Today is of the Cycle Of The Seventh Moon.
Current Season & Month:  , Year: 543 A.R. (ref)

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The Family Secret

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Calen
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Calen and her mother had come to Seven Oaks as quickly as they could walk from their neat cottage near the Dark Forest.   Calen's father, a skilled carpenter, was working on repairs of the inn which had been slightly damaged by a recent storm.   Calen waved at her father as they approached.  He knew it must be something important if his wife and daughter had come all this way on foot to find him in Seven Oaks.  It was a fair distance from home.   He wiped the sweat from his brow as he laid down his hammer and walked toward them.   "My two favorite ladies," he teased as he motioned them over to an outdoor table under the shade of a large oak.  It was away from the work crew and fairly private.  "What brings you here in the middle of the day?  Are the boys alright?"

"Yes, yes, all is well at home." his wife began.   "Calen has something important to tell you.  VERY important."  She had a worried look on her face.

Calen spoke in a hushed voice and began to recount the tale she had told her Mother earlier, of what had happened to her that very morning in the Dark Forest while gathering her usual plants and herbs for the medicines she and her mother, both accomplished herbalists, used for their healing ointments and potions.  Calen spoke softly, and her father leaned in to hear the incredible thing that had occurred.

"Father... I had fallen asleep by the large oak near the river, lulled by the afternoon sun and a full day of gathering."  she began.  "I was awakened by the loud cries of the animals thundering by me, all in abject terror."  Her pale eyes widened as she continued.  "I saw smoke and fire coming toward me... and I started running with the terrified animals, trying to keep up and not be trampled, and I too, was more afraid than I have ever been in my life."   Her voice quivered as she relived the moment.  "And then... it happened."   She looked around and lowered her voice even more. "I... shifted.  I was suddenly ahead of the pack and I realized I had become a... doe!  I plunged into the river and swam easily across to safety with the others.  And as soon as I knew I was safe, and the fear left me, I shifted back! I was me again."  Calen was wide-eyed with the wonder of it.  "Father, I have the family gift.  I never really quite believed the stories of our ancestors, but it happened... and though I don't understand it, I have the gift."   

Calen's mother spoke now in a low urgent voice to her husband.  "We came as quickly as we could to tell you, but I have told Calen she must never ever speak of it to anyone else."   Her husband nodded his head slowly, not quite believing what he was hearing, yet knowing it was true. He spoke softly in a calm voice.  "I will be home as soon as I can.  The work here is nearly finished.  We will plan together our next steps which must be thought out carefully."   The three of them sat for a moment in silence.  Calen could still not believe the family stories were true... but she was the living proof.   She had no idea how or why, after 18 years, this family trait had appeared, but she knew she must learn more about it, and above all, how to control it.

 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Calen's father nodded to his wife and daughter and went back to his work on the inn.  They nodded in understanding, then stood to begin the several hours walk back to their cottage just outside the forest.   They walked in silence for some time, both deep in their thoughts as they grappled with this latest development.   There was much to consider.  

Just before they reached home, mother turned to Calen and touched her arm.  "My daughter, this is a grave responsibility your ancestry has placed on you.  It can be both a gift and a curse.  I am proud of you with or without this ability, but above all I fear for you if it becomes known by those who would exploit you."   

"For now," she continued, "do not tell your brothers.  The two younger ones would find it hard to keep the secret for they are only 7 and 9.  It is quite an extraordinary thing, you know."  She smiled and continued.  "As for your elder brother, I know you are close to him, but he can sometimes be overly protective of you, and might put himself in harm's way.  I can see him being a clucking mother hen, hovering about and inadvertently drawing attention to you without meaning to."

Calen listened solemnly to her mother, and knew she was right, but she had hoped to share this wondrous news with Arcos, her elder by three years, and a close confidant throughout her childhood.  She sighed and nodded to her mother in reluctant agreement.  Father would be home soon; the planning would start in earnest once the others were asleep. 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Just before dark, Calen's father arrived home, greeted his family, and began to wash up for the evening meal his wife and daughter were preparing.   The younger boys were playing just outside on the covered wooden porch, spinning their tops and waiting to be called in.   Arcos, the eldest son, carried in a load of firewood and kindling for the evening.   It was, by all appearances, the usual routine in the household, but for the quiet, introspective mood that seemed to affect everyone, save the youngest boys on the porch laughing and chattering away as usual.  

