—takes place the evening before the party heads out to the Chesterbach Mansion
Making her way back down the stairs after she and her party had retired for the evening, Avienda smiled a greeting to Yerom who was wiping the down the bar and closing things up for the evening. Making her way to him and pulling up a stool, she slid her silver pin across the counter, maintaining contact with it and began hesitantly. “Yerom, I was wondering if you and your wife might have time to speak with me privately about this.” Looking up from the pin and into Yerom’s eyes, “I just don’t feel right about so many things that are happening, and could use your guidance.”
Yerom smiled warmly. “Of course.” He stowed his rag beneath the bar and turned to grab two glasses and a bottle from the collection behind the bar. Setting the glasses down, he poured a generous portion of dwarven whiskey into each. He reflexively looked around the bar to ensure they were alone, then smiled again. “What’s on your mind?”
Greatly appreciating discretion, Avienda took a drink and continued, “well, for starters. When did you join the ranks? Did you and Elocin join together? Why did you even join in the first place? I want to know from someone whose been at this longer than I why it’s important to do what you are doing.” She swirled her drink and laughed quietly. “Loaded questions, I know. But I want to hear your story. I want to hear about how you are making a difference, making things better. Because, more than anything that is what I want to do.”
Avienda made certain to leave the word Harper out of her conversation.
Yerom swirled the bottle around. “My story, eh? We may need more liquor!”
Setting the bottle down, he thought for a moment before beginning to speak. “I grew up poor in a small, nameless village outside of Nashkel. Pretty much everyone there worked in the iron mines, and I was no different for a while. My pa was long dead; it was me, my ma, and two younger sisters. I worked double-shifts to try and keep bread on the table, and my ma and sisters did odd jobs around the village to help out.
“Things were hard, but we got by. Well, mostly. Sometimes when things were particularly tight I’d turn to thieving. Not very often, and I’m not proud of it. I’d usually hit this grocer in the village. I’d either steal some bread, or something small I knew I could turn to cash real fast.
“One night I go in and I’m creeping through his store and there, right in the middle of the floor, is a table with a huge loaf of bread on it. And get this- wrapped up in a red ribbon and bow like a name-day present or something!
“So I’m standing there kind of flummoxed when the grocer steps out of the shadows. He just looks at me for a minute, then says ‘Go ahead. That’s what you came here for, right?’ And I’m just standing there slack-jawed; confused and embarrassed in equal measures.
“Well, he must have been surprised that I didn’t run off right away, and he can see I’m real upset, about to burst into tears if I’m being honest. So he just walks over, tears off a piece of bread for each of us, and hands me one.
“Well, that when the waterworks started. I told him how sorry I was. I told this fella about my ma and sisters, working in the mine, my pa, everything. I must have apologized for stealing from him twenty times over, snot running down my face the whole time…”
Yerom chuckled. “I must have looked a sight, ‘cause this man, Aiden, who didn’t know me from anyone, walks over and gives me a big old bear hug. He had on this green felt vest and smelled like cedar; I’ll never forget it. Of course, when I pulled away there was a big old tear-and-snot stain on that vest, but anyway.
“He tells me to come to him if I’m ever desperate enough to steal again. He tells me to have my ma and sisters come by if they want some honest work for fair pay. He did just enough to help keep us afloat without making it seem like charity, and I’ll never be able to thank him enough.
“I think my ma was kinda sweet on him too, but that never went anywhere. I found out why much later on. Years after, there was some big commotion in Nashkel. Some guild out of Baldur’s Gate was sabotaging the Nashkel mines, trying to raise the price of steel and cause a war or something. I didn’t understand it, and understood even less why Aiden said he had to go there.”
Yerom swirled the last of the liquor in his glass before draining it down. “Turns out he was a Harper the whole time I knew him. He went to Nashkel and never came back. Some friends of his came looking for him after he was gone. They told my ma to keep the store ‘cause that’s what Aiden would have wanted. I told them I wanted to go with them, and learn to be a Harper like Aiden. The rest is history, as they say. I met another Harper-in-training, got smitten, married, and made a father. I ended up here, trying my best to live up to the ideals that were shown to be by a stranger all those years ago.”
