The heroes had decided to meet in the marketplace before going to Wrafton’s Inn together. The marketplace was in the midst of closing down for the day, with the farmers and merchants packing up their foodstuffs and wares tightly, exchanging small talk. Most of the small talk had to do with Winterhaven’s future. Odus listened intently to their words without appearing to do so.
As is usual with things of this nature, the people were divided. Some felt that Lord Padraig was needlessly picking a fight with creatures surrounding them that had posed no danger until now; these were probably the merchants whose businesses had not been interfered with, thought Odus with a smirk. That thought was confirmed but others, who saw Padraig as finally doing what a lord should do: protect his people and expand the area of lordship, bringing in more people and resources. The people advancing this argument were the ones to point out that they still paid taxes to the throne in Rel Mord but saw nothing for those taxes; why haven’t they seen any Nyrondese soldiers dealing with the orcs, anyway?! The only knights they have seen with any regularity in northern Nyrond are the Knights of the Valorous League of Blindness, the Pholtus worshippers. They uncovered a shrine to an evil deity in Midmeadow, the last major Nyrond city further north, bordering on the Theocracy of the Pale. While Nyrondese citizens, the knights clearly favoured an alliance with the Pale.
Here, the talk turned towards what would happen then. Some folk feared that the ‘Lesser Nyrond’ plan would come to being, with King Archbold giving up the northern lands of the country to have a more defensible, less expensive state to administrate. The people of Winterhaven would certainly be amongst those abandoned lands. All agreed that they would rather have their own free state under Padraig than be absorbed by the Pale, though some wondered what kind of leader Padraig would make if he goes picking fights with orcs (supposedly) serving Iuz.
It became clear the topics were to big for such simple people, so they shrugged their shoulders, finished packing and then headed to Wrafton’s for a drink before hitting the road.
Moments later, Mordekai and Kane joined Isak, Garrick and Odus. “Apparently, Sir Oakley is awaiting us in Wrafton’s Inn,” said Kane cheerfully while sporting the face of Annis. Isak wasn’t sure what unnerved him more: serving alongside a vampire(!), or the fact that the vampire seemed to become an entirely different person with each change of face… was there anything real to him at all?
You’re one to talk, he reprimanded himself. For years and years you kept your own true face and feelings hidden away, at least whenever she was around…you’re in no position to render judgment on others for their fakery.
Still, looking into the face of ‘Annis’ as they were walking in the now dark streets as the sun went down, with his smile showing too-perfect teeth… it was still weird.
Wrafton’s was busy again; Odus‘ ears perked up, instinctively listening for rumour and scuttlebutt. He smiled, picking up snatches of conversation similar to the ones he heard in the marketplace; Wrafton’s was essentially the meeting place for group therapy, it seemed. Well, drinking establishments always seemed to do better in times of woe, why should this be any different?
Salvana bustled by with beers for another table and paused near Garrick with a conspiratorial glance. “That one has been waiting for you lot to show up… waiting most anxiously, I might add,” she whispered loudly with a nod of her head towards a table that seated Sir Oakley and Eilian the Old. The elder men were engaged in excited conversation… well, Sir Oakley anyway. Elilian seemed thrilled with whatever the old knight was saying and was contributing as best he could with grunts and gestures. They made an interesting pair.
The Winter Guard strode over to the table. Eilian was excited to see them, as always. Salvana brought some extra chairs. As they sat, Eilian looked at Sir Oakley with the same look a child has before opening a wrapped gift. The knight looked more or less the same, but was doing a slightly better job at keeping his composure.
“I am so glad to see you again, my friends!” he began. “I have heard from the townspeople that you have made much headway in your excursions into Gardmore Abbey, and I am pleased to say… I am about to join you!”
Eilian beamed a smile and turned to look at the heroes.
‘Annis’ smiled an uncomfortable smile. The last thing I need is some radiant-wielding fool bursting light near me. Garrick had best dissuade him. “How generous of you…” he began, but Garrick interrupted him.
