The walk back to Troubeck passed peacefully. Entering through the eastern gate felt less wistful than the last time. I had grown attached to the druid’s grove while I spent time there. I found myself turning the leaf-shaped pendant Gregorius had given me over with my fingers. It was good to know the druids of this world were so welcoming. It made me feel a little less lost.
It was also good to have travelling companions. Even with Barry’s roguish proclivities, I couldn’t help but feel a bond with my new friends.
Max and I found them enjoying an afternoon meal and ale in Sundara’s Bard.
“Kio!” Barry shouted when he saw me. He stood up on the bench and raised a tankard to me.
Lluc and Greg slid down their bench and made me a seat. I waved down a serving woman for some food and a drink. “How are things?” I asked.
“Good,” Lluc said. “Quiet, but good.”
Greg reached into his bag and started unfurling his map. “We were waiting for you to get back,” he started, “before we decided on our next move.” He pointed at a larger cluster of poorly drawn houses to our south. Underneath it, in conversely impeccable handwriting, was the name of the city: Lhanbyrde.
“What’s in Lhanbyrde?” I asked.
“It’s more of a stop on the way than anything else,” Greg said.
“We want to get to Bellenau,” Lluc said, and pointed to another city east and further inland from Lhanbyrde. “Greg thinks some big wizard there might be able to get us home.”
The others were so intent on getting back to where they came from. I wasn’t so eager. Leurbost was treating me well, and a druid was expected to travel after he finished his apprenticeship. That being said, I was probably more afield than most intended. The arch druid was somewhere just outside of Bellenau, though…
“I’m in,” I said.
“Good,” Kaius said. He let his drink hit the table with a thud. “When do we leave?”
“I’m fine to leave tomorrow,” I said. I patted my pack on the floor under the bench. “Already packed.”
Barry pushed his bowl and tankard away and swung a leg over the bench, making to leave. “Well, we’ll probably want to get an early start. I have to go meet an associate tonight, so—”
Kaius grabbed Barry’s collar, and sat him, forcibly, back down onto the bench. “Not tonight, halfling. I don’t want to be chased out town tomorrow morning. Remember the goblins?”
Barry crossed his arms and stuck out his chin. “The goblins didn’t catch me.”
We left the next morning after picking up supplies for our trip. The cart was laden with trail rations, tents, sleeping rolls, barrels of salted meat, water skins, and various other things we thought would help on our trip. The night before, all of us but Greg had picked out some horses from the most reputable stable we could find. We met Greg, with his horses and cart, outside of the east gate. Lhanbyrde was almost a month away by foot. Having horses would cut that down to just over two weeks.
The trip was mostly uneventful. I spent my days training Max on some basic commands. During breaks and meals, I’d slip away from the road to see what food I could forage up.
On the third night, during my turn at watch, I spotted a light coming our way in the dark.
It looked like a torch, judging by the flickering. A magical light would have stayed steady. The light was too high for the bearer to be on foot—at least a human on foot. That thought gave me pause.
I started to nudge the others awake.
A few minutes later, armed and armored, we started down the road toward the flame. We split up, with half of us on each side of the road. We were about a hundred yards away when the light went out.
“Enough,” Lluc said between his teeth, then louder, he shouted, “We know you’re out there! We saw your light from down the road!”
“Hello?” answered a clearly frightened voice. “Are you bandits?”
I dropped my arms to my side. I’d been holding them in a defensive posture, with sword and shield up, out of recently-learned instinct. “We’re travellers from Troubeck. We’re headed for Lhanbyrde.”
“Ah, I’m heading back home to Troubeck,” said the man, and lit his torch again, bathing all of us with a bobbing light. “If you ain’t bandits, you’re welcome to some food I’ve got with me. We can get a proper campfire going with so many of us here.”
Kaius held out his arm, and the man grasped it with his own. “We already had dinner and were settled down for the night. We’d be glad to share camp with you, though.”
We all traded introductions before heading back to gather our things, then moved down to join our fellow traveller. We got a nice fire glowing, which was welcome and kept the chill, late-spring air at bay for the rest of the night.
We left our friend the following morning after a breakfast of porridge and some very early strawberries I found nearby. We reached the next town only a little before dusk that day. Greenstead, the man had called it.
Greenstead was a decent sized village resting scenically on the shores of the Janko Sea. Smoke rose out of some of the homes as goodwives prepared evening meals. Judging by the number of small boats and people lining the shore, it was pretty obvious that fishing was the primary trade in town.
We stopped by the first inn we came across: The Charming Catfish. We were shown to our rooms and, after a short meal downstairs, retired for the night. We were all tired from a long few days on the road. I looked forward to a good night’s sleep. That is, until the screaming started.
I threw my armor on and buckled my scimitar around my waist. I grabbed my shield leaning against the wall, and helped Kaius fit the last few pieces of his armor on. We met the rest of the group downstairs as the tavern keeper, Mat, was funneling some of his other patrons out the front door.
“What’s the matter?” Kaius shouted above the screams outside.
Smoke billowed in from outside when Mat opened the door few the next few guests. “Bandits,” he said, and covered his mouth with his apron. “They’re setting fire to houses down the street. Please, help us!”
None of us needed any further request. We all took off running out of the door in the direction Mat had pointed.