GM’d and posted by Darth Krzysztof
While Gheris weighed her options, Simon stepped into view. “Good day!” he called to the three brightly-dressed humans. “I suspect you have a story to tell, tied up in the woods as you are!”
The young woman’s expression changed to a smile, but her breathing was rapid and shallow. “Oh! Happy greetings, good Ser! I am Keira Liadan, and these are my parents, Rajko and Katerina. And yes, ours is a sad tale, indeed, and full of woe.”
Simon approached Keira, his tone a bit too jovial. “Now, demanding the entirety of such a woeful tale on such a cold day would be cruel, but I’d hear a bit of it before I go untying you. Especially as concerns other travelers; I wasn’t aware this was a popular destination!”
“Of course, good Ser.” Keira also seemed too bright for the situation. “As you, um, may have heard me saying just now, we came across a pair of dwarf women recently.”
Naessa turned a puzzled expression on Aidan and whispered, “Well, that wasn’t quite what I expected him to do.”
“What did you expect?” Aidan replied. “Is there a standard procedure for dealing with people you find tied up in the middle of the woods?”
“I don’t know what I expected. Something sneakier than saying ‘Hi,’ I guess…”
Before Naessa could say another word, Aidan headed over to stand by Simon. “I must say, Simon, this is indeed unique.”
“So it is, Gerald!” Aidan blinked at the pseudonym that Simon had spontaneously assigned to him, but went along with it.
“We treated the dwarves as guests, " Keira went on, “gave them a nice meal. Mother read their fortunes, as is our custom.” She missed or ignored Naessa’s snort. “They repaid us by stealing our wagon and leaving us out here! Can you imagine? I saw a spider bigger than that dog!” She shook her head in Kentrell’s direction, then told ‘Gerald’: “He is very handsome, Ser.”
“Thank you. He’s a good dog.” Aidan reached down to pet the Mabari.
“Gerald,” Simon said, “perhaps you should see to finding these dwarves’ trail.”
“Gheris is doing that.” He pointed at Gheris, who moved around in a crouch, seeking footprints beneath a fine layer of fresh snow.
“Very well,” sighed Simon, turning back to Keira. “So. What were you doing in these parts?”
“My family was looking for a spot to camp near Gwaren. We wanted to entertain travelers along the road, do you see? It is how the Zatani thrive.”
Simon nodded. “And how many dwarves were there?”
“Two.” Keira held two fingers up with one bound hand. “Both women, one older. Mother and daughter, I think. Very close to the chest. Very secretive.”
“How long have you been tied up?”
Keira attempted to shrug. “A few hours, now. Since lunchtime.”
“And which way did the dwarves go?”
The Zatani jerked her head north. “Toward Denerim. Back the way we came.”
Gheris paused near Naessa, saying, “I see tracks that probably belong to dwarves. Definitely not to these three.”
Naessa nodded. “The Zatani travel all over Thedas. Not common at all in Ferelden, though. Why here, now?”
“Probably decided to rob unsuspecting travelers in a place that doesn’t know them.” Gheris looked back over her shoulder at the Zatani. “Dwarves must’ve bested them, though. We shouldn’t let them go.”
Naessa snorted. “Like they could steal from us? Why would they travel into this weather, though, if they didn’t know something?” She sighed. “Or maybe I’m just paranoid. We need to find those dwarves.”
“Agreed. We should move on,” Gheris said with a nod, loud enough for everyone to hear.
Simon turned to Keira, holding a small knife. “Alright then. Let me cut you loose and you can be on your way.”
Keira gasped. “Oh, thank you, magnanimous Ser! You are most generous.”
“I’m afraid we must keep moving. We’re on a very important expedition to a potential resting place of the Urn of Sacred Ashes, and I’d hate to lose the trail now after years of…” He snapped his head up and stared out into the woods.
“What?” asked Keira, half-whispering.
“Sorry, I thought I saw something. I must be mistaken.”
“Don’t cut them loose!” Gheris called as she came closer. She saw that the Zatani had no weapons, but wasn’t about to take unnecessary risks. “They’ll just try to rob us in revenge for getting their worthless trickster belongings stolen! Waste of time.”
