Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 17

Hajima sees a pale-scaled Dragonborn woman dining alone. She looks around nervously as she eats, startling at every sound.  As Hajima approaches, she looks away.  When he sits down, the Dragonborn recoils a bit, as if expecting an attack.

“Pardon milady, but you seem to be feeling a sense of unease. I assure you that the patrons of this establishment are most kind and the staff are excellent.”  He gives her a smile,  “There is no need to feel nervous or afraid. All are welcome at the Boiling Kettle Inn, even a simple veteran like me.”

He gives her a welcoming smile and signals to Blaizette.  “Blaze, an ale for me and another of whatever this lady is drinking.”  Turning back to his table companion he continues, “Did you have any difficulties in your travels, perhaps? Brigands, bandits, or the like? I can assure you, I and my friends are actively engaged in making the roads and farms safer around these parts.”

“I – my name is Halda.”  She says hesitantly, “I’m in town to visit family but I’ve been attacked by bandits twice since coming to Starvale.  I suppose I stand out due to my white dragon heritage, but everyone’s always staring at me.  I don’t feel safe, even in a place as public as this one.”

Rowan is fascinated by the alien beauty of the white Dragonborn. She’s heard of this race, but never seen one in person. The Dragonborn’s shyness touches her, and almost without thinking, she transitions into a calming song. Not quite a lullaby, but a sweet, gentle song of beautiful skies and gentle breezes and the green of growing things.

The soothing music has no effect on Halda who looks even more uncomfortable now that Hajima sits opposite her.  Rowan wonders to herself why the other woman would be so worried but is soon distracted by the rowdiness of three young, male Halflings dressed in bright and varied colors seated at a nearby table. They talk loudly over the music, shouting for boisterous, rolliking Halfling music between her songs.

Rowan smiles widely at the male Halflings and nods to acknowledge that she’s heard their request. When she winds up the current, gentle song of serenity, she stops for a minute. She stands up and quaffs a few deep gulps of her mead and smiles again at them.

She pitches her voice out to the crowd, giving a saucy wink at the grumpy meal critic, and shouting like an intro to a concert.  “I’ve had a request for a rousing Halfling song! What say you, gentles? Shall I oblige?”

The Halflings, and those who know her songs, all yell loudly and somewhat drunkenly, “Aye, Red! Let’s hear it!!!” And so she launches into a lively Halfling tune, and continues to play spirited music with a strong beat. Seeing a hand drum at the Halfling table, she continues to strum loudly while shouting at him to join her.

Sebastian can see that one of the Halflings wears a belt pouch that radiates faint magic. The pouch contains some dust which magically expands into a cloud when tossed to the ground. It is part of their tumbling act – which they proceed to perform to the beat of Rowan’s music and much to the delight of the patrons of the Boiling Kettle.

Tawn, Tane, and Tine perform as tumblers in a traveling show which is now in Starvale they explain in between singing, dancing and tumbling through the magic cloud until the song ends and a new one begins. They raise their glasses to Rowan and later go back to their chatter.

Hajima studies Halda intently, “If you’re truly here visiting family but afraid for your life, why are you here in this bar with none of them around?”

Spinning her chair around on one of the back legs, Tallisk joins Sebastian’s table. The move almost ends in disaster, but she grabs the table to steady herself, her auburn hair swinging wildly around her face.

“Oh! Scuse me.” She says with a slightly unsteady smile.  Noting that these folk look capable, and therefore aren’t good targets, Tallisk scans the room for someone who looks distracted or lonely enough that they might buy her a drink and maybe a meal.  Spotting a peasant, likely a peat worker eying her, she gives him a saucy wink.

Rowan winds down her song and raise her mug to the crowd. “Thank you very much everyone! I’m on break for a while, but perhaps I can be convinced later on to play a wee bit more.” She smiles widely around the room, gently places her cittern away in its protective case.

Keeping an eye out for any possible folk with too much coin in their purse, Tallisk weaves through the crowded taproom and plunks herself down on the bench next to the man. “You know what they say about peat workers doncha?” She asks, leaning an elbow on the table. At his puzzled look she shrugs, “Me either, but maybe we can find out, over a drink?”

He signals to a passing bar wench and turns to look at Tallisk, “M’ name’s Renton but they call me Rent.”

