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Aspholessaria

 

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Asphodel stumbled as she landed in the covered wagon. She lay breathing heavily for a few moments, then she heard a voice and a hand lifted her up.
‘You just made it,’ said a melodious female voice. ‘A few more seconds and you’d have missed us.’
Asphodel looked at the woman who had helped her up and onto a seat. She was wearing white robes tied with a green sash. Asphodel knew this indicated the woman was a vicar and a cleric of Sylissa, the goddess of healing. The woman looked around forty years old and had a few grey hairs just beginning to appear in her dark hair. Her brown eyes had small laughter lines around them and she smiled at Asphodel.
‘Thank you for your help,’ the elf said. ‘It might sound like an odd question, but where is this caravan going to?’
The cleric raised her eyebrows, then replied, ‘To Bluehaven ultimately. We pass through a number of other towns though. First we go through several small villages in Erian before we get to the border with Grosmer. There aren’t any large towns between Frelli and Grosmer.’
The vicar leaned back in her seat and then asked, ‘Where are you going?’
Asphodel sighed. ‘Wherever my coin will take me,’ she said.
The vicar frowned. ‘Running away? What have you done, or who are you running away from?’
Asphodel closed her eyes foe a moment, then opened them and looked straight at her companion.
‘I’ve not done anything. It’s what he did.’
The vicar said nothing, but continued to look at Asphodel.
Asphodel paused, then it all came out in a rush. She told the whole story from meeting Vass to him hitting her. Then her eyes filled with tears and she looked away.
The other woman moved across to sit next to the girl. she put her arm around her and said, ‘You made a mistake, yes, but we all make mistakes, especially when young. How much did you give the caravan leader?’
When Asphodel told her, she tutted. ‘That won’t even get you to the border,’ she said.
‘But Vass saw which caravan I was on. He’ll get the next one and come after me, I know it.’ Her eyes darted around the wagon as though expecting to see Vass jump out from behind the cloth roof.
The cleric patted her hand. ‘Don’t worry about than for now,’ she said. ‘We’ll sort something out. The next caravan in this direction isn’t for a couple of days. By the way, my name’s Trinelli.’
‘Asphodel,’ replied the elf, not giving her full name as she knew the human woman would have difficulty in pronouncing it.
The caravan stopped for a meal at midday. While they were eating, a man came running up to them.
‘Vicar,’ he shouted as he approached, ‘vicar, please will you come to look at my wife. She’s sick.’
Trinelli stood up. ‘What seems to be the matter?’ she asked.
‘She’s vomiting and says she feels dizzy,’ he said. ‘She says that whenever she moves, it feels as if the world is spinning around her.’
Trinelli followed the man to a wagon and went inside. Out of curiosity, Asphodel followed. She stood in the entrance to the covered wagon and watched as Trinelli placed her hands on the woman and prayed to Sylissa.
The cleric’s head slumped forward. Asphodel watched as the sick woman’s colour began to return. Trinelli, at the same time, became paler. Asphodel almost thought she could see something flowing from Trinelli to the woman, but then she decided she was imagining it.
When they left the wagon, and received the man’s grateful thanks, Asphodel had to support Trinelli back to their wagon. The older woman rested for a while, then, as the wagons began to move once more, she seemed to be back to her normal self.
‘What happened there?’ Asphodel asked her.
‘The healing?’
Asphodel nodded.
‘Well. I prayed to Sylissa. She used me as a conduit to send her healing power into the woman.’
‘But it was more than that, wasn’t it?’
‘Yes. When I–or any of us–heals someone, the goddess sends her power, but it also takes some of our life essence to work. That’s why we’re always tired after healing.’
‘I thought I saw something going from you to her,’ Asphodel said. ‘I couldn’t have, though, could I? What you give her is invisible.’
Trinelli looked sharply at the young elf. She frowned.
‘You shouldn’t have been able to see anything,’ she told her, and she shook her head. ‘I don’t know what this means, but I need to think about it.’
The caravan stopped for the night. The caravan leader came to Asphodel and told her that her money had only given her passage to the next village. The girl looked frightened.
‘I have this ring.’ She reluctantly held out the ring she had picked up before leaving. ‘It was my grandmother’s. I think it’s valuable.’
Trinelli turned to the caravan leader.
‘You can’t take her grandmother’s ring,’ she scolded him. ‘It’s valuable enough to take her to Bluehaven and half-way back again.’
‘Well, she can’t have free passage.’ He shrugged. ‘She has nothing else. Seems it’s the ring or she leaves next stop.’
Trinelli fumbled in her purse and withdrew several gold crowns and a sovereign, which she handed over to the man.
‘Here. This should pay her fare to Bluehaven.’
The man took the coins and left.
‘I can’t let you pay for me,’ Asphodel protested. ‘That’s a lot of money. When we get to a town, I’ll sell my ring and pay you back, I promise.’
Trinelli smiled at the young girl.
‘You’ll do no such thing. If you want to pay me back you can help me when I go to heal people. People are always getting sick or hurt on these journeys. Your help will be worth more to me than coin. I’m going to Bluehaven, to the temple there, so I paid enough for you to get there too.’

Has Asphodel has found a means to get far enough away from Vass? How can she help a healer? She’s been brought up as one of the privileged classes in Elven society. How can she help a healer when she has no idea of healing?
Please leave a comment. I love hearing from you.
To find out more about Asphodel’s later adventures, read The Wolves of Vimar Series. Click on the books to buy.

