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Max_Writer

Eriks D&D Game: Plague at Goblin's Tooth Part 1-2: It Begins

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Edvard started to violently cough. I asked if he was all right and patted him on the back.

“Thank you,” he said, his coughing subsiding. “Thank you.”

I noticed blood on his hand. He had coughed it up. He wiped his hands together.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “It looks as though you have coughed up blood. This could be something very serious.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” he said, coughing again.

“I am a priest and I am versed in the healing arts. I might be able to help you.”

“I don’t need any help. I am beyond help.”

“No one is beyond help. I will not acknowledge that! Perhaps I could help you?”

“No. No.”

He pushed the mug away and got up, staggering out of the tavern. I looked towards Rebecca. She furrowed her brown and picked up the mug, wiping it out.

“He coughed up blood,” I said to her. “Is he in ill health?”

“He’s been in ill health for a while now, yeah,” she said.

“What is wrong with him, do you know?”

“The poor man misses his brother, and he blames himself for his death.”

“His brother is dead?”

“Aye.”

Aeryn and Orrin had bought drinks for everyone in the bar, myself included.

“I’m not a bloody dwarf!” the dwarf suddenly shouted.

“Oh, sorry Rumdan,” Rebecca said to him.

The person sitting at the table was actually an exceptionally short man, not a dwarf.

Aeryn ordered food for himself but, for the life of me, I couldn’t understand the rural accents of both him and Rebecca as they talked. Marzena also entered the tavern. I could understand her very well when she ordered bread and butter. The man then ordered a bottle of brandy and seemed to be flirting with the innkeeper. She left for a short while and returned with a bottle. He paid 15 gold coins for the entire bottle.

Then he invited her to have a drink with him.

“It’s barely noon,” she said. “You think you can hold it? It’s barely noon.”

“I don’t know about that,” Aeryn replied. “I don’t think that bottle of brandy’s goin’ t’ make it ‘til sundown. You going to have a drink with us love, you might want to have one now.”

“Very well,” she said.

He went back to the table, motioning me to come. I thanked him.

Tavian and I joined him, Orrin, and Marzena at the table. Rebecca also joined us for a glass of the brandy. Marzena pushed her brandy away but Aeryn admonished her and she took it with a nod. She held up her mug and looked at the man.

“Right,” Aeryn said. “Here’s to profitable adventures.”

We tapped our glasses together and I sipped from mine. It was delicious and as good as anything I’d ever drunk in Sharn, warming me as it went down. I sighed contentedly as Marzena coughed over her drink and Aeryn gasped its potency. Orrin drank down the entire glass. He was horse after that.

“This is exquisite,” I said.

“Smooth is not exactly the word I was looking for,” Rebecca gasped.

“Like melted butter,” Aeryn said. “Anyone fancy another?”

“As long as it’s here,” I said.

“Where’s your mug, mate?” Aeryn said to Orrin.

The other man drew out a gem-encrusted, gold-inlaid stein.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” Aeryn said.

He poured a large amount of the brandy into the mug.

“You earned that, mate,” Aeryn said.

“Yeah, I did,” the other man said.

He didn’t drink it down but took a long swig of the brandy.

“Damn Rebecca, that’s some good stuff,” he said.

Tavian reached across for Marzena’s glass and both Aeryn and I slapped his hand at the same time.

“Now Tavian, if a beautiful woman does not wish to drink, then you allow her to sit with her glass,” I said to him.

“But, she’s not drinking it,” he whispered to me.

“But it is still hers.”

“But, she’s–”

“Ah! Behave yourself and you will have some later.”

“I’ll let you smell the bottle when it’s empty, mate,” Aeryn said to him.

“If she wishes to offer it to you, you make take it,” I whispered to Tavian. “Otherwise ...”

Marzena pushed her mug towards the middle of the table. I looked at the woman and she made no protest. I took the glass and put it in front of Tavian, whereupon Aeryn picked up the glass and slid it over in front of Orrin. He grabbed it and drank it down. He slid the glass back to Tavian.

