One year later…
As usual, a crowd surrounded me as I played my lute. There was the occasional cheer, but most people waited until I finished the song before applauding. The day dwindled on; some people would leave some spare coins and go and new people arrived to observe the show.
I became a bit of a sensation in the small hamlet of Noanar’s Hold. It took a month or two of travelling to get here, not to mention a good few months to settle and start performing. Once I did, however, everything else just fell into place.
A lot has changed in the past year. I even cut off some of my hair. It rested just above my shoulders. I figured if I was having to start a new life, a new hairstyle wouldn’t hurt either.
Evening rolled around and I played one last song for the day. I decided to put on a show for this last song and danced as I strummed my lute. The final chord came and I had hit it perfectly. I bowed as applause came from the happy residents. Many dropped in copper and silver pieces before heading to their homes for the evening. A human couple even generously gave me five gold pieces.
“Thank you so much!” I called out to them as they left.
I scooped up the pouch of money I had and began counting what I had gotten for the day. I nearly dropped the bag in happiness when I realized I finally had enough for a way out of this town. Don’t get me wrong, this town was very kind to me in the past several months I had been there. However, it was time to move on to bigger and better things. Besides, staying here meant I would be less likely to find Simon…
I thought about him every day. I wondered where he was, how he was doing… if he was even still alive. I refused to believe he was dead. He was out there somewhere, I knew it.
Brushing the thought away, I tied up the pouch and made my way to the edge of town. I knew exactly the man I had to see.
“Oh, this little one again…”
I heard Klaudius mutter under his breath before I even reached him.
Klaudius Emrome was an elderly human with thin, greying hair hidden by a wool cap, blue shirt and brown trousers. His face was wrinkled beyond his years and he had an exasperated look on his face as he saw me approach. To be honest, I didn’t blame him.
Every day for the past two months, I visited him at the end of each day, in hopes I’d have enough money to pay him for a ride out of town. Klaudius was the man in Noanar’s Hold that brought the hamlet’s exports to bigger cities, such as Waterdeep. Today was the day I finally had enough.
“Good to see you too, Klaudius. You know I could hear that.”
Klaudius rolled his eyes at me.
“If I’m being honest with you little girl, I wasn’t trying all that hard to make sure you didn’t. So, let’s just get this over with.”
I smiled and tossed the pouch at his feet.
“Fifty gold, one hundred silver and one hundred and twenty copper pieces.”
He raised his eyebrow at me and started to count the money.
It wasn’t every single coin I had to my name, I wasn’t that stupid. I had a small pouch in my bag that I would always store a little bit of each day’s earnings in. This time, I knew I had the amount he needed though.
Klaudius tied back up the pouch and looked at me with a slightly impressed grin.
“Sheesh kid, you really want out of this town, don’t you?”
“I mean, it’s great here, really… but I have business to attend to elsewhere, and you’re the only hope I have in getting there in a reasonable amount of time.”
He looked like he wanted to ask me why, but decided not to press it any further. He just sighed and pointed to the back of his wagon.
“Get in. We can get a head start to Waterdeep and stop along the way to set up camp.”
My eyes lit up and I jumped up and hugged Klaudius.
“Thank you, thank you so much Klaudius! I promise I’ll be the best travel buddy you’ve ever had.”
He patted my back and then pulled back from the hug.
“You’re not my travel buddy, you’re my customer. Now get in the back.”
I wandered over to the back of the cart and hopped in. The cart was filled with barrels of spices, and crates full of rope and building supplies. There was also a crate full of bread, berries and wines.
One of the corners of the cart had a pile of lush, silk pillows. I made my way over to them and lied down. I sighed in relief and Klaudius brought and saddled the horses to the cart.
I stirred awake when I felt the cart stopped in its tracks and the horses become hysterical. I heard an intense growling outside and then loud whimpers from the horses. I stood up and peeked through one of the holes in the cart and gasped.
A giant grey wolf was up on the cart, eating the remains of Klaudius while the other three wolves had managed to bring down the horses and started eating them too.
I sat back down quickly to hide and tried my best to keep my tears silent.
Suddenly, I heard something.
A whimper of pain from one of the wolves.
“Begone, you furry-faced fiends!”
A man’s voice I didn’t recognize shouted as another whimper came from the wolf eating Klaudius.
Then I heard two other male voices.
“If ya think y’all are gonna be gettin’ out so easy, ya got another thing comin’, ya bastards!”
One of the wolves whimpers died out.
“We may be little, but we are fierce fuckers!”
Another wolf went down from the sounds of it.
After another minute of chaos outside, it sounded like the other two wolves retreated.
“Yeah, that’s right! Run away like a bunch of cowards!” the first voice shouted again.
Curious, I decided to peek through the hole again to see what was happening.
There were three men outside the cart, looking over Klaudius’ and the horses’ bodies.
“Ah fuck, it be a damn shame, ain’t it lads?” said the second voice, which seemed to have a thick accent.
The other two nodded and they took off their hats, giving a moment of silence to the remains of the driver and his steeds.
The third voice spoke up again. This one was deep compared to the first two.
