By Brian Flood
Chapter 3 - Developing the plan
The One-Eyed Cat Tavern
Kendall Keep, Kingdom of Cormyr
Mid-Afternoon, 15th Day of Mirtul; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Moving across the gardens, the small band moves through the sally port of the inner gatehouse and back to the outer courtyard area. They traverse the winding route back to the One-Eyed Cat and find themselves a large table at the back of the long, high single-room tavern.
The One-Eyed Cat is a tall building, much like the adjacent Green Man Inn. In the case of the tavern, there is no second floor, merely a very high, beamed ceiling. The lower wall is stone and then it turns to wood about eight feet up the wall. Windows in the wooden portion of the wall – high on the wall itself – are opened, allowing a brisk breeze to circulate the single, long, high room that makes up the tavern. Several tables with bench seats are scattered throughout the room.
There are very few customers in the tavern at this early afternoon hour. The sole waitperson is Jess, the young girl who also helps out at the Green Man Inn. Wilf, the proprietor and his wife, Calista – who also runs the Green Man – move in and out of the kitchen area. Third – the dark-skinned hulking woman with a savage demeanor – sits at a corner table and studies the other occupants (to include the party) with scrutiny. Two similarly built men sit at another far table with a young woman, enjoying a meal of mead and soup. The room’s final occupant – a young woman dressed in common peasant work clothes – sits at a table alone, sipping on a steaming mug.
Unrolling the scroll given to him by Jadale, Tiron whistles softly and raises his eyebrows. He sets the scroll in the center of the table, using a carved stone dagger from his belt sheath to hold it down. It appears to be a map of the local area.
“Well, someone has gone to a great deal of effort,” the bright-faced half-elf admits as he leans over the table examining the map spread before him. “But before we get lost in these details, let us celebrate the birth of our adventuring lives with a drink on my behalf. My purse is light but the expense is worth the smile on a dwarf's face,” he states grinning at Velgardrin and Baulin. “Is an ale acceptable to everyone's palate?” he asks, eyes scanning the tavern for a serving maid.
Tiron catches the eye of Jess, the serving maid and holds up nine fingers. She nods and moves off toward the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Declan leans over the table looking at the map. His finger traces the lines and contours of the map clearly fascinated. He looks up at the half-elf and shakes his head, then quickly goes back to the map.
Velgardrin replies, “Ahh. An ale sounds most refreshing but alas I canna accept. ‘Tis due to a vow I made to the Father of Battles for his favor. And ‘twas something I loves too.”
A slight wistful look appears in his eye as he thinks for a moment. His countenance changes back to a smile as he looks at Amiel. With a hearty laugh he says, “Ahh but I haven’t sworn off the ladies. Me offers still good if yer has a change o’ heart.” He doffs his helm and bows in her direction chuckling all the while.
Baulin looks over at Tiron and smiles. “An ale would hit the spot. He turns to Velgardrin and gives him a curious look. “A dwarf who gave up ale. Come brother, let's drink to the honor of battle and to drink to great dwarven warriors who fell in battle.”
The dwarven warrior then looks at the map to get an idea of where the party is headed.
Velgardrin's eyes lose their brightness and turn a cold steely grey as Baulin suggests that he betray his vow. The veins stand out on his neck and in a very cold and controlled tone he replies in perfect Common with no trace of accent, “Baulin, I serve Clangeddin Silverbeard as his priest and you're suggesting that I break my sworn vow to him so I can drink to honor those who have served him before? And what kind of servant would I be if I went back on my own word for my pleasure. I tell you this, I'd not be trusting that kind of person fighting by my side and I don't think you would either.”
Velgardrin's eyes soften as a buxom barmaid passes. “Ahh, Baulin! Wine, women and song they say are the great pleasures. I can't sing. I vowed to not drink. All I have left is women and Amiel won't have me.” He shakes his head. “Maybe I should have stayed with Jadale. Perhaps I could have bunked with her.” He chuckles to himself knowing that that wasn't too likely.
Baulin nods to Velgardrin, “Very well then. I'll not have you break your vow, so I'll have to drink for you as well. I was checking to make sure that you would honor your vow.” Baulin looks around for the barmaid and the order of ale.
Salik pats Tir on the back heartily, almost knocking the wind out of the half-elf. “Ale will be fine, I am in your debt as my throat is really quite dry from all this serious talk.” He smiles as he looks over at Declan who is still studying the map in earnest. “Well, it looks like we've found our own map-maker then. He's more interested in the map than the ale,” he guffaws heartily.
