The wheels of Adrik Thornmallet's cart creaked rhythmically as they rolled across the main trade road of the midwestern stretch of Ghest. The dwarf and his companions had beentraveling for the past two weeks, and the weather on the road had been temperate enough for the four days since leaving the small town of Troutford that the group had pushed forward relentlessly, stopping only to make camp for the night. The four were exhausted and road-weary, but were anxious enough to reach their destination that they were willing to ignore their fatigue.
Sitting next to Adrik was O'doc Overhill. The halfling smuggler was talking easily with the dwarf, helping to keep morale high, and taking the reins on the cart when Adrik began to tire. O'doc was such a picture of composure that no one was able to notice that he hid an intense worry in his eyes, or that he would look back over his shoulder every so often, certain that they had not seen the last of Lannister Ravenclaw.
In back of the cart lay the halfling's partner, the half-elf Erasmus Stonehand. The bard offered to watch the rear of the cart for trouble, but in his typical nonchalance Erasmus was content to fiddle away on his mandolin, only occasionally glancing outward to the road behind them. More often than not, Erasmus was satisfied with whatever jobs could most easily line his purse, and he and O'doc's time recently spent in Hallowspire certainly did so, albeit through different means than the pair expected. His current trek on the road now, however, had no foreseeable monetary gains attached to it. The bard began to nod off as he
contemplated his true reasoning behind going on the journey to the easternmost point of Ghest, when he was startled into full alertness by the end of a small, ornate club nudging him.
The club was held by Enna Summerlark, who looked at Erasmus incredulously and nodded toward the road behind them, indicating that she had been aware of the half-elf's lack of diligence in his task. Erasmus shot the elf a dirty look and proceeded to sit up straight, so as to remain alert. Enna smirked, shook her head, and returned to the large leather-bound book she had been reading for the better part of the day. For Enna, each day on the road had been another day spent reading. Her knowledge of elvish had improved noticeably as a result of this, and by consequence so had her knowledge of arcana. The elf was slightly disheartened, however, for in spite of having spent the better part of three weeks reading through the numerous texts left to her by the former Archmage Varis, she was unable to find any real, concrete information about the Fae Realm, 'the Kingdom of Wood,' as Varis had called it. Enna's human parents had told her all they could about her birth mother, which was next to nothing, and Enna knew the only way she would get any real answers about her biological parents, or her elven heritage in general, would be to find out more about the Fae Realm. The only problem was, as Varis had shown she and Erasmus back in Rheth, the elves were fiercely protective, and kept almost all knowledge of their people closely guarded. Enna was an elf, yes, but she was an elf raised by humans, and traveling with a dwarf, a halfling, and a half-elf. Her mind tried to think of reasons why any elf would trust her with the secrets of their people, but she was unable to think of a single one.
Enna was shaken from her thoughts as she heard the bray of Adrik's mules and felt the cart come to a stop. Both she and Erasmus looked at one another concernedly, and stepped out the small doors on either side of the cart to investigate. The cart had stopped at a more heavily wooded stretch of the trade road. The canopy of trees, largely bare due to the encroaching winter, cast a latticed shadow across the ground. O'doc sat holding the mules' reins as Adrik crouched down several feet ahead, his hand and eyes to the ground. Enna went to call out to the dwarf, but Erasmus raised a hand to silence her. He walked quietly toward Adrik, beckoning Enna to follow.
"Bandits?" the half-elf whispered to his dwarven companion as he crept closer.
Adrik shook his head. "Would that we should be so lucky," he whispered back. "Observe the miniscule size of these footprints."
Erasmus leaned over Adrik's shoulder and, upon observing the small, crude bootprints, let out an exasperated sigh. "Wonderful," he said. "Goblins."
"Goblins?!" It was everything Enna could do not to cry out. She heard tales of the creatures from merchants who would come through Hallowspire. Vicious, animalistic things that swarmed caravans like locusts, savagely rending beast and man alike, leaving any who survived their attacks horribly diseased.
"More than likely making camp in the woods, hoping to relieve passing merchants of their coin," Adrik responded, the irritated tone of his voice matching that of Erasmus'.
Neither Erasmus nor Adrik seemed to notice Enna standing behind them, her face a portrait of panicked disbelief. The four of them were on the brink of being senselessly eviscerated, and Erasmus and Adrik were crouched down looking at the dirt. "Excuse me," she said, leaning down between the two. "Should we not be trying to get out of here as quickly and quietly as possible, instead of waiting around for goblins to come and rip us to pieces?"
