The Letters

Posted: January 14, 2015 in Uncategorized

The Tavern was a full 5 days out from the city, and the trio had been walking for one. The Druid could have moved faster without the other two, but he enjoyed the pace. The Gnome rode on The Half Orc’s broad shoulder most of the time, but sometimes he leaped off of the Half Orc’s shoulder and disappeared in the brush or behind a tree. It bothered The Druid that when he did that, he couldn’t spot him. The Druid had a hawk and wolf running through these woods, two old friends he knew by name and family, not just by association. He trusted them completely, and even they couldn’t find Dondo, but The Druid knew he was running through the woods. Dondo ate berries and beets all day that there was no way he knew how to find, and a squirrel had told The Druid an impossibly dirty joke earlier that he knew had to be Dondo’s. When he asked the squirrel where he’d heard it, it shrugged and ran away. The Half Orc whistled, and had a serene air about him. The Half Orc had joy. The Druid felt he was a happy man, but he rarely whistled. By the end of their first morning walking, the two whistled together a great deal.

The Gnome didn’t talk as much as The Druid was afraid he would, at least not to him or The Orc. That was nice. It allowed for whistling.

At around noon The Gnome asked, “How long have we been being followed?”

The Druid was happy that The Gnome didn’t go through the formalities of asking if he knew. “I think I’ve been being followed since the Tavern, I think you guys since before.”

“Since Before!” The Gnome sounded angry.

“The birds around here tell me there are some folks watching us who are watching all the time. They have’t changed what they’re doing, so I doubt we’ve got the drop on them.” The Druid offered.

“The guy behind us?” The Gnome started, “There are two,” The Druid corrected.

“Seriously?!” yelled The Gnome. The Half Orc furrowed his thick brow.

“Should we turn back?” asked Tony, his big hands twitching a bit. Tony was nice, The Druid knew that. He was patient and reasonable and surprisingly polite for a creature who could solve so many problems with his hands; but he was scared of things he couldn’t see, everything except his little buddy. The idea of somebody following him set uneasy on the monster. It’s why The Druid hadn’t stopped the party when he’d first heard about the two men a quarter mile behind them.

“Who’s in the woods!” The Gnome yelled again. The Druid was honestly surprised this time. “All kinds of people.” He answered, almost offended.

The three marched on together. Dondo scowled at the road as he made a plan. The Half Orc stroked the handle of his sword.

“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” said The Druid. Dondo shook his head. “It’s fine. I should be glad you know.”

At two o’clock The Druid told the other two, “The man following behind us is parting off, and the man behind him has split as well.” The Half Orc turned to face The Druid, The Gnome on his shoulder had to face him too. “That’s good,” said Tony.

“I suppose so,” said The Druid. “There’s a town ahead of us, a mile, maybe two.”

“Yeah, I think we’ll pass two more,” said The Gnome. “They get fairly common on the way to Egeos.”

“I like towns,” said The Half Orc. “You can get enough to eat.”

“I don’t” said The Druid. They walked a little while in silence.

When they got to the town they saw that there were no taverns, but there was a general store with a restaurant attached. The three men walked inside. They were carrying enough gold to be nervous, but The Druid was more concerned about the trouble behind them. The Gnome had a killed a man at the tavern where they’d met, and even though The Half Orc had only stood there and kept the peace, people weren’t going to be okay with a monster and a murder being in the same sentence, let alone the same place. He was sure the rumors had gotten here already.

The three got served alright, the shopkeeper, an old man in his thirties, shuffled about and got three pounds of apples and potatoes for the group, as well as jam and honey and some pretty lousy bread. The Half Orc ordered all the fish in the pantry, after The Druid told him that he had known the rabbits that the stopkeeper butchered. The Gnome paid, and tipped the man as well. The Half Orc carried the gold they’d found at the Tavern, and the gold they had had before that. He was big enough to hide it completely on his person, and folks were less likely to hold him down and search. The Gnome only held a handful of coins at a time, and he gave the shopkeeper an extra one. “What’s that?” he asked, pointing to a letter nailed on the doorway.

“A letter from the city,” said the shopkeep. “Says the roads ahead are shakey, that you’re not traveling under The King’s Safety.” The Gnome looked at it and pretended not to read it. The Half Orc studied it and pretended something harder. He pretended that he couldn’t, and was pretending that he could.” He was pulling a double ruse, and he’d it pulled it before.

“Oop, Yep.” He said, “Says right from the King.” His thick green finger pointing out brand of the City Guard. The shopkeep went on, “yeah, says they’re going to war and anybody with steel’s being called to it.” It didn’t. The Druid wasn’t sure if the shopkeep was lying or lied to, but the letter didn’t say that at all. It said the army would be on the road, and that they weren’t safe. That killers were being looked for, and travelers would be suspected of awful things if they didn’t have business in the city. It said everybody was recommended to stay still. The Gnome and The Druid and The Half Orc didn’t look at each other or say a thing. They walked out with their groceries and kept walking towards the city.