“That’s such a touching story Yerom, thank you for sharing it with me,” Avienda smiled graciously. “So, you were a Harper-in-training. When did you know you weren’t in training anymore?” She leaned her head on her hand and sighed. “When Sister Garaele invited me to join the Harpers, I was so thrilled. My father always spoke well of the Harpers.” She chuckled softly as a memory suddenly drifted to her mind, “he always said that Harpers have a knack for turning up at the wrong time, in a place where they’re neither wanted nor expected and plunge into whatever trouble’s afoot.” She smiled wistfully at the thought of her father. “I’ve always thought that we were to live and die to keep the balance. That no kingdom should be allowed to grow too big. Rulers shouldn’t grow so strong that they seek to take knowledge and power from others…” she trailed off looking at Yerom.
“I just don’t feel like I deserve to be a part of this. What your Aiden did,” she paused shaking her head, “that was heroic. The stuff of stories. I, I don’t know,” she struggled with her words, shifting in her stool. “We stole some artifact out of a museum for the Duke of Lastfall. It didn’t feel honorable, it didn’t feel heroic, I don’t feel like my father would be proud of me. I feel like some common mercenary, not the Harper he used to create grand tales about.” She fumbled with her silver pin, “I just don’t know what to do. I was hoping for some words of wisdom.” She smiled up at the barkeep sadly.
“Here’s the funny thing about adventures. Looking back on them, it’s easy for anyone not involved to see them as heroic, grand fights of good versus evil, full of honor and good deeds and all that other horseshit. The reality, as you well know, is that adventures are HARD. They’re full of discomfort and pain and loss, self-doubt and quarrels and any number of other unpleasant things. It’s difficult, what we do. If you’re in it for the glory, you’ll probably be disappointed. If you’re in it to do the right thing and uphold the ideals of the Harpers, it makes all the uncomfortable campsites and self-doubt and battle wounds a bit easier to bear.
“There’s no easy answer here, I’m afraid. Trust in yourself and your companions is the best advice I can give.”
Avienda leaned over her glass and looked at Yerom, “But what are the ideals of the Harpers, Yerom? I feel like maybe that’s why I came to you. Tell me what makes you and I different from every other adventurer out there in the world? I have some vague recollection from Sister Garaele,” she waved her hands around her head indicating a fuzzy memory, “but I don’t know what I’m doing this for! I hear what you are saying, and I don’t think that I am in this for the glory, but I do think that you and I,” she gestured back and forth between the two of them, “have a higher calling. So why? Why wear the pin? Why do you harp?”
Looking down at her empty glass, she smile sheepishly, “this stuff is good, it’s going straight to my head though!”
Yerom considered the question. "Hrmm. Big-picture, the Harpers believe foremost in balance, I think. Our tenants are that no being should feel powerless, yet also that too much power leads to corruption. People should be free to live their lives without fear. The rule of law aids peace and fosters freedom, so long as those laws are just and enforced with empathy and understanding. Common-sense stuff, really.
“Now as it applies to Lastfall, it actually gets simpler. The Zhentarim threaten the city, and the entire region. Under their rule, mining and timbering would increase tenfold, and workers would be made virtual slaves by the mining contracts they’d be forced to sign. The landscape would be decimated; used up just like the people to further the greed of a few. I’ve seen areas where the Zhentarim were allowed to operate unchecked; it was nowhere you’d ever want to be.
“Now this mummery with the statue that’s got you all a-twist, that’s all it is. A show, a political maneuver. Not all fights are fought with rapiers and spells. This stroke weakens the Zhentarim hold on the Thieves’ Guild, and by extension the city. It forces one of the Zhentarim’s own into a position of possibly giving up information. And it keeps what could be a valuable artifact out of their hands to boot. Not bad for a night’s work.
“The Duke, and your Lord Burl, are decent men who try to keep the peace and rule justly. If that ever changes, well, be assured they’ll find their Harper allies not so friendly anymore.”
Relief flooding onto her feature, Avienda smiled and shook her head as Yerom spoke. It was a great comfort to hear him speak out loud the Harper’s ideals and the honesty with which he spoke put her heart at ease. “Yes, I’ve heard that before, somewhere, it’s a song I think,” she started humming than sang out quietly,
Fight not always with blade or spell
The slower ways are surer
Aid freely given, friendship and trust built
These things evil cannot abide
It shrinks away from what it cannot destroy
with fire or blade..
“Thank you Yerom. Thank you very much.”
Avienda basked in the comfortable silence for a few more moments. Rising slowly from her barstool, she wished Yerom a good night and headed back towards the stairs. One foot in front of the other she slowly made her way up. Pausing outside Carric’s door, she thought more on what Yerom had said. About the Harper’s values. How she needed to have more trust in her companions. How she had to embrace them as her crew.
