Candi's last trip
Travis wiped the sweat off his brow as he finished the steep approach to the plateau. His trip had been uneventful, which was good as Henry had given him 25 gp to purchase some supplies that he needed back in New Hillcrest. The coins, along with a list of material needed was bundled up under his tunic. Henry thought he would be more likely to bypass any bandits if he looked like a kid out on a hike. He was more concerned with the return leg of their trip, when he would have a satchel of supplies. Perhaps he would buy some wilted vegetables to put in the top of the satchel to help disguise its contents.
He blearily rubbed one eye with a grubby finger as he crossed the final ridge before the gentle slope down onto the plateau where Mountainview was located. He wondered idly if that group of adventurers had made it safely. They hadn’t heard anything in New Hillcrest, but they did not get much news there. A courier from New Havland sometimes passed through on his way to Leighstead, but he only made that trip a couple of times a year, and he wasn’t due again until almost harvest time. Other than the courier, the only news they got was from other travelers going through New Hillcrest, and there were fewer and fewer of those every year it seemed.
It would only be an hour or two at most to Mountainview he judged, and fortunately it was all downhill. He could see the local farmers at work in their fields around the town. Neat rows of radishes, beets, carrots, and turnips stretched across the fields, along with what he thought might be some scattered clumps of cabbage. Ugh, cabbage. Last winter had been lean, and it seemed like they were having cabbage soup every day for a while.
Mountainview seemed to be buzzing with activity when he entered the town. The residents seemed to be only mildly interested in getting their work done, standing in small groups all over town. They reminded him of the small patches of wildflowers he passed on the way here. The patches had been humming as the bees did their work, and occasionally a bee would move from one patch to another. The townspeople seemed to be doing the same thing, as every once in a while someone would move from one group to another, and the buzz of their conversation would change pitch for a while, then settle back down.
As he entered the general store and began searching for the items on his list he couldn’t help overhearing the conversation around him. It sounded like there was dire news from Leighstead, with several of the ruling Leighstead family either sick or dead. It also sounded like there was bad news from Jeriko, as a group of people sent there on official business had returned from a routine patrol half dead, spreading tales of a horde of devils and worse near the Dead Forest.
Travis was sorting through a box of forks trying to find more than three that looked alike when he heard her voice. He was so surprised he stood up too quickly, knocking his head against a shelf and spilling spoons all over the floor. He tried to look around the edge of the aisle as he gathered spoons to put them back in the box he knocked over and saw her standing there in the simple green dress he remembered when she passed through New Hillcrest. She glanced over when he poked his head around, and smiled faintly at him. Travis straightened his tunic as best he could and went over to where she was standing at the counter.
“Hi Candi, do you remember me?” he said nervously, clutching several forks in each hand.
Smiling at him, Candi said “Of course I do, it’s Trey, no, Travis, right?” Travis smiled back as he ducked and nodded his head energetically.
“What brings you to Mountainview, more salt perhaps?”
“Oh no, I’m looking for a good fork…uh, I mean matching forks.”
Candi smiled, and after glancing over at the storekeeper who was piling goods on the counter, said “Are you going to be in Mountainview for a while? I didn’t finish something that I meant to do in Jeriko, and could use your help if you have an extra couple of days.”
“Oh of course, I mean, Henry is expecting me back, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind a couple of extra days. What do you need?”
“I need to travel north for my master, but forgot to leave a copy of my journal with the church in Jeriko.”
Travis furrowed his brow, then said, “You mean the church in Mountainview? There’s no church in Jeriko.”
Smiling again, Candi said, “There is now – we just finished building it. Unfortunately, we also broke ground in the church cemetery as well. This journal is a record of my master’s accomplishments, and I want to leave it at the church until I can return. Would you take it to the good father who is running the church and ask him to hold it there for me?” Fishing in her pouch, she brought out a gold piece and a small ruby. “Here is a gold piece for your trouble, and please give Father Alear this ruby and the journal to hold until my return.”
His eyes widened as he took the items from Candi. She smiled at him one last time as she took the bundle of supplies, paid for them, and then headed outside the store. He saw a Halfling dressed in studded leather with a small rapier dangling at his waist, and a haversack on his back.
“Ready to go?” he asked her, looking curiously at Travis.
“Yes, all ready. Hurley, would you put these on the packhorse for me?” And with one last look around her, she took her small group north out of Mountainview heading for Leighstead. Travis watched her go, mismatched forks clutched in one hand, and a small, leather bound book in the other.
Travis finished his shopping, and asked the store keeper to hold his purchases for him for a couple of days. As it was too late to proceed to Jeriko, Travis waited until dark and then found a stable nearby and curled up to rest until morning. His sleep was fitful that night, as something was bothering him, but he couldn’t figure out what.
In the morning he bought a small loaf of bread and a couple of apples, and then began the walk to Jeriko. He had gone that way once or twice before, but with the rumors he had heard in Mountainview he found himself looking behind every bush, tree, and rock, expecting something to jump out at him. He arrived in Jeriko just after midday, and made his way down to the new church. The building wasn’t completely done yet, but the foundation was built and the rooms in back made of stone were already roofed. The main hall in front had been roofed, but the wooden walls were still being put up. He saw Father Alear, who he recognized from New Hillcrest, directing workmen here and there as they worked.
“Father Alear? My name is Travis, and I have something for you from Candi.”
He thought Father Alear looked young at a distance, but when Travis got closer he could see that his hair looked like it was greying early, and already some worry wrinkles lined his forehead. Despite his youth, he had clearly seen much already. He rubbed his forehead and walked slowly over to Travis. Travis handed him the journal and the gemstone.
“She asked if you would hold onto this book for her. It’s supposed to be a record of what her master has done. She asked me to give you the ruby as well.”
Alear raised an eyebrow as he looked at Travis, then took the book from him. “Guess it makes sense to keep it here, seeing as he’s not going anywhere.” Seeing the puzzled expression on his face, Alear walked over to the side of the church foundation, gesturing for Travis to join him. “There are several things every church needs; a priest, a building, and a graveyard. A couple of days ago we had only two of those. Thanks to Candi’s master, we now have all three.”
Travis looked out to the side of the church, and saw a mound of freshly dug earth in a fenced off area. A freshly carved wooden plank marked the new grave. Travis suddenly realized what was bothering him in Mountainview – Candi was traveling without her armored protector he remembered from New Hillcrest. He offered a quick prayer for her safe travels, then went to go look at the lonely marker standing guard in Jeriko.
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