‘But ROYYYYYY!’ Belkar groans, taking the smallest steps possible down the path, ‘I have to!’
‘NO!’ Roy sets Elan’s pretty features into his sternest because-I’m-the-party-leader-that’s-why expression.
‘But – ’
‘I don’t care!’. Roy casts a look over his shoulder to where the rest of the party are lagging along behind, and raises his voice so they can all hear him. ‘We can’t trust you not to do anything horrible if we let you go off by yourself, Haley’s in no state to keep an eye on you and in any case’ – his voice is shooting up in pitch again – ‘NOBODY is going to the bathroom until we all get turned back, and that’s final!’
Belkar whimpers softly. ‘Roy, I can’t believe I’m the one saying this to you, but be reasonable! It’s at least half a day’s walk back to the village! And I’m telling you, this is way more uncomfortable from this side of the fence – I don’t know how chicks stand lining up for bathrooms all the time without getting stabby.’
Roy refuses to answer, glaring straight ahead into the distance. He has a horrible feeling that the halfling has a point, and that’s what scares him most of all in this whole situation.
‘Anyway,’ Belkar glares ‘I don’t really see how you’re going to stop me.’ Spinning around, he extends one of Haley’s long legs and jumps off the path, tearing away into the undergrowth. With a growl of annoyance, Roy sets off after him. Haley and Elan are both fast runners, and it’s oddly enjoyable to be able to move so lightly and quickly, an experience Roy hasn’t had since he was around fourteen.
‘You’ll never catch me, Greenhilt!’
‘You keep telling yourself that, Belkar.’
‘And even if you do, 5gp says the chick can totally beat up the bard!’
Hmm. Roy’s actually always sort of wondered about that himself. He suspects that again, Belkar might have a point, and is so caught off-guard by this happening twice in one morning that he’s too distracted to notice his quarry shinning up the nearest tree.
‘UURRGH!’. He does, however, notice when about 170 pounds of fully-grown human female, armour and pack drop directly onto his head. Combat reflexes taking over, Roy twists and bucks, hooking his hands into Haley’s long red hair, and the two of them go rolling over and over through the undergrowth.
‘ROY, stop – OW – being such a – DAMMIT – jerk! I’m not gonna – AARGH! – do anything to Haley’s – QUIT IT! – body! At least not anything worse that you’re doing to it right now!’
‘GET OFF ME, you horrible disgusting – AARGH – I’m gonna turn us back, and then I’m gonna kill you, and none of the rest of the party will blame me for one – OWW, STOP IT!’.
Apparently, Roy now owes Belkar five gold. Somehow, the halfling has ended up sitting on Roy’s chest, fists digging into his – well, Elan’s – collarbone. Both of them are sweaty and flushed from the running and fighting, and Belkar’s hair has tumbled loose around his – Haley’s – shoulders due to the hair-pulling. Belkar can feel the man’s chest heaving under his hands, and Roy is painfully conscious of the weight of the long, heavily-muscled legs wrapped around his upper body. Their heartbeats. Glittering green eyes meet sparkling blue, and just for a moment, it’s the most unsettling thing either of them have ever –
‘Unhand my friend, you fiend!’
Belkar leaps up as though he’s been Fireballed as Vaarsuvius bursts onto the scene and launches hirself at them with all the halfling speed and viciousness that should rightly belong to Belkar himself. The elf realises mid-spring that ze is not actually sure which member of the party ze should be attacking, then appears to make a split-second decision, Tumbles in mid-air and goes for Roy.
‘For shame, Sir Greenhilt! How can you allow the halfling to goad you into causing harm to Miss Starshine?’
Roy puts up his hands, ineffectively trying to swat V away. ‘I’m sorry! I let him get me mad, that’s all!’.
Haley’s face has turned completely white, and Belkar looks oddly shaken as the elf turns to scold him. ‘Hey, I didn’t mean for that to happen! But he was being a jerk, he wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom, and –’.
