Militant Monks

Chapter 22: Infultraiting the Enemy

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here

“Do you have a plan somewhere in this mess?” Iain asked some time later. He sat on the edge of the bed with his back to Ailbhe. “Or are we just winging it again.”

“I had a plan,” she said. “Emphasis on had. That was before there was a crazy mob looking for me.”

“Somehow I’m pretty sure the mob is your fault,” the ‘serk said.

“I am in no way responsible for their crazy,” she replied.

“True. But it’s not like you did anything to discourage it either.” He gave her a look.

“Sometimes you just have to roll with it and do what seems funniest,” she paused. “By the way, that is how I am still a paladin.”

Iain gave her a look. “That makes me wonder how your god can have holy powers.”

“Kaggen is mostly a good guy,” she explained. “He just gets a little carried away sometimes.”

The berserker shook his head. “Right. So what’s the plan, Ms. Mostly Holy?”

“Well, we’ve got an invite,” she said. “Why don’t we go use it?”

Iain shook his head. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

“I’m not leaving him,” she said. “For one thing, he knows too much.”

As she spoke, Ailbhe went to the door and peaked out. None of the villagers were lurking in the hallway, so she snuck across the hall into Seamus’s room. Iain followed.

“We’re climbing out a window? We haven’t done this in a while,” the ‘serk said as Ailbhe pulled herself out onto the window ledge.

“We’ve never had to do it because of a mob that thinks I’m a saint,” she said.

“Isn’t that the truth,” he muttered.

Ignoring him, the paladin grasped a fortunately place trellis and climbed down. Iain followed close behind. He was halfway down when a shout came from the front of the inn. One of the villagers had spotted them.

“Jump,” Ailbhe hissed. She regretted it almost immediately when the ‘serk landed on her.

The two of them scrambled to their feet and hurried out of sight. They were just in time, too, as more people rounded the corner. Seeing no one there, they quickly returned to their vigil at the bottom of the stairs. With the way clear, Ailbhe and Iain moved quickly to where the monks had their camp.

There was a guard at the entrance, a tall man who wore the same tabard as the rest of his fellow fighting monks. He drew himself up as they approached.

“Please state your business,” the monk said. His voice was an unexpectedly pleasant baritone.

“We were proffered hospitality by a member of your order earlier this day. It was our sincere hope that we might commune with your brethren that we might regard them more fully,” Ailbhe said.

“Ah, Lady Paladin, not sure what you just said, but they told me you might come,” the monk said as he stepped aside. “Please feel welcome here.”

The paladin nodded to him, and together with the ‘serk she entered the building that was granted (temporarily) to the monks. It was a large structure, and had probably been someone’s private compound before the flood. If the owners were still around, they were probably staying somewhere else.

“Lady Paladin!” another monk called from one of the doorways. “We are so pleased you could join us. Please, won’t you come in?”

Ailbhe smiled. “Indubitably,” she said. “We are obliged to you for your hospitality.”

“It’s a trap,” Iain muttered beside her.

Still smiling broadly, she replied without looking, “If it is then we will just have to deal with it.”

The ‘serk grunted, but said no more as they walked into the building.

Whatever they had been expecting, this was not it. Town residents sat at tables, being waited upon by the monks. The one who had called to her from the doorway led her and Iain back to a table near the rear wall and left, promising someone would be by shortly to take their order.

“I thought this was an order of militant monks,” Iain said quietly.

“It is,” Ailbhe replied. “Or at least it’s supposed to be.”

The ‘serk looked around, skeptical. “Looks like on order of waiters to me.”

“I’d say something about them practicing servitude, but I’m pretty sure they’re just doing it to fool the residents,” the paladin replied. “Or something. Let’s see if their food is any good.”

“What about Seamus?” he asked.

“I’m sure we’ll hear him screaming if he needs us,” she replied. “If he hasn’t blown his cover yet, our showing up won’t help him.”

The two of them ordered dinner, and though Ailbhe felt a little guilty about bailing on Ethel, she was sure the mob keeping vigil outside the inn would be hungry sometime that night and they would eat what the two adventurers hadn’t. Maybe if Ethel was lucky someone would even pay her for her food. They were well into their soup course before Iain spoke again.

“Got another plan yet?” he asked.

“Almost,” she said. “Just give me a few more minutes and I’ll think of something.”

The ‘serk grunted and went back to his food.

