Durrak Caverstorm; Battlemaster of the Drakanda style and sole survivor of Farenholm trudged down the road at a mile eating pace. It didn’t look like he was moving very quickly, but his short legs moved steadily, not slowing when going up a steep incline or indeed at all until the sun reached its zenith. He might not have stopped even then, but a roadside inn and rest hove into view and he decided it was worth a look.
The prodigious bag of provisions he had been carrying had shrunk drastically over the last few weeks and if these folk had anything to spare he would buy it and damn the cost. Shifting the straps of his pack he transferred his Gisarme to slant across his right shoulder as he approached The Ox and Cart. Smelling the scent of cooking meat made his mouth water as he rapped smartly on the door with the butt of his polearm.
It had been a year since he’d won his title and the world had changed substantially during that time. Folk were less trusting and he had discovered seeing an obviously capable traveler who was alone sometimes made them more nervous so it paid to be up front.
“Hello the Inn!” He said in a voice that would carry but hopefully not inspire fear.
“Who’s that then?” A woman said from within, “No need to rattle the door off the hinges; come on in if you can pay and bugger off it you can’t!”
This was a pleasant surprise; many of the people he’d found didn’t take coin anymore. “I do be able to pay alewife; what do that delicious scent be?” He pushed the door open and strode inside; his Dwarven eyes piercing the slight gloom with ease.
The room was set in a familiar pattern low tables with benches instead of chairs and a small bar at one end next to a hearth where a haunch of meat was turning on a spit. The woman who regarded him with a jaded eye as he entered was shockingly young; perhaps fifteen summers, although she took in his appearance with ease that suggested she had grown up in a tavern.
“Let’s see the coin and you can have what you want.” She said, touching a crossbow that was cocked and loaded sitting over the taps. “We don’t have prejudice against Dwarves or adventurers as long as your coin is good.”
Durrak grinned, setting his pack and polearm down on a rack by the doorway before walking up to the bar and plunking down a half dozen gold. “Lady, please do be letting me know when this runs out. I do be famished and parched from many long days on the road.”
She brightened a bit at the sight of the gold and even further when she scratched them with a wicked looking belt knife and revealed them to be pure. Pulling him a large wooden tankard of frothy ale, she set it down on the bar. “This will help with the thirst master Dwarf. That roast won’t be done for another hour, but I got some cheese and bread, maybe some leftover sausages.”
“I do gladly be sampling your ale and nibbles until the roast do be ready.” Durrak said, drinking deeply and smacking his lips. The ale was a bit light for his taste, but it was quite refreshing.
As Durrak ate and drank, several more folk entered chatting amicably and ordering drinks and inquiring about the roast. They took him in without comment, a few nodding politely and some staring but not in an aggressive manner. All of them had also put a weapon of some sort aside as they entered even though they were obviously villagers, not adventuring types.
Thunder rumbled outside, but no rain fell. It hadn’t rained for ages and the land was parched and dry. The winds seemed to be blowing erratically of late, not bringing the moisture from the sea to nourish the soil. All signs of bad times and possibly worse to come.
The door opened to admit another traveler, his cloak black and ragged at the ends. Setting an immense pack down next to Durrak’s with a heavy thump he grinned and rubbed at his huge red beard. A fellow Dwarf; a rarity in these parts. He stumped up to the bar and sat next to Durrak.
“How’s the ale?” He asked in Dwarven, giving him a grin.
“Light, but quite potable in quantity.” Durrak said in the same language, returning the grin. “From where do you hail?”
“I am a traveler. Felix is my name.” The other replied, offering a hand thick with calluses.
“My name is Durrak Caverstorm.” Durrak said, shaking the offered hand.
“Caverstorm?” Felix asked, “Have you the title from the Drakanda school? Never did I think to see the Mistress of that school fall from aught but old age.”
“I took her title.” Durrak said, feeling the sadness of that memory even now. “Took it by fair trial of combat. One of many regrets I carry on my shoulders.”
“Ah.” Felix said, reaching into a pouch and removing a smoldering cigar. He puffed it alight to a small explosion of purple sparks. The smoke he exhaled was bright blue and sank to the floor instead of rising. The smoke had the scent of a meadow high in the mountains in the dead of winter.
“I have been traveling for some time and have not seen another of our kind.” Durrak ventured, “Do you know how our people fare elsewhere?”
“Farenholm has fallen. Vanterholm stood last I saw, although it was beset by hordes of goblins.” Felix replied, “I do not stay in one place long.”
Durrak saw the looks the others were giving them and continued in the common tongue, “Perhaps we do be doing better to converse in a language the others do be knowing? I no do want to cause suspicion.”
“Yes, perhaps that would be best.” Felix said in unaccented common, “It has merely been so long since I spoke to a fellow Dwarf in my native language. My apologies to our gracious host.”