 
Arcos looked at his pensive father who was knitting his brows and appeared deep in thought.   Mother and sister Calen were unusually quiet as well.  There was usually laughter and good-natured chatter about the day's work, or the latest gossip from Seven Oaks.
 
"How did work go today at the Inn, Father?   Did the storm do much damage to the old roof when it came through last week?"  
 
His father started, as though roused from some reverie.  He quickly put on a smile and began his usual report on his work that day.   "The crew and I finished it up today.  Good as new, it is.   You cannot even tell now where the damage was, though it was not a large hole.  It is still a right sturdy old inn."   He pulled out his pipe and tamped down a bit of his sweet-smelling tobacco, preparing it for his after-dinner smoke.
 
Arcos smiled and relaxed some.  "Mother?  Calen?   And yer day?"   It was the family custom to share the day's happenings with one another.   They had always been a close-knit family.   
 
Mother responded first, with a nod and a smile. "Busy as usual, my son. Old Mrs. Flynn was having a bit of pain in her back and asked for herbs to ease it.  I ground some root of Devil's Claw and added powdered white willow bark.   That should help considerably."  Mother went back to stirring the stew that was nearly ready to serve.  "And yer sister..." Mother glanced at Calen who was composing herself as she placed freshly baked bread on a serving plate, "...spent the day in the forest as she does most days, gathering the plants and roots we most need to keep our stores up."
 
Arcos gave a chuckle, "Ah Calen, I don't know how yew can spend the whole day in the boring forest alone picking and grubbing about, where nothing ever happens.   There is a whole bustling worlde out there to be discovered!  Why, I watched a great ship come into port today at the Harbor! Yew should have been there!!   It was one of the biggest and grandest I've ever seen.  How I would love to sail on such a ship!!   Imagine the places it has been, the strange sights in new lands..."   Arcos was fairly lost in his imagination now.
 
Calen smiled genuinely, "Arcos, you are such a dreamer.  You would likely be sick in a bucket on the first rough sea."   She loved to tease her brother.  But in the back of her mind, she was anxious for nightfall and for her siblings to be sleeping soundly so she and her parents could decide what next to do.

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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(ARCOS - older brother of Calen)

His sister could always make Arcos laugh, and her reference to his propensity for seasickness was no exception tonight.   He let out a full-throated chuckle.   "You may well be right, little sister, but one day soon I shall have my adventure whether by land or by sea.   I am 21 and it is high time I saw something of the world."   

Arcos was the opposite of his sister in appearance.  He had darker hair, eyes, and medium complexion, more like his father than his fairer mother and sister.  He was an accomplished swordsman with both rapier and short sword.   And he carried his childhood slingshot as well, similar to the one he'd made for Calen when they were just children.  He hated to admit that she was a better shot with it than he but took pride in her skill just the same.  Arcos was a bit overprotective of Calen.  He noticed how the young men in town looked at her, and he often gave them a stern glare that caused them to quickly avert their gaze.  

The sun had set by the time the evening meal was finished.   The younger boys were yawning, and Mother was turning down their beds, preparing to tuck them.   

The yawning was contagious, and Arcos pushed away from the table himself, stretching his arms and giving a yawn as well.   He stood to help his sister clear the table before turning in for the night.   Calen smiled and stopped him.  "Not tonight, dear brother, I shall clear the dishes while you wash up and get to bed.   I know you had a long day working on the fences at the Johnstone stead and must return early tomorrow to finish the work."   She shooed him away from the table good-naturedly.  

Her father went out to the porch to smoke his pipe while the house gradually quieted, and the young ones were fast asleep.   Arcos had just blown out his bedside candle and would soon be snoring softly.  Calen and Mother went out to the darkened porch to talk quietly with Father.  It was time to make some difficult decisions. 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Calen and her parents sat on the porch for a long moment in silence, each forming their thoughts before speaking.  The night air was cool and soothing.  Finally, Father spoke first.

