I left Melech in the library as there were a few things I needed to do around town before the evening’s performance. I restocked on my dwindling ration supply and picked up a healing kit to try and avoid any more close calls. Baldwin had passed his old short bow onto me, as he was getting an upgrade, so I also picked up a quiver and a bundle of arrows. After being rudely turned away from using the barracks for some archery training, I returned back to Melech in the library.
“Did you dig up anything else?” I whispered, finding him towards the back hidden by a couple of towers of books. “Yes, actually” he responded happily, obviously at home here. “I decided to look up some past orc invasions and see whether the matching war paint has come up before. Well, it has, typically whenever there’s a particularly strong war chief, other orcs will rally under them, copy their war paint and follow under their rule. I think the same thing is happening again, hence why the orcs seem so organised.” I nodded, agreeing with the conclusion, then smiled wryly. “I think you mean orc-anised”. Melech just glared at me. “Anyway, come on!” I started, poking his shoulder, “Smokey’s queue is getting a lot shorter and I thought you wanted those notes translated.” Melech’s eyes lit up, “Oh, yes!”, he put down the book and followed me.
We found Smordin in the square with a handful of the steward’s men still queueing to get their swords sharpened. We queued up behind them, but it wasn’t long before Smordin spotted us and beckoned up forwards. “Good to see you lass! what do you need?” The soldier whose sword was next looked a bit disgruntled about having been queue jumped. “Well, we were hoping to bump into the others while we were waiting, as I imagine one of them will make the best use of your master work, but I’d like a couple of daggers if you’ve got any spare” “Sure, sure, I’ll see what I can find. You’re not getting these for free too mind” he chuckled. “Oh I wouldn’t think of paying anything other than full price for your handiwork” I beamed back. “I also have some notes in dwarven I was hoping you might be able to help with” Melech added, passing over one of the sheets of notes. Smordin took a glance at it while rummaging in his cart “I’m a bit busy at the moment to play translator, but…” he flipped the page upside-down and squinted slightly “come find me in the inn later, buy me a drink and I’ll see what I can do” he said, handing the page back. “Here we are!” Smokey exclaimed, pulling two daggers out and handing them over. “That’ll be 10 gold pieces”. I handed the money over, Melech and I both thanked him and headed back to the inn for the evening.
That evening’s performance was one of my best ever. Building on the strength of my previous performance at The Fallow Sow, I mixed old and new, fast and slow. I debuted “When last we left our heroes”, an improv storytelling exercise, which went down fantastically. I made sure my friends and I were all supplied with food and drink and a very enjoyable night of revelry was had by all.
We reconvened bright and early the next day over breakfast in the inn. It seems none of us had overdone it too much the night before. “I was going to go and collect those bandits from the Notched Blade before we go to Westpine” I proposed. “We should all go”. Melech said authoritatively. I countered, having already thought through this “Actually, I was hoping to go alone, disguise myself, just make sure we’re not being led into a trap. The fewer of us the better, as we’re all quite recognisable”, my gaze resting on Melech’s horns. I was also aware my golden eyes stood out like a sore thumb in more human areas too. “I still think I should come, it’s a bit of a rough area” Baldwin offered. I thought for a moment “As an old guard around here, they’re probably most likely to recognise you, although…if I did something about that scar with my disguise kit it would probably do most of the work of covering you up.” Baldwin agreed to my ‘changes’ and we set off towards The Notched Blade
Baldwin led the way, knowing his way around town. As we continued through the streets, I could see the houses getting smaller, more stacked on top of each other, leading to almost slums, people creating living space in any nook and cranny. The smell was getting worse too. We soon found The Notched Blade crammed between two other buildings and I could see why Drebky had warned us away from coming here. It was pretty much the definition of the word shady. I made sure my hood was pulled over my face as much as possible, nodded at Baldwin and we proceeded inside.
The inn was dark. Even mid-morning when it was bright outside, very little of the natural light filtered through. There was a grubby bar with an innkeeper, a small group that I immediately noticed were the bandits I’d asked to meet us here and otherwise it was empty. I guess even in a place like this, few people would be drinking quite so early. I pointed out the group to Baldwin and shuffled over.
Making my way over to the group, I prepared my best street urchin voice. “‘Ello there lads, I don’t suppose a lively group of adventurers asked you to meet them here”. They looked up “Maybe,” the one who had appeared to be the leader before shrugged, “what’s it to you?” “Well, they sent me to come pick you up, they’re waiting in the central square”. They looked surprised “they said they were going to meet us here”. “Change of plans,” I said, not thinking of anything better on the spot. The leader gave a bit of a shrug “Well, no point waiting around here all day. C’mon you lot”
We made our way back to the main square, with me leading the way, but Baldwin shuffling around at the back. I was aware he wasn’t giving these ex-bandits an inch and wanted to keep an eye on both our backs. “They hiring you too, then?” one of them asked me. “Oh, no, just gave me a couple o’ coin to come get you” I replied, keeping up the illusion for the time being. “They seem to be pretty liberal with their coin, I guess that’s a good sign for us” one of them reasoned. We found Melech and Beiro as agreed in the square, greeted them, then removed my cloak and smeared some of the make-up off my face, revealing my true identity to them. They looked genuinely shocked. “Sorry about that,” I said, returning to my normal voice with a cough “we just wanted to make sure we weren’t walking into a trap. That inn would be your kind of territory after all”
I introduced myself fully and then went around introducing the individual members of the group. After a couple of awkward stares at Melech, the leader went round and introduced the bunch of ex-bandits. His name was Neddie the Knuckles, the one with an eyepatch was called One-Eyed Dennis, another had a great big bushy beard and was known as Silent Gregory, the shadiest of the bunch was Cheating Warwick and the sole female of the group, a fairly burly lass, was known as Kya Black-Eye.
Introductions aside, we discussed our options. They weren’t open to going North to battle the orcs, accurately pointing out they could’ve done that already if they felt like getting promptly squished. They were also unwilling to turn on their own allies and take down the main bandit camp they had come from original, making a point of not wanting to stab their friends in the back. I’m not sure whether this is good or bad for us, not wanting to turn on other bandits, but hopefully not wanting to stab us in the back either?
This left the option of them accompanying us back to Westpine and the Fey Woods. “If we’re travelling we’ll need a tent. And food!” Neddie pointed out. Rations tend to cost us five silver pieces a day, meaning this would pretty much double the cost. I heard a voice in my head, “This deal is getting worse” Melech’s message said. I turned back to the bandits, realising this was an opportunity to renegotiate “How about 3 silver pieces each per day and we masked sure you get fed”. This seemed agreeable. “And what about the tents?" Melech pointed out “Lighten up, the situation is just two tents,” I said with a big grin. Melech sighed. It didn’t take long to buy what we needed and we set off back towards Westpine
Our journey was peaceful and without incident. No new bandits had set up in the copse yet and the skies seemed clear. Talking to the ex-bandits it sounded like they had taken to stealing from falling on bad times, struggling to find any other way to survive and put food on the table. They were all pretty young, I imagine most don’t last long in their old line of work.
As we set up camp for the night, it was quickly obvious they didn’t know what to do with the tent. Baldwin and I helped out, while Beiro scavenged some last bits and pieces for dinner. We’d realised he should be able to cover for himself and our hirelings, which should keep the costs down, although the rest of us would have to keep up our ration stocks for now. We turned in for the night, agreeing to pair up with one member of each party for each watch.