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When they were a couple blocks away from the house, Iain turned in his seat to look at the paladin. “You’ve got a plan, right?” he asked. “She’s still got the map, you know.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “And I do have a plan. We’re going to stay here a few days. Hopefully she’ll come find us and beg to be let back in. If she doesn’t, though, we’ll announce tryouts to get us a new healer. She might get jealous enough to come back then.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” he asked.
She shrugged. “Then we steal it.”
The berserker facepalmed. “Because that won’t effect your paladin status at all.”
“Probably won’t,” she said, grinning. “I’ve done worse.”
“Worse than breaking into someone’s house and stealing a map to a priceless treasure?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“First, it is my map. I’m just taking it back. Second, you know the kinds of things I’ve done. You’ve been there for some of them,” she said.
He snorted as they pulled up to an inn. “And yet again I wonder: how the hell are you still a paladin?”
“I’ll let you ponder that while I get us a room,” Ailbhe said, jumping down.
Leaving Iain to parallel park the carriage, the paladin entered the obviously water damaged establishment and approached a woman who was using a shovel to clean up the debris.
Ailbhe cleared her throat. “Good lady, I come to inquire about lodging at your domicile for myself and my companions.”
The lady stared at her. “Love a..you’re a paladin, ain’t you? Can you please speak normal like? Owner ain’t here no more. Swept away in the flood. An I don’t speak no fancy talk.”
“Right, we want a room for the night,” Ailbhe said.
The woman grunted. “Ain’t got no rooms to let unless you wanna help fix’m up. Got water in all of them.”
“If we help, what’ll the rate be?” Iain asked, looking around.
“Won’t have to pay for nothing but the food,” she said.
“You’ve got yourself a deal,” Ailbhe said, and they all shook hands.
“Grab something to shovel with. By the way, my name is Aethelthryth. You can call me Ethel.”
Removing debris is much easier when you have a berserker to do the hauling. Ethel laid out a blanket and she and Ailbhe loaded it full of refuse for Iain to carry out. Seamus was given a mop and told to clean up the layer of dirt deposited by the flood waters. By the end of the day, the common areas were clean and there were three livable rooms.
“So Ethel will get one room,” the paladin said as they sat around the one salvageable table in the place. “Iain and I will bunk in one, and Seamus, you get a bed tonight.”
“Yes!” the bard leapt from his chair and started dancing.
Ethel raised an eyebrow. “Wouldn’t you rather your own room?”
“I’ve bunked with him so long it might be hard to sleep without him,” Ailbhe said, quirking a smile.
“Whatever you say. Not my paladin status to be worried about. Now what do you all want for dinner?”
“Whatever you have that’s not ruined,” Iain said.
As it turned out, the previous owner had prepared his kitchen better than he had prepared himself. There were sealed metal bins filled with food, fresh water and other goods. In a shed behind the inn were more sealed containers.
“Went to a soothsayer once,” Ethel told them. “And was told to waterproof his belongings. The soothsayer guy said that while he wouldn’t live long enough to use it, someone in the future would be grateful he had.”
“That’s messed up,” the berserker muttered.
“Why didn’t the guy warn the previous owner?” Seamus asked. “He could have saved his life.”
Ailbhe shrugged. “He might not have known. The clairvoyant types usually get their info in bits and pieces and have to puzzle the meaning out.”
“Or maybe he was just a dick,” Iain suggested.
With Iain hauling, they soon had a good portion of the food up at the inn’s kitchen. Finding wood dry enough to use in the stove proved to be a bit of a challenge, but eventually Iain discovered some old furniture stashed up in the attic suitable for the job. Soon after they fired up the kitchen stove and started cooking, the first people arrived, drawn by the smell. And, against her better judgment, Ethel decided to feed them.
That night Iain, Ailbhe, and Seamus all cooked. Ethel would have helped if she hadn’t been too busy serving it up to all the neighbors. It took most of the evening to feed everyone, and by the time they were done, bed was the only thing any of them wanted.
The next morning, the berserker awakened to the sound of a trumpet. He almost didn’t hear the second in his groggy state, but thankfully long years as a fighter had honed his instincts. He knew a call to battle when he heard one.
“Ailbhe.” He nudged the sleeping paladin. “Wake up, Ailbhe.”
A third trumpet sounded and she sat up. “What’s going on?”
“Don’t know, there aren’t any windows,” he said. “I think there was one in Seamus’s room, though.”
They got up and Ailbhe threw on her armor. She was still buckling it as they crossed the hallway. The door creaked as Iain opened it. They both ignored Seamus and his sleep mask in favor of the window.
Out in the street men marched by; on their chests they all wore the same red symbol. They could see every building was shuddered and every door shut.
“Oh good,” Seamus said from behind his party members. “Relief workers. Boy there sure are a lot of them.”
Ailbhe facepalmed. “That’s not the Red Cross, Seamus.”
“It’s not?” he asked, confused.
“There’s a difference between a red cross and a red sword,” Iain said.
“Not that much with these guys,” Ailbhe said. “Militant monks. They might actually be here to help. On the other hand, they could be here to conquer the place while it’s defenseless.”
At least one of the men marching by shuddered under Iain’s spite filled glare. “How do we tell which it is?”
A wagon filled with supplies rolled past. “We won’t know until they stop,” Ailbhe said. She’d just finished buckling her armor on. “My vote is to go out and meet them.”
“Is that safe?” Seamus asked.
“Probably not,” she admitted. “But it’s way better than waiting around. You coming?”