"I have been contemplating this... development...", he hesitated momentarily in order to choose his words carefully as he began.  One never knew who or what might be listening.   "I have had all afternoon while working in town to think of nothing else."  He drew on his pipe again before continuing.   "And it seems to me that the first thing we need to determine is the catalyst that caused it, after 18 years of dormancy."   He looked thoughtful for a moment, replaying the earlier conversation in his mind.   "The thing that stands out, was the sudden and intense fear that came over yew, then left yew, just before and just after the..."  he paused, searching for a word that was neutral.  There was no such thing as too much caution.
 
"the Event!"  Calen finished his sentence, following his lead.  "Yes, Father," she continued excitedly.  "I had been thinking along those same lines as well.  I have been very fortunate to have never before known such fear, or this may well have occurred earlier in my life.   But yew and mother have always made me feel loved, safe and unafraid.    And I could not ask for better brothers."   For a moment she thought of Arcos and wished he could be part of this meeting.  It didn't feel right without him.
 
"Yes, daughter."  Father nodded with a smile.  "And I am eternally grateful that yew were able to have a normal childhood, free of worry and fear.  But now, we must concentrate on finding a way for yew to control this ... "  his voice tapered off again, not wanting to put voice to the word.  Caution was key.
 
Mother leaned forward and nodded.  She had been listening carefully, and her own quick mind was already formulating a plan to help Calen control her newly discovered shapeshifting ability.  "I have an idea that I believe just might work."  She smiled at her daughter and patted Calen's hand to reassure her.  "We will figure this out together, I promise.  Try to get some sleep tonight and I will tell you in the morrow, both of yew, after I've thought it through."
 
Somewhere from within the house, a loose floorboard creaked very, very softly.  Too softly for the three on the porch to hear it.
 
 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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It had been a long night for Calen.   Her thoughts kept swirling around in her head, trying to think what Mother's plan might be.   Calen had only drowsed a bit off and on toward dawn.   She heard Arcos rise and prepare for his workday, but Calen stayed quiet in her bed until she heard him leave, not wanting to run into her brother this morning after having the secretive discussion with her parents last night after Arcos had gone to sleep.  She could not remember another time in her life that he'd been excluded from a family meeting to discuss whatever problem had come up.   
 
A small sigh escaped her lips as she arose from her warm bed and dressed for the day.   Calen knew it was best Arcos did not yet know about her new ability until she could control it, but it still felt wrong to leave him out.  He would be hurt when he did learn of it eventually, and perhaps even a bit angry.  His protective nature when it came to his family, especially his only sister, could put him in harm's way.    Calen did not ever want to lose her brother's trust, even though this deceit (and it did feel deceitful) was for his own safety.   It felt as though it was a no-win situation for her.
 
She sighed once more as she finished dressing, then went in search of her parents.  Calen was sure Mother would be awake now, likely having spent a restless night herself.  Father was no doubt with her.   Calen hurried to the herb and potion room at the back of the house, a bright room with plenty of morning sun streaming in most days to help the drying process.   Mother spent much of her time there when home, and it seemed the most likely place to find her.
 
As Calen entered the herb room, she saw she had guessed correctly.   Mother and Father were both there, talking quietly together.   "Good morrow," Calen called to them with a smile, and hurried to join her parents near the storage shelves that lined the back wall; all filled with small, neatly labeled bottles of powders and potions and salves.

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Mother got straight to the crux of it.  "The answer is here right under our noses."  She waved one hand around the room, indicating the many herbs still drying in the sun, then resting her hand on the shelf where the many and varied bottles of finished products were neatly labeled and arranged.   She picked up one and read the lettering aloud.

"Kava".   Then she picked up two more different vials and read them aloud as well, "Lavender. Chamomile."   She pointed to another, "Valerian Root".
 
For just a moment Calen was puzzled, but in a flash, she knew where her mother was going with this.   "Mother, yes!  I understand."   Calen's own impressive knowledge of the plants and herbs made the connection.   "These are all calming potions and powders!   Taken in the proper amounts they will have a calming effect, dampen anxiety, keep fear at bay!!"    
 
"Very good, my daughter.  Yew have learned well." Mother smiled in approval.  "Yew and I shall make small pouches of the finest calming aids, to be carried on your person at all times, worn around your neck on a strong cord and tucked into your bodice out of view."  
 
