Tales of Meerstrand (VIII): The Strangers

Continued from Tales of Meerstrand (VII): The Strangers


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↑ Map of Forsenite Kingdom and Free City of Meerstrand

Early, foggy morning took the elf and three dragonborns through a wide forest road. The travelers went on silently, only sometimes disturbed by a pass of waterskin and clanking wheels of carts, wagons and carriages going on the same road. Vehicle drivers paid no heed to the four cloaked and hooded figures, only sometimes glancing back, but hurrying onward after. This worried Quenfar the most: while down south, in Forsentum, capital of the kingdom of the same name, their draconic visage wasn’t greeted with suspicion, for there in fact was a community of dragonborns living in the city and surrounding regions. Yet ever since the first encounter with local peasants the other night, Quenfar began having doubts about their choice of approaching Meerstrand openly. We might find out more by talking to people. That was the logic when they left for the city, but the alchemist they were talking to just shook his head: Meerstrand is not the same. People are closed in, all huddled over the fires of The Four, so much so their own shadows are their enemies. Quenfar didn’t fully realise what the old alchemist wanted to say, but now the idea began to dawn on him. There probably weren’t a lot of dragonborn in that city, if at all. And if all elves were treated as the prisoners they saw, Shey might be viewed with suspicion, given that her pointy ears were well behind her head. He looked up at her back, as they were going in line between Blackfist in front and Decebal in the back. The ears were sticking out through holes made carelessly in the black hood. He sighed a bit louder than intended. Shey looked back suspiciously, eyed him intensely and turned away.

“Hey” a tap on the shoulder and Decebal’s voice drew Quenfar out of his wondering “we haven’t talked about last night, but are you sure we should just walk into the city? These humans seem to be much less welcoming.” Decebal echoed Quenfar’s own thoughts. He turned his massive blue head.

“We have to find the staff. It was last seen in Meerstrand by actual people. I doubt we’ll find anything if we sneak around in the sewers.”

“You never know. That map we have is pretty detailed, are you sure we shouldn’t use it?”

“No, I’m not” Quenfar admitted “but we can always go underground if it becomes too much.”

As Quenfar said that, a large, elaborate carriage passed them in slow speed, drawn by six white horses. The window at the carriage door was opened and a pale girl with curly hair and silk bonnets in it stared at the group as the carriage passed. A muffled scream could be heard as the girl dove behind the door, startled. Quenfar sighed.

“You were saying?” Decebal mumbled, fixing the strap of his backpack. He involuntarily placed his hand on silvered handle of a dagger behind his belt.

On this journey since leaving the Isles, Decebal has been doing it more and more often, sometimes even waking up with a dagger in his hand even though he distinctly remembered leaving it on the side. His own paranoia scared him. Their mission – vague and of questionable importance to him – was to find the magic Staff of Audora – gift from the goddess herself – that kept their Misty Isles, well, misty. The magical fog was the gift from gods, or so the elders and priests interpreted it. It protected the dragonborn nation from outside world, wars and destruction. Decebal however, disagreed. The isolation of the isles felt forced to him. The stories of wars, conquest and traitors meant nothing to him. The world is a bigger place than these mountains, you know. That’s what he once told Quenfar, before they left to find the stolen staff. To his surprise, Quenfar agreed and encouraged his thinking. However, Decebal suspected his companion and unspoken leader of this small group had different goals with the magic staff in mind. Decebal often dreaded finding out Quenfar’s ambitions and decided it is better he left them unknown.

While traveling through the plains of Forsentum, Decebal reached an agreement with Quenfar that he won’t be coming back to Misty Isles, but rather journey onward to see more of what the world had to offer. It was then that Decebal first witnessed the darkness that lied within his companion. Perhaps it’s not for you to see the greatness our Isles will ascend to. Just as well, you can witness it from afar. The sight should be great. A shiver when down Decebal’s spine when he heard Quenfar speak. The tone of his voice was almost poisonous, yet he felt relieved to be omitted from some scheme that Quenfar, or even his tribesmen have concocted. Blackfist was of different opinion.

