Wandering Guardians

By Stephen Schamber

Chapter Fifteen

    The first hints of the approaching dawn were just becoming noticeable as they arrived at Lorin's tavern. Like many small shops and eateries, the second floor was a residence for the owners. Emmie hadn't told Egilhard how she would get inside, but had assured him that she could. He settled into the shadows by the front door to wait while she woke Lorin.
    She slipped silently around to the back door leading to the kitchens. There was an overhang protecting the door from rain, and a small area around it was paved with rough stone. Emmie pried up a particular stone near the door, revealing a hollow in the dirt where a piece of rope was laying. It was a hidden latchstring which Lorin had convinced her husband William to make so that a few of their trusted friends could get into the tavern in an emergency. 
    Emmie pulled on the rope and heard the door latch open. She pushed the door open a little way, then carefully re-hid the rope and slipped inside. She was sure she could trust Egilhard, but the latchstring was Lorin and William's secret. It would be poor repayment for their kindness to show it to strangers.
    She crept up the stairs to Lorin and William's room, careful not to wake their children. She shook Lorin's shoulder gently to wake her, noticing as she did that William wasn't there. He was a wagon driver, so it wasn't unusual for him to be gone. 
    Confusion changed rapidly to alarm in Lorin's expression as she woke and recognized who was shaking her. "Emmie!" she exclaimed, sitting up and throwing off her blanket, "What's happened?"
    "It's okay, the danger's over," Emmie promised, holding up her hands to stop Lorin from springing out of bed. "A lot happened though, and I wanted to tell you before I left."
    "Left? What are you talking about?" she demanded, though in a softer voice.
    Starting from the time she'd realized she was being tailed, Emmie told Lorin what had happened to her that night. "Egilhard said one of the men was a noble, and it would be best if I left town to avoid being blamed for his death. He showed me the ring he was carrying with the symbol of a noble family," she finished. She'd already explained that Egilhard was the man she'd sat next to during dinner, from which Lorin had guessed the noble's identity as the chubby man. 
    "I'm glad he discovered their plan," Lorin said, pulling Emmie into a hug. "I don't care to think what would have happened otherwise," she added with a shudder.
    "So, you think it's okay to trust him?" Emmie asked into Lorin's shoulder. It had been difficult, after her parents had died, to learn to be suspicious of everyone she met. Now it was a hard habit to break. Lorin was one of the few she trusted for advice. "I'm not being foolish? He said I should join their caravan, because that would make it easier for me to travel."
    "It certainly would do that, because of the special status dwarven traders have," Lorin said, tilting her head as she considered the question. "What exactly did he say? Did he say how long you could travel with them?"
    "He said," she began, then paused a moment to think back. "He said I could travel with them for as long as I liked, even all the way to where they come from, and that I could leave whenever I wanted. He said it would be best to get out of this duchy, though."
    "He's right about that," Lorin assured her. "Guilty or not, you'd be in great danger if any of that man's relatives found out you'd been there when he died." She thought for a moment. "Dwarves and their allies are scrupulous about keeping their word. If he said he'd help you, he will. You can trust him to do that much, at least."
    "Okay. He's waiting downstairs to talk to you."
    "Let's go talk to him then," she said, standing up and releasing Emmie.
    "Okay. And thanks, Lorin," Emmie said, giving her another hug.
    "You're welcome dear."
    They went downstairs as softly as Emmie had come up. Lorin went into the dining room, removed the large crossbar that secured the front door, and opened it. As she peered outside, the shadow that was Egilhard detached itself from the wall and approached. 
    "Emmie told you what happened to her tonight?" Egilhard asked without preamble.
    "Yes," she confirmed, stepping aside to let him through the door. "Let's talk inside." He came in, and she shut the door behind him. "I'd like a few more details. Did you find out who they were?" 
    Emmie sank quietly into a chair at the bar, unobtrusively listening to the conversation. She'd learned that the best way to hear what adults were saying was to let them forget you were there.
    "Yes. There's no doubting the existence of either the bandits or the kidnappers now," he scowled. "They're the same group. I hid close to them during the night. They talked far more than they should have, and that was one thing I learned. As luck would have it that chubby man I asked about last night, Herve, was the leader, and he's no longer with us. Without him, hopefully they'll fall apart."
    "How did you find out about their plan to abduct her?"
    "Something about Herve didn't seem right to me." Egilhard shifted uncomfortably. "I can't really give a good reason for waiting to spy on him. It was just an instinct. I hid outside the tavern after I left, waiting for him, and he met with his two cronies to talk the whole thing through just outside, a few feet from where I was hiding."
    "Given the outcome, I don't think you need to justify spying on him to anyone, least of all me," she shrugged off his admission. "I'm grateful you did. I'm sure those three boys aren't doing well in that camp, and it would have been far worse for Emmie. She doesn't deserve that."
    "Nobody does," Egilhard agreed. 
    Emmie had been enjoying listening to the conversation until that subject came up. The kidnappings, bandits, and how Egilhard had known she needed rescuing hadn't come up while they were gathering her things. What she'd escaped was something she was trying not to think about right now. Fortunately the conversation moved to other topics quickly.
    "This Herve was a noble?"
    "Yes. I found his ring, which has the diamond background of Terfarine nobility. I don't need to tell you the kind of danger being connected to his death puts Emmie in."
    "No, you don't," Lorin sighed.
    "I told the caravan master what I'd overheard, and he's already agreed to let her join us. She can travel with us as far as she likes, and leave whenever she wants." He pulled out one of the bandit's money pouches, and handed it to Lorin. Her eyes widened as she opened it and looked inside. "I took that from one of the bandits. Use it to help the other orphan children." 
    Lorin nodded solemnly, and closed the pouch. 
    "Emmie, it's time we get back to the wagons," Egilhard said, stepping toward the door. 
    She nodded and rose. 
    "One more thing," Egilhard said to Lorin as he stood in the doorway, "Dwarven caravans take this road fairly regularly. If someone comes seeking revenge for this noble, send a message with one of the dwarven caravan guards. Tell them my surname is Forstmann, I'm a guard for the dwarven caravans, and I live in Stonehall Creek. They'll know where to find me."
    "I'll do that," she promised. "If it's safe, send me word when Emmie is settled somewhere else. It would be nice to know that she's alright." Egilhard nodded, and with that the two travelers marched off into the gathering light.

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© 2019 by Stephen Schamber