29 Mar 2019

The Elf's Prisoner - Chapter 23

Chapter 23

A knife found, a villain revealed.
Silver Trailings, outside the Realm Below the Mountain
The sight of the gate outside the Realm Below the Mountain through the steady rain lifted the spirits of the small group.  After three days of rain, all five were eager to have a roof over thir heads.  Jyslyn pulled her cloak tighter around her as she shivered.  "I do not like this rain."

"It'll stop," Nyssa said.

"You promised me that yesterday morning."

"Once we're past the gate, the first thing we do is find an inn," Kazimier said.  "No one likes being caught out in the rain, Jyslyn."

Wren shrugged.  "I like it."

Lightning lit the sky.  A sharp crack followed right after.  Jyslyn had her grey rod out before the thunder finished rolling.  "What was that?"

"Just thunder," Wren said.

"We should hurry," Nyssa said.  "That was close.  Sooner we're inside, the better."  She spurred her horse to walk faster.

"Jyslyn, put away the rod," Kazimier said.  "Nyssa's right.  We need to get past the gates and into an inn.  There, a change of clothes, a warm fire, some wine, and we'll feel far better."

"I still do not like this rain."  Jyslyn put her rod away.

Kazimier led the rest of the group as he followed Nyssa.  The stone gates loomed as the group neared them.  Two guards stepped out of a small hut, placing themselves between the group and the gates.  After several question about the party's intentions, the guards let the group through.  The gateway provided a brief respite from the downpour.  Past the gates, a sprawling town sat drenched, water pouring down roofs in sheets and splashing on to the cobblestone streets.

Nyssa took the lead in the search for an inn, leading the group down the main street.  Thunder cracked above.  Jyslyn stiffened in her saddle, but kept her instinctive reaction in check.  Still, the dark elf's hand went for her grey rod before she stopped herself.  Few people were out in the weather; all who were tried to keep themselves dry.  Finally, Nyssa stopped in front of a stone and wood three-storey building.  A sign hung from a beam proudly declared the inn's name, the Inn of the Foxes.   She dismounted.

"Leomund, tend to the horses and get them inside," the old knight said.  "Let the stablehands do the work, though.  Get the horses in, then get yourself inside."

"Yes, ma'am," the squire said.

Wren jumped off her horse.  "I'll help you, Leomund."

Kazimier slid off his mount, then helped Jyslyn down from hers.  "We'll have a hot meal waiting for you two," he said, addressing the younger pair.  "Meet us in the common room when you're done with the horses."

As Leomund and Wren led the horses to the inn's stables, Nyssa, Kazimier, and Jyslyn entered the inn proper.  They were met by the warmth of a fire and the crowd singing a bawdy drinking song.  Nyssa walked over to the innkeeper, a portly man sitting on a stool at the end of the bar.  He beamed at the newcomers, getting up and spreading his arms wide.  "Welcome to the Inn of the Foxes, travellers.  Are you looking for a warm meal and good drink?  Or maybe a room?"

Nyssa returned the innkeeper's smile.  "We're looking for several rooms if you have them.  And I'll take you up on the warm meal and drink."

"I'll have a girl set up three rooms on the same floor for you.  If you want water for the bathtub, let me know."

Jyslyn perked up.  "I would love a warm bath."

Kazimier just stared at the fully covered dark elf.  "You were just complaining about the rain."

Jyslyn waved her hand, dismissing the comment.  "A bath is different.  I'm not getting pelted by drops of cold."

The innkeeper clapped his hands twice.  "I'll have the girl get yours ready.  You can wait by the fire.  I'll send someone with your meal."  A young girl, wearing a simple green dress, her hair in a dingy white wimple, arrived.  She curtised to the new guests.  The innkeeper gave her instructions, repeating them to make sure she understood.  The girl ran off.  "She'll have your rooms ready by the time you're done eating."

Nyssa clasped the man's arm.  "You are a saviour, good sir.  We'll need two more plates.  Our friends are in the stables dealing with our horses."  She patted the innkeeper's shoulder.  "Thank you."

The old knight led Jyslyn and Kazimier through the common room to the fire, finding a free table.  Jyslyn sat with her back to the rest of the crowd, keeping her hood up.  Kazimier sat across from her.  Nyssa sat closest to the fireplace.  She warmed her hands, rubbing them together near the flame.  "I needed this," the old knight said.  "I was starting to think my hands would be stuck holding reins."  She turned to face the elves.  "Jyslyn, lass, you're going to attract attention wearing your cloak."