“We should bury them.”
Nods of agreement from the others and they proceeded to do just that.
Once they finished burying Kladius and the horses, they came back to the cart. The first voice stood in front of it.
“Seems like a good place for us to rest for the night, men. We’ll keep moving on in the morning.”
The third voice piped up.
“What about what’s in the cart?”
I tried my best not to gasp at that moment. Please don’t check the cart, please don’t check the cart…
The first voice replied.
“There’s plenty of time for that in the morning. Now, as always, I nominate Morrum for the first watch.”
The third voice piped up again.
Morrum seemed to sigh heavily. At least I knew one of their names now.
“Ya know, one of these days it’ll do ya lads some good to be on the firrrst fecking watch.”
The other two laughed and made up their beds, both saying goodnight to Morrum.
“Yeah yeah, nighty night wee Perrry and wee Garrroth. Sleep tight, lads.”
Well, now I knew all their names.
I woke up to the sound of delicate tunes coming from the front of the cart. It was the most peaceful way I’ve woken up in the past year. I yawned quietly and brushed the sleep from my eyes before peeking through the hole in the cart to see. What I saw surprised me.
Laid in front of the cart with a dying fire appeared to be a halfling, a dwarf and a half-elf. The halfling was the one playing a beautiful, red oak mandolin. He had lightly tanned skin, golden blond hair, bright blue eyes and a calm, content smile. He was wearing a red cap on his head, a white shirt with brown leather armour over top, brown pants and dark brown boots. He seemed to be the one who took the last watch as the other two were fast asleep.
Closest to the fire was the dwarf. He had darker tan skin and deep brown, almost black hair with a long bushy beard to match. On top of his head was a blue cap. He had a scar shaped like a triangle on his left cheek. He also had the most armour out of the three, with large metal armour with the odd dent or two in it. He was snoring peacefully next to the dying embers.
The last guy was definitely something. He was the half-elf, leaned up against a tree asleep with his arms crossed… but he had no legs. Well, mostly no legs. From the mid-thigh up, he was there. Anything below that was completely gone. He had pale skin, lined with red freckles to match his curly red hair. He was wearing a yellow cap that was slightly pushed over his eyes. Apart from his arms being lined with muscles, he seemed fairly thin. He wore a black shirt with brown leather armour and brown pants… well, I guess it would be more accurate to say he was wearing shorts.
I stood there for a moment, watching them all.
How the hell did these guys manage to annihilate two wolves?
I brushed away the thought and decided to slowly make my way out of the cart to introduce myself. They seemed friendly enough. What could possibly go wrong?
At that moment, I tripped out of the cart.
I quickly covered my hands to my mouth, but I knew it was too late. I heard the other three jump up from their sleep and music. There seemed to be some hushed whispering before I heard a voice pop up.
“Show yourself… slowly.”
I sighed heavily, whacking myself on the forehead for making a sound. I quickly rummaged through my bag to get out my slingshot. It had been a while since I had to use it. Hopefully, today wouldn’t have to be the day.
I took a deep breath, loaded my slingshot and walked around the cart with my eyes shut. I decided to speak up a bit.
“I’m warning you guys… I, I may not look it… but I have a pretty decent shot. So… so I’m going to give you guys a chance to explain yourselves before we resort to violence, okay?”
There was no response. I decided to ask again.
“I said, okay?”
When they didn’t respond the second time, I decided to open my eyes and…
They were gone?
But, how was that possib…
I screamed, throwing my slingshot in the air and falling to the ground terrified. I started to cry.
“AHHH, I’M SORRY, OKAY? PLEASE DON’T KILL ME… I’M TOO YOUNG TO DIE!”
I was abruptly turned over and had a hand cover my mouth. I opened my eyes. In front of me were the three men. The blond-haired halfling was covering my mouth with his hand.
“Miss, I’m sorry we frightened you, but really… screaming in the middle of the woods? Is that really smart?”
He had a point, but I wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction.
I brushed his hand away from my mouth and stood up… then looked down at him.
He looked like he was just about three feet tall. The dwarf looked about four feet tall and the half-elf looked just slightly taller than the dwarf, but not by much. Normally, he would probably tower over all of us.
I brushed myself off and stood there with my arms crossed.
“I don’t appreciate being scared, thank you very much.”
The halfling had a look of mock surprise on his face.
“Oh, well I am deeply sorry for scaring you, missy. Although, you did come out from your hiding place with a weapon.”
I picked up my slingshot from the ground and stuffed it back into my bag.
“Well, sorry for me trying to defend myself. At least you had a backup.”
The half-elf piped up then.
“Hey! We are all seen as equals in this trio!”
The dwarf whispered to the half-elf.
“Hey Garrroth, I thought that wee Perrry was the leaderr of us lads.”
Perry, the halfling, whacked the dwarf in the stomach.
“Can it, Morrum!”
The three started to argue with each other about concealing their identities.
I stood there, watching this spectacle and laughed.
They all turned to look at me. Perry came forward and crossed his arms in front of me.
“What the hell are you laughing at?”
