Crack! A branch snapped behind them. Simultaneously, the trio turned around and stared at the figure before them. Goom recoiled in fear. There was a clashing of swords then silence.
Luckily, the clashing of swords had come from Dennis who also crashed to the ground in fear. When you're carrying around a big bundle of swords, there's going to be some clashing.
The enchantment was still holding strong, despite the fact that the smugglers were surrounded by Fairylands strongest warlocks. "Stay still," Murt whispered.
The dark figure stood over them, but he clearly hadn't sensed their presence. Peculiar.
Convinced that they were safe under the enchantment, Murt signaled to Goom and Dennis that they should try to creep away.
They tried to slowly get back to their feet, but that's when Dennis stepped on Murt's hand.
It didn't hurt badly, but the sudden, unexpected pain caused Murt to lose his focus, and he dropped the enchantment that protected the group.
Goom and Dennis didn't know that they were now visible, but they were tipped off by the horrified scream of the Ulimni standing near them. A frightened Ulimni?
"Ahh!" The figure pulled a weapon from under his cloak and started wildly swinging it at the stooping dwarves. Meanwhile, the other cloaked figures were running over to his aid.
"Stay back wizard!" he screamed. Clearly, this man was no Ulimni and neither were the others.
"Wait!" yelled Goom. "He's the only wizard here. Hit him." He pointed at this Murt.
"You coward!" Murt yelled.
Then he attacked Goom and the two of them rolled around on soft dirt exchanging punches, kicks, and the meanest dwarf insults they knew while Dennis tried to break them up.
By the time they'd settled down, the men who were not Ulimni had gathered around and were enjoying the show. They'd removed their hoods to reveal themselves to be nothing more than ordinary men.
They were, in fact, minstrels, and they each had an instrument slung to their back. The man who'd been swinging a weapon at them was actually swinging his lute.
By now, Goom, Murt, and Dennis, were all breathing heavily, and the fighting had ceased.
They looked around and realized that they weren't going to be killed at the hands of Ulimni, but they might be serenaded by a troop of minstrels, and it was hard to say which was a worse fate.
"Who are you?" the lute player asked.
"We're merchants," Goom replied, thinking quickly. "We've got swords to sell, and we're headed for Neloth's Valley to meet some disgruntled orcs."
"Are there any other kind?" They all laughed long and hard at the glockenspielist's fine joke, and the tension was broken.
"Neloth Valley, eh?" another minstrel chimed in. "Real shifty folk in those parts. Tough place."
"Exactly!" Goom announced. "There's nothing that a shifty Orc loves more than a good stabbing sword. It's the easiest job ever."
They talked, and each group asked questions of the other. The minstrels were making their way to Mellarah and the Hall of Music.
They were jazz minstrels, and their flamboyant disregard for musical conventions made them unpopular with many a Fairyland creature.
They traveled dressed as Ulimni to avoid thugs, hooligans, and music critics
Mellarah and Neloth's Valley were in the same general direction, so the groups continued to travel together.
Goom remained wary of the minstrels, but he figured it would be a bit suspicious to demand that they travel alone. So, they continued through the forest, hiking toward the setting sun.
The first leaves of autumn crunched under their feet, and "Send Me on My Way" by Rusted Root was playing in the background.
Their chance encounter had cost them a bit of time, and unfortunately, they'd have to make camp and finish the journey at daybreak.
Goom, Murt, and Dennis set up their modest tent, and the jazz minstrels set up their beanbag chairs. They ate roasted Pheasant lips and told super-raunchy stories about make-believe women.
Goom awoke the next morning, grateful for his first night of restful sleep in several days, but that only lasted until Goom saw that the minstrels were gone and they'd stolen everything.