The Inn of the Welcome Wench was in fine form when the party arrived. Furnok offered to buy the first round and made his way to the bar. The adventurers from the Gnarley Forest found a table and settled in. They noted several familiar faces. Kobort and Turuko, the surly men that had been dicing with the rogue when Felicity met him, shared a table in a dark corner. Spugnoir, the bookish fellow, nursed a drink as he reviewed his books and scrolls. The besotted Elmo sat at a table with Calmert, the underpriest of St. Cuthbert. Many of the remaining tables were occupied by farmers and other locals. The serving wench Darla had her hands full working the tables, but her hips never stopped shaking in time to some unheard music.
“It’s time to eat!” cried Felicity, ordering one of everything. Sitting next to the halfling, Besilana could not help but sample the different dishes, though she did not drink any alcohol. Taliesin preferred the raw meats and vegetables. Felicity became so engulfed in devouring the food on her plates that she accidentally picked up Besilana’s hand to take a bite. She stopped short and shyly released the half-elf’s hand.
Word quickly spread about the fledgling adventurers’ exploits at The Moathouse, and the paladin humblebragged about the events of the day. Those listening were largely impressed with the tales, and rumors fired off about the potential return of the cult of Elemental Evil. The crowd seemed split between those who spoke in fearful tones and those who insisted that the adventurers and other local heroes would stop the cult before it could even get started. The latter group insisted that Rufus and Burne were sufficient to the task of keeping Hommlet safe, especially once they finished the keep.
After the audience had dispersed to their own tables, Besilana asked Furnok about the gathered locals, starting with Spugnoir. “He came into the village with a merchant wagon. He claims to be working for a sage. Very interested in scrolls. Keeps to himself, mostly.” Furnok shrugged.
“I wonder if he might be interested in any scrolls we turn up. That we can’t use,” she added, nodding at her companions.
“Maybe, but he doesn’t seem like he’s got a lot of money.”
Felicity smiled with food stuffed cheeks “Mmmff-mmm-mfff!”
Besilana favored the halfling with a smile. “What about the gamblers?”
“Ah, them. Kobort’s all right. Kind of big and dumb. Turuko, though. He’s got an angle. Dunno what it is, but I don’t fully trust him, I don’t think. It’s not a race thing!” Furnok said, referring to the man’s Bakluni appearance. “Purportedly mercenaries, but they’ve just kind of hung out for the last couple of weeks.”
“There doesn’t seem to be too much in town that could get a man in trouble or get them rich. I wonder what they are hanging around for,” said Taliesin. Furnok placed a finger alongside his nose and pointed at the druid.
Besilana nodded. “I’m still getting used to human… diversity? I guess is the word I want?”
The rogue smirked, a natural expression on him. “We take all kinds.”
“I am half human,” she reminded Furnok. “Though I don’t know which… flavor of humanity it is.”
“Delicious,” he said saucily. She blushed a bit, and he eased back in his seat, pleased with himself. Felicity squinted at him with mouth full.
“Did your mother ever talk about your father, Besi?” asked Taliesin.
“No. I think… well, that is. I know Mother Eiravain thought it was scandalous.” She looks down at her plate.
“That could mean all sorts of things.”
“Isn’t that who you’re trying to find?” asked Furnok, snapping Besilana out of her reverie.
“It is,” said the druid.
“Ah,” said the rogue, regarding Besilana soberly. “That’s … complicated then, I take it.”
“Right,” she said. “As I retrace Mother’s steps, maybe I’ll learn something about him.” Her face brightened. “But, for now, we should feast.”
“Here, here.” Furnok dived in.
Felicity washed her food down with some milk. “I know men aren’t really allowed in the temple, so who knows!”
“Not allowed?” said Furnok, quirking an eyebrow.
“Frowned upon, anyway,” clarified Besilana. “Almost all of Ehlonna’s priests are women.”
“How peculiar. I wouldn’t have thought a nature goddess would be opposed to something as natural as fraternization between the sexes.”
“A fertility goddess, at that,” she added.
Felicity nodded. “Yeah, temple full of ladies. Some of the sisters said that having men around would be too big of a distraction. Yup.”