After the meat course, Ailbhe sighed. “Alright, I’m going to go find him. With any luck it’ll be before he’s traumatized or harmed.” She pushed back her plate and rose from the table.

“Want me to come with you?” Iain asked, looking up from his own plate. He had a triple helping of everything.

“Nah,” she said. “You’ve still got a lot of eating to do, and one of us needs to stay to make things less suspicious. Besides, I’m sure you’ll hear me yell if I need help. This place isn’t that big.”

Iain gave her a look. “You know, now that you’ve said that you’re going to get in trouble and I won’t be able to hear you.”

“So come and find me in twenty minutes,” she said, shrugging.

“Sure, why not.” He shook his head and went back to his food as Ailbhe headed out.

Before she made her escape, though, she was spotted. “Lady Paladin,” called a monk near the door. “May I ask where you are going?”

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Chapter 21: Who’s Your Daddy…I Mean Deity?

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Iain did have to help Ailbhe back to the inn, though the they both took pains not to be seen, not wanting questions or comments. Thankfully everyone seemed to be too busy either getting food from the monks or trying to repair their homes enough that they would be livable to notice. Only a few people even gave them a second glance. The paladin was starting to think she’d imagined a premonition of dread when she and Iain were suddenly surrounded. It was all she could do to stand on her own as Iain suddenly shied away.

“Please, Lady Paladin, give us your blessings!” One of the people yelled.

Another reached out and grabbed Ailbhe’s wrist. “You must come and heal my son! He is on Death’s door since the flood.”

Other hands grabbed her and tried to pull her into the crowd. Thankfully the berserkers reaction to put an arm around her waist was fast and strong enough to keep her there. One growl from him sent the people scurrying back a few paces. He then picked the paladin up and carried her the rest of the way.

Ethel wasn’t particularly helpful about the whole saint matter when they finally made it back. “The way I figure,” she said after hearing the story. “This is your second miracle.”

“What’re you talking about?” the paladin growled irritably.

“Didn’t y’all feed the masses when there was no food in town?” Ethel asked.

“Right place, right time is all,” she mumbled.

The innkeeper grinned. “Sure, but that’s not how they’ll see it. Means you’ve got one more before your sainthood is official.”

“Not helping,” the paladin mumbled.

Iain tugged at her sleeve and nodded at the stairs.

“Yeah, I’m coming. Ethel, will you wake us up for dinner?” she asked.

“‘Course, dear.”

The two exhausted adventurers plodded up the stairs and collapsed into bed. It seemed like only a few minutes later when there came a tapping at the door.

“Are you all awake in there?” Ethel called.

Ailbhe groaned and rolled to bury her face under either the pillow or Iain, whichever she came across first. Unfortunately for her, the berserker had other plans.

“Come on,” he said, sitting up. “We have to go save the bard.”

She groaned again even as she sat up. “Do we have to?”

“You’re the one that sent him into the monk’s camp.”

“Bunch of lizards,” she muttered under her breath as she pulled on her new armor. “Iain, can you help me with the straps on this? I’m too tired to pull it much tighter.”

Though he gave her an annoyed look, the ‘serk did help pull the straps to the desired tension. When they were finally dressed, the two of them headed downstairs. Waiting for them at the bottom was a none too pleased Ethel.

“I just wanted to warn you before you went out there,” she said, crossing her arms over her chest.

“Warn us about what?” the paladin asked as her companion pushed the door open.

There were at least fifty people in the dinning room. They were bunched together in groups of six or seven, and as one they turned to swarm the paladin making her way down the stairs.

“What’s going on here?” The paladin ask.

One hundred eyes stared back at her. “Saint Ailbhe, we’ve come for guidance,” said the leather worker’s wife.

“I thought he said she wouldn’t influence a lot of people,” the ‘serk muttered.

She gave him an elbow to the ribs. “Look, I’m not a saint.”

“But we have seen two miracle just since you came,” the lady said. “Surely there has been another miracle in your lifetime.”

“Yeah, it’s a miracle she’s still a paladin,” Iain muttered.

Ailbhe elbowed him again, but it was too late.

“The berserker says there is another miracle!” The lady cried.

“That’s not what he meant,” the paladin said, but no one was listening.

“A saint!”

“Saint Ailbhe!”

“What is her deity? I will convert my whole family!”

“We love you, Saint Ailbhe!”

“Have you cross classed into cleric? Can you raise the dead?”

