At the night of the party for the Feast of the Moon, the Heroes met outside the Hall of the Unicorn, the temple to Mielikki. An abundance of torches lit the 100 or so people dancing to the music of four human performers up on a 50 foot wide semi-circular stage.
“Minimus,” Cundall greeted the halfling with a smile, which froze a little when he saw Shaniqua behind him. “Shaniqua.”
“Cundall,” she greeted him back affably.
“Where are the others?” asked Minimus. He had to raise his voice to be heard.
“Getting drinks,” Cundall waved to where a number of outdoor bars were arranged around the clearing, serving drinks and snacks.
“I’ll get us some,” said Shaniqua. She nodded enquiringly to Cundall’s half empty mug, but the druid shook his head.
“Still hanging around then?” he said to Minimus as the girl headed to the closest bar.
’She’s different," said Minimus. “She’s fun, she doesn’t take any shit, and she’s not after anything. I don’t understand why you don’t like her.”
Cundall didn’t answer. He suspected it was that a fear she might want to join the adventuring group, and Cundall didn’t want that. But he didn’t want Shaniqua to take Minimus away either.
“I don’t sense anything bad about her, I don’t really know.”
“Jealousy?” asked Minimus, grinning.
Cundall knew by now that Minimus was not the dumb fighter type he sometimes gave the impression of being. The halfling had often provided the missing idea or insight that was the key to solving a puzzle on their adventures. Even this time he had ascertained what the problem was.
“I think I am,” replied Cundall, laughing and raising his mug in salute to Minimus before drinking. “Don’t worry, I’ll be nice.”
Zelda and Marie arrived, with Jerrard in tow looking overawed at the situation. Cundall decided getting the boy a few drinks might be the best way to loosen him up a little. The performers finished their set just as Shaniqua arrived back with a mug of ale for herself and Minimus, shrugging an apology to the new arrivals. Marie shared a little of Cundall’s unease around Shaniqua, but Zelda – who had long been a drinking companion for Minimus both before and after Shaniqua was on the scene – smiled warmly at the girl before heading off to get drinks for herself, Maire and Jerrard. Cundall finished his ale and followed her with his empty mug. He saw Elanil climb onto the stage. It was time for her to perform her duties as Moonsilver Herald. Heralds had a number of duties on the Feast of the Moon, a day when the dead were traditionally honored. Prime among these was to perform the Bloodsong ceremony, at which a Herald publicly recited the genealogies of each noble family in the area. In this way, the Heralds reaffirmed a noble family’s traditional authority and status, as well as the respect accorded to them. The crowd cheered to varying volumes as the names of the nobles were called out, depending on how popular they were.
A bronze-skinned male elf was standing behind the bar handing out drinks. Zelda knew him to be Paelior Copperleaf, someone who had propositioned her more than once. She briefly considered heading to another bar, but decided she couldn’t be bothered. He flashed a brilliant smile in greeting.
“I’m staying sober tonight,” he said, loudly. “Work before pleasure, got to keep my wits about me, something you’d know about, being an adventurer.” Zelda just nodded in response.
“Of course,” Paelior went on, “I’m free to do whatever after the festivities.” He left the rest unsaid as he handed Zelda and Cundall mugs of ale.
Zelda just nodded again and took the offered mug, ignoring Cundall’s smirk. She looked around the area to see if she could see anyone else she knew. At another table she could see Valantha Moonbreeze, a silver-haired female half-elf with a tremendous sense of humor. Valantha was selling finger food at the festivities but Zelda knew she would accept payment in jokes and funny stories as well as a coin or two. She was currently laughing with two wood elves from the Elven Court who she knew slightly. She saw Basil Grem, the gnome bard and member of the Protectors of Elventree who seemed to have recovered from his Underdark ordeal. He was playing his flute, following the tune of the performers but adding in extra notes, to the obvious enjoyment of those near him. She also saw Dark Linsa, a grey-skinned half-elf that she had often seen talking to Minimus. Zelda knew that Linsa was a member of the Welcomers – a thieves’ guild in Phlan – and had arrived as a refugee when that city had been taken over by a green dragon and its followers. Her eyes moved around and stopped when she saw sitting in one of the trees a dirty teenage girl and a small black goat with milky white eyes. The girl was devouring a large plum pie; filling dripping from her chin and staining her dirty, tattered dress. Zelda nudged Cundall and pointed at the girl.