Erasmus looked up at Enna, eyebrow raised, and then back to Adrik, who tried not to chuckle, for fear of embarrassing the young elf. "Milady Enna," the dwarf said, standing up, "I had forgotten that you've not been outside Hallowspire's closely-guarded borders before. I am at a loss to even conceive of what manner of wild stories you've been told of goblins." He placed his hand on Enna's arm comfortingly, "but rest assured, to a quick-witted, well-armed group of travelers such as ourselves, they are little more than foul little nuisances."
Enna relaxed a little, and smiled at the dwarf. Adrik was infinitely more well-traveled than Enna, and she took comfort in his words. The comfort was short lived, however, as the relative silence of the woods was broken by the distinct metallic clang of blades meeting nearby. Enna, Erasmus, and Adrik wheeled around at the noise, which came from the direction of the cart, and ran towards it, weapons in hand.
As the three neared the cart, the source of the noise was made apparent. O'doc, daggers in either hand, was in the midst of fighting off two small, gaunt humanoids with leathery, yellow-orange skin, the hue of which was not dissimilar to the autumn foliage. Each of the goblins held short swords that showed evidence of overuse and under-maintenance, and both were brandishing their notched, rusty weapons at the halfling as they flanked him.
Adrik began to move to the halfling's aid, but Erasmus put a hand to the dwarf's chest. "Don't worry," he said, his eyes affixed to the standoff. "He knows what he's doing."
Both goblins darted toward O'doc from opposite ends, screeching as they raised their swords. O'doc, moving in a way that bordered on instinct, flicked his wrist and sent one of his daggers spinning through the air briefly, finding purchase just below one of the goblins' collarbone. The goblin yelped in pain and fell to its knees, dropping its weapon and grasping at the embedded blade. The sight shocked the second goblin, keeping its attention long enough for it to drop its guard, giving O'doc just enough opportunity to charge, knock it into the ground, and bury his second dagger into its chest. The goblin underneath O'doc struggled briefly before it went limp, and when the halfling was sure it was dead, he removed his dagger and turned around to the first goblin, who was now beginning to stand, albeit with one arm clearly lame from the initial dagger wound. O'doc ran toward the goblin, maneuvering easily around its wild one-armed swing, and driving his dagger deep into its back, causing it to gasp and sputter before it, too, went limp.
The halfling's companions walked toward the scene as he methodically removed his blades from the fallen goblin and cleaned them off with a handkerchief. "That took longer than I expected," Erasmus commented.
"I was aiming for this one's neck, and I missed," Od'oc added belatedly. "Suppose I'm out of practice with my throwing."
"Might there be more of these creatures lurking about?" Adrik asked.
"It's not often goblins travel in pairs." O'doc said, daggers now sheathed as he began to walk back toward the wagon. "I'm sure no one's opposed to passing back into open farmland as quickly as possible." He stopped beside Enna, looking up to see her staring agape at him.
"You just... killed them." she stammered.
"I did, and if I hadn't then they'd have done the same to us," he replied matter-of-
factly. "You're lucky that you've seen little yet in life, Enna. You aren't yet bitter. Know this, though, the road can be a dangerous place, and you need to be alright with spilling some blood, because sometimes you'll have to make sure that blood isn't yours."
The companions regrouped and set back out, with Adrik opting to take a fork in the road. Although this added extra time to their travels, it put the cart back out into the open, away from the possibility of further goblin attacks. The four were tense for some time thereafter, even with Erasmus shedding his usual relaxed demeanor as he kept watch of the cart's rear.
Enna spent the better part of the rest of the day's travel deep in thought. O'doc's words had struck her in a very real way. She had, at first, wanted to argue with what the halfling had said, but realized quickly that he was right. He, Erasmus, and Adrik were infinitely more well- versed in the ways of the road than she was, and seemed much more prepared to deal with dangers that, for the first time in Enna's life, were no longer the bedtime stories her father used to tell her. The elf decided that she would not allow herself to be helpless.
Later that day, after the group made camp for the night, Enna walked back to Adrik's cart and found one of Varis' books to read. The book was similar to many of the others: large, leather-bound, and slightly musty smelling. The inside of the book, however, was very different from any of the others Enna had read so far. The pages of this book contained no grand histories, but were instead filled with diagrams, runes, and phrases written in Elvish.
That night, Enna Summerlark sat next to the fire and began to read a book of spells.