Bridging the cultural divide.Inn of the Foxes, Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
Nyssa pressed her signet into the still-warm wax sealing the second of her message scrolls. She shook out her hand, trying to work out the stiffness and cramps she earned while writing,. Nonetheless, both missives were ready.
The door crashed open. Nyssa spun in her seat, her hand falling to the dagger in her belt. Leomund lurched into the room, one step at a time. The knight relaxed. "Really, Leomund, decorum."
The squire fell across one of the beds. "Why do dwarves hate us?" he groaned.
"Too much to drink." Nyssa walked over the her squire's side. "What happened?"
"I learned to not outdrink an elf. Birdie kept up with me."
"Haven't I always said that you'll meet your match some day?" Nyssa helped Leomund roll into bed properly. "And that you'll pay the price for trying?"
"Never thought my match would be an elf girl."
Nyssa pulled Leomund's boots off. "It's always the one person you would never suspect." She slapped the squire's leg. "Roll on your side."
With effort, Leomund did as he was told. "What are we doing now, ma'am?"
"You are sleeping off the spirits. I have two messages to get delivered." Nyssa returned to the table where the missives sat. She choose two ribbons, one red, the other green, to tie around the scrolls. "We'll talk when you recover." Hearing nothing from her squire, she turned back to Leomund only to find him fast asleep. The old knight chuckled. "Sleep well," she said in a soft tone. She gathered the scrolls and left, closing the door quietly behind her.
Candles in holders lit the inn's second floor hallway. From downstairs came a raucous chorus of a drinking song. Nyssa joined in under her breath as she desceneded the stairs. She found Berach, the innkeeper, sitting at his usual spot at the end of the bar. Nyssa approached him, her expression friendly. "Just the man I wanted to see!"
Berach got off his stool. He returned the knight's friendliness. "Your accommodations are to your liking, I trust?"
"Everything a tired traveller needs after a long trip. I do hope my younger charges weren't too much trouble down here."
"Not at all!" The innkeeper leaned in, as if to pass along gossip. "Mind, I've never seen anyone able to walk after four mugs of spirits, let alone six. Your young man had people paying his bar bill just to see how far he could go."
"Six?" Nyssa shook her head in dismay. "In the morning, he's going to need a full pot of your best tea. How much do I owe for the rooms?"
Berach waved away the concern. "One of the elves, the man, already paid. Handsomely, too."
"He is thoughtful." Nyssa held up the scrolls. "I have need of a messenger or two."
"Of course. The Inn of the Foxes can deliver any message you have to anywhere in Silver Trailings."
"I will tell my friends all about your fine establishment when I return home." Nyssa handed Berach the scrolls. "The green needs to go to the Nicean embassy."
The innkeeper frowned. "Now is not a good time to send them a message. Their chief ambassador disappeared two weeks ago. Right under the noses of the dwarves' constabulary and even past the Galan Shields' own soldiers here in Silver Trailings." Berach shook his head sadly. "The Niceans may not answer you."
"I still need the scroll delivered to them." Nyssa passed over the scroll with the red ribbon. "This one is a request for an audience with a dwarven official. I come as an emissary from the Seven Dominions, but I don't know just which office I should be sending my request to."
"My messenger will know." The innkeeper tucked both scrolls under his arm. "I am honoured to have an esteemed ambassador in my humble lodgings."
Nyssa barked with laughter. "If only Count Varin heard you now." She clapped the innkeeper on the shoulder. "Thank you, Berach. I just need one more thing, if it won't be a bother."
The innkeeper beamed. "What can this lowly servant get for my honoured guest?"
"A mulled wine. It has been a long day and I need something warm."
"Of course. I'll have Sorcha bring it to you." Berach returned behind the bar, walking down its length to greet a newcomer.
Nyssa found a table away from the crowd in the common room. She sat, stretching her arms and legs to work out the kinks. The crowd burst into another drinking song. Nyssa joined in, belting the words more or less in tune. Sorcha arrived with the knight's mulled wine as the song wound down. "Alone tonight?" the red-haired girl asked.
"My companions are busy," Nyssa said. "We needed to get away from each other."
Sorcha sat down beside the knight. "I know that feeling. There are days when I just want to get away from my sisters and brothers." She rubbed her calves. "But Uncle Berach needs our help here."
Nyssa sipped her mulled wine. "Yet, you want to spread your wings and see what else is out there."
