A Letter for the Lady
Thereca Stalwarth stared in confusion, “I’m sorry, but could you repeat that?”
Coated in dust and exhausted, Roland sighed. He’d been met with similar reactions all across town. “I have a message for Lady Wilhelmina Stalwarth. I was told I could find her here.” He looked up at the arched entrance to the church of Heironeous. It was quite large, but a good portion of it was now obviously unused. Windows were blocked by wooden boards and the grass had grown tall everywhere but a few haphazardly maintained places.
“Oh, yes, but she’s not here at the moment. I’m afraid she and Adam — my brother — went out this morning.” Thereca smiled apologetically, “I could deliver it for you. I’m her cousin.”
“I’m not sure…” Roland began, hesitant to let the letter out of his possession. The messenger had been told it was incredibly important.
Looking past him now, Thereca interrupted, “Oh, nevermind. Here they come now.” The young cleric was grinning and let out a decidedly unladylike snort of amusement. “Looks like those two took a mud bath while they were out.”
True to her description, the two paladins were covered in splotches of dried mud, arguing animatedly. Wilhelmina tried to elbow her much taller companion after he tugged on her dirt caked, bright red hair. Roland could hear Adam’s laughter as he dodged the unexpectedly small paladin’s attempts to get revenge.
“Thereca, is there a reason you left this poor man standing on our doorstep?” Roland spun back around at the new voice. The man looked so much like the one walking towards them, he did a double-take.
Heaving an aggrieved sigh, Thereca answered testily, “Because he wants to talk to Will, Toby.”
“Really? Well, I guess it’s good they’re back… What did you two get in to?! Honestly… I’m not helping you scrub that armor, Adam.” Tobias raised his voice slightly, though it wasn’t necessary anymore since the two arrivals were already walking up the cracked flagstone steps of the church.
Adam stuck out his tongue. “So we go out and slay a bunch of zombies bugging the farmers and this is the welcome… Oh sorry, who’re you… Ouch!” The tall Oeridian rubbed at his side and glared at Wilhelmina who was grinning smugly.
“That’s what you get for being distracted,” she declared triumphantly.
Roland came to the immediate realization that these four had to be family. Though, the fact they all had the same fiery bright hair was a stand out clue. He cleared his throat and attempted to display some decorum as he held out a beautifully appointed letter towards Wilhelmina. “Lady Stalwarth? I have a message for you from his Majesty, King Tristan of Geoff and his Grace, the Canon of Rao.”
The four stared blankly at the messenger.
“Huh,” the diminutive, red-headed paladin replied after a moment. She pulled off her filthy gloves and accepted the missive. “Thank you very much…”
As she read, Adam turned to Roland. “I hope you’ll excuse our informality. We don’t get very many visitors out here, important or otherwise.”
Having ridden through the half abandoned town, the messenger was not surprised to hear this. Many buildings stood empty after almost a decade of neglect. The people who remained seemed hardy and determined. They had been friendly to the stranger in royal livery, but also distant.
“What’s it say, Will?” Thereca leaned over her cousin’s shoulder.
“I’ve been invited to attend the Needsfest celebration in Geoff… but not why.” Will eyed Roland cautiously. “From what this says, I take it you don’t know anything more.”
He shook his head and was about to launch into a rehearsed speech to convince her of the letter’s sincerity when Tobias broke in. “Well, then, you have to go.”
“Of course!” Thereca chimed in while Adam nodded as if it was a foregone conclusion.
“You can tell them I’ll be coming. Thank you for traveling all this way.” Will passed Roland on the way into the church. “Let’s find you something to eat.”
Tobias caught the non-plussed stranger’s elbow and steered him in the same direction. Roland found himself flanked by the two tall Oeridian men. “And a bath. The road through here is terrible.”
Adam added, “There’s plenty of room here, too. We’ll make you up a comfortable bed so you don’t have to start back right away.”
Practically skipping down the steps, Thereca called out, “I’ll take care of your horse! She’s beautiful.”
“Is something wrong?” Will asked after taking in Roland’s stunned expression. “You seem a bit confused."
He cleared his throat consciously. “Well, to be honest, I was expecting a bit more resistance to the idea… It’s all a bit strange and everything…”
Will grinned, planting her hands on her hips. “Why would I turn down such an interesting invitation. It’d be terribly rude, now wouldn’t it?”