“I don’t get it” phrase he used often when talking to his own cousin “so you want to find the staff, but then do what with it? Keep it?” The three were sitting around a small campfire in the middle of an open field with the sun just recently going under the horrizon in the west.

“Yes and no” Quenfar said slowly, staring at the flames.

“What does that mean?” Blackfist looked at his cousin, contemplating slapping him. The cryptic speech Quenfar sometimes employed always rubbed Blackfist the wrong way. Not only because it was darn difficult to understand, but also Blackfist had experience of misinterpreting his words and ending up in a pickle.

“It means yes, I intend to keep it, but only for a while.”

“And how, pray Audora, will you use it?” Blackfist was getting suspicious. Decebal watched Quenfar carefully. The air around them didn’t move an inch “we are supposed to bring it back so the sages could bring the fog back. What else can that thing be used for anyway?” Blackfist continued, more and more annoyed with every word. He hated having to explain the point of their mission to arguably the smartest member of their team. It was not his job, after all. Decebal nodded.

“Yeah, Quenfar, come on, we are tasked to bring it back and that’s that. Punishment for angering the sages is severe.”

Quenfar raised an eyebrow to his companion, noticing he didn’t say gods’ anger, pointing out his disbelief in the supernatural beings.

“Alright. Decebal, you’re not coming back to the Isles anyway. Blackfist.” Quenfar made a pause while sighing “you’re my cousin and I did intend to let you in on my plan, just maybe not so quickly.”

“Meaning what? That you don’t trust me with it?!” Blackfist slammed his fist into the ground. It gave in chillingly easily.

“No” Quenfar, on the other hand, didn’t appear threatened “you just never asked directly, so I didn’t think it interested you” Quenfar fixed his collar. Blackfist exhaled a bit of fire from his nostrils that charred the ground under him. Decebal leaned backwards. Quenfar cleared his throat, demonstratively ignoring the sparks coming off the ground.

“Well, now that I have your attention, here’s my plan. I want to find the staff, return it to the Isles and use it for everything BUT the cursed fog.”

Silence prolonged itself on behalf of absent wind. All three dragonic fellows sat around the campfire, two black-scaled individuals staring at the blue one.

“Well fire-blast me, what are you gonna use it FOR then?” Blackfist broke the silence. As Quenfar would politely put it, he was never the patient one.

“Research, navy improvement, crop growing, take your pick” this time, to the surprise of everyone involved, Quenfar became fired up “how many centuries has it been since our nation hid behind that useless fog? We’ve been cut out from the world, from progress, from other cultures. One visit to Forsentum proves it. They have banks, they have guilds and they use magic to aid mining, shipbuilding, themselves at the end of the day. And what do we do? Sit behind a permanent fog, smuggling Orcittian goods and complaining how bad those goods are while using them? Why would such a strong magical item that inspired SOMEONE to steal it, be used ONLY to keep others away and us in? It doesn’t make sense. I DESPISE things that don’t make sense!”

It was Quenfar’s turn to breathe out fire, but instead, between his lips formed a few miniature crackles of what seemed to be lightening. He rubbed his lips and found some control. Then breathed in and out deeply.

“And that is why I don’t want the Staff to return to the hands of those old Riglas at the Council. They had their chance of bringing us prosperity, but all they did was bring us to a point where one bad harvest can kill us as a nation. That DOES NOT make sense. Am I making myself clear?”

Very clear, Magyla damn you. Decebal grew up without a tribe like the other two, so loyalty was not his forte. On the other hand, he grew up seeing how people in power way above his reach act. And to Decebal, Quenfar’s little idea looked like a power grab if he every saw one. Still, at least his blue companion was honest about it and Decebal always admired that honesty. Although he noticed Quenfar’s honesty was not accessible to everyone, which always made him feel like he was in a special circle. Now, looking at Quanfar’s back and traversing the Meerstrand-bound road, Decebal gripped his trusty dagger harder. Somehow, even if Quenfar was honest, Decebal felt like he had an angle which was too sharp for him to understand. The more they traveled, the more this felt true. Especially with Shey, the coal-faced elf present.

