“Where are we going?” Danyelle asked.
“I have errands to run in Bree,” Mirabella replied. Unlike her husband, who was loud and boisterous, she was quiet and rarely spoke more than a few words at time. It was nice to get away from the house, and if Bree was to be her new home, Danyelle wanted to see what else the world had to offer.
Since moving in, Danyelle found herself with chores and studies. Unlike the boarding school, the lessons in Bree were informal and geared more towards practicality than scholarly learning. She could read and write quite well, and arithmetic came easily to her, but gathering berries that weren’t poisonous and hunting were wholly new and difficult tasks.
Mirabella eschewed a horse or carriage, choosing to travel the entire distance on foot. Although there was the odd bear, brigand and boar along the road who seemed ready to accost the young woman, they steered clear of the deadly lore-mistress and her fierce sabercat.
Bree was larger than Danyelle expected, but still just a speck on the map compared to Minas Tirith. There were lots of people coming and going, and Danyelle enjoyed seeing the dwarves and elves and hobbits, very few of whom ever came to Gondor.
Her hostess led her to the Scholar’s Stair Archives in one Bree’s many side streets. While Mirabella conversed with a fellow lore-master, Dalton Willow, Danyelle noticed a group of children about her age who were gathered around a table, which was piled high with books and parchments.
She looked on, but said nothing.
“What are you playing today, Tabon?” Mirabella called from across the room.
“It’s a new game called Wage Slave,” the boy replied.
“A game?” Danyelle chimed in curiously.
“Yes, it’s a role-playing game.” He motioned to the books, papers and bone dice on the table. “We create characters and play in a fantasy setting, assuming their personalities, characteristics and abilities. In this game, we play low-paid workers in a post-industrial society who man cubicles in an office. The first campaign has us working for the Pineapple faction as we battle the evil conglomerate known as Microsquish.”
“Is it fun?”
Tabon shrugged. “We just started playing it. Carrak got a crit on his TPS reports, so he leveled up from Program Analyst I to Program Analyst II, but Loren failed his roll and got transferred to the basement.”
“That doesn’t sound very exciting,” Danyelle observed.
“I guess not,” Tabon shrugged. “But it beats getting chased by goblins or standing around watching spring barley grow. I think it picks up at higher levels.”
The other boy had not bothered to look up from the table to see the girl with whom he was talking, and didn’t notice when they left.
Her business with Dalton complete, Mirabella led Danyelle around Bree, showing her the craft hall, the jail, the skirmish camp and the rest of the town’s highlights. They were in town for most of the morning and afternoon, finally returning to the Osgood Manor to get ready for dinner.
Waiting in the main hall were two elves, a dwarf and a hobbit. Although Danyelle had never met them, she knew them to be her sister’s companions from the letters the two had exchanged: Vraeden and Voontak Xur, Braggar Ironheart and Salvatina Bunce.
The dwarf and hobbit greeted her with warm, enthusiastic embraces; the elves were typically reserved, if formal and courteous.
“Where is Cayleigh?” Danyelle asked excitedly.
“Speaking with Angelos,” Vraeden replied in her soft, melodic voice. “They will be done soon.”
“Tell us all about Minas Tirith,” Sally chimed in.
They talked for some time, until Danyelle found an excuse to go to her room. She heard voices from down the hallway. From Angelos’s study.
“She’s too young!” Cayleigh’s voice carried, even through the thick oak door.
Angelos snorted. “She’s older than you were when you set out on the road.”
“Someone needed to provide for her. We had no money, no home, no food!”
“And now you have all three.” Although Cayleigh was clearly agitated, it sounded like Angelos was trying to be the voice of reason. “She will not stay here, under my roof. Not for much longer.”
“Because you will force her out?”
“I would never force her out,” Angelos said. “Danyelle will leave on her own. She is tired of sleeping in someone else’s house and living under their rules. She has the same wanderlust that you have. I cannot keep her here, either in good conscience, nor under any legal pretense. And I will not turn her loose on the world untrained.”
“The world is too dangerous for her.” Cayleigh’s voice was soft. Danyelle wanted to run in to the room, but she dared not move.
“Was it too dangerous for you?” Angelos shot back evenly. “Look around you, Cayleigh! The forces of Mordor are on the move. There are goblins and crebain between here and Rivendell. The Ettenmoors are overrun with orcs and spiders and wargs. Sauron’s armies are marching on Rohan and Gondor. There is nowhere safe anymore.”
The two fell silent for a long moment.
“If she wants to marry the cobbler’s son and spend her life making babies, that is certainly her choice,” Angelos said gently. “But I’ll tell you right now: that’s not the path she will follow. She will pick up a sword and follow you to Fangorn and beyond.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
“She needs to be trained. If not by me, then by one of the masters who will teach her which end of the sword to hold and which end to point at the orcs.”
Even through the door, Danyelle heard her sister’s heavy sigh. “Very well.”
Sensing that the substantive part of the conversation was over, Daneylle went back down the hall to her room, trying her best to move silently. She changed into a soft cotton dinner gown and waited until she heard Angelos and her sister return down the hallway to the great room. Danyelle emerged to find her the others waiting for her.
It had been several months since Cayleigh had been able to stop by and see her last. Danyelle was almost a head taller now, owing to the fact that the pair had spent the bulk of Cayleigh’s developing years begging for food, while Danyelle’s formative times had been spent in a boarding school which provided a warm bed and regular hot meals.
Yet Cayleigh’s muscles were strong and compact after months and then years of adventure and battle. Danyelle held her sister close for a long time.
Over the years, they had certainly had their differences, and Danyelle sometimes felt that her sister had left her to fend for herself at the school. As she got older, she realised that Cayleigh was trying to provide for her in the only way she knew how.
The companions ate around the Osgood’s table, the dwarf and hobbit providing most of the tall tales of the road. Cayleigh barely spoke at all, which was something everyone seemed used to.
Angelos and Mirabella were the perfect hosts.
After the meal, the group shared stories and songs until the sisters retired to their room. They made small talk for most of the evening, catching up on one another’s lives. Danyelle noticed more scars on her sister’s weather-tanned skin. Even the safe haven of the Osgood family, Cayleigh’s eyes had become steely and hard. Although they never spoke of it, Danyelle felt as if a part of her sister’s heart had been buried with her beloved in the crypts below the mansion.
“Before I leave, we will go see the master-at-arms,” Cayleigh said nervously. “We live in the country now, and there are many dangerous creatures about.”
“Will you teach me?” Danyelle asked eagerly.
“No,” her sister shook her head. “I’m not a very good instructor. Besides, you’re not built to fight the way I do.”
“What should I do?”
“I don’t know,” Cayleigh frowned. “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.”
Cayleigh blew out the bedside candles and the girls fell asleep, one of them eager for the dawn, the other wishing for the coming days to pass quickly and be gone.
Author’s Note: If you are of a certain age, you’ll remember this cartoon from the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide. This was when all characters had six stats between 3 and 18, everyone had a 5% chance of doing double damage on any given roll, and the only limits on what you could do resided in the warped imaginations of the players and DM.
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