"You understand! I love my family, but I don't want to be here all my life."
"Where would you like to go?"
The redhead check around her, seeing if there was anyone listening in. She leaned in closer to Nyssa. "The Nicean Islands. They have trade schools there that I want to attend. I've even been saving my tip money." Sorcha sat up straight again, adjusting the neckline of her dress.
"That explains the view." Nyssa gave the girl a reassuring smile.
"It helps with tips." Sorcha stood up. "I better get back to work."
Nyssa dropped a few silver coins on Sorcha's tray. "This should help."
"Thanks!" The red-haired serving girl picked up the tray and returned to work.
Returning to her mulled wine, Nyssa wondered if she had ever been that age, full of energy and dreams. Twenty-seven years of knightly service, the past eighteen reporting directly to the King of the Seven Dominions. The responsibilities turned Nyssa's hair a grey matched only by steel before her thirtieth year. By all rights, Nyssa believed she should be working out what she wanted to say to the dwarven officials should they grant her request for an audience. Yet, the knight also felt she needed the evening's rest to be herself; not the King's representative nor Count Tathan's messenger, just Nyssa.
Kazimier arrived at the table, sitting down beside Nyssa without a "by your leave." His hair was damp; a droplet of rain water traced its way down his temple. He rubbed his hands together, warming them up. "I hope I'm not interrupting," the elf said.
"Just shirking responsibility." Nyssa raised her glass of wine in toast. "How is your herd of cats?"
"Wren's going to be miserable in the morning."
"I heard. Leomund's not going to be pleasant, either. He had six mugs of spirits. Six! He doesn't look that sturdy, but bigger men would have been left on the floor."
"Wren lost count. Were we ever that young?"
Nyssa set down her half-full glass of wine. "When everything was bright and new and untried? A lifetime ago, lad." She sighed. "And Jyslyn? What of her?"
Kazimier's sigh joined Nyssa's. "She's adjusting, still. I think she gave me a compliment, but it got lost in the cultural divide."
"Hang on, lad. Sounds like you need some wine yourself." Nyssa waved to Sorcha. "What were you doing out in the rain, lad?"
"I needed to get some fresh air. Things got awkward upstairs." Kazimier adjusted his seating on the chair, trying to get comfortable. "I made a few discoveries, though. The atmosphere here in Silver Trailings is tense. The town guard is watching everyone. No one is walking alone. The tension isn't bad near the hotel and gate, but closer to the entrance to the Realm Below, well, let's just say that I wouldn't be surprised if a riot broke out if two people bumped each other."
Sorcha arrived as Nyssa pondered the information. "Hello again!" the red-haired serving girl said. "Did you want another wine, one for each of you?"
Nyssa drained the remaining wine in her glass. "I would like another. Kazimier?"
"Do you have any perry?" the elf asked.
"Perry?" Sorcha cocked her head to the side, puzzled. "I don't think we do. I've never heard of perry. What is it?"
"It's like cider, but instead of using apples, perry uses pears."
"We do have cider. Uncle Berach makes it himself."
"Sounds wonderful," Kazimier said. "I'll have a cider." The elf watched as Sorcha dashed off. "Did you notice how much her dress revealed, Nyssa?"
"Can't say I have." Nyssa winked at the elf. "I have some information for you, though. The Nicean ambassador is missing and has been for two weeks. Galan's Shields must be trying to find him."
"The Shields are the town guard. They're not going to find the ambassador in Silver Trailings." Kazimier leaned back as Sorcha returned. The red-haired serving girl set down two warm glasses, one filled with mulled wine, the other with apple cider. The elf paid for the drinks, leaving a few extra silver coins with Sorcha. Once she left, Kazimier continued, "Who ever is sowing chaos was successful here."
Nyssa sipped her wine. "You don't know the half of it, lad. If Count Tathan had his way, it wouldn't be me here. He'd have his army outside Silver Trailings' walls. Imagine the tension then."
Kazimier nodded as he mulled over the idea. "And this is with the dark elf dagger not found on the ambassador's body."
"What I don't understand is why. Why does whoever is behind all this want the entire coast warring?
Kazimier took a long draught of his cider. "I shall pray with morning's first light to learn the motive," he said.
"Stay near," Nyssa said. "I want you to come with me to meet with the dwarves, and we both need to see the Niceans."