It was a beautiful day on the northward running road out of Neverwinter. Despite the fact they were heading north to the cold ice fields, the midsummer temperature was warm and comforting. Aria wore her feathered bard’s hat to keep the sun out of her sensitive elf eyes, but often looked up to feel the soothing warmth of the mid-morning sun. The road was oddly quiet for such a main path out of the city, and the group rode on in relatively peaceful silence along the glistening sea. Moses and Ivan rode either side of Aria and remained quiet, but Aria could hear hushed whispering behind her between Swagstag and Malifica. She didn’t trust either of them as far as she could throw them, even though she did figure she probably could throw Swagstag quite far. Of course, she wasn’t one to talk. Bards came in one of two varieties- either trustworthy, honest entertainers; or untrustworthy, cunning bastards. Aria liked to think she sat somewhere in between, but of course the others would not know that. She knew they were following her orders for the gold she provided rather than any sense of trust or commitment. Suddenly Aria’s train of thought was abruptly derailed by a shout from the trees to their right.
“What was that?” Moses said, looking into the trees. Aria held up her hand to motion her company to stop. A few moments later, a scared looking man burst out of the forest. He looked rather dishevelled and his eyes grew wide with fear when he sort the mismatched group mounted before him. But his expression quickly turned from fear to relief.
“Oh thank the gods there is someone on this road!” he said, “You must help me!”
Aria looked down at the distraught man suspiciously. Even if she did want to help him, which she didn’t, they did not have time. They had to get to Lorkan as soon as possible if they had any chance of being successful in their heist.
“Help you with what?” Aria asked, making sure her tone did not convey any suggestion that she planned to help him.
“Pirates from the Sea of Swords have besieged my fishing village on the coast ahead and are wreaking havoc. I see you are armed- please, you must help us!”
Aria glanced at her companions, trying to gauge their reactions. She knew Moses would definitely want to help, and she knew that Malifica would probably join in with the pirates. The thief and the ranger were harder to read.
“We don’t have much, but we can pay you what we have.”
The prospect of payment piqued Aria’s attention.
“Alright then. I guess we can see what we can do.”
“Oh thank you kind traveller. Follow me!”
The group moved their horses forward after the estranged man. Swagstag rode up beside Aria,
“It could be a trap you know,” she said. Despite her appearance, Swagstag was quite intelligent, especially when it came to street smarts. She too knew the dangers of compassion.
“If it is, then I think we are well equipped enough to fight off a couple of fisherman.”
“But what if they’re not fisherman.”
“We’ll take our chances. After all, he is offering payment.”
Swagstag smiled, “That he is.”
Like her, Swagstag appreciated the power of money. Moses looked at them in disgust,
“Is that all you two think about? Gold?”
“No, it’s not all I think about. But it’s at least 45 percent,” Aria replied.
“Nope, gold is all I think about,” Swagstag said, “that, and how I’m going to earn it.”
“I would hardly call thieving ‘earning’, halfling,” Moses said righteously. Swagstag grew angry,
“Thieves are just as important as any professional in the world. We keep the economy from growing stagnant- steal from the rich to distribute to the poor and all that,” she said defiantly.
“But the money isn’t yours to take!” Moses replied, holding his ground.
“The way I see it, money belongs to those who are smart enough to acquire it- however that may be. If you don’t look after your gold properly, then you deserve to have it stolen.”
Moses went to argue but Aria held up a hand,
“Enough, you two. I don’t want us arguing over as something trivial as this. Besides, we approach the village.”
As the panicked fisherman had said, they came up on a small village situated down at the bottom of the short cliff. And as the man had said, Aria could see a number of rough looking individuals swaggering about in the small village square.
“I will wait here,” the man said, cowering behind a rock, “You go take care of those ruffians.”
Aria dismounted her horse, and the others followed suit.
“Listen, I’ll try and talk to them first and see if we can get through this without any bloodshed,” Aria said, purposely glancing at Malifica, “But keep your weapons ready. It may come to blows.”
The group proceeded down the winding cliff path to the small village. The small wooden huts were locked tight, and Aria could see the fearful faces of villagers glancing out of their windows at the pirates who had taken over their town. The pirate’s ship was anchored a little ways from the shore, and Aria could see longboats taking loot out of the village to the ship. The man whom Aria deduced as the captain due to his outlandish clothing style and hat, stood at the edge of the dock directing his men. Two pirates flanking him noticed the group approach, and held out their swords threateningly. The captain turned around to examine the newcomers.
“And what do we have ‘ere?” he asked, his accent rough and thick. Aria stepped forward and bowed slightly to the man,
“Just a humble bard and her contingent passing through sir,” she said humbly, “I could not help but notice your presence in this town as I passed through.”
“And what is it to ya? Are you going to tell us you don’t like us in this town?”
“Oh no, captain. In fact, I saw your men here and thought ‘those poor pirates are missing quite the opportunity by wasting time in such a small fry village like this’,”
The captain scratched his tattered beard, “And what do you mean by that?”
“Well, I have come from the north, and only a day ago I passed a pearl fishing village north of here. As you probably realise, pearls fetch a much higher price than fish. It’s a shame you focused your attention here rather than there,”
Ivan looked at Aria, “But Aria, there aren’t any…”
Aria stepped down on Ivan’s foot hard. The elf held back a wince of pain and was thankfully smart enough to realise he should be quiet.
“Pearls, you say?”
“Aye captain. Pearls. And if I do say so myself, a pearling village smells awfully better than a fishing village.”
Aria could see the captain was deep in thought, considering Aria’s information. He went to speak, but sudden there was a burst of flame from one of the nearby houses. They all looked across and saw none other than their resident halfling thief, Swagstag, dragging a sack of gold out of the town hall. Malifica was with her, flames spilling out of her clawed hands.
“What are you doing!” Aria hissed. Swagstag looked to Malifica and then back to Aria,
“I was, uh, checking out the village while you were talking. And there was safe in here with gold, so I got Malifica to blast it open.”
The captain drew his sword, “These scoundrels aren’t simple bards! They’re thieves trying to rob us of our loot! After them!”
“Wait wait wait, no…ah who am I kidding,” Aria said with a shrug. She kneed the captain in the crotch, incapacitating him momentarily,
“Back to the horses! I think we’ve overstayed our welcome!”
The others all nodded in agreement as a large group of pirates brandishing swords ran towards them. They hurried back up the cliff, running as fast as they could. Aria looked back and saw Swagstag was still dragging the sack of gold,
“Leave it!” she said, “It’s the gold or your life. Pick one.”
Reluctantly, Swagstag dropped the sack and hurried after them as fast as her short legs could carry her. They quickly made it back to the horses and were galloping back up along the cliff side moments later. Once they were far enough away, Aria reined her horse and looked back at the village.
“I think we lost them,” Ivan said. Aria glared at Swagstag and Malifica,
“If I ever catch you doing something like that again, you are out of the heist.”
“We just thought…”
“I’m not paying you to think I’m paying you to follow!”
The halfling and the tiefling looked away sheepishly. With a grunt of frustration, Aria turned her horse back towards the path, hoping that they could make it to Lorkan without any more interruptions.