After a moment Declan speaks, “'Ave a looks like some bloke put a bit of work into this map. Now where is the bloomin' place where the ambush took place? And where are the bloody caves on this map, then, eh, squire? Can any fairy point them out?” Declan digs into his pouch and pulls out a quill and a bottle of ink preparing to make the notations on the map.
Cob leans over to look at the map and frowns. His finger traces the East Way from Kendall Keep eastward. It stops where the river appears to have washed out the road, and a slight detour runs through the woods to the north of the flow.
“ ’Round ‘bout these parts is where I foun’ the bodies,” he states.
His finger then continues to run along the East Way until it turns north. Following the road northward, he stops where it appears that a smaller stream crosses the road. His finger circles an area that is about 500 yards or so northwest of the road / stream intersection. “’Dem caves are ‘bouts in here somewhere, I reckon.”
While waiting for barmaid to bring the drinks, Tiron focuses his attention back on the map, and sees Declan studying fastidiously. “Declan, my red-robed fellow, it would be a worthy use of your most dexterous intelligences if you were to become mapmaker for the group, for I have a feeling it is easy to get lost in such untamed lands such as these. What do you say?” he inquires in his smiling tone.
Declan starts, surprised. “Uh, I just assumed that that would be wot I did.” He blushes and then says, “Sorry, didn't mean ter assume that but I am capable at makin' and keepin' up wiv maps. Yer can't 'ave a knees-up wivout a joanna. O'course I will do it. Cor blimey guv! That is, if the rest of yer don't mind?” He looks at the rest of the group questioningly.
Velgardrin replies in his normally accented Common. “I also be able to read er write a map but if ye want's to do it fer the group I'm all ok wit that. I think swinging me axe is where I'm needed most. I hope yer don't mind me peekin' over yer shoulder at times whiles ya work though.”
Turning to Tiron, the dwarf continues. “I noticed a mere right close to the ambush site. I dasen't think we can rule out any o' them lizards sneakin' out of there whilst we're plannin' what to do.”
Jess arrives at the tableside with a tray of nine foaming tankards. Velgaldrin and Declan shake their heads in refusal. The girl shrugs in response and sets seven of the mugs on the table. “Seven mugs of Bitter Black,” she says to Tiron. “That’ll be a score and one copper thumbs.”
Tirondalin reaches into a jangling pouch and counts out three rather tarnished silver pieces. “My thanks young lady,” he says with an almost cheeky grin while handing her the coins. Jess accepts the money, returns nine copper pieces to Tiron, and then leaves for the kitchen area.
“Well everyone,” Tiron begins, addressing those seated around the table. “Let us start from the beginning and ignore the map for a time. I feel it safe that for now, we assume we are dealing with a party of bandits. There is nothing else we know in the way of race, intelligence or organization, except that they are vicious. Therefore, we'd best approach our enemy with open minds, not leaving out any possibilities. That means, as Amiel most wisely suggested to Jadale,” he states with a friendly nod to the tall, fair warrioress, “we should remain on guard even around this apparently safe keep.” He stops, gauging reaction from his peers.
“I believe the question we must answer immediately however is what are we to do with the remaining daylight? By my reckoning we have several hours. What is our course of action to be? It would make sense to start with the site of the murders, however I believe it would be better for us to make a day of our expedition, where we will have a greater amount of time to explore the immediate area and where our efforts will not be impeded by darkness. Perhaps we split into pairs to explore the Keep and make conversation with its inhabitants, extracting as much information as possible. Secondly, the time could be used for the provisioning of tomorrow's trip. What are your thoughts, friends?” the half-elf concludes, addressing the group.
“I think that that would be a wise plan,” replies Salik. “There's little point on heading out of the keep ‘til tommorow....let’s split up and gather supplies and information, then this evening we can be merry and get to know each other a little better!”
Malk has been sat quietly thinking with his drink. “Thanks be for the drink, Tiron. It seems to me a good idea to gather information. When we have finished here, with your leave Tiron I will go out and talk and listen.” He continues, “It seems to me that there may well be more than one group of vermin at large. It seems strange that some ambushes show such cruelty when others leave survivors. What think you others?”
“Yes,” answers Amiel. “As I pointed out in the Hall of Justice, it is odd that there seem to be several different types of behavior. Bandits are usually villagers and farmers that fall on hard times. Amongst the bandits there are probably several that are from the keep itself. Those that decided an honest living was just too hard. I can't see these types of people butchering merchants and travelers just for the fun of it. I wonder if there are any in town who know or are related to someone in the bandit bands.”
