Part 9: The Dead Harpy
As I passed Akil's farm, I came across a lone wolf on the trail. It gave me a bit of trouble but I managed to beat it down and move on.
I'd heard something about bandits when I'd previously visited the farm, leading me to decide against traveling over the bridge. Instead, I passed under it.
For a moment I thought that I had heard wrong and that I had taken the route crawling with bandits. A cart and many goods were sprawled on the ground, with weapons still sticking out of dead men, and blood still fresh. I looted what I could and quickly moved on, wary of any lurking bandits.
There was a man overlooking the wreckage nearby. He didn't seem immediately hostile so I approached him.
"Whats the matter?" I asked.
"What's the matter? Just look at that mess under the bridge over there. I haven't seen anything like it in my entire life. Those swine should be exterminated, I tell you."
"I was traveling with my helpers when those horrible brutes came jumping on my cart from out of the blue and butchered everybody. I',m lucky that I still know how to dish out a decent right hook, or they would have killed me, too "
"That stuff there under the bridge is yours?"
He nodded once. "The cart, the goods, everything."
I awkwardly showed him the things I'd pilfered. "Look, I collected some of your stuff for you..."
"You can keep it. None of it is really of any value to me. The only thing that's irreplaceable are the three stone tablets they stole from me."
"The Water Mage in town wants to buy them from me, and I promised he'd get them. I must have them back at any cost, or my reputation will be tarnished."
This was the first I'd heard about the water mages collecting stone tablets. "What would a Water Mage want with them? He said he was going to study them and asked me to bring him more."
"Where did you get those stone tablets?"
"I found them near old buildings such as mausoleums or sometimes in caves. I've already sold a whole bunch of them to the Water Mages in ton. They're pretty rare down here, though. I found most of them north-east of Khorinis."
"Why don't you simply go looking for new ones?"
"During that melee with the bandits, I sprained my ankle. I can still hobble along, but I don't want to walk very far on this foot."
"Who were those people?" I asked.
"The bandits. Who else? They took over the bridge up there. They rob everybody who tries to pass the bridge. I knew they were lurking p there, so I passed under the bridge instead. But my cart and my goods must have been too tempting for them. Those scumbags simply jumped from the bridge - directly onto my cart. I should have tried to steal past in the night."
"You managed to drive back the bandits?" I said, surprised.
"Yes, but I'm sure they're still up there on the bridge. "
"Can you teach me how to hit hard like that?"
"Of course I can. Help me save my reputation and bring me back my stone tablets. Then I can show you how to make better use of your strength in combat."
There was no way I'd be able to take on a group of bandits in my current state. I was still recovering. I put the information about the stolen tablets in the back of my mind and jogged toward the tavern.
The Dead Harpy was within sight. I happily started to walk inside when I heard a familiar voice.
It was Greg. "Who who just turned up. The farmer boy. You're just in time."
"What do you want from me?" I sighed. "Are you still having problems with the city guards?"
Greg made a threatening gesture. "I'll GIVE you problems, you punk. I'm looking for a fellow. He isn't anywhere to be found in the city, and these losers here don't have a clue either. He's thin, dark-haired, and usually wears red armor. As far as I know, he used to be a prisoner in the colony. I think his name starts with a 'D'."
"Is his name maybe Dexter?"
"It could be that that's his name. I'm not sure. I'll probably only know when I see him."
"Yeah, you big mouth. There is something else. I need weapons. I need provisions. Gold wouldn't be bad either."
"Didn't you find a weapons dealer in the city?"
"You can't be serious! They only have junk."
"Provisions? You're in a tavern."
"The stupid barman won't hand anything over unless you pay him for it. "
I counted out ten coins and gave them to the man in a hope that it'd make him leave me alone. "Here's 10 gold coins."
"You poor sucker", Greg laughed. "You can keep your dough. I have a better idea. There's a cave no far from here! I've been around here before, and I buried my stuff in a few places. The cave is too dangerous for me alone. I want you to help me with it."
I knew where this was going. "Let's visit the cave."
"Come with me."
I followed Greg down the road that led to Onar's farm.
The cave was just off the side of the road a short distance from the tavern.
"All right, friend. Here's the cave." Greg handed a pick axe to me. "And here's a pick for you. I buried the stuff somewhere in there. X marks the spot. What are you waiting for? Go inside and get the stuff."
"What about you, then?"
"Someone has to guard our backs. And now, in you go."
"Who are you, anyway?"
I had a feeling he wouldn't answer, but it was worth a shot. "That's none of your business. If I wanted to tell you who I am, I'd have done it already, got it?"
Greg didn't exactly give me a choice in this. I apprehensively walked inside with my knife ready.
