<-------------Previous Chapter Eladrin: Dawn Chapter Three By Nicholas Paschall Melfice’s pounding headache did little to aid his foul mood as he wrapped his scarf around his neck for the third loop. The thick wool was amazing and had a runic tag attached to it that made it heat for thirty seconds out of every minute. His favorite graduation gift from his Master when the apprenticeship had ended, though the bottle of Everchill he’d been smuggled had been a keen friend several lonely nights ever since.
“Ugh, I can’t think about booze right now…” Melfice groaned, rubbing his growling stomach.
The inn he’d been staying at had woken him after a scant two hours of sleep.
Apparently, someone had overturned a small bucket of coals in the middle of the night and started a small fire. It had hurt nobody, thank the gods, but he’d been robbed of sleep and his morning breakfast and tea.
He needed his tea.
He had leaves in his luggage, wrapped in thick linen was a little more than a pound of Rosehue Goldenrod petals and leaves just begging to be strained and brewed for his morning ritual.
Instead of relaxing by a wood stove drinking his second cup of soothing tea while memorizing some trickier equations for his favorite spells he was trudging through the snow pelted streets towards the wharf district, where the tavern they’d met at last night sat at the corner, across from a fishmonger and a barber. Heaving a sigh and doing his best not to choke on the aroma of stale fish being carried by the netful into the stalls close by, he raised his eyes from the ground and looked about any sign of his new “friends”.
He winced. Damn, I felt the sarcasm there, and I didn’t even mean to do it! I need my tea, damn it…
Melfice jumped when Needles stepped out from a narrow alleyway, a few stray bits of leftover food being brushed off by his dusty hands as he yawned and stretched. Even standing as slouched as he was, he had an even foot of height on the slender wizard. His studded leather chest plate and padded arm guards and leggings showed he valued mobility over being able to take a hit, and the sheer number of scars stretching across his wiry frame showed he didn’t mind taking a hit every now and again.
Or that he couldn’t dodge worth a damn.
Needles rubbed at his eyes with one hand while scratching at his rear with the other. “Slept in my jabbers, never good… gonna be itchy–wait, I know you.”
Melfice tried his best not to wince at how blunt that statement was and merely gave a wane grin. “Yes, hello… Needles? Is that, like, a… codename?”
Needles scratched at the back of his head and patted at his belt pouches absentmindedly. “By the Lords, you’re a chatty one, aren’t you? Yeah, call me Needles. Codename? Sure, why not?”
“Ah,” Melfice said, unsure of how to follow the odd answer up. “Well… shall we go get Wheeze out of jail?”
Needles had pulled a slim wrap holding a dozen hand-rolled cigarettes. Narrow eyes widened slightly as he scraped a tinder stick against his cheek, sparking it up enough to light his smokable. “Jail? Aw, shit… what’d he do this time?”
“Um, both of you made an offer to another patron to make her a sandwich.” Melfice said, raising an eyebrow as Needles began chuckling. “If you don’t mind me asking, why did she take such offense to that?”
“She the one with mountains over molehills, with the dickless husband?” Needles asked, huffing a bit of smoke.
“Mountains over mole… I don’t know what that means, but she had a husband. You referred to him as dickless a few times, I believe.”
“You believe?” Needles hiccupped.
Melfice flushed a bit. “I… may have a had a few too many meads last night.”
“You bite your tongue, you!” Needles said, glaring at Melfice before snickering. “Heh, ain’t such a thing as too many drinks, boy. Best learn that early unless you want to die of thirst later!”
“I have a bit of a spotty memory about last night, sadly,” Melfice continued, ignoring the odd bit of advice. “I can’t remember who threw the first punch, but I know you and Wheeze got thrown out because you started using chairs as weapons.”
“Oh… yeah, that’s never a good thing. Maybe we had a bit too much to drink…” Needles sighed, blowing out a cloud of smoke. “Well… shit, let’s go bail his ass out then.”
“I imagine he will be pretty upset when he wakes up.” Melfice said, turning to walk alongside the long-legged man as they made their way down the chilly road to the jailhouse.
Needles snorted. “He’s right barkers best of times, I expect he’s got a dragon cracking inside his head.”
“… he’s going to do something that makes bailing him out more expensive, isn’t he?”
“I’d be amazed if he didn’t set his cot on fire when he finds out he can’t take a leak without five other drunks starin’ at him.”
They were joined by Skelly and his hound, Posnev, as they approached the entrance of the jailhouse.
The black shaggy dog easily weighed over two hundred pounds and stood nearly three feet at the shoulder. The heads were the size of large shovelheads, with heavy underslung jaws and jutting teeth that seemed designed to cause as much pain when biting as possible. As he bounded towards Needles and Melfice from across the narrow street, Melfice felt his life flash before his eyes.
Needles didn’t have the same worry, it seemed, as he bent low at the knees and accepted the tackling beast with a wide grin, cigarette hanging between yellowed teeth.
“There you are you great lout! Best pair of lads to drink with, right here!”
“I still can’t believe you two insisted Posnev needed to drink with us,” Skelly said with a dismissive shake of the head. He had his hands tucked into his thick overcoat, a part-cloak/part-robe with many pockets and tools strapped to it. “He had the runs all night.”
“Tha mead didn’t give him that, Skelly!” Needles laughed, rubbing each of Posnev’s massive heads between the ears, much to the duel-hounds immense pleasure.
