The journey to Baldur was long, and many highwaymen foolishly approached the lone mortal thinking of their easy profit. The lucky ones left the road with heavier hearts and lighter purses.
“I should have charged him more. . . This road always seems shorter in my memory,” Evalyn grumbled to the dust in the air. She looked around the empty fields and stopped, dropping her pack on the ground and searching through it for her canteen.
Shuffling sounds ahead of her. She found the bottle and tipped it back, taking a few big mouthfuls. The shuffling edged closer. Satisfied, she put the lid back on and shoved it into the bag.
The noise stopped.
“Well, what do you want?” Evalyn asked conversationally as she stood up. A figure wrapped in rags and caked in mud and dust shambled closer without a response. Evalyn loosened her short sword in its sheath. “I warn you, many have tried and failed to take me on. Let’s be civil, shall we?”
The figure maintained its pace.
Evalyn drew her sword; the creature stopped. A white, toothy smile appeared through the rags, all she could make out from the figure’s face. “Yes,” it croaked, “let’s be civil. Lower thy weapon.”
Evalyn rolled her eyes and sheathed her sword. “It’s amazing how many people need a threat before they’ll even reply.”
The creature laughed and muttered, “You have no idea. . .” Then, in a louder voice, “I have something that might interest thee.”
“Speak plainly. What do you want?”
“You talk as one tired of playing the game, but we both know better. You love it, thrive in it, thirst for it.”
Evalyn tensed. “Who are you?”
“No one of importance. What is more worthy of your inquiry is this.” The traveler produced what looked to be a necklace made from some sort of crystal. As a breeze picked up, it seemed to glint in the sunlight. “You see how it glows in the wind? This amulet is magical and will change your life.”
Evalyn looked at it skeptically and sighed, “How much do you want for it?”
“Just a measly ten gold pieces. I’m desperate for some money and this is my last valuable item of any worth. It is worth much more than that, trust me.”
“Ten gold?! For some glass on a string? If you’re truly desperate you’ll take a few coppers and be glad.”
The figure paused and seemed to be sizing her up. “. . . Give me ten copper, some of your rations, and a drink of your water.”
“Fine. Deal.” Evalyn dropped her pack again and snatched some trail rations and her canteen, handing them both over cautiously. The rations disappeared into the maw quickly followed by two big gulps. Before she could protest, the canteen was back in her hand, and she fished out the copper.
“Thank ye and good luck. . .”
Evalyn stared uncertainly at the crystal amulet while the traveler continued on its way. It did seem to react to the wind. . . “Wait, what does it—” she started to ask, turning around before noticing the absence of the figure, “. . . do.” She sighed and picked up her bag once more. She looked around and waited, listening for any signs of movement. Content, she cautiously stoked the breeze around her while watching the amulet. It did, in fact, seem to emanate a bit of light. Interesting. . . She glanced around again, then tucked the amulet in a close pocket and continued on. Doesn’t get me any closer to Baldur, though.
The day dragged on and then began to turn to night when Evalyn reached a small town. She arduously approached the tavern’s keeper and, having negotiated a room and meal, plopped down at a corner table. She brooded over an ale while listening in on the few conversations she could hear. Her meal vanished nearly as quickly as it was placed, and she sighed in contentment.
And suddenly, one of the conversations peaked her interest: an old man attempting to persuade some adventuring folk to show him their loot.
“Oh, come now! If it’s nothing interesting, I won’t charge! I’m offering a generous service, and you disrespect me in return?” he raged, his cheeks red.
“We don’t need your help, old man. Why don’t you find someone else to scam?” The adventurers departed his table with a dismissive wave.
“I’m a man of magic! Educated, unlike you louts. Bah!” The man huffed and buried his face in his tankard.
Evalyn waited until the adventurers paid their tab and left before approaching the bar and ordering another couple of ales. She walked over to the man and sat at his table, placing the other ale next to him with a dull thunk. He jumped.