"I'm going to attract more attention if I take it off," the dark elf countered.  She scanned the crowd.  Most of the other customers were human, but Jyslyn saw a few dwarves and some beings even shorter that she didn't recognize.  "No other of my people are here, thank the Gods Above and Below.  I am well aware of the reputation my people have up here on the surface."

Kazimier reached out to take one of Jyslyn's gloved hands.  "I know.  But Silver Trailings is different.  It's a trade town.  All sorts have passed through here."

Nyssa arched a grey eyebrow.  "You've been here before, lad?"

"The dwarves are master metalworkers."  Kazimier rattled the arm of his chain shirt.  "We need to get the raw material from somewhere."

A teenaged girl arrived, tray in hand, her green dress not quite containing her breasts.  "Here you go!"  She set down five steaming bowls of dark broth.  Meat and vegetables crowded together in the soup.  "I thought there was five of you?"

"We're waiting for two more."  Kazimier spotted Leomund and Wren entering the inn.  He waved to them to let them know where the group was.  "There they are now."

"Oh, good," the serving girl said.  "The mutton broth is best when hot.  Eithne, Berach's wife, makes it special."  The red-haired girl set down five small mugs on the table.  "And dwarven spirits, to warm you up from the inside."

Leomund sat down beside Nyssa.  He smiled at the serving girl, his eyes lingering for several moments on her decolletage before he attacked his bowl of mutton broth.  "Thank you," he said between spoonfuls.

Wren sat down beside Jyslyn.  She picked up the small mug of spirits and gave it a sniff.  The alcohol made her wince.  "This is drinkable?"

The serving girl laughed.  "It's an acquired taste," the redhead said.  She turned to Jyslyn.  "You'd dry off faster if you took off your cloak."

"My friend here has a condition that has marred her face," Kazimier said.  "She doesn't want to frighten anyone here.  It's not contagious, but why frighten your customers?"  He dropped a few silver coins on the serving girl's tray.  "Thanks for bringing our food.  We've been out in the weather and a good cooked meal is what we need."

The serving girl grinned.  "Any time!  My name's Sorcha.  If you need anything, just call me."  She heard someone from the crowd call her name.  "See?  Like that."  She skipped away.

Jyslyn picked up her mug.  "Marred my face?"

"It was the best I could think of.  Sorcha won't think you're up to no good now.  And, given how friendly she is--"

Nyssa laughed.  "Friendly?  She was working you for a tip, lad.  I'm surprised that everything stayed inside her dress when she bent over to set down the soup."

"She was friendly.  And now, if people ask her, she has a tale of sorrow."  Kazimier picked up a spoon to stir his mutton broth.  "They'll be curious, but they should respect your privacy."

Jyslyn snorted.  She sipped her dwarven spirits, feeling the alcohol's heat trace its way down her throat.  "This is wonderful.  Almost like what we have back home."  Jyslyn took another sip, longer this time.  "I need to bring some back with me when we leave here."

Wren eyed her own mug, then took a sip.  Her eyes bulged as she gagged.  "This is good?" she said, her voice a rasp, once she found her breath again.

Kazimier pounded on the young elf's back.  "It's strong.  I can ask Sorcha for a wine if you prefer."

"No, no, I'm good.  I can drink it."  Wren set the mug on the table.  "Kazimier, I thought we were going into the mountain.  Why are we out here?"

"The dwarves don't let just anyone inside," Nyssa answered.  She slammed back her dwarven spirits.  "That's a good batch they have here."  The knight set down her mug.  "There are many secrets held in the Realm Below the Mountain, and others are only let in on invitation.  Even then, they're not allowed past the Entry Cavern.  But, the dwarves do need to meet with merchants and ambassadors, and the Entry Cavern is large enough to have embassies and its own market."

"When are we going in?"  Wren started on her mutton broth.

"We need to be invited first," Kazimier said.  "Nyssa and I can work on that while the you rest up from the trip."

Nyssa nodded.  "I'll write the request for audience from both the Niceans and the dwarves.  We'll figure things out from there."

The young girl from earlier arrived at the table.  "Excuse me, good travellers," she said, "the bath is ready.  If you just follow me."

Jyslyn pushed away from the table.  "Thank you," she said.  She grabbed her half-eaten broth and her spoon.  "Show me the way."

Wren watched as the dark elf threaded her way through the common room.  "Bath?  We have bathtubs in our rooms?"

"Once you've eaten and if Jyslyn is done with her bath, you can take one," Kazimier said.  "For now, warm up by the fire. and enjoy the food."

"Listen to the man, lass," Nyssa said.  "These comforts are rare when you're on the road."

Next Week:
Cultural differences come to a head.

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