By the time Ane returns to the caravan, all the wagons have un-hitched and spread throughout a large clearing between the trees. The ground here is particularly dry and well-trodden, great for the weighty wagon wheels and many barrels of supplies.
It seems most people have finished with their errands and tasks. Now they can finally take a breather, enjoying some time in camp without worry for an immediate departure. It’s a noticeably different atmosphere — in one corner of the camp, the knife-thrower Vasht is trying to teach the comedian Korin how to juggle, while Korin’s partner Jiselmo makes commentary. Elsewhere, the dancer triplets perch outside the herbalist’s wagon, gossiping as the old klorr leans out her window. And somewhere in the city, the caravan master Jarrik is off making his mischief.
The trumba graze, the people chat, the caravan master grifts for more gold… All is at peace.
Ane stops at her wagon to unload much of her burden — at least the heaviest bits, like the wax and coffee. With the herbalist’s medicines in a basket slung over her arm, she sashays over to the old woman’s wagon with a cheerful call:
As Ane approaches, she hears Dynkala and three others wrapped up in casual, gossipy banter. Old Dynkala is particularly animated.
“Well, if he has all his limbs, eyes, and his wonderful hair… Then it can’t be a very good curse now can it dear? Why, of all the ones I’ve seen-” She blinks her wide, slit-pupiled eyes, face lined with laughter as she turns to greet Ane.
“Oh, hello! Back from my little errand?” She asks kindly, leaning with her elbows over her windowsill. That window and her wagon seem as much a part of Dynkala as anything else. The sturdy, rustic vehicle has been hers for many decades. As Dynkala dwells deeper into her twilight years, she scarcely exits, mostly speaking through her open window — and open it always is, with a sign bearing a pestle and mortar swinging gently above.
The conjoined dancer triplets all give a little wave, one after the other. They have three sets of arms amongst them, fortunately enough for them to all sip some of Dynkala’s tea. The trio is perched on a wide crate, temporarily pressed into service as a seat until it has to go on to be rations or wagon parts.
“Yes, and I think I managed to get everything,” Ane says as she passes the basket to the aged herbalist. Even without tea and a place to sit, she almost immediately eases into the conversational atmosphere. “A medicine seller showed some interest in coming on board, so it’s a good thing I didn’t get extra — I told her to talk to Jarrik, but it looks like she’ll be bringing her stocks. You know he wouldn’t turn down free supplies.”
“Not even if they were falling out of a burning orphanage on Turnabout Eve,” Vila adds dryly. The other two triplets nod in agreement.
Dynkala, accepting the basket with a withered claw, seems more pensive.
“A medicine seller, hm? Maybe she plans to make marks of us,” she considers and tucks the basket down onto her lap inside the wagon. “Oh well. If she’s a swindler, she’ll never slip past me. I married three, raised two, and I work for one,” she says with a smile, looking down and picking through the items.
Ane chuckles lightly as she leans against the wall beside the herbalist’s window.
“She didn’t seem like one. No sawdust in the stomach-powder, at least, and the snowsage didn’t smell like turpentine. Speaking of the caravan master, though, how’s he doing after losing us a whole passel of mercenaries?”
Dynkala doesn’t acknowledge the comment on the caravan master at first, focusing on the materials. “That’s good. You always have had a good eye, figuratively speaking,” the old klorr agrees, nodding at the ingredients. No sawdust, no dyed leaves, no fake berries…
The trio, of course, is fully willing to take up the gossip-mantle. Between the three of them, they usually have quite a lot of it. Wila responds from behind a flap of her fan.
“Well, Jarrik’s certainly been left scrambling…”
“He even wanted to circle the wagons! Here, in Paako,” Zila says, astonished.
Vila scoffs. “It’s just how insecure he gets, without a bunch of buff kettle-heads to keep him company.”
Looking up, Dynakala murmurs, “He’s probably off scraping for more as we speak. Can’t just have that sharp boy Vasht handle things; liable to spook the root-twirlers with his glare.”
Ane gives a soft snort.
“Yes, well. Jarrik wouldn’t have to scrape as much if he’d pay them more than twice a year,” she scoffs.
“It would probably be more net funds, due to sign-on fees,” Wila reasons. “It’s simply mathematical.”
“Less spent on funerals and bribes,” Vila comments.
Dynkala chuckles, shaking her head. “He’d have to swindle twice as much, just to feel like he’s making money. Price-hiking my folk cures, cutting ingredients from the rest…”
“Void forbid, another fiasco like the Skilvargan Job,” Zila huffs.
Ane pushes herself away from the wagon with a shrug of her shoulder.
“Anyway, I’ve got things to put away, and a tent to set up. I’ll see you ladies around,” she says, with a casual wave as she turns to return to her wagon.
Dynkala nods, giving an idle wave. “Take care dear, and thank you for the materials! We’ll be doing well for a while now,” she beams, settling back. “Good fortune, maybe, for a spell…”
“Just watch out if you see Korin! He said he got cursed, it might be contagious,” Zila says with an air of scandal.