Aspholessaria Part

 

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Asphodel held the ring tightly in her hand. Her mother had given it to her not long before she left Rindisillaron. It had been her grandmother’s ring and she felt an emotional attachment to it.
Although elves lived long lives in comparison with humans, they did not, contrary to popular belief, live forever, nor were they immune from diseases that ravaged the world of Vimar. Her grandmother had succumbed to one of these diseases the previous year. She wanted Asphodel to have her engagement ring as a keepsake.
Now, Asphodel clutched the ring as she wept for what she knew would never be. Vass had become addicted to the drugs and alcohol that his so-called friends had plied him with. He would never make the fortune he had promised her. All his money, and hers, had gone on his own addiction and not to selling the goods to others.
Asphodel did not approve of his work as a drug dealer, but now he was not a dealer, but an addict. She needed to get away.
She packed her few belongings and searched the apartment for anything she could sell, and for some food. She packed it all into the pack she had carried away from Quatissillaron when she and Vass had eloped. She paused to think for a moment before opening it again and taking out half of the food. She could not leave Vass with nothing.
The few objects she had stuffed in, she left there. After all, Vass had plenty money with her jewellery. How he chose to use it was up to him. She blew her nose, looked round the apartment that now looked presentable after all her efforts and walked out of the door.
She looked both ways along the street. A few people were going about their business, but they took no notice of a girl coming out of her apartment. Vass was nowhere in sight. Asphodel supposed he had gone to sell her jewellery. The jeweller’s shop was to the right, so she went left in the direction of her workplace.
It was dark on the street and Asphodel felt a little afraid as she walked. Where could she go? Perhaps her employer would allow her to spend the night there, then she could go and see if she could find a caravan going away from Frelli. If she could find her way to the caravanserai through the winding, spiral streets of the city.
She found herself outside her place of work. Lights gleamed from the upstairs windows. She knocked on the door.
A head appeared from the window upstairs.
‘Yes? What do you want? We’re closed now. Come back tomorrow.’

Krommel, the scribe, was pulling his head back inside when Asphodel stepped into the light cast by his window.
‘Asphodel,’ he gasped. ‘What are you doing her at this time of night? Wait, I’ll be down in a sec.’
After no more than half a minute, the door opened and Krommel beckoned the girl inside. She entered into the room where they did the copying ever day, but Krommel led her upstairs to where the family lived.
As soon as she entered the room, Krommel’s wife, a plump woman of around forty years of age, noticed her bruises.
‘Oh, my dear, what happened?’ she exclaimed. ‘Let me tend to your injuries. Sit down over there.’
While she bustled around finding things that would ease the bruising on Asphodel’s face, Krommel handed her a bowl of stew and a spoon. The girl ate gratefully.
After she had finished and the curious children been sent to bed, Asphodel explained what had happened.
‘I need to get away,’ she said. ‘I’m sure Vass will try to find me. I need to go a long way away. I can’t go back to him.’
She put her head in her hands and wept.
Krommel’s wife put her arms around the young elf.
‘Of course you can’t,’ she said. ‘Men who hit women never change. Oh, they say they’re sorry and perhaps they are, but then the drink and drugs will take over again and it will keep on happening.’
‘I still love him,’ said Asphodel, raising her tear-streaked face. ‘I don’t know why, after what he’s done. Not only to me, but to others by selling them drugs. He started selling before he started taking them. I know if I saw him, and he asked me, I’d go back to him. That’s why I need to get right away.’
Krommel smiled.
‘I’ll be sorry to lose you, girl,’ he told her, ‘but I agree. You must go away. Do you have money?’
She nodded. ‘A little. I’ve also got a ring I can sell until I find some other employment.’
‘Well, you must have your pay for what you’ve done since your last pay packet,’ Krommel told her, walking over to a safe in the wall.
He returned with a pouch of money and handed it over.
‘There’s more here than you owe me,’ Asphodel said.
‘Take it. I can afford to give you a bonus.’
Asphodel thanked him and stashed the pouch away into her pack.
The next morning, Krommel told one of his sons to escort Asphodel to the caravanserai. Asphodel was glad of his company and guidance as she knew she would never have found it on her own. It lay just inside the walls to the west.
The lad said goodbye, and Asphodel rummaged in her pack and found a small coin to give him. He thanked her and quickly disappeared into the crowds now gathering in the caravanserai.
Which one to take? There were several that looked ready to leave. suddenly, Asphodel saw, through the crowds, a familiar figure. Vass. He looked angry as he pushed people aside. His head turned this way and that, looking.
How had he found out where she was? Had Krommel told him? No, her former employer wouldn’t have done, she was certain of that. Perhaps he just guessed. Then he spotted her. He reached into his pocket and gave something to a small figure. It was Krommel’s son. Vass had bribed the child into saying where he’d taken her. She could not blame the child. No one had told him not to tell Vass.
She looked around anxiously. A caravan was just about to leave. Asphodel rushed over and asked the leader if she could join.
‘We’re just leaving,’ he said as the wagons rolled forward. ‘Do you have coin?’
‘I have some. Just take me as far as this will allow.’
The man took the coin and Asphodel jumped into the last wagon and watched as Vass’s figure grew smaller and smaller.

Where will Asphodel’s coin take her? Can she escape from Vass?

