It was on the way out of town they ran across Devlin and Teman. The two looked like they had just hit the roads themselves. They had a pair of horses pulling along an empty wagon prepared to head south. More than likely, they were off to clean up at Abbysta or Erridda.
“What brings the two of you out today? Another expedition?” Asked Oren
“Yes, we are going to where we first met and then onto the place Teman visited you. If we can clean it out before anyone is the wiser then we will retire from this and in luxury. Where are you going?” Devlin replied.
“Off to find Tabia; she went over toward the mountains. She has something she forgot to give back to us.”
“Oh, was she the one that was in the full suit of armor I saw walking alone near the place?” Teman asked.
A distinct lack of location names was going on as they were still along a heavy traveled stretch of road. Both parties did not know the loyalties or professions of those traveling passed them. And the right word in the right ear could mean a quick end to their ventures.
The skies had been clouding up this morning. From what few areas the sun or sky peaked through, it would have been a beautiful sunrise. Despite the snow a while back the ground had dried since then. It would probably be another day till the snow fell as its forces gathered in the clouds and bided its’ time for the temperature to drop. Before the morning’s departure, Oren had sent out a spirit to locate Tabia exactly. He was uncertain how well this attempt would pan out.
The rest of the time on the path was spent with casual banter. When the trail split just inside the protection of the wards, the two groups parted ways. Oren was promised by the two men that he would still get his books from Abbysta and if they could get the set from Erridda then he would have those too.
The trio encountered a large group of miners heading up the opposite direction. They were calling it quits for the season in the mines. With questionable routes through the snow for supplies, it took a certain desperate person to sign on in the mines through the winter.
“Hello sir,” someone flagged to Oren to come over. “I see you are heading out down these roads and I feel it proper to warn you that there are soldiers on the move. They fly banners, the likes I have never seen. They are friendly enough to those passing by, so I don’t know if a lord has sent people to deal with wolves or goblins or something. They sometimes are desperate this time of year. But mind you they are armed heavier than one need be for a trifle as small as them.”
“Did you see who was leading them?” Oren Inquired. “Also do you know what the banner was they followed?”
“Yes there were two groups. Both lead by men. I have to think for a minute on the banners.” The man sat scratching his chin, possibly enjoying the warmth of his neck on his hand more than needing to think. “The first group had something of a castle or keep with a flame above it. And the second…That had something with a few birds on it? Sorry, but it was couple days since we saw one of them and a few days longer since the other.”
“Not a problem,” replied Oren, “I am a merchant and I want to know if any of the lords I deal with are off to war is all. If they go get themselves killed I may need to be concerned, but it sounds like no one I am familiar with.”
Martell glanced over at Rowenn; she knew she was well aware of the symbols as were Oren and herself. This was troubling, as this would make it harder to speak with Tabia if she was campaigning with some of the other priests. The only good that would come from this is that would be a larger camp and easier to spot.
“Safe travels to you sir.”
“And to you as well,” Oren fished around in his robes before pulling out a small pouch he had, tossing it to the miner. “Consider it compensation for your time. Your words of warning may mean the safety of me and my companions.”
Both parties continued on their way, distancing themselves before Martell felt safe to bring up what they were all thinking about.
“Rowenn, do you know why the other priests would be gathering forces?” Martell asked.
“Not off hand. I know we had discussed that the gods for some reason did not want the Drémores to return to power but I cannot think of a reason they would gather forces to destroy them. After all, they have nowhere near an army of followers to rebel against Iseb. And even the families that were loyal to them are, in general, content with the status quo if they have any descendants around.”
“It may not be the Drémores the gods fear. It may be Casapan. He has not made a formal appearance yet. Also we don’t know the power of Lady Nattan. She seemed to have powers similar to whatever that clay or dirt thing was. She may have even crafted it before her encasing at Erridda.”
“That is true, either one of them may have power beyond what we know of.” Rowenn spoke.
There was a pause before Oren spoke, “Rowenn, do you know what this is?” He pulled out the jar containing the copper. It responded from being at the bottom of the jar to the side nearest Rowenn.
“I think…maybe. If I recall it maybe something called a Sienna Paladin. They are something that dwells between spirits and elemental essence. They were created by enchanters and served in many temples, generally doing simple tasks like dusting”
“So do you have any of these at the temple in Avo?”
“There may be a few roaming the expanses under the temple, but I have never seen them. I know of them because my mentor frequently lamented their absence. Now thinking about it, they did come in a variety of sizes. The largest about that of a medium sized dog. Their bodies are very fluid, so they can reach out far distances but with the stretching comes a lack of strength to back that size. If I recall correctly, with time the spirit slowly breaks the chains that bind it to the material world, hence why none would be around the temple now despite them having been there in the past.”
“Well you are welcome to this one if you want. I have no use for him, other than I could sell it as a novelty or into further torment by an enchanter.”
Rowenn took the jar from Oren and opened it. The creature made its way out of the container and down Rowenn’s arm. She stifled a laugh as it tickled in its movement. It eventually went into her backpack. She took it off to see what it was up to in there. It looked to be burrowing through her belongings, assessing what was present and moving on to the next item. The curiosity it possessed captured the party’s attention for a short while. It finally settled into an outer pocket that had been empty and ceased moving. They took that as it was time to move on with locating Tabia.
The next couple days were easy going for the party with the occasional snow flurries not hindering progress. Oren did not hear anything back form the spirit he had sent out to search for Tabia. He questioned if that was due to him not staying put after sending the spirit out and now it could not find him.