Father nodded, "Well done, ladies.  This may indeed be a good temporary solution to the problem at hand."   He rubbed his chin in thought, then continued.
 
"But the longer-term answer is to learn more about this ... this talent... Calen has awakened. She must learn to control it on her own in time."  He looked at his daughter.  "The answers you seek may well be in Daelows, the great city of knowledge; libraries, universities, teachers."  He paused for a moment.  "And if the answer is nae' to be found there, then two days journey east of Daelows is the great Wizards' Tower in Trinsic, home of the most learned magickers in the land."
 
Calen's eyes widened. She had never been that far from home, but she did know it was at least twenty days by foot to Daelows, assuming there were no difficulties along the way!    It was both daunting and exciting at the same time!  Her heartbeat quickened just thinking of it.  

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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ARCOS

The Johnstone farm was not far from his own family stead, roughly twenty minutes' walk from home.   Arcos had risen with the sun, quickly ate a bit of leftover stew from last night's dinner, then grabbed a hunk of bread and wedge of cheese from the cupboard and wrapped both in a clean cloth for his midday meal.  He was a hard worker and liked the variety of work that came his way, only turning down jobs that conflicted with prior commitments.   He contributed a good bit of his wages to his family and put aside another bit for the day he would have his own piece of land, and perhaps one day a family of his own.   In short, he was a good son and brother, reared with a work ethic and strong family ties.   His one flaw, however, was his temper when he felt any of his loved ones were in danger or had been besmirched.   Fortunately, those things were not common, and Arcos was well-liked by most in Seven Oaks and the surrounding farmlands. 

 
Since his sister had blossomed into a comely young lass, and was now 18 years, some of the local lads were taking notice of her.   Arcos knew that Calen, with her nose always in a book, or her days spent mostly alone in the edges of the forest gathering herbs, was completely unaware of this development.  She possessed not the foolish vanities like many young girls of her age. 
 
Arcos wanted to tell Calen what scoundrels young men could be, and to be wary of those who would flatter and charm.  But he knew she would only laugh and chide him, telling him he was too suspicious and over-protective.   And there was some truth to that; for just last night Arcos had awakened with a dry throat hours after having gone to bed.   As he made his way softly to the side door to draw a cool drink of well water (not wanting to awaken the others), he thought he heard the low murmur of people talking in hushed voices.  Everyone was usually in bed at that time of night, so he cautiously peeped through the front door crack, his hand reaching for his nearby sword.   To his surprise, there was Father, Mother and Calen, their stools drawn close together on the porch, and in deep conversation.   Their low voices made it near impossible to hear what they were discussing, but he got a sense that it was something of importance and urgency.    He very nearly went out to ask what was afoot, but something about the situation stopped him.   Why had he not been asked to join them, as he always had when important things had come up in the family?   Or was he misunderstanding altogether?  He'd gone to bed early that evening after all, and perhaps they were just sharing the rest of the latest news and speaking softly to avoid interrupting his sleep.  
 
After a long moment, Arcos felt a bit foolish, and turned and walked softly back to his bedroom, though he stepped on one pesky floorboard that gave a soft creak. He froze for a moment, before taking the last several steps to his room and returning to bed.   Perhaps he'd talk to Calen when he got home from his work tomorrow evening, just to see if there was anything of interest he'd missed at dinner.   He was feeling foolish now; after all, the family never excluded him from anything of importance.   

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Calen's head was full of questions about the journey to Daelows and perhaps even beyond the great city.   Her hopes for travel and adventure were on the cusp of coming to pass, and she could barely contain her excitement.    She took several breaths to calm her mind before speaking.   "Mother.  Father.   Yew are both so wise, I am indeed fortunate to have you as parents."   She addressed her Mother first; "The calming potions are an excellent plan, and I will begin crushing and measuring the various herbs and roots to make a variety of strengths in both powder and liquid form, to keep the shapeshifting at bay.   I shall start this very afternoon." 

 
Then she turned to her father.   "And I hardly know what to say, dear Father, about this journey to the Great City of Daelows!   I thought I might never see its wondrous sights, though I've often dreamed of it."   She was smiling now.   "When might we leave?  In two days' time?  Or perhaps tomorrow?"

