Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 2

Rowan watches her friend talking with the other veteran and smiles widely at them. She cannot believe her luck! Two vets, two heroes, TWICE the excitement! She sees the food that Sebastian and Vellk ordered still sitting at the bar so she slips out of her chair and winds through the crowd. Rowan stands on tippy toes to reach the two bread bowls and the joint of roast mutton, balancing them effortlessly with her drink as she walks over to join Sebastian.

“Hungry, my friends? You’ve forgotten something!” Giggling, she looks to Vellk and smiles widely. “Hello! I’m Rowan, well I know Sebastian already introduced me but I like to do it myself because I think it’s friendlier that way.  Sebastian is my friend and any friend of Sebastian’s is a friend of mine!” She juggles the bread bowls and her drink, trying to proffer her hand for a shake, and laughing, gives up. Setting down the food and drink, Rowan perches on the chair and asks. “So, what is this game? I like games!”

Tuskor nods awkwardly and glances between the faces of the others before returning to where he stood earlier. The others may notice that he hasn’t once sat down. He watches the game of dice from a distance, baffled as to its purpose.

Sebastian and Vellk take turns showing the diminutive Halfling the rules to the common soldier’s dicing game of Twenty Bones.  With much laughter and explanation of the different terms for the different sets, some of which were quite off color this being a soldier’s dicing game, they manage to play a few rounds.

Sebastian starts to put the pieces together about the wild looking dwarf. He obviously hasn’t spent much time around other people. Probably especially around humans. Sebastian asks the barkeep what he is drinking or eating and buy him another round.

“Who him?”  The maid asks, indicating the fur clad Dwarf with a jerk of her head, “Oh, he’s drinking milk.  Hot milk.  He’s a strange one, even for a dwarf.  Even for a dwarf in this town.”

Sebastian wanders over from the bar with another cup of hot milk and offers it to Tuskor.  “Aren’t you going to join us?  There’s room for another at our table easily.”

“No need.  I like standing.  Don’t have food to set down.  No reason to sit.”  The Dwarf responds, his mouth moving behind the curtain of his beard.

Sebastian is slightly taken aback by the gruff dwarf’s statement, but continues nonetheless. “I do think my companions and I are looking to get ourselves into some adventuring work. Each for our own reasons, but all for the reason of good companionship and good coin. With that massive staff I am assuming you know how to handle yourself. By the markings you wear I would have to guess you are either an outrider or a hermit, though no offense meant if I am wrong. I do know we fought alongside a lot of Dwarves during the demon scourge.” Sebastian gets a noticeable chill up his spine, and takes another long drink off of his ale.

“The Thundermane clan” Tuskor repeats, his accent thick with the sounds of the northern mountains known as Teeth of the World. “Bearers of the earth shield and guardians of the moors of Vassa”.

“Those were dark times, but many of your clans showed they are able to be counted on. From which clan do you hail if you do not mind me asking?” While waiting for a reply Sebastian quickly casts a minor spell, summoning an invisible servant he affectionately refers to as ‘Malaki’ to help the nice lady at the bar clean up after all of these wonderful guests. The unseen form of Malaki begins cleaning up spilled ale, sweeping up the mud tracked into the tavern and otherwise making itself useful.

“I’m sure the Dwarves you have known are honorable but I doubt they are of my people, we have kept to our own small corner for some time.” Tuskor’s eyes follow the tumble of the dice. “I need no more coin than a meal and a roof require, and the upkeep of my gear” he continues. “But if a quest involves putting right an unnatural force then you have my interest”.

“Let’s hope that is the case Tuskor, I would like to get to know you better as well as protecting people from the unnatural forces of this world.”

Tuskor nods, seeming to have dried up his supply of words for the time being.

After licking the last bits of grease of his hands and swallowing the dregs of his mug Vellk orders another round of ale for the house. “Did you guys find anything of interest on that board? I’d love to sit and eat and drink for hours but I think my meager funds would soon run out.” He then places a gold coin in the barmaids hand to cover the cost of the round. “Let me know hun if I owe you more.”

