Adventure Journal of Dorben Wainfoster
-23rd Kythorn, The Year of the Haunting
---After the “excitement” last evening, the rest of our day fairly paled in comparison, in that we were not attacked by any creatures looking to relieve us of our life’s blood in a violent manner. Today was a reminder of the unsung part of all those heroic ballads: When one is finished with the current adventure, one must then walk to the next. At least we were lucky enough to have our steeds to do the walking for us. Farran, my dapple grey Tharurr, has proven a capable war steed, carrying me in full armor and his own tack and barding without undue complaint. Rowan, my Sosser, seems content with his new role as pack horse. I think he is just happy that I am no longer gracing his spine with my bulk. Not that he ever complained, mind you. Kaliki did keep us somewhat entertained by quietly reworking stanzas of her epic as we rode. It was somewhat interesting listening to the creative process at work. Especially considering that part of that process was translating back and forth from the goblin language, over and over again. I swear I’m starting to understand both versions of the ballad. Perhaps I’ll ask her to teach me the language. It might even come in handy some day.
As I said, we did little more this day than cover ground. Some parts of it more than once. But more about that shortly. Our path intersected the Palauvir River somewhat less than two hours past highsun. Meg informed us of the river’s name and that we had to make a choice as to which way to follow the river. Upriver would take us west-northwest toward the more common crossing at Bloodstone Pass. Downriver would take us south, more in the direction of our destination at Hillcrest village but we were not sure of where we might find a crossing. Bridges were not marked and only some of the fords. Meg and Aedron agreed that some of those fords might prove to be impassable with the warming of the season and the resulting snowmelt coming downriver from the mountains.
We decided to turn upriver. Perhaps another two hours on horseback paralleling the river brought us to a small village. Actually, it brought us to the foot of a rope bridge on our side of the river and the walled village proper on a high redoubt on the far bank. It was easy to see that this placing was a remainder of the past war. The village’s sat in a strategic position overlooking a narrow point and bend in the river. Good archers atop those walls, along with perhaps a few siege engines and stalwart troops, could hold this point in the river quite handily against a much larger force. Unfortunately, as I stated earlier, the bridge crossing the river was only rope and plank construction and the extremely deep cut banks made this definitely not a fordable neck of said watercourse.
There were a pair of guards at the bridge on our bank and Kaliki questioned them as to the feasibility of our small caravan crossing their river. The guards, Boe and Luke by name, observed quite rightly that our horses would not be able to cross their bridge but they did know of a few other crossings that they knew of. They said the closest possibility was the village of Lowell, half a day further upriver. But, they said that news from Lowell was that their bridge might be out because of flooding. Beyond Lowell, they were unsure of any other crossings. Downriver, on the other hand, was the village of Riverdell. They said that Riverdell had a good strong bridge, more than capable of handling our steeds and there had been no news or rumor of washout or any other such calamity. We decided to make way toward Riverdell since their bridge sounded like a more assured crossing, even though it did mean several hours lost to backtracking. Oh well, such is life.
Obviously we made it safely to Riverdell or I wouldn’t be scratching away in my journal in this cozy little room. We arrived at Riverdell just before sunset. It was a relief to dismount and walk the horses through the village streets. Riding may seem like easy work since one is sitting but it is not. Constantly readjusting along with the horse’s movement is tiring and the leg muscles virtually sing in joy once they are allowed to stretch once more after being cramped in the saddle for such a long day. I am happy to have Farran and Rowan to carry much of my burden, including myself, but there is something to be said for the padded seats of a good carriage or even a wagon. Although I must say that both my steeds thus far have given me a smoother ride than one might find on the typical buckboard bench.
Since we were approaching from riverward rather than landward, the village was only one side of the view rather than taking up the bulk of the horizon. This made it possible for us to notice the remains of ruined buildings on the far bank opposite the village. We have since learned that those ruins were what remained of the buildings of the original Riverdell village, which had been razed by magical attack during the Witch King Wars. That is an interesting story upon which I will soon elaborate more clearly.
As we passed through the village, just as unmistakable scent of a bakery wafted to my nose, we were stopped by some slight commotion. What seemed to be a small cohesive cloud of flour had streaked into the street and somehow attached itself to Aedron’s boot. The cloud proved to be an impish little girl who was soon pursued by a slightly miffed gentleman who carried all the hallmarks of a baker. The girl’s name turned out to be Mellie and the man, her Uncle Kaleb, who was indeed the master of the bakery creating the wonderful scents tantalizing my olfactory sense.
