Summer has come into full sway- the crops in the field need tending, and the sun is bright and hot. Months have dulled the excitement of the Summer Festival, and life goes in in Berem. It is on just such a morning, shortly after first light, that Erin Quidd walks back into Berem, tossing a coin off the wishing bridge as he does so. He goes unrecognised by the folk who mill about the streets, less busy than it would be were this a market day, until he arrives at his parents’ home and knocks. A long moment passes before he hears footsteps on the stairs- his father answers the door. After only a second his eyes widen, and he drops his glass to shatter on the ground, then egulfs his son in a hug. They babble and apologise, and tears are shared and lost before Quidd’s mother comes down the stairs, as well.
Erin Senior breaks the news to his son that his friends don’t know that he thought him dead- he didn’t have the heart to tell them- he always hoped he’d find him, and has sent ship after ship out looking. They haven’tchanged his room, and have kept all his mail. Quidd says he needs to go see his friends, especially Richie, which reminds his parents- he has an invitation to Richie’s wedding, being held this very day in Cherry Crossing. He’s invited to be the best man. Quidd stares at it dumbfounded, then at his parents, before tearing out of the house, still quite barefooted. His mother remarks behind him, “He hasn’t changed a bit”, with a smile in her voice. “Thank the Gods.”
“No”, his father replies, “We both have.”
We move past Quidd’s run down the road, and his theft of a beautiful plow-horse named Ginger, a big bay draft horse. He shatters the bindings on her harness with a word and takes off down the road when the farmer’s back is turned.
The rest of the party is assembled in Cherry Crossing- Marten didn’t receive his invitation, as he was already IN Cherry Crossing, visiting Jenna. He was asked to bartend in the letter, and takes to the task anyway. Aelita has come in her Mother’s place to perform the ceremony- she had her own invite, but ignored it in favour of taking her mother’s place. Sasha only got here two days ago, and has been regaling children with poorly-told tales of her bravery. As “junior constable” of Berem, she is tasked in her invitation with stopping any fights that break out, unless they’re really good ones. Richard arrived by carriage with his bride-to-be, Halia of house Arnwin, along with Mai and Halia’s gaurdian, Aunt Heather Foxwen. They were prompptly put up in the Mayor’s house, evicting Marten and Jenna to take rooms in the Inn.
Marten has aken the opportunity over the week to confront Richard about his role in all this, at which Richard insists that he was in on the planning, and wants to be made an honest gentleman. It’s clear he is reciting from a script. Marten also visits with the Bride, who is none too enthusiastic about getting married, either. Asking about, he gathers that Halia is the sole heir to a noble estate outside Cherry Crossing, but only inherits it if she has an heir of her own- this marriage was devised to make a life for Richard and Halia, and put back together the broken pieces of their respective families. It’s what their relations think is best for them, whether they’re interested or not. Marten notes of Halia that she is self-sufficient and driven, but prone to sit back and let others make decisions for her. She is suspicious of others’ motives, probably from having grown up among nobles as something of a beggar-baroness.
Aelita also visits with the bride, though on less of a personal note- she wants to go over wedding vows. Aelita has already written what is sure to be a splendid and eloquent ceremony, but Halia has a few creative insights to add. Full of good ideas, this one.
People have been buying drinks for Sasha, and she’s rather sloshed. The Wurmslayer song is sung over and over, sans the last line of course.
The wedding party is assembled as afternoon turns toward evening- a beautiful dais has been constructed out in the orchards, with strung cherry blossoms and arches of flowering branches. Chairs and benches are brought in from all over and folk sit for the ceremony as Aelita unveils her beautiful speech- it brings tears to eyes (It had better, at a check of 33) and sets the tone perfectly. In the distance, the sound of hoofbeats can be faintly heard from the very edge of the crowd.
As she reaches the “Speak now or forever hold your peace” line, Quidd bursts into the clearing on horseback, shouting “STAAAAAAHHHHHHHP!” He rides right up to the dais, declaring that the show is over, that there’s nothing to see. Richard recognises his voice, and begins madly shouting his name before pouncing on Quidd from off the dais like a dog who’s just found his boy. Aelita takes off after the now-fleeing, frothing horse. Sasha, drunk, moves to escort Quidd out.
“Who is that boy?”
“I believe that’s the best man, Miss.”
It dawns on Mai that she was the one to invite the only person to object, and who also made him best man. She had been under the impression that nobody on the list would object.
Following this, a fight breaks out with Mai, over Quidd ruining all this hard work, and whether Richard should be allowed to marry, or even wants to. Richard says he doesn’t care, but he’s going with Quidd, and everything escalates from there as uncomfortable guests begin to slip quietly out the back.
It’s Halia who interrupts the fight, shouting over the top “Hold right the fuck up, isn’t anybody going to ask me what I think!?” Quidd starts to tell her to shut it, but she punches him in the nose, and lays him flat out- Richard tries to hit her for hitting Quid, and she lays Richard out, too. Aunt Hetaher comes over to get involved, but she tells both Heather and Mai “It’s over, okay? He doesn’t want to get merried, so that’s that,” and pulls Heather aside for a quiet word, which Marten goes over to eavesdrop on. Aelita tells the crowd, “That’s a wrap, folks”, and the guests begin to filter out.
