stepped away and bobbed her head repectfully. Traveller, who had refused to be parted from Herger with equal furvor, sat down beside her, and two sets of eyes watched the approaching white figure intently.

Marri came close and watched as Alinette looked at Herger. "I know little of such things. Your care seems good to me." She turned to Marri who the druid seemed instinctively to know was the healer, "My skill does not extend to healing of wounds. But the injury looks tainted. Is the wound poisoned? If so, I may be able to help."

"With your leave," the Druid priestess bent down and called upon the power of the Great Mother. She placed her hands on the wound. Herger shuddered and sweat broke out on his brow. "Little one," said Alinette. "Did it help?"

Marri examined Herger anew. It was hard to say anything at this point, but his head seemed a bit warmer, unless it was merely wishful thinking.

"Well?" Tibbiddo asked Marri, "did it work?"

Watching very carefuly what the other priestess did, Maewyn waited to see if Herger had been helped at all. Turning the halfling's name into a question Maewyn spoke softly, "Marri?"

Traveller gave a sharp little bark as Marri examined Herger carefully. With a frown, Marri answered Tibbi, Maewyn and her little dog with "I don't know my friends. I believe he feels a bit warmer, and the wounds seems less tainted. We will need to wait for a few hours before I can be certain."

She turned to the priestess, and gave her surprisingly graceful curtsey, saying "Thank you for your help to strangers. Have we your permission to stay here for a bit until I can tell if my friend is recovering? We've a bit of coin I think, and if that is not sufficient to pay for your help with the poison and the use of your land, we can do whatever work you might have need of. We have some strong backs, some hunters, and I'm a decent scribe and a fair cook, if I do say it myself."

"Of course," said Alinette. "Camp where you wish."

The party began to make their camp, and after half an hour or so a man came out of the woods, also dressed in white. Alinette introduced him as Willowbrook a fellow priest. He was an amiable sort who asked about their travels and what had befallen Herger and listened with interest to whatever they told him.

As night fell, they shared some of their supplies with the company and unlike Maewyn seemed to have no restrictions on their diet.

After dinner, Alinette and Marri checked on Herger and both agreed that he seemed better. "Though whether it was my spell or your tending or both, who can say?" said the Druid. "Indeed, his own strength was probably the deciding factor."

By the next morning, it was clear to all that the crisis point had been passed and Herger was healing. The next day was the full moon, sacred to the druids, and Alinette invited them to stay one more day and rest while she, Willowbrook and presumably Maewyn went into the woods to commune with nature.

"Another day 'communing with nature.'" Rurik sighed. He didn't appear upset at the concept. In fact, he resigned himself to make the best of the leisurely pace. He was looking forward to some good rest, time to enjoy Marri's finely prepared meals, and maybe even get someone to help teach him the letters.

Maewyn glanced over with a look of gratitude at Rurik. Although he spoke in resignation she was glad she did not have to put herself at odd with the party again. Maewyn knew that she would stay. The opportunity to share her believes with the other two druid priestess was too good to pass up. That day she helped with the preparation for the upcoming night.

Marri had spent a good deal of time of her time near Herger until she was absolutely certain he was getting better. Once she was sure, she'd walked into the woods a little ways for privacy and poured a generous libation to acknowledge Esmeralda's help and support. "No slight meant to the gods and goddesses of the druids, whoever they may be, and to any other god that took a benevolent notice of our problems, I am grateful to you all," she thought taking a drink of wine herself, "but 'tis fitting each of us should acknowledge those who take an interest in us! And I would have to suppose bountiful Esmeralda who watches over life from her cauldron must be especially interested in those who are also a bit bountiful and watch life from beside a cauldron!" Stifling a laugh, Marri finished the wine and headed back to the camp.

Noting that even the most restless of the companions seemed near content to wait out the day, she turned her eyes to their sacks of provisions and began to consider what she could make for the next meal. "Something Herger will like and can eat, and something the rest of us can dig into! Its been a bit since we've had a good meal! Fear is just not good for the appetite!" she thought.

Traveller was nosing one of the sacks as Marri walked over. "You're thinking we all need a good meal too, eh?" Marri said, petting Traveller. "And so we do, so we do! And I am about to cook it!"

Maewn spent her time in the forest gathering herbs and special plants that would be used in the ceremony that evening. Besides gathering of the plants Maewyn fasted the entire day and as the sun began to set before the moon had risen she was ready awaiting Alinette and Willowbrook at the forest edge. As the moon rose Maewyn for the second time felt herself merge with the eagle that was the present from the Lady. Over the forest with the moon on her wing she soared. Down below the mountain lie beneath her like a three dimensional map soaring above the ground Maewyn made note of all that she saw. As the moon sank below the treetops Maewyn with a final cry returned once more to her land bond body. As Maewyn fully returned to her body she smiled at the other druids before closing her eyes to catch a few moments of rest.

She passed the rest of the time with the other two druids learning all that she could from them. Speaking to them in Druidic as much as possible. By the second day she picked up a few more words and her pronunciation was markedly better. Some of her day had been spent taking Swiftwind out hunting for the food she would need and practicing hunting with a bow. Along with hunting Maewyn pratice her sword play accepting any advice from the others if it was given. As the moon rose over the trees Maewyn left once more into the forest to spend some of the night in meditation to regain her spells. When the time came to leave Maewyn left the grove with a smile that was very uncharacteristic of her. Maewyn left the pair with some wild honey she had found as a gift for all that they had done for the group.

In fact, the two days rest was enjoyed by all and when they set out on the 25th, they were cheerful and upbeat. Herger seemed completely recovered except for a mark on face that would become a lovely scar when it finished healing. Satisfied, they packed up and moved on.

As the afternoon wore on, they began to search for the last landmark, the one that would guide them into a valley approach to the keep. It was Tibbo who spotted the rock formation they were looking for, and an hour later they were making camp in the bottom of a small valley. The instructions said that from this point they simply followed the valley for another half a day to their destination.

As Tibbo pointed out the rock formation Maewyn congratulated him in a clear effort to show that she was not entire a stick in the mud. Since the grove Maewyn had been trying to show all that she was supportive of their task. Hopefully her help would be seen in a way that they would not consider controversial. Still she was a druid foremost and her duties to her lady would take precedent even if it put her at odds with the others.

As they camped for the night Maewyn left the group walking off a ways into the forest to scout around them. Calling to Amber she used the giant eagle to scout the area above them using him as an additional set of eyes as she walked around the camp.

Nothing seemed too unusual, and she began to gain a feeling for just how far Amber would stray from her - not too far, it seemed, since they were so deeply linked. The spirit-bird would rise no more than thirty or forty feet above her head. She also found herself growing more attuned to her familiars moods. Although the bird could not speak, of course, Maewyn was able to glean some information from her stance, the angle of her head, whether she rested calmly or beat her wings agitatedly and so on.

Amber too, it seemed, found nothing amiss with their campsite and soon returned to perch near her mistress.

Secure that all was as it should be Maewyn set Swiftwind to flight in hopes that the bird would bring down prey. For not only the bird but Maewyn herself had need of the raw meat tp make their evening meal.

Soon enough bird and mistress had meat for their dinner in the form of a fat pheasant that fled not quite quickly enough.

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