Asphodel is one of the main characters in The Wolves of Vimar Series. You can purchase the first two books by clicking on the following links:

http://mybook.to/thewolfpack/

http://mybook.to/NeverDying/

If you enjoyed this part of Asphodel’s story, please leave a comment.

Aspholessaria.

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Once in the village, the pair found an inn where they booked a room for three nights. Vass said if there were work in this village they would see about finding a more permanent place to stay, if not, they would need to move on. After all, their money and Asphodel’s jewellery would not last for ever.
Asphodel left Vass in the inn bar talking to some of the villagers about work. She made her way to a herbalist.
‘Do you have any herbs to prevent pregnancy?’ she asked the old woman who seemed to be in charge of the shop.
‘Is it for you?’ the old woman said, peering over her glasses.
When Asphodel answered in the affirmative, the old woman looked at her sharply.
‘Are you married?’ she asked.
Asphodel blushed and looked down at her feet.
‘Why do you ask?’ she said.
‘Because I don’t encourage promiscuity. I don’t sell to unmarried women and girls.’
‘Y-yes,’ lied the girl. ‘We were married in Quantissillaron just before we came here.’
‘Hmm.’ The old woman peered again at Asphodel, then said, ‘I’ll have to believe you. I don’t know anything about elves so I can’t tell if you’re lying or not.’ She turned round and reached up to a box on a shelf behind her. She weighed out some of the herbs then reached for another box. From this one she added a different herb. She put them into a pestle and began mixing them together.
When she had finished, she took a small pot and poured the herbs into it, then fastened a lid over the top.
‘Take a tea made with one spoonful of the mixture each evening and you will have no trouble with pregnancy,’ she said. ‘You have enough there to last you for three or four weeks, but don’t forget you need to take it every evening.’
Asphodel handed over the money the old woman demanded than almost ran back to the inn.
Vass laughed when she told him she had got the herbs, and almost rushed her up the stairs to their room.
They did not find any work in the village, and so they left after their second night at the inn. Vass thought they should go to Frelli, the capital of Erian. There would be more work there, he reasoned, and so they set off once again.
It took them a sixday to reach Frelli. The capitol city was in a wide valley in the Mountains of Doom, not too far from the border with Grosmer. in days gone by, there had been many wars and skirmishes fought between the two neighbouring countries and Frelli had developed into more of a fortification than a city.
From the Erian side, it appeared as a normal city, with surrounding walls it, but on the Grosmer side, the valley narrowed and the walls had been built across the valley, completely barring access.
Asphodel and Vass approached form the Erian side, of course, and so did not see the forbidding approach from Grosmer. They passed through the gate into a city of streets that seemed to wind around in a spiral towards a castle with a high tower.
‘So this is Frelli,’ Asphodel said, as they searched for an inn. ‘I’m not sure I like it very much. Not much in the way of trees is there.’
Vass shrugged.
‘We can stay here for a while and make some money, then we can go somewhere you’d like better, if that’s what you want.’
Asphodel smiled.
‘Yes, I’d like that. Somewhere where the wildlife can flourish, Perhaps a little farm somewhere.’
Vas put his arm round her.
‘I know nothing of farming,’ he told her, ‘but if that’s what you want, I’ll learn.’
The pair found an inn, and the next morning set off to try to find work. Asphodel quickly found a scribe who was looking for someone who could read and write. His last clerk had left the previous week. Vass, on the other hand, found work more difficult to come by. He had no skills required by the businesses in Frelli.
‘Couldn’t you get something as a labourer?’ Asphodel asked him one evening.
‘What? Get myself filthy? Darling, I don’t want to come home to you dirty.’ He lifted up a lock of her black hair and kissed it. ‘I have more respect for you than to expect you to live with someone who’s dirty.’
‘But you could get washed, Vass. I would barely see you dirty.’
Vass looked at her.
‘Asphodel, the labourers end up with the dirt ingrained in their skin and hard hands. I don’t want you to have to put up with callused hands on your beautiful skin.’
Asphodel sighed. She argued no further but thought she would not mind as long as the hands belonged to Vass.
Vass left again the following morning to look for work and for somewhere for them to live. After all they could not live at the inn. It would be far too expensive. Asphodel left soon afterwards to begin her new job at the scribe’s office. At the end of the day, she rushed back to the inn to tell Vass about her day. He told her he had not looked for a job that day, but had found them somewhere to live. He had put down a deposit and they could move in immediately.
Asphodel was delighted they had somewhere to live, but said, ‘ Why didn’t you wait until I came home before you took it. I’d have liked to have a say in where we’re going to live.’
Vas put his arms round her and said, ‘Asphodel, my darling, I daren’t wait. The place might have gone by the time you got home. There aren’t many places to rent in this city, you know. I had to make a decision straight away.’
They gathered their meagre goods and, after eating a last meal at the inn, went to the apartment Vass had found.
Asphodel was appalled. It was in the poorest quarter of the city with rats running around in the filthy street. The apartment itself was one room. It had a filthy rug in the centre of the room and a sofa that looked as if it had been dragged in from the rubbish tip. It, too. was filthy. There was a greasy sink in one corner of the room, and a fireplace with an oven at the side. In the fireplace were ashes left from several fires.
As she stood there, not believing that Vass could have agreed to rent this place, a cockroach ran across her feet.
‘Vass, this is awful,’ she told him. ‘We can’t live here.’
‘It’ll only be until I find work and we can then get something better. Darling, we can’t afford anything better at the moment.’
‘I suppose it won’t be too bad if I can get it clean. I’ll start now. It’s a good job we ate before we left the inn. I wouldn’t like to eat anything that had been cooked in here.’
Vass told her he would only be in her way if he stayed. He was not very good at cleaning, he said, so he would go out.
Asphodel spent the evening cleaning. She did not get everything to her liking, but it was better than before. She killed at least two dozen cockroaches, and went out to buy mousetraps as she felt sure there must be mice there.
A large cupboard stood next to the sink, and this she filled with cleaning products and then she cleaned out a small cupboard with a mesh front for food. The bed she could do little about, but she determined to wash the sheets the next day. They had access to a small garden at the back of the house and she thought she could wash the sheets before she went to work the next day and with any luck they would be dry when she got home. The mattress she could do little about that night, but decided that one of the first things she would do would be to go out and sell some of her jewellery and buy a new one.
Vass turned up just before the eighteenth hour of the day. (On Vimar, the day began at sunrise on the equinoxes, 6am, and so it was the middle of the hours of darkness when Vass arrived home.)
Asphodel brushed a strand of hair from over her eyes and stopped cleaning the fireplace.
‘You’re late,’ she said.
‘S-sorry,’ stammered Vass. ‘I meeted, no, met, shome blokes in the tavern.’ He staggered. ‘They shtold me all shorts of shtuff. Oh, I feel shick.’

