By Brian Flood
Chapter 8 - Yarthrain
The Sword Coast Backlands
Early Evening, 2nd Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The quartet follows Trinfingl's directions along the dirt road and into town. The outer buildings of the small town, mostly farms and cottages, seem to be the only buildings occupied by the meager population. Men and women clad in the typical garb of peasants and farmers make their way through the streets, completing their final errands of the day.
As the travelers work their way around the outer road, they can see that the large stone buildings in the center of town stand empty, in sharp contrast to the dwellings that surround them. The shadows cast by the setting sun highlight the dark, empty windows that in turn stare back at the party like the eye sockets of some long dead skull. From the construction, it would appear that four of the abandoned buildings were once the mansions of rich nobles or gallant knights. The fifth building looks as if it was once held a garrison of soldiers. The last structure, the tall keep, is in the worst shape. Like the mansions and the garrison, it would seem that the stones of this building have been scavenged for use in other places. Large piles of ruin and broken masonry lie scattered about the area that encompasses the abandoned hold. There are also several piles of dirt, as if someone has been excavating the area.
"The ruins of Backlands Castle," Aranor says softly, breaking into Rashid's thoughts as the Bedine studies the abandoned stone dwellings. "They were built by Zelarravyan, the self-proclaimed Baron of the Backlands, some one hundred years or so ago. They have stood empty for the past ninety years; a mercenary army hired by a Waterdhavian noble - whose lady had been kidnapped and murdered by the Baron - assaulted the stronghold, causing the Baron's army to flee. The Baron escaped but was killed ten years later when the noble finally tracked him down. The noble never found the body of his lady; it is believed that she was buried alive on top of the Baron's hidden treasure. The lady's ghost still haunts the town, wielding the Baron's own silver sword in her hand just as she did before she was struck down. As well, the spirits of the Baron's knights and courtiers still reside within their former mansions. At night, it is said that their eternal revelry can be heard."
Rashid continues to stare at the ruined castle. "Do the ghosts not bother the townsfolk?" he asks. "If this happened one hundred years ago, I would have expected their holy men to have come to drive out the unquiet spirits."
"The spirits - save that of the young maiden - do not leave their former dwellings to bother anyone," Aranor explains with a shrug. "As well, legends have it that all of those who have attempted to enter the ruins at night - while the ghosts are reveling - are usually found slain in the morning. The corpses are found with their brains removed from their skulls - a rather effective way of discouraging trespassing, all told."
Aris shivers at her brother's descriptions. "All this talk of the unlife is bringing a chill to my skin," she says. "Let us not dwell on the past but on the present - such as finding a warm meal and dry bed for the evening."
"That would be most welcome," Rashid replies wearily, adding, "and a hot bath! Lead on."
Gratefully, Aris leads the way to the Silver Blade Inn. The travelers find that the Inn's three wings are built primarily from large blocks of stone - no doubt taken from the ruins at the center of town. After hitching their mounts to the railing provided, the quartet has begun to walk to the door when Aris holds up her hand. The minstrel spends a few seconds reading a sign that is posted on the closed door. Then she reaches up and removes the hood of her cloak from her head. Aranor does the same.
The minstrel turns to Rashid and glances at his keffiyah, which is wrapped tightly around the Bedine's crown. "The sign says that customers must remove all headgear and coverings prior to entering. Apparently some sort of town custom." The two elves wait patiently for Rashid to comply. Yassir stands off to one side with his arms crossed - apparently, he is not willing to abide by any strange outlander customs until his friend does so, as well.
Looking at his friend, Rashid shrugs his shoulders and turns back to the two elves. "I don't see that it can do much harm, other than to allow those inside to see clearly who is entering. As long as you do not feel unhappy with this " So saying, he removes his keffiyah, tucking it into his belt. He next loosens his scimitars, and then resettles them in their scabbards, happy that they will be easy to draw if needed. "I don't suppose that the sign gives a reason for this custom?"
Aris shakes her pretty head in response. "No, it does not. But," she continues, noticing that Yassir has now removed his head covering as well, "I would imagine that they have their reason." The minstrel opens the door and the rest of the quartet moves to follow her.
Stepping under the huge, silver-painted two-handed sword that hangs of the door, the travelers enter the inn. Inside, they find the central, ground level, portion of the inn is the dance floor and tap room. There is a meager collection of farmers and peasants collected in the tap room, apparently enjoying the fine-smelling dinner that is roasting in the kitchens.