Quenfar never explained why he allowed this wretched woman to join their expedition. Decebal expected to get an answer much sooner, but to this day, he’s yet to receive one. When he brought this up with Blackfist, although he looked annoyed, he just shrugged. I don’t know if I want to know, you know? Blackfist always had less complex look on things. Decebal wished he could be like him sometimes.


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↑Map of Free city of Meerstrand and its surrounding regions.

A day went by and the group finally reached the outskirts of Meerstrand. They left the lush forest and found themselves on a hill that led down to the flatlands. From here, the entire valley by the sea on the left could be seen and the mighty city of Meerstrand stood in the distance. Immediately noticeable were the four legendary towers ablaze with flames of different colours. Green for the Goddess of Earth, White for the Goddess of Skies, Blue for the God of Seas and Red for the God of Fire. Decebal remembered reading about each god and what they represented, but the grandeur of those colourful towers from so far away took up his entire attention. The walls of Meerstrand stood tall compared to a sprawling village on the way. Plowed fields, rich with young green crops that later will become the gold of the city, were basking in the fiery sun beams of the dusk. And of course, the sea in the west, calm now, yet its soughing always reminds of its omnipresent power.

The four made their way through the valley, following the dusty, snaking road towards the grand city. As they came closer, they saw columns of white smoke streaming into the sky from the city and the surrounding village. On their maps it was marked as Braulic.

As they approached the village, it got darker and darker, Quenfar had to produce a ball of white light to follow them on the road. At the entrance to the village, where singular straw-covered shacks started cropping up further away from the road, there were lanterns, high up on poles, moving slightly in the soft wind. Quenfar immediately hid his magic ball of light as they saw a young man, no taller than dragonborns’ shoulders, lift a a long pole with flaming cloth wrapped at the tip. The man wore work clothes, his linen pants and shirt were all covered in dust and dirt, his mustache was bushy, brown and covered majority of his upper lip. He had his straw hat attached to the belt that kept his pants up and his feet were bound in leathery, worn sandals.

As the group approached the man, he turned around, ready to say his good evenings in choppy Common, but froze as he saw the four figures – three of lizardous kind and one extremely pointy-eared elf – coming in on him.

“Evening, good ser” Quenfar started politely, not unlike the previous night with the slave drivers “we are travellers, Meerstrand-bound. Our road was very long and we would like a rest before we enter the city. Are there lodgings we might be able to make use of?”

The man, just like previous humans, stood frozen for a while, the tall stick he used to light the lanterns loosing its flame rapidly. His gaze travelled all around each member of the group, lingering longest on Shey and her ears.

“What’re you looking at here?” she finally asked, not even attempting to hide her distaste. The man shook his head, coughed a few times and finally spoke.

“Par’on me, sers” the peasant bowed “yous kind are not often come ‘ere, you sees. There is a tavern, ye. ‘otin fancy, but takes in all sorts of travellers on the road. Just head down the road right ‘ere” he waved “and yous will be in Braulic, Halfling’s Coin the inn is called. Fredric the inn keeper will be ‘here tonite. Tell him Barbel sent yous. Might gimme a free tankard next time, yous know, he he” the man giggled. His sun-hardened skin wrinkled up from the almost toothless smile. Quenfar said his thanks and the group went on. It went better than he expected this time around, probably due to the larger city nearby and all sorts of ilk passing by the quaint village of Braulic.

They reached what Barbel said was Braulic: a conglomeration of wooden houses, surrounding a stone fountain. The village, although deemed for farming, must have lived well off from all the passing travellers, because it also had a smith, a tanner, not too shabby shrine to The Four – a square stone structure with four towers at each corner, although only lit with simple flames – it towered over other buildings. The inn was also present, three-storey tall with a brass sign of what ought to have been a dancing halfling.

“Halfling’s…Coin” Shey read the words written in white over the entrance “what a strange name for a tavern.”

“Surely we can find out over a steaming bowl of something. I’m starving.” Blackfist got impatient and without further ado marched inside.

“Blackfist, wait” Quenfar hurried inside after his cousin. Decebal hesitated, wondering if better it wouldn’t have been to just keep on going and find a dark corner somewhere in the large city. He always felt better in large cities, with many nooks to hide in. Open, close-knitted villages were not his thing. It seemed, however, he was not the only one.