He rushed to the sink and was sick.
‘That’sh better,’ he said, collapsing on the bed.
‘Vass, you’re drunk!’ Asphodel said, but he was already snoring.
The next weeks followed a similar pattern. Asphodel cleaned before and after work and Vass went out to meet his new friends. Each evening he came home drunk. Sometimes more, sometimes less.
One evening Vass did not arrive home at all. Asphodel was at last satisfied with what she had done to the apartment and had been out and bought some flowers and put them on the table. she cooked a meal with what they could afford and waited for Vass to arrive.
The meal got cold, then congealed. Asphodel threw it away. The night crept on and Asphodel fell asleep on a chair. She worried that Vass had gone somewhere else in Frelli and had got lost in the maze of streets. The layout of the city was confusing. It appeared to be straightforward, with the roads spiralling towards the castle, but in reality it was a maze.
Just as she woke, the door opened to admit Vass. She had dark circles beneath her eyes from worry and lack of sleep.
‘Asphodel,’ Vass said, taking her in his arms. ‘You look awful. So tired.’ He ran a finger over her eyes. ‘You mustn’t go to work today, but sleep to get your beauty back.’
Asphodel yawned and pushed him away.
‘I must,’ she told him. ‘You’ve no job and we need money. You’re spending what I earn drinking with your friends.’
Vass laughed. ‘I’m investing it,’ he replied. ‘My friends can get me work. I need to keep on their good sides though, so I must drink with them.’
‘What sort of work? Your ‘friends’ don’t seem to do very much.’
Vass tapped the side of his nose.
‘I can say nothing, yet,’ he told her. ‘I need to sort a few things out first, but be assured, I’ll soon have more money than you’ve ever dreamed of.’
Asphodel turned to the door. Then she turned as she left and said, ‘I’ve never dreamed of money, Vass. Just you.’

Aspholessaria part 3.

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Asphodel left the house, tears streaming down her face. She would go to Vass. He would have a solution to this. She could not, would not marry this man. He was old, in spite of what her father said. It was wrong to force someone to marry against their will. It was one thing if the two people both agreed to the arrangement, but she did not agree. She loved Vass. If she married Frishillondor she would never be able to see Vass again. she could not bear that thought.
She ran down the path leading to where he was staying with his cousin, Liss. It so happened that the two young men were just leaving the house. Vass ran to Asphodel and took her in his arms.
‘Oh, my darling, what’s the matter?’ he said, stroking her long black hair.
Asphodel stopped sobbing now she was in Vass’s arms and leaned her head against his chest.
‘Vass, it’s terrible. Father has arranged a marriage for me with a man who himself is old enough to be my father. I told father I won’t marry him and ran out of the house. He’ll be so angry. He’ll make me marry Frishillondor, I just know it.’
Vass pushed the girl away from him, holding her by her shoulders and looked down into her grey eyes, no longer clear as the usually were. He smiled at her.
‘Asphodel, I swear I won’t let this marriage go ahead. I love you and you love me. It’s right we should be together, and this marriage is all wrong.’
‘But what are we going to do? I know we should be together, Vass, and somehow I’ll make sure we will be. I don’t know how, just yet, but whatever happens, I won’t marry this man.’
Asphodel’s tears had stopped. She clenched her fists pressed her lips together and looked up at Vass. She saw his smile and her heart beat faster. Yes, this was the right man for her, not Frishillondor.
‘You don’t much like being told what to do, do you?’ Vass said.
‘It’s not that,’ replied the girl. ‘What I don’t like is being told to do something I know is wrong, and I won’t do it.’
Vass turned to Liss.
‘Do you think your parents will let Asphodel stay here for tonight?’ he asked his cousin.
Liss shrugged. ‘It might not be easy to persuade them. After all, they would be likely to agree with Asphodel’s parents, that it’s her duty to marry the man they choose for her.’
The three walked through Quantissarillishon thinking and occasionally putting forward ideas. Eventually they decided they would have to lie about why Asphodel wanted to stay with them overnight.
As it began to get dark, the trio made their way back to Liss’s parent’s home. Liss’s mother was preparing the evening meal as they entered.
‘Ah, there you are,’ she greeted them. ‘Did you have a nice walk?’ she turned to Liss.

