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Those Who Harp

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After fording the river (which was more like swimming, as her map wasn't that old, so the map lied about the depth) and spending two days drying her clothing out, Meliantha was walking just off the Moonsea Ride, so that she didn't get in the way of riders or wagons. She'd passed a few, when a quartet of Purple Dragons, the military of Cormyr, came on horseback down the road. Spotting her, they pulled up, surrounding her.

"Where go you?" one of them, wearing the insignia of a Lionar of the Dragons. His men regarded her just as narrowly as he did, hands not quite on their blades.

"Shadowdale," she informed them, "and while I go towards Tilverton I have no intent to enter there. I've been instructed by my father to travel there, for some reason that will be revealed to me when I get there." She looked up at the riders, face shaded by her hood. "And I have no quarrel with Cormyr or its soldiers."

The Lionar's face soured. "It remains to be seen if the reverse is true. We've had word that someone with your description slew the sheriff and militia of Archenfel."

"Ah," she said. "The true sheriff, or the bandits and rabble that claimed to be it, only to conscript travelers into their ‘militia'? I'll plead guilty to the second, and gladly, and the town seemed happy to be quit of them. I thought raising a private army like that was a violation of the Crown's prerogatives. And there's two gangs of bandits dead in the Hullack by my hand as well, one of them had captives I took the Ilmatari temple three days march back." She felt a bit of pride at the recitation of the deeds - it was the kind of thing that the Purple Dragons should do, and she'd done their job for them.

The Lionar's face became, if anything else, even more sour. "We'd gotten word from the temple as we passed," he admitted reluctantly. "Where's your token?"

Meliantha reached into her shirt, and pulled out a chain, on which hung the stamped metal token stating that she had been registered with the War Wizards and the Purple Dragons as a free-sword. It also had the punched hole inset with a blue crystal that indicated she was willing to assist the commands of a War Wizard or Purple Dragon in time of trouble. (It also held her pendant of the symbol of Helm.)

That caused him to nod, his face softening a bit. "Free-sword, present your weapon," he requested, as was his right. She did so, and he said, "No knot."

"I had to use the blade. I was going to stop at the Tilverton garrison to have it checked. Hold, please, Lionar." She unslung her pack and kneeled, then reached into it, pulling out the hammer, and a pouch. He raised an eyebrow, but waited. "This hammer came from the leader of the second group of bandits; it appears to be dwarven work, but old and badly cared-for. And this from the first." She upended the pouch into her hand, and displayed to him a pair of tokens like hers. "Somewhere off the East Road, in the Hullack, may be shallow graves of the ones they killed. I swear by the Crown of Cormyr as it rests safe on the head of Azoun IV that my actions were taken in line with the law of the land."

He chuckled at that. "I would take those items, and present you with a token of thanks, at the least for a meal at the Tilverton garrison. The safety of the people of Cormyr is paramount, and on behalf of the Purple Dragons, I thank you." He got down from his horse. "I'm Lionar Arval Wellsmith, on patrol of this road this tenday. My men are Harby, Zill and McRae. Men, I think we have nothing to fear here, and it's a good time to rest the horses" He turned back to her. "Will you join us for a meal?" he asked politely.

"Thank you, Lionar, I will." From her own bag, she produced some leftover roast fowl, which she shared, gaining her a bit more goodwill.

"So you have no idea what awaits you in Shadowdale? Odd to go, then," he mused. "Your father sent you, you said?"

She knew exactly what he was looking for, and decided to answer. "Adoptive father - I'm a foundling raised in Berdusk. I was looking for work - I worked as a caravan guard from Berdusk to Proskur, then hired on another to Eveningstar, and since then been travelling on my own. I'd thought I'd find another guard job, but in the meantime I'd keep wandering."

"Why? What were you looking for?"

She shrugged. "Trouble to stop."

