“Humph,” grumped Teleria, one of the four adventurers, as she propped her boots up on the table and leaned back in her chair. “He acts like he’s never seen an elven lady before.”
“He probably hasn’t,” replied Cameo, grinning at her as he sliced himself a piece of the fresh bread.
“What do you mean? I’ve been here all week!” Teleria replied, touching the slight points of her ears, which indicated that she, like Cameo, was of half-elven stock.
“I don’t believe it was your elven heritage he called into question,” deadpanned the gravelly voice of Kriv, their Dragonborn paladin companion, “but rather your dubious status as a ‘Lady’.”
Even Belaros, the stoic Teifling warlock who completed their band, had to laugh as Teleria sputtered in indignation and threw two well-aimed grapes from her plate at both Kriv and Cameo. The grape bounced harmlessly off of Kriv’s burnished bronze scales, and Cameo merely grinned as he caught the fruity missile in his mouth.
“If you three are done with your tomfoolery…” muttered Belaros, as he gestured for Broil to return to their table. When Broil puttered around again, Belaros told him, “Please let your contacts know that we will wait here to meet with them, Master Broil.”
“Excuse me, good sir, but which of your party should I point them to?” asked Master Broil, appearing pleased that the group was willing to assist the lovely elven lady.
“You may direct them to me, if you please,” replied the warlock as he settled in to wait.
With Belaros willing to handle the waiting, the rest of the party went their separate ways to fill up the hours of the day. Cameo took his leave and indicated that he was going to investigate just what it took to become one of the elite Hidden Jackals of the Banguard, hoping his skills as a ranger might ease his entrance. Kriv decided to try to blend in with the crowd in the tavern-room, as well as a humanoid reptile could in a room full of humans, elves, and other mammals, and took to standing by the wall near the bar. Teleria ran to her room to collect a piece of torn chain mail and her pliers, and then settled down at the table with Belaros to get some repair work done.
As the sun began sinking into the horizon, Cameo returned from his errand to the Banguard and joined Belaros and Teleria at their table. Belaros and Cameo had just begun a game of knucklebones when Broil approached their table. He indicated that his contacts had returned, and asked the adventurers to follow him. Belaros gestured to Kriv to come along, and the four followed Broil through the back of the inn to its courtyard.
The four adventurers walked out of the back door of the inn and blinked in the sunlight. As their eyes adjusted, they saw a dusty square of cobbles surrounded by the Inn on two sides, and stables at the back. The courtyard opened onto an alley to the group’s left. In the shadows of the stable stood a large human man, and another, smaller figure shrouded in a cloak. The eyes of the man darted around as he took stock of the adventurers trailing behind Broil, who was cheerfully approaching, oblivious to the man’s suspicion.
“Hail, good sir! Here are those adventurers I was telling you about earlier,” exclaimed Broil, as he and the group approached the pair of strangers. The large man snorted, and glanced over at a barmaid who stepped out of the inn to fill a pot with water. When she passed back into the inn he greeted the newcomers.
The man explained that he had a very important package that needed to arrive in Yellowtail to the southeast as quickly as possible. He offered the party two hundred gold coins each to get the package safely to Yellowtail. Belaros bristled at this, as two hundred coins each was far beyond the appropriate cost for such a simple task even given the recent increase in danger. At his angry retort, the face of the large man hardened, but his cloaked companion stepped out from the shadows and calmed him with a hand on his arm.
The figure pulled down its hood, revealing the beautiful elven woman that Broil had so lovingly described. Her calm demeanor caused Belaros to hesitate, and she explained that the “package” which needed to be delivered to Yellowtail was, in fact, she. She had received a message that one of her dear friends there had fallen ill, and desperately needed to see her. She further explained that her companion was simply very worried about her, and valued her so highly that the eight hundred gold he was offering the party for her safe arrival was trivial to him. At this the man cleared his throat and brought the party’s attention back to him.
“There is one more thing,” he said imperiously, “if you fail, and anything should befall my dear Ararein, your lives are all forfeit. It’s two hundred gold if you get her there safely, but I will ensure your deaths if you should fail. After all, if I can afford to pay you this much for her safe arrival, I can surely afford to pay to have you hunted down and killed.”
After a short discussion, the adventurers agreed to the terms, confident in their ability to deliver the elven woman, Ararein, safely across the open lands to Yellowtail. Cameo suggested trying to acquire horses, since Ararein had expressed the need to arrive quickly. However, Ararein herself dissuaded him from this course, explaining that the need was not so great as to spend most of their reward on horses, nor to take the valuable animals away when they might yet be needed for the defense of Duntroon. Ararein’s companion told the adventurers that they had one hour to prepare themselves, and that they should meet at the gate of the outermost ring-wall to depart.
The companions gathered up their possessions and settled their debts with Master Broil in preparation of leaving. Cameo took his leave of his companions with an excuse that he needed to make a stop before leaving, and promised to meet the party at the gate at the allotted time. Beleros, Kriv, and Teleria made their way together to the gate, and wait there for the others to meet them.
The enterprising Cameo, rather than rushing to the gate, instead made a circuit around the nearby market to see if he could pick up any extra work delivering messages or items to Yellowtail. He was able to find another innkeeper who needed to deliver some kegs of beer to an associate there. The innkeeper placed the kegs in a magic bag of holding. This made the cumbersome kegs, ordinarily impossible for a single person to carry, easy for Cameo to hide on his person. With this extra income secured, Cameo rushed to join his companions at the gate.
At the appointed hour, Ararein and her companion joined the adventurers at the gate. The large man wished Ararein a formal farewell, and then turned to the adventurers. He shook the hand of each member of the party in turn, and then, as he handed each of them their pouch of gold coins, he whispered, “if she dies, I will have your life.” With that, the party, now five members strong, walked out of the gate and began their journey to Yellowtail.
The travelers circled around Duntroon to the southeast before heading out across the plains, following the road to Ratieal. The high walls of Duntroon, and the protection they offered, slowly faded from view, and had disappeared from sight by the end of the first day of traveling. The travelers knew that with Duntroon out of sight, they were on their own. There would be no assistance from the Banguard if they ran into trouble.
The road they traveled, normally busy with caravans and traders, was deserted. The news about Gatequest, it seemed, had caused all but the most travel-hardened to stay within the comfort of city walls. Cameo and Teleria, with their heightened senses, scouted ahead of the party, while Kriv and Belaros stayed back with Ararein to keep her safe.
The party continued along the quiet road to Ratieal for three days. They encountered neither fellow travelers or bandits along the stretch of road, made muddy by the last departing snows of winter. In the morning of the fourth day of travel, they left the relative safety of the road to trek west along the foothills of the Moridian mountains. The map which Lady Ararein supplied indicated that where the foothills of the Moridian met the Yellowtail river, they would find the village which she was seeking.