Halia can be heard to be exchanging grief with her Aunt, who has run out of ideas to secure her future and honour her sister’s memory- Halia insists that she doesn’t know what she wants, but that all the pomp and circumstance really isn’t her. She never knew her mother- never saw the house until last week- and all the money in the world won’t make her happy if she’s just living to fulfill her aunt’s expectations.
“What will you do, then? What else is there to do?”
“Travel, maybe. I can take care of myself- besides, you’re more a mother to me that her memory ever was. I can’t get by just living on your name, though.”
Marten breaks in on this conversation, telling Halia that he’s sorry for the way things happened, and that if she’s ever in need of work or a place to stay, she’s sure to be welcome in Berem. Aunt Heather is silenced by the look Halia gives her, and she thanks Marten for the offer, though she sounds doubtful of it.
Quidd engages enthusiastically with the party, assuring them repeatedly that it’s really him and he’s not dead, only to find that nobody had any idea that anything had gone wrong in the first place- only Marten speaks up to say that he had suspected something was amiss from Quidd senior’s manner upon his return- he hadn’t told any of the rest of the party, and instead kept his own counsel. Quidd grew angry then, shouting at him that he had no right, and that it wasn’t his choice to make- Marten takes the abuse wordlessly, retreating to his room at the Inn when Quidd excuses himself to have some time alone in the forest. Richard follows him after a moment, whilst Sasha wanders off to her tent with a jug of wine and Aelita takes Ginger to the stables for some much-needed feed and rest.
Richard finds Quidd in the forest, sobbing quietly to himself- they are not the tears of child, but rather the shuddering silent sobs of a young man who expects no audience but himself. Quidd is startled by Richie’s quiet approach, and entreaty of whether he’s okay.
“No, Richie. I’m not okay. I don’t know what I’m going to do, and I’m not sure of anything anymore. Everything’s changed, I’ve changed- I’ve done things, Richie, terrible things. I’ve seen things- I’ve killed people. All of it was to get back here, to you guys, to my friends. I thought my father was dead- now I find out nobody even knew I was gone.
“I’m scared. I’m scared of everything that’s happening to me- I’m not even sure if I’m me anymore and I don’t like it. I’m just so scared, and I’m angry, and I don’t know how I’m going to control it.”
Richard comforted Quidd in his slightly-off way, while his friend cried into his shoulder and neatly-trimmed beard until there were no more tears to cry, and nothing more to be said. Quidd found a place to sleep in the hayloft of the stable, while Aelita kept company with the horses. Richard kept watch over them both, sleeping atop the pitched roof of the stable like a beagle atop a red doghouse.
Marten, having returned to his rooms, began to drink himself into a self-loathing stupor. He drank until he was incoherent, and then until he was sick. Jenna arrived in the midst of this, and, not knowing what else to do to help him, left and brought back a basin for him to vomit into, and plenty of fresh water, then held him as he cried, sang soothing songs as he babbled. “I was just trying to protect them, I didn’t mean for any of this. It’s all my fault, it’s all my fault.” Mayor Mattis, Jenna’s Father, came to see how things were geting on, but, after sharing a look with Jenna, left the two to one another’s comfort.
In the morning, the party made their terse goodbyes with the people of Cherry crossing- the crowds of folk in tents had thinned, and most who remained avoided their gaze, clearly not wishing to draw embarrassing attention to the events of the wedding. Marten bid Jenna farewell, with the promise to see her soon- she planned to visit next week or so to check up on things. Mayor Mattis gave Marten a firm handshake and a “Take care, Son.” With that, and some pointed eyebrow waggles from Quidd at Marten, and final flexing and posing from Sasha, the party headed out on the road.
With only the one horse between them, it was a long walk back to Berem- a day’s hard ride would stretch into two days’ travel on foot. Fortunately, the party were well-enough supplied, even if they would be sleeping rough. The party began to fill Quidd in on the events that had transpired since he left, and the first days’ walk passed more or less uneventfully until late afternoon, when a glimmer of movement cauhgt Quidd’s eye out in the forest- in the middle of a clearing, a pure white stag was grazing, having taken no notice of the party. Quidd shushed them all, and pointed it out, only to be surprised by their reactions- what the hell were they going on about?
This was one of the ghost animals they had encountered before, and briefly mentioned. Darryl had called them Beastwraiths. Quidd had read a bit about Beastwraiths, and recounted what he knew to the party. They were immaterial, and it was said that only enchanted weapons or magic could harm them. They arose when a great many animals were wrongfully killed and left to rot, and sought vengeance on humanity. This was mixed in with some fairytale nonsense, as well, but the party got the gist. Having managed to kill one of them before, they resolved to hunt this one, just as it looked up, startled, and wandered off into the brush.
Leaving Ginger the Horse on the road, the party crept into the brush, hundreds of feet up to where they had seen the Beastwraith. They were rewarded with silence, until, far behind them, a piercing, humanlike shriek was heard from the road- the Beastwraith had found Ginger. They tore back through the bushes toward the road in time to see the Beastwraith draw the last of the life from Ginger’s body. The horse shuddered, then, like a great exhalation, its spirit rose, flat-eyed from the remains of its shriveled body, howling in pain and rage and joy and celebration. A brief skirmish ensued, and several hits were scored against the pair of wraiths, which fled before long, as the edges of their forms began to appear tattered and thin. The party stared after in disbelief, and mourned the death of Ginger, who had been a good horse.