Nostalgia is a funny thing. I’ve traveled a lot during my life and never had a real home, so I was surprised when the feeling started to creep up on me when we first caught sight of Troubeck. It was diminished somewhat when I saw the heads decorating pikes by the front gate. A member of the town’s guard was driving another pike into the ground.
“What were these men guilty of?” I asked the guard as we walked past.
“Murder,” the guard said, spitting at the ground in front of the pikes. “Thievery. Bandits to the core, each one of them.” He drove his hammer down on the pike again. Barry looked uncomfortable.
“Do they bother Troubeck often?” asked Lluc.
“Often enough that the mayor wanted to send them a message. At least the goblins are staying north” The guard’s hammer hit the pike once more. Barry turned to leave and the rest of us followed.
We rented some rooms at an inn called Sundara’s Bard, across the street from the temple where I had woken up. We enjoyed a warm meal and music from a lutenist that night. It was a welcome improvement to trail rations. Cold, salted meat doesn’t do hunger justice. Kaius had been turning something over in his hands, but I only took notice when a frightened Barry dropped the coin he had been idly rolling between his knuckles.
“Why did you bring that back?” asked Barry. His eyes were wide and darted between looking to pick up his coin and the talisman Kaius had in the palm of his hand.
“I wanted to show this to the Sundaran priests,” answered Kaius. “Greg, you might want to warn your guild against sending more of their members to that chapel.”
“Right,” Greg said. “I’ll let them know when I drop off our grave moss in the morning. Thank you all for your help, the next round is on me.”
Lluc clapped him on the shoulder. He had been hitting the ale pretty hard in celebration of his recovery. His nose and cheeks were red, and his speech had a slur to it. “Someone’s got to take care of you, wizard. You would have crumpled from that hammer our black priest conjured up.”
Greg laughed nervously and rubbed his shoulder, then raised his hand to flag down one of the servers. We enjoyed the rest of our first night back in Troubeck. Music and good food do wonders for a man’s soul. Kaius and I had to help Lluc back to the room the two of them were sharing. Greg, Barry, and I had the room next to theirs.
“Have any of you seen Barry?” I asked them, noting his absence.
“No,” Greg said. “He said something about answering the call of nature, but now that I think about it, that was hours ago.” He put his head into our room. “He’s not in bed.”
Kaius was frowning. “I hope he’s not getting himself into trouble,” he said. “I don’t want any trouble with the guard here.”
Barry was sprawled on his back in bed when I woke up. His snoring seemed impossibly loud for such a small man. Greg was already up, paging through one of his books.
“How can you read with this racket?” I asked. He didn’t answer. His finger crept slowly across the page, and his lips were moving silently along. “Greg?” I walked over and tapped his shoulder.
“Hm? Oh, sorry,” he apologized.
“Riveting reading you have there.” I looked over his shoulder at the text. I couldn’t understand one word of it. “Is that Elvish?”
Greg shook his head. “No, it’s a cant taught to members of my order. Or, well, members of the order I used to belong to before we came here.” He closed the book and looked out the window and down into the street below.
Druids have their own secret cant as well. I knew better than to pry at him about his, even if no one here used it. Truth be told, I probably wouldn’t have understood anything in his notes anyway.
Greg had tried to explain his theory on our whereabouts again last night. Between Kaius’s many questions, Lluc’s drunken intrusions into the conversation, Barry’s disinterest, and my confusion, not a whole lot was gained from his musings. His simplest explanation was that our worlds were temporarily bridged together by that warping dungeon we met in. When we left, we walked out of the closest path we had home. And now we were here in Troubeck.
“I’m heading out for now,” Greg said. He grabbed the pack of grave moss he had gathered and went to the door. “I’ll be back after I’ve met with my new guild.”
I watched the door close behind him and made my way over to the window. I opened it to let in some air and kicked the leg of Barry’s bed. He let out a loud snort, whined indiscernibly, and rolled over.
“Come on,” I said. “Let’s get some food and wait for the others.”
Barry was already into his second helping of breakfast by the time Greg returned. Lluc winced at the sound the coin purse made when Greg dropped it on the table between us. Lluc had complained about the noise in the quiet common room since he and Kaius met us that morning. Barry’s eyes lit up when he saw the gold inside.
“Our reward,” Greg said, pouring the coins out onto the table, clearly amused by Lluc’s discomfort. “They also allowed me time to copy a map of the area we are in. Everything from Bellenau to the south, to the hinterlands north of us here.” He pulled out a large piece of parchment he had carefully rolled and stowed in a cylindrical, leather scroll case and laid it on the table.
What he had produced was less of a precise, painfully rendered understanding of the local region than it was a rough approximation a child would make of their house, family, and dog in stick-figure form. But he was obviously very proud of his work, so despite it’s obvious shortcomings, we told him we were glad to know the lay of the land.
Barry was sitting across from me, face bright red, fighting painfully to keep from laughing.
“And where were you last night,” asked Kaius, pointing his fork at Barry, whose face immediately turned sober.
“In the privy,” Barry said defensively. “The food was heavy after berries, dried meat, and cheese for a whole week, and it didn’t sit well with my stomach.” He turned his knife down and used it to draw images in the condensation left on the tabletop. “Does anyone else need to visit the money-changer today?”
Kaius narrowed his eyes at him and sighed. “I can only imagine why you would need to visit them again.”
Barry shot him his best grin.