She awoke, nose pointed skyward, in a daze. Her body was sore all over, and her senses were ever so slowly creeping back into her consciousness. Thoughts and observations trickled timidly to her mind, each one bringing her a single step farther from her sordid state.
It was the first realization, and others soon followed.
It's cold. But I'm warm. And my head hurts. Why is that?
A birding chirped nearby, almost mockingly. Charcoal black, wing-tips dipped in crimson ink.
She tested her fingers, clenching her fist, then relaxing again. These still work. The same test again, but with ten toes. These, too. I must be alright, right? I can still think. I can still feel. And the fingers are flexing, my toes tensing.
Her body-check was soon stopped, however, as a noise came to her ears: soft, steady, a bit far off, but approaching. Her head turned towards the foot falls, cheek now resting against the moist ground. Peering out with patience, her eyes perceived the form of a man striding towards her; though from her earthly perspective it appeared he walked perpendicular to a vertical plane.
"By the Qurystal, what has happened here?" the voice came; deep, masculine, sincere. All she managed was a croak.
The man knelt down beside her, hand brushing against her cheek, moving a tuft of gray hair. "You've been beaten and robbed, for sure!"
Again, another crisp croak, a bare whisper of the Banshee's breath.
"Come, I shall take you to the village, and we can treat your wounds and fatigues there."
With that, the hag was huddled into the hairy arms of the somewhat handsome man, and hurried to the Inlet.
"Have you a name I might call you?" asked the man.
"Celinde," came the rasp, raw and ragged. My, she thought, her thoughts ringing clear as her once pitch-perfect voice, it has been quite some time since I was held like this. Why, I don't think I can remember being carried quite this way, except that one time, by my--
She halted mid-thought, her mind suddenly in a rage. My husband! That wench killed my husband! And I... I...
The train of thought faltered, as the man whose arms she laid in spoke again. "Do you remember what happened? Who did this?"
A wheeze before the response: "Why yes, yes I do." That fencer. "It was a gang of you men, from the south, I think." We fought. She poisoned me with my own Spiders' Kiss! "They were dark-skinned, at least." She probably took my slaves. Oh, the riches they would have earned me! "I don't remember much else." But I do! She gassed me as well, which is probably why the poison wore off so quickly. And I ran off, I fell, and then... then... well, I guess I don't remember much else, after all.
"Terrible!" rang the deep bass of the man's voice. "These foreigners are a plague to the land. I hope the Queen, Qurystal bless her, has something planned for them."
"Yes, quite terrible indeed," came Celinde's bitter response.
"Are you sure you are alright?"
"Yes, dear, I am fine."
"On your own, though?"
"Yes," the second reply held no kindness. "I will be quite fine." Her voice took one a pleasant tone once again. "Thank you again, Rossel, dear."
With that, Celinde was on her way, bruises bathed in balms, scratches scrubbed with salves, pride patched with, well, nothing.
That seems to be the only thing that the "thieves" stole from me this day. That, and my caravan.
And so the Banshee Bard went into Slough Inlet alone, but not unprepared. She still had one of her machetes, concealed carefully under the filthy folds of her dress and apron, a few coins with which to buy whatever she deemed necessary, and her voice. It had returned, thankfully, with much coaxing from a tea of herbs, honey, and lemon.
That, and a few swigs of ale. Maybe a swig too many. The thought was followed by a hushed hiccup, with Celinde proceeding onward with a slight stagger. 'Tis a good thing I told them my cane, too, was stolen. Else, this poor woman wouldn't be walking!
Her stumbles brought her upon the market in the centre of the town, busy, as usual, after the harvest. The place was crowded with vendors, selling wares of cotton, silk, metal, precious stone, and wood. Food stalls had also stuffed themselves into the mix, and the air was alive with assorted aromas. The old woman took a few deep whiffs, and bought a small bag of roasted nuts from one such cart.
Just like the ol' bloke liked 'em.
The reminiscing soon came to an end, though, when a flash of indigo caught her keen eyes: a cape. Like the one the fencer had, albeit a slightly different shade.
And that tall southern lad is there, too! It must be her!
Celinde fought her initial impulse to run at the fencer, machete stretched forward in a frantic frenzy, her cries letting everyone know the Banshee was back. No, this called for a more subtle approach, a simple shadowing. The pair had to be going somewhere, and anywhere was better than here for an attack.
Unless that ‘anywhere’ is Crownlake. But what would a Forest Fencer and an idiot foreigner have to do in the capital, anyways?
And so the stalking began.