"Hello strangers!" The greeting is shouted from behind the bar. There, a human man dressed in an apron is just setting a wooden tankard in front of a customer. The man's eyes glance toward the new arrivals - and seem to linger on their uncovered heads for a moment - and then he says, "What'll it be? Dinner? Drinks? A room? We have all three for you!"
Rashid makes his way over to the bar. "We would like all three," he says. "I would also like a hot bath, if you have that available."
The man answers with a typically jovial innkeeper voice. "We can bring you a bucket of hot water and some towels, but I'm afraid I can't give you an entire tub befitting of a Waterdhavian merchant. Or you could use the river like everyone who lives here does. As for rest, four beers and four dinners coming up!"
"Excuse me, kind sir," Aris says, interrupting the bartender's work, "but would you have any wine - or everquist perhaps?"
Shaking his head but still smiling, the bartender replies, "No m'lady, we do not. But I assure you our Soubar Wyrmwater will fit any palette!"
With a wince, Aris answers, "I will pass on the ... Wyrmwater. Plain, normal water would be fine for me."
The bartender simply shrugs. "Very well then. It'll be three copper sibs each for the beer, seven silver dublees each for dinner, and the hot water is complimentary. That'll bring it to nine coppers, and a score and eight silvers in all, before the rooms. I have single rooms at five silvers apiece or doubles for four silvers per person. What'll it be?"
Glancing briefly over to Yassir, who nods in reply, Rashid replies to the bartender, "We will share a room, and I would appreciate the hot water. Do you have stabling for our mounts?"
"And we will share a room as well," Aris announces for herself and her brother, Aranor.
"Good, good," the bartender says. "Now then, you will find that the stables are in the west wing. Simply go back out side and work you way to that side of the building. We do not have a stable hand, so you will have to remove your tack and harness yourself. The use of the stables is free of charge, however. If you choose to do that now, I will gladly have your drinks ready for when you return!"
"I, certainly, would wish to see to my mount first," Rashid declares. "If you could also show us to our rooms, we could also bring in our saddle bags and leave them there before having food and drinks. Turning to the elves, the Bedine adds, "If you want to eat or drink first, feel free. I can take your mounts to the stables."
The elves decline Rashid's offer and take their own mounts to the stable. Afterwards, the innkeep takes the two pairs to their rooms so that they can store their saddlebags before dinner.
The rooms are located in yet another wing of the inn. The travelers find that the rooms are austere yet tasteful. They will most surely provide a quiet, clean night's sleep.
After storing their gear and adjusting their clothes, the quartet returns to the taproom. True to his word, the bartender has three mugs of beer and a flagon of water waiting for the travelers. As they sit and savor their drinks, dinner arrives. It turns out to be savory roast pork with grilled carrots and bread to go along with it. With gusto, the four companions dig into their meal.
When their plates are nearly clean, the innkeeper reappears at the table. Rashid's eyes notice the long, thin scars on the man's forearm - the marks of a swordsman. The Bedine catches Aranor's eye and he can tell that the elf has also noted the man's scars.
"Alright then," the man announces. "It'll be a score and two silvers, an' six coppers for the two of you," he says, addressing Rashid and Yassir. "And a score 'n two silvers plus three coppers for you," he adds to the elven siblings. "Will you be paying now or would you like something more?"
Rashid reaches into his pouch and hands the barman two gold and three silver pieces. "That will be all for me," the Bedine says, adding, "The pork was very good; please pass my compliments to the cook."
"I'll do just that," the man replies. After receiving the elves' payment, he hands the group two brass keys.
"Rooms three and four in the sleeping wing," the barman announces. "I'll send buckets of hot water up to both rooms shortly. If you need anything else, just come on back and tell us." With that, the man moves away to deal with the other scattered customers.
Aris stifles a yawn with the back of her hand. "I believe all of us could use a good night's sleep," the elven minstrel declares. She pushes back her chair and stands. "I'll be headed upstairs, I suppose."
Aris' yawn almost sets Rashid off, bringing home to him just how tired he is, also. "I think that I'll join you," he says, standing himself. "The travel through unfamiliar lands is obviously more draining than I had anticipated."
With that, the four travelers head to the sleeping wing. Muttering their goodnights, they go to their adjacent rooms and a very welcome night spent on soft beds with clean sheets.
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