“Can you heal my rash?”

The crowd pressed forward, forcing the paladin and the ‘serk to retreat back towards the stairs.

“Look,” she said as she started up the stairs backwards. “I want to help you all, and I will, but the miracle I worked earlier really took it out of me and I won’t be able to do another until tomorrow.”

While the crowd expressed general sounds of disappointment, Iain pulled her another few steps up so that they were both on a landing as the crowd pressed through into the stairwell.

“And so I am begging you to be patient,” she said. An idea struck her. “You could always pray to my god to give me more energy for miracles.”

“Tell us who your god is and we will!” on of the people called back.

“I’ll convert!” yelled another.

“Who is it?”

Ailbhe cleared her throat and glanced at Iain before saying, “The one who I serve is known as Keggin.”

There was a moment of confused silence before the people started murmuring among themselves. Iain rolled his eyes and grabbed her and started dragging her around the corner.

“I didn’t know trickster gods had saints,” one of the women said hesitantly.

“He’s not just a trickster!” Ailbhe said, putting on the brakes.

Recognizing her theatrics, Iain grunted, but stopped.

“Koggan is a god of beauty, illusion, good humor, and healing,” she said.

“And snark,” Iain muttered.

For once Ailbhe ignored him. “Though my god may not always do what you would like him to in the way you want him to, he’s not as bad as some people make him out to be. He’s kind of like a godly drinking buddy.”

“That’ll draw all over your face when you get drunk,” Iain said. This time she did elbow him.

There was another long pause before someone shouted, “I still want to convert! I’m going to become a disciple of Kagon!”

In the clamor that followed, Ailbhe got fifteen outright converts right there in the stairwell, ten more that were thinking about it and at least another five that, while they weren’t converting, were at least more positively inclined towards her god than they had been. By the time it was over Iain had to help her back to the room or risk her collapse.

“I thought you said you didn’t have to proselytize,” he said as he tucked her in.

She smirked. “I don’t,” she said. “But that was just way too funny not to.”

Chapter 20: The Questionable Miracle of a Questionable Paladin

New to the story? Need to catch up? Check out the other chapters of Our Party here.

Before they headed into potential enemy territory, Ailbhe decided she needed to make an attempt to look more like a paladin. The chainmail and fancy talking wasn’t cutting it in terms of identification. Iain was against the idea; he thought if they were going to rescue Seamus, they should go ahead and do it.

“There are a couple reasons why we shouldn’t just go barging in,” she said as they walked through the ruined market place. “First, if Seamus has somehow fooled them, we don’t want to give him away.”

“You said they’d know,” Iain said, frowning.

She shook her head. “I said they could tell a lie. If he hasn’t lied, there’s still a chance he might be fooling them.”

“Doubt it.”

“Anyway,” Ailbhe stopped to inspect the front of a ruined shop. “If he has been discovered, we don’t want to rush in too soon and arouse suspicion.”

Iain grunted. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, I need armor and you need a little more recovery time,” she said.

The paladin stopped in front of a stall that had once belonged to a leather worker. The sign above the ruined armor read ‘Voted Best Armor in the Tri-Village Area’. The pieces visible weren’t so much on display as they were heaped together in one place. As they stood there, a man came out of the back.

“Go away, I ain’t got nothing left to sell. Was all ruined in the flood.”

“Good sir, I am distressed to hear of your sad misfortune. Might I offer my assistance in expediting your economic recovery?” Ailbhe said.

The leather worker glanced at Iain. “The hell she say?”

Unfortunately, the ‘serk still wasn’t up for translating. He grunted and shrugged.

“Look,” she said, dropping the act. “Your stuff is ruined. I need new armor. If I fix, would you give me a set?”

The man made a face and shook his head. “The armor’s ruined, lady. You can’t fix ruined leather.”

“And if I can?” she asked.

“Then you can have whatever the hell you want,” he said.

Ailbhe grinned. “Great.”

With the leather watching, she laid out the armor.

“What’re you doing?” the ‘serk mumbled next to her.

“Picking what set I want,” she replied. “And laying these out so I can fix them.”

“How are you going too do it?” he asked.

“Magic,” she said.

She took a deep breath and let it out again before holding her hands over the spread of leather. Golden light flowed from her fingertips and over the shrunken hide, filling in the crevices and expanding it. Several pieces oozed dark water as they reshaped themselves back into armor. After several minutes the light faded, leaving behind several well-made sets of armor. Ailbhe sat down with a thud and Iain moved to help her. She waved him off.

