Chapter Two – Around Town
As they trudged through the snow towards the scrimshander's house, the 'adventurers' couldn't help but wonder how the residents of Easthaven managed to still act like normal townsfolk and sit outside, gathered in small groups, to gossip and share tales of their oh-so-important town. Agreed, they had lived there for their whole lives and were used to the cold and snow, but still... a bit of compassion for the newcomers, who were only reminded of their misery when they looked at the careless citizens?
Sarrajah sighed dramatically, just after emphatically hissing that very complaint towards her comrades, hoping to find that they agreed. Needless to say, Ardrion rolled his eyes, Laurelia looked at the bard as if questioning her sanity, Maran smiled complacently, Tuckel snorted, and Kairn blinked. Disappointed by their cruel and far from satisfying reactions, Sarrajah forced her attention back to the commoners around, managing to pick bits of conversation here and there.
Three men on the left had quite overstepped the boundaries with the few bottles of wine they had brought with them from the tavern. Merrily, they were interrupting the conversation with obnoxious burps and hiccups, and all were swaying about, barely able to stand on their own feet. "Swapping tales" had quite successfully turned into "ruining tales".
"Har, har," one of them was just amusing himself unnecessarily more than it was adequate. "Can ye believe thish one? There'sh been shighting of some goblinsh an' sush in the pass."
"Pfah!" exclaimed another, who was had yet do drink quite a few cups before he could be considered as well off as the first. "They usually hole up in the Spine o' the World an' kill each other!"
"Some fool," laughed another, perhaps a bit louder than necessary right there, "claimed he even saw some orcs outside of town."
"That'd be me," another smiled dumbly from the other side of the circle, his inebriated state preventing him from noticing the insult.
"I'll wait 'till ya sober up 'fore givin' -that- tale any weight," the same man who had defamed his story previously snorted his way.
"Suit yerself," the other replied, and burped loudly for a prolonged moment.
Disgusted beyond all means of displaying it, Sarrajah turned her head away with gritted teeth. And this was going to be her audience for the night, hmm? Sad, sad situation. I'd rather play for a bunch of ogres, she thought grimly. There went the prospect of visiting the tavern again that night, to actually tell tales.
That was when the bard noticed the pack of worried wives gathered across the street from the men, with gossip of their own to spin and pass around while watching their husbands closely. Someone DOES need to be around and drag them off, eventually, Sarrajah noted mentally, though she still found it outrageous to see half of the town sitting by idly. How business got around in those parts, IF it did, was beyond the bard's comprehension.
"Did you hear a wolf's been sighted on the outskirts of town?" one of the wives asked the others, giving herself an air of importance similar to that of a countess or duchess... only a slight bit more ridiculous.
"Yes!" another was eager to confirm, leaping at the chance of monopolizing attention and being heard by the others. "We've been keeping an eye out for it, me an' me sister, we have. But it seems to be coming around just for a whiff on the fishbone carvings in Apsel's workshop."
"Damn thing must be starving," one noted, "to be showing itself around humans like that."
"I've gots a better one!" interjected a portly woman, her cheeks red and face sweating despite the cold. Ten points go to being fat, for keeping you warm, the bard snorted at the thought, even as the woman continued to speak in a way that suggested her tale was the best ever to have been told. "Me boy was out playing, an' he swore that he saw a footprint in the snow... as large as a man!"
"Assuming he's not telling tales," the previous one tossed her head, indignant at the attention having been taken away from her, "that would mean giants."
"But..." another looked outraged. "There hasn't been a giant in the Pass since... well, damn near since as long as I can remember!"
"Your son must be imaginin' things," the first to object re-affirmed her already given opinion. While at that, she took the chance to kindly sway the subject back towards her own story.
Suddenly feeling sick with the whole charade, Sarrajah dulled her hearing instinctively and hurried to catch up with the others, who had already gained some advantage over her and were checking out the wooden sign that marked the scrimshander's house. Still, the conversations seemed to somehow haunt her from all parts of town.