“It’s Elisande,” she said. “I heard that she was in town. I have no idea where she is staying, she’s like a ghost.”
“We need to talk to her,” said Cundall, “and ascertain what her motives are.”
“I think if she were evil, Elanil would have been onto her by now.”
“I’d still like to know more about her,” said Cundall, moving towards the tree the girl was sitting in. Zelda followed.
“Hello,” said Cundall, smiling. He noted the black goat looked at him, despite having milky white eyes associated with blindness.
The girl stopped eating pie and wiped her mouth with her arm.
“Who might ye be? Ye be Cundall?” she asked. “Goat knows you. Says you got heart.”
“Does he, now?” said Cundall, eyeing the goat.
“She be she,” corrected Elisande, and took another bite of the plum pie, slurping the juice noisily.
“Das funny, you nature man but you dunno if lady goat,” Elisande continued. “Are yous here t’ see the fiddler? Goat say she extra good. Goat sayin’ I gotta ta hear the song before I meet da Dark Man. I’s gon’ love it!”
“Who are you?” asked Cundall.
“Elisande,” said the girl, around a mouth of plum and pastry.
“I was talking to the goat,” said Cundall. The girl stopped and stared.
“You can hears her same?” she asked. “Good. Sometimes thinking I’m potty same as everyone.”
After getting no reply from the beast Cundall cast a speak with animals spell and spoke to the goat.
“So are you a goat?” he asked.
“We both know that I am more than a goat,” said the goat. Zelda just heard them both bleating.
“And your intentions with this girl,” asked Cundall, “and Elventree?”
“Benevolent,” replied the goat. “This girl is more than she knows, but needs guidance and protection. She may play a part in things to come.”
“Can you give me any proof that you mean no harm?”
“None,” replied the goat. “Other than Elanil and Seranolla know of me and believe I mean no harm.”
“Who is the Dark Man the girl is talking about?”
“That, I believe, is Graz’zt,” said the goat. “A divination revealed it. I do not know how or why yet.”
“And this fiddler?”
“A duergar, with a special fiddle,” answered the goat.
“Special, not in a good way.”
“Why don’t you do something about it?” asked Cundall.
“I have, I’ve told you.”
“You don’t talk straight, do you?” grumbled the druid.
“I don’t see things the same way you do,” replied the goat. “But I do what I think is important. You might want to hurry, there isn’t much time.”
Cundall saw Elanil had finished the Bloodsong Ceremony and was introducing a new act, a storyteller, who would tell a few stories, both funny and dramatic, of heroes who had since passed on. But among the other acts near the stage, awaiting their turn, he saw a female duergar with a fiddle. That must be the one.
“Come on,” he said to Zelda. “I need to see Marie real quick.”
They found Marie listening to her apprentice Jerrard, who had already had too much to drink, drone on about how no one understood him and that he was really grateful that Marie had made him her apprentice.
“Hey Jerrard,” interrupted Cundall. “Here, you forgot your handbag. Now fuck off. Marie, I need you to cast contact other plane for guidance.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” said Marie, annoyed at Jerrard’s treatment.
“Look, we don’t have time,” said Cundall. “Trust me, this is urgent and important. Sorry Jerrard, but we don’t need you whining right now. Marie, ask your ancestor or whoever about this fiddler coming on. It might be bad for everyone.”
“All right, but if I go nuts, which is a possibility with this spell, I’ve only just got it, hit me with a greater restoration please.”
“Deal, now hurry.”
Marie, Zelda and Cundall moved away from everyone, while Marie cast the spell as a ritual. The spell allowed contact between her and someone wiser than she, whether an ancestor spirit or an entity from another plane, and ask several questions. This time she contacted the spirit of Meira Faerenduil, the elven ghost they had freed from guard duty at Eventide Abbey (see The Ghosts of Eventide Abbey – Part 9). She asked the questions and listed to the urgent, whispered answers that only she could hear.
“Well?” asked Cundall when Marie finally opened her eyes.
“We have to stop that fiddler from taking the stage!” said Marie. “It’s going to be bad if she gets to play.”
To be continued…