Tallisk strikes a pose, tossing her flaming red hair back from her pale and slightly freckled face. Her green eyes twinkle with mischief and she announces in a rather louder than necessary slurring voice.  “I am th famoush, the infamoush an th frequently inebreated Tallisk Revenar. Sometimes known for my juggling, and other times known fer my habit of loshing drinking games… but I loshe with shtyle!”

Picking up three empty clay mugs from the table she idly begins tossing them in the air, seemingly at random, but gradually the pattern takes shape.  “Tosh me them would ya?” She says, jerking her head at a roll and a sausage on the next table.

Rent takes the food off the table and bemusedly throws it in her direction. It gets added to the whirling mugs. A few others have begun to notice now and since Rowan is done playing and the Halflings have stopped their tumbling act, their focuses on her instead.  As the juggling continues, the incorrigible redhead begins taking bites out of the sausage as it passes.

“Here now, don’t be throwin’ th’ cups about!” The barmaid says, arriving with the ale Rent ordered.

“I beg pardon m dear!” Tallisk says in an exaggerated stage voice, her mouth partly full of sausage, and deftly plucks the mugs out of the air, setting them on the tray the other woman is holding. The roll of bread arcs up and she catches it in her mouth, munching happily.

A few of the onlookers clap hesitantly, as if wondering if this was a show to be applauded or a drunken exhibition to be ignored. Tallisk finishes the roll and bows, flourishing her cloak, coming up from the gesture with the fresh mug of ale in her hand and a smile on her face.

Hajima smiles at Rowan as she comes over to sit next to him. After she introduces herself, he turns back to the Dragonborn. “Come now, milady. No need to be like that. My friend here has a heart of gold. The time for nervousness is passed. Let’s be open and honest with each other shall we?”  He says to her with a pointed look.

“Here then, I’ll start. Then you can have a turn. We’re looking for a special artifact. A possibly dangerous artifact that shouldn’t be near so many wonderful and lovely people. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about any dangerous, magical artifacts nearby, now would you?” His previously welcoming and harmless gaze disappears in the blink of an eye. He gives her a hard look, his stare unrelenting as his hand drifts to the rapier at his side. “Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you’re really doing here in Starvale.”

Rowan looks very briefly surprised at Hajima’s tone, but then turns to the Dragonborn, curious to hear her answer. She keeps her face neutral. Not threatening, but no longer smiling widely. She radiates a sense of gentle curiosity and alertness.

Tuskor approaches the table with the Human and the Dwarf, pulls up a stool and sits down with his mug of steaming hot milk in one hand and his mighty tusk staff in the other. He stares at the couple in a direct and unsettling manner.  As the human glares back and begins to speak, Tuskor deliberately takes a drink of his milk, slurping loudly.

“What do you want forest dweller?”  The Dwarf at the table demands, “Go somewhere and pick the twigs out of your beard before pestering civilized folk.”

Tuskor ignores her entirely, continuing to stare at the human man, barely blinking.  Slowly one of the twigs in his beard begins to move, revealing itself to be a stick bug.  It crawls slowly up the side of his face and snuggles into his hair instead.

While Hajima is sitting there waiting for the Dragonborn to answer, he suddenly wonders if perhaps the half-orc is the real culprit who seeks to cause misdirection by keeping us busy with innocents while he completes his nefarious scheme unhindered. He looks over at the half-orc and considers him with new eyes, sizing him up afresh.

The conversation behind her is not nearly quiet enough to avoid Tallisk’s sharp hearing, and the mention of a powerful magical item piques her curiosity. Swilling down half her ale in one long swallow, she takes her trusted friends, her juggling balls from one of the pockets in the sleeve of her well-fitting wool travel dress. The skirts are split for riding, also making it much easier for her to move swiftly.

With a grand, sweeping gesture, she loops the fine silken cords that connect to them over her fingers and flings a half dozen of them into the air. Holding her hand to her mouth she inhaled deeply, the elastic, yet nearly invisible cord attached to each one made it appear that she had drawn them back to her waiting hand with her rapid intake of breath.

Now that she wasn’t hucking the barware about, the spectators decided this was indeed a show and clapped in appreciation. With deft skill, Tallisk re-wrapped the silk cords around the balls and began juggling them, first in a normal pattern, then in a loop, then two loops. As she keeps the balls in the air, she moves gradually back toward the table with the Dragonborn, noting that the Halfling minstrel has now joined the man who was there before. A conversation like this was too juicy to miss.

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