"Have you heard about old Jhonen?" she had time to catch another rumor from a side.
"One of the steadiest fellows I know."
"Well, he's been going round with some tune he keeps humming an' looks like he hasn't been getting much sleep," the teller stated soberly.
"The troubles must be hitting him harder than we thought," the group agreed and all gave sympathetic sighs.
The bard made a tremendous effort and managed not to roar out in a much Kairn-like fashion and just drive into the commoners, battering one at random with her staff. She caught up with the others just when Ardrion was greeting Apsel, the scrimshander, with a nod. The fishbones he was obliviously holding in one hand had given the man out for what he was, though he looked rather distressed and lost, standing outside his house like a statue frozen in place.
"Well, here's your 'skullbasher'," Sarrajah noted promptly, her sarcasm well-concealed, as she was stopping by Kairn's side.
"Oh, thank the Gods!" Apsel welcomed them heartily, seeming to just wake up from deep revelry when he finally saw them. Somewhere in the background, Kairn grunted disappointedly, but no one minded him anymore since all were intrigued by the scrimshander's odd behavior.
"We are..." Sarrajah began, but Apsel interrupted promptly.
"Whoever you are," the man said hastily, "you picked the perfect time to wander by. I could really use some help."
Sarrajah sighed and tried not to visibly darken at the lack of courtesy. "What seems to be the problem?" she asked coldly, slipping back into her leader posture in a highly natural way.
"A wolf somehow got into my workshop!" the distressed Apsel announced. "It's tearing the place apart. It attacked me as I was opening the shop this morning! I was SO startled by the sight of the beast that I accidentally... err..." – the man shifted nervously – "...broke the key off in the lock while trying to get away." He sighed heavily. "Now I can't even get back in."
"Lovely," Ardrion remarked coolly, and the others could barely stifle chuckles.
"Uh-huh," Sarrajah acknowledged that she had been paying attention, though a certain lack of interest was obvious. "And what exactly would you have us do?"
"Could you go in there and get rid of that stupid thing for me?" Apsel pleaded. "Then I could get back to my scrimshaw."
The bard sighed dramatically. "Very well," she promised. "We'll see what we can do."
"Of course," the man reminded her. "You'll need to get the door open..."
Sarrajah patted her adjacent halfling companion on the shoulder... as best she could, given his height. "That's your job, yes?" she smiled to him most sweetly.
"My pleasure," Tuckel grinned toothily.
"I sincerely thank you," Apsel looked truly relieved. "The door to my shop is just around the corner here," he added, pointing them in the right direction. They set off while his repeated thanks echoed in their wake.
Once they were standing at the entrance, Tuckel held his side of the bargain and began to work on the lock.
"I could just use a spell, you know?" Laurelia hid her pretense of a bored yawn. Immediately after, though, she realized something, paled suddenly and cast quick glances about to see if anyone had taken her seriously.
"What? Magic Missile?" Sarrajah smirked her way. It was well-known to the party that the elven mage, in the full splendor of her talent and refined skills, only knew that single spell.
"You're right," the female elf admitted, though the glint of mischief in her eyes warned against the belief she might actually cede and accept defeat. "Not suitable for the door. Might cast it on you, though."
"Ladies, please," the party cleric, by excellence the soothing factor in the middle of all conflicts, stepped in humbly. "It is a shame that we should expend our energy fighting each other."
Both the women muttered darkly, glaring at each other, but both gave in to the truth in Maran's words and put an end to their public argument.
"There ya go!" Tuckel pulled away the small elongated piece of iron he'd been working into the lock. "'Tis been taken care of," he added, grinning as he stepped away.
"Sweet," Ardrion stepped forth before any could approach the door and open it. "Now, can we please spare the wolf's life? It is a shame to kill animals when it can be avoided... we could lead him out of town."
"Oh, I'm sure it will tag along just willingly," Sarrajah rolled her eyes as she was sarcastically pointing out.
"I could attempt to charm it," he offered with an apologetic shrug.