“I had thought we agreed we would escort you once we had routed the orcs from Gardmore village,” he began cautiously. “We ourselves have found it difficult to navigate, and to do so with one so… regal… as yourself would make things…”
Garrick was interrupted himself by a hardy laugh from Sir Oakley. “Do not worry so about choosing your words with such care, young Garrick! You need not fear offending me, my friend! And you are quite right, my armour would definitely make skulking about the village an impossible task… and I have no intention of hiding my allegiance. But…I no longer have to!”
The guard all exchanged quizzical looks amongst themselves, while Eilian looked like he was about to burst from excitement, his eyes glued on the old knight.
“You see my friends… I have been visited by The Dragon Himself! In a dream, he did come to me, bade me continue my mission rather than asking others to do it for me… I was ashamed, I admit… but the Dragon took great mercy on me, explained that I was in the company of valiant heroes, who needed only one steeped in the faith such as myself to lead them to the climax of this holy quest! It was a renewal… never have I felt so sure, so righteous in my goals. And so, I have decided to join you, and together we will exorcize the evil spirits from Gardmore!”
The rest of the Guard continued to share concerned looks. Hmmm. Perhaps he will replace the vampire…? thought Mordekai.
Oakley smiled. “I can see you are worried for my safety; you needn’t be. While older now, what my muscles lack in might they more than make up in experience! I can wield a blade as dangerously as any man, moreso with the will of Bahamut behind me!”
Isak looked him up and down. Maybe…
Kane had one card left to play. “Oh, we aren’t doubting your prowess, nor your faith,” began ‘Annis,’ speaking honeyed words and locking eyes with the old paladin. “It is simply that…”
Garrick suddenly turned to Kane, frowning. He shared a quick look with Odus then laid a heavy hand on Kane‘s shoulder, forcing him to turn and face him. “You will NOT enchant him, Kane, I won’t allow it!” he whispered harshly. “He deserves much more respect from us!”
‘Annis’ looked shocked. “Garrick, I used no supernatural power here, I assure you; sometimes my natural charisma simply seems magical, so potent it is.” Again, the too-perfect smile manifested across the face of ‘Annis.’
“…never question the will of Bahamut, never,” Odus was saying. “It is just that there are many supernatural powers in the world, and while none so potent as Bahamut or Rao, for instance, many do have the ability to deceive us, especially in our dreams…so you can see our concern, surely?”
Eilian’s face fell.
Sir Oakley smiled understandingly, nodding his head vigourously. “Too true, young minstrel, too true…. and I must admit, such cautionary thoughts did cross my mind in the hours after I had awoken. But upon reflection, I know this to be a divine guidance from the Platinum Dragon, and no demonic-fueled deception.”
Mordekai leaned forward. “How can you be so certain, venerable one?”
Eilian brightened up again.
As did Sir Oakley. “Because Bahamut has revealed to me a secret of the Abbey. On the hillside, the otherwise insurmountable hillside…there is a Secret Stair. It leads directly to the Dragon’s Roost where the temple that I shall enact the ritual is. I have been gifted with this knowledge to make success in my most holy quest possible. What demon would do that?” he finished with a laugh.
Garrick leaned back in his chair. He was fond of the old man, there was no doubt. He hated himself a bit for what he was about to say, in the face of such genuine enthusiasm for One Last Great Quest.
“It may very well be that Bahamut has given this vision to you, sir Oakley,” he began, choosing his words carefully. “But I would see you safe and secure to help train and educate the next generation of knights once Gardmore abbey is rededicated to the forces of Good. As such, I cannot risk you coming with us into Gardmore.”
Eilian looked down. He seemed to be stifling a response. Oakley fixed Garrick with a paternal look.
“You misunderstand, my young friend. I am not asking for your permission; I am asking for your help. One way or another, however, I intend to set out on the morrow to follow the guidance of my god and yours.”
Eilian looked up, smiling and nodding.