As the dice game continues, the door to the tavern suddenly opens. Striding in with a gust of humid coastal air, comes a figure dressed in thick layers of hide leathers and wearing a wide-brimmed leather hat. He looks weathered, in his mid-thirties, and well-traveled. Dust and old mud are still spattered on his boots. He stops at the entrance and lets the door close softly behind him. Surveying the crowd, he visibly tenses his jaw at seeing so many occupied tables. His gaze comes to rest on the dice game in progress. Seeing the signature posture and bearing of soldiers, he strides purposefully over to the table.

He tips his hat respectfully at Rowan with a small smile and nods amicably at Sebastian, Tuskor, and Vellk. “Greetings gentlemen – and lady – pardon my intrusion into your recreational pursuits, but there seems to be a severe lack of tables in this establishment tonight. I have marked you gentlemen as fellow military men and was wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I joined you for a bit.” He waits patiently as everyone shares a look between the group.

Sebastian shrugs and says, “Please have a seat we would be glad to have you. Any chance I could offer you some hospitality buy you another drink or a warm bed to sleep in?”

At the same time, Rowan smiles invitingly and says, “Of course!  We have plenty of room here!”

The man sits and says, “You have my thanks and well met, but I have no need of charity. My name is Hajima Jom. Once a Sergeant, but now employing my skills as somewhat of a freelancer.”

“I’m Sebastian, and this is Vellk.  We’re recently from the Third Legion Scouts ourselves.”  Sebastian says.

“Oh wow, another soldier!”  Rowan says with a wide smile, “Oh are you a hero too?  Do you have stories?  Will you tell them to me?  I’m working on a song…”

Rowan’s rush of questions is interrupted when Freia stops by the table with a similar greeting to Hajima and he orders a generous helping of beef stew and baked bread, along with a pint of ale. “Please, carry on with your game and don’t mind me. Been on the road for a good long time, I have, and I’m just looking forward to a bite of this mighty fine stew. I always make a point to stop here when I’m in town.”

“Are you just passing through or are you looking for work like the rest of us?”  Sebastian asks, returning to the dice game.

Rowan squirms in her seat, barely able to pay attention to the game. A whole table full of heroes! What incredible luck for her future. She eats her food more quickly than usual, barely tasting the delicious stew, washed down with the sweet mead. Her eyes sparkle with excitement at being surrounded by such experienced soldiers. Her head swims with ideas for songs and tales, imagining what they must have been through to live so long during war, and to give them the scars that mar their beautiful, experienced visages. As she finishes her meal, she looks around at the crowd, and wonders if she should offer to play tonight, or sit with these wonderful new friends.

Hajima’s bread and ale arrive first and he tears into the loaf like a starving wolf.  The soldiers recognize the focused eating of one long at the trail, far from a meal that wasn’t trail rations.  In spite of the attention he gives the meal, his eyes continue to dart around the room, constantly assessing and re-assessing the patrons.

The stew arrives, and one hand continues to heap spoons of steaming stew into his mouth, while the other hand never drifts far from the long, heavy case that rests on the floor beside him.  He almost seems to forget the others at the table.  When he pushes the bowl back after wiping the bottom clean with the heel of bread, Sebastian tries again.

“This wonderfully diverse crew you see here are all looking for some adventure in work are you looking for the same?”  He glances at his companions, “I haven’t found anything interesting on the board yet, although I am hoping to soon. Did any of you see anything that piqued your interest?”

“Well I noticed something from a cheese merchant with a rat problem.”  Rowan said brightly, “The pay is five gold pieces and a selection of fine cheeses.  Oh I do love a good cheese…” She is distracted by the sounds of storytelling and wanders off to listen.

“I am all good for cleaning out those giant rats the money’s not bad for a short amount of work and I would be interested in trying these new cheeses.” Sebastian says with a chuckle, “What do the rest of you think? Maybe we can take this quest until something better comes along. This could prove that we should be given a better job next time.”

An old man sits upon a wooden stool by the hearth. He is telling the tale of Starvale’s History. In between lines of history he gestures with wild, sweeping motions and punctuates his accounts of the land with fanciful flute playing. When he finishes he proclaims, “Thank you kind folk, for your coppers, and your ears! If you wish to know more of the History of Starvale and her peoples’ stories – I have books and scrolls of my tales for sale. A few patrons clap or at least acknowledge the old man before he makes his way to the bar.

