The trip home was uneventful, luckily, and quick. Pergale always enjoyed the sea air and, though Anise and her horse Algernon were not pleased with being water bound, there were rats a plenty in the hold that kept Anise busy and plump. When she arrived, home, to Matorca, an odd sight after having never called anything but the back of a wagon home, Pergale found Headie on the docks immediately by the sound of his voice and a loud merchant that was clearly mad with him.
She’d never seen Headie in such a flustered situation, but waited respectfully until he was done to say hello and great him with a hug. Things in Matorca were tense if Headie was having problems, but Pergale was happy to see him and to get to the bottom of his cryptic letter. First, however, she needed to get her land legs back and get the lay of the land within the city she called home. It was better to have an idea of what one was walking into if things in a city were already tense. Living as a travelling person had taught Pergale to have an ear to the street and when to cut and run if, and when, things got bad.
Only days had passed since the nightmare, and Pergale had watched the night sky with passion to see if a shooting star or comet might come. Things were happening, she could sense it everywhere, and when she saw the crazed energy within the market, and the flagellants preaching more fervently than ever, she could taste the winds of magic and tell that something very wrong was coming. Words of doom and fearful looks were everywhere, merchant’s shops were sparse, and rumors of a witch hunter were circulating. The winds were blowing sour in Matorca, the balefire sent of the Red Wind of Aqshy rolling as hot as the sun on Pergale’s back. Emotions were burning like dry kindling in the city, and Pergale’s thoughts turned, quickly, to those accused of witchcraft lighting the night sky. Death would come to Matorca very soon.
Pergale turned herself quickly from the market and the sights the winds were bringing. She had business with her friend, and thoughts of coming doom were becoming distracting. Besides, Headie had promised cold pint and a hot meal and, after eating salt pork and limes for three days, that sounded like heaven.
As promised, Headie had delivered, and over warm stew and bread in an uncommonly empty “guildhall”, and a freshly tapped pint from his personal stock, Headie got down to business. The Rat Catcher, Losenthel, Sylri, Belegar, and Gerolf were already on the case, but Headie had gotten well in over his head trading goods that he didn’t have with money he, also, didn’t have; and the goods had gone missing on the way into Matorca. A first, in Pergale’s experience, but a worrisome first and one she didn’t like the sound of. So, it was time to play catch up, and hopefully not follow a trail of bodies to Headie’s missing goods. He’d even offered Pergale his best desterier to ride. He was clearly desperate, and his investors were probably looking to engage Headie in a similar business deal to Lossenthel’s usual dealings with non-elven men. Pergale loved him, though, and this time would cut her beardless Dawi friend a break.
Off on Headie’s Destrier , and with Algernon in tow, Pergale road hard to catch her compatriots, and after only a day found their trail. Along with it, she found first of Headie’s wagons busted up in some dunes by the sea. She was passing quickly, but the smoke from the burned wagon was still rising, and the acrid scent of melted and burned tin, and the scent of rotting flesh, made the air stink. The bodies weren’t Belgar’s work, but Pergale knew she was on the right path. At least her compatriots had the sense to cover the ale so it wouldn’t spoil in the sun. A quick word sent with some people on the road to Matorca, and Headie’s Hall would be flush with drink, again, which.
Another two days she found the other crates of wares. Whoever had smashed and discarded the cheap plated tin on the side of the road, Pergale did not care. All that mattered is that they had been picked over and taken from, that she was sure there would be a number of peasants and travelers sporting some nicer looking tin tableware in the near future, and that she could sense her bonus from the sales floating away like a morning dream. She’d happily take a smaller pay day in exchange for her friend’s wellbeing, any day, though.
The farm, however, was another story. Sadness hung over the small house and empty fields as Pergale approached. Shyish, the Purple wind of death, mixed with the ebbing of the hot emotional winds of Aqshy rolled heavily in the small valley like a fetid fog. She knew her comrades had been there only recently, and a small prayer to Shallya that they were safe and healthy passed Pergale’s lips as she passed the fresh mass grave by the side of the road. Whoever had lost here had been buried without markers, their names unknown by the people that put them there and without any honorifics. Things had gone very badly here.