Rebecca left after her first drink.

“Oi, Becca!” Aeryn called to her. “One day, I’ll come back, and when I do, I’ll rent the whole tavern out for the whole day and you can drink with us all day long; not have to worry about not customers, how about that?”

“Careful lad,” she said. “I’ll hold ye to that. You might not be surprised by how that turns out, either.”

“Why not? I don’t exactly know what you mean by that.”

“I believe she means she will ... sex,” I whispered to him. “She’s talking about sex.”

“Yeah, I know exactly what she’s talking about,” he said. “You can’t let on you know what she’s talking about. You got to keep the intrigue up.”

“Oh, please teach me more about women.”

“You got to seem untouchable, unreachable. You got to make ‘em want you.”

I looked at Marzena.

“He is so wise in the way of women,” I said. Then to him “Tell me more.”

She raised an eyebrow.

He talked for the next hour about the women he’d known in the past, his amateurish attempts at attracting them, and how it had all allegedly worked out. He was quite graphic. Marzena turned red on occasion but, by that time, the other man had noticed that as well and so continued his inappropriate tirade. The last time she blushed, she smiled and shook her head.

He also discussed the adventure the three of them had just had in the woods, though he avoided talking about his actual past. He was not completely honest about the women he was talking about but his tales of recent adventures seemed to be completely true.

He finished his stories of women with a story of a girl named Daphne who he ran down the street to save from zombies.

“That’s all it took,” he finished.

“Daphne?” I asked. “Where was this?”

“What do you mean, Daphne?” Tavian said.

“Where was this?” I asked again.

“Is your lass named Daphne?” Aeryn asked Tavian. “Well, lass was a little bit generous.”

“Where was this?” I asked again.

“Yeah, where was this?” Tavian echoed me.

“Nowhere near here,” Aeryn said. “Why?”

“Oh,” Tavian said.

When I had drunk about half of my last glass of brandy, I gave the rest to the youth. He drank it down and coughed loudly.

“This is really good!” he hissed through watering eyes.

“See, wasn’t that better?” I said.

He continued to sip his brandy.

We spent the day in the tavern. Aeryn bought three rounds for everyone in the bar but continued to buy drinks for the table. Tavian fell asleep, his head on the table, but occasionally woke up and looked around. Marzena sipped at mead.

When Rumdan left, I saw that he was very, very short. It was no wonder he was confused for a dwarf. I learned from the others that he was a tradesman in the village.

“I’m surprised he had any coin left to come over here and buy anything,” Aeryn said.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“Because we just cleaned him out,” he said.

Later a dwarf did come in, who Rebecca told me was Marr. Aeryn bought him a drink in honor of his wife’s imminent birth. The dwarf glared at him.

“It’s a free drink,” Aeryn said.

“Thank you,” Marr said and then walked away.

Aeryn and Orrin chattered away in their incomprehensible rural accent. I tried to figure out what they were talking about but often couldn’t follow the conversation. They were talking about an axe handle. Apparently they had found an axe head and the dwarf was making an axe handle for him. Then they realized they had not had a dwarf make a handle for the axe head they found, so they had gotten someone else to do it. They were not sure if the axe was magical and I offered to find out for them if they wanted.

“Are you some kind of wizard or sorcerer or something?” Orrin asked.

“No, I am a priest,” I said.

“We already got one o’ those,” he continued, pointing at Marzena.

She glared at the man and then blushed.

“I am merely a priest,” I said. “A humble servant of Olidammara.”

“You have anything with that magic that would, I don’t know, scare all the patrons in here,” Aeryn said to Marzena. “Give ‘em a good half-over.”

“I’m not going to do that,” she said.

“Oh, c’mon,” he said.

“You do know you will probably be wintering in this town,” I said.

“No, no,” he said. “We’re not staying.”

“Oh.”

“There’s nothing here for us.”

“I see. Then do as you wish.”