Keira shook her head, eyes flicking between Simon’s knife and Gheris’s face. “Oh no, goodly Dalish! We are unarmed. Harmless. No one pays the Zatani any mind…”
Simon made a tsk-tsk sound at Gheris. “What, you’re proposing leaving them to get eaten by who-knows-what? Nonsense!” He shuffled toward Keira like a doddering old fool; it was all Naessa could do to keep from laughing. Simon cut Keira free and headed for her father.
As soon as Keira stepped away from the tree, Kent ran up to her and sniffed her hand. She crouched down to pet the dog, who fell to pieces under all the attention. “Looks like someone’s made a new friend,” Aidan said.
“He’s yours, then?” Keira asked.
“Aye. Or, at least, he seems to come when I call him. Wouldn’t trade him for the world, though.”
“Nor should you. He must be a fine companion for you.”
“As fine as I could ask for.” The words sounded stupid to Aidan as soon as he’d said them, but Keira was already paying more attention to the approaching Gheris.
“What makes you think I’m Dalish?” Gheris asked.
“It’s your accent,” the Zatani replied, rubbing her wrists. “Not flat enough for the city. Don’t worry, I don’t look down on the Dalish. Or anyone, really.” Before Gheris could reply, Keira stood up and turned back to Simon. “Would I be asking too much if I asked you to help us to reclaim our wagon? It’s all we have in this world. Our lives are inside it…”
“You could try honest work for a change,” Gheris snapped.
Keira turned back to her, and Gheris suddenly feared becoming the victim of a gypsy curse. But Keira’s deep, green eyes held no malice. “Telling the future is the most honest of professions,” Keira said. “Sadly, many people who ask for the truth don’t like what they hear.”
“Of course we can help,” Simon said as he cut Rajko free. The old Zatani had taken quite a beating before he’d been tied up. “There’s always time to track down thieves. It’ll be a grand adventure!”
Gheris narrowed her eyes. “We already have a grand adventure, old man.”
“Yes, yes, but it’s on our way. And if the dwarves stick to the road, then it’s exactly on our way. Just think of it! Ser Flamish’s meditations on the Fifth Book of Cyril, finally bearing fruit!”
Naessa started coughing when holding back her laughter became too much for her. She busied herself with tending to Rajko’s bruises.
Watching Keira play with Kent, Aidan asked, “Simon, what if we run into the dangers Sir Flemish warned us about before we get to the wagon? I would hate for the Zatani to get hurt.”
“I keep saying, it’s Flamish! And he postulates no more than fifteen distinct death traps laid out by the dwarvish cult guarding the Urn. We’ll be fine!” Simon cut Katerina loose. “Besides, the packs of Fire Beasts won’t be nearly so fierce in this weather!”
“Fire beast… is bad?” Rajko asked, his accent nearly impenetrable. He nodded his appreciation to Naessa, who moved on to check on his wife.
Simon waved a hand dismissively. “Provided you’ve prepared yourself with the proper warding unguents, as we have, not really. Otherwise, very much so.”
Naessa gave up on mundane treatments and cast a healing spell on Katerina, whose muttered appreciation reached no one’s ears. She then did the same for Rakjo, who said something in Zatani. “Father thanks you,” Keira said, “and so do I.”
“Nice,” Gheris sighed. “Shall we carry them on our backs the rest of the way?”
“I assure you, that won’t be necessary,” Keira said with perfect seriousness.
Aidan caught Keira’s eyes and held them, saying, “Ah. The benefits of traveling with Circle mages.”
The Zatani girl nodded, either believing him, or agreeing to the story. “Thank you for freeing us, Gerald.”
Gheris walked directly between them. “Come on, you lot,” she said. “Road doesn’t walk itself.”
They made their way back to the road. Gheris soon spotted the wagon’s tracks, at the point where someone had turned it back north. She sensed Keira close behind. “Tell me,” Gheris asked, “why were you going to Gwaren? I thought Zatani avoided Ferelden.”
“We were driven out of Orlais,” Keira said. “And they didn’t care for us around Denerim. We thought we’d try a place that’s a little more… sleepy. Ferelden has been kinder to us than Orlais was, but anything would have been an improvement.” She quickly added, “I mean no offense,” presumably for Simon’s benefit.
“Orlais is unkind to many,” Simon said.
Naessa blinked. “I wouldn’t have thought there’d be enough traffic for you to have customers here in Ferelden, but…”
“Times are tough,” Keira said. “We go where the wind blows.”
