A small group of women dressed in brightly colored robes and scarves approached the tiny hamlet of Hanstan. Their heavily laden baskets were brought in trade. Fruit breads, candied apples and various other treats were often welcomed by the various eateries who would pay the priestesses with coin, only to see it spent in local businesses on supplies that the women needed for their temple. It was good for the village, it was good for the priestesses and it reminded the people of the close relationship of piety to success. While some folks found the nature-worshipping elves to be strange or exotic, many respected their learned ways and valued their commerce.
Among the Elven women, a particularly petite priestess had chosen to wear a full, traditional head scarf. She carried a large basket like the other women but seemed to hang back, lingering a bit behind the rest. As the group was lead through town by a higher ranking priestess, the baskets their of food and were filled with a variety of goods. Curious on-lookers often waved or smiled as the miniature caravan passed by.
The curious and lingering woman, Isolde, drank in the variety of shops, the many different dress styles of the men and women, the sounds of laughing children being told it was time to come inside for supper. It was a village filled by people from several races, but it was predominately human. Their short and excited lives appealed to Isolde. They were in the act of living, not studying about living, just doing it.
Throughout their many bartering deals the women spent much of the day in town. The sun lost much of its power and dusk quickly approached. The town started to sleep and the shops closed their doors. Many lights were lit around the town as people returned to their homes. On the way out of town, the women did not stop to explore or talk to the citizens of Hanstan. They were in a hurry and needed to return to the temple before it was too dark to travel. As they were quickly approaching the edge of the village they passed a well-lit and rather boisterous establishment – The Naked Pixie Inn. The loud laughter and hearty singing bellowing out of he inn and tavern carried the aroma of simple food. Isolde lingered a bit to listen and her heart ached with the same hunger that had been plaguing her for months.
Isolde quickly rushed to catch up with the group, afraid to fall behind. As she reached the other priestesses and fell in line, Isolde whispered a desperate plea. With her scarf covering her face and the quiet tone of her voice, only the gods could hear. “If there were any way for me to stay here, I could find a way to fit in.”
The lights from town were now all at their backs and the small welcome sign for Hanstan read from this direction, “May the road help you find your way back to our village.” Fields and sparse lights from the well-spaced farmsteads filled the vista ahead and the pace the women were taking felt rushed as the darkness of night approached.
Gathering clouds obscured the nearly full moon and a sudden down pour quickly muddied the road. The women would not make it back to their temple tonight. The ranking priestess stopped the group for a moment to confer with the women and decided to turn back to town. They had little choice but to find quarter for the night.
* * *
The priestesses were quietly muttering and complaining about their predicament as they entered The Naked Pixie Inn. Ivor was not very surprised by their appearance. The town had been abuzz about the elves shopping trip. Though the nature-worshipers rarely stopped in his establishment, he had always offered them a few rooms when the weather turned sour. He left his fully occupied bar to greet the women.
“You must be tired. Sure do look like you need a few rooms,” the dwarf stated to the women with a grin.
“Yes, Ivor. If you have any to spare, ” one priestess responded. She was in the front of the group and appeared to be their leader. Ivor decided it’d be best to directly refer to her. It was always so hard for him to tell them apart, especially with all of that silk covering then up.
“I count nine in your group?” to which the leader nodded, “Good I can give you three rooms on the third floor.” A set of keys appeared from the friendly dwarf’s pocket.He smiled up at the priestesses before handing them to the front priestess.
“We thank you for your assistance in our hour of need. May the gods favor you,” The priestess told the innkeeper before leading the other women upstairs. Ivor caught a glimpse of vivid, green eyes as the last priestess turned to look over the tap room from the landing before heading to bed with the rest of her
companions. It was a strange gesture, one that Ivor had never seen happen before in his establishment in all the years that he had offered the priestesses quarter. Perhaps I should pay more attention to them. Maybe they’re not all the same, he thought.
* * *
Jerry was so overly opinionated. It drove Ivor crazy to talk with him yet the discussions often lead to fascinating ideas and half-hearted agreements about a variety of topics. The entertainer was again telling a tall tale. A story about larger than life adventurers who saved the world on some grand journey. A few of the barflies were eating it up. The narrative included nothing less than rescuing a city, defeating a terrible liche army and returning home with boundless treasure. Ivor knew better. He had been a professional treasure seeker. He had found some valuable relics and run into a few unexpected brawls and dangers along the way. But the yarn the bard was weaving was preposterous in scale.
“I see you shaking your head back there, Ivor. Is it so hard to believe the oral history of the region?” Jerry asked, much to the amusement of the drinking men around him.
“Yeah, it is. Why don’t we know about these people, this group of adventures lead by a woman named Tonia? Why do you and others like you know their names and know of their great wealth and success when the common man has never heard of them before?”
“Because only historians keep track of these things. Honestly, if you struck it rich, would you hang around a bar to tell people about it? You’d go off and retire. You’d leave the telling of your story to learned men to retell for you. How else would anyone know what you had done?”
“I know the names of many adventurers that I never met personally. They all met their end in a tragic way. That’s the only way a relic hunter finds fame, by failing miserably and costing the people of the region a terrible toll. We all know about Smit and Viern. How they provoked an entire colony of Scorpiodes who in turn destroyed their hometown.” Nods passed around the room as Ivor’s point was made and a few murmurs of agreement followed his argument.
“Yes, yes. But that affects a large group of people. You can’t tell me when you look at this board, ” the self-proclaimed historian stated as he walked across the room to point out a notice board on the wall, “you don’t realize that some of these jobs must be completed. Some people do find success out there.”
“Yes, success. But not on the level that you’re preaching about. Most of jobs listed on the bulletin board are pleas from villages asking for assistance, strange quests from madmen, and tidbits about exotic items rumored to be in the area. Many of them are simply a waste of time and fruitless expeditions.”
“If they are so fruitless, then how do you own this bar? You, yourself were out there with a group making money hand over fist.”
Ivor sighed. He had earned his small fortune out adventuring but it was not a glamorous life by any means. The deadly traps, the frustrating dead ends, the poorly planned expeditions. That bulletin board was chock full of suicide missions and he knew it.
“Choose to believe as you wish, but I know well the names of Smit and Viern. I never heard of this Company of Tonia that you talk about until now. That speaks volumes.”