“Of course.”

“Why do you wish to scare the patrons all the time?”

“It’s so funny.”

“Ah, well, I ... you want the people of this town to hate you?”

“They don’t hate me. I just bought ‘em all drinks.”

“I see.”

“I single-handedly rescued this town from poverty.”

“Hey!” Orrin said. “Single-handedly?”

“Well, I’m sorry, but I’m the one that’s spending all the money that we worked so hard to get,” Aeryn said.

“That just means you spent all the money,” Orrin went on. “Not that you did all the bloody work.”

They began to argue about the use of the term “single-handedly” in their incomprehensible accents. Aeryn finally conceded.

“Me and my mates single-handedly saved this town from poverty just today,” he said.

“Really, if you think about it, we didn’t really save this town from poverty,” Orrin said. “We just sort of took some money from somewhere else and are spreading it around town.”

“Redistributing the wealth,” I said.

“Aye, it’s redistributing the wealth,” Orrin agreed. “You know.”

“Who the hell are you and what have you done with Orrin?” Aeryn asked.

“Drink always makes me smart!” Orrin said.

“What of your companion here, Marzena?” I asked.

“What of her?” Aeryn said.

“You have not mentioned her single-handedly, or multi-handedly, saving the town from poverty.”

“I’d talk about her multi-handedly all night long,” Aeryn quipped. “But that’s not my place. I told you earlier mate, she can take care of herself.”

“Yes yes, and I believe it. She seems more than capable.”

“She pulled out fat out of the fire a couple of times.”

“And to answer your original question: no, I am not a wizard but a humble priest of Olidammara. There are certain things that I can do.”

“Humble priest?”

He looked at me.

“Anyway, Marzena and I have an understanding,” he said.

I looked at him.

“And ... it is?” I finally asked.

“Our understanding,” Marzena said.

“Yeah, our understanding!” he echoed her. “We’re like travelling companions, adventuring souls. That sort of thing is off limits. You know, it complicates things.”

“What sort of–?”

“So I don’t even try because, one: I’d probably get slapped in the face.”

“You don’t try what?”

“Two: out of respect for her.”

“You know that I’m right here, don’t you?” Marzena said.

“Course I know you’re right here!” Aeryn said.

“Oh! You are talking about sex again,” I said. “Do you ever talk about something beside sex?”

Aeryn was still defending himself, claiming it was better to talk in front of the woman’s face than behind her back. She said she was going to the inn.

“Wonderful,” I muttered to him. “You have driven away the most beautiful woman in the tavern.”

“I’m good at that,” he said.

“Apparently!”

“Yes, it’s one of me few talents. I have so much fun with her.”

“One of the most beautiful, but not the only beautiful,” Orrin muttered.

“No, I did not say ‘only,’” I said.

Other villages also entered the tavern. I noticed that many of the people in the bar were coughing. I waved Rebecca over when she was not very busy.

“Is there a sickness in this town?” I asked her.

“I don’t believe so, lad,” she said.

I looked at the coughing patrons of her tavern.

“Are you sure?” I asked.

She looked around and frowned.

Later in the evening, Aeryn asked Rebecca to send a boy to the inn with a message. After some confusion he sent some money to the inn so that Marzena could have a nice dinner. He opened a pouch and opened it up, pouring out several gemstones. Then he put it away and took out a pouch of gold coins. Orrin suggested we get a booth if he was going to be throwing money around. He didn’t know what to be worried about and when the man said it wasn’t wise to flash their money about, he noted that Orrin could take anyone in the town. I pointed out that if he was asleep, he would not be able to thump on them on the head. Aeryn claimed that the man slept with one eye open.

“Like a hawk,” he said. “Like an owl at night. No one can get the drop on him.”

Orrin had put his head in his hand and a snore issued from his lips.

“See what I mean,” Aeryn said, grasping at straws. “His eyes are open.”

“Put the gems away,” I said.

The man did so.

