Discussion thread can be found here: http://www.writingforums.org/showthread.php?t=39442 --------------- I shuddered, as I knocked against the gateway leading into the small village. These lands were colder than anything I was used to. The Dargadel tended to be hot year round, but here the air was brisk, and snow fell regularly. I had never seen snow before. It was fascinating to watch as the thousands of crystals fell from the sky, each one unique from all the others. The flakes had started to lose their appeal though, after an entire day of trying to trek through them, with one always managing to blow into my eye. I wrapped my cloak more tightly around my shoulders, and rapped again at the door. My hands were going numb, I needed to find an inn to warm myself. Wistfully, I was reminded of my lack of coin. People tended not to care for new bards, but I suspected there was human prejudice mixed in as well. The last village I'd been in, Oller if I remembered correctly, had turned me away; but not before accepting a human bard with even less talent than myself. "It's a matter of experience." They had said. "It was a matter of if you had a tail." I had thought. Sighing with impatience, I tapped once more at the gate. I was concerned for my lute. Cold had an adverse affect upon its sound, and the strings. At last, I heard scuffling from beyond the wooden barricade, and a small window opened to reveal a pair of young and curious eyes. "Hullo." Called a muffled voice. "Good day." I said, feeling it was quite the opposite, "May I enter?" "State ya business sir?" The voice asked, as the eyes raked up and down to get a good look at me. "My name is Laslo. I'm a bard." I said, scratching my side absently. "Well ain't that excitin'?" The voice said, as the eyes light up. The little gate swung open, and I entered. It was considerably warmer within the city walls, thanks in part to the many torches and fires lit throughout the jumbled maze of houses. That said, it was still frigid. I turned to see the person who had let me in. They were in the proccess of closing the doors, but were having difficulty against the strong winds now blowing through the opening. Wordlessly, I moved forward, and pushed on the door as well. It slid closed with a pronounced 'thump'. "Oh, thank ya." The person said, pulling the enormous scarf down that had been concealing its face. It was a girl, robed in a thick fur coat to ward off the temperature. "Wewcome ta Terillo." "Do you know where I could find an inn?" I asked, not in the mood to bandy about words. "Ya comin' ta Terillo, an' ya dunno 'bout the Twelve Oaks?" The girl asked, her words still difficult to understand, even without the scarf muffling them. "Twelve Oaks? Where is that?" I asked, pulling the cloak even tighter around myself. " 'S ova there." The girl said, pointing to a large rectangular building, with a sign hanging out front, "I work there as a waitress, dun'cha know?" "Then why are you out here?" I asked, hugging myself and hopping from foot to blue foot while the girl continued to babble. It was obvious she hadn't talked to anyone in some time. "Wew, Althe the gatewatcher is sick, he is. My muva's over nursin' 'im back to 'ealth. I got watch 'ere, 'cause I volunteered. I fout it'd be fun. Turns out it's not s'much." The girl gave me a sad look, "But you look near froze ta the bone, ya should get indoors. I'll go with ya." "Aren't you supposed to keep watch, though?" I asked blandly, eager to be away from the talkative girl. I enjoyed the company of others, but in small portions. "Wew... Yeah, I suppose I am." The girl said, looking downcast, "But 's not often we get a bard anymore, 'specially one with a tail." She smiled at the flare of red hovering behind me, "I'll go with ya, I jus' want ta hear one song." That is, if they let me play... I thought to myself. Suppressing a grimace, I nodded. The girl continued to talk, swinging her arms back and forth expressively through the air as we made our way to the inn's entrance. If I had found the girl's ramblings intolerable, it was nothing compared to the atmosphere and din inside the inn. I'd never seen so many people in one place in my life. Everyone was talking, yelling, laughing, and two men were even at blows with one another; staggering about drunkenly between throws. "Follow me then." The girl said, weaving skillfully through the crowd over to a counter, behind which stood a great bear-like bearded man. I made my way to where she stood more slowly, my arms wrapped protectively around my beloved instrument. "Y'see?" The girl said happily, "A real bard!" "Well!" The man behind the counter boomed in a friendly voice, "It's been a while since we've had a bard around here, and a Fynian no less! Welcome to the Twelve Oaks Tavern, what can I do you for?" "Do you have any bread?" I asked, rubbing the life back into my fingers. I was finding it hard to concentrate in this place, which could pose problematic if they called for me to play. "The parchment'll tell you all we have." The man said merrily, pointing a thumb over his shoulder to a large paper pinned across the wall. I peered up at the scrawl of letters, trying to make sense of it. I felt my face redden as the man stared expectantly at me. "Ya should try the stew!" The girl said suddenly, moving to my side and making me jump, " 'S the best y'll ever 'ave." "Right, I'll have that then." I said, relieved at the excuse to avoid pretending to read. The man pulled a large wooden bowl from under the counter, and dipped a ladel into a large cauldron, pouring out a thick steaming mass of meat and vegetables. It smelled heavenly. "That'll be two silver." He said in a friendly voice, holding the bowl slightly out of reach. I pulled my coin pouch from my side, and rifled through it, before looking up to gaze hopelessly at the man, who barked with laughter. "Moths eating at your purse?" He asked, tapping my arm with a fist, "Tell you what, I'll give you some food free of charge if you'll play for my crowd here, I'm sure they'd enjoy it. I'll even throw in a bed for the night, and some coin to spare. We haven't had any bards here since the declaration of treaty. They've all gone down South to Euphel." "You mean this isn't Euphel?" I asked stupidly. "Of course it isn't, it's Argebar!" The man roared, "Did something fall on your head? You're in the complete opposite direction, if that's where you're traveling!" I cursed myself for a fool. I'd been traveling for two weeks in the wrong direction? I should have inquired as to my location in the last village! Why hadn't I at least been taught to navigate? The man's joking smile slipped off his face at my miserable expression, "No worries lad, I can provide you with a map. If you take a ship from Dralge, you'll still make it in time to witness the event." I breathed a sigh of relief. I could still make it. "Thank you." I said, forcing a smile on my face past the embarassment. The man leaned down, the large smile back upon his face, "Now why don't we hear a bit of song then, eh? Make you work for your meal."