She debated if the euphoria she was feeling was a result of the pleasant conversation, or the dwarven whiskey. Deciding that she didn’t care either way, she knocked on Carric’s door, and whispered loudly, “Carric? Caa-rric?? Are you sleeping? I want to talk to you Carr—icc,” she sing-songed his name as she waited.
After nearly a full minute of singing, Avienda heard grumbling coming from within Carric’s room, and the sound of movement. A moment later, the door swung open and Carric stood there in a nightshirt and an annoyed look. “What… have you been drinking?” He poked his head out the door, looking left and right, then pulled Avi in to the room and closed the door.
Avienda, her face flushed and eyes shining, grinned at Carric, “nice night shirt. It ahh, shows off your legs.” She giggled, “I’m not drunk, I’m just,” she paused thinking, “happy. I need to tell you something important, oh and do you have parchment and a pen? I need to dictate something and you to write it down.” When Carric didn’t move to fetch a writing utensil, she shooed him, “hurry up! Before I forget!”
Carric’s lack of movement spoke volumes.
“Pleas-s-s-s-e Carric! This is important!” Avienda went to cross her arms, but stopped, looking at the sorcerer imploringly.
Carric sighed. “Well… my penmanship is better than yours.” He walked to the desk, sat, and pulled out ink, quill, and paper. “Let me guess. You’ve come up with a new song right?”
She laughed, “no silly!” Folding her hands in front of her she stood near Carric, the faint smell of dwarven whiskey tickled his nose as she began.
“Dear Delwyn, I think you are a very thoughtful and caring dwarf. You try really hard to keep everyone together like a crew should be kept. I also think that you are very hard to understand sometimes and I’m sorry I am always so condescending to you. Wait,” she looked over at Carric, “do you think Delwyn knows what the word condescending means? It is a pretty big word…” she trailed off. "Arghh! I’m being condescending again!’
“Alright, try this one, “Dear Starch, you are excellent with your sword and shield. I’m sorry that I sometimes,” she paused, “scratch that, that I all the time, make fun of you behind your back.
And think that your part time job should be that of a jester. Please forgive me. Ok!” She rubbed her hands together, “I’m on roll, this is getting easier!”
She took a deep breath, stood up straight and continued, “Dear Beau, while you scared the life out of me when you threatened my life, I am sorry that I assumed the worse about you. Maybe you were just adjusting your daggers and not contemplating killing me. I will do my best to think the best of you in the future.” She grinned over at the sorcerer, “are you getting all this Carric?”
“Dear Xiang-Chi,” she tapped her lip thinking, “ummmm…how about this, I’m sorry that I haven’t taken the time to get to know you better. You are obviously an introvert with some major psychological issues. Please forgive me. Phew! This apologizing stuff is hard!!”
She scooted up onto the desk sitting on her hands and looked at Carric. “Dear Carric, I’m sorry I called you Bastion all the time and was so stubborn when you tried to explain or apologize. I’m sorry I’m so bullheaded and un-trusting. I’m sorry I roll my eyes at you all the time, and I’m sorry I’ve been trying to bait you into an argument at every turn. I want to,” she paused to think her words through, “I want to, I don’t know, string up a new sail with our crew.” She shrugged. “Could you help me deliver these letters? Do you think it would help?” She stood up a tad shakily and started moving towards Carric’s door.
Between the speed with which she spoke, and the slight slurring of her words, Carric barely managed to keep up. When she got to “Dear Carric” though, he stopped writing and only listened. When she had finished, he smiled and shook his head. “Avi… there’s no need to apologize to me. I know you don’t really mean anything by those things. I can’t believe you feel it’s necessary. I think kind of see us as being beyond needing apologies. Like family. Now, let’s go deliver these letters.”
Carric carefully folded each one, placed them in envelopes, and wrote the recipient’s name on each.
Each letter contained the following:
“Avi is drunk and a bit weepy, and I’m pretending to transcribe her apology to you. But I’m terrible at it, so please, if you read this in her presence, just nod, smile, and say thank you. Side note: We need to keep her away from Dwarven Whiskey from now on. All the best, Carric.”
Carric gathered up the envelopes and followed Avi out of the room. “Maybe we can just slip these under their doors since it’s so late. No point in disturbing anyone (else’s) rest, right?”
Avienda paused and looked at Carric, “It’s just that, I was talking to Yerom and he reminded me how important it is to trust in my companions. I thought apologizing would be a good way to start.” She shrugged, “ahh, Are you going to um, put some pants on before we go?” She raised an eyebrow grinning.
Carric looked down at his tanned and muscular legs. “Well, I suppose. Gimme a sec.”