The sun was high in the sky by the time Poppy and Sildar ambled down to the town square, having just bid Errick and Roclaf a fond farewell on their journey back to Neverwinter. Poppy had fussed over them, being a worry wart as usual, making sure the pair would be safe on the way back. Eric, stoic as ever, assured Poppy that because the wagon was empty they shouldn't get much trouble on the road.
“They'll be fine, Errick has done the trip many times for Gundren before,” Sildar said trying to soothe the emotional halfling. Poppy looked up quizzically at Sildar while they walked down the dirt path.
“Then why are we here?” she asked.
“Because you could not pay your gambling debt Miss,” Sildar reminded her with a smile.
“Oh yes, I know that, but if Errick has done the trip many times before, why were we enlisted to help?” She pressed on.
“Normally myself and Gundren accompany the wagon down. Gundren's good with an axe, I'm pretty handy with my sword, so we can usually take on the odd goblin or rogue orc that try anything. But Gundren had business to attend to that required his immediate attention here in town. He wanted to leave first light and ride fast, something the wagon does not do. I was going to go poking round the guilds in Neverwinter, see if I could hire an adventurer or two, but then Gundren got lost in that card game of his, and, well, the rest you pretty much know.”
They had reached the town square, it wasn't anything too grand, just an open area that a lot of buldings faced on to with the town green behind it. Sildar pointed out a few buildings to Poppy whilst they waited for Bale. There was the Townmaster's Hall, the Shrine of Luck and most importantly, the Stonehill Inn.
“I'm going to go secure our lodgings at the Inn over there, I need a good long rest and a nice hot meal,” Sildar said as they sat on a wall waiting for Bale. “And then I'll try to make contact with my contact in town.”
“Sure thing, rest up Sildar,” Poppy replied as the older man slipped off the wall, straightened up and walked off with a wave.
Poppy watched the Lion Sheild Coster for a few more minutes and then Bale came barrelling out of the building, his cloak billowing behind him. Poppy saw a fair haired woman in the door way shaking her head, her arms crossed at the chest. That seemed about right for having just encountered Bale Poppy thought to herself with a smile.
Bale hopped up onto the wall, sitting next to Poppy.
“Did someone help you up or...?” Bale asked with a cheeky smile.
“Ha, ha, very funny indeed you heightist,” she replied with a genuine laugh. “So how did it go in there? Who's your new lady friend?”
“That's Linene, she's firey,” Bale said giving a little finger wave towards the shop door where the woman still stood. She visably jumped, as if she'd been caught, and hurried herself inside. “No weapons or armour or much of anything. She did let me in her back room,” Bale paused for Poppy's eyeroll. “That's where she hides the “good” stuff, but it was all leather armour and longswords.”
“Why is she hiding her stock?” Poppy asked inquisitively.
“Her shipments never make it, attacks on the road and what not. Oh! And there's these local thugs, Red Brands, they come in and just take whatever they want, they sound really bad,” He said with a misplaced gleeful smile.
“Red Brands?” Poppy thought aloud.
“Dumb looking guys, walking round in long red cloaks, thinking they own the town.”
“I think I saw one of them at Barthen's, sniffing around the wagon, trying to remain hidden. Ran away when I clocked him though.” Poppy said jumping down from the wall. “Don't know what he wanted or where he went,” she began to walk towards the Inn, Bale followed her.
“The Giant's Taint!” Bale shouted out. Poppy whipped round and gave him the most shocked and confused expression. “Oh, wait, hang on, that's not it...Ah! The Sleeping Giant's Tap House, that's their den.”
“Well good to know, we shall avoid there at all costs then,” Poppy put her hand out to push open the door for the Inn, a bed and warm meal beckoning her.
“But,” Bale started. “I said I'd deal with these troublemakers for Linene.” He said in his most whiny voice.
Poppy's hand stayed on the door as she thought. She and Bale could go their seperate ways. The job was done, the debt was paid. Sildar could look for Gundren. Bale could do what ever he pleased and she could go back to her goats and quiet, peaceful, mountain dwelling life. But there was something niggling at her, a deep ball of guilt building in the pit of her stomach. She wasn't a selfish hafling, her parents hadn't raised her that way.
She let out the loudest exasperated sigh and dropped her arm.
“Thought you were gonna pop a blood vessel with all that thinking you were doing there,” Bale joked. Poppy raised her hand again and pushed the door open into the Inn, quickly vanishing inside with a slam. Bale winced and then grimaced, had he taken it too far?
Bale went to follow Poppy into the Inn when the door opened again and out skipped the hafling, smiling away.
“Come on then, I asked for directions, Giant's Taint, this way,” she began to walk up the path, Bale was dumbfounded for a moment but followed on happily.
“Thought we were avoiding there at all costs?” He enquired to her change of heart.
“We're just going for a friendly chat, maybe ask if they could be nicer to Linene, casual conversation.”
“And then burn them to the ground?” Bale said menacingly with a flare of purple fire in his eyes.
“No, no, no! A chat! What's up, how are things, please be nice. That sort of thing!” Poppy pleaded, whipping her head around to see if anyone heard their discussion.
“And if they don't agree to be nice?” Bale asked, having a hard time keeping his fires at bay.
“We ask a little firmer.”
“We ask a little fiery-er.” Bale gave one of his sharp smiles and grew his demonic claws, the purple and black haze surrounding the jagged forms growing from his hands. Poppy rolled her eyes so hard she nearly lost balance.
“No, actually that was a little corny, can I try again? Ooh wait I've got it! How about “We ask a little burner? Burner, firmer? No?”
This continued for some time as they made their way up to the Taphouse.