  
She saw her parents exchange a glance before her father answered.   "Calen, I wish to leave at once, for the sooner we leave, the sooner we have answers.   But I have pressing work responsibilities for the next several months.   I cannot go back on my word.  And we need the wages to buy seed for Spring planting."   He furrowed his brow, trying to find an answer. 

 
Calen's mother stepped forward and patted her daughter's arm.  "My dear child, nor can I accompany yew anytime soon.   I have promised to serve as midwife for two of the ladies in Seven Oaks who are expecting babes in the next few weeks.   Of course, it could be a week, or a month.  The wee babes are often unpredictable in making their entrance into this worlde."  She sighed and continued.   "Yew know I cannot abandon them.  Both are first-time mothers." 

"Well, I can always make the trip alone!"  Calen could hardly believe the words she blurted out.  "I have studied the maps, and I know the way..."  she continued quickly before they found their voices to object.   "...and yew know I am not a foolish, frivolous girl.   I shall use the commonsense yew have both given me.  I know 'tis a long, hard journey, but I am strong!  I can take care of myself, I promise."   She finally took a breath.

She knew their answer before she had finished her plea.    "Oh, my dear daughter," her mother began, "Of course we know you are a level-headed girl, and we trust yew completely.  But this is out of the question.   A girl yer age alone is vulnerable on such a long journey.   There are things and people out there in the greater Worlde who would do yew harm.   I shudder to think." 

   
Calen's father spoke next.  "Calen.   Your mother is right.  'Tis out of the question."  His voice was firm, his mind made up.   He saw his daughter's face fall in disappointment, and he spoke again, a bit more softly.   "Give me a day or two to work it out.   We will come up with a plan."   He smiled now, "Patience, child, have patience."

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Calen pressed her lips together tightly.  She knew better than to ask again.  When her parents said "No", they meant just that, and she knew they would not be swayed on this matter.    Down deep, Calen also knew they were right.   She had heard the stories of travelers waylaid along the Lorimar; most were robbed of their coin and goods, a few fought back and some gravely wounded or worse.  And occasionally someone would be kidnapped, either for ransom (if they were known to have wealth) or some other nefarious purpose.   Of course, a good many traveled safely with little to no trouble, but they were larger groups, well-armed and ready for danger.   A young woman alone would certainly be most vulnerable.

 
Calen sighed and nodded in understanding.   "Yes, I understand.  Patience it shall be."   She tried to act cheerful and brush off her disappointment, giving a weak smile and looking around the herb room.   "In the meantime, I have work to do here."   She started gathering up the ingredients for the calming potions, taking them to the mixing table where the apothecary tools were neatly laid out in a row; weights and scales, mortar and pestle, scraping tools and funnels.   And of course, rows of small variously colored bottles, empty and waiting to be filled.   Calen reached for a plain linen work apron on a nearby hook, quickly slipping it on and tying it about her waist.
 
Father patted Calen's shoulder as he took his leave, and Mother brushed a stray curl back from Calen's face as she left to see Father off for his day's work.  "I shall come back shortly to help you, my child." 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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Calen was hard at work grinding various roots and flowers and leaves into fine powders, carefully measuring as she went.   Usually, she knew precisely what and how much to blend together for common aches and pains, but for this, Calen would have to use different strengths in different combinations, using her knowledge of the herbs and her best guesses.  She'd never made potions for controlling something she knew little to nothing about.   She would start by color-coding; weakest strengths in blue vials, medium in yellow, and the most potent of all would be in red.  
 
Mother returned while Calen was deep in thought and working diligently.   "Let me help, dear."  Mother quickly tied her own linen apron around her waist and reached for the distilling equipment on a high shelf.   "I will begin the process of liquifying some of the plant flesh and berries.  Then we can add the powders in varying combinations."    Mother and daughter worked quietly as each concentrated on their part of the potion making.
 
"Do yew think this will work, Mother?"  Calen asked as they filled the last small bottle with the special potions, being careful not to spill a drop.   
 