Worry for her comrades drove Pergale to investigate the house but she was pleased to see a family, or what was left of it, came out to greet her happily when she beckoned. They had been battered and bruised, and sadness and loss pervaded them, but they were happy to not be dead at the hands of the bandits that were now piled upon each other in a shallow grave on the hill. To hear them tell it, the Rat Catcher and his brave compatriots had passed through only two days thence, and had slain the bandits that had taken up residence there.
The young girl even flushed to talk about the Rat Catcher; he had saved her life personally from a knife to her throat, and she had grown a little smitten with her tall savior. Even Pergale giggled happily to hear about the antics turned heroics of the Rat Catcher, and about his offer to retrieve the livestock taken by the brigands. The man had the strangest luck, at times, and a valiant and romantic heart that seemed so out of place for someone that used to make a living of trudging in shit. Truly a rose growing out of night soil, he was.
Pergale offered the family her services as a healer in exchange for a pallet to sleep on and a warm meal, which they gladly gave. The talents of a skilled healer were rare, even more so in the country, and the family had been through quite a lot, lately. Even the small scratch the girl had on her neck from the bandit’s knife could become deadly if it became infected. The worst of it, however, was not the beatings they had taken; those could be cured with healing droughts and poultices. That night, after hearing their story and inspecting the mother and daughter, and with disgust in her stomach, pain in her heart, and tears in her eyes, Pergale brewed and made packets of Black Witch’s Tea for them to drink in the days to come.
Pergale cursed the dead men on the hill as she fell asleep that night, and was thankful for the comrades she kept. They may all not trust her or her talents with the Gift, but at least they accepted her and they had good hearts. She would be reunited with them very soon and she would be grateful for it.
The next morning she read her fortune in the tarot for guidance, and again she read them for the young girl when she grew wide eyed at Pergale’s Gift. It had been a simple thing and the girl squealed and blushed when she drew The Lovers; clearly still dreaming of her tall savior in a tall hat. And, so, with a stomach full of hard bread, sausage, and milk in her stomach, Pergale bid the farmers a good morning, and headed east with her road weary horses. The winds had pointed her to the end of her journey, and she knew her friends would come to her very soon. Today would be easier on the road, she thought as the farm went out of view.
When Pergale stopped to eat the next day, she could taste the change in the winds and could feel their flow on the road was somehow different. In the distance she saw a large group of travelers, more than she’d seen in days, and she knew that her compatriots were on their way. The brigands that had been robbing passersby had been dealt with and Headie’s valuables recovered. “I’ll make them tea and set camp here” thought Pergale “They’ll need a rest for the evening when they get here.”
The Rat Catcher, and then Lossenthel’s, tall countenances came into view first, and then Gerolf with his ever present halberd, and at the back and downwind Belgar, their stout and roughspun Dawi man-at-arms. Save for the dwarf, none of them looked the worse for wear save a coat of dust from long travels, and he looked like he’d simply forgotten to bath after a rather bloody battle. Pergale knew better than to look for Sylri. The Halfling would make herself known when she needed to be, and was likely hiding in the back of cart Gerold drove.
With them traveled two head of cattle, two pigs, and two goats, and two large crates in the back of the cart that looked similar to the other ones that were smashed open that Pergale had passed days ago. An odd sight to see, at the very least, and Pergale chuckled to see them trying to herd the animals and cart down the road. Not a usual kind of day for her compatriots, but Mr. Jack, the Rat Catcher’s terrier, appeared very pleased with himself as he snipped at the animals to keep them moving.