“Yah, we slipped him like thirty o’ the fried peppers stuffed wit’ tha goat cheese!” Wheeze cackled from the top of the stairs leading into the jailhouse. “Yeh were too busy starin’ at tha barmaid and mutterin’ like an ol’ creep.”
Skelly grumbled beneath his breath as Wheeze and Elena walked out of the jailhouse. He had his leather jerkin thrown over his lightly muscled frame, stained from many spills and a bit of blood from a broken nose.
“I swear, those poor dogs! I’m not trained in how to help an Arguile with indigestion. What if it becomes an issue?”
Skelly snorted. “Please, Posnev is just a pair of babies. They eat practically anything, they’re a mobile compost pile. They get sick every other week.”
“There ya go,” Needles said, pointing two fingers gripping his cigarette at Skelly as he approached Wheeze and clapped him on the back. “Posnev’ll be fine, no worries.”
“Can we please go to the market to buy what we need for this venture?” Melfice interrupted, growing tired with how odd the conversation had become.
Skelly cleared his throat. “No need. Took the liberty to round up some crowns from each of you last night to buy what we needed.”
He turned to Elena, whose eyes widened as he reached into his backpack and pulled a slim case from it. “A medical kit, with extra doses of antivenins and a few herbal remedies for common illnesses that spread this time of year. I also bought three Healing Unguents from a shadier vendor, though I verified their quality myself.”
“Oh!” She chirped, accepting the case. “And what I gave you was enough? This seems like it might have been over four crowns…”
Skelly held up a hand. “I made it work, don’t fret. Now, for the two of you…”
Needles paused in his drag while Wheeze was lighting his own morning smoke. Skelly fished out a pair of pewter and leather hip flasks. “They’re not silver, but I filled them with some Thunderbrew. Not the best quality, but I imagine you don’t mind a bit of burn…?”
The two took the flasks with almost a sense of reverence. “No sir,” Wheeze said around a lungful of smoke, living up to his name, “we don’ mind tha burn tha comes wit’ such a fine drink!”
“Ah, Thunderbrew!” Needles said, snatching his own flask and unscrewing the cap to take a savory sniff. “Reminds me of your mother. Well, that and crying after sex.”
The two traded a few blows while cackling at the other, earning a roll of the eyes from Skelly and a worried frown from Elena. He turned to Melfice and heaved a sigh.
“Nothing for me?” Melfice asked with a joking grin.
Skelly shook his head. “No, I found a few things. Some Knucklebones, a few maps of the marshes, and a wand with a few charges of some searing flame spell. I also got a few bottles of quick-drying ink and several sheaves of vellum just in case you need something to write on out in the field.”
“That should be more than acceptable!” Melfice declared, happy that the older druid seemed to be so keenly aware of what would be helpful. “Thank you.”
“Do not worry, I also picked up some dried meats and fruits for us to use as reserves, if we’re too tired to hunt.” Skelly said, shouldering his backpack again. “I would have purchased some mules, but I fear that the Blackmire baring a reputation for quicksand would lead to such an investment’s grisly demise.”
“We’re walking there, then?” Melfice asked, already dreading the answer.
Skelly nodded. “It’s three days along the Polix Road, then another four, perhaps five, over marshland until we reach the actual Blackmire. Three separate reports mention a Marques wielding a strange scepter, all with the creature and its allies retreating into the Blackmire.”
Melfice heaved a sigh. “Well, glad I learned the Soothing Skin charm. My feet will be raw blisters by the end of today!”
“I know some excellent remedies to make medicated bandages that you can wrap your feet in to prevent such a thing!” Elena cried, raising her hand excitedly.
Wheeze snorted. “Wha’ kind o’ man needs somethin’ like tha, jus’ fer walkin’?”
Needles elbowed him in the ribs. “Hey, just cause you have the body of a boulder doesn’t mean tha rest of us can shrug off wear and tear!”
“If you could prepare a half dozen such wraps in the next hour, my dear?” Skelly asked, waving towards a small café situated down the street. An open-air tavern and restaurant for hungry dock workers, it had wide tables meant to seat ten to twelve.
Elena nodded. “Sure, that should work!”
“I can help, if you’d like?” Melfice offered, following Elena as she rushed off.
Elena seemed enthused at the idea. “I didn’t know you studied medicine!”
Melfice shrugged. “A bit. I needed to understand basic anatomy for some extracurricular lessons I found in a few tomes.”
Skelly nodded. “It never hurts to learn extra skills. Good on you Melfice. If I may, I would like to observe so I might be of help the next time you prepare them for us.”
“Sure!” Elena chirped, racing down the street. Skelly and Melfice followed at a more sedate pace, with Wheeze and Needles arguing in their accented speech as the group meandered away from the jailhouse.
They spent the next two hours preparing some herbal poultices to wrap their feet in for a long trek. Even Wheeze took one, though he grumbled that it was unnecessary. Skelly purchased a platter of sandwiches and a jug of Orange Sunrise to aid in nursing their collective hangovers.
By ten that morning, they were walking out the gates to the small town, passing by the bored merchants and laborers bringing in daily shipments as they waited for the overworked town guard to inspect their belongings. Skelly entertained Elena and Melfice with tales of his youth and of wild adventures in the frigid taigas of the far north.
Wheeze and Needles entertained themselves by throwing bits of dried meat to Posnev and sneaking swigs from their hip flasks.
All four were vomiting by the time they reached the first crossroads, earning a scolding from Elena and laughter from Skelly and Melfice.