Revin followed ‘Blue Eyes’ directions, her hand held up across her face as the wind had picked up again and snow swirled in her vision. She passed more than two dozen houses on her right, her legs weary from the cold. How do I tell which one is the meeting hall? Two more houses and she stopped. To her side a slope rose, and she lifted her head, but couldn’t see the top for the flurries. He said it was on a hill. She started up a path that wove back and forth up the hillside.
It didn’t take long before she spotted a long building perched near the top some thirty feet above and forty feet back from the main road. Meeting hall. She smiled, relieved that she had finally found it. The structure was built along the lines of the other houses in the village, oak framed, and latticed wattle filled with daub, but three times the length and half again taller than the other houses. It had the same clay-tiled roof that she had seen on most of the houses she had already seen. Revin thought the clay would protect against the northern climate, though knew it was expensive. Chimneys poked up from each end and she could see the outline of a stone foundation that she had seen on some of the houses. Again, unusual for a village like this. Especially one so far from any major route.
Revin’s feet faltered as she stood in front of two ten-foot-high double doors. They were impressive, the wood intricately carved and bound by heavy iron hinges and studded iron bands. She kept staring at the closed doorway, a nagging sensation weighed on her mind. It had begun the moment she crossed the bridge and entered the village. It was as if she should know something, but the thought wouldn’t rise out of the depths of her memory. It made her anxious, but she shrugged and rationalized that she was only concerned that other hunters might have heard of the Gold…and be close behind.
The thought of finding the dragon, and the subsequent reward, pushed the worry to the back of her mind. Revin shivered, pulled the cloak tighter, and made her way up to the entrance. She reached for one of the exquisitely engraved doors, but it opened, and a woman stood, framed in a bright light coming from behind like an aura.
“Come in out of the cold.” The woman stood to the side and Revin could see she was young, maybe two or three years younger than herself.
Revin stepped inside to a large room with rows of benches along the length of both sides that faced each other—a wide space between them. She could feel the warmth of roaring fires in the hearths at either end. Fifty or more women were gathered around the hearth to her left.
Revin untied her coat, grabbed the edges and flicked it several times to shake off some of the dampness. “Are you Maeveen? I was told—” Revin started to say as she turned.
“No.” The young woman giggled. “Maeveen’s with the Daughters.” She pointed to the group of women, who Revin guessed were the ‘Daughters’.
No men, Revin wondered at the strange assembly having expected to find a council or whatever group governed the village. She shrugged her shoulders and let the thought drop, too tired from the long ride to focus on anything other than finding this Maeveen. She tried to put on her best trader’s face as she headed toward the circle of women. Many seemed to be sipping on a steaming beverage. All watched her intently as she walked the short distance.
“I’m looking for Maeveen. A man at the barn—”
“Is Farrel taking good care of your wagon and horse?” A tall, slender woman stepped from the center of the group and all eyes shifted to her as she walked up to Revin. The woman wore a flowing white robe, trimmed in a red design that made the edges of the garment look as if it were on fire.
The design looked familiar, but then Revin focused on the woman and thought Did anyone in this village let a person finish their sentences? She frowned, but only momentarily.
“Farrel?” Revin assumed it must be the name of ‘Blue Eyes’. And from the way the horse nuzzled up to him, when he had put the animal in the stall, she guessed he was good at what he did. “Yes.” Another thought vaguely nagged at her worn mind; How did she know I had a wagon?
“I am Maeveen.” The woman had straight dark reddish-bronze hair, an uncommon color not unlike Revin’s own. It flowed over both shoulders and hung down to the woman’s waist. Her high cheekbones, finely chiseled nose, and green eyes struck Revin as imposing. “I don’t know how you knew I was coming, but I assume you are in charge. I’m looking for a golden dragon that I heard roamed these parts.” She had business to do and, as was her way, wanted to get to it quickly. The strange feeling of something that couldn’t be recalled continued to plague her, and she wanted to keep her stay short.