“I remember my sister commenting about that when I visited her in Myhalas,” said Taliesin. “My family walks in Ehlonna’s grace also, but Druids and Priests have very different cultures at times.”
“Curiouser and curiouser,” said Furnok.
Felicity shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s the way I was raised. Hard to tell things as curious when it’s all you know.”
“Well, now that it has been brought to your attention, perhaps you want to give it some thought?” suggested the rogue. “Why would such a rule be in place?”
“But it makes sense,” said the halfling. “I mean I’m more than curious about the way things are out here. Your absolute mixture of all people and types and attitudes is amazing. I mean really I’m surprised it works so well all around.”
Furnok chuckled at that. “Well. Sometimes it works.”
“In the wild all creatures co-exist, but even then there is friction,” said Taliesin. “And it’s usually only stable when everyone knows how the territory is defined. There’s also the part about the strong eating the weak I guess.”
“You know what animals I like?” said Felicity. “Squirrels. They have friction too. But usually it’s over some acorns. They are usually just really cute and nice…”
“Friction Squirrel was the name of this bardic troupe I heard play once,” said Furnok. “Do you all want to see if the traders in town will take some of the less fungible loot off our hands? I suppose we can hold onto the gems for now. I think the moneylender charges exorbitant fees.”
Taliesin nodded. “Sounds good, Furnok. Make sure to take my leather armor as well.”
“Wait. What? This is MY errand now?” His tone was mock affronted. “Haven’t seen MY fees yet,” he muttered.
“Which of us do you believe would get the most money from the exchange?” asked the druid.
“Besilana might, with the right tone and … posture.”
“Ha! You may be right” The rogue lifted his mug Taliesin’s way in quiet salute.
“Oh?” said Besilana curiously. “Oh!” she repeated, her tone one of realization. “Oh,” she concluded, disappointed.
“OH! And they are fluffy…” said the halfling, continuing her thought as though no one had changed the subject. Then she looked up and said, “We’re going to the moneychanger? I want to go!” Felicity let out a squeak that sounded excited.
“No, Felicity. I don’t recommend we go to the moneychanger,” said Furnok.
“Then the market!?! I want to go to the market!” She giggled a little.
“Is there time now, or will we have to wait until morning?” asked Besilana.
“I’m not sure. We could head over and find out, though,” said Furnok.
“Uhhhh, probably wait … for morning?” said Felicity. “I mean we have prayer to do and…”
Taliesin nodded. “I’ll leave that to you all. I’d like to find a nice place outside of town for a small ceremony under the full moon tonight. You are all welcome to join me at midnight.”
Darla swung by. “Anything else, loves?”
Furnok finished his drink and tapped the lip to indicate another. “And some pie.” Their eyes locked for a lingering moment. Darla looked away first, but her lips were curled in a smile.
Felicity looked back and forth between the two, confused. “I like pie! Can I get some pie too!”
Darla glanced back over her shoulder at the halfling. “Absolutely.”
“What flavor is the pie?” asked Besilana.
“If I said ‘cherry’, I’d be lying.”
Oblivious, the paladin said, “Pie for me too please!”
Darla winked at her and sauntered away. Furnok grinned as he turned his attention back to the druid. “Full moon party?”
“Something like that,” said Taliesin. “Druids are normally pretty guarded with our ceremony, but you have all earned my trust.”
Furnok chuckled and shook his head. “Well, then I think I would be honored to attend.”
“I do look forward to the ceremony,” said Felicity. “I look forward to performing my duties to Ehlonna this night.”
“As do I,” said Besilana. “I have much to be thankful for tonight.”
“Fertility rites?” Furnok asked, straight-faced.
“Don’t be silly,” the half-elf said, her pitch a little higher than usual.
Felicity blushed, obviously flustered. “Oh … uhhhh … ummm … not … quite. Uhhhh, I’ve never, I mean, I think, uh, that requires more than I’m ready … Uh…” Besilana put her arm around her friend’s shoulder. The halfling shrank a little, blushing harder.
“If things go as I hope, I can definitely say things will get very primal, at least,” quipped Taliesin.