Amiel throws her head back and swallows the rest of the contents of her mug in one practiced action. “We head for the caves tomorrow then? That’s fine by me.”
She turns to Cob. “Well, good sir? I trust that you will be joining us to serve as a guide to these parts? What will be your daily rate for these services?” She looks at him pointedly, her wide green eyes narrowing, “But given this is your home, and that we are trying to protect it and your friends and family, it is right that you should offer to help for the sake of it, rather than for payment!”
Amiel flashes him a charming grin, the earlier sudden intensity in her eyes disappearing with it. “Ah, but who I am to suggest such things. Your choice fellow ranger,” she states expansively.
Cob shrugs at Amiel’s question. “I can’t say I know what ta charge fer guidin’. But, I’m thinkin’ ya’ll are a trustin’ bunch and you’ll figer somethin’ out that’s right fer my work.”
“Another drink anyone?”Amiel asks Cob and the rest of the group. “One more drink and then we'll split up and go talk to some of the locals. That OK?”
“I’m always good fer a drink er two,” Cob answers with a smile.
Amiel waves Jess, the serving girl, over to the table once more. She makes a sweeping gesture at the mugs on the table and says, “One more round, please.” The girl nods and moves off.
“I'm going to talk to the gate keeper, Sabine, I think her name was,” she says quietly to Tiron. “Who shall I take with me? Malk and Declan?”
She pauses for a moment before continuing. “And have you noticed that we don't have too many healers in our party? Perhaps we should look to recruit some from the keep? There must be a local church or order that would supply some priests?” Her expression suggests that he should accept this as a good idea.
Standing in front of his fellow adventurers, Tiron laughs playfully at Amiel's insistent tone. “I am nothing to argue with a sharp mind and witty tongue such as yours, milady,” he states with a mock bow. “But seriously,” he continues, still with smile, but this time addressing the group, “Amiel’s thinking is fine. However, I am confident we have sufficient skills in the medical arts within our group. Solonor blesses me with such abilities, and I know nothing of the Dwarven pantheon, but Velgardrin, you profess skills similar?” He asks the eager dwarf.
“And if memory serves, Malk, you introduced yourself with having knowledge of the herbal arts?” Another query, before adding, “But perhaps your idea holds some merit, fair Amiel. If the group would be content paying a fee for the services of a priest, I would be more than happy to be safe rather than sorry. I believe there's a temple of Helm within the keep. What is the consensus of the group on this issue?” He asks again, this time laying eyes on the quieter members of the party, obviously valuing their input equally.
While waiting, he inclines his head to Amiel and a tousle of thick dark hair falls over his eye before being swept away nonchalantly. “I shall kindly refuse your offer for a second drink. Further ale would only serve to distort my aim and impede my judgment.”
“As to this evening,” Tirondalin begins again, “Malk, I am particularly concerned with keeping the group together, splitting into pairs at the most. I’m sure everyone can see the reasoning in such an approach.”
After a moment of thought in which he fiddles with an oaken ring on his middle finger, he lifts his head. “After taking the layout of the Keep into consideration, I propose that we split into three groups – two groups of two, one of which will visit Sabine as well as the blacksmith while the second pair visits the chapel and the quartermaster. The remaining four will remain and talk to those in the tavern, the inn as well as the marketplace. I feel it doesn't matter who goes with whom. Importantly though, all of us must remember to be subtle in our enquiries - we are not adventurers inquiring into recent brigand activity. It would be wise to devise a cover for our activities, perhaps that we are wayfarers passing through the area, staying at the keep to recuperate after a hard journey. We came from Arabel, yes?” He states with a wry grin, and takes a draft from his ale.
“But my plan is only a suggestion and my cover story...fairly weak. I’m sure it could be further strengthened with your input,” he finishes with a gaze sweeping those before him in open invitation for discussion. And then he sits down to savor the bitter ale.
“I would prefer to remain in the tavern, if that's alright,” announces Salik. “My throat is still parched and I could use another ale.” He smiles softly and glances in the direction of Jess. “There's a few people here who might provide me with some...information,” his eyes twinkle with amusement. “I might be able to get in contact with some old friends later this evening after darkness falls.”
In his normal gruff voice Velgardrin says, “I needs a blanket from the store so I kin go there. Er I kin pay sumbudy els if they git one fer me.”