Master Kaleb apologized about his niece as she kept hold of Aedron’s boot and grinned to the world at large. Ah, the innocence of children. It seems little Mellie had somehow pulled a bag of flower down upon herself, as evidenced by the white coating upon her and much of his pantry. We assured him there was no trouble really and Kaliki offered to use a minor magical prestidigitation to help clean both child and pantry closet. Good baker Kaleb said that would be appreciated since his other option would have been several hours of cleaning duty.
Kaleb invited us inside to share some cider. He also provided good bread and creamery butter and we were joined by his wife, Annie as we dined on our wonderful snack. I took it upon myself at that moment to purchase the rest of the baked goods remaining in the shop. They would have simply gone to the day-old shelves the next day otherwise. I noticed the technique was simple tried-and-true country fare but the ingredients seemed exceptional. I learned a bit of a trade secret from good Baker Kaleb. With a wink, he whispered that it helps to have yourself a bit of leverage on your miller, which he does, and he asked me to not say anything about it. I confess I was willing to be silenced with good bread. For the most part, camp bread just doesn’t quite come up to the caliber of what can be produced from a good brick oven and it will be nice for us to have real bread and the occasional scone on our trail ahead. By this time Mellie had climbed to Aedron’s shoulders and was apparently co-occupying his mantle hood with the little monkey-squirrel pet. The first piece of bread and butter offered to Aedron was quite deftly snagged from his grasp and dawn within the hood recesses to be shared between Mellie and her little cohort. As I said, the joyful innocence of children and animals.
Uncle Kaleb explained that at least part of the reason Mellie showed no fear of Aedron was most likely because her father had been about Aedron’s size. He had been among those who gave their life to save their lands from the ravages of the Witch King. This gave us pause since the War had passed some 20 years past. Kaleb easily read the confusion upon us and explained that during the war, when Riverdell still rested atop the opposite bank, it had been the target of a powerful spell that entombed a goodly portion of the village in a huge chunk of ice. It had taken many years, the concentrated effort of a high priest and several deaths in the beginning to finally free the people from the ice. During that time, the new village was erected here on the opposite bank. Mellie had been little more than a baby at the time and nobody knows for certain what had become of her mother. Kaleb and Annie took Mellie in and raised her as their own after she was freed. She has proven to be a “joyous handful” as it were; always a pleasant baby and child who was friendly to one and all but had rarely slowed down from a run since she took her first steps. Kaleb said that it seemed that Mellie was still burning off the energy stored up over some 16 years of immobility within the ice. On the other hand, it’s possible that she is simply a normal rambunctious little child with plenty of curiosity.
Annie showed the rest of our troop to the village Inn while I offered to stay and help Kaleb close up the shop since I am familiar with kitchen work. We worked in pleasant silence and then joined the others at the inn’s tavern. This was the gathering place for many of the villagers at the end of a busy day it seemed. Kaliki’s offer to provide musical entertainment was met with enthusiasm by the innkeeper and the crowd proved receptive. During the rest of the evening we relaxed and gathered some little news of the area and the road ahead. There was some slight rumor of some plague to the west, perhaps in Hillcrest. We accepted this news with stoicism. It would do no good to panic these folks by confirming the Blue Diamond Fever nor to give them false hope in case we are unsuccessful in our quest for a way to lift the curse.
The other topic of conversation that struck us was the story of a “morbid” traveler who passed through these parts perhaps a tenday or more ago. He was described as a youngish appearing man, tall and pale and a bit on the thin side. The general opinion was that he gave all who came across his path an odd creepy feeling and that was before he sang any of his songs. It wasn’t so much the words to the songs, which some were familiar with from other bards, it was the WAY that he performed them. A rousing martial tune came across more as the funeral dirge of an army marching to their deaths. The villagers related that it wasn’t that the man seemed to be glorifying death, more as if he was reminding people of the blood price some must pay so that others may live. He did not seem dangerous, per se, but there was just something about him and nobody wanted to take too close a look at the “ivory” flute he played. What strikes me as strangest of all, especially from one who sounds like an accomplished bard, nobody here can recall his name. They don’t even remember him ever giving his name. Now what kind of bard doesn’t sing his own praises, I ask you? There is also something of note concerning little Mellie who seems to be friendly with every single person in this village and has already won over the hearts of myself and my adventuring companions. The little girl who has nothing but smiles and love for the world at large had only one person-to-person meeting with this strange bard and little MELLIE DID NOT LIKE THIS MORBID TRAVELLER. It makes me wonder.
Ah well, my second pipe of the evening is gone to cold ash and my wee dram of brandy has long since settled my stomach. I have made my record of the day’s travels and the road beckons early in the morning so I must bring this to an end. By my Lady’s grace, I shall write again soon.