“I need help capturing it.” There were always those who would help for a few coppers.
The older women tittered while some of the younger women in the group actually laughed.
“I am willing to pay handsomely for anyone that will help. Maybe some of your menfolk?” Revin clenched her fist, and her voice was tight, but she tried to relax. It would not do to show her frustration and create a rift between herself and the villagers.
Maeveen’s smile widened. “There is no need to capture the Sentinel.”
Sentinel? Were they still talking about the Gold?
Revin took a deep breath to settle herself. The Cleric’s advice had more than once kept her from saying or doing something that would not help her cause. If she talked to them calmly, she could get them to understand and get their help. She had done this before. She just needed to get them to show her where to find the dragon. “I should explain what I—”
“You must be chilled to the Spirit.” Maeveen glanced to the side, and someone stepped forward with a steaming cup that she passed to Maeveen, who handed it to Revin. “This will give you warmth and build your strength.”
Irritated that she had been cut off once again, Revin nonetheless raised the cup to take a moment and compose herself. She inhaled a sharp, tart odor that at first made her nose crinkle, but after a moment, once it had filled her senses, she found it calming and her shoulders relaxed.
She smiled at the leader of the women and sipped from the cup. She imagined if they had wanted to poison or otherwise harm her, Blue Eyes could have done that at the barn. Revin expected the drink to be sour, but instead it was smooth, and now smelled more spicy than sharp as it flowed down her throat. She thought she could taste cinnamon and cloves. After a longer draw she began to feel even more at ease.
“What is this?”
“Muspell.” Maeveen kept smiling and Revin got the impression that the woman was being patient with her…like a friendly teacher. “It is made with currants only found this far north.”
Revin nodded, though she had never heard of the drink. Feeling more comfortable, she took time to really look at the woman in detail as something bothered her, something other than the nagging feeling she had felt earlier. After a few moments she realized that all were slim, even the elderly women. They also all had varying shades of the reddish-bronze hair, some graying and a few with just a little color among white locks. It was startling at first, but then maybe the color was common among the villagers.
“It will help you sleep and recover quicker,” Maeveen added, and Revin turned her attention back to the woman.
“I’m not tired,” Revin lied as her body seemed to be arguing otherwise. “I would really like to talk about—”.
“Keely will show you to the sleeping chambers we have prepared for you,” Maeveen interrupted, the smile never fading, and indicated the young woman who stood behind Revin…the one who had answered the door. She was a younger version of Maeveen, but like all the women, the younger one had the same hair color and slim body.
“Prepared?” She felt dizzy. It must be the long ride and the cold. Everything was happening so quickly. Through the haze filling her mind she finally remembered where she had smelled the spicy aroma. The tavern in Winterheart. But how? She had trouble focusing.
The group of women moved to surround her, each trying to touch her and many talking at the same time.
“We are so glad you arrived safely.” One elderly woman touched Revin’s arm gently.
“We have been waiting. Was the trip difficult?” another woman’s concern was evident.
“Did you have an inkling before now?” someone who looked slightly older than Revin asked in an excited tone.
The heat from the hearths…the aroma…the air was stifling. The women crowded closer, and Revin kept stepping backwards until she found herself at the doorway.
Keely, wearing a fur-trimmed cloak, came up next to Revin, opened one of the doors, then took Revin by the arm and led her out into the chilly night air.
Revin looked over her shoulder as a small group of the women waved to her from the doorway then one pulled the door shut, cutting off the light. Revin turned back around as Keely pulled her along. The cold wind slapped her in the face but did little to clear the cobwebs in her head.
They walked for what could have been a few moments or a full Turn. Revin just stumbled along. She followed Keely through a door and then another opening into a small room. Keely guided her to a bed against the far wall, and Revin sat down on it. She felt herself falling to the side. Revin knew she should be concerned, but her mind was busy as she tried to remember why she was in this peculiar little village. Any concern vanished as she thought she heard a roar trumpet above the moan of the wind. The Gold.