“Even honest men can be tempted by too much wealth,” I said.

“That’s not too much wealth,” Aeryn replied.

“For a town this size, that would purchase most of it.”

No one seemed to be paying him any attention, though. Many people had bad coughs, however.

“I’m only saying that if the people of this town survive whatever plague seems to be striking, that even honest people might go to some lengths to get money that would set them up for the rest of their lives,” I said. “It is merely prudent not to flaunt your wealth.”

He argued that he was not flaunting his wealth, but I ignored him and asked if the people of the village had been so sickly since they’d arrived. It took Aeryn and Orrin some time to determine when they had come to the village, though it had been several days. They had not noticed the people coughing before that very evening.

I called Rebecca over when she was not busy once again. I again asked her about the number of people coughing. She had only recently noticed it but was unsure of what it could be.

“You know what’s good for a cough?” Aeryn asked her. “Me. If you got a little tickle in your throat.”

She patted him on the cheek.

“That doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

Then she went on her way.

Shortly after that, a gentleman entered the inn. He carried a lute and walked to the stage, where he introduced himself as Gerald Chentier. He began performing and he was quite good. The longer he sang, however, the more he would interrupt himself coughing. Rebecca seemed concerned about it and went over to the man to talk to him. He waved her off though he did take the ale she brought him. I asked if anyone at the table had noticed the coughing before, but they said they hadn’t. I pointed out that the grocer had coughed up blood.

“There is some disease striking this town,” I said.

“Well, we’d better get out of here,” Aeryn said. “I don’t want to get sick.”

“If you so desire,” I said.

“We could be packed up as early as tomorrow morning, yeah? I mean, we’ve got a wagon now. Got all our winter gear.”

“Why don’t we leave that wagon?” Orrin said.

“What?”

“Why don’t we leave that wagon?”

“It’s right out front.”

“It is?”

“Isn’t it? You were driving it.”

“I wasn’t really driving it. I was just kind of leading the horses.”

“Well, where did you lead ‘em to?”

Orrin stared at the man.

“Cor, mate!” Aeryn said.

He stood up and staggered out the front door.

I nudged Tavian awake and gave him the remaining cheese and bread on my plate. I asked him if he’d noticed people coughing in town and sickly folk. He said he hadn’t.

“Come, we will be back shortly,” I said. “We’re going to talk to the priest. We will be back shortly.”

Just then the song broke off and Gerald Chentier started to cough violently and uncontrollably. He fell to his knees as I rushed to the stage. Blood was in his hand. Rebecca had also run to the bard’s side. Others in the tavern stood. There was a ruckus in the bar and Aeryn talked to several villagers. Then people started to vacate the premises with speed. Gerald looked like he was very sick. I got the man to drink some ale, but he continued coughing. He spit bloody phlegm.

“Have you been sick?” I asked him.

“No, I just got a small cough once the weather turned,” he said.

Tavian had fled with most of the other patrons. Perhaps three townsfolk were left in the tavern. Orrin and Aeryn were discussing whether or not to abandon the town to the sickness. I saw that Edvard sat at the bar so I approached him. He coughed mightily.

“How long have you had this cough?” I asked him.

“What cough?” he said. “What do you mean?”

I merely looked at the man until he coughed again.

“That would be the one!” I said. “And the blood that came out into your hand. Yes, I saw that too.”

“Uh ... it’s just the drink,” he said. “Just let me have my drink.”

“No, it’s not the drink; there is more to it because others are also sick. Now, it is important that you tell me how long you have had this cough. It could be dangerous.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Maybe a day or two.” He coughed again. “It doesn’t matter. Let me have my drink. Leave me in peace.”

“My friend, I understand despair and I understand loss. You cannot let it destroy you. There are those who depend on you.”

I left the man and questioned Rebecca about the sickness. She said that it was the first she’d noticed it. She noted that she hadn’t seen Gerald in a few days. I found out from Gerald that he had been “around.” When I pressed, he admitted that he’d been to the lumber camps and the farms in the area. He had noticed some people coughing in the lumber camps. However, he’d only returned to the village around noon.