Her mother pressed her lips together for a moment before answering.  " 'Tis an unknown.  We've tried nothing like it before." she answered honestly and continued.   "But I know yew and I together are fine herbalists and potion makers, and if anyone can make this work, 'tis the two of us."  She smiled and gave Calen a quick hug.   "I say it will work, because it must."   They both laughed then and began to clean up the worktable.   "And now we really must start dinner.   In an hour or two, we'll have your father and your brother coming through the door, fairly starving."

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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                                                    ARCOS

Arcos had worked up a good thirst as he finished up his work at the neighboring farm.  The day had been unseasonably warm for this time of year, and he mopped his brow with an old kerchief he kept tucked at his waist.    He was close to town, and it was still afternoon.   Plenty of time to see what was going on at the docks, read the local postings on the town square boards, and perhaps even go by the Inn to have a draught of ale with old friends.   It had been awhile since Arcos had caught up with some of his long-time chums.   He was in-between jobs now that he*d completed this one, and he looked forward to a bit of a break before lining up the next.   He walked the several remaining miles into Seven Oaks quickly, whistling a bit as he enjoyed the feel of the sun and a slight breeze blowing off the sea.  

 
He made his first stop at the Docks, hoping to see that magnificent ship he'd told Calen about.   Arcos was disappointed to see it had already left port, no doubt off to another grand adventure.   For just a moment he felt a bit wistful; nothing exciting ever seemed to happen for him.   He shrugged and turned away from the docks and headed to the Town Square and the public boards.   It had been some time since he'd checked the latest goings-on.  The town was busy as always; people buying their goods, vendors hawking their wares, workmen hurrying about.   Everyone had someplace to be and somewhere to go it seemed.   Except me.   The thought came unbidden to Arcos, and he shrugged it off as he focused on reading the recent postings.
 
One bold parchment caught his attention immediately.   The lettering was large and it was dated and tacked into place this very morning.   The bold words read:
 
HIRING WORKERS TO LEAVE TWO DAYS HENCE TO ACCOMPANY PARTY OF TRAVELERS FROM SEVEN OAKS TO DAELOWS. 
 
      Must be strong, in good health, and have one or more of the following skills:
   
                                  ~Able-bodied guardsmen - (furnish yer own weapons of choice)
                                 ~Scout - (if yer a Scout, yew know yer duties)                 
                                  ~Cook - (foodstuffs and large cooking pot furnished)
                                  ~Carpenter - (keep wagons in top condition (tools provided)
                                  ~Healer - (experience with all manner of illness and wounds.)                                                             
 
   Interviews tomorrow at Seven Oaks Inn, starting at first light.  First come, first served.   Good pay if yer qualified.
   Ask fer the Foreman known as OneShot.
 
Arcos was nearly bursting with excitement.  He was sure it was a sign meant just for him, and he meant to be a part of this adventure, no matter what.
He turned and started at a steady trot toward home; the ale with old friends at the Inn now completely forgotten.   His adventure was just around the corner.
 

                                         

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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ARCOS 

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Arcos was filled with growing excitement as he reached home and burst through the door, calling out as he searched for family so he could share his news.  "Father, Mother, Calen!"  he shouted.   "I have wondrous news!"
"We are here, Arcos, in the kitchen fixing supper."  Mother called out.  
 
Arcos practically flew into the kitchen, near breathless now.   "Where is Father?  I want to tell all of you what I learned in town today!  Will Father be here soon, I shall fairly burst if I must wait.!!"
 
Calen was piqued by her brother's excitement and could not imagine what had him in such a state.  "Arcos, what has happened to yew?  Have you met a new fair maiden?  Are yew smitten?   Are yew in love?"  She couldn't help teasing him.   He did have an eye for the young ladies, though he tried to keep it low key and seldom spoke of such things with family.    But Calen had heard the gossip, and knew he was known as a bit of a lady's man.
 
"No, no, noooo!" Arcos shook his head, not in the mood today for teasing banter.   Just then Father strode into the kitchen, drying his hands after washing up at the outside pump.    
 
"What's this?" Father smiled, "Are the womenfolk ganging up on yew, my son?"
He pulled up a chair and sat down, taking in the aroma of something baking in the kitchen cooking hearth.  "Something smells wonderful.  How long 'til supper?"
 
