By Brian Flood
Chapter 4 - Another Journey Begins
The Halfway Inn
The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Morning, 29th Day of Eleint; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
Rashid and Yassir rise from their beds as the first rays of dawn begin to seep through the curtains of their rented room. They rise, dress themselves for the road, and proceed down to the tavern, carrying their saddlebags in hand.
They quickly locate Aranor and Aris sitting at one of the tables in the main tavern room. The elves rise to greet the two desert nomads.
"Good morning, Rashid," says Aranor in greeting. "I trust thee slept well? Come, join us in a meal of eggs and spiced potatoes 'ere we start our trek." The elf gestures to the two empty chairs at the small table.
"Good morning Aranor, Aris," Rashid says, inclining his head to each of them in turn.
Putting his packs on the floor and sitting in the chair nearest to Aris, he continues, "I did indeed have a good and undisturbed night's sleep, something that has been missing of late. I trust that you both also slept well."
"Indeed," Aris replies. As she speaks, one of the pert elven waitresses appears at the table to take Rashid's order.
"Two more morning meals," Aranor says, speaking for the two desert travelers. "And have someone come to fetch these bags," he adds, indicating the pile of saddlebags that lie on the floor nearby.
"As you wish," the maiden replies and then leaves to fill the requests.
"Now then," Aranor says to Rashid. "Thee said last night that thee needed to replenish some provisions. What exactly are thee in need of?"
"I will need to replace the arrows that were used on our journey here and stock up on food and water for the journey," Rashid answers. "How about you, Yassir?"
"I could use some water - and some dried rations, also," the D'tarig responds.
"Very well," Aranor says, nodding his head. "After thee break thy fast, we shall go and see what the merchants have to offer."
"Ah!" he then exclaims, looking over Rashid's shoulder, "here come the stablehands, now."
Indeed, the same two elven lads from the night before approach the table. They bow in greeting to the quartet of travelers. Then, the eldest asks, "Are these the bags you would like carried to the stables, sirs?"
"They are," replies Rashid. Indicating his bags, he adds, "These are mine, and should be loaded on the two larger camels. The remaining bags belong to my friend, and should be loaded on the smaller camel."
"Yes sir," the lad intones simply. He and his companion pick up the bags and leave for the stables.
A few moments later, the waitress returns with two plates of fried eggs and potatoes. She puts a plate in front of both Rashid and Yassir. She also sets a pitcher of cool, fresh water and two flagons on the table.
"That'll be six coppers for the morningfeasts, sir," the elven lass states, looking to Aranor.
Rashid reaches into his pouch, hands her a silver piece, and turns his attention to his breakfast.
The waitress nods her thanks and moves off to see to other customers. For the next several minutes, the four new travelling companions enjoy their last comfortable meal for the foreseeable near future.
After they have finished, the travelers rise from their chairs. Nodding their thanks to the innkeeper and the staff, they make their way to the exit, gathering their outer garments from the cloakroom on their way out.
Stepping into the cool, early morning weather, the quartet travels to the stables where they retrieve their mounts. Rashid and Yassir find that the elves have fine mounts of their own. Aranor has a charger that would seem fitting in any lord's cavalry; Aris, on the other hand, leads a smaller - and no doubt, swifter - war horse.
Leading their mounts by their halters, the two elves guide the way across the parade ground that is stirring with activity - even this early in the morning. The scattering of traveling merchants have established themselves to do business with each other and with the guests at the inn. Some have established small booths; others have simply thrown back the covers on their carts or wagons to display their wares.
The quartet wanders through the carts and stalls, taking note of the various wares. They find merchants specializing in pottery, glass blowing, rare tomes, preserved meats, animal skins, and even two merchants that offer a variety of freshly harvested vegetables and fruits.
After the brief examination, Rashid moves directly to the fresh food trader whose wares look the most appealing to his tastes. "Tell me," he asks the merchant, "what is the cost of your wares and how long will they last in these climes?"
"These foods here will last you at least two rides, I would say!" proclaims the food merchant. "I can offer you a selection of meats, potatoes, and hard bread for the cost of mere six gold coins, sir!"
"That is a good price. I will take one ride." Taking out one of the amethysts and showing it to the merchant, Rashid adds, "I have only an amethyst, worth one hundred gold. Would you be able to exchange it for me, taking the cost of the rations from it?"
The merchant's eyes widen at the sight of the gemstone. "Of course, sir," he says. He gestures to one of his assistants who retrieves a small coffer and begins to count out gold coins into a small pouch. As he does so, another assistant begins portioning a selection of slaked meats, hard breads, cheeses and other sturdy foods and wrapping them in cheesecloth.
When the process is complete, the merchant hands the packages and the purse over to Rashid. "Here you are sir," he says, "One ride's worth of rations and ninety-four gold coins. Is there anything else, sir?"
"Thank you," Rashid replies, taking the packages of food and placing them into his saddlebags and the coins into his pouches. "That will be all."
He then moves over to the well and animal drinking troughs, refilling his waterskins and allowing his camels to drink their fill, as is the way of the Bedine before setting out on any journey.
Rashid next turns to his travelling companions, "Well, that is all I need to buy that is available here, as I do not see a stall selling arrows. I have enough spares for the time being, so replacing them can wait until we reach Yarthrain. Are you all ready to go?"
Yassir finishes tucking away his own food purchases that he procured from one of the other merchants. He nods wordlessly to the Bedine. The two elves have been patiently waiting for the desert travelers to complete their transactions.
"It would appear all is ready," Aranor announces. "I will lead us on our way, as I am familiar with the route. As for the rest of thee, we may ride either in a single column or side-by-side, do thee have a preference?"
Yassir merely shrugs, maintaining his habitual silent and dour demeanor.
"I would like to ride side by side," Rashid says, adding, "that way, should you be willing, you could point out the various landmarks that are represented by the pictures on your piece of paper. I would like to learn the interpretation of such things, as I feel that it may be of use in the future."
"Very well," Aranor answers. "Come, ride beside me. Thy friend may ride behind us and Aris shall bring up the rear. Let us go then."
With a short snap of his reigns, the elven warrior starts his war-horse on a light canter. The quartet makes its way from the parade grounds and heads out along the western road and toward Rashid's mysterious rendezvous.
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