Thorn's Chronicle continues...
Silva seemed genuinely confused that we willingly accompanied the troop of armed and armored men. But Durin and Kuric both patted her hand reassuringly, and Ana nodded when the girl appealed to her with a frightened expression, and that seemed to calm her somewhat. But she still held herself like the proverbial long-tailed cat in the mill.
The biggest shock came after we’d made our way down from the rocky plateau and onto the roadway along the lake: another squad of soldiers waited there, along with an ox-driven supply wagon.
“Well, it looks like the Black Eagle has more than just a passing interest in her,” Varis said to Gilliam.
“The baron has spread quite a bit of gold around in his search for this girl,” the bard said. “When we reach Halag, I suppose I could petition him on your behalf, and he would reward you all quite well.”
“I’d as soon take poison as the Black Eagle’s gold,” said Ana.
Bargle clucked his tongue. “There are many more rewards than mere gold,” he said.
“Prison, torture, slavery, take your pick,” Gilliam said with a laugh.
Bargle laughed along with him, and none of us were reassured by that.
We broke from the roadway almost as soon as we met up with the Black Eagle’s reinforcements, and headed south and west, following a trail they’d left on the way through the fields. We’d been given horses, so as not to slow down the column. Silva rode with Ana, but the two dwarves refused their horse, and opted instead to ride in the supply wagon.
Bargle let us stay together, but kept us in the center of the lines. Occasionally he would trade his horse for a seat on the supply wagon, and page through a large, leatherbound tome, turning the pages as carefully as he could upon the rough track, snarling at the driver if the ride was too bumpy. He would look up from the book every few pages, his dark eyes set on Silva.
After several hours, the sun passing midpoint in the grayness above, the column came to a halt in the woods just before they broke and opened onto the Windrush Road. There was much rattling and rustling as the soldiers climbed down from their saddles, and filed to the wagon to retrieve a meager ration of waybread and a large cup of wine.
Varis and Gilliam slid from their saddles, motioning for us to do likewise, and we all stretched and made our way to the wagon.
Bargle was leaning against the side, and held out a hand.
“Bread will cost you a silver. Two for the wine.”
“You jest,” Ana said.
“Certainly not,” he said, and though he smiled, it reeked of something put up to hide an annoyance.
“They didn’t pay,” Gilliam said, pointing towards the soldiers.
“Well of course not. It is deducted from their monthly pay. But last I checked, none of you had sworn fealty to his Lordship von Hendriks, nor were in his employ, and so, if you eat his food, then you must pay him for it.”
“Ridiculous!” spat Ana.
Bargle shrugged, cleaning his fingernails with a knife. “I suppose it won’t be so ridiculous in a day or so, when you’re even hungrier.”
We reached into coin pouches, and Bargle looked up as he was counting the handful of coins we’d presented to him.
“Oh, it will be another silver apiece to rent one of the baron’s cups.”
“I would sooner drink—”
Gilliam clapped a hand over Ana’s mouth, and dropped two more coins in Bargle’s hand.
“This one is on me,” he said to her, giving her a long look, and then shifting his eyes to Silva, who was taking in the whole conversation with wide eyes.
She reached for her belt pouch, rummaging through it. Bargle’s eyes lit up at the sound of few but heavy coins clanking together. Gilliam, too, glanced back at the girl, his expression sharp.
“Who gave her any money?” he asked.
Kuric and Durin shrugged. “She’s always had a handful of coins about her. But we have had enough between us that she’s never actually had to use any of her own.”
Durin reached for her hand, a handful of coins ready to pay her share.
“Nonsense, let her pay her own way!” Bargle snapped, his fingers striking quickly, snatching the single coin from Silva’s fingertips.
He was about to slip it into his own belt pouch when he paused, frowning as he glanced down at the coin. He peered closely at one side, then the other, his dark eyes bright, an almost feral grin creeping across his features.
Then he looked up from the coin, clenching it in a fist. He turned to leave, but Gilliam grabbed his shoulder.
“Hold there, you owe her some change. That was a gold coin.”
The bard jerked his shoulder from Gilliam’s grip, brushing at the leathers.
“Do not lay hands on me,” he said, his voice flat but laced with menace, “ever.”
He tugged at the sleeve of his leather coat, then produced a handful of coins, holding them out for Silva.
She held the large chunk of waybread in her mouth, and cupped her hands, eyes widening as the silver coins filled them nearly to spilling over. It was easily two or three times what we had handed the bard.
“You truly have no idea, do you?” he asked. Then he left, shaking his head as he rounded the wagon, Silva’s coin dancing across the knuckles of one hand.
We had barely enough time to fetch our bread and drink before the call went up to remount and move out.
Bargle was again atop the wagon, another great book upon his lap, paging through it furiously, the coin between his teeth or flipping between his fingers as he paused to read.
“What is this great mystery he keeps rubbing our nose in?” Gilliam asked. “I don’t much like his tone, or being left to play ‘I know something you don’t know.’”
“Come now, Thorn, surely you must have some inkling,” said Varis.
“An inkling? Maybe not even that,” I said. “Nothing certain. I must speak with the Mastersingers, and secure access to the deeper histories. Things she has said, I know I have heard them elsewhere. They ring in my head! Its like… a song that you’ve heard before, and words you know, but cannot get the two married in your head.”
I reigned my horse in next to Ana and Silva. The girl was having a time keeping her hand synchronized with the gait of the horse, and she probably had more wine slopped over her wrist than left in the cup itself. I reached over and took the cup from her. She looked somewhat grateful, even as she blushed and wrung some of the liquid from her sleeve.
“Might I see one of your coins?” I asked her, pointing at the pouch at my waist, producing a coin, and then to her coin pouch.
After a moment, she nodded, again holding her half-eaten waybread in her mouth as she fished in the pouch at her waist. After plucking blindly and coming up twice with Bargle’s silvers, she huffed impatiently, then brought out a full handful of coins and held them out to me.
I saw among the angled edges of the Duke’s coinage a glint of something other than silver, and picked out the heavier, slightly thicker coin.
It had a smooth, rounded edge, and was stamped with a bearded figure’s head in profile — but it was not Halav, nor the Emperor Thincol, nor any of the Eastwind kings of our neighboring Darokin. A flowing of script traced the space beneath the representation of the man. Again, they were not in the common lettering, nor the dwarven or gnomish runic alphabets. It appeared more elven than anything else, but if it was, it was a form I’d never seen.
“What does this say?” I asked the girl, pointing to the words along the bottom edge.
She glanced briefly where I pointed.
“Ah. ‘Uther.’ It ‘Ekada uta sadaa.” She repeated it slowly, pointing with a bobbing finger to each of the words, which ran from right to left around the coin.
I felt a tingle at the first word.
No, not a word. A name. A name from in the oldest of songs about the World that Was….
Black Uther, Rectifier, last of the barons, first of kings
Freedom is what the Hawk of Andahar brings
To his people, his Blackmoor…
I turned the coin over in my hand. On the reverse was the likeness of a striking bird of prey, wings back, talons outstretched: The Hawk of Andahar.