"Father," Arcos began. "I cannot wait until after supper to tell the three of yew the most wondrous news!"   The excitement was contagious. 
"Very well, son.   Tell us now, for yew have surely piqued our curiosity."  Father replied.   Both Mother and Calen joined the two menfolk at the table.
 
Arcos nodded, " I was in Seven Oaks just hours ago, having finished up a bit early at the Johnstone farm. I thought I'd treat myself to an ale with old friends at the pub, but I first went by the public postings in the town square."   He caught his breath and continued.   "And there it was!  A large poster, put up just this morning!    'Twas about a large traveling caravan leaving Seven Oaks in two days' time, for Daelows!   And the best part is that the travelers are looking for experienced help to come along with them; guardsmen, scout, cook, carpenter, healer..."  
 
Calen's eyes widened at the word "healer".   She felt her heart leap within her chest.   She saw the expressions change on her parents' faces as well.  Father leaned in now, more than a little interested.   Mother had stopped stirring the big pot, and was standing very still, her attention fully on Arcos.
 
"Go on," urged Father.   Arcos was glad to oblige.   "The foreman of the journey is interviewing tomorrow at the Inn in Seven Oaks.  I want to be among the first in line at dawn.  I intend to fill that carpenter's position."   He paused to wait for one or both parents to protest.   When he was met with complete silence, he worried they were in shock at the prospect of him going on the long journey, so he plunged ahead hoping to tamp down their objections. "I am between work commitments, having finished up the fencing this very day.  And the poster further says there is good pay for those hired.   And I would be back home in time for Spring planting."    The silence was still deafening.
 
Pressing on, Arcos made his final pitch.  "I am one-and-twenty years now, Father, and it's high time I have seen more of the greater worlde.   Yew yerself had many adventures before yew settled down here, so yew know this to be true.  A young man needs his time to roam.  What better opportunity will come along?   It is a sign, I tell yew!"   He had made his best case, and now held his breath, waiting for the inevitable arguments against it.
 
There was a quick exchange of glances among Father, Mother and Calen.  Arcos thought he saw almost imperceptible nods.  At last Father spoke.  "Yew speak true, son."   He began.   "There is but one condition we must ask of yew."
 
Arcos was near speechless with relief and delight.  He silently congratulated himself; he had argued his case well!   He hastily replied, "Anything Father... aye, to whatever it may be."   Adventure was within sight!
 
There was a slight pause as Father took a deep breath and answered, "Yew must take your sister with yew."
 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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                                                            Arcos

"What? Did I mis-hear what yew just said, Father?"    To say that Arcos was stunned by his father's request, would have been a monumental understatement.  To include his sister on a long and perilous journey to Daelows was completely out of character.  And his mother agreed?   As protective as his parents were of all their children, especially Calen, who was a relatively quiet and serious (and sheltered) girl of barely 18, why would they now want this?

His father answered with the truth... to a point.   "Arcos, I have been thinking of late, that both you and Calen should experience the wonders of Daelows City, and perhaps even Trinsic, the city of most learned wizards.   You have both been hard-working and obedient, and I am proud of yew both."   He looked at his two eldest children, knowing they could be in harm's way on such a journey, but still finding it the best chance for Calen to find the answers to her dilemma.  The need outweighed the risk.

 It would be a large group of travelers with armed guards to protect them at every mile.  And he knew his son would do everything within his power to keep his sister safe.    As a father, he worried about them both, but Arcos could handle himself in a fight.  He was an excellent swordsman, and he was physically strong.   Calen had been sheltered, was quiet and introspective, though smart as a whip and a respected healer already at her young age.   Despite her youth, she likely had a good chance of being hired on as Healer for the caravan, since most Healers in the Seven Oaks area were older women with families, who would not be able to leave their children for such a long period. 

 
"But Father..."  Arcos could not believe such a change of heart from both parents.   Mother had said nothing yet, so Arcos turned to her in askance."Mother?   Yew are well with this?" 

 
Actually, Mother was very worried, but she also knew it was the safest way for Calen to travel to Daelows.   And time was of the essence.   The consequences of an unintentional shapeshift were too grave.  If there were answers to be found for controlling the transformations on her own, they would most likely be found in Daelows and Trinsic. 

