Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 1

It is a quiet night in the busy city of Starvale.  Several drinking establishments have their slates out and sounds of raucous laughter issues from some and rowdy music from others.  One of the more reserved establishments has slates at the door advertising food, drink and rooms.  The slot for a fourth slate indicating entertainment is blank.  The sign above the door reads Boiling Kettle.

It’s well known that Madame Freia runs a clean place with inexpensive rooms, as long as you don’t mind sharing rooms with others.  Overall it’s one of the better places to stay and since a Halfling was the proprietor, one of the better places for commoners to eat in the harbor town on the Drakenmore Sea.

Starvale, with its many dangers and corrupted cabals is a far cry now from its former glory and its stink fills the nostrils of a pair of travel worn folk as they make their way through the dockside streets. With the rumors abounding of Dragon-Cultists, not to mention the thieves and thugs of the city, it’s best to find a safe place after dark.

They make a slightly unlikely pair, the man of medium height and build, his brown hair cropped short in a recently outgrown military cut.  Belts of pouches are strapped over his serviceable clothes and he walks with a long staff in his hand.  The woman is short, even for a Halfling and her fire red hair exploding in a tangled tumble in spite of a number of combs attempting to hold it in place.  A short sword was belted to her waist and a mischievous twinkle lurked in her green eyes.

Following them on docile hooves was a donkey with an assortment of baggage strapped carefully to his back.  Tents and bedrolls shared space with a strange looking bundle of plaid and polished wooden tubes.  From the look of the donkey he would welcome a warm stable and fresh fodder.

Sebastian pauses outside the Boiling Kettle’s door, giving Rowan a serious look. His icy blue eyes peer through the window, scanning the room for danger or at least a nice seat at the bar. He utters a word of caution to Rowan before they enter the bar. “Remember my dear evil can take many forms, be wary but also be yourself.”

Rowan smiles gently at Sebastian, “Yes, Sebastian. Always myself.” She sits next to him, wondering at the pain behind his eyes. She knows he’s seen much of life, even more than Ian had. By comparison, she feels brand new. Naive, green … everything so very different than her life on the farm. And so EXCITING! It’s hard to understand what life must look like through the pain-filled eyes of her friend.

A stout and officious Halfling looks up as they enter the door, “Greetings, travelers, I’m Mistress Freia and this is my place.” She begins, gesturing them to the common room as a boy came to take their donkey. “What can I get for you? We’ve shared rooms to let, meals for the hungry, stout ale and sweet cider for the thirst.  Or if you’ve a mind, now and again we’ve work for the honest and brave.”

Sebastian turns his gaze to the hostess, the intensity of his eyes causing her to take an involuntary step back.  “Pardon good mistress, yes we will need a room and a strong drink.  If you can provide both you have our business.”

“Oh for certain, I’ve got an ale that’ll sprout hairs on an Elf’s chest or else there’s harder.”  Madame Freia gestures to the row of dusty bottles behind the bar.  “Hard enough for a Dwarf who ain’t been underground for a year!”

Rowan breaks into a peal of laughter.  Even with the bandit fights this past winter, and helping with Ian’s wounds, it seemed not to touch her. As if she flies above such things with the wings of a phoenix, finding joy in giving relief to those in pain. Finding joy in teasing a smile out of Sebastian with a silly tale.

Most especially she had found sheer, fabulous ecstasy in the sound of her beloved pipes. So filled with memories, both hers and Ian’s. So full of love and pain and song and story. She will never know all of Ian’s tales, though she hopes to see him again, but the pipes clearly hold the memories dearly in the softness of the wooden pipes, in the beautiful tartan of the bag. Such a truly precious gift he gave her.

She owed it all to Ian and those darned bandits. That she escaped the life of a farmer and now dances down the road of life, eager for adventure, and spreading joy as best she can. She gives a start realizing that she was being asked for the second time what she’d like to drink.

Rowan beams delightedly up at Freia, “I would love a honey mead if you have it.”

“Oh a lass after my own heart!”  The plump Halfling says with smile, jerking Rowan out of her reverie. “I have a wonderful raspberry honey mead just now.  I suppose your man here wants sommat stronger?”

“Please, I’ll take a glass of whatever fits a new beginning.”  Sebastian says, leaning with his back to the wall and surveying the bar with a jaded eye.  He tries once again to put the thoughts of the war out of his mind trying to remember the good that he has done and will continue to do. The life of an adventurer has got to be better.

She begins expertly pouring drinks and quickly returns bearing a tankard of mead and a small glass of amber brandy. “Seven coppers for the drinks and four silver pieces for a shared room with several other travelers, if it please you.” she smiles up at you both.

“Wonderful, thank you!” Rowan says, paying her share of the fee. She takes a sip of the mead and closes her eyes briefly, as she enjoys the warmth of it sliding down her throat. “Ah! This is very sweet …” she sips again. “This is perfect after a long day on the road!” She smiles dazzlingly at the woman, and then turns her smile on Sebastian. “I like this place. This mead tastes almost like the brew that my neighbors make. Very full and sweet. Just lovely.”

“Well thank you ma’am, ’tis fermented by one of my daughters, the arts of brewing flourish amongst our kind.” She gives Rowan a wink then continues, “You’ll be sharing a room with ‘ol Tuskor, he’s friendly enough.” She gives you directions to your shared room then enquires, “Will that be all for now?”