After a stop at the Tilverton shrine to Helm and a night's rest at the garrison (at the offer of Lionar Wellsmith) she turned to the road to Shadowdale. Her trip was without event - she had the feeling that Wellsmith had put in a good word about her - and she went unbothered by the patrols. She passed through the Shadow Gap without incident, and she entered the Dales, she felt a bit lighter. This place, the thought came unbidden to her mind, was a good place. She knew they'd had a lot of trouble - the gods knew that, especially after the Time of Troubles - but something about Shadowdale, even on its outskirts as she was, seemed to be pleasant: the green swath of meadows she walked between on the road, going towards the trees she could see from here.

Of course, it couldn't last.

She knew the woods ahead of her were called the Spiderhaunt Woods, and so she wasn't actually surprised when a half-dozen spiders came charging out of it. She was a little surprised that they came when she was as far away as she was - at least a couple of miles - and more surprised that they were actually being used as mounts. The creatures riding them looked as arachnoid as their mounts, waving lassos as they came. But they were also about two miles away.

She drew the bow she'd taken from the brigands in the Hullack, and began launching arrows at them. The first two missed as she didn't have the range, and then she brought arrows down on them. The arrows were definitely troublesome to them. The fire that the bow imbued in the arrows was worse, and they weren't even halfway to her before the survivors turned, still burning, and headed back into the forest. Knowing how the people of Shadowdale were close with elves, instead of firing after them and perhaps causing a fire in the forest, she let them go.

The excitement over, she continued on, past a temple, over a bridge, and then past a small keep. She glanced curiously at it, but the guards started to pay more attention to her, so she kept on. The town of Shadowdale itself was quiet and peaceful, and she finally reached, halfway between noon and dark, the Old Skull Inn. She pushed the door open, finding it mostly empty, and looked around.

The innkeep, a powerfully built man, glanced as she entered. She quietly took one of the small tables, after unlimbering her sword, bow and backpack. Unbidden, he brought her a mug of what turned out to be cool, clean water, and waited as she drank it.

"How may I help you?" he said then, the attitude of a server.

"I'm supposed to give a message to the proprietress," she said, "but it's been a long walk, so if you have something ready, I'll take some of that." He didn't react to the sound of her voice, a good skill in an innkeeper.

"My mother's the owner, but she's resting afore the evening rush. I can take her the message, and bring you back some of the pork-pie. Was lunch, and still got some warm."

She nodded. "That sounds good. And the message is just that I've arrived. My name is Meliantha."

He nodded judiciously. "I'll bring the pie, then. Mother passed to me what to tell you, and I think a good meal is best before you head out." With that somewhat cryptic comment, he left, only to return with a small pie on a dish. It smelled good, and surprisingly tasted better. It had a good amount of pork within, along with some roots and some kind of green leafy vegetable, and while it filled her, it wasn't heavy.

"My complements," she said as he returned, bringing another mug of water, as she passed him a gold coin. "That was excellent."

"You should go back to the road through town, and at the crossing turn left. Go to the second farm on the right side of the road, and ring the bell. That's your destination. Good travel to you, and I hope to see you in some night warming your feet and having a proper meal."

She rose, taking her things and rearranging them. "If that's not a proper meal you gave me, I might be terrified of a proper one." She stepped out, and followed the directions. This was decidedly an adventurer's town - despite her hood pulled forwards to hide her features, the local merchants greeted her with all due politeness. She made the turn as she'd been told, and kept walking. It wasn't much more time before she came to the second farm on the right. She saw the bell, and walked towards it.

She had a sudden sense of danger, and threw herself forwards and into a roll. As she came up, her attacker made herself known. She was a tall woman, taller than Meliantha, dressed in simple clothes. Her hair was a shining silver, tied into a braid that went down her back. The blade she bore was nearly the same length than the one Meliantha had, and she held it as one who knew how to use it quite well. As Chainbreaker slid into Meliantha's hand, the woman smiled and spoke in a smooth, melodious voice.

"Well met," said the woman. "Welcome to my farm. I am your host and, I expect, tutor, Storm Shadowhand. Come, let me see what you're made of." She lifted her silver sword in salute and came in on the attack.