"My boy," she answered her son in a soothing voice.  "I know you will look after your sister, as well as yerself.   Yew both deserve some time away, and there is much to see in the two great cities.   And yes, I am well with this."   She gave him a bright smile and hoped it was convincing.   She wondered if perhaps they should share the secret of Calen's new ability with Arcos now.  It might be premature given neither had even interviewed for the positions yet.   Better to wait to see what tomorrow would bring.

Calen was excited to find things had suddenly changed yet again, and she might well be part of a Caravan to the fabled cities to the Northeast of Seven Oaks.   She had already made a good supply of calming potions to keep with her in order to ward off unwanted shifting.   Thank goodness she and Mother had made so many just yesterday!   But Calen was bothered by her brother's reaction to having her along (assuming they both were hired by the caravan foreman).   "Arcos."  she spoke quietly but straight to the point.  "Do ye not want me to come?"    Her eyes had a hurt look, and her voice a faint quiver in it.

It was too much for Arcos to see Calen so vulnerable.   He hadn't meant to hurt her with his response.  "Calen, dear sister, of course I would be happy to travel with yew!  I was certain that Father and Mother would be against the idea for me, and so it had not even remotely occurred to me they would consider you going."  He rose from his chair, and walked to where his sister stood, putting a brotherly arm about her shoulder. 

 "Why, I think 'tis a grand idea.  We shall have a shared adventure, and the time of our lives!  What could be better?"    He felt good when he saw her smile.   Lately it had felt as though they were losing some of their childhood closeness, and this journey could set that right.   They both longed for adventure and travel. And really, how much danger could there be with an armed guard escort?  

Arcos saw the setting sun through the window and realized they would both need to be up before dawn to get to the inn early for the interviews.  "We'd best eat supper, then get some rest tonight, for tomorrow we will need to be in Seven Oaks just after first light."

 

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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       ONESHOT - Dwarven Caravan Foreman

                                                                 

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OneShot had been at the Seven Oaks Inn for two nights before.  He usually traveled to a town to arrange these caravans at least a week ahead of the planned journey, but he and his several trusted men had met some brigands on the road a week out on the Lorimar, and there had been injuries that needed attention after he and his men had dispatched the would-be thieves.  Most were healed by now, but he'd lost several days' travel time getting here.  Now he worried the hiring turnout, in just a few hours, would be relatively sparse, having just posted the hiring requirements the previous day.
 
The caravan needed good people to accompany the merchants and their wares to Daelows, for he was sure there would be trouble waiting somewhere along the way.  Those who hired him for protection had paid a goodly sum in advance for a safe journey, and the sturdy dwarf intended to deliver on that promise, as he always had.   He trusted his instincts as much as anything when taking the measure of those who would sign on.
 
Despite his short stature and graying beard, the grizzled dwarf had a hardened and well-muscled body that signaled danger to anyone foolish enough to take him on.   His leathery skin carried scars from past encounters; some old, some more recent.   He carried a short axe on his belt, a halberd on his back, and a dagger in his boot.   He could use most any weapon at hand if needed; a sharp stick could put out an eye, a hefty rock could render a man unconscious.

 
The hiring process was simple.   He alone would ask the questions and make all hiring decisions.  His men would keep order, and there would be a few benches set up for any womenfolk applying.   They tended to tire more readily standing in a long line than the men, and truth be told, OneShot preferred hiring men for these long journeys; men knew how to take orders, didn't gossip, and were strong enough to be of value during an ambush, as well as a good bar fight.   Although... (he smirked to himself remembering) he once had met a beautiful, savvy, and treacherous female piratess in his early days at sea.   She could fight and slash better than most men and look damned good doing it.  He tried to recall her name, but it escaped him for the moment.   Still, the memory of that sultry figure covered in an undulating dragon tattoo, could still bring a smile to his lips and warmth to his loins.
 
OneShot had been lying on his cot awake for the past couple hours, anxious for sunrise and to begin the selection process.  He was still fully dressed, including his scuffed leather boots.   It would save time at dawn.
OOC:  story continues Seven Oaks Inn, Common Room.

"Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living.” Dr. Seuss.


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