Claudia Kelton sat comfortably, concealed in the darkness of night, listening to the conversation amongst a group of vagabonds approaching from town. It was after her third patrol of the forest surrounding the mysterious town when she came upon the highwaymen at this unusually late hour; apparently they were not awarded a quest they came for. They were not pleased, however there was certain camaraderie in the tone of the men she noted; it was the ease in which they each fell into familiar roles of palling, self-sustaining banter…
“Do you know what I’d like to do?”
“What?” came the unnecessary reply, there was expectance in the response as if some monuments declaration was about to be revealed.
“I’d like to go back to town and give that woman a piece of my mind. I happen to have a man’s perspective into their dilemma you know.” …
Hours had gone by since Claudia watched Elad Edals talk hisway past the town guards, militia who looked at least thirty years past their combat prime, and enter the town. Even now in the distance she could see the occasional guard walking the perimeter atop the town wall, her vision broken only by the flags and banners that hung and waved heralding the arrival of Midsummer.
She could see by the realm colors over the town that they had been transported somewhere in the Dalelands hundreds of miles east of Waterdeep. This town’s flag however: two staggered alabaster arcs on a slanted field of deep indigo on the upper left; and four diamond-shaped green ‘shields’ arranged geometrically on a field of crimson on the lower right; and a top-down silhouette of a black bird decorated its center. This town was unknown to her…
“The women of that place gave me chills- it was like they were hexed or something. I’m likely to have nightmares after all that.”
“Why would they turn down our bond? They’re looking for adventurers, aren’t we adventurers?!”
“They knew our intentions.” Said a third voice…
Earlier today she insisted on accompanying Elad Edals; going along to provide backup and the sheer logic of not spreading the company too thin; when in fact she was measuring Elad’s reaction- his reluctance. The Waterdeep spy reservedly agreed but he wagered having until morning light to investigate the town, gather information, and report back; she would have the perimeter, watch and listen for signs of danger, and return to camp with him in the morning.
Elad bore watching these days Claudia mused; her unease in his recent change of personality was confirmed at his obvious reluctance. Truthfully she did not know much about Elad before the Time of Troubles; it was only their shared belief in the power behind the Samular Pantheon that accounted for any commonality. Nevertheless he must know that oath breakers are frowned upon by guilds and gods alike.
The highwaymen were passing her now…
“By the Iron Hand! What do you mean they knew our intentions? We all know what to say, we practice this.”
“Somehow those women knew were going to defraud them out of the reward. I could see it in her countenance when we met. She knew we were going take what we could con out of them and move-on quest unfulfilled… we break our oath.”
“But how could they…?”
“It was likely a balancing divination or magical item, besides you didn't believe you were going to persuade those austere ladies in giving us an advance on the reward did you?”
“Damn! It has always worked before, we practice this!”
Claudia moved slowly behind the swindlers as they came upon a gentle rise, she allowed them to gain some distance in case she made any noise.
“I bet, by the Gypsy Lord, that the men of Tragidore became so sick of their frigid, creepy wives that they fled the Dale to appease their Lust.”
“No signs of struggle, no women had ever witness a disappearance… THAT is what happened to your husbands!! Now where is our reward?!”
This comment was met with laughter but it sounded nervous and forced somehow; it quickly subsided. Claudia watched as they descended the rise, their forms falling from view. She needed to get closer or lose sight of them but doing so she also took on the risk of being seen if not overheard.
“Still though, that town,” one of the men pointed back at the town, toward Claudia as they descended the slope. The voices grew ever more distant. “And did you see the way she looked at us? She had this weird stare…”
The rest of what was said was lost in the distance. Claudia broke from cover moving quickly for the top of the rise. Overhead the moon was bright in the sky; a great black bird passed briefly in front of the glow of the moon, its silhouette creating a brief cast of shadow. Claudia shifted back to cover and peered down the slope expecting to see the men.
What she saw instead was an empty path there was no trace of the highwaymen. There was only the road down the slope, she only lost sight for them for less than a minute; she should have been able to see them on the road. Silence hung loud in the air, it was impossible to track in the dark and she dared not use a light and risk being discovered. In her mind’s eye she imagined a huge female green dragon carrying away and devouring the men.
Hours went by she hid and listened, and when she finally felt it safe to emerge from hiding the morning song birds had begun to perform and the town of Tragidore began to wake. It was Midsummer’s Eve.