I told Aeryn and Orrin what little I’d learned. Aeryn told me someone had called it the “Black Scour.” The term was associated with a rare type of fungus, I told him. It grew in damp conditions but I knew little else. I asked Rebecca if she knew of it but she knew little more of it than I. She said that it had not been heard of in Goblin’s Tooth in years. When I asked what happened to people who caught it, she said not everybody died.

“With us being short of supplies and all, and the harvest not being good, I don’t know,” she said. “I’m worried. We should get these folks to the temple, or maybe even to Lorel the Herbalist.”

We took Gerald to the wagon and headed for the temple. I called for Aeryn and Orrin to bring Edvard as well. A few moments later, Aeryn led Edvard out and got him into the wagon. When we reached the temple, there were others already there, all of them coughing. I found the temple priest giving the afflicted towels and water. His acolytes were doing the same.

The priest was perhaps the most gaunt person I’d ever seen, looking like a scarecrow in vestments. The way his sunken eyes and beaked nose peered out from below his tonsured brow only added to the effect. He wore a sun disk amulet on his neck: the symbol of Pelor.

“Hello priest, I am Porthos, priest of Olidammara,” I said.

“Greetings ... a priest of revelry and thieves,” he said. “We could use some joy here tonight. Sick men. You know any songs?”

“A few,” I admitted. “But they might not be appropriate. What is going on here with these people?”

“I don’t know. They seemed to have developed a terrible coughing sickness.”

“Someone mentioned the black ... scour?” I looked at Aeryn.

“Scour,” he said with a nod.

“It could be but I’ve not seen it in years,” the priest said.

“Are the symptoms correct for this ... fungus or whatever it is?” I asked. “It is not catching, it is?”

“No, it shouldn’t be.”

“Then there must be something in the food or drink of this town.”

Aeryn had reached into his mouth to pick his teeth. He stopped in mid-motion.

“I don’t truly know much about it,” the priest said.

“That’s horrible,” Aeryn said quietly.

“I’m trying to treat the symptoms,” the priest went on.

An older gentlemen lying on the pallet coughed violently. Blood came from his mouth. I went over and struck him in the back, which didn’t help. Then I cast a minor healing spell upon him, relieving his terrible cough for the moment as bloody, bubbly phlegm was dislodged. There might have been bits of flesh mixed in as well. His coughing settled, though he still looked ill. I cast a more powerful spell, and he seemed to subside, falling into sleep. I unbuttoned his shirt and listened to his chest. The man wheezed as he breathed.

I returned to the priest and related what had just happened.

“We need to keep these people separated,” he said. “I’m not sure if this is the black scour or the wheezing death.”

The wheezing death was a terribly contagious disease that was spread through the air, flying from one to another faster, sometimes, than a man could run. Orrin began to complain of what to do with the now-contaminated wagon. I told him that if he was going to catch the disease, he would have caught it already. I turned back to the priest.

“What?” he said. He turned to Aeryn. “If I start coughing a lot ...” Then he thought for a moment. “Don’t do anything, actually. Just bring me to the damned priest.”

“He’s a priest,” Aeryn said, pointing at me.

“A real priest,” Orrin said.

“What!?!” I cried, turning on them. “I am a real priest!”

“Really? You don’t act much like a priest.”

“How are priests supposed to act?”

“Like him,” Aeryn said, pointing at the temple priest.

I grunted and turned back to the priest. I asked if he had the magical powers to deal with what was happening. He confessed that he wasn’t sure, but he would try. When I asked if he could actually cast the spell to magically cure the people of their diseases, he admitted that he could not. I also was not powerful enough, yet, to cast the spell.

Orrin and Aeryn quietly discussed what they should do about the wagon, with some discussion of ripping out the boards that the people had touched. Aeryn was of the opinion that they could burn the wagon “a little bit.”