If only they had a camera. The expression on Belkar’s twisted clever-ugly little face as V pulls one of hir trademark purse-mouthed ‘I’m-about-to-launch-into-a-three-hour-lecture’ faces is absolutely priceless.
‘Sir Greenhilt. Much as it pains me to acknowledge it, the halfling does indeed have a point. I am afraid you do Miss Starshine no favours if you force Belkar to neglect the needs of her physical body, and since we have – ’
‘Um,’ the look of embarrassment is totally uncharacteristic for either Belkar or Haley. ‘Um, don’t worry about it, Ears. I sort of, um, I think I don’t wanna — I mean, I don't need to go any more.’
The elf looks sceptical. ‘Very well then. I suggest that we cease this foolishness, and return to the rest of the party forthwith. Come along.’
Without thinking, Belkar puts out a hand to help Roy to his feet, and then jumps away again as his heart gives another almighty lurch when their fingers brush. ‘Oh, man. Oh man, oh man, oh no. This is too disgusting.’
Roy shuts his eyes grimly as he sets off behind V. ‘I don’t like it any better than you do, Belkar.’
Both of them are walking slightly oddly as they proceed back to the rest of the party: Roy thanks all the powers that be for the chainmail tunic that conceals the reason for his odd gait, while Belkar is just happy that dark brown leather doesn't show any kind of damp. The halfling insists on walking the whole way with his head turned sideways in order to avoid the sight of Elan’s butt as Roy walks in front of him, while Roy does the journey with one hand over his face to keep the smell of Haley’s clean hair and warm leather armour out of his nose. When they rejoin the party they split by unspoken mutual consent to the rear and the front of the group respectively, putting as much distance as possible between themselves.
‘How much longer do we have to go, Durkon?’
Durkon, who has politely insisted on giving Elan a ‘break’ from guiding Haley along the path, speaks up. ‘It’s nae even lunchtime yet, sae I’d sae a good few hours yet, lad’.
Roy closes his eyes, sighs deeply, and comes to a decision. ‘Right. I didn’t want to do this, and I don’t even know if it will work, but I’m afraid it's reached the point where we have to take any advantage we can. Elan?’
A clank of armour behind him tells him that the bard is there. ‘Yes, Roy?’
‘I know your voice is gone, but do you think you can still play your lute?’
Elan fishes in his pack for a few moments, pulls out the instrument, and runs the strings under his fingers. There are a few clumsy notes as his hands adjust to being smaller and thicker, but thankfully the shape of the music is still there.
‘Alright, then. Here goes nothing!’
Desperately, frantically, hoping for any magical edge the party can scrape together, Roy opens his mouth and begins to sing. The result is actually a little frightening. Ever since he was little, Roy has never tried to sing anything more complicated than holiday carols and the Fighting and Drinking Song of Bash U. But now, here it is, easy as speaking, easy as breathing – Elan’s beautiful light tenor voice rolls out of his throat, filling the forest clearing with music. And he can feel it – comfort and cheer stealing into everyone’s hearts, even his own, the music giving them courage to move on even through the horror and weirdness of this very horrible and weird day. After he finishes the first chorus, Roy turns to the others, motioning to Elan not to stop playing.
‘Everybody, all together this time. You know what to do!’.
Surprisingly, Haley is the first to join in from under the cloak. No-one can remember ever having heard V sing, but the elf’s voice is a husky, soft contralto, picking up the melody and carrying it along. Durkon joins them in Roy’s rumbling baritone, looking surprised and pleased to have suddenly acquired a singing voice. Belkar pitches in with Haley’s thin, crystalline soprano and doesn’t even change the words to say anything appalling, and V sings counterpoint in Belkar’s slightly deeper tenor, dipping and weaving around Roy’s melody, halfling voice wielded with elven skill. Finally, even Elan himself starts up, softly so as not to disturb the others, blending Durkon’s harsh tuneless croak into the melody as best he can. They walk along the path, singing together, united in a simple yet heartfelt prayer:
‘Remember, remember, remember, remember who we are!’
To be continued…