The trip back from Ane’s foraging is peaceful; unlike some other places, random violence and danger seem to be a rarity around Paakoponde. The locals are all relatively friendly, even waving at passing strangers. There’s only the faint reminders of danger — faded banners bearing the likenesses of grinning, crimson dragons, marks of the militant remnants of the Skilhouran Empire. On this side of town, the plate-armored soldiers are a rarity, with only the occasional gleam of their pauldrons to mark them out. According to what Ane has seen and overheard, most of them hole up in an ancient fort on some catapult-blasted hillside outside of the town’s limits. Long defeated, they hide behind walls and lick their wounds.
What’s important to Ane is that they’re far enough away from her own route, and the caravan has no interest in a bunch of stoic (or drunk) soldiers.
When Ane returns to the campgrounds, a few people are gathered with meals they’ve brought in from the city, sharing it in a hot-pot in a circle. This reminds Ane that she still needs some liquor from Brair, the fire-breather, to treat her mushrooms and herbs. Ane catches sight of him wandering back into the camp alongside Nelea and one of the mercenaries. The three of them seem unimpressed, but safe, as if they didn’t turn up much in particular during their own travels.
“Brair!” She calls out, giving her basket a heft. It’s probably enough for him to guess what she’s about to ask.
The stocky callosian looks up from his group’s light conversation, lofting a fluffy brow. When he sees the basket of mushrooms, he dons a smile that’s halfway to a laugh. Without hesitation, he raises a thick arm and waves her forward as he begins to walk towards his wagon. That’s where he keeps all of his chemicals, including both the alcohol and all of his “pyromajiks.” It’s a wonder he hasn’t burnt to a crisp after knocking over a candle or something.
Ane smiles as she walks over, though the expression is tinged with chagrin. She always feels like a kid asking for a sip from someone’s tankard when she does this, but so it goes.
“I’ve got a lot this time,” she admits, lightly brushing the topmost of the bright blue caps with the tips of her fingers. “How was your walk?”
“Hah! So deep into the bottle you go,” he says jovially. “If I didn’t know how potent those ‘shrooms are, I’d tease you for having private parties.” He catches his breath, smiling as he runs a hand over his reddish shock of hair. “Well, it wasn’t too ‘ventful. Vasht went for some ruins, and didn’t find anything sharp. Nelea and I went lookin’ for animals, but didn’t find anythin bigger ‘n a zool. Me, well… I got lost,” he says with a warm sigh.
“Getting lost could be fun. I found some slipshells yesterday, out behind the temple,” she says absently, as she plucks a stray leaf from her basket. “Maybe you’ll have more luck tomorrow, if Jarrik leaves us enough time to ourselves before we roll out.”
Brair ambles around the side of his wagon, then begins to pat his weighty hands across the wooden surface of the wagon’s side. It’s the side currently facing away from the camp’s edge, and he seems to orient it this way every time to protect its contents.
“Hrm… Well. I don’t know how a bunch of slipshells are fun, but I’ll take your word for it,” he says with a shrug. “One sec. I never can find this blasted thing…”
He begins pounding his fist across the side of his wagon, each thud in search of a secret catch somewhere in the woodwork.
She shrugs gently, as she steps aside to give the callosian a wide berth in which to thump the side of his wagon.
“They’re cute. I like the way they pop out of the mud.”
“Hrm…” THUD! “Point..” THUD. “Taken! AHA!” He grins, as suddenly a large, rectangular section of the wagon’s outer wall pops loose. Underneath is a metal hatch with a padlock on the handle. Brair pulls out a brass key and twists it in the lock. “If those slipshells’re from the temple, they must be… philosof’cal or somethin’. Did they get you into an argument?” He asks mirthfully, stepping back to survey his side-stash.
There, arrayed in front of the two of you, is a broad selection of small casks, bottles and barrels. Most of them are marked with black paint, though some bear their original labels. His collection represents everything from Pellan brandy to the ‘dragon water’ of the Skilhouran region. There’s not much in the way of ale and beer, since they’re not as easy to keep; it seems he mostly focuses on the strong, flammable stuff. There’s even cattail liquor and some local “root juice,” though that one’s not too popular. In the corner he keeps a very old vintage of taistberry wine. Brair’s been saving it for a “special occasion” for at least nine years now.
“So… Which of these did you need again?” He asks, scratching the back of his head.
