The summer heat bore down on the caravan as it traveled up the Great road to Glenhaven. The bugs and the humidity were hardly kept at bay by the taught canvas covers over the wagons. The speed that the horses took the heavily rutted roads barely created enough breeze to cool the sweat from their faces. Miserable and nervous, the drivers and guards kept a close eye upon the densely packed trees of the Black Oak Forest, looking for bandits. The woods had been full of them in the summer, but for some reason, it was oddly quiet.
Menirel, the leader of the caravan, looked at the miserable group. The wagons were packed full of items ordered for the small town to the north. There were six wagons this time around, and additional guards were ordered, besides the AWOL solider that sat in the second wagon, looking very beaten up after his journey back to Waterfordshire. The young man had asked Menirel to join the caravan, and even though the two stars on his uniform said he was in the middle of training, he had no discharge papers and seemed distraught. Feeling for the young man who seemed vaguely familiar, but was so beaten and bedraggled that Menirel couldn't place his name, he allowed the young man to ride along.
Enirich had managed to get back to town after his failed attempt to bring the murderers to justice, searched up the caravan, and hadn't said a word since he found a place on the second wagon. His thoughts were scrambled and miserable. His first thoughts once the rage and need for revenge had waned, was that he should go home, see that his parents were properly buried, and that he needed to figure out where to go next. It would be difficult as he knew that Glenhaven believed he had been killed along with his parents, according to the report that had returned from the city.
The spring rains had ceased and the roads needed repair, and Menirel was surprised that there didn't appear to be any work done on them yet. The wagons bounced around and they eventually made their way back to the bridge which had washed out on the way in. The bridge was in the middle of repairs, and a couple of men were at the side of the road having lunch, wiping their brows with dirty rags. "Ho there, is the bridge in order yet?"
Standing up, one of the men wave to Menirel, "Is it that time already? Just take it easy, one wagon at a time. The railing on the right is still loose so you may want to walk them over." He moves over to the side of the bridge as the drivers each get down, taking the reins of the horses on each wagon and slowly the six wagons make it across. The men working on the bridge don't see the miserable solider in the second wagon as he sits in the back with his head bowed.
Things looked different when they arrived in the city. The statue of Chauntea had been uncovered once again, and things looked fairly peaceful, but the normally friendly citizens of the city looked uneasy as the caravan made its way through the city to the park where they would make camp for the week. As they pulled in to the small round about at the north side of the city, Menirel noticed there were quite a few new graves in the graveyard by the church. The fresh plots were just starting to grow the first few blades of grass, but otherwise still looked new. The church was wide open this day, and the Father was working at pruning the bushes near the front.
"Welcome to Glenhaven, folks! If you're a guard, please come and receive your payment, otherwise we'll start setup closer to sundown. We'll be here for six days, so let me know if you're planning on taking the trip back!" Menirel stepped down and after pulling his gold from under the wagon seat, he started handing out payments. The young solider did not come to collect, but rather stumbled off back down the street. He shrugged, and returned to the business as hand.
Enirich gazed around him at the familiar, yet unfamiliar streets. Things looked like they always had, but he had fully planned never to return here. He didn't want to be a disappointment to his father. He had been a weak child and even though he had left to get stronger, he had found a place in Waterfordshire. They probably wouldn't take him back there either, he mused, now that he had caused so much stir and had gotten some good men killed. Could he even find a place to be now?
The Stablemaster Gantz glanced his way briefly as he lead a horse out of the stable down toward the parked caravan, but he didn't say anything if he recognized Enirich. So the young man moved on, saw the young Maribel and stablehand Matthew walking hand in hand down the street, turning into the General store. No one seemed to pay him any mind. Maybe he was a ghost. Maybe he was already dead.
His home of many years was boarded up. Enirich stared at it with blank eyes, the home of his parents was closed off and no longer welcoming as it had been for his entire childhood. He walked around it, trying the back door, then pulling out the key from a hidden spot under the back porch, he let himself in.
Things had been disturbed. Someone had been in here, had searched the place, but it didn't seem like things were missing, just messy. But there were no signs of his parents, no signs of anything left behind. He wandered upstairs to his old bedroom. The room was almost like an oven since it had not been opened up for the summer. There was evidence that someone had been living there since he had left. Enirich scratched his scraggly beard and looked around. There was a journal sitting on the desk, and as he flipped through it realized that it looked strikingly similar to his own handwriting, but he had not been here and had never seen this journal before.
Opening up the window above the desk, a slight breeze came through, and the light from the setting sun shown down upon the bed. Enirich sat down with the journal in his lap and started to flip through this journal "he" had written, but had never seen before. As he flipped, the sun moved across the bed. Details were surprisingly thorough, and it talked about "his" life in the village over the past year. Someone who apparently looked like him had impersonated him and had convinced his parents to do horrible things and join a cult! How could they? Hadn't they always worshipped Chauntea, the goddess of the harvest? How could they have suddenly turned their back upon her?
Enirich continued to read, learning about how he had tried to woo the young Maribel, his own cousin, to try to marry her until she had seen his true form...true form? And then he had tried to kill Maribel, but when that didn't work, he was forced to convince the town that she needed to be sacrificed to the gods of the darkness.... the Under Dark.
Shifting, Enirich realized that the sun was already setting by now, and he hurried to light a candle on the night stand to continue reading. The journal detailed the attempted poisoning of Maribel, of the new adventurers who had appeared and had helped Caspian heal her. Of the plot to sacrifice her, of the raising of the cockatrice and the basilisk. His parents helped in raising these beasts that "he" had brought with him? How? Why? He shook his head and continued reading.