"Melamin," Laurelia intervened, finding the perfect combination of softness and determination. "You know as well as I do that if we lead the wolf out, it will return at a later time."
The ranger sighed and closed his eyes for a moment, to nod his acceptance of reality. "Very well," he agreed, and they all walked in, a bit grimmer than before.
The fight was a short one. The wolf would have been a formidable adversary for any of them, but they were six against one. The animal seemed to be particularly 'fond' of Sarrajah, since it was the bard he leaped at and tumbled to the floor; the girl had to promptly shield her face with one arm that got bitten mercilessly, while she clumsily attempted to use the staff in her other hand to bat the animal away. A firm hand, Ardrion's own, came and grabbed the wolf by the nape of its neck, then dragged it away despite its yelps of protest, to where Kairn's rudimentary sword could decapitate it in one move... not without missing the ranger only barely. The body fell to the ground with a thud and the ranger payed homage by gently placing the head in its proper spot and remaining knelt for a few more moments, his eyes closed.
The others made the best of that short time and looked about the shop's only room. Stacked with shelves and rafters, as well as various work benches, it bore hundreds of scrimshaw shavings and bones, fishing poles and gaffs, tools and work with different degrees of completion. The carvings Apsel was currently working on were displayed on a round table in the center, while the polished ones sat triumphantly inside a glass cabinet, free for all to view. Admittedly, some were quite stunning.
In the end, when Maran had been given enough time to tend to Sarrajah's arm with a spell, they made their way back out and found the scrimshander again. "Sarrajah complimented his work and he appeared most flattered, especially after they let him know the wolf problem was settled, though he still had to dispose of the body.
"Oh, I thank you!" Apsel shook the bard's hand gratefully, then handed her a few coins, as well as another object. "Please, accept my humble reward."
"It is well appreciated," Sarrajah assured him with a most gracious smile, then gestured the others to away.
They stopped a few feet further, back on the road, to look at what they had received for a reward. They could count around twenty gold pieces, and the other item was a dagger with a quite keen edge and a handle made out of intricately carved knucklehead trout bone. This last acquisition went to the halfling thief, as it was natural, and the companions wished him to wield it well... maybe in a bit too solemn a fashion for the entire look of them not to drift towards ridiculous, but still.
On they moved, deciding to visit another large building, also made completely out of wood, like the rest, that towered nearby. Upon entering, they were hit by a wave of stale air, smelling of slightly decayed wood remnants and maybe some flavor of cheese. A clerk's desk had been installed to the right, and a man dutifully stood behind it, conversing with a commoner who faced him from the client's side.
"I'm worried the goblin and orc sightings are tied into the problems we've been having with the caravans of late," sighed the clerk meaningfully.
"Caravans have been getting in trouble?" Sarrajah couldn't keep her curiosity in check as she approached, leaving her companions behind to study the room a little. They had long learned to leave conversation and information gathering to the highly charismatic bard.
"Some of them have gone missing," the clerk promptly informed her, turning to regard her studiously.
"Aye," the man he had been talking to confirmed. "At first we thought the snows must be burying 'em, but with goblinoids about, it's more likely -they're- the ones that buried the caravans."
The commoner had quickly gained the air of importance Sarrajah had been so disgusted with earlier, while passing by the housewives, so the bard just nodded shortly. Then, she turned back to the clerk and held out a hand, politely introducing herself, since that was the only natural turn she could give to the dialogue to stop the outrage.
"I am Churin," the man replied, shaking her hand for a brief moment. "May I help you?"
"I was just wondering what it was that you do here," Sarrajah shrugged helplessly.
"Me?" the man looked surprised. "Ah, nothing much. I get paid a sum to store scrimshaw and emergency food supplies here through the harsh winters."
"Certainly sounds like it would be important in a place like this," the bard didn't mean to offend and attempted to show at least some interest. "And what does the rest of Easthaven do?"
"Most of them fish for knucklehead in Lac Dinneshere," Churin answered. "Not a rich living in terms of wealth, but living up here, a man can still lead a very rich life."