Tuskor, who stood a ways across the room, raises an eyebrow at the “friendly enough” comment. He’d said little more than 3 words to the barkeep since he arrived the day before last. Tuskor, though a dwarf standing at 4′ 6″, is still an impressive sight to behold.

Clad from head to toe in hide armor and fur, all interlocked through a number of teeth, claws and bones. His wild silver-grey beard reaching down past his belly, but his hair even wilder down his back, almost touching the floor. His light grey eyes flicker from the human to the Halfling, and then back down to his mug of steaming milk which he sips slowly.

“Ah a drink and a bed sound great ma’am. If you have a bite to eat that would be great too. I don’t mind a shared room either, I grew up in a small house we shared rooms, food, and drink all the time.” Sebastian says, “Is there somewhere I can take my things miss? And will they be safe?” All the while lightly touching his scar and scanning the room for possible trouble.

“Well of course your things will be safe young wizard.”  She says, giving him a shrewd look.  “Naught happens in my place but I know about it.  If you wish to have your things put in your room I can send a boy to bring them for you.  Or you can bring them yourself as you choose.”

A tall, dark haired man pushes the door open and walks in with a swagger that speaks of confidence.  Throwing back his cloak he reveals sturdy chainmaile armor and a heavy broadsword on his hip.  A shield is strapped to his back and all his gear looks as though it has seen a bit of wear, although it’s well cared for.

Most everyone looks around at the sound of the door being opened with gusto, but only Sebastian recognizes Vellk, Hero of the Battle of Bone Valley.

“Vellk, you old dog you, what brings you to this little piece of heaven?”  Sebastian all but bellows, gripping the other man’s forearm in a firm grip.  Before you answer, tell me what you are having, it’s on me.”

Madame Freia offers Vellk the shared room with Tuskor, Rowan and Sebastian and hands over a frothy headed ale, black as burnt bacon and a welcome swallow against the chill that follows sundown.

“Four silver for the room if it please you, sir. We’ve also work for those who hire themselves as adventurers or mercenaries.” She says, eyeing Vellk’s armor and pointing over to a cork noticeboard amidst the throng of patrons, taking him for a veteran.

As Vellk and Sebastian catch up Freia brings a joint of roast mutton and a hunk of barley bread and places them before Vellk taking the three copper the war hero left her on the table with a smile and a nod.

Tuskor finishes his mug and walks up to the noticeboard. Previously he had been eyeing a job to clear a local cellar of some giant rats, which he hoped he could relocate. However, with so many seemingly capable adventurers in the tavern perhaps he could consider a more worthwhile task should they decide to unite.

Tuskor, not one easily missed with his hide and bone armor, is joined by Sebastian at the bulletin board. “See anything that piques your interest good sir?” He offers his hand “I’m Sebastian, and that lass over there’s Rowan, and that fine gentleman at the bar is Vellk the hero of the Battle of Bone Valley.”

Tuskor stares at the hand briefly before taking it, and slowly moving it up and down. Customs of these folk seem strange. “Tuskor of the Thundermane Clan.”

“Perhaps there are tasks here more suited to a larger group” Tuskor grunts through his beard with no easily visible movement from beneath it. “If you choose to take up a cause worthy enough, I could put my abilities to good use.”

“If you’d like you can join us.”  Sebastian says, “I know Vellk is a good man to have at your back in a tussle and I know my way around a spell or two.”

Noticing Sebastian’s eyes on him, Vellk joins them, tankard in hand. “Thanks for the ale my good man. It’s excellent to see you again. How has time been treating you? I hope well.”

“Time has been treating me alright, I don’t do well in civilian life so I figured maybe the adventuring life would be the place for me.” Sebastian said, “Let’s grab that table and talk it over.” Taking a sip from his glass of liquor, he slides into a seat, closely followed by the big warrior.

On his way, Sebastian catches the sleeve of Freia as she is hurrying by with a tray of empty mugs.  “Madame, would it be all right if I get a game of Twenty Bones going with my friends?”

Freia raises an eyebrow at him for a moment, but then nods.  “Any disputes that come to blows and you’re no longer welcome to stay.”  She says giving him a stern look.  “I don’t need any rough stuff in my place.  There’s plenty of gambling dens and low dives where you can go and get that kind of entertainment.”

Vellk sits on the sturdy wooden chair, hanging his shield over the back and kicking his sword scabbard out of the way as he settles himself with a motion that speaks of years of practice.  Rowan hops up onto a chair, nimble as a cat and then beams with surprise and childlike joy when she sees one of the other chairs at the table is made for Halflings.  Without coming remotely close to spilling her mead, she leaps from the chair she’s in and lands in a sitting position, level with the others at the table.

Sebastian pulls out his set of dice and winks at Vellk.  “The young lady there is Rowan. To be honest I thought it was going to be a pain and a chore to be looking after her but she lifts my spirits and gives me something to look forward to each day, a bright young face still innocent from the perils of this world. I know I will not be able to shield her from the harsh realities but I do know that I will be here to protect her Azuth and Mystra willing that is.”

Rowan gives them a cheery smile, completely ignoring the dig about her being a potential pain and takes another swig of mead.  “Sounds fun to me!  Dicing, drinks and new friends. What could go wrong?”

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