By Brian Flood
Chapter 1 - One Journey's End
The Halfway Inn
The Sword Coast Backlands
Late Afternoon, 28th Day of Eleint; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
With a chorus of irritated snorts, the train of thirty-three camels comes to a halt. At the fore of the train, a powerfully built, tanned, and dark haired man clad in a dusty desert robe - known to the Bedine as an aba - breathes a sigh of relief and leans back in the saddle of his camel. Using a corner of his keffiyeh - a cloth head wrap that covers much of his face and neck - he wipes his sweaty brow.
To his side, a diminutive camel rider does the same. This second traveler is also dressed in a sand colored aba and keffiyeh. His short, pug nose and deeply furrowed brow hint at some sort of dwarven blood far back in his ancestry.
<Thank the stars we have finished>, the D'tarig says to the man in the native tongue of his desert dwelling race. <I am not sure that I could have stood another day of THAT one's arrogance>.
With a disapproving frown at his short companion, the dark-haired man looks back along the train to check the progress of the target of the D'tarig's remark. Several camels back, a tall blond elf, clad in a fresh white aba, dismounts his humped mount. He waves aside the assistance of a small band of twelve similarly clad gold elf warriors.
<Watch your tongue, Yassir>, the man scolds his smaller companion. <Were it not for the bravery and sacrifice of his guards, we may not have survived this journey>.
The gold elf noble walks forward to the front of the camel train. Seeing him approach, the dark-haired Bedine expertly dismounts his camel and steps forward to greet him. As he does, his twin scimitars - or aziir, as the desert nomads call them - swing lazily from the belt around his waist.
"We have reached our destination, Lord Eleon," the man says, switching over to speak in the Common tongue. "This is the Halfway Inn. My companions and I can go no further. I trust you and you entourage can complete your journey to Evereska from here."
"Indeed, ye be correct," the elven noble replies with a slight tinge of arrogance. "And my thanks to thee, Rashid of the Bedine, for thy guidance across the Parched Sea. I shall forward thy name to the Elven Court, should any find need to travel the sands of Anauroch again."
"My thanks," says Rashid, giving the elf a slight bow out of deference to his rank and position.
"And now," Eleon continues, "here is thy payment to split between thee and thy companions." The elven noble hands over a small purse that is cinched shut by a drawstring.
Rashid opens the purse and pours out its contents into his hand. As expected, a collection of precious stones fills the Bedine guide's palm. Counting quickly, he sees that there are twelve moonstones - two each for the six D'tarig camel drovers who started the journey, as well as a half dozen amethyst jewels - two for Rashid, one for Yassir, and the remaining three for Assam, the camel merchant.
Satisfied that the payment is correct, Rashid returns the precious stones to the purse and slips it over his head. Then he reaches out his hand to the noble.
"Farewell, Lord Eleon, it has been my pleasure to travel with you," the Bedine says.
The gold elf merely nods his head and walks past Rashid and into the Halfway Inn. In his wake, the dozen gold elf warriors, clad in elven chainmail and white abas, follow quietly. Their captain, an elf named Melor, nods knowingly to Rashid in passing - a simple of gesture of respect from one warrior to another. When the journey started back in the desert's edge town of Addas Babar, Melor had a full score of elves under his command. Now, nine of those brave warriors lie beneath the sands of Anauroch - victims of poisonous snakes, laerti attacks, and other hazards.
The dark-haired Bedine returns the nod and then turns his attention to those travelers remaining outside. He quickly locates Assam, the D'tarig camel merchant. The squat trader is in a heated discussion with his five surviving drovers. The sixth drover was slain during the journey by an orpsu - or "night stirge" as they are sometimes known - during the small caravan's crossing of the Scimitar Spires.
The camel merchant stops his tirade when he sees Rashid approach. <And do you have my payment?> he demands in his native language. <I will have to buy new camels to replace the seven that were killed in the crossing. I hope that pointy-eared prince has given us enough to do so.>
Nodding, Rashid replies in D'tarig, <Yes, Assam. The payment should cover the loss.> The Bedine guide produces the purse and pours the contents into his hand. He quickly removes the three amethysts owed to he and Yassir before allowing Assam to see his share.
<Hrrmph,> grunts the greedy D'tarig merchant, <I should be able to find some old, broken-back animals for that paltry sum!>
Stifling a grin, Rashid returns the jewels to the purse and hands the small pouch to Assam. <I am sure you will,> he assures the merchant. Then he quickly changes to subject.
<What are your plans from here?> Rashid asks.
The camel merchant shrugs nonchalantly and replies, <I think I will look into these rumors of camel herds being wanted at a place known as Ladydove. The herdsmen we met said that there was a need for a great number of camels for hire no later than the first day of Uktar.>
Rashid raises his eyebrows in interest as he recalls the encounters with the camel merchants. On two occasions during this past journey - once in Orofin and again at the Lion's Eye Oasis - Rashid and his charges came across camel merchants who were driving their herds southward to a place known as Ladydove. Rumors were abounding that a great caravan was to be assembled for a desert crossing. Smelling the scent of gold on the desert winds, the D'tarig and Bedine camel merchants were traveling south to offer their wares and services.