“Going in?” Shey asked, waving her head towards the door of the tavern. They were alone in the village, only the murmur of the crowd inside and distant hush of the sea pierced the night.

“I don’t think it’s our best idea yet, but Blackfist’s stomach says otherwise, so…yes, I guess.” he tried to keep it light. Shey seemed to like that.

“I take it this is not the first time you all get directed by his food needs?”

“Oh, no” Decebal “the legends that come out of Blackfist’s hunger are…well, they perfectly suit to be told over a tankard of ale.”

“Well then” Shey stepped on the first stone step that led to the door of the inn “how about you buy my that tankard and tell me?”

They both went inside and were met with stares. Decebal, after a moment of levity, gripped the handle of his dagger again. Many pairs of tired, tipsy, curious and overcast eyes turned to the dragonborn and the elf. They looked at each other at a loss. However, they were saved by a wave from Quenfar, who already sat at a distant table in the corner. Blackfist had a large tankard over his mouth already. Decebal felt relief and was about to make his way through the myriad of tables, all full of humans in travel clothes and locals in work attire, when a large, bulky man, almost as tall as Decebal himself and very much brawnier, got in their way.

“No elves here” he spat out in deep voice, fixing leather bracers on heavily tattooed forearms “slaves eat in the back” he showed with his thumb.

“What did you call me, you fat maton?” Shey stepped towards the large man, showing no signs of fear. Decebal could see a white mist collect around her clenched fist and immediately took hold of it, pulling her away. He hoped to remember to ask what that word meant in elvish.

“What she means to say is that I need her assistance” he raised his hand, faking a trembling as much as possible “shaky hands. She helps me eat and drink” he squeezed Shey’s hand, hoping she would play along. With the corner of his eye, Decebal could see Quenfar standing and EVERYONE in the tavern – including a halfling inn keeper (a-ha!) at the bar – watching the scene. The inn got very quiet.

“She called me fat! Is this how you allow your slave to speak?” the brawny tattooed man rumbled. He didn’t look like a local, tattooed on his arms spoke tales of incarceration, but his clothes were very much peasant’s clothes. This man was a mystery that Decebal hoped didn’t need much solving now.

“She can be feisty, yes. But she’s good at her job and I value that the most” he took out two silver coins from an inner pocket and handed it to the man “and you are doing it very well, but she is coming with me.”

“Yes” Shey finally spoke, in much softer tone “he gets soup all over his clothes when he eats. And ou-my master’s companions might need aid as well.” Shey looked down to the floor, nailing the look of a defeated servant. Decebal looked back at the brawny man. He nodded and stepped sideways, letting them pass. The entire inn watched them until Decebal and Shey sat down next to their remaining companions. Blackfist burped.

“Well, that was tense” he said casually, wiping foam off of the left side of his snout.

“You don’t say” Shey looked positively annoyed “that swine called me a slave, can you believe it?” she burst out in rapid elvish.

“Apparently, elves are not so highly regarded here” Quenfar finally took off the hood that covered his head for the majority of this trip and scratched his head “and I understand it’s demeaning, but we have to keep appearances. We may have gotten ourselves out of this one, but who knows what the situation is like in the city. Remember those peasants from yesterday? They said something about the slave market opening.”

“I’ll fit right in” Shey noted sarcastically. At that moment, three halflings, barely reaching shins of dragonborns, came to their table, carrying two trays: one of a small roasted piglet with a large carving knife thrusted into its back, and another with a large pitcher and three tankards around it. They placed the piglet and the pitcher at the centre of the wooden table and tankards for everyone…except Shey. She didn’t hesitate as she caught one of the halflings – a young girl by the looks of her, with golden hair and moss-green skin – by the elbow and whispered in fluent halfling language:

“Bring me a drink or never feel your arm again.” the young girl squealed silently, but nodded and scurried away, returning with a foaming tankard of ale in seconds. Decebal tossed three silver for the little girl and her brown scared eyes relaxed somewhat. He watched with a smile as she slipped the money in the pocket of her stained apron.