Aidan caught up with Keira. “So where are you from?”
Keira shrugged. “Here. There. Everywhere. Nowhere. The road. My answer depends upon the day. What about you? I have an ear for accents, but yours is… mixed up.”
“His brain is, too,” supplied Gheris.
Aidan couldn’t keep himself from laughing. “I’m from a mixed-up place. Nowhere important, though. Trust me.” He moved his signet ring to his pocket.
Keira smiled, and drew breath to say more, but stopped when everyone heard the wagon ahead, somewhere out of sight. Simon pointed, and Gheris slid off the trail and out of sight. She soon saw the wagon, covered with brightly colored canvas, drawn by a single, tired old horse. Two dwarf women rode on the seat, one older than the other. Neither seemed to notice Gheris.
She glanced behind her. The others were back there, somewhere. Gheris could only hope that, if this didn’t work, they’d arrive to help her in time.
Gheris grabbed a thick branch, sidled alongside the wagon, and jammed the branch through the wheel’s spokes. The wagon lurched to a stop, the horse too exhausted for panic, and the older dwarf flew from the wagon, landing at Gheris’s feet. Gheris planted a boot on the dwarf’s chest and drew her new daggers, saying, “Don’t move.”
The younger dwarf stood up and reached for her weapon,but looked over her shoulder to see Simon and Aidan approaching. “You,” Stennar said, pointing at Aidan. “What are you doing here? Were you following me?”
“Sort of,” Aidan replied. “Why don’t you come on down, and we’ll have a nice chat.”
“Do it,” the older dwarf said. “I think they would have killed us if that was their plan.” Stennar dropped her quarterstaff and jumped off the wagon.
Gheris leaned a little closer to her prey. “Batshiva, yes?”
“I am,” Batshiva said, blinking confusion out of her eyes.
“I’ll let you up now. But no funny business. And no violent business, either.”
The dwarf nodded. Gheris removed her foot, and Batshiva stood up, moving beside her daughter. A great golden eagle landed atop the wagon. “So what’s this all about?” Batshiva asked, not sure whom she should be addressing.
“We’re all here for the same reason,” Aidan said. “Get the ice heart to the tree to stop the Silent Lord. We’ve got the people you stole the wagon from back aways. They want it back.”
Stennar snorted with laughter. “The Zatani? Those crooks?”
“I knew it,” Aidan and Gheris muttered together.
“Did they tell you about how they told our fortunes, ‘just to pass the time’? Did they tell you that they had the gall to ask us to pay ’em?”
Keira stepped forward, Kent at her heels. “My father barely speaks this language! I’m sorry if he couldn’t make himself clear enough for you…”
Batshiva pointed at Rajko. “He got violent! Threatened to take it out of our hides! We only defended ourselves.”
“You threw the first punch!” shouted Keira.
The situation continued to escalate until the great eagle screeched, causing everyone to shut up at once. The eagle turned its head to glare at everyone with one eye before melting back into Naessa’s form.
“Right,” Aidan said, calling on some of his father’s debate lessons. “So. Whose wagon is this, really?” Rajko raised his hand. “Good. Okay. Everyone else agree?” No one disagreed, anyway.
“We weren’t about to spend another night in the cold,” Stennar grumped.
“And the Zatani were?” Simon asked, pinching the bridge of his nose with his eyes squeezed shut.
Batshiva laughed. “They should have thought of that before they tried to gyp us!”
Keira prepared to raise her voice, but backed down in the light of Aidan’s glare. Indeed, for the moment, Aidan had everyone’s attention. “Slow down,” he said. “The Zatani own the wagon; they get the wagon. We’re practically there anyway. You dwarves can camp with us till we get to the Tree. These people can go on their way, and no one freezes to death tied to a pole. Maker’s breath, Stennar! You saved me from the elements. Why condemn her?”
The dwarves and Zatani peered at the ground. No one spoke for several seconds. Finally, Rajko said, “What about money.”
“Father…!” Keira hissed.
Batshiva whirled around. “You know what? Fine.” She opened a pouch on her belt, full to bursting with gold coins. Unaware that Gheris stared at her coins with naked avarice, Stennar flicked a few out to land on the snow at Rajko’s feet. “Choke on them,” the dwarf growled. She closed the pouch and turned back to the group. “Now, if there’s nothing further, let’s talk about the ice heart.”