<Ah, yes,> Rashid responds, <I can see why you would be interested in that. Good luck Assam - may the sands grant you favor.>
<And you as well, Rashid,> Assam responds. Then the D'tarig merchant turns to resume his discussion with his employees. Rashid takes that chance to look around and decide on his next course of action.
He and his traveling companions stand in a large clearing within a small forest. A short distance to the east lie the supposedly unbreachable mountains that ward the elven city of Evereska. A wide wagon trail leads westward from the clearing before branching off to the northwest and southwest.
The northern half of the circular clearing is divided into camping areas by rows of wooden warehouses that branch off from the center point. Each camping area has a pair of paddocks and a spring-fed pond to aid in the care of pack animals and mounts. In addition to the camping area occupied by Assam's camel train, there are others that service motley collections of wagons and carts belonging to several merchant costers.
The southern half of the clearing consists mainly of an open assembly ground. At its edges lie a trash dump and a wooden barn-like building. Through the open doors of the structure, Rashid can see carpenters and wheelwrights working to repair a scattering of wagons.
To the east of the assembly ground is the Halfway Inn. The stoutly built wood-and-stone structure has a dark appearance from the front. It appears to blend in with the shadows of the trees that surround it. Several long candle lamps provide a bright halo around the front door. A set of stables is attached to the north end of the building.
Rashid moves back over to his D'tarig travelling companion, addressing him in his own tongue. <Well Yassir, here is your share of the payment from Lord Eleon.>
Looking at the sky, he adds <What do you think, a visit to the inn over there to quench our thirst and get some real food? We can consider our next move from there.>
<Yes, definitely!> Yassir replies, <A real bed, real food, and real drink would be welcome after THAT trip!>
The unlikely pair of guides makes their way across the open assembly grounds to the Inn. Stepping through the door, they find themselves in a dark lobby. To their immediate front is an attractive elven maiden obviously employed as the doorwatcher. Her long, deep blue-black hair is tied up in pretty bun and the pale white of her skin is accented by the light azure shade of her cheeks.
The maiden sits behind a simple, raised wooden desk, positioned so that she is eye-level with visitors even while she herself is sitting. To her left - or Rashid's right - is a small cloakroom. Beyond the desk, the entrance hall becomes a broad archway. The buzz of conversation and the smells of fresh food and drink emanate from the tavern room beyond the archway.
Keeping her hands out of view, the pretty elf graces the pair of travelers with a welcoming smile.
"Welcome to the Halfway Inn, travelers!" she says in greeting, her soothing voice seeming to wash away the endless miles of desert waste that the pair have crossed. "You look like you could use a mug or two! Can I take those dusty robes for you?"
"Certainly," says Rashid, removing his keffiyeh with a stretch and handing it over. "A mug or two and a hot meal will certainly be appreciated; what is on the menu for the evening? We would also like to stable our camels, beds for the night and, if you have it, somewhere that I can soak the dust out of my muscles. Lastly, I would also like to replenish my equipment, if that will be possible."
With a moment's thought, he adds "Sorry, I have not introduced myself. My name is Rashid, and this is my companion, Yassir."
The pretty maid takes the dusty clothing from the two travelers and then smiles. "Well met, Rashid and Yassir. I am known as Fillaris. I think you will find our roast duck to your liking - and I recommend the house beer to go with it. When morning comes, you you will be able to wander the visiting merchants' carts and see to your equipment needs. As for your lodging and the stables, it will be three silvers for each of you for a room and another silver per animal for the stable. Let me ring the innkeep for you."
The maiden rings a small brass bell on her desk. The light tinkling seems to carry over the din of the many conversations. A few seconds later, a middle-aged elf emerges from the tap room. Like Fillaris, he has pale white skin tinged with a bluish hue. His hair is mostly black, although some silver streaks are showing through. He wears a simple tunic and pants.
"Yes, Fillaris?" he asks, addressing the doorwatcher.
"These men here would like rooms and stabling for their mounts," the maiden replies.
"Simple enough," the elven innkeeper announces. Then he turns to the two companions. "Master Myrin Silverspear," he says by way of introduction. "I'm the owner of this modest little place. I can take your coin now if you like; then I can show you to your room where you can stow your gear before coming down to enjoy the tavern. And if you tell me where your mounts are, I will have one of Garith's stable hands fetch them and see to their needs."
"Well met, Master Myrin," the Bedine answers. "I am Rashid of the Bedine and this is my companion, Yassir."
Reaching into a pouch at his belt, the Bedine takes out a gold piece and hands it to the innkeeper. "This is for the two of us, plus our three camels. I will take you to them," he says, heading for the door. "I would also be grateful if you could have someone bring the saddlebags up to our room."
"I do not recall whether Fillaris mentioned a bath to you. If you have such a facility available, I would like to avail myself of this also. It has been a long hard trek."