Rowan claps enthusiastically and tosses a copper to the old man as he passes which he nimbly plucks from the air.  One of Madame Freia’s daughters tugs on Rowan’s sleeve.

“Pardon miss, just wanted to let you know your beast is settled right proper.  I even groomed the ass and scratched behind its long ears as he seemed a friendly cob.” She smiles and bobs a slight curtsey before hurrying off to her other chores.

“Thank you!” Rowan shouts after the daughter as she leaves. She takes a final sip of her mead nods decisively to herself, making her way towards Madame Freia.  “I think what this tavern needs is a little musical cheer.”

Tuskor approaches the old storyteller at the bar. “Greetings story-weaver. I am Tuskor of the Thundermane clan”. He begins to pick out some small pieces of bark and shrubbery from his beard as he continues to speak. “Your knowledge of these lands seems abundant, and though you mention tomes and scrolls, the truth is plainer in your words. Tell me, do you know of any threats to this place, any strange occurrences perhaps that hint at darker tidings?” Tuskor finds what appears to be some kind of nut amongst his fur covered face, after a quick sniff he pops it into his mouth and crunches down on it.

The old storyteller turns to Tuskor and says, “It is a pleasure to meet you, I am known here as old John the storyteller.” He shakes your hand. “Aye there are threats a many, and dark times have fallen on Starvale. I could sell you a copy of my manuscript “The Past and Present History of Starvale” to give you better insight into our ‘fair’ city.” He accents the word fair with a twist of disdain. “As for current threats, I’m afraid I have heard disturbing rumors of the Cult of the dragon coming to Starvale. And there is always ‘The Welcomers’, Starvale’s resident thieves guild. Dark times indeed sir, best to watch person and purse!” He smiles, almost in a forlorn manner.

“A cult to dragons you say? A likely affront to nature of ever I heard one”. Tuskor ruffles in his pocket and pulls out a gold piece, pausing to wonder if it is a fair trade. “Will this cover the cost of the manuscript?”

“Certainly, good dwarf!” He exclaims, happy to have made a sale. He rummages around in his belongings and exchanges Sebastian’s gold coin for a copy of ‘The Past and Present History of Starvale.’

Rowan finally finds Madame Freia in the throng.  “Pardon Mistress, but I happen to be a player of songs, it would be my pleasure to brighten your establishment with a jaunty tune or so if it pleases you?”

The other Halfling woman eyes her traveling garb with a slight quirk of an eyebrow, “Well, if you play well enough I’d be happy to hire you on as official songster.  You can play for room and board if the crowd likes your tunes.”

Clapping with glee, Rowan almost hugs the Mistress, but instead shakes her hand a tad too thoroughly.  “I’ll be back in just a few minutes.  I need to change into my performance costume.”  She slips up the stairs, changing out of her leathers and into the burgundy loose linen pants, olive green tunic with fancy trim, golden sash. She quickly shakes out her braid so that her hair tumbles down her back in a fall of red curls. Leaving her war pipes safely with the rest of her gear, she takes out her flute and returns to the main room.

She pulls over a stool and leaps onto it so that more can see her. She smiles widely at the crowd and pitches her voice so that it can be heard all through the room. “Ladies, Gentlemen, and Everyone Else …” she waits for the few laughs to die down. Let free your cares for the evening and let me ENTERTAIN YOU!” The last few words are said in a loud, excited tone, and she immediately puts flute to lips and begins a cheerful jig. Once she sees her audience is into it, she leaps off the stool and dances through the crowd, playing her cheerful tunes, smiling around her flute at all.

Vellk is tapping his foot to the beat and starting to think it’s time to throw his lot in with these fine people. These might be the small group that can help him accomplish his monetary goals for his family’s farm and the retirement of his loving mother.  He strolls up to the board and adds his name in large print next to the others.

Sebastian takes in the crowd, takes in their happiness, the mirth the good times and commits them to memory. For he knows darker days are ahead and he is going to need bright, happy things to fall back on.  Such a happy memory to give him the strength to pull through when all else is lost. He will never forget this tune and the smiles Rowan put on everyone’s face.

This is right and good, this is why he dreams becoming the most powerful wizard in the realms. To protect hearth and home, king and country, for the righteous good and just. Letting down his guard, Sebastian allows his liquid courage to embolden him to sing and clap along.

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