Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 6

Vellk presses the warm mug of tea into her hands, feeling sorry for her plight.  “Come now good lady.  You’re among friends now, let me help you to the Inn.  I’ll get you settled in a room.”  His deep voice is surprisingly compassionate for all that he is a fierce warrior and looks the part.

“We shall take care of it, please, come into the inn and rest.” Rowan quickly tells the innkeeper to get the woman and child some warm food and drink, and to stable her mules. She drops enough coin to cover the cost on the counter.

“Don’t you have a worry now Rowan.”  Madame Freia said, wrapping a shawl around the woman and putting a sweet spring carrot in the little one’s hand.  “We’ll take good care of her, your coin and the warriors will keep her set up here for a day or two.”

Millivent looked between Vellk and Rowan and burst into tears again, leaning against the Halfling Innkeeper and soaking her shoulder with tears of relief and gratitude.  The toddler clinging to her skirts managed to stuff the end of the carrot in his mouth and is gumming it happily, looking up at Vellk with wide, serious eyes.

“We must go see to her farm, for they are in trouble. Please take care of her, and let her rest in our room! Thank you!!!” And she rushes out to the stable, grabs Bo from his stable, mounts him bareback, and urges him on, knowing that his quicker pace will allow her to make up the time she lost getting the woman inside.

Lanaver waves away the guards, “Thanks fellas, we got it from here. We’ll assist the folk of the realm so you can go back to counting clouds or whatever pressing chores you have after your breakfast.”

The guards scowl at him, but evidently are too lazy to rise to the insult.  “Come on gents, the damn wagon’s moved so we can get back to our rounds.”  Their head officer says, and they make their way back down the street, ignoring the angry looks many of the townsfolk give them.

“Worthless tin cans,” Lanaver mutters under his breath, and saunters back into the Inn, getting his gear together and donning his leather armor.

Rowan is exiting the stable with her donkey with a wild expression on her face.  “We must hurry Lanaver!”  She exclaims, preparing to leap onto the animal’s back.

“A right and proper rescue, from goblins no less! You can’t ask for much better way to start an early morning now can ya?” He winks at Rowan, and then at her donkey.  “Ya might want to get a saddle on that fellow though, and maybe get your armor on.  An extra couple of minutes isn’t going to make much of a difference to the woman, but it might be the difference between surviving and dying for you to be properly equipped.”

Vellk, grabs his gear and strides out of the Inn’s front door. Goblins attacking a farm hits a little too close to home. A worry for his own family crosses his mind has he glimpses a familiar horse and rider that appear farther away than they are.  Shaking his head, he tosses Rowan’s armor and traveling cloak at her.

“Thought you might need these.”  He says with a grin.  “I want to help as badly as you do.”

“Every great adventure starts somewhere, am I right?”  Lanaver asks through a mouthful of biscuit, stuffing the last of his abandoned breakfast into his mouth.

Rowan dons her leathers and smiles at the stable boy who has brought the saddle for her spotted donkey.  The beast is eager, seeming excited to finally get out of the stable. Sebastian exits the Inn, his hair in disarray and sleep in his eyes, but he has his gear and seems alert in spite of being roused from his bed.

“What’s the trouble?  Mistress Freia brought a woman nearly in hysterics up the stairs, woke me up she said something about her family?  The innkeeper is still trying to get her to stay in the room.”  Sebastian shrugs, “She told me you all were heading out so I came as quickly as I could.”

“She told us Goblins took her family.” Rowan says to Sebastian, . “I’ve heard of them, but we didn’t have them back home. Are they very dangerous?” And she looks from one to the others, fierce determination on her face.

“They’re small and mean, but I’ve a feeling you’re a might bit meaner Rowan,” Lanaver chuckles.

“We simply MUST save them. It’s not FAIR!”  She thumps her tiny fist against her thigh for emphasis.  Rowan checks her gear, the long lacquered tubes of her war pipes are bound up behind Bo’s saddle, tied within easy reach.  

“And you’re right, it’s not fair… We didn’t even talk price, nine Hells you two practically paid HER to save her family. She was in no position to haggle, we would have asked for anything really.”  Lanaver rolls his eyes sarcastically.

Rowan looks to Lanaver, eyes wide with surprise and shock. “And what would she pay us with? She’s lost everything. Everything but one of her wee ones. No. We must simply help her, and if payment should come our way, so be it. If not, well, would you not want someone to help you if you were lost, alone, and bereft?”

