It wasn’t a tree, as Dorian had feared, but it wasn’t much better. Zanth led the companions a small alcove, little more than a depression against a rock wall, likely where storm runoff had carved away the ground over the years, but was ideally situated for giving them protection from almost all sides and keeping them hidden through the night. Still, the ground was more damp than not and if a storm passed in the night it could leave them in a tricky spot. Zanth assured him there was no chance of rain. He was almost always right so Malland and Dorian kept their grumbling to a minimum. As it was, they were exhausted and ready to bed down anywhere Zanth said was good enough.
They took turns on the watch and the sun began to warm the horizon without incident, which they were all thankful for. Rifling through their packs they scrounged together enough of a meal to ease their hunger but realized they’d need to hunt or find a town before too long. They’d planned on being home and their packs weren’t exactly overflowing with provisions.
“Alright, what does that rest of that note say?” Zanth asked.
Malland pulled out of his pocket and reread what’d he read the night before. Then continued, “That’s it, except this signature at the end. I think it says ‘Lord Fendall.’”
He passed the note around and Zanth and Dorian both agreed that’s what the signature likely said. Then Zanth asked, “Isn’t he the seat of power for the mountain region west of here?”
“That sounds right,” Malland said. Dorian grunted in agreement.
“Well, that’s settled then,” Zanth stated with a sad smile. “I guess we have to go find out why Lord Fendall wants us captured. I certainly don’t remember running afoul of him recently. Do either of you?”
Both Dorian and Malland shook their heads.
Zanth squinted into the surrounding forest. From where they were stashed only the tops of the nearest trees were visible with just the slightest hint of the warming sky beyond. While he let his gaze drift through the canopy he made a few quick mental calculations and once he was decided he addressed his friends again. “I think there is a town about a day’s journey from here where we can resupply. Let’s head there first and then we can track down Lord Fendall.”
They packed up their gear and Zanth led them back through the dense forest. It was slow going at first but then they came across a game trail, Zanth said it was a likely last used by a bear, and their progress sped up some. They only stopped once, for a brief lunch, before Zanth stopped them as the forest began to thin out. They could see the smoke from home fires drifting lazily into the sky and they could faintly hear the hustle and bustle of small town life. Mothers called to their children. Merchants hawked their wares. It was peaceful and the trio took a moment to soak it in. It was what they’d hoped to come home to the day before. It was a peace they may not know again for quite some time and could easily shatter just by showing their faces in the little town before them.
Zanth asked under his breath, “Ready?”
Dorian and Malland nodded and the three walked confidently forward. As far as they knew, they had nothing to fear in this town. News of what had happened the night before couldn’t have beaten them there. So, there was no need to skulk about, there was no need to be any more cautious than normal.
For a time, it seemed like they wouldn’t have any trouble. Nobody asked them who they were or what they were doing in town. But then they tried to barter for some food to fill their packs and the prices were outrageous.
“Well, what do you expect?” Said one merchant. “Nobody here is going to sell to the likes of you for a decent price. This is food for our neighbors. Selling to you means one of them might go hungry.”
With a sad shake of his head, Zanth pushed Dorian onward. The dragonborn had begun to growl low in his throat and that wouldn’t serve any help in this situation. They would just press on and find someone who would sell to them for a reasonable price or they would find their own food. The last year on the trail had made them quite adept and hunting and preserving. But, seeing as they had a few more gold coins than they’d started the previous night with, it amused all of them to spend Lord Fendall’s gold on the provisions that would help carry them to the man that was trying to hunt them down.