I shook my head, still laughing a bit and stuck out my hand to Perry. He seemed a bit surprised by this but took my hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Perry. My name is Seraphine Reese. This is how we should’ve introduced each other.”
He stood there, just shaking my hand for a moment, blushing a bit. Then he smiled.
“Pleasure is all mine, Seraphine. Perry Garner at your service.”
Perry turned to face the other two, who looked completely gobsmacked. He gestured them to come forward.
“Well come on lads, introduce yourself to Seraphine here.”
Morrum came forward and shook my hand, a lot harder than Perry did.
“The name’s Morrrum Flintheart, lass. Don’t wear it out.”
Garroth came forward next and shook my hand.
“Garroth Arabella, and yes, I know my legs are gone. Yes, it happened in a fight. Yes, I’m surprised I’m still alive too. No, it’s not magic. Yes, I can walk fine. Any other questions?”
I shook my head. He nodded.
“You’re the first to not, I’m impressed.”
I smiled and picked up my bag.
“Well, I do have a few questions. Not specifically about your legs or… lack thereof, Garroth. But more so… how did you guys manage to kill those wolves last night? What are you doing traveling in the woods together? How did you all meet?”
Perry held up his hand and laughed.
“Woah there girl, one question at a time. Don’t worry, we’ll tell you all about it… if you tell us why you were hiding in that cart.”
He and the others sat down by the now-dead fire and patted the ground for me to sit.
I sat down and we all talked for hours.
“So I finally managed to get enough money to leave Noanar’s Hold with Klaudius and he was going to take me to Waterdeep and… well, you guys know what happened from that point on.”
The three of them looked at me, mouths agape at my long-winded tale of how I came to get here.
We had spent about an hour talking about who they were and how they found each other. Perry and Morrum were actually childhood friends who shared a mutual love for music. They had begun their travels around Faerun about a year ago. In the middle of their journey, they had stumbled across a fight that Garroth was in. They witnessed him losing his legs and managed to wrap his wounds to keep him from dying. They helped him learn how to walk and manoeuvre himself with no legs over the course of a few months. Once they found out Garroth also played music, they formed the little group that they dubbed “The Short Cohorts” and spent the next several months travelling and performing around Faerun.
Now I just told them about from the moment I was exiled to getting found by them in the cart.
Perry was the first to speak up.
“Well, you’ve certainly been through a lot… and you still have no clue why you were exiled?”
I shook my head. I had no inkling of an idea.
Garroth raised his hand.
“So, you play the lute, right?”
I nodded and pulled it off my back.
“Yeah. I also have a little flute I know how to play, but I’d say the lute is my best talent.”
Morrum chuckled and elbowed Garroth’s arm.
“What’s the matterrr, Garrroth? Scared the wee lass s’gonna take ya place?”
Garroth punched Morrum’s arm in return.
“No… Just curious, that’s all.”
Perry rolled his eyes at both of them and turned his attention back to me.
“Do you mind playing something for us, Seraphine? I’m sure we’d all love to hear you play.”
That seemed to get Morrum’s and Garroth’s attention and they turned to face me as well.
I looked down at my lute, and back at them.
“I don’t know, are you sure?”
Perry patted my shoulder encouragingly.
“Come on Seraphine, we’re all bards here.”
I smiled and took a deep breath. I placed fingers along the strings and thought about what to play. I knew exactly what to play. I started strumming the chords of my mother’s lullaby she sang to me as a child.
“May it be, an evening star, shines down upon you. May it be, when darkness falls, your heart will be true. You walk a lonely road… oh how far you are from home. Mornie utúlië. Believe and you will find your way. Mornie alantië. A promise lives within you now.”
I strummed the last few chords and exhaled, looking at others for their reactions.
Once again, their mouths were agape. Garroth even had tears in his eyes. Perry stood up and started clapping, the others joining in immediately. I smiled and gave a small bow.
“Well, I’m glad you guys enjoyed it, but really it’s not worthy of a standing ova…”
Perry covered my mouth with his hand.
“Could you give… me and the lads just one quick moment please?”
I raised my eyebrow but nodded.
He removed his hand and rushed over to Morrum and Garroth and got into a group huddle. It was hard to hear their whispers, but they all seemed to be in agreement about whatever it was.
They turned back to face me a minute later, smiling. Perry stepped forward.
“Seraphine, we want to ask you something. You are incredibly talented and we all think you’re great. So, Seraphine Reese… would you like to join the Short Cohorts?”
My eyes went wide. Me? Join their group? They thought I was talented enough to join them?
Perry brought me down by my shoulder to be more at his height and stretched his other arm in front of us, following the horizon.
“Think about it. With all our talents combined, we could really make a name for ourselves and get paid to do what we love. Not to mention, it could help us get to Waterdeep faster… hell, maybe even beyond Waterdeep! What do you say?”
I thought about it for a moment. These guys did seem really nice and talented too. Plus, I’d get to do what I love while also getting to travel more and look for Simon. It would be like killing two birds with one stone.
I smiled and took Perry’s hand, leading him over to Morrum and Garroth.
“Gentlemen, count me in!”