“Do not forget to burn all of your clothes and all of the possessions that were on your body when this happened,” I said, sarcastically. “They must all be destroyed.” I looked at them for a moment. “You either have the disease now, or you do not. If you not, you will probably not catch it. If you do have it, you have it.”

I went back to trying to help out the sick in the temple.

“That wasn’t a very jovial, cheerful, party-going sort of attitude, was it?” I heard Aeryn say.

“He’s not a priest,” Orrin muttered.

The old man started coughing again and I examined the phlegm more closely. I could see little black specks mixed in with the blood and mucus. I pointed them out to the temple priest and he said that was more along the lines of the black scour, leading me to believe that the fungus was in the local water or food. He agreed with that likelihood, guessing it was an outbreak of blood scour taint.

Some of the villagers were talking of going to Lorel the Herbalist.

When I asked the priest about any kind of library or place of learning in the town that might have information on the condition, he mentioned that Lorel, with her poultices and potions, might have some more information about the black scour. I asked him where she lived and he told me that she lived outside of town to the north. I told him that I would question her.

I told Orrin and Aeryn that the outbreak looked like the black scour. The priest was unsure of how it was transmitted and Aeryn mentioned talking to the herbalist. I told him that was my plan and I told them she lived north of town.

“It is not the wheezing death,” I mentioned. “You do not have to burn your wagon. Or run away.”

I swept past them and headed out the door, going down the road and heading for the north side of the village. The men’s wagon soon pulled up beside me and Orrin asked if I wanted a ride. I hopped into the back. As we passed more coughing people, some of them started to climb onto the wagon as well. I helped them as Aeryn told them to try not to cough up anything onto the vehicle. I leapt off at one point to help a little girl on, and helped up other children as well. There seemed to be quite a few of them. I entertained them with humorous stories of Olidammara, and played small games with them. Aeryn and Orrin discussed the possibility of starting a lucrative business using the wagon to take sick people to the doctor. Aeryn figured that both the sick person and the doctor would pay. It was appalling.

A short way out of town, a line formed in front of a small building. Creeping ivy and full window boxes covered the façade of the rugged looking, two-story house and shop bearing the faded sign that read “Roots and Remedies.” The line consisted of 10 or 20 somber townsfolk, some with pale, wheezing children, others near tears.

Aeryn stopped the wagon near the building and I hopped out and helped the women and children out of the vehicle. I said words of encouragement to all of them.

“He’s acting like a priest,” I heard Aeryn say quietly.

“A little bit,” Orrin replied.

“Comes and goes,” Aeryn said.

I ignored the morons and headed for the door.

“I say!” a man said as I passed him. He spoke between coughs. “See here! You can’t go ahead of all of us! Who do you think you are!?!”

“I’m a priest, my good man,” I said.

“I don’t care!”

“Here,” I said, casting a healing spell upon him.

“There’s a back of the line!” he muttered over his coughing.

“Here, you lot!” Aeryn called. “Listen up! Listen up! This man’s here to try to help with your remedy, right? He’s here to help out. He’s not getting in line, he’s not sick, he’s not coughing.”

“Lorel’s going to help us, we know who she is!” the man said.

“Yeah, well she could probably use a hand herself. And that’s what he’s here for.”

“Now, stand aside,” I said.

The smell of burnt earth and spicy incense choked the air of the cramped mud-tracked shop. Bunches of dried herbs hung from the ceiling, along with dangling pots, presses, and alchemical apparatuses and glassware of more arcane purposes. Pouches of rare plants, jars of colored glass, and all manner of dry, preserved, and jellied animal parts filled high shelves and tables, doing double duty as displays and work spaces. In the shop’s rear, a rail-thin woman with severe-looking eyes and hair pulled back tightly busied herself between an over packed rack of herbs, a table covered in strange powders and measuring equipment, and a pot loudly bubbling with thick, gray froth. Over the din of her work, and without looking up, she impatiently shouted “And what’s your problem?”