‘Your father will be home soon, so go and get washed. And you, too, Vass.’ Then she looked at Asphodel.
‘Would you like to stay for the evening meal, Asphodel? If you’re sure your parents won’t mind.’
Asphodel looked at Vass who smiled at his aunt.
‘No, they won’t mind. In fact they won’t even know until Asphodel tells them. They’ve gone away to stay with her sister for a few days.’
‘That’s settled then. You’ll stay to eat with us.’
She returned to chopping up vegetables when she suddenly stopped and, brushing her hair from her eyes, she said, ‘I’ve just had an idea. How long are your parents going to be away for?’
This took Asphodel by surprise. She had not thought this question might be asked.
‘O-Oh, er. I don’t know. Daisy, that’s Dassirrola, my sister, is expecting a baby any day and I think they’ll stay until she’s had it.’
Vass looked at her and raised his eyebrows. Asphodel looked back at him and gave a little nod to say that it was the truth she told about her sister.
‘Oh, I understand that,’ said Liss’s mother. ‘Your mother is so lucky having two of you. That’s rare in elvenkind. Most of us have to make do with one child.’
She picked up her knife again and resumed her chopping before continuing.
‘What I was going to say was; would you like to stay here while your parents are away? It’ll be lonely for you at home by yourself.
Vass almost broke out laughing, and Liss’s jaw nearly dropped to the floor. How easy it had turned out to be after all. No arguing a case for Asphodel to stay after all. His kind-hearted mother had done it for them.
The next morning, Vass took Asphodel out to walk in the forest outside the city.
Once there, he took her hand and said, ‘I hardly slept last night, darling. I was thinking and thinking how we can be together and I came to the conclusion there is only one way. We must run away.’
Asphodel stopped and looked at him. ‘Run away? Run to where? Wherever we go in Rindissillaron they’ll find us.’
‘Not to anywhere in Rindissillaron. This is a big continent. We could go to Erian. They’d not find us there. But we must go quickly. Your parents will be already looking for you. First they’ll think you stayed with Sissi and not worry, but this evening they’ll begin asking. It won’t take them long before they think of looking here. We should go tonight, or at the latest, tomorrow morning.’
Asphodel walked to the edge of a small brook that ran through the forest.
‘Leave Rindissillaron?’
‘Yes.’
‘I’ve never lived anywhere but here in Quantissarillishon.’
‘Then it’ll be an exciting adventure for you. It’s the only way I can think of that we can be together.’
Asphodel turned to face Vass.
‘Then we’ll go. I have a few jewels and a little money. If I can get them without my parents seeing me, then I will. We’ll need money.’
‘I’ve a little money too. Not much, but I can work, and you can read and write so you can get a job as a scribe, I expect. We’ll get along just fine.’
‘I don’t speak Erian, do you?’
Vass laughed. ‘No, but we’re both intelligent people and we learned Elvish, didn’t we? How hard can it be to learn Erian?’
Asphodel laughed and Vass picked her up and spun her round.
‘Here’s to our new life in a new country,’ he said

The Wolf Pack Chapter 7 Hambara

 

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CHAPTER 7

HAMBARA

The four travellers stood on a small hill overlooking the town of Hambara. It had taken almost a sixday to reach it after the rescue of Asphodel from the orcs. Those days had taken the travellers through the central mountains of Grosmer by way of deep passes. These mountains were small in comparison with the huge mountain ranges that surrounded the land, but were about two to three thousand feet in height.

During this time, the travellers had become firm friends, any lasting distrust evaporating in the camaraderie of travel.
Hambara was the largest town in the region. In fact it was the regional capital, ruling the duchy of Hambara, and second only to the capital city of Grosmer, Asperilla, in size and importance. Rolling hills through which the little party had travelled over the past few days surrounded it. There were large areas of woodland and some heath, which Fero surmised were hunting grounds. Small farms similar to that of Borolis and Elpin also studded the land around.

From their vantage point at the summit of the hill, the little group could see the town laid out before them as though they were looking at a map. The town had grown up at a crossroads where the roads which travelled north/south crossed those going east/west. It had begun as a trading post and fishing town, situated as it was on the Blue Lake, and had subsequently grown to an important merchant city. It was situated in a strategically important place in almost the centre of Grosmer.
In the centre of the town, from their vantage point, the travellers could see a large area of green with a building in it. From here, the four main roads radiated out to the cardinal points of the compass. Thus the town was divided into four main areas. There were walls around what had been the original town, with gates leading through them on the main routes, but now the town had spilled out to form a sprawling complex of buildings of various shapes and sizes.

These buildings seemed to form a number of concentric rings around the walls of the old town. It was obvious that some of them were dwellings. In the outermost ring, these dwellings were large and built in the main in squares, with gardens in the centre of the squares. The next ring in, were smaller dwellings with small gardens out at the back, but were obviously not the homes of the poor, they were just a little too fine and large for that. Maybe the people who worked for the rich merchants lived in them. Finally, there was a ring of what appeared to be warehouses and workshops just outside the walls. T

o the north, they could just glimpse the clear waters of the Blue Lake. They could not see the details inside the walls very clearly, but it seemed to be built on a different pattern, more as though the town were divided into quarters with the roads forming the borders.
‘So this is Hambara,’ stated Carthinal. He looked down on the town. ‘I suppose that area in the southwest inside the walls is the area of the temples and the mage tower. There seem to be a number of large buildings, some with spires, and I can see a tower standing up above everything else. It seems to be in some sort of green area. I think that’s where I’m going.’
‘It seems to be near the temples.’ Asphodel spoke quietly. ‘Maybe when we get to the town, we can both travel to our destinations together.