That night they were cooking their meals over a fire The Gnome had started. The Druid wasn’t used to cooking his meals and he had to admit, this was better. The Gnome was a good little cook. He had a handful of spices in his pockets that made the potatoes and apples unbelievable. The fish smelled good too.

“So, Never?” asked Dondo. “Almost never,” said The Druid. “When I was a child my Woods’ Mom took me North for a Winter. We stayed with Great White Bears and ate fish every night, and some Birdmen fed me goats once I always felt bad about.” Tony shook his head and swallowed down his fish. Dondo had cooked that too. It smelled like honey and wine.

“I don’t feel bad about eating stuff I killed.” said Dondo. “But I don’t like thinking of stuff getting killed for me.” The Druid nodded. “You didn’t eat those fingers back at the bar.” Slurped The Half Orc. All three of them laughed for a long time. They packed up their stuff and put out the fire. They walked through the night, The Gnome led The Half Orc, an Owl led The Druid. They fell asleep in the morning.

The next day they woke up and started walking at 8. They were all very tired, and only the Paladin wasn’t showing it. The monster refused to let this mission beat him. He refused to let anything defeat his new smile. He wanted to stain his teeth in the city. The Druid had a falcon flying overhead. He didn’t know how the bird told The Druid what he saw, but he knew he did. He wondered if the falcon saw Dondo. He hadn’t seen him for half an hour, not since they’d left the last town.

He hoped he’d show up somewhere funny. The Gnome had a habit of doing that.

They’d bought some more food, bread and cheeses that Tony very much looked forward to eating. The place didn’t have any meat. It did have a new letter nailed to the door. This shopkeeper wasn’t above telling everyone what it said. It said the roads ahead towards the city would be guarded, and that city soldiers were searching for outlaws and criminals in a number of murders and worse things. That the territory between here and the city was not to be considered safe, and that those traveling the roads were in violation of city laws, and would face strict questioning upon arrival. Moreover, there was specific interest in a Killer Orc and Demon Seed who were traveling with a priest. There was a picture. It was a sketch of Dondo and Tony Robbins. The priest looked nothing like The Druid. It was a read haired man with a fool’s hat, but the rest of it could have been commissioned. They were lucky Dondo ran ahead of them and had seen the letter, and hid when The Orc and Druid bought food. They were less lucky he’d stolen the letter because he liked having a picture of himself.

Tony had yelled at him a little, and they hadn’t seen him sense. He hoped he’d come back soon. He was very hungry.

And Tony really hoped he’d show up somewhere funny. The Druid had started calling a wolf to walk with them. At first The Gnome objected, but when The Druid vouched for him. The Druid explained that the animals followed him because he trusted the animals, not the other way around. Dondo vocally stated that he did Not understand, but he would trust him. Hours later the wolf ran up to Falco and Dondo was clinging to the underside of the wolf’s shaggy neck. He didn’t see The Gnome until he told The Druid not to kiss him as he scratched the wolf’s ears. The Druid spooked and the wolf danced like a hunter’s hound who was in on the joke. For a band of killers. They sure laughed a lot. The Half Orc hoped they hadn’t passed Dondo. He knew he was fast, but he also knew he couldn’t keep pace with bigger creatures, not for long stretches. The Half Orc started up an unfinished conversation.

“So never one time?” asked The Half Orc.

“No,” said The Druid, “I’ve never had to.”

“Do you think you could?”

“Yes,” said The Druid.

“You don’t know you can ’til you have to.”

“Then I hope I never have to.”

The Half Orc couldn’t understand it.

“So you’ve never had to kill a man. No one’s done you wrong?”

The Druid didn’t answer.

“You’ve never been in danger?” asked The Half Orc.

“I’m in danger right now.” said The Druid.

The Half Orc snorted.

“You ever had to kill an animal?”

“I told you I ate fish.”

“I mean kill it, fight it.”

“I had to fight a boar once who was crazy, and gorillas haunted by men. Both times they left after fighting, and no I didn’t kill them. But one time I fought a shark and I’m pretty sure he’s dead.”

“Bullshit,” said The Half Orc.

“He attacked me in the water. I knocked out most of his teeth. Sharks grow back teeth, but I also took an eye, and they don’t grow back eyes. If anything on his left got made at him… he’s probably dead.”

The Half Orc liked the way The Druid answered questions.

“I was going to say you must have lived a real easy life.” laughed The Half Orc.

The Druid smiled and didn’t say anything. He looked up at his bird.

“I don’t see Dondo.” He said.

“Me either,” said Tony, which was probably pretty obvious. He looked over his shoulder and back at The Druid. “You want to eat some of that cheese?”

“I do.” said The Druid. The Half Orc took a knee and unslung the bag holding the food. He opened it up and inside was Dondo looking at the sketch of him with a villainous mustache.

“I’m so glad you guys didn’t wait for me,” smiled Dondo. “I was fucking starving.”

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