He continues much more quietly, “Iffin we be planning perhaps the middle o' this room be not the place fer secrets.”
As Velgardrin finishes speaking, Jess arrives at the table with another round of seven tankards. She sets them on the table and glances at Amiel. “That’ll be another score and one copper thumbs, lady,” she says.
Amiel calls Jess over and whispers, “Jess, that dark-skinned lady over there. THIRD, I think. Is she a traveler? I presume she's not from around here? Does she have any companions or friends? And what about those three? The two men and the woman at yonder table.” She allows her face to drop into an easy grin. “Sorry to seem like the nosy out-of-towner. But we’d like to meet our fellow travelers and make the acquaintance of the townsfolk. All seem sooo friendly,”she gushes.
“You sure do ask a lot of questions for a newcomer,” Jess replies as she screws up her face. Then, she recovers and answers Amiel’s questions. “No one’s real sure WHERE ‘Third’ is from,” she replies. “She doesn’t speak very good Common, so all I can say is that she’s not from anywhere NEAR here. We call her ‘Third’ because that is about all we could make out of the hand signs she made when she first got here a few weeks ago. Three or Third something-or-another. She seems pretty safe – she’s sorta taken to acting as bouncer for Wilf and Calista.”
The slim barmaid continues by nodding at the threesome at the corner table. “Those three over there are Jolan Lum, his wife Ebb – she’s Calista’s sister, and Jolan’s younger brother Kimber.”
Jess straightens up before continuing in a normal tone, “Once again, that’ll be a score and one coppers for the second round of drinks.”
As the new round ale arrives, Baulin drinks the first mug of ale and starts to sing a dwarven song honoring the brave and fallen heroes. Upon finishing the song, he drinks down the second mug of ale. Baulin then decides to stay in the tavern to enjoy some more ale.
Amiel nods and reaches into her pouch for the copper pieces. She counts them out and adds one. “Our compliments on the excellent service and quality of the ale, Jess” she says with a smile. “I wish there was more from where that came from to share around, but times are hard,” Amiel says companionably.
“Thank you for the information, however. I must say that our ‘friend’, Third, over there sounds intriguing. She’s the bouncer here you say? Have you ever seen her in action? And just out of curiosity, how do patrons say ‘Don't hit me!’ in sign language?” she says giggling.
“What about that other lady over there?” Amiel nods in the direction of the woman dressed in peasant clothes.
Jess shrugs and says, “That’s Chandry, she and her sisters run the dairy. She just stopped in to quench her thirst – must of just brought the cows back in.”
Tiron listens to the conversation between Jess and Amiel with only half an ear, his other senses are attuned with vested interest to this mysterious ‘Third’ sitting in the corner. “Amiel, I'm afraid we will have to leave such investigations to those remaining behind at the tavern, whose purpose is shared by us all – to gather information, and to do so with utmost subtlety and care.”
The half-elven party leader regards his companions thoughtfully, the ring on his finger entering its umpteenth revolution. “Velgardrin, I shall join you if you’ll have me. What was the group’s decision on Amiel's suggestion of hiring a healer? For Velgardrin and I shall inquire at the Chapel.”
Declan speaks up softly, “Er. I fink I would like ter go wiv Amiel. I right do not fink me skills as a scribe and such will ‘elp and it is always good ter know the blacksmith. I 'ave always been fascinated by the forge.”
Alain sips his ale and looks around the room, then to the leaders of the newly formed party. “I'll gladly go where ever you think I would most benefit the group, but, given my choice I'd stay here.”
Tiron stands, signaling the time to split the party. “Good luck...let us be off, and meet back here upon sundown, I am not one for firm deadlines. As Salik mentioned before, I look forward to learning more about my fellow companions,” he finishes with an appraising smile before gathering his bow over his shoulder and walking toward the door.
“Come Cob, Velgardrin,” he beckons toward the dwarf as a cheeky grin grows on his face. “There may be some pretty priestesses for you at the chapel!”
Amiel nods and moves to the door, “Looks like we've been given our marchin' orders. Coming Declan?”
Declan pushes himself away from the table sighing, “Aye, right, I'm bloody well right behind yer.”
He follows Amiel.
With that, five members of the party stand to leave. Amiel and Declan depart to see Sabine and the blacksmith, while Tiron, Velgardrin, and Cob go to visit the chapel and the quartermaster.
The content of Company of the Silver Claws is the property and copyright of Brian Flood, and are not to be published or redistributed without permission.
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