‘Where will you two go?’ she asked Basalt and Fero.
‘I’ll go to see if there are any vacancies in the town guard or the militia first,’ replied Bas. ‘They usually need some experienced fighters. After that, if I have no luck there, I’ll look for something in metalwork. What about you, Fero? Towns don’t seem to be places rangers like very much.’
‘True, friend, but a man must eat, and there are usually people who want a guide, either for hunting, or a journey. The militia sometimes employ rangers as scouts, too. I’ll see what happens when we get there. I may come with you to see if they want anyone,’ he went on, speaking to Basalt.
‘Well, standing here’s not getting us anywhere. We’d better move on. It’ll be dark in a couple of hours and I’d like to find somewhere to rest and have a bath.’ said Carthinal, ‘And I have a letter to deliver to Duke Rollo.’ he revealed, beginning to move off down the hill. The others quickly followed.
The companions soon found themselves passing through an area of fine houses. This was the area in which the nobles and very rich lived. Most of them seemed to be hidden away behind walls and gates, a sure indication that their owners considered that they needed to be away from prying eyes and safe from thieves and vagabonds.

Most were built in squares with gardens in the centre, as they had seen from the hill outside the town. These squares were paved with blocks to prevent mud from clogging up the wheels of carriages and the feet of people. Some of the houses had guards at their doors dressed in the livery of the house. All the guards seemed to be alert and ready to do their duty in preventing unwanted access.
Soon these houses gave way to houses without walls. These houses were built with their doors fronting onto the streets, but it was obvious that the people who lived there were not short of money. Finally, as the houses became less and less grand looking, they entered the area of warehouses.
They came to the gate just before the sun set. There was a nominal guard, but there was no sign of the gates being closed. When they asked if they were closed at night, the guard replied that they were not, as so many people lived outside the walls that they were forever opening and closing them to let people through.
‘It’s not as though there is a war or anything, is it? There are no enemies about to cause us problems since the country is no longer divided into separate kingdoms, and the other races such as orcs and hobgoblins don’t come near any more,’ the guard went on, leaning indolently against the wall of the guard house. ‘We always stop strangers to make sure they are not smuggling though. The merchants get angry if they think that cheap goods are coming into the town to undercut them. I suppose I’d better check your bags although you don’t look like merchants or smugglers. Must be seen to be doing the job.’
He made a very perfunctory search of their bags, simply opening them and looking inside. He did not move anything or take anything out.
‘Well, off you go then,’ he said. ‘I’ll pass you.’
‘It’s our first time in Hambara. Is there a good, reasonably priced inn you can recommend?’ asked Carthinal.
‘I’d try the Golden Dragon if I were you. It’s not far. Go down this road (called by the very imaginative name of Southgate Street!) and then take the second turning to the right, you’ll find yourself in Market Square. The Golden Dragon’s on the opposite side of the square. It’s clean, and the food’s plain, but good. You’ll get a bed there for a reasonable price. Tell the proprietor that Jandi sent you. He’s my sister’s husband and his name’s Keloriff. He’ll treat you well if he thinks you know me.’
They thanked Jandi, and walked on smiling.
‘I wonder how much custom Jandi drums up for his brother-in-law?’ said Fero. ‘It’s ideal for his brother-in-law to have a man at the gates to send strangers to him.’
The main streets in Hambara were cobbled and this made walking easier for the unpaved side streets appeared to be very muddy. It also showed the richness of the town for many towns at that time could not afford to do more than put wooden boards down to try to protect people from the ever-present mud. There was much traffic too, and they had to jump back several times to get out of the way of carts and carriages as well as some people on horseback.
They reached the second turning, and walked down the road for quite some time, until they were beginning to wonder if they had turned down the wrong street.

The street was lined with shops, all closed up for the night. They were timber framed, and had bricks between the beams in the main, but they could see a few that seemed to be wattle and daub. The roofs were all of a red tile and were all at different heights as the buildings all had different numbers of stories. Some had only two, while they saw some with as many as five or six.

Shutters were closed for the night, but occasionally a light could be seen gleaming through a crack as a shopkeeper worked late, checking his day’s takings, or an artisan was hard at work replenishing his stock.

Most of the shutters on the downstairs windows closed by pulling one shutter up and one down, the lower shutter acting as a counter during the day. Upstairs were more conventional shutters, again mainly closed against the cold of the late winter night. (Few people could afford glass for the windows.) Many houses’ upper stories overhung the cobbled street, making it gloomy in the fading light.

A channel ran down the centre to carry away waste and rainwater and occasionally there were gratings leading to the sewer tunnels below the town. This was one of the cobbled streets, which indicated that it was an important thoroughfare, and so the friends decided that they were on the right road after all.
Then they were suddenly out of the street and in a large open square. Around the sides of the square were various buildings, many of which were still open. These were obviously taverns, as evinced by their signs and the smell of ale and sounds of revelry coming from them, and in various parts of the square were stalls selling chestnuts, savoury and sweet pastries, pies, toffee apples and other candied fruits as well as hot drinks.