The adventurers had left town, and "he" was excited that his plans were working. Once Maribel was out of the way, "he" would kill his uncle and take over the city and with the help of Gantz, take over the mine. The mine? Why would he want a defunct mine?
"Oh..." Suddenly a conversation he had in Waterfordshire had come to mind. The first night in a new city, he had just joined the school to become a solider and was celebrating. A man had bought him a few drinks after he had started to talk about the riches in the mine. His father had always told him that it was a direct entrance to the Under Dark and had been the hiding place for vast riches. When he got drunk, he had told this stranger all of this, and even though he didn't really believe in it, he knew that his father had wanted the secrets to the mine and had tried to get him to marry Maribel himself in order to get the secrets. Enirich had told the man that he wasn't going back there and waved the letter that he was going to send the next day telling his parents he wasn't coming back. He didn't want to see the disappointment in their eyes ever again.
The stranger said he was headed that way and had offered to take the letter... And because he was drunk, Enirich had agreed and had forgotten it in his hangover the next day. But now, as he read this, he realized that this man was the man who had impersonated him. He had somehow convinced his parents to follow him, and as Enirich flipped through the book, the letter he himself had written, fell out. Unopened.
For a long time, he watched the flame of the candle flicker along the walls of his old bedroom. His parents were dead. They had been convinced by a stranger to do terrible things. The city had turned in on itself. And everyone had thought it had been HIM.
A noise downstairs startled him, and Enirich hurried to blow out the candle, heart pounding. Something was shuffling around on the first floor. He went down to the floor and slowly crawled over to the top of the stairs and peered down. A small figure was going through the house, turning things over, looking for something. Enirich pulled his dagger and slowly crept down the stairs.
The figure didn't see him as he crept to the bottom stair. It was preoccupied with something on the far side of the room, and Enirich, crouching, started to stalk toward the figure as he had been trained. He had almost made it up to the four foot figure, when suddenly a candle flared to life and it turned, face to face.
"Ahh!" A shriek came out of the figure, and it scrambled back and the candle flickered out. "Don't hurt me, I'm sorry! I wasn't doing anything, honest!"
Enirich dropped his dagger and backed up. "Who are you, why are you in here?"
"I...well, I was told that..." The voice was feminine and wispy, "I was told to clean this place up since the boy was coming back..."
"The...boy?" Enirich put his dagger back in his sheath, feeling around for the candle that had been dropped. After a moment or two of fumbling, he managed to light it, and looked in the eyes of the small figure. "Bee?"
A female gnome looked up at him, blinked, "Enirich? Is that really you?"
Enirich took a breath and let it out, slumping to the floor. "...Caspian knew I was coming back, did he?"
"Yeah, although I guess his timing was a bit off." Ellabee got to her feet and her head was just a bit above his sitting. She brushed herself off and pulled over a pillow that had been thrown to the floor at some point and sat down on it. "I could hardly believe that you were still alive, we all thought you were dead. But then an hour ago the old man says, 'he's on his way, go get his house cleaned up.' I hate how he knows these things but that's a wizard for you."
"Did he say who or what that thing was that pretended to be me?" Enirich saw a surprised expression come over her face and he scrambled to explain, "I found a journal upstairs. It was written in my handwriting but I didn't write it... said something about his 'true form'. I'm so confused, my parents are dead and I thought I knew who was to blame but now I just don't know..."
Ellabee nodded, "It was a doppleganger. Not many people know that though. My theory was that he had used some kind of magic to convince them, but there wasn't any magic on them when they died, so whatever they did at the end, they did of their own accord." She reached out a small hand and set it on Enirich's knee. "I'm sorry that they're gone, but they were bad people when they died. They tried to kill those adventurers and so they were killed."
"So, I have no one. No where to go..."
The gnome sighed, pulling back her hand and reaching into a small bag at herself. "Here, Caspian told me to give you this." Handing him a scroll, Ellabee closed her bag once again. "It's important that you know there's a war coming. I'm sure you had an idea from your training in Waterfordshire, but this little town is going to be the first line of defense and we don't have a Chief anymore. Your father had known about it. The Orcs to the north have joined forces with the Underground folk. It's only a matter of time now."
Enirich pulled open the scroll.
I know this has been a difficult time for you, but you will need to forget your revenge for now and work on getting an army ready. Our city has very little time to prepare before it is slaughtered by the oncoming armies. Your training will help in this matter, and I shall help you take back your place in this town. Please come to see me when you are ready to undertake this great task.
"War? How can I prepare for war? This is a tiny town! I have only been training for a few years!" Enirich let the scroll drop to the floor. "I'm worthless! I couldn't even protect my family, how can I be depended upon to save an entire village?"
Ellabee shook her head, "I don't know, but Caspian believes in you. I know he's always been rather mysterious, but he knows the future and the past, and if he says it's coming, it's coming." She stook up from her pillow and straightened her tunic. "Your uncle the mayor has been keeping the village guard trained for the past few months, but he's struggling with the balance of that and trying to get the defenses rebuilt. Maribel shows no interest in following in his footsteps. She has gotten pregnant with Matthew's child and they plan to be married in the fall, so he's been pulled in multiple directions. Talk to Caspian, he will help you smooth things out with your uncle."
With that, she set up a fallen chair and headed toward the back door. "I'll leave you to get some rest, Enirich. Come see us tomorrow. We have much work to do." And then Ellabee left without another word to the young man as he sat looking at the scroll he had dropped.
The next day after a restless night, Enirich set out before sunrise to Caspian's shop. The wizard was standing in the doorway with a steaming mug of coffee which he handed to the young man. "Come in, I was waiting for you, we have much work to do."