by Just Jae
Adventurers travel the road to a new city.
The Road to Irewick
The group left Suncall early in the afternoon. They made their first camp at the spot where they agreed to meet Geordo. The man had moved on to Irewick, according to his message marker.
As they traveled, Skrie got used to the harness she and Malusk had made in Suncall. It allowed her to ride on his shoulder and still have her hands free. She practiced firing her crossbow from her perch as they moved. The big orc also drilled with his shield so the cleric could get used to the motion of his arm. By the time they reached Irewick, they were almost proficient at practice. Only a real battle would prove the tactic's worth.
The second day on the road, they approached a traveler's shrine to leave an offering. What they discovered left Skrie fuming.
"Who would do this?" she demanded, fists resting firmly on her hips. The shrine had been desecrated with feces. The stone was marred where Lathandar's weather-worn symbol was carved into the rock as though someone tried to chisel the sign from the stone. The few offerings left were burned, and the ashes scattered. As they traveled, they saw more shrines along the road had been broken apart, burned, or desecrated. One even had the symbol of the Cult of the One carved into the wood.
Passing a marker, the road improved, and they began seeing guards patrolling the way. By the third day, wagon traffic had increased, but not to what it would be on a bustling market day. A few farmers hauling their winter produce joined the procession into the city. A couple of merchant caravans interspersed with wagon and foot traffic wove their way into the city. Sometime around mid-day, they reached the bridge linking the trade road with Irewick.
"Check it out," said Skrie, pointing from her perch on Malusk's shoulder. "Whoa!"
The road continued south, the town of Irewick spread from the road. A wide bridge crossing a small river lead to the city gates. Tall gray stone walls blocked the route forward. Today, though, the large wood and iron-bound gates were open wide welcoming merchants and travelers. The river flowed east to west into vast grassland and tiny bits of forest. The halfling spotted farms in the distance to the west.
Further east, hundreds of rivulets poured down a rocky cliff face into the reservoir below. The town almost flowed into the expansive lake. The river surrounded Irewick, running around both sides and joining east of the city again. Skrie saw small boats on the water, paddling along in the mists emanating from the tiny cascades.
"Good day to you, Travelers," said a genial young fellow in a guard uniform. "What is your business in Irewick, good folks?"
"We are traveling from Nemeademore and other parts to the north. We hope to meet a friend in Irewick, who might have more work for us."
"Well, good luck with that. We had some folks come through here from Nemeademore several days ago. Seems something bad happened there."
"Aye, it did. Some cult burned down the village. All the people had to flee. We were lucky to have escaped ourselves. Put down some of those cultists though, before we left."
"Sounds dangerous. I stick to guarding the gate and knowing I have my brothers backing me up if trouble starts. Good day to ya."
"Sir," asked the cleric, "do you know of a decent inn in town? We haven't seen a decent bed in a while and need a good sleep and good food. Not too expensive though."
"Hmm," he thought for a moment, "Ermina's is probably a good place for you. She has clean beds, good food, and reasonable prices. Tell her Markus Allford sent ya. She'll do ya right."
"Thanks, Markus Allford. Come by some evening, and I'll buy ya an ale."
"I may do just that, Miss."
At the main gate, they were stopped by another guard. "Ah," he began, clearing his throat. "'I hereby inform ye that city rules do not allow hoods, cowls, full-faced helmets, or otherwise covering your face while within th' city walls.'"
The guard didn't notice, but Skrie did. As he was speaking, Garack waited until he was behind Malusk before pulling his hood from his head. The halfling kept the guard talking.
Skrie's curiosity got the better of her.
"Is the thieving problem that bad?"
"No," replied the guard. "It's a precaution. A vampire entered the city some time back and caused havoc for months. He would be out in the daylight but wearing a heavy, dark cloak that covered his entire body, including his head and face. We don't want to take the chance of it happening again is all."
Following the directions given by Guardsman Allford, the group entered Ermina's. A half-orc wearing a bearskin cloak trailed behind.
"Hello," he said in a jovial tone as he grabbed Malusk in a bear hug. "My friends, how good to see you!"
Malusk tried to break the grapple, but the half-orc countered every move. After a few moments of impasse, the two broke apart. Skrie recognized Grubak.
"What do you want?" she snarled at the fellow.
"To buy you a drink!" he said, guiding them to an empty table in the corner, signaling the innkeeper as he walked. "And," he continued, lowering his voice, "to let ye's know I gots a message from Geordo."
Sitting with his back to the room, Grubak motioned them to sit.
"Geordo is in a meeting, and won't be available today. He wants to meet with you tomorrow. Geordo has a house near the south docks. Ya can't miss it, it's got a yellow roof. Geordo'll send someone in the morning ta get ya."
Downing his tankard, he stood.
"Well, friends, I be glad ye made it safe. I'll let ye rest, I'm sure yer footsore from yer journey. I'll see ye's on the morrow."
The party watched as he departed the inn. The proprietress approached their table.
"Heyla, folks, I be Ermina, I run this lit'le place. Do ye need anythin' more than a drink ta wet yer throats this fine day? A good meal, perhaps? A room for the night?" she asked.
"Aye," said Skrie with a smile. "Guardsman Allford at the north gate recommended your fine establishment."
"Ah, young Markus, aye, he's a good lad, he is," she said beaming.
"He told us your rooms were reasonable, the food was good, and you don't water your ale. So, here we are."
"Ah, that boy," she said, pink spreading across her cheeks.
"Do you have a room big enough for all of us?" the halfling asked, hope shading her expression.
Ermina thought for a moment, eyeing Malusk. "Aye, I have a bunk room, but I dunno if the beds is big enough fer yer friend here." She hooked a thumb at the big half-orc.
Skrie looked around at her friends and raised an eyebrow at Malusk. He shrugged. Theren and Garack nodded, fatigue showing on their faces.
"If it ain't big enough, we can find something else tomorrow," said Garack. "I just want something other than the ground and a bedroll to sleep in."
"Agreed," echoed Theren.
Skrie looked up at Ermina and grinned.
"Looks like we're yours for the night."
"That'll be two gold for the lot of ye, and ye'll get the standard breakfast in th' mornin'," she said with a grin. "Dinner this eve'll be five silver apiece, 'cept you," she pointed at Skrie. "Our halfling meals are one silver."
"I'll take a full meal if you don't mind," said Skrie with a wink and a grin. "What I don't eat, my friend, here, will." The tiny halfling motioned to the half-orc with her head. She leaned in conspiratorially and stage-whispered, "he carries me around, I need ta make sure he's properly fed." The cleric concluded with a wink.
Malusk gave her a stern look, then winked back and laughed until tears fell down his cheeks.