Some of the buildings were closed and shuttered, and these had signs of moneylenders and pawnshops hanging over them. There were two large buildings on opposite sides of the square. One had a big golden dragon painted on the sign that was swinging in the breeze, and the other was painted in bright and garish colours. Over the door it said “Madame Dopari’s Emporium.”
‘What is that building?’ queried Asphodel, looking at the reds, blues, oranges and gold that adorned it. ‘It looks truly awful with all those clashing bright colours.’
Carthinal coughed slightly and looked at Basalt, who shrugged as though to say, ‘You tell her.’
‘The colours denote that it is—how can I put it—well, a brothel, but it is a licensed one, and checked every few weeks. The girls are all checked for their health and if any are carrying infectious diseases, they are healed by the priests,’ he went on hurriedly. ‘You can tell it’s licensed by the red letter “L” in the circle at the left of the sign.’
All Asphodel could say was ‘Oh!’ and blushed. He hoped that she would not think he was well acquainted with such establishments. She would not appreciate such knowledge he was sure.
‘Let’s get to the inn,’ Fero interrupted, to try to ease the embarrassment that Asphodel was obviously suffering.
The inn was a welcoming place. From the outside, the lights shone brightly, illuminating the cold air. The door was open, and from within there came the sound of laughter and voices in eager conversation. It was obvious that the inn was a popular place in Hambara; a place where both residents and visitors came and were made welcome. The large door was in the centre of the outside wall, and there were large windows on either side. Over the door was a sign with a painting of a gold dragon, with the words ‘The Golden Dragon Inn’, and in smaller letters, ‘The Best In Town’.
It was built in a similar style to many of the other buildings, being timber-framed and brick with an overhanging upper story. This overhang had been put to good use in that a wooden veranda had been built all along the front so that in warmer weather, customers could sit and drink in the shade of the upper storey. The latter had many small windows overlooking the square.
‘Bedrooms,’ surmised Basalt to himself.
Three steps mounted to the door, and the four travellers climbed wearily up them and entered.
‘I’ll be grateful to sleep in a bed tonight,’ mused Carthinal. ‘I’ve had enough of the ground for quite a while.’
‘Me too,’ sighed Asphodel, ‘but I must go to the temple tomorrow to report.’
‘I, too, have to go to the Mage Tower to report for my tests,’ replied Carthinal, ‘I think I should first go to see this Duke Rollo, though, and give him this letter from Duke Danu.’
Carthinal had told his friends about the paper he’d found in Mabryl’s book, and they had all puzzled over its contents and what it meant. Now, after the flood and Asphodel’s capture by the orcs, they felt that it might be referring to the current time.
‘I’ll come with you,’ said Basalt. ‘I can vouch for the flood and the new arrival of orcs in the land if Rollo is sceptical.’
‘I’ll do the same,’ said Fero.
‘Thank you my friends,’ replied Carthinal, ‘but don’t you have business of your own? What about talk of finding work?’
‘That can wait for half a day, eh Fero?’ said Basalt. He turned back to the apprentice mage. ‘I’ve begun to consider you to be a friend after travelling with you these past days.’
‘Yes, we’ll come with you. Moral support and all that,’ This from Fero.
‘Thank you, I’d welcome your company.’
They entered the inn, which was very busy. There was a blazing fire in the fireplace set on the opposite wall of the inn, and there were tables and chairs scattered around the large and comfortable room. The bar was situated on the wall to the right of the entrance, and behind it was a door obviously leading to kitchens and probably the living quarters of Keloriff and Jandi’s sister. Stairs ascended from the left-hand side of the room to the rooms above. A young woman approached the group.
‘Find a seat and sit down, and I’ll be along in a moment,’ she said with a smile. ‘All right, Jolli, have some patience. I’ll be with you in a minute!’ she called to a large man who was trying to get her attention.

She turned to another man at a nearby table. ‘Now, sir, I can take your order. Did you want a meal or just a drink?’
‘There seems to be a free table over there, near the window,’ noticed Asphodel. ‘A pity it’s not nearer to the fire, but it seems to be quite warm everywhere in here.’
They took off their cloaks and went to sit down at the table. Shortly, the young woman came to them.