“Nothing fancy — Just plain grain or cattail alcohol, if you’ve got it. Whatever’s strong, clear, and doesn’t taste like anything in particular.”
“Ah, yes — the really flammable stuff!” He now remembers, nodding. He reaches out a meaty hand and grabs hold of some cattail booze, kept in a tall, thick bottle. Brair passes it along to her readily. “That should do it! I only ever use it to light, so it won’t be missed; got plenty else that can do the same.”
“Great!” She says, taking the bottle from him eagerly. “It’ll be put to good use — this’s enough to last me for awhile, thank you.”
“Muchly welcome!” He booms. Brair then reaches up and takes down a bottle for himself, some of the cattail liquor. The callosian gives it a once-over, inspecting the brownish liquid. “By the by, you know anythin’ that’d spice up the local swill? I know some people are into it, but that earthy taste needs some kinda backin’ as I figure it,” he appraises, swishing it around in front of one eye.
Being considerably smaller than Brair, she has to stand on tiptoe and lean forward to try to get a scent of the brownish liquor.
“Hmm… Could pinch a couple of appohs or a few silverpeaches and warm them in it for a little bit. I’ve got some healer’s honey back at the wagon, that’ll help sweeten it and add a little spice… Or, if you’re feeling really daring, you could go half-and-half with some hearthfire vinegar,” she says, with a playful wag of her brows. Some people take gulps of hearthfire vinegar as a tonic, but not often. If anyone was going to drink it recreationally, though, it would probably be Brair.
“Well, it does have my favorite word in it,” Brair says with a grin. “Appohs and hearthfire vinegar! I’ll have to think up a glib name for the drink, maybe pitch it at the next tavern I hit…” He rubs his palms together, really getting on board with this idea.
Ane settles back on her heels, nose wrinkled slightly at the alcoholic burn of the cattail booze.
“Don’t know that you’ll find many takers, Brair. Not many have the ability to guzzle hot things like you do.”
Or the desire, for that matter.
He purses his lips, considering this. The cogs are turning in that singed head of his.
“Maybe I’m thinkin’ about this all wrong, then… I could bill it as a challenge, maybe charge for the attempt! The man who finishes the bottle gets three times the price o tryin’, but I’ll knock out dozens before the day’s done.” There’s a sinister gleam to his eyes. “That could work… Either way, I’m into this vinegar stuff! You got that and some appohs? If not, off to the market with me.”
“I think I’ve got a couple of appohs left from the last town, but they’re a little worse for wear… Ask Vaidna about the hearthfire vinegar, I bought it from her right before she joined up. She should have some more, if she brought her stock,” Ane says, with a little bounce of the basket over her arm.
“Ah, the blanket-woman? Sure… I think she was last seen sitting on a roof somewhere,” he figures, looking out across the wagon-tops. He then shrugs, looking back at Ane. “Anyway, sounds like a plan! Enjoy your mushroom party,” he bids her, and begins re-sealing his “secret” stash.
“Good luck with the appoh brew,” she says in return, as she turns to head back to her wagon. She’s got a few hours of cleaning jars, filling them with bits of mushroom, and pouring liquor over them, so it’s best she get started.
About an hour later sees her with a neat row of glass vessels and stoneware crocks, set up on the running board of her wagon to dry. Ane sits on the steps leading to the wagon’s door, pulling the stems from the blue boletes and cutting each plump, spongy cap into quarters. Their insides bruise a light bluish-purple, and it’s all she can do to keep them from staining her fingertips as she tosses them into a waiting basket.
Once she’s through, she packs each vessel with chunks of mushroom cap. Brair’s liquor pours over the top to cover them, readying them for the long, patient process of turning into the cobalt-blue tincture that facilitates her strange journeys.
By the end of the day, her cabinets are full to nearly bursting with containers of tincture-to-be. She has to secure them with ropes tied to eyes screwed into the frames of her cabinets, to keep them from jostling and spilling (or worse — breaking) during the long, bumpy wagon rides ahead.
Satisfied with her day’s work and a successful foraging trip, Ane settles into bed to idly draw pictures of dream-creatures with a stub of charcoal. She can still remember the feeling of stretching the strange spider-bird’s wings as it flitted through the shadowlands… A fascinating, but faint dream here in the peace of Paakoponde. She hopes this peace will last for some time longer.