“What? Change your minds?” He looked up at her. “Who the hell are you?”
“For someone complaining about disrespect, you have poor manners,” Evalyn responded wryly. “The name is Evalyn. I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with those, uh, gentlemen? a few minutes ago.”
“Manners? Disrespect? Gentlemen?!” he huffed. “You’re one to talk of manners, eavesdropping. And I’m your elder! And bah! Gentlemen, my arse. . .”
“You offered a service to them?” Evalyn pressed, pushing the sacrificial ale encouragingly toward him.
“Yes! A generous offer, too! I would tell them what items of theirs did which. They bragged about a great horde of magical loot they had found. Hmph! Horde. And so I thought I could scratch their backs and mayhaps they’d scratch mine. Arses! Idiots! Buffoons! Turning down such a gracious proposal from a learned, magic man such as myself. I hope all their loot is cursed! Bah!”
“Learned, magic man?”
“Yes, I, madam, am a mage, wielder of magic.”
“So. . . you could identify magic items,” she said slowly.
“Yes, yes. . . Why do you ask?” the man responded while grabbing the proffered tankard and taking a swig. He nodded approvingly.
“I recently purchased something of interest and was wondering what it was. If you can help me identify it, there’s more where that came from.” She nodded at his already half-finished beverage.
He eyed her uncertainly and then seemed to come to a conclusion in some inner debate. “Let’s see what you have, then, and we can discuss price.”
She pulled out the amulet and placed it on the table. The old man gingerly picked it up, and a look of concentration lingered on his face. Finally, he sighed, set it back on the table, and tipped back his drink. “You, my friend,” he said as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, “were scammed. That will be two coppers.”
“What, it isn’t magical at all?” she asked as she complied.
“’Fraid not. Just a trinket. Not even all that pretty, sorry to tell you. Too gaudy. You’re much better off pawning it off to some other sap, no offense.”
“Here, come with me outside. Maybe this will change your mind,” she said, standing up. He eyed her again with uncertainty, and she sighed. “I won’t hurt you; I just want to show you something interesting.” He didn’t budge, and she sighed again, producing another couple of coppers. He smiled and hopped up.
The night was crisp and clear, but the wind was very low. Evalyn held out the amulet, said, “Watch,” and encouraged a slight breeze around them. The amulet glowed. The old man gasped.
“How much did you say you paid for this?” he asked eagerly.
“I didn’t. I bought it for about 10 copper.”
“Ten copper, huh. One gold. I’ll buy it from you for one gold.”
“Hmm. . . No. . .” She put the amulet back. The old man seemed to be getting fanatical.
“Ten gold? That’s quite the profit for you, eh?” he chuckled, wringing his shirt in excitement.
“No. . .”
“Oh, come now. . . One hundred gold! There!”
“No.” She subtly moved to a defensive stance.
“Why, you. . . that should be plenty! It’s just a trinket, not magical at all!” The man became angrier and angrier and began to pace and yank on his hair and beard.
“It isn’t for sale. I merely wanted to find out what it does.”
“What it does?!” he yelled and muttered something under his breath. “I already told you, it isn’t magical! It’s just some fancy necklace,” he lied.
“And you still say it isn’t magical? After it reacted with the wind? You aren’t a very good liar. After all, you seem to want it so badly now while you were disinterested earlier.”
“Give it to me!” he cried and charged her with grasping hands, seeking the pocket and its contents. She nimbly dodged out of the way and tripped him. He recovered awkwardly and whirled around for another go. His face met her pommel and parted from it with a loud crunching sound; blood quickly followed. She ran away from him, sparing a single glance accompanied by a smirk when she saw his startled, pained expression as he tried to stand up.
“I said, ‘no,’ you old fool!” she yelled over her shoulder. “Try that again and it may be your neck that breaks instead!” And she continued to run into the night, wishing for that bed she paid for and lamenting its wasted expense.