“So, what’s our next step?” Shey looked at Quenfar, who was slicing off the rump of the piglet and plating it for himself. Blackfist simply tore off a leg and started devouring it.

“Well, let’s look at the facts that we know” Quenfar started, gulping one bite effortlessly “we heard that the Staff did arrive at Forsentum some months ago, was briefly studied by the alchemist, Master Radvin, who we met. We also know it was then moved to the royal depository for safekeeping, inspected again by various specialists, who, remarkably, didn’t want to talk much, and then the Staff was moved to be inspected by another alchemist, who even Master Radvinol holds in high regard. But as far as we got wind of it, the Staff never reached that alchemist.”

“What was his name again?” Decebal asked. He decided to stop salivating and sliced up some pork for himself and Shey. She seemed to be glad about warm food instead of dry jerky they’ve been having on the road.

“Ugh, wait a second” Quenfar rummaged through his rucksack and took out the usual notebook. He flipped through it very fast and immediately found what he needed “Master Akhard. Schooled in Forsentum, moved to Meerstrand before separation from the kingdom. Has an apothecary and runs a library on all things alchemical and magical.”

“But the Staff never reached him, correct?” Decebal continued, taking a big sip of a surprisingly good ale. He was under the impression that Forsentum was a wine realm, but here is a very nice, dark ale.

“Correct” Quenfar confirmed, pushing unfinished bits of pork away from him. Blackfist frowned on his cousin and took the plate for himself “or at least Master Radvin received this information from Master Akhard. Last it was rumored to have been seen in the Temple of Fire. That…Agnini? God thing? My handwriting is awful” Quenfar bent over the notebook, closely studying the tiny lines he made in runic script of the draconic, briefly intersected by random names in common.

“It’s always been that way” Blackfist burped out in agreement. He had an expression on his draconic face that ought to be attributed to a man well fed and slightly tipsy “hardly could read your notes.”

“That’s because they were mine and you were not supposed to. Now, what’s the name of that damn fire god of Meerstrand?”

“It’s Agnini” a deep, familiar voice spoke, followed by a heavy drop of a tankard on the table and a creaking sound of chair, wailing under the pressure of that same brawny man Decebal and Shey encountered at the entrance. Shey tensed up immediately, while Decebal gripped his dagger yet again. A thought flashed by to keep it in a bracer all the time. Just in case.

“Thank you, indeed” Quenfar switched quickly to common and distant politeness he employed during interactions with all humans “you seem knowledgable about the region. Why don’t you tell us more about Meerstrand?”

Decebal caught the look of horrified unbelief in Blackfist’s eyes and anger in Shey’s. But they all held their breath, preparing for anything.

You seem to be fluent in elvysh too” the brawny man pointed at Shey, speaking, of all things, in broken elvish “I not ask why. You seem generous with coin. I know Meerstrand good. I can tell and show many things, for price right.” at this point he lowered his voice. The rest of inn dwellers did not seem to care about the strange group anymore, but the tattooed giant kept it silent regardless. The group exchanged looks. Decebal leaned forward.

“How can we count on your discretion?”

“I have history, I ran gang once, got caught, sat prison, joined gang inside, got out, we stole things, got caught again, ran away, sewers” he nodded a few times at the last one, clearly happy with the rush of memories “I know people, I know places. Can get muscle. Can get weapons. Can steal. Can find things. For price right.”

“And what does a…successful man like you doing in a village such as this?” Quenfar was polite, but used simpler words. Decebal always noticed how he adjusted to speech pattern of everyone he talked to.

“Get people. Get money” he shrugged, then paused, thinking for a moment. He then raised his index finger “clients”. He was looking for one word. Quenfar and others exchanged looks again. The blue dragonborn lowered his gaze to the notebook still open in front of him. Did they have much choice? The city seems hostile, only one alchemist may or may not help us and the Staff was last seen with some godly men, which in Quenfar’s mind never spelled anything good. Decebal nodded discretely. So did Shey, though he saw her fingers running nervously on the table. Blackfist shrugged slightly – his signal to not include him into decision making. Quenfar sighed.