Furnok smiled at the ladies, and it transformed into a smirk at Taliesin. “You’ve a bit of rogue in you, eh?” he said.
Taliesin smiled back, “From time to time.”
Darla came up behind Furnok and placed a hand on his shoulder. “Me too, love,” she told the druid with a wink.
Felicity’s eyes widened at the scandalous conversation. “Errr… Furnok…” She coughed. “Uhhh…”
The rogue glanced over at her, at ease as he could be. “Yes, Lis?”
The halfling just shrank a little more, blushing to the roots of her hair. Darla swatted Furnok for teasing the Felicity, then set an apple pie down on the table.
Felicity straightened sharply. “Darla? Some cold water please?”
“Of course, darlin’,” the wench said sweetly.
“I will want a bath before we pray,” said Besilana. Felicity opened and closed her mouth, trying to exercise the cottonmouth out.
“I believe the Wench offers bath services,” said Furnok, his tone a study in casual disinterest. It took a moment for the half-elf to hear the capital W in Furnok’s statement.
Felicity looked about ready to reel, swooning a little into Besilana. “Darla? Water?” she said weakly. The wench fetched the halfling’s beverage. She took a large gulp and splashed a bit on her face. “I would like a bath…” she muttered to herself.
“There is plenty of time, I think,” said Taliesin.
“I’ll speak to Gundigoot and make that happen, Felicity,” said Besilana. “Be right back.” She attempted to prop the halfling up as best she could before excusing herself from the table. She rented the bathroom for an hour and tipped generously. The staff was grateful assured her that the baths would be ready within the hour.
While they waited and ate their pie, Taliesin pulled out his pan pipes and played a bit. Furnok drummed along with his hands on the table, and some of the drunken local farmers started singing lyrics they’ve apparently made up to the tune. They were simple, but kind of clever. Afterward, baths were had, desert enjoyed, and at midnight the party experienced the full moon ceremony.
* * *
Besilana, Felicity, and Furnok came down to breakfast bedraggled, disheveled, bleary-eyed and yawning. They found Taliesin already up and ready to go, with a little extra spring in his step this morning. “What’s your secret?” said the half-elf to her cousin, glaring with bloodshot eyes.
“Well, not needing to sleep helps,” said the druid. “But honestly I slept late today. Early passed by several hours ago.”
“You saw what he’s … packing,” said the rogue. “I’m sorry. I’m very tired. I promise I’ll do better.”
Darla came by, suppressing a yawn of her own. “All of this sleep has me exhausted,” she said.
Felicity rested her face on the table. “Pancaaaaaaakes. Coofffffffeeeeeeeeeeee.” The wench left to fetch breakfast.
“Bad dreams?” Besilana asked Furnok.
“Ah … Not as such. Just … fewer hours than I’m used to.”
She nodded. “I had terrible dreams.”
“Oh?’ said Furnok, sipping coffee.
“Anything in particular, Besi?” asked Taliesin.
“Nothing I can recall. Images, chaos. Anger.” She also had coffee, unusual for her. “Mostly I remember anger.”
“Directed at you, or coming from you?” asked Taliesin.
Felicity looked up at Besilana. “I’m so sorry,” she said, resting her head on the half-elf’s arm.
“Well, you did almost die yesterday,” said Furnok. “Twice. Hells, ALL of us did.”
Felicity winced at the reminder. “So sore this morning…”
Besilana leanded down to kiss the back of Felicity’s head. “We’ll get better at this. I feel like we already have.”
“Mrphle,” the halfling opined. Then she quickly downed her coffee, put the cup down and said, “Another, please!” While Darla wenched up more coffee for the table, Felicity started in on her pancakes. “Breakfast is guuuud,” she declared. Besilana stifled a giggle.
“Our pain is worth it, though,” said Taliesin. “Think about what we gained yesterday. Stand firm, poised and majestic like a mountain. Regardless of the external situations life will bring you, remain strong like the mountains do when faced with avalanches, rain storms, and water erosion.”
“You are very bright this morning,” said Felicity to Taliesin. “I like it.” The druid nodded with a smile.
“I’m like a mount-” Furnok started to say.
“Don’t!” Darla interrupted.