“You will have to re-stain the leather,” she said. “But I believe I have saved your armor.”

“Damn, I didn’t think it was possible,” the leather worker said. “Go ahead and pick you out a set.”

The exhausted paladin nodded but made no move to stand. Recognizing her inability to rise under her own power as well as her wish to appear in control, Iain did the only thing he could. He grabbed the closest piece of armor and held it up. Before he could ask her if that was the one she wanted, a woman came out of the back of the stall and shrieked. Iain dropped the armor he was holding and dove for Ailbhe, pulling her to her feet. She stopped him before he could pick her up and run, though.

“Stop, its okay,” she murmured. “Listen to what she’s saying.”

Indeed, though she sounded upset, she was actually yelling that someone had performed impossible magic. Several of the neighboring merchants were watching her carry on with mild curiosity.

“Wife, will you calm yourself?” the leather worker asked. “This paladin restored the armor-”

“Paladin! Then it is a miracle!” The woman launched herself at Ailbhe and would have bowled her over if not for Iain putting out a hand to steady her.

“Listen, lady,” the paladin said, “All I did was cast a healing spell-”

The woman clasped Ailbhe’s hands in her own. “You are too modest, my lady saint. With your intervention, my husband and I will be provided for; you have delivered us from our direst hour of need!”

Ailbhe looked at her, no emotion showing on her face. “I’m a paladin, not a saint.”

“You are still too modest. I must go and tell my friends what you have done!” She chirped before flitting off.

“Wait! I’m not a saint!” Ailbhe called after her, but it was too late. The woman was gone.

“Hey look, don’t worry about it,” the leather worker said. “My wife’s not all there sometimes. I have to say, though, that was a pretty neat trick. How did you know a healing spell would work on leather?”

“Leather’s just another form of skin,” she said. “I just assumed it would work the same.”

Iain facepalmed

The leather worker frowned and said. “That’s not – you know what, never mind. It worked so I’m not going to complain.”

“You really should know better,” Ailbhe said. “Anyway, I’d like this set of armor,” she said, motioning to a set that vaguely resembled her old metal armor.

“Of course,” the leather worker said. “Do you want me to package it up for you?”

Ailbhe shook her head. “I’d rather wear it out of here. I feel naked without my armor.”

A few minutes later she was ready to go. It was also more apparent she was a paladin in her gold edged leather armor. Her ‘serky friend offered her an arm to lean on as they headed back to Ethel’s place to regroup.

“How come the gold and dye stayed on this one?” Iain asked. “Didn’t on others.”

“Because this is the set I wanted,” Ailbhe said. “Took a lot more energy to keep it on than it did to let it melt away like it did on the rest of them.”

“Gods, how you still paladin?”

Chapter 19: Monks in a Brothel

New to the story? Need to catch up? Catch up here: Chapters of Our Party

“Isn’t that his costume for Hrede?” Iain asked as he peered out from between the legs of a tall, almost nude, mostly broken statue of a woman that adorned the top of the old brothel.

“His flamboyantly gay character that he accidentally gave a girl’s name?” Ailbhe asked.

“That’s the one,” he said.

The paladin groaned. “Tell me he’s not going in as one of his own characters?”

“I think he is. If it makes you feel any better, Hrede is actually one of his better characters.” The ‘serk rolled onto his side to look at her.

“I don’t care if he could fool Richard Simmons, it’s not going to work. Clerics can spot a lie,” she said.

“Wait, Richard who?”

“Never mind. The point is we need to decide right now is we’re going to go save him or pretend like we don’t know him,” she said. She hadn’t taken her eyes off of the door Seamus had disappeared into, though there had been no sign of him since.

Iain flipped onto his back, presumably to look at the sky. He found himself face to face with a very different sight. “Oh gods, they made this thing anatomically correct. Why would they do that?!”

“Some people have a fetish.” Ailbhe shrugged.

“I can see what STD’s she has…”

The paladin frowned. “Wait, how do you know what STDs look like on a girl?”

“Ciardhe,” he said without turning.

“Ooooh, I am SO sorry,” she said. “Maybe we should change the subject.”

“Can’t look away…” he said in a strangled voice. “Want to, but can’t.” His hands slowly started moving towards his face.