“Say we need to find two things – a person and an item” he spoke more silently, but in common, to ease the communication “the person may know about the item, but we don’t know where the person is or how much he knows. Where should we start?”

“Person” said the man immediately “who you lookin’ for?”

“An alchemist by the name Master Akhard. He owns an apothecary and a library.”

The brawny man leaned back, chugged from his tankard for a while, then wiped his thick lips with the back of his hand and brushed a messy bunch of pitch black hair. His clean shave compared to everyone else in the tavern stood out.

“Master Akhard is missing” he said, looking down at his tankard. He stayed silent until Blackfist lifted the jug and filled up his cup. The man nodded and continued.

“I know because he sells some poultices to gangs. The Temple has been cracking down on magic outside its own control, so he need to keep business runnin’ you know?”

“But…missing, you say? Where?” Decebal filled up his own tankard and took a sip.

“I have a very good guess” the brawny man smirked “and my guesses are usually right. So from now, I will ask to be paid for information.”

“Alright, that’s fair” Quenfar nodded “how much?”

“About the alchemist? 5 gold. About the item? I will let you know.”

Quenfar’s heart skipped a beat. Between the long journey, Blackfist’s eating requirements and daylight robbery of roadside inns, their funds were going dangerously low. But information, for Quenfar especially, was priceless. He reached for a velvet pouch in his inner pocket, rummaged around it and pushed five gold pieces towards the brawny man. He nodded and they disappeared under his large, scarred hand.

“Call me Bigfinger. You will find me anywhere with that name. Now, about the alchemist” he leaned in closer before speaking “my guess, and some rumours say, he is held in The Tower. That is prison for all people with magic. Word is, a lot of folks, including a famous painter, are held there now and all disappeared suddenly.”

“So, did Akhard do anything illegal?” Blackfist asked the first question this evening.

“Hard to say what is illegal these days” Bigfinger shrugged “The Temple seems to invent new things to arrest people for every day. Even herbalists are not safe anymore, I hear. They send out these Knight-Protectors to collect people. Heard that’s what happened to the old Akhard too.”

“But why are they doing this?” Shey appeared furious and frustrated, clenching fists again. Decebal had to control himself not to take her hand again.

“Who knows” Bigfinger shrugged again. It seemed his shoulders did it automatically “fear? Too much magic was a very popular justification for Meerstrand’s independence.”

“Alright, if the alchemist is truly missing, we can’t ask him about the item we mentioned.” Quenfar felt the frustration building. Did they really have to rely on this thug’s information?

“What item are we talking about here?” Bigfinger appeared interested. The bushy brows he allowed to grow to sides rose with curiosity. Quenfar could almost see the round shape of coin in his pitch black eyes.

“A magical item” he exhaled “a staff to be precise, with a blue crystal. It’s as big as my forearm, the crystal just slightly smaller than my fist. Reminds you of anything?”

Bigfinger leaned back, the chair creaking dangerously. He rubbed his cheek with the back of his hand, eyes up on the ceiling. The group of travellers looked at each other while Bigfinger was lost in thought. Decebal shrugged, Shey turned away and Blackfist just drank more ale. When their new companion finally came back from his thoughts, the look in eyes didn’t seem so certain as before.

“For this, I will charge you less. 3 gold. Information is not as reliable.”

“So why should we pay for it?” Quenfar raised his eyebrow.

“It’s still information.”

“I will pay 1 gold and not more.”

“2 gold.”

“1 and 5 silvers.”

“1 and 7 silvers.”

Quenfar paused.

“Deal” he took out the agreed sum and placed it on the table where it once again disappeared under Bigfinger’s large hand. Decebal frowned at the rate their money was flying out, but was immediately distracted by Shey’s lips moving ever so slightly, but making no sound. He leaned forward, looking at her closely. She just blinked, her eyes glazing over for a split second, then returning to normal. She put her slender finger on her lips and indicated to towards Bigfinger.

“I heard rumours…no, not even that, whispers, that The Fire Watcher has some new, magical artefact. Not even servants are allowed to go near it, so no one knows where the rumours come from. But these rumours started circulating only after the painter was taken from his home.”