Myrin's eyes grow wide when Rashid introduces himself. The elven innkeep stops walking and asks, "Tell me, Rashid of the Bedine, if I may be so bold - from which tribe do thee hail?"
The Bedine warrior stops, turning back to the innkeeper. "I am of the Goldor tribe," he says, "Lundeth by origin. Why do you ask?"
The innkeeper's eyes glance quickly back and forth from Rashid to the doorwatcher. "We will talk later, he replies. "Just a moment."
Myrin gestures to the doorwatcher who bends forward from her desk so that the innkeeper can whisper in her ear. After a few seconds of instructions, the maiden nods wordlessly. Then Myrin returns his attention to Rashid.
"Our stablemaster, Garith, will be waiting for us at the stables. We will bring washbasins and warm water to thy room; I'm afraid we can't offer much more than that. For now, let us go and see to your camels." The innkeeper gestures for Rashid to lead the way to the trio of mounts.
Exiting the inn, Rashid and Yassir lead Myrin to the assembly grounds outside. They walk back to the caravan campground and retrieve their camels from the train of similar beasts. Then, they lead the animals back toward the inn.
They are soon met by a middle-aged elf who walks with a limp. An old battle scar mars the left side of his face and an eyepatch covers his left eye socket. Two bright and cheerful younger elves, not much more than adolescents, follow in his wake.
"Garith!" Myrin exclaims when he sees the elven veteran. "These two men here have traveled far across the Parched Sea to come to our in. These three camels here," he says, gesturing to the trio that Rashid and Yassir lead, "are to be taken into the stables and cared for. Also, please see that their bags are taken to their rooms - they will be staying on the second floor - room five."
The stablemaster nods wordlessly and then nods his head to his two apprentices. The younger elves sprint toward the camels, eager to please their master.
"Now then, let's see about that bath, shall we?" Myrin announces. He leads the way around the outside of the inn to a back door on its eastern side. "No sense letting your future dinner companions see thee in thine traveling clothes, eh?" he asks lightly.
He opens the door, revealing a back hall. Straight-ahead is another door. "That leads to the tavern," Myrin explains. "That will take thee to the stables," he continues, pointing to a door on the right - or north - side of the short hallway. And then he opens a door on the left - or south - side of the passageway, revealing a set of stairs headed upward.
"And this will take thee to your rooms," he announces. Leading the way up the stairs, Myrin steps from the landing at the top and guides the pair of companions down a hallway lined with doors. Rashid notices that the stairs continue upward, undoubtedly leading to further floors of rooms.
As Myrin comes to a halt at a door that is standing open. Two pretty moon-elven maidens smile shyly at the two travelers before hurrying past them down the passage and then down the stairs.
Myrin shows Rashid and Yassir into the room. The companions find that it is furnished rather rustically. Two simple wooden beds, a cloak rack, two chairs, and a small dresser are the room's only furnishings. An ewer of water, a few pieces of fruit, and a glass jar of biscuits sit on a simple wooden platter upon the dresser. Next to the door is an iron chamber pot. Finally, a pails of steaming water sits at the foot of each chair; a towel and small wash rag rest over the back of each chair, as well.
"It would appear that thy wash water has been delivered," Myrin says. Then he removes a brass key from a ring and hands it to Rashid. "I will leave thee to thyself. I hope to see you shortly downstairs." With that, the innkeeper displays a friendly smile and then exits the room, closing the door behind him.
<Any ideas what that was about?> Rashid asks his companion in his own tongue as he starts to remove his travel clothes and begins to wash off the grime of his recent journey.
Yassir shakes his head. <No - just another strange outlander, I suppose,> he replies as he also works to remove the dust from his skin.
After a few minutes, as the companions continue to bath themselves, there is a knock on the door.
<Probably our saddlebags,> says Rashid, wandering over to the door and opening it.
As he predicted, Rashid discovers the two elven stable hands standing in the hallway. In their hands they hold the saddlebags from his Yassir's camel.
"Thank you. If you could put them there against the wall," Rashid tells them. As they leave, Rashid hands them 2 copper coins each.
"Thank ye, Alor," one the elven youths responds. The stable hands exit the room, closing the door behind them.
The two companions continue with their personal hygiene. Several minutes later, they are dry and dressed in somewhat more formal attire. Rashid wears his deep blue, embroidered aba with matching keffiyeh. Yassir, on the other hand, simply wears an aba that is similarly hued but slightly cleaner than the one in which he arrived. The D'tarig wears his jambiya - a curved, double-edged dagger - on his belt and undoubtedly also has several smaller throwing knives concealed on his person, as is his style.
Rashid belts on his two aziir, his jambiya and his knife. He then attaches his money pouch to his belt under his aba and, feeling suitably ready once again, turns to Yassir. <I feel that roast duck and a cool tankard of the house beer calling to me. Ready to head down?>
At the D'tarig's nod, the two desert travelers leave their room, making sure to lock it behind them. Then, they turn toward the back stairwell.
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of Brian Flood,
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