That’s when she realized he was serious. Before he could do anything rash, Ailbhe grabbed him by the belt and yanked him out from under the statue. When the crazed look in his eyes didn’t immediately die, she sat on his stomach and pinned his arms above his head. For a moment it seemed he didn’t recognize her. All he saw were boobs. The berserker transformation started to take hold, his eyes reddened and there was a warning crackle from his bones.

“Iain!” Ailbhe shrieked, forgetting she was supposed to be quiet.

The panic in her voice touched the last of his sanity and he blinked at her. “Ailbhe?” he said slowly.

“Thank god. Yes, it’s me. Look at my face and focus on what I am saying. We need to go save Seamus, so you are not going to ‘serk out and you are certainly not going to pull a Fandango. Is that clear?”

He snarled at her. Just as she started to consider letting go he struck. She was on her back before she knew what had happened, one of his hands closed tightly around her throat. Wide eyed, she watched as he leaned down.

“Don’t do that again,” he growled. Then he was off of her.

For several long moments, all she could do was lay there and cough. Eventually she rolled onto her side and willed herself to breathe normally.

Iain nudged her back. “Okay?”

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak before she cast a healing spell on herself. A laying on hands spell made it significantly easier to breathe. Iain pulled her to her feet and steadied her before she even thought about asking for a hand up.

“Sorry,” she mumbled. “Was just trying to help.”

He grunted and pulled her towards the trap door that led down into one of the brothel’s back rooms. He jumped through the opening, ignoring the mostly rotten ladder and turned back to help the paladin down the same way. Luckily the place didn’t have high ceilings. Once Ailbhe was down, he pulled her towards one of the rooms.

“What are you doing?” she hissed. “We need to get out of here and save Seamus.”

“Lie down,” he replied, moving her toward a bed.

“I’m fine, Iain,” she said, trying to pull away. He had an irony grip on her, though. “I healed myself. I don’t need to lie down, I promise.”

He shoved her down onto the bed and climbed in on top of her, arranging them into a somewhat compromising position.

“Iain, what are you doing?” she asked as he leaned down.

“Quiet,” he growled.

She was. For several moments all was quiet except their breathing, then the door slammed open and monks poured into the room. More would have pressed in except those in the lead came to a sudden, horrified stop.

“Lady Paladin, are you alright?” the monk in charge asked, his hand moving to the sword at his side.

So that was his game. Ailbhe put her arms around her berserker protectively. “Thank you for your concern, but everything is fine. Poor Iain gets like this when he’s coming down off a berserkgang. He got all worked up when he saw a child strike a cat. I just barely managed to drag him in here before he went off.” She felt Iain stiffen against her with her story of the cat and tightened her hold on him.

The monks were nodding, though, as if they were wise to the ways of cuddly ‘serks. Their leader motioned for them to go, as they were filing out, he turned back to look at Ailbhe and Iain again. “We will leave you, then, so your companion might recover. If you are ever in need of anything, Lady Paladin, please let us know; we are here to serve.” With that he turned to follow his men out the door.

They listened to the monks leave the brothel. They were quiet several minutes more before Ailbhe final spoke. “You can get off me, now.”

Iain rolled to the side, but kept an arm around her, presumably in case anyone decided to come check on them again.

“And just so I’m clear about this, are you or are you not recovering from a mini-berserkgang?” she asked.

“No,” he said, then paused. “Maybe little bit?”

“But still functional enough to talk. Mostly.”

He grunted and rolled away from her.

Now free, she sat up. “I just thought of something. We have an open invitation into the monk’s camp. I just have to think of a suitable excuse.” She glanced at the ‘serk beside her. “If you think you’re up for it.”

Chapter 18: Enter the Monks

New to the story? Need to catch up? Catch up here: Chapters of Our Party

More than one hundred monks stood in the village square; all of them wore tabards emblazoned with a red sword across the front. The three party members weren’t the only ones in town who thought coming out to see what was going to happen would be better than just waiting around. As they watched, one of the monks stepped forward. He was a thin and amazingly reptilian looking fellow.

“People of this village,” the man intoned. “We have come in your time of need to give you aid.” He paused, as if expecting applause or cheering. When there was none, he cleared his throat and continued. “We do not ask for much in return. We wish for a bit of land on which we might build a new home for ourselves.”

Ailbhe swore under her breath.

“What is it?” Iain whispered.

She shook her head. “Gonna have to stop them.”

“Why?”