He stutter steps in surprise, stymied by her outburst.  “I-I-I mean an I.O.U. Is really just letters and letters make up words then I guess the words ‘Thank you’ are technically worth more…”

She looks sadly at him, eyes brimming with unshed tears. “I cannot even imagine what she must be feeling. It is too much. I care not for payment if an innocent is in such terrible need.” And she turns her head, trying to hide her tears, as she leans forward to hug Bo’s neck.

“It was just a joke,” he desperately fumbles for the proper words.  “Sorry… I don’t know what it’s like to lose a family member… I’ve never had one to lose.”

Rowan raises her tear-stained face to Lanaver and says quietly, “No family? None at all? Oh, you poor, dear man!” She steps to Lanaver’s side and looks up at him. “No one should be without family, Lanaver, no one. They are annoying and fretful and wonderful all at the same time, and sometimes you wish they were gone, but then you lay down at night and know that you are loved and cherished. Someone to play with, and learn from, and that they’ll always care.

“You and I have much in common, and I like you. I will be your family. Lean down please.” She gives him a light kiss on his cheek. “There. You’re now my brother.” She looks solemn for a brief moment, and then her sunny disposition comes back to the fore. “Gods know we have more in common than me and Raun, and you’re ever so much smarter!” She pats his hand and laughs. “It’s good to have another brother.”

“A brother huh? I could get used to that,” Lanaver blushes slightly from her kind words and gestures.

“Yes, Goblins are dangerous but it’s more due to their numbers than their prowess.”  Sebastian interjects, trying to bypass the awkwardness.  “They like to overwhelm enemies in a swarm or else send arrows flying from concealment.  Unless they’re cornered the ones I’ve fought tend to run when the battle isn’t overwhelmingly in their favor.”

The clatter of a wagon announces Millivent’s arrival. “I won’t stay away while my man and my babies are in danger.”  She says, waving away the protest she knows is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. “I’m safer with you lot on the road then alone in Starvale by myself.  You saw what those ruffian Starshield guards were like.  If you hadn’t come along I’d like as not be in jail for blocking the road or sommat.”

Tuskor stops on the doorstep of the inn, twigs and grass tangled in his beard and hair.  He had been performing some morning meditation in a small patch of short trees that had once been a vacant lot and now was billed as a city park.  Whether it was done for civic enhancement or simply out of the lack of desire to use if for anything else was up for debate, but the Dwarf liked having some connection to nature in the city.

He joined his companions, climbing aboard the wagon after greeting the mules and they set off for Millivent’s farm.  The trip took a little over an hour and passed mostly in nervous silence.  The party asked few questions once it became clear that she had really already communicated what she knew.  She didn’t know how many goblins there were, other than that it looked like there were too many to count.

“My husband Haldred, our daughters Alleena and Kithian, our sons Quayle and Volland, and six hired hands were at the farm when the attack took place.”  She says, tears welling up in her eyes again, “Now they’re all missing.”

“Missing is better than dead but we must be swift.”  Lanaver said, looking about at the profusion of tracks on the swampy ground.

“From the look of these trails I would estimate that about a dozen prisoners were dragged away from here.”  He says, after a quick inspection.  “The prints in the mud show that more than a dozen goblin-sized creatures passed through here today.  I’m fairly certain at least one larger-sized creature also walked with the goblins, although I haven’t seen this kind of tracks before.”

“I wonder what the larger one is, Hobgoblin, Bugbear…what do you all think?” he asks as he rises from his inspection.  “More than a dozen little green bastards and something bigger than any of us…”

Tuskor has been looking at the tracks too, but not in the detached, analytical way Lanaver has been.  The Dwarf crawls from place to place, sniffing and even tasting some of the mud.  He doesn’t seem to notice the wet or muck, totally intent and focused on his investigation.  Rising from the farmyard, he spits sideways with an expression of distaste on his face.

“Bugbear, or I’m a bearded gnome.”  

Hajima opens his wooden case and pulls out the heavy crossbow, locking the arms into position and loading the first deadly bolt. From his pack, he removes a pair of quivers bristling with crossbow bolts. Strapping the quivers onto his thighs in easy reach and checking the rapier in his sheath, Hajima then looks grimly at the group.

“Whether they have a new big brother or not, those little vermin will soon be taught the error of their ways. No farmstead will be in danger while we are here to stop them, especially if the local guard are unwilling to protect these civilians. Let’s rescue the farmers without delay. If we hurry, we may be able to catch the goblins before an ill fate befalls their captives.” With that, he moves swiftly to follow the tracks with Lanaver, always scanning his surroundings for ambush or further signs of the victims.

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