Kite slowed his horse as he came upon the peasant village. After several long days and nights of riding, he was weighted down with weariness and worry. His trip had begun over a week ago, when his fiancee, Pecora Winthrop, had fallen ill. Following the advice of her nurse, mistress Izetta, Kite had ridden west, in search of an Elder named Isentraum. The journey had not been easy, for it had rained nearly every afternoon, and Kite’s mind was heavy with worry for his fiancee. Stopping at the crest of a hill, Kite regarded the small hamlet below. There was no one about in the darkness, but the lights of several wooden buildings shone warmly, and one large building bore a weathered sign that was undoubtedly the crest of an inn, though Kite could not make out the caricature from where his horse stood.
Kite rode slowly into the village and tied up his horse, peeking into the inn through a dirty, thick-glassed window. After a moment, he stepped inside into a low, smoky room filled with peasants. A great fireplace fogged the room with wood smoke, and several customers turned to view the newcomer, then returned to their draughts. Kite strode purposefully to the bar and requested a pint of stout.
“Right away, milord,” responded the barkeep, who, true to his word, promptly brought Kite a stein, filled to the brim. Kite placed a Scrod on the counter, which the barkeep quickly snatched away. “Will there be anything else, milord?”
“Ah, yes, a room for the night… and… uh…”
“Yes, milord?” prompted the barkeep.
Kite pondered. He was in the area where mistress Izetta had said to search for the Elder, but he had no idea where to begin to look. Might as well ask someone, and who would be more likely to know than a barkeep? “Can you tell me anything about a man named Isentraum?”
At the barkeep’s reaction, Kite knew he had not asked the right thing. “Well, milord, not… no, I’m afraid I can’t. Ah, excuse me, sir, let me see to your room…” The barkeep bustled off. It was obvious that Kite had agitated the man. He turned his back to the bar and looked around the room, but he found many nearby patrons had their eyes on him. He made bold to face the group as a whole, but suddenly a small, wiry man stepped up to him from behind.
“Now, sir,” he began softly, as he turned Kite back to the bar. “You mustn’t go stomping about and hollering about old superstitions in a town such as this. People don’t take kindly to it. Now sit down and drink your stout.” After a moment, Kite complied, and soon afterwards the barkeep returned with a set of keys to Kite’s room. The thin stranger leaned over to Kite and whispered, “Now shall we go discuss this as it should be, behind a locked door?”
Kite, still rather bewildered, agreed and led the man to his room.
Having recovered his composure, Kite began to question the man. “Now who are you, and why have you taken me aside like this?”
“My name,” began the stranger, “is Palawan. I overheard your question of the barkeeper, and wished to avoid any violence that might have come from it. The people of this town are a very suspicious and superstitious lot. Now,” began Palawan, as he settled in a chair, “why do you wish to find an Elder?”
“That is for me alone to know.”
“Ah. Well, then, I fear it is for me alone to know where to find the one called Isentraum.” He made to get up, knowing how Kite’s would respond.
“Very well,” Kite began. “I am betrothed to a lady of the House of Winthrop. She has fallen ill, and I have been told that this Elder may be able to help her.”
“Do you love this girl?”
What kind of question was that? “Of course I do… very much.”
“Aah. Then perhaps I can help you. I will guide you to where this Isentraum lives, and I will present you to him. What follows is up to him.”
The path Palawan had chosen led across the north face of a small mountain, and Kite found the going very difficult, but he persevered. He wondered about the small, wiry Palawan. He was obviously not one of the peasants of the village, but he seemed so weak that he would not be able to make a fighter or messenger. The previous evening they had talked while sitting by the fire. Palawan seemed interested in every detail about Kite and Pecora, and how Kite thought the Elder might be able to help him. Kite had also listened as Palawan had told him of his late wife; it seemed to Kite that Palawan was a very lonely man.
That afternoon, as they approached the crest of the mountain, Palawan spoke with Kite. “The Elder lives just over this outcropping of loose stone. It is very dangerous, so be careful.”
The two began to climb the loose rock, but Palawan seemed to make much better speed than Kite. Then Kite saw Palawan slide on a loose rock, and come tumbling down the slope. Kite knew that the old man would tumble to his death if he wasn’t stopped. Kite danced toward Palawan as he rolled, and tried to anchor himself. He caught Palawan’s arms and held fast. The old man looked at him with deep bronze-green eyes and smiled, apparently unhurt, save for minor scrapes and bruises, and a small wound on his right elbow. They finished the ascent a little more slowly, and came upon a small hut.
The two approached the hut, and found a figure bent in a garden. Kite scuffed his feet to make sure the man knew someone was there, then he stopped. The man slowly stood, tentatively holding his lower back, and turned. The man who faced him stood somewhat less than Kite’s height, and lank. His coarse black hair framed a long face with deep, bronze-green eyes. Palawan walked over to the Elder, and for a moment seemed to occupy the same space, before melding entirely into the form of the Elder.
“Marquis Kite of the House of Talador, I am Isentraum. I know the hows and whys of your coming, and I have seen the worthiness of your soul. Know that am both able and willing to aid your fiancee, and the price I request is small. There is a rare herb, known as Elmin. You must bring me as much as you can. You may find it at the home of a druid named Hartley, who lives outside the village of Greenmont, two days north of here. Give him my regards. When you return, I will see to your favor. Go now.”
With that, the old man returned to his garden, but Kite couldn’t help but notice the wound on his right arm as he walked off in search of Hartley the druid of Greenmont.