On the other hand, if the cult had known about the secret door that had led away from the shadow room, they would have done something about it. But that fact didn't seem about to do anyone any good. The adventurers did make sure the gnolls knew about it, just in case something should try to come through it.
The kobolds still had their little cave. No one had talked to them. In fact, the gnolls had made it clear to the humans that the kobolds were not part of the alliance, and any attacks on them would be overlooked by the rest of the Winterkin.
Maybe later. After discussing it, the three remaining Crapaud adventurers decided to go back to BriarPort; the countess (and the king) needed to see the papers they had brought out. Dubricus had been asked to stay and help Devereau with the copies of the cult information that had been made, and was ecstatic. They rearmed themselves with the Keep's compliments, and Jared got his chainmail fixed where the cat had slashed it.
Before they left, they hiked out to the Shy Tower to poke around the place where they had seen the mysterious torch in the night. After spending a few of hours in the swamp, they didn't find anything but a toad nest, which they prudently left alone. They weren't even sure if they were looking in the right place, given the darkness and the deceiving distances of the swamp, and didn't have much enthusiasm for the search, especially after the leeches showed up.
"Dammit," Robin summed up the afternoon. It would have to remain a mystery, at least for now, along with where the nethermancers had gone, what had killed the dwarves in the first cave, what exactly lay behind that secret door (aside from kobolds), and what the lizardman or men were up to in the area.
The three purchased some supplies and left the next morning, hoping to return some day. On the road, with no distractions from their thoughts, their grief could at last be spoken of. Jared considered poetry. Robin cried a little. Terzin dreamed uneasily of the three-eyed goddess. Days passed in the steady rhythm of walking travel.
Where the Badger River met the Old North Road, they came to a small town called Badger Outpost. Children from the farms and fishing boats saw them and swarmed around with cries of glee. "Are you Terzin?! Are you Jared? Juggle fire for us!"
Taken aback, Terzin stammered for a moment. "Um, could you tell us the story of the brave Terzin and Jared? And do they have a Robin accompanying them?"
"Yes! And Harrick, the most noble of orcs! Where is Harrick?" one asked. Some of the kids ran off to fetch others.
"What have you heard of these people?" Terzin inquired.
"We've heard that they're noble adventurers, that they slew a nest of the undead."
"Good, good... anything else? Where does the juggling fire come into this?"
The kid looked at him blankly. "What do you mean? The actors, that's what they did, they said that you could do this, too."
"Actors?" Jared said with a sinking feeling.
"Are these actors around, or did they leave?" Terzin asked.
"They went downriver a couple of days ago. They put their seven carts onto the rafts and moved downriver."
"That sounds familiar...." The Wonders of the Northern Woods Traveling Show had been in town.
"This is what you wanted, right Terzin?" his cousin asked with a little smile.
"Yes and no," he admitted quietly. "Part of me suddenly feels like a naked person on a prairie with a thousand archers after my ass."
It all seemed somewhat unreal, after what they had just been through. Nethermancers and hordes of undead and the grim battle, and now there was a crowd of kids expecting Terzin to juggle fire. He wondered if he might be able to fake it.
"They said that you were stronger than a troll," one said earnestly to Jared, who laughed.
Another one latched onto Robin. "We've been trying to tell the reeve in our town that you could beat him in a fair fencing match for like the longest time, and now you're here you can prove it!"
"We come in peace," Terzin said firmly as they kept walking.
"Well yes, but just for fun..." the kid pouted. "Where's Harrick, the noblest of orcs?"
"Harrick has gone to be with Mathelwyn."
That shut them up for a bit. They got into the town and found their fears realized. Tsark had indeed added an act about their adventures, taken almost word for word from the story they had told him that night; it had not been that long ago, but they felt like different people. The innkeeper did a double-take upon seeing them; Tsark's troop was good with makeup and costumes, although the sometime dryad who portrayed Robin was considerably more buxom than she, as her companions couldn't fail to notice. It was a fairly expensive inn, too; they were famous adventurers, after all, and could surely afford the best.
The people in the town showered them with excited questions about their recent adventures. The trio gave them the easy parts, like the harpies and the lizardman, and left out a lot. Terzin told a story about how the bandits had stopped them in the road with their spoils, and the adventurers had driven them off in a mighty battle. He threw in some talk of the snake god Yaa, and very nearly mentioned her before he could stop himself, but managed to keep the name choked inside.
The same reception greeted them in most of the towns they passed through on their way south, towns they had last seen as anonymous would-be adventurers willing to trade some labor or magic for a place to spend the night. It was a good thing they had more money on this journey than they had on their way out. Terzin didn't like it. Tsark's show traveled through most of the kingdom, which meant that an awful lot of people would be hearing about them. He felt very exposed, and they had some real enemies now. They had the cult papers, too. The rest of them were somewhat uneasy as well, but there wasn't much to be done about it now.
And then, at last, BriarPort hove into view to the south.
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Copyright © 2000 Brian Rogers et al