This scene is an opportunity to show Balfrith in the process of maturing, learning how to have both an adult conversation and adult relationships. He is also learning how to be a better leader, which starts out a bit rough, as is obvious here.
Incidentally, my current word count is 113,400, and I'm about half-way through chapter 17 out of an estimated 21 chapters to complete the story.
* * *
The four companions met the next day at the guild hall, having agreed to make their final plans prior to departure. Calunoth explained that he already had spoken with a ship’s captain down at the port, and paid in advance for their beds, in order to let him choose the ones he wanted. As he said, “This is a Nifflgarde merchant vessel. While they’re among the most sea-worthy of any ships made, they do tend to lack something in comfort for those traveling aboard them. I requested bunks under the foredeck, so that we have a bit more room than those under the main deck, and we’ll have quicker access to the deck that way too. And at this time of year, I can just about guarantee that we will need it.”
Balfrith and Eldamir saw the sense of it, having come across the Wyrmsea from Nûmidëa to Sildara, and experienced firsthand what rough waters could do to a ship - and the travelers aboard.
Calunoth continued, “The journey usually takes about two weeks. We’re just coming into the storm season, which could add some small delay to the trip, though we’re not likely to run into anything that would ground us. And anyway, this is why I chose a Nifflgarde ship and crew. Hallgeir can tell you that I was not wrong in this decision.”
Hallgeir, for his part, merely nodded agreement. He’d hardly said a word since they met at Adradomir’s home the day before, and Balfrith wondered what it was that kept him so silent.
Balfrith suddenly shuddered and said, “Storm season? How long does that last?”
“Most of winter,” replied Hallgeir. Lo, he speaks, after all!
Eldamir laughed ruefully and said, “Balfrith, perhaps we should winter here in Castor. I’ve heard that spring-time in Nifflgarde is lovely.”
Balfrith grinned back, but said, “Tempting… but no. Adradomir has given us a window of opportunity that may not open again. I will risk sea-sickness, and worse, to find our friend Gregorius.”
Calunoth spoke up then. “There’s that name again. Did we not travel together to Westmere so that you could meet with him? And did something happen to prevent that meeting?”
Balfrith paused, his mental guard rising. “I don’t recall ever mentioning him to you before.”
“You didn’t. But you and Eldamir also did not take many pains to hide your conversations. Roidh and I overheard you more than once. Though I cannot say with any confidence exactly what it is that you seek, or why, I do recall hearing that name.”
Balfrith nodded, annoyed at himself. We were supposed to keep this a secret, but now, the gods only know who Calunoth might have mentioned this to. He replied, “We can speak more of this aboard ship. For now, I would prefer to keep the details of our journey to myself. Wiser minds than mine gave us that advice, and I’ll do what I can to follow it, though it appears we’ve not done as well as we had thought.”
Calunoth said, not quite under his breath, “Well, that kills that conversation.” Then, in a louder volume, “As I was saying, the journey aboard ship should be about two weeks. We’ll need to provide our own food, and we depart in two days’ time, with the rising tide. That should be all that we need, aside from our traveling clothes, bedding and other standard gear. Unless, Balfrith, you care to share any special needs that may arise, should we agree to accompany you further north?” The last question was asked in an ironic tone that displayed Calunoth’s annoyance at all the secrecy.
Balfrith said, “Only prepare for whatever a northern winter may bring. I don’t anticipate anything out of the ordinary - just cold.”
Calunoth nodded, as did Hallgeir. The northerner appeared about to add something to the latter comment, but then stopped, and Balfrith wondered what it might have been.
They finished their various drinks in silence, sharing a few casual words with other guildsmen at nearby tables, but avoiding the topic of their coming travels. Hallgeir was the first to rise, and he nodded at each in turn before departing. As he walked away, Calunoth called out, “We meet at the docks on Throrsday - be there at five hours after noon.” Hallgeir nodded understanding, and continued on without turning back.
Calunoth left next, nodding at Eldamir but only glancing at Balfrith, still apparently annoyed, and left. Eldamir almost immediately turned to Balfrith and said, “I think we should share the purpose of our journey with them.”
Balfrith nodded. “I agree, but I wasn’t about to tell the story of my heirloom here in the hall, especially since I didn’t have it with me. And I would not have displayed it for all to see, even if I had. Calunoth will get over his pique, and we can share the entire story once we’re aboard ship.”
Eldamir raised a brow. “Do you realize that we’ll not have much privacy aboard the ship? We would be better off doing it here, before we leave - even if it means going back to the inn and telling the tale there.”
Balfrith sighed. “I hadn’t thought of that. But you’re right - if this ship is anything like the one we took from Hightower to Castor, we’ll not have any chance at privacy. Hmm… I would have thought Calunoth or Hallgeir would say something about that.”
Eldamir grinned wryly. “You would think that, wouldn’t you? Unless, of course, either or both of them were annoyed enough that they decided to let you embarrass yourself. But of course they are grown Men, and would never think of doing that to a younger Man who tells them to their faces that he isn’t sure he can trust them.”
Balfrith’s jaw dropped. “But that’s not what I meant at all!” he exclaimed. Then, collecting his wits and noticing that he’d drawn the attention of several others in the hall, he said more quietly, “My concern is with other eyes and ears in this place, not with them.”
“I understand that, but you might want to make it more clear to them. Adradomir gave his approval of their company, and I think they expected to be treated as equals and companions, not as hired lackeys. If you treat them with respect, they may even agree to accompany us without demanding any pay at all, simply for the companionship.”
Balfrith sat back, silent. “You may be right - I hadn’t thought about that.” He paused for a moment, then continued, “We don’t know where they’re staying, do we?”
“No, but I would wager that deacon Diarmid does.”
“Perfect!” Balfrith snapped his fingers, growing excited. He drained off the last of his ale, and slammed the cup down on the table. “I don’t want to wait any longer than necessary. Perhaps Diarmid can send them messages on my behalf, asking them to come to the Frost Giant’s Beard and meet with us.”
Eldamir set his own cup down, having finished his wine, and said “Aye, perhaps he can. Let us go.”