“Heh,” he said.
Felicity looked at the rogue thoughtfully. “You seem to have had a fun night, Furnok. Good for you.” He gave the halfling a look of mock indignation, placing the fingers of one hand against his chest in an expression of feigned innocence. She smiled back at him with a huge cat-that-caught-the-canary grin. Besilana looked from their new companion to Darla until understanding dawned on her.
Taliesin shook his head and said, “So, who wants to go see the ghosts in the basement?”
Furnok nodded. “Traders this morning, or do we want to keep lugging around all this stuff?”
“Oh right! I’d completely forgotten. Honestly I’m just excited to test out my new abilities. Last night was a right of passage for us Druids.”
“Is it ‘right’ or ‘rite’? I’ve never been clear on which was correct.”
“I vote for traders,” said Besilana, ignoring the rogue’s attempt at wordplay. She held up her mundane longsword. “I won’t be needing this or my bow anymore.”
“Bow is always good to have,” Furnok opined.
“No sense in lugging it around if I’m not going to use it. I have a magic sword now.” She smiled and Felicity giggled for some reason.
“Sure, but can ya throw it?” asked the rogue.
“Of course I can.” Besilana held Felicity up with both hands.
Both of Furnok’s eyebrows raised, and he put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. “Well, then. I will take you at your word.”
After the half-elf put her back down, Felicity fluttered her eyes sleepily and leaned into Besilana. “Besi is strong. She can throw lots of things. I think the market is a good idea, after another coffee.”
“You’ve had enough,” said the rogue.
Felicity glared at him. “Nope.” Furnok chuckled.
“Walking will move what you’ve already drunk through your body,” said Besilana.
“She’s right, you know.”
Felicity sighed, looking dejected. “Okay.”
“It’s ok Felicity, I’ll cheer you up,” said Taliesin. Abruptly, he transformed into a squirrel and ran out the door.
“HOLY CRAP!” she cried, jumping up and chasing him out.
The party headed north and crossed the river to the traders, Besilana bringing up the rear. “Anything I should know about the trader?” she asked Furnok.
“Don’t know much about them,” he admitted.
She nodded. “This will be educational for all of us, then.”
The adventurers entered the building. Virtually all sorts of salable goods were offered here, including items commonly used by villagers or demanded by dungeon explorers: Clothing and packs, footwear, gloves, belts, hand tools, lighting equipment, food and herbs, ropes, chains and dungeoneering gear, writing materials, religious icons, and even some types of weapons and armor. A heavyset man stood behind the counter, while a thin, sharp-featured fellow fussed over a display stand.
“Perfect.” Besilana grinned as she took in the shop. “Good morning!” she called to the man behind the counter.
The bigger man knocked something on the counter over in surprise when he noticed customers. “Welcome to Rannos and Gremag’s Emporium, my friends. How can I help you?” His voice was deep and ponderous.
“You’ve the look of adventurers,” said the thin man. “We have everything you might need. Except extra blood.” It was difficult to tell from his tone whether he was trying to make a joke.
“You are correct, sir,” said Besilana. “We may be in the market for supplies, and we’re also curious if you purchase goods.”
Gremag nodded. “We work in trade and will purchase some items, assuming they are still of use.”
Besilana clapped her hands together. “Excellent. I have these weapons, and my friend here has some leather armor that might interest you.”
Felicity had lost track of Taliesin but quickly forgot him and slowed as shiny things caught her eye. The druid quietly appeared on the halfling’s shoulder, mimicking her stare at the shiny things. When she noticed, she cried out in surprise and tried to catch him again, but he was too quick by half.
“Oh, look, Gremag,” said the fat man to the skinny one. “A squirrel.”
Felicity called over her shoulder “My squirrel!”
Gremag’s lip curled in distaste. “Yes, I see it, Rannos. Is that your … pet?”
Felicity wound her way back to the booth “You, sir, are rather grumpy, I’m sorry.”
He spared her a brief sneer, before turning his attention on the paladin. “Well, let’s see it,” he said, sounding bored.
“Heh heh. Squirrel,” said Rannos cheerfully. He knocked something else on the counter over. “Oops.”