“I’m a priest,” I said. “I am here to lend aid and find out if you know what is going on with these people.”

“You know anything of herbs and poultices, priest?” she asked.

I hesitated.

“As I thought,” she said. “Step outside unless you can do some good.”

“What are you doing to these people as far as herbs and poultices?” I asked.

“I’m trying to help. Brew some teas if I can. Try to curb the coughs.”

“This appears to be the black scour.”

“As if you’re telling me something that I don’t know.”

“Ah. Then, as an herbalist, you know how to help these people?”

“I am helping these people. Are you sick? Why are you here?”

“We came to help, because we were told by the priest of Pelor, he never introduced himself, that you might be able to help these people.”

“I hope so.”

“If it is the black scour, what is the cure? Is there a cure?”

“It is the black scour but there is no cure around here. I’ll give these folks what I can and we’ll see what good it does.”

“How can we help?”

“What do you mean the cure’s not around here?” Aeryn asked.

“I mean it’s not around here,” she said.

“Where is it?”

“My grandmother’s book has a brew in it that says it’s good for this kind of thing. A very weird concoction sounds more like hoodoo than real medicine.”

“Is it possible that it would work?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she said. “It says that it would. And her book has been good for things in the past.”

“Well, what do you need and where can we find it?”

“Well, there are some rare roots in concentrations, most of which I have here, but well, there’s three that I don’t. Elderwood moss, which I’ve never even heard of, but grandmother’s book says that it only grows in the oldest tree in the forest. A specially pickled root called rat’s tail? Again, that sounds more like hoodoo to me. And seven ironbloom mushrooms; those are stunted little things that only grow in dark places thick with metal. Favorite among dwarves, so I’ve heard.”

“Dwarves,” I muttered. I looked at Aeryn. “Marr.”

“We’ll have to ask him,” Aeryn said.

“Pickled root,” I said. Then to Aeryn. “Is not your friend an elf?”

“What? What’d you just say?”

“Marzena?”

“What about her?”

“That’s a personal question. Maybe you ought to take that up with her.”

“Very well. She’s at the inn. I will go right now.”

“All right.”

“Elves know of the trees and the roots and the woods.”

“Aren’t we in the middle of something?” Orrin asked.

“Yes, and perhaps she will be able to help us,” I said. “I know very little of herbs.”

“I know nothing of herbs,” Aeryn said.

“Elderwood moss,” I said.

“Oldest tree in the woods?” Aeryn said.

“Yes,” Lorel replied. “If such a thing even ... this all sounds like foolishness to me. My tea should help settle these people’s coughs and most should live.”

“Most,” I said. “Half? Three-quarters? Ten percent?”

“I can’t say. It depends on healthy a person is. But we are short of food and supplies.”

“If we could find these ingredients, you could make this ... is it a poultice, a tea, potion?”

“Yes, I suppose I could.”

“If we could find these things and bring them back in time ...”

“We don’t have any time. Folks may be dying every day.”

She looked around.

“All we can hope to do now is treat who we can and hope to save the gravedigger some work,” she said.

“Not if we can find these ingredients,” I replied. “And perhaps your grandmother was not incorrect in what she wrote. Might I look at the book where it references these things, with your permission, my fair lady.”

“Why do you need to see it?”

“Perhaps there is some clue that you overlooked. Perhaps there is some clue to where these things are or more detail. Just the page. I don’t want your secrets.”

“For elderwood moss, that’s got to be on an old tree in the vale, damned if I know where it is though. The rat’s tail and the mushrooms, those are even longer shots. Way north, towards the mountains. People say there used to live several dwarves there. They’re not there anymore, but I bet their forges are and if you can find ironbloom anywhere around here, that’d be your best bet. As for the rat’s tail, who knows? Well actually, wait, Oolas Meela, the witch that lives deep in the woods might. She’s crafty and mean, but she knows all sorts of strangeness. She might even have one. I don’t know what she’d want for it, but I doubt it’d come cheap.”