“Excuse me, but….you said painter?” Decebal looked confused “you mentioned him before, but was he taken away by the same Knight-Protectors or whatever they’re called?”

“Yes, Fabian of Rholands, I think. He was taken away quite publicly too” Bigfinger coughed and spat on the ground. Shey couldn’t hide her disgust, but the man didn’t seem bothered “they took him out during the burnings, a lot of people saw it.”

“Burnings of what?” Decebal asked and Quenfar felt his stomach churn. He insisted on everyone reading up on Meerstrand and its strange religious practices, but Decebal seems to not have gotten very far. Neither did Blackfist.

“Of heretics” Bigfinger drank another gulp “they burn the worst, but neither your alchemist, nor the painter were there, so they must be imprisoned. Unclear to what end though.”

“They burn people alive?” Decebal kept returning to the burnings. He felt a warm touch on his hand and noticed it was Shey’s slender fingers. She shook her head.

“Yes. Sad stuff” Bigfinger shrugged “like I said, sometimes, not even basic herbalists are safe.”

“Returning to the item in discussion” Quenfar steered the topic back to why they paid. He felt he would knock something over if the topic of people burning for magic would continue “so you’re saying that there are some hushed whispers about the staff, no one knows if it’s real or not, but people, one of which is directly related to it, according to our own information, some people are taken away by the Temple knights or whatever and never seen or heard from again.”

“Pretty much sums it up” Bigfinger took another sip “there’s more. I know for a fact that a certain lady has invested a lot of resources in secret to look for the painter. No word got around of him coming back, but maybe she knows something.”

“Who is this lady?” Quenfar raised an already arched eyebrow.

“Lady Patricia of Mengewalds – Meerhart” Bigfinger said that slowly, as if trying to make sure he did so correctly. The name, indeed, was a mouthful. Blackfist just looked at the brawny man confused “wife of some wealthy man in Forest Lodge. Word is she fooled around with Fabian while her husband was, you know, working or something. Anyway, her coffers are brimming with unspent gold. She spends copious amounts for any information. Some even take advantage of that and feed her nonsense. Her own fault for being gullible I guess.”

“Right, her fault, of course” Quenfar agreed with just a smidge of sarcasm that went unnoticed by Bigfinger “where will we find her?”

“That will cost you extra, I’m afraid” Bigfinger smirked again “2 gold for exact location.”

“Do you have an official price list or something?” Blackfist put both his fists on the table. Quenfar tried catching his eye to calm him, but in vain.

“Yes” Bigfinger said in serious face, but then laughed “for some, yes. But you, first timers in Meerstrand, I won’t charge so much.”

“2 gold for a location is not much to you?” Blackfist’s nostrils enlarged.

“Look, either you want the location or not. She’s a known person, so her location is also well known. If it was anyone else less significant, I would take more for digging” he smoothed his bushy eyebrows with some spit “now pay up, I give you address and we don’t make this complicated, how about that?”

“Oh, n-” Blackfist was standing up, but Quenfar kicked him in the leg and he faltered back down on the chair.

“We agree” Quenfar pushed two more coins towards Bigfinger, who looked much happier all of a sudden.

“Lady Patricia has a villa in the Noble Quarter. It has her family’s heraldry on the gate, a tree, wrapped in its own roots. You won’t miss it.” Bigfinger stood up and finished his drink “it’s been a pleasure doing business with you. If you ever need more information, find me at any inn, they will tell ya where I am. Good luck and good night.”

Quenfar didn’t even stand up.

“Why do I feel like we were robbed?” Decebal tapped fingers on the table impatiently.

“We weren’t” Shey cut that thought short “he was telling the truth. Well, at least he was telling everything he knew. For a thief and an informant, he’s surprisingly honest.”

“How do you know that?” Blackfist inquired.

“Female intuition” Shey mocked a bit “I cast a spell while he was talking. He was telling the truth.”

“Well, if he was, then we know our next destination” Quenfar scribbled a few lines in his notebook with a quill “Lady Patricia of Mengewalds – Meerhart.”

To be continued…


Picture credit: Portrait of a Noblewoman Dressed in Mourning by Jacopo da Empoli, 1595–1605, Italy.

 

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