On the third day they reached a fort, Fort Rullian. The place was an outpost for travelers, guarded by men of the Kingdom. During the springtime, this place would have been in chaos with caravans passing from the mines back to Aleto and other cities. Now the place was dead. Its wooden walls offered a shield from winds, but did nothing to warm the cold. The walls were large timbers that had been replaced in patchwork. Places outside the walls had been shuttered for the season. Inside the walls, the buildings were drafty with the occasional tapestry or pelt splayed across the wall as an attempt at insulation. There were still a decent number of people that lived here year round. This would be where they rested this evening and try to find word on the location of the priests.
“So what brings you out in the cold? With two women no less.” The person behind the bar asked. His voice was gravely. He was around Rowenn’s height, clean shaven, bald and had bushy black eyebrows. The man poured drinks for the three of them.
“Well, a variety of things bring us out. I myself am on a mission for a merchant from Aleto. I finally had time to venture out this way to look at potential for trade routes to the mines. But I also heard some rumors that there are people out this way we might need to bring fancy stuff from the big city to. Looks like he could make a killing here on the right food or some stone.”
“Aye, you could; if you could find someone with the wealth to afford it. Most us here for the winter are just getting by. Now if you could setup a warding obelisk here then you might get more people to stay. Though that would not fix the reason no one stays here in the winter. We occasionally get a bout of either goblins foraging or assaults by wild animals or like one year when we had some snow sprites. I figure it was one of the lords that sent the troops through a day ago. They claimed to be after some wolves.”
“Wolves? Why take them on here? It’s not like there are cattle or crops in this area to protect.” Martell spoke up. “No offense to you or whomever they are off to defend, but usually the nobles only send out a patrol when it will impact them directly and usually then a few people have died in advance of them caring.”
“You are observant and beautiful young lady,” the bartender responded. “They say wolves, I smell something bigger. Maybe it is a feudal tiff. There are a few lords that have had a fight out here and claimed their doings were for the good of us common folk. A few days later, they come back through with a few dead and someone’s honor feels properly respected.”
“I had heard such things went on, you know rumors and all. But never expected they would trudge out here in the midst of winter.” Martell replied.
“Those pretty boys will do anything and inconvenience their men as they see fit. I should know, served one of them bastards for ten years. First five I din’t know any better and the second five because you can’t just up an leave ’em.”
“I agree. They get upset if you leave them; complain about the time invested and equipment. Never care that you are tired of risking your life.” Martell commiserated. “That is why I am now protecting him,” she pointed to Oren. “Merchants pay better too.”
“That they do. Who did you have the privilege of serving?”
“A few lords, you know Lord Worven? He was the worst. At attention at sun up and at sun down for inspection. Not a clue what he was inspecting, but the armor was pretty and the blades sharp. It was an easy time but I got let go when he could not afford to keep up appearances for everyone.”
“That’s not as bad as I had it. You know Lady Beauglade? She would demand we march from one end of her holdings to th’ other just so her subjects knew she was protecting them.”
The conversation continued like this for a couple hours. The bar keeper eventually got the point this was all talk, but appreciated the change from the normal quiet. Martell did catch that the troop had headed further southeast toward the brink of the forest, apparently to meet another company that would help in the culling of wolves.
Oren looked over at Martell’s sister. Rowenn sat unnoticed by the bar keeper, actually she sat unnoticed by everyone in the room. She was there and Oren was aware of her, but somehow others were not. He wanted to remember to ask her about this later, but could not recall why he wanted to ask her. He was about to ask her a question and draw her into the conversation, but he opened his mouth and no words came out. He looked quizzically at her and she smiled back.
When the barkeeper left to attend to some other clientele, Oren looked over at Martell and everything was fine, he talked with her as if his thoughts and concerns about Rowenn never existed. Rowenn joined in the conversation after a few minutes as if she had been there the entire time. They ate dinner at there and then made their way to the room for the night.
“Oren,” Rowenn spoke up, “Downstairs, something was off, but you didn’t say anything are you ok?”
“Yes, but I don’t recall anything being off.”
“Are you sure? You had a puzzled look on your face and you were going to ask me a question.”
Oren concentrated for a bit, then recalled, “I am curious as to why the bar keeper didn’t make an approach on you. You look like your sister, yet he was only focused on her.”
“I do not know. He would have made about as much progress with me.”
“Rowenn, I don’t think anyone even noticed you down there after our initial entry.” Martell spoke up.
“Well, I did not have much to contribute to your conversation. But no, I don’t think anyone said anything to me. I saw a lot and recall everything perfectly that I saw and heard…actually better than I would expect.”
“Let us see the little Paladin. I am curious.” Said Oren.
Rowenn went to her pack to look for the creature. It had moved. No longer in the pocket, it took a while for the trio to locate as it was now lining the inside of Rowenn’s cloak.
Now focused on it, Rowenn realized the weight of her cloak was now slightly heavier. It looked like it had woven itself in as a thin liner as there were no breaks around the edges and it moved fluidly with the movement of the rest of the cloak’s fabric.
“So Rowenn, got any idea that they would do this?” Martell prodded.
“No, I just recall being told that they were servants. Though this may add explanation to the Paladin in the name. I am curious as to the larger influences that this may have aside from what Oren observed earlier.”
The following morning the three set out south and would cut over eastward once they felt they had wandered far enough from the fort not to be seen and were certain no one had decided to follow. The flurries had continued on with little dustings occurring on random tree branches. The wind had died down from the night before, but it did little without the sun to make it feel any more pleasant while trekking.