“I know what she will want,” I sighed.

“My grandmother traded her sight to the old crone for a few pages of what she knew,” the herbalist went on. “And that was years and years back, and I don’t know a soul who got any nicer as she got older.”

She looked at me.

“Will you do this thing?” she asked.

“It cannot hurt,” I replied. “I will do this, yes. You treat the people as best you can, and I will try to find these things and get back as quickly as possible.”

Aeryn pulled the herbalist aside and spoke to her quietly. Then I asked the woman if she knew any more detail on the location of the witch. She did not.

“Marzena might know,” Aeryn said.

“Is she from around here?” I asked. “Oh, I’m sorry. It is a personal question.”

“No, you asked me if she was an elf.”

“Yes, and I figured–”

“So, that’s a personal question.”

“-asking if she was from around here would be a personal question. Why don’t we ask her? If you do not think it too personal a question.”

“I do not know much of any of these things,” Lorel said. “I do not know where Oolas Meela’s hut is. I know that the dwarves used to be to the north. If anyone might know, maybe someone in the main lumber camp.”

The three of us took the wagon back to town. We passed more villagers leaving the town to talk to Lorel. Halfway back to town, I realized I wanted to ask Lorel if she had any idea where the scourge started, where it might have come from, and if it was caught from others. I ran back to ask her. She noted that it was a mold that started growing inside of a victim’s chest and stomach.

“Your body nearly turns itself inside out trying to hack the stuff up,” she said. “All that does is cut your guts up, bad.”

She didn’t think that the disease could be caught from others, but noted that it could be gotten from drinking or eating something with the black scour mushroom in it. She said if it was in the water than it got one sick by drinking it. She had never heard of it growing in the area though. She also told me that there was a well in the village.

I ran back to the village and, when I arrived, headed for the well. I drew some water and then lit a candle and stuck it between two of the stones that made up the wall of the well. It did not give off much light but I closely examined the water and noticed tiny black flecks within. Aeryn, Orrin, and Marzena walked up to me and I pointed out the flecks, asking if either of them had been drinking the water in the village or bathing.

“No,” Aeryn said.

“Hell no,” Orrin said. “I never drink the water. Never bathe. If I can help it.”

“Smart man,” I said.

We went to the guard house after that and I introduced myself to the deputies on duty. I told them that the black scour appeared to be in the well. They told me they already knew and Sir Derrick had already been informed. I apologized for wasting their time.

“No waste,” one of them said. “It was the first thing Sir Derrick thought of. He’s sending two guards to stand by the well, make sure no one goes to it.”

I asked them to pass on the information that some of us were going to try to go find a cure.

“Is Rosby, or even Lorel, are either one of them able to help?” the deputy asked.

“Lorel might be able to help with the symptoms,” I said. “We are going to try to find something to stop it. Who is Rosby?”

“He’s the head of the temple,” the deputy said. “The priest.”

“Could you tell Rosby we are going to try to help?”

“I’m not your errand boy. Do it yourself.”

I sighed.

“Every moment that we stand here talking about it, is one more life at risk,” I said.

“Indeed,” the impudent deputy said. “So, you better make your feet start stepping.”

I asked the man’s name. He said it was Bedwere.

I ran to the temple and alerted Rosby to what we were doing.

“Weird magicks,” he muttered. “Not even real magic.”

“No, it’s not magic,” I said. “It’s alchemy. It is our only hope.”

“If you think that it will help.”

“I do not know, but we will try.”

“It cannot hurt. People will start dying soon if we’re not careful.”

“Then be careful.”

With a swish of my cloak, I was off. I found an imposing-looking man dressed in mail in the market. He had a sword on his hip and a tabard over his armor. He and the other deputies were trying to keep order. Their symbol was an arrowhead that looked similar to the one of the guards at Cambol-Túr, though it was obviously different. I found the others at their wagon and asked if they had food and provisions. Aeryn said they did not yet have any.

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