“In my rules as a paladin. I don’t have to proselytize, but I do have to stop another religion from spreading into an area of potential worshipers,” she murmured.

“And here I was thought you didn’t have any rules,” the berserker muttered. “Better think of something fast before the town leaders agree to the request.”

Grimfaced, the paladin stepped forward. “Good monk, what misfortune has befallen you and your fellows that you are force to seek refuge in a beleaguered village such as this?”

The reptilian man blinked at her. “Ah, my apologies paladin. I did not realize there was the influence of another god in this area.”

“In most cases the influence of gods is immaterial in influences of man. I ask again: what brings you here?”

A murmur rippled through the crowd as they finally understood what she was asking. The reptilian man paled but recovered quickly.

“We heard of the village’s plight and came to offer assistance,” he said, waving his arm in a grand fashion.

“People usually offer help with no strings attached,” Seamus said, a frown creasing his brow.

The lizardy monk shrugged. “It is the villager’s choice. They can take it or leave it, though I suggest they take it.”

He stared at the man that seemed to have taken over in some kind of a leadership role if only because everyone else was looking at him. The poor fellow shuffled his feet and tried to look somewhere else. When that didn’t work he cleared his throat.

“Uh, can we think about it for a bit?”

A muscle in the monk’s face twitched. “Of course,” he said. “But don’t take too long there are plenty of other areas that could use our help.”

There was more muttering from the village peoples. “You won’t be wanting our food, will you? We don’t have much of it left.”

“Of course not,” the reptilian man purred. “We’re here to give, not take.”

“What are we waiting for?” someone in the crowd asked.

“We’re waiting to see if these are the kind of people we want to have hanging around indefinitely,” the defacto town leader said.

“Why not give them a trial run?” Seamus asked. Ailbhe elbowed him in the ribs.

“Knock it off,” she hissed. It was too late, though. There were many villagers nodding their heads. The monks looked pleased. The ‘leader’ nodded and murmured something non-committal that the lizardy monk took as a yes.

“Splendid,” he hissed. “We will set up camp here and start preparing something for everyone to eat. Please, returns to your homes and get anyone left behind. We won’t have anyone going hungry tonight!”

The party left the square and headed back to the inn. Iain shot a worried glance at the paladin as they sat down at one of the tables.

“You going to be okay?” he asked.

Ailbhe shook her head. “Not unless we stop these monks.”

“But they’re trying help, aren’t they?” Seamus asked.

“No, they’re up to something,” the paladin said. “And were going to find out what it is. We just need to get someone on the inside.”

Iain made a face. “How? Seduce them?”

“Sure,” Ailbhe said. “Can’t be me, though.”

“Why not?” the bard asked.

“For one, my paladin status is already in jeopardy. It’s best if I don’t push things too far right now. For another, I’m pretty sure that head lizard isn’t interested in women.”

Iain grunted. “Can’t be me; I’d kill him.”

The two of the, looked at the bard, smirking. It took a moment for him to realize what they were thinking.

“Why are you looking at me like that? No, no, no, no, no. I won’t, I refuse,” he said, backing away from the other party members.

“You have to,” Ailbhe said. “I’ll lose everything if you don’t.”

Iain made a face, but Seamus seemed moved by what she was saying. “Okay, Ailbhe. I don’t want to, but I’ll do it for you.”

The paladin grinned at him. “I knew I could count on you. Now go upstairs and get ready; you’ll need to put on your nicest clothes.”

Nodding, the bard got up from the table. The ‘serk and the paladin watched him go. When the bard was out of earshot, Iain turned to Ailbhe. “I could have sworn he was gay. He stares at muscular guys with me.”

“Bi,” she said. “But hasn’t realized it.”

He shrugged and looked around the empty inn. “So what do we do now? Wait?”

“Actually, I was thinking of finding a nice look out point and watching,” she said.

“Where did you have in mind?”

The two of them ended up on the roof of an old, now mostly abandoned brothel, Madam Heart’s House of Tarts. They chose the space partly because of it’s proximity to the monks set up and partly because of it’s unique architectural features that made it possible to both spy on those below and escape down the back if necessary. They sat for a while before Seamus appeared. The bard wore what had to be his most flamboyant (and ugliest) outfit.

Ailbhe covered her face with her hands. “Oh god, I’m doomed.”

Chapter 17: Soothsayers are Dicks

New to the story? Need to catch up? Catch up here: Chapters of Our Party

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?”