The cave just happened to be full of goblins, including the stronger dark skinned variety. Through careful use of choke points I managed to defeat the lot of them. Though I did retreat back to Greg once or twice.
In the very back of the cave I found the location that Greg told me about. A large red 'X' marked the spot. I took out the pickaxe and begin loosening the soil. A leather satchel of coins became visible a short time later.
I left the cave and found Greg back in his old attire. "What took you so long?" he said. "Found anything yet?"
I tossed the bag of gold to him. "Yes. I dug up a small bag of gold."
"Great. So they're still there. You're not that useless after all. Okay, listen. I've buried even more. And I want you to get it for me. Let's see. There's an islet in the small lake with the two waterfalls. One of my caches should be there. There are two more spots where I buried something further up, in the high pastures. One spot is behind the farm up there, and the other one's next to the entrance to the pass by the waterfalls. There are stairs leading down from the fields of the farmer up there to those of the landowner. There's another cache in the hollow where the stairs end. I'll wait for you at the crossroads by the landowner's fields. Don't fail me. You'd regret that, buster."
Greg walked off to Onar's fields and I took the time to look through the Goblin's things. There was nothing of any real note except for a small statue I'd found.
It was late afternoon by the time I got back to the tavern. I needed information and a room so I struck up a conversation with Orlan, the landlord.
"Who are you?"
"I'm Orlan, the keeper of this modes tavern. What are you looking for, stranger? Maybe a decent sword or a good piece of armor? A good swig from the country stills, or just some information? I can give you all that and more, if your coins ring."
"Do you know that fellow with the eye patch?"
"I've seen him here before. A nasty piece of work. Back then, he moved into one of my upstairs rooms, along with a huge crate. He had to be constantly nagged about paying the rent for his room. And even then, he took his own sweet time about it. Then, one day, he vanished just like that - along with the crate. I don't want anything to do with the likes of him."
"How's it going with your tavern?"
"Times have been better, you know? People's purses aren't as open as they used to be."
I gave Orlan 50 gold for a room key and walked away.
I saw Rukhar, the man that Randolph had told me about. "Is the beer any good here?"
"It's not exactly the best, but in these bleak times you can't be choosy. "
"What are you doing here?" I asked.
"Up until a few weeks ago, I was slaving away on the landowner's fields. One day it just got too much for me, and I took myself out of there straight away. Now I'm my own boss. Everything I own is in this chest here. And that's all I need, too. Interested in a little contest?"
"What kind of contest would that be?" I said, though I already knew the details.
"I call it BOTTOM'S UP" Rukhar said. "The rules are quite simple. We take turns ordering a tankard of the best beer the old geezer has to offer. Every tankard has to be drunk dry, so that it doesn't even leave a ring if you set it on the table upside down. The last man standing wins. The loser pays the tab and a stake. Well? How about it?"
"Maybe some other time, when I'm not in a hurry." I replied. "Could I bet on somebody else, though?"
"Certainly, if you finally manage to find someone with the guts to go up against me, then I'll bet with you. Everybody pays the same amount into a pot. The winner gets everything. The size of the stake depends on your purse." Bring me someone who dares to go up against me and you've got a bet."
I already had someone in mind. "I've got somebody who wants to compete against you."
"Who might that be?" he asked.
"Ho ho. Randolph the braggart? All right. Why not. Send the wimp to me and the deal stands. You can pick him up again no more than 2 days later. Who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky and he'll be able to stand by then. How big is your bet>"
"100" I said, and began counting out the money.
"That's what I like to hear. I'll take your bet and hold it until the contest is over, all right? Don't take too long bringing Randolph here, you here?"
I went upstairs to my room and slept until about midnight. In the middle of the night, I snuck back downstairs and opened Rukhar's chest. Sure enough, I found a bottle of gin inside. I took it and in its place put a bottle of water. That'd show him.
When that was done, I went back to my room and slept until morning.
The following day I ventured back to Akil's farm to tell Randolph the news.
"How much money do you need for the contest?" I asked Randolph.
"10 gold coins" he responded.
"I'll give you the money to compete against Rukhar."
Randolph was excited. "Really? Thank you so much. I'll repay you soon. If I win, I'll even fork out a little more than that. I'll be seeing you!"
Randolph walked toward The Dead Harpy and I idled around the farm for a few hours.
Upon my return to the tavern I found it under guard by Orlan. He didn't look too happy.
"That was a fine mess you got me into. Now I can play lookout for Rukhar again. "
I asked if I could go inside but was turned back. "As long as he;s holding his little contests in there, it's better if no outsider learns about it. It's not good for business, you see?"
The contest would be going on for a while yet, especially with the beers watered down like they are. I took this time to see what I could learn about the Mercenaries.