A successful journey, indeed, according to their story, and they had handled things rather well. The brigands that had stolen Headie’s goods were dealt with by incredible negotiations of the Rat Catcher’s, and by Sylri stealing documents and money from the local mayor. It had turned out that the mayor was the one paying the brigands to rob people and splitting the profits of their thefts. Sylri, of course, had lost all the money in the interim during negotiations, but got to keep her arm, and lived on to pout about it. And, once negotiations and retrieval of the goods was taken care of, Belgar handled the head of the brigands, quite literally, with his trusty flail. The rest of the encampment was taken care of by a passing army of the Prince, and the mayor hung for conspiring with them. The only casualty of the entire trek had been any chance that Belgar ever had of anyone thinking he might be appealing, or likely ever smelling good, as he was still covered in bits of the man he killed the day before.
While Belgar was forced to go and bathe, Lossenthel, the lovely elven scout and archer that the troupe employed, primmed at her hair. She was prone to dying her hair but Pergale’s witch sight always saw past it to the lovely auburn that the winds of Ghur painted it. Lossenthel, as all elves, had a flickering of the Gift, and the shapechanging winds of beasts and nature flowed through the elf ranger. She told Pergale of a prophetic nightmare she had had, the same night as the mass nightmares in the school, and Pergale shared hers. It was no wonder that the elf had sensed something, as well. The tension Pergale had seen in Matorca was starting to come more together, and she could sense that horrible things were coming.
Pergale read the tarot, again, that night and her eyes opened wide to winds of magic. A vision she was dread to share, and would when the time was right, but not that morning. Matorca called and a well earned pay day, with it. Headie would be sad to have lost part of his shipment, but happy that he wasn’t completely out on the valuable’s. The herd was to be given to the family on the farm, as well. The Rat Catcher had negotiated for all of them, and the small family would, at the very least, eat well through the winter and the next year.
The trip back was even pleasant, and the celebration of freshly slaughtered pig at the farm, and the lights in the family’s eyes when they saw the haul that they arrived with was heartwarming. Pergale was deeply proud of her compatriots, and so happy that they were as good a people as they were. Few would help another in such a gracious way, and it meant much to her to see a little less despair in the world.
Headie was even excited to see them, and elated at the transport of his goods. The pay was well earned, it seemed, and plenty. School money and perhaps even a grimoire, thought Pergale, and she knew the others had similar plans. Gerolf had even grumbled something about the destrier that Pergale road out to meet them with, and owning one himself some day.
That’s when the Rat Catcher returned saying something about attending court the next day. It still seemed odd to hear him speak of court and the duties of a noble; the lowly rat catcher that had become a hero overnight and been married into one of the most powerful families in Khypris, all because the woman he rescued had fallen head over heels in love with him. And now he was inviting Pergale and the rest of their ragtag band of mercenaries to court because he and his wife had an announcement. At least Pergale would get to wear the fancy new “wizard robes” to a fancy affair. Leave it to the most learned men in the known world to wear bed clothes everywhere and convince people that it was part of the trade.
Court was an interesting affair, though, and a rare and new experience in Pergale’s life. Being sanctioned by the Magisters meant she could wear the signs of her Gift openly here, though she could still sense the fear, and noticed the glares and whispered words. The food and wine were good, though, and Pergale was happy to be there to look out for her comrade and his new wife. Ever wary, she watched the crowd when “The noble Humphrey Alsinor and this wife Maria Alsinor” were announced, and while they made their announcement to everyone.
The announcement, that Maria was with child, was only slightly jarring to the crowd, and most were receptive, but clearly some were unhappy that a lowly, and all but untouchable, peasant was now married into a noble house with a noble child on the way. The Rat Catcher was sure to have enemies, but Pergale was deeply happy for him, and hoped that he would allow her to help nursemaid to his wife. She knew the Rat Catcher didn’t trust the Gift, but Pergale cared deeply for him and Maria and wished them well and to be part of making her pregnancy and birth go well. It was a happy day but the life of an adventurer is never easy. Hopefully, the fates would see to it that they would all still be around to meet the newborn in a few more months.