Felicity looked up at the big man. “I know! He’s great! He’s great as a squirrel but great in general!”
“Taliesin?” Besilana called, laying the longsword and longbow on the counter.
The druid moved to an open spot and shifted back to elven form. “I do have some good armor to offer. It was well made by Gnarley craftsman.”
“What is this?!” said Gremag, alarmed. “Witchcraft?!”
“Druidcraft, to be precise.”
“Heh heh. Squirrel man. Drood, Gremag. Drood,” said Rannos.
The halfling gave him her full attention, then. “Hi! I’m Felicity! He IS a squirrel man, and a wolf-man, and a cat-man and probably lots of other things! It’s so much fun!”
Rannos smiled down at her, “Yay!”
Felicity returned an even bigger smile. “YAY!”
“Yes, well,” said Gremag, regaining his composure.
“And these are of… elven make…” said Besilana, struggling to keep the sales conversation on track.
The thin merchant inspected the offered weapons and armor with a critical eye. “Not much call for elven-make here in Hommlet. Too slender of build or balanced for smaller hands.”
“The militia here doesn’t arm the women, then.” Besilana’s tone indicated her displeasure clearly.
Gremag sniffed. “Certainly not!” The paladin was taken aback and failed to hide it.
Rannos looked somber. “Menfolk got to protect the ladies.” A very slow realization crossed his features. “You’re ladies.”
“Some of us are, yes,” said Besilana.
“YAY! We are!” said Felicity, oblivious to the tension.
“But … you have weapons. And you’re wearing armor,” said Rannos in confusion.
“Yes, yes, adventurers, as I said,” said Gremag impatiently. He made an offer.
Taliesin looked over at Furnok, shrugging. “What do you think?” The rogue’s mouth twists in dissatisfaction, and he rubs a thumbs-up on his chest to indicate they should haggle.
Besilana glanced at Furnok’s thumb and nodded. “I was hoping for more,” she said, taking a moment to find the courage to say it breathily.
Rannos was clearly smitten by the breathy paladin. “Well,” said Gremag hesitantly. “I could go a bit higher.” He offered ten percent more than his previous offer, or twenty percent more in store credit.
Furnok rubbed his fingers together and noddeds to indicate that she should take the cash. “That sounds agreeable! We accept.”
“It would appear that the Moathouse still has riches to divulge after all,” Gremag commented idly as he counted out their coin. Rannos took in the new inventory and sorted it.
“Indeed,” said the paladin, side-eyeing her companions. “Thank you, Gremag. Rannos. We will see you again soon.”
Once the were back across the river, Besilana asked, “Did any of you mention the Moathouse?”
“I believe you did. In the tavern last evening,” said Taliesin.
“Oh yes, I remember lots of recounting of our adventure, it was very fun!” said Felicity.
Besilana shook her head. “I meant just now, to those two.”
Furnok shrugged. “It’s a small town.”
“You’re right,” she said uncertainly. “Word must travel fast here.”
“I hope no one has gone ahead to try and find more already,” said Taliesin.
“If they’re crooked, well … they’re merchants,” said Furnok, as if that explained everything.
“I think we’re ready then?” said Besilana.
“I’m ready and able!” said Felicity.
“Ready,” Taliesin said. Furnok nodded.
“Then let’s be on our way,” said the paladin.
A couple of hours later, the party found itself back at the Moathouse. The corpses still lay where they had dropped the day before. The rain had let up, and with its departure the heat of the sun was making everything … ripe.
“Oh. Ew,” said Besilana.
Felicity held her nose. “Oh… oh wow, that is a smell all right.”
“Well, I suppose they weren’t just going to bury themselves,” said Furnok.
“I should have done that, yes,” said the paladin. “Next time I’ll remember.”
“I should have opened the door for the lizards,” said Taliesin. “The bodies would go to good use that way.”
“We were pretty wrung out yesterday,” said Besilana.
“I don’t know if I feel bad that they are rotting away or if I don’t care because they tried to (and almost did) kill us,” said Felicity somberly.
Furnok placed a supportive hand on her shoulder. “Well. Hold your breath, I suppose. I’ll show you the secret door.”