“Now, that’s not nice,” Wila reprimands, “The poor boy is unfortunate enough, all things considered…”
Korin? Cursed? The only thing he’s afflicted with is a damaged sense of humor.
Ane shakes her head gently. Her walk isn’t long, and the weather is pleasantly humid and cool after the dry dust of the last town and the spore-drenched air of the shadowlands. She swings her arms gently as she walks, humming the same strange, wordless melody from her vision-seeking as she goes.
It doesn’t take her long to set her tent up here, either. She doesn’t need it just yet, but it’s better to have it waiting for her than otherwise.
Now, back in her wagon, she settles by her window to enjoy the breeze (and occasional thwup of a shardfly against her curtains) with a large cup of geltsear leaf tea, sweetened with a bit of healer’s honey. The honey lends a light spicy note to the vanilla-tinged warmth of the geltsear leaf, infused as it is with herbs that are supposed to be a preventative for sickness — she doesn’t know how accurate that is, but it tastes good and it couldn’t hurt. Doubly so if Korin thinks he’s been ensorcelled and turns up at her door, coughing, sniffling, and looking for a curse-breaker.
In time, there is the sound of footsteps outside. The soft-shod trodding comes to a halt, and there’s the rustling of fabric that usually accompanies someone raising their hand to knock. The sound never comes, however. Instead, Korin sighs and reluctantly calls out:
“My name is Korin and I’m here to say, Jiselmo got me screwed in a major way.”
Then there’s a thud as if he’s hit his head against the door. He sounds rather despondent.
“Hello, Ko– What.”
Ane frowns at her door for a long moment, hand paused halfway to setting her cup down on the floor beside her bed.
Slowly, carefully, Korin opens the door and enters…
“Ah. Nothing. Wonderful,” he cheers loudly, though he looks down to find he has his index finger shoved into his closed left fist. “Oh, that’s just rude,” he complains, then mutters, “Ow,” and doubles over slightly, clutching his stomach.
Ane focuses her sight-hum at him, puzzled.
“What… What did Jiselmo do, exactly? And what’s it doing to you?”
I guess this is the curse.
“Well, for one thing, my stomach hurts whenever I complain,” he grumbles. He shakes his head — no, shakes his head, like a vibration. “Gods, it really does hit everything.”
There’s a slight pause, and Korin goes very still. He seems to be trying his best to do nothing. He’s still standing in the doorway, of course, and hasn’t even attempted wandering further in.
“I have to do this very carefully. It was very embarrassing last time. Let’s just try…”
He readies himself to reveal the problem, but then promptly seizes up — literally grabbing himself. Tensing his muscles, he fights back a motion in his arms, cranking them towards one another… With a shaking hand, he grasps hold of one leather glove and then yanks it off. This reveals his hand, which is as normal as can be.
“Damn. Well, at least I didn’t reveal something else this time. Do you have a piece of paper?” He asks, exasperated. His stoic features are more lined with weariness than usual, and one of his face-wings flaps in despair.
Ane nods, swirls wide. Without moving her gaze from him, she feels around in the cabinet beneath her bed for some cattail paper, before tearing off a corner of the roll and holding it out in his direction. She stretches her arm as far as she possibly can, as if afraid that this whatever he has might be contagious.
“Sure, yes, thank you,” he replies in even-tone. Then carefully, he reaches out for a stub of pastel placed nearby. “Thank Firin it’s not ink, I thought of several for that,” he whispers. Slowly now, he lifts the pastel… “Still good,” he mutters, almost sweating from the tension.
Then, he puts it to the paper and drags it one line at a time…
Two seconds later, the end of the pastel is in his mouth as if he’s trying to smoke it.
“Void-dammit, that’s not what I meant!” He curses around the pastel, which is now shoved between his lips.
If Ane had eyes that could blink in astonishment, she would.
“Are you… Is there a way you could just describe what happened? What did Jiselmo do?”
“I can, if you can think of a way to do that without revealing it to you,” he explains, raising his gloved hand. Then he promptly drops the pastel from his mouth and sets it nearby. “I would have brought Jiselmo to explain, but…”
His brow goes flat.
“He has way too much fun with this.”
She gives a soft murmur and an understanding nod. That’s Jiselmo, alright.
“Can you tell me what you need? What would cure you?”
“The trinket peddler said I would have to ‘cease the sins’ of myself and my ‘pet blabrel.’ Meaning Jiselmo, naturally,” Korin explains. “Maybe she can be reasoned with? Or something else, you are the expert,” he speculates. Fortunately for him, it seems most of his speaking is not affected. He’s very noticeably regulating his tone, however, as if trying to avoid some kind of consequence. Given his usual deadpan delivery, he’s at least skilled in this.
Korin sighs. “There’s no way we can stop this! It’s our job for Void’s sa- Errrh, damn!” He groans, clutching his stomach. “Yes, yes, I know, no bellyaching…”
Ane presses her lips into a thin line, biting back a chuckle. She has a feeling she knows how it went down… Jiselmo saw a trinket he liked, and tried to sweet-talk his way into getting it.
This will take quite the fixing.