"I see," Sarrajah displayed a most charming smile. "And anything interesting you've heard, lately?"
"He don't hear much, stuck in this ol' stuffy warehouse as he is," interfered the other man, who was feeling left out, probably. "But -I- do..."
"Really?" the bard arched an encouragingly curious eyebrow.
"Aye," the commoner nodded. "There's one about Old Jed, who lives in a little shack near the shore of the lake. I'd stay away from him."
Sarrajah doubted this matter was as important as the man was trying to make it, but she nodded anyway. "Really?" she looked as interested as possible. "And why's that?"
"Grisella at the Winter's Cradle cut him off," the man was more than eager to explain. "That drunk fool'll try and get you to spot him a tankard. Watch your purse, alright?"
"I surely will," the bard began to withdraw, finding that a possible and most welcome end to the dialogue. "You are most gracious to warn me."
"T'was nothing at all," the commoner nodded pridefully.
"Oh, hear this one," a man who had just entered rushed over to them before the bard could take her leave. She stopped and began to listen intently, since fits of most intriguing laughter were shaking the newcomer. "One of the girls says she saw some blue-skinned figure down by the shore!"
"Ha, ha!" the three men laughed together, nudging each other suggestively in the process.
"An' she said whoever it was was singing some song," the new arrival continued. "I told her the kids playin' out along the road might be likelier to believe!"
The laughter roared again, and an even more disgusted Sarrajah fled their company quickly, wondering about how much truth that new discovery could actually hold. Deciding it was close and worth checking, she explained to her companions and they all headed out.
Much to their surprise, especially after Ardrion's skeptical remarks, the blue-skinned woman was there, hidden between the lake's nearly frozen waters and some rocks. She was wearing a strange green dress, which glistened and reflected the light in a way similar to the ice itself. Her hair was green, algae-like and tangled like no other, and her features almost as delicate as an elf's. In some ways, she was beautiful and intriguing, if a little spirit-like, almost a mere apparition.
At the party's cautious, but curious approach, her lips moved slightly and she began to sing a soft, flowing song, like the sound of a great undersea current, though the companions had little idea why exactly that. The song did sweep over them, however, engulfing them in its intense feeling for only a few short moments, before it stopped and the woman stood looking at them with hope-filled eyes.
Sarrajah did not know exactly what she wanted, but the song had been beautiful and she stepped forth, fascinated. "My lady," she offered respectfully. "Perhaps I can answer your song with another."
The woman's face seemed to brighten as the bard began, her voice rising softly into a melancholic tune, which revealed the actually beautiful and emotional side of her gradually, as every word seemed to uncover more of Sarrajah's inner self. Eagerly, the woman lent her own voice to the bard's, and the two created an interweaving melody together, one of unspeakable beauty and grace. Oddly enough, the bard suddenly found herself understanding the strange blue-skinned being as they joined in this display of artistic skill.
When finally the song was over, Sarrajah turned her back on the woman with a respectful bow, and returned to her companions. "She is looking for one of the fishermen," she explained, her face still radiating that passion she held within and only revealed while performing. "She speaks to him in dreams, but she is not allowed to approach him in the flesh." She sighed contentedly, her glee and fascination finally showing signs of retreat. "What a beautiful tale..." she mused, while the others pretty much stared at her in bewildered astonishment. "Perhaps we can find this man for her."
"That..." – Laurelia struggled to remember a name – "...young man... Jhonen. The one a I overheard a commoner mentioning. Who was humming a song on the street?"
"I heard that too," the bard confirmed. "Shall we go looking for him, then?"
"If we have to..." Ardrion sighed in a highly tormented fashion.
"Off with us, then," bid the bard, eager to resume moving now that the song's effects were beginning to fade away from her and she could feel the cold bite at her face again. She began to hum, much to the others' dismay, as she lead them back to the town's main road, but she didn't mind their reactions, too lost in weaving dreams and imagining the rest of the story to notice anything.