‘Now, what can I get you?’ she said.
‘First, we would like a meal,’ said Carthinal. ‘And a drink, then if you have any rooms, we would like a bed each.’
‘And we were told to tell you that Jandi sent us,’ added Basalt, smiling his most winning smile.
The young woman smiled back. ‘That brother of mine. Always trying to “help” us. As if we can’t get enough custom on our own. We’re nearly run off our feet every night these days. Not like it was when we took over. The inn was very run down, and we needed all the help we could get. Then Jandi’s recommendations were a godsend. Now they can make life a little too busy at times.’
‘If you don’t have any rooms, then maybe you could recommend somewhere else.’ said Asphodel.
‘Oh no. If you gentlemen don’t mind sharing, I can move a bed out one of the other rooms and the sister can have it to herself, then I can then put it into a room with two beds. I’ve only got the two rooms left. We’re very busy at the moment, and will get busier in the next few sixnights as people come into town for the celebration of spring.’
‘Of course,’ Asphodel said in surprise. ‘It’s only about three sixnights away. I’d forgotten.’
‘Yes. And the celebrations always attract a good crowd. They start a week before and culminate on the Equinox itself. If you are still here, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it immensely. There are games, dancing, entertainers and finally the Spring Procession—and the bonfires, of course. Now, I’ll go and sort out the rooms, and order your meal. We’ve got roast mutton and baked potatoes with roast vegetables if that will be to your taste?’
‘Sounds wonderful,’ a dreamy look came over Basalt’s face as he contemplated the meal. ‘I’ll have a tankard of your finest ale to go with it.’
‘For me too,’ said Carthinal  ‘What about you, Asphodel?’
Asphodel ordered a glass of white wine from the islands in the Inner Sea and Fero decided to have a red wine from the same region.
Soon the meal arrived. The simple fare seemed like feast fit for the gods themselves, so hungry were they. They ate in silence, each of them relishing the good cooking, and meat other than rabbit, pigeon or dried beef. They finished off the meal with fruit brought by the landlady, whose name turned out to be Mabrella.
‘Would you like to use the bath house?’ Mabrella asked as she came to clear away their dishes.
‘Oh yes please,’ responded Asphodel. ‘I wouldn’t like to turn up at the temple looking and smelling like this.’
‘I’ll show you to your rooms and then to the bathhouse. You’ll have to take it in turns as it has only one bath.’
With that, Mabrella turned and made her way to the stairs. As she reached the stairs, she turned to them and said, ‘You can wash your clothes, and if you leave them in there, hanging on the line, the warmth will dry them.’
‘Thank you,’ replied Carthinal ‘I’ll be glad of clean robes.’
‘Are you here to take your Apprentice Tests?’ queried Mabrella. ‘only I notice that you are an apprentice. There are some tests due to begin soon, I believe.’ Mabrella glanced at Carthinal’s tawny-red robes.
‘Yes I am,’ replied Carthinal. ‘We had a little trouble at the ford on the Brundella. There was a flood and the entire caravan was swept away except for Asphodel, Basalt and myself. Asphodel and I were very lucky to have just about got across when the flood struck, but Basalt was swept downstream. We met him later on the road, then Fero turned up, which was lucky, as I don’t think that two of us would have made it. Fero’s hunting and tracking skills are excellent, and he kept us from starving.’
They reached the landing, and Mabrella showed them to a pair of doors that stood opposite each other at the end of the corridor.
‘Sister, I’ve given you the room overlooking the square,’ Mabrella addressed Asphodel in the customary way the people addressed the clergy. ‘It is a much more interesting view. Gentlemen, your room overlooks the stable yard and the bathhouse. I hope you don’t mind, but as I said, they’re the last two rooms we have.’ apologised Mabrella.
‘Anything with a proper bed will do me,’ replied Bas. ‘Even if it is in the cellar with no view at all.’
‘I don’t think they would allow a dwarf to sleep in the cellar with all that ale stored there,’ teased Carthinal.
Basalt responded with ‘Humph!’

Asphodel entered the room and sat down on the bed with a sigh. She looked out of her window down onto the Market Square. It was going dark so she could only see from the light streaming out of the inn windows and the taverns and the brothel. The stallholders seemed to be doing a good trade from the local people. This square seemed to be a natural meeting place for the townsmen and women.

Many folk were buying their evening meal from the stall- holders and wandering around chatting to friends and neighbours whilst eating the various goodies they had bought. There were both rich and poor there, she could see, but the rich did not seem to be eating as much as the poor. They would be going home to a good meal cooked by their staff, she suspected.
Then Asphodel turned her attention to the room. It was not large, but very clean. It had pale green curtains at the windows, and the walls were painted a slightly darker green. There was, as well as the bed, a large cupboard and a chest of drawers. Someone had been in and lit a fire in the small fireplace, above which was a mantelpiece with some glass ornaments.

An oil lamp burned on a table under the window, giving off a warm, cheery glow. Asphodel sighed. It was good to be back in civilisation. She was looking forward now to getting to the temple, whatever the letter that Mother Caldo had written to accompany her said. Now to get clean.
Picking out a clean, white robe and scarlet sash from her pack, she wandered down towards the bathhouse. She found it easily enough from the steam rising from the chimney, and she entered to find again, a clean and welcoming room. There was a large copper boiler in one corner with a fire burning under it. It was filled to the brim with water, which was nearly boiling.

Standing next to it was a bucket, obviously for taking the water to the bath. In the other corner was a pump, with another bucket, for filling with cold water to cool the hot water so that it was amenable to the skin.

She took a bucket of the hot water and tipped it into the sunken bath in the centre of the room. When she had almost half-filled the bath with the hot water, she added cold from the pump until it was a cool enough to enter.

There were bars of soap in a glass pot. It was expensive soap, with a pleasant perfume. She selected one with the scent of lavender and then, after undressing, she stepped into the bath and leaned back luxuriating in the warmth of the water.

She soaped herself all over and then washed her long black hair, which she rinsed with clean water from the pump. Lying back in the bath, Asphodel almost fell asleep. She had not realised how tired she was.

Soon she decided that she had better go back to her room and sleep in the bed—oh yes! The Bed—so that the others could use the bathhouse, rather than sleeping in the bath.

She quickly washed her robe and hung it on the line, and then after towelling herself dry with the fluffy warm, white towels that were provided, she slipped into her clean robe and left the bathhouse.

It was cold outside and she hurried across the courtyard to the inn and up the stairs. Once back upstairs she knocked on the door of the room that the others were sharing and told them that she had finished and that they could use the bath house, and she slipped into her bed and within minutes was fast asleep.

 

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