My preparations for the journey to Trebon were a little less frantic than last time. With no pressing time deadline I was able to both shop around for cheaper supplies and to take my time over the journey itself. My intention was to walk to Imre and find passage on one of the many small trading vessels that worked the river. They were slow, taking three days over the same journey that I had covered in half a day on horse back, but very cheap.
On this occasion I was particularly fortunate and found a trader departing imminently who was short on crew. I was offered a berth and two meals a day to work my way up river with them, helping load and unload at the small settlements we passed, spotting for obstacles in the flow of the current, and generally assisting with the many small jobs that keeps a boat running smoothly.
With my hands kept busy and jovial company from the Captain and his Second, the time passed quickly. In the evenings we pulled in to well used rest stops and sat around a small campfire as dusk fell, talking well into the night before retiring to our berths aboard ship. I played my lute endlessly and the others regaled me with tall stories of life on the river. Never since my childhood with the Edema Ruh had I felt such a melancholy homesickness for a time that couldn’t come again. Without a task to draw me away again I might have stayed on past Trebon and not returned to Imre at all. Never-the-less we eventually pulled into the small dock and after some hearty goodbyes went on our separate ways.
Trebon was little changed in the months since I had last seen it. There was some evidence of repairs to fire damaged buildings taking place but a number of them appeared to be still untouched. The scale of the task was daunting. Fully a third of the homes had been damaged in some way and, of those, half were razed totally; the remains of the timber framed structures jutted like decaying corpses into the dusk air and the stink of damp ashes lingered in the streets. Despite this the main street was bustling and the mood was one of stoical confidence; the worst had happened and turned out not to be so bad.
I drew a few worried glances as I entered the inn and was very aware of conversations halting abruptly. The lamps and firelight made my red hair shine and my height marked me. The innkeeper hurried over, ‘Welcome back, sir. What can I do for you this evening?’ His expression was fixed and a little ashen. My last visit to this place would be forever linked to the ‘demon’ that had rampaged through the town and I had done little to elucidate my role in those events since. Rumours abounded and my reputation was both that of hero and devil, depending who you chose to speak to.
‘A room please, and could you bring up a hot meal. I’m a little travel weary.’ In all honesty I felt fine, but an evening in that common room with so many uneasy sets of eyes watching me wasn’t appealing. The innkeeper directed a serving girl with a nod who took one of my bags and led me away towards the back stairs. Her heavy-set features and dark eyes marked the girl unmistakably as the innkeeper’s daughter, perhaps about 15 years of age. She clearly knew her business though and steered me towards a spacious room at the front of the building, obviously the master guestroom and, after a polite inquiry to see if there was anything I needed, left to me to my unpacking.
When she returned with the meal, a short while later, I was sitting on the large bed. I had the finder out and was considering the best way to tune it to my lizard scale. ‘It’s our own ham,’ she said briefly as she set the plate down on the small side table. From the obvious pride in her voice I suspected she had a hand in the pigs’ keeping. ‘Anything else?’
‘Yes, actually. Could you please ask your father to bring me up a mug of wine, and one for himself. I have a matter to discuss with him privately.’ Her eyes widened briefly at that and she scurried from the room. Her footsteps retreated hurriedly down the corridor and away to the common room. The background hum of common room chatter dropped away briefly to nothing, then rose again to a new peak. My request had obviously caused some consternation and tweaked a small, satisfied smile from my own mouth. A few minutes later the innkeeper arrived, backing carefully against the door with a mug of wine in each hand.
I directed him to the easy chair, remaining where I was on the bed. The poor man was obviously uneasy; a slight sweat was breaking out on his brow despite the cool evening. ‘Master Innkeeper,’ I began, ‘thank you for seeing me. I’m aware that we parted on….confused terms. You suspect many things of me; that I am a powerful Arcanist, that I had a hand in the destruction wreaked upon your town, that I saved your town by slaying the beast. In some ways all of these are true; however I mean you and your town no harm. In fact, I think I can help relieve your plight in a small way.’
I paused, thinking carefully how best to continue. I was hesitant to reveal too much of my plan, yet too little and I wouldn’t get the help I needed. ‘Sirrah,’ he interrupted my musing, ‘I saw ya wounds before they were dressed. Aye, and helped carry ya away fram tha beast after. I holds no truck with them as say ya were ta blame.’
His thick accent almost surprised me; I’d spoken to so few souls since leaving the University. His words as much as his voice amused me however; I was certain he would have been gossiping with the best of them in my absence. ‘That’s good of you man but, blame or not, my project was interrupted on my last visit by the beast. I had to abandon some items precious to me at my camp. I have a need of them now and would like to make an attempt to retrieve them.’ There, that was relatively innocuous, while close enough to the truth to be believable. ‘What I need is a reliable man with a pack horse to travel with me for a few days. I can pay hard talents for a few days’ work and I know there are many in need of it at the moment.’
The innkeeper visibly relaxed, I was no longer a possible threat, just another patron in need of some assistance. ‘Well… there might be wan or two I cad think of. Ald James lost ‘is barn roof. Or there’s Tam the cobbler. His ald mam teken him back in while he rebuilds ‘is shop.’
‘I’ll leave it in your hands. Just ask them to meet me here for an early breakfast, ready to depart straight after.’
‘Sure thing, sirrah. I’ll send a lad out ta ald Tam, I know he’ll be glad ta get awa’ fram his ma’s place for a few days.’ He left and I turned my attention back to my meal.
You need to be logged in to comment