Late in the night, in a tavern warm with candlelight, commoners and travelers gather alike. They drink, they dine, they sing songs and hymns; no worry of when the day will rise. Coin being laid upon a table of cards, and mead being sold to guards at the bar.
All is traditional this night in Mirkshire; all but one oddity. In the far corner of the man-filled room, two kin light pipes in the shadows. No kin of any man here certainly, I observe, as I make out their figures. With a keen sight one would make sure of themselves that these two herb-burners, hidden within the far corner, are not men but dwarves. The rest of the room spared no attention to them. Perhaps they never noticed the dwarven figures, or maybe they had no interest in them. Whatever the reason, it is not traditional to see dwarven kin this far from the coast within the lands of Fallor, unless they be requested of; but by whom I wonder.
I subtly observe them, interpreting their movement, yet, I come to notice there is none. Not one quirk nor twitch, nor sniffs or an itch; no not even a word amongst themselves. They just sit there cloaked in darkness, their eyes faintly visible as they inhale the herb which feeds the light from their pipes; and then dims back on their exhale. Long and slow-pulsed is the lighting and dimming of their embers. I ponder on why they have come. Why in Mirkshire, and why in this tavern.
Then comes a voice, "Here's your mead love," says Miss Taeley, the barkeep's house hand. A lovely brod she is, still in her youth as a woman. Yet, in the midst of her bridal years she settles not for a husband. Keeping her heart open and her eyes peeled, for what I'll guess, a man of adventure and humility; whom be willing to carry her to lands afar and away from this traditionally bore of a town. "Thank you dear. So, any man lucky enough to win you over yet?" I ask her. "None yet love," she answers with a smile. "Well how sounds you bet yourself this round of cards, and we'll see if I can win you?" says Oller, one of the men I am gambling cards with at our table. "Oh I don't think you have the right cards to be that lucky Oller," says Miss Taeley as she walks back behind the bar. The other men around the table burst out with low laughter as Oller seems short of a reply and a tad embarrassed by it. All while tales and common word fill the air of the tavern, I take a sip of the fresh cool pint.
Then suddenly, the front door barges open, sounding a smack and then a thud against the wall, it was heard across the room. Everyone in the tavern fell to silence as their heads turn towards the ruckus. Someone standing just outside the doorway; hidden beneath the night sky. All that can be seen of the being is it's arm, lit by the candles as it stretches inward holding the door at its place. Slowly the shadow walks through the doorway and into the light. A man, followed by another wearing common cloths. The tavern folk turn back to their tables as their eyes saw nothing more of interest. All eyes in the tavern laid off the two men, all but mine.
The dwarves, still in their corner, inspect them from afar as the two men make their way to the bar. They sit down and after a short moment the first man subtly gazes over his shoulder directly at the dwarves, and cautiously gives them a slow methodical nod. I rest my hand on my dagger, expecting some kind of brawl or mischievous murder to take place. However, not even a ruchas occured, but instead the dwarves stood from their booth and made their way out the side door of the tavern; without causing any attention to themselves. The two men shortly after followed them doing the same.
Oller begins to utter, "It is your bet mongre-." but abruptly he cuts to silence as he finds the end of my dagger now resting on his throat. "If I were you...," I turn to him bringing weight to my words "I would not use that slight so; indiscreetly." I glance back at the side door where the few have disappeared through. "With that said gentlemen, I'll have to relieve myself from this round," I say as I sheath my dagger and make way for the front door.
Once outside, the air of the night lays as a heavy blanket. Thick with the moisture of the fog from the nearby Mirkwood, yet still brisk with winds from the north. Thus is the early spring, where the passing of a chill breeze and the forthcoming of a scorching blaze quietly conflict one another. Taking notice of these elements I view the evidence of their existence upon the ground. Elusive, yet visible to a sharp eye, a plethora of commoners tracks.
Motionless I stand, and while surveying the scattered prints I spot them- dwarven footmarks. So marred amongst the collage that no mere eye could configure their image; but solely a hunter's. Cautiously I trek along their way, glancing over my shoulders in the gloomy dark that surrounds me. The trail leads me to the backside of the tavern and to a main road of gravel and sod.
Midday this street would be congested with merchants and travelers from various lands. I swift my way across and follow the dwarven boots down a back alleyway. As I cautiously approach a back corner of the building, I hear chatter along with scoffs which shortly follow. Their voices being so subtle I dare not move or cause a sound. Peaking around the corner I attempt to make out their images from the cover of night.
Of the two men, one stands out in height, while the other is clothed in a raggedy grey cloak. Not much more can be said about them as their backs face towards me. Of the two dwarves one seems to be a merchant, as he wears precious gems around his neck and an assortment of luxurious rings. The other dwarf, perhaps some kind of a warrior. For he stands with great posture, while resting his hands atop the handle of a long maul, with the steel-head at his feet. Nothing else can be seen about the dwarves whose faces are shielded in the gloom.
Once I finished observing the men and dwarves, I retreat my eyes back behind the corner of the building. I peer behind me down the alley, making sure no commoners or guards are too near. Then, amongst the dark I turn my ears to the secret conference of the men and dwarves; and begin to listen. "The king will never agree to such terms," says the merchant dwarf with his plans upon his waist. "I assure you that your king will not only see reasoning, but also the accompanying benefits of this arrangement," the cloaked man replies. The merchant Dwarf scoffs and leans in scolding the cloaked man, "And I assure you, he will not," he finishes.
The conversation halted as they press themselves against the dim walls of the alley; while two guards stroll by on the street. The intensity retreats as the guards pass along out of sight, and so the conference continues. "There is another option, of which I am prepared to offer your king," implies the cloaked man with a malicious smirk. He pauses for only a moment and then continues with unfolding his second plot, "what of your nephew?", the cloaked man asks the merchant.
The Merchant Dwarf with concern looks at his dwarven kin then back towards the men. "Luukut?" The merchant asks curiously, "What of him?" He finishes while concerned of the cloaked man's interest of his nephew. "I hear he is a member of 'The Dwarven Commerce'- same as you, only he deals in sporadic beasts," the cloaked man implies with an interested tone.
The dwarves' expressions become disturbingly concerned from the man's words; and of his interest in such matters. "Aye, he deals in many horrific monsters, and even more in number are the poor souls his beasts have massacred. Corpses of all races and of all ages too. Whom now either lie lost beneath any of the nine seas, or rot and decay below the sod of any kingdom; including where we stand now." Replies the merchant dwarf, subtly more worried now of the man's questions. "Poor souls beyond measure, such a toll beyond worth," utters the merchant, whom then gazes upon the ground mournfully as if he were there in those times; to witness such a slaughter.
A tear spills down the merchant's face, his eyes filled with torment as he relives dreadful memories of screams that seem to haunt him still. The cloaked man, however, is the least bit touched by the merchants words. "And what of Luukut's whereabouts now?" Questions the man without any acknowledgment for the 'poor souls' the merchant had mentioned.
Swiftly scorning the cloaked man, the merchant dwarf turns, and with deep fury past his tearful red eyes he peers at him. The man's tone lacked all sympathy, as if he heard not a word of what the merchant spoke of. "Have you no respect for the dead!" The warrior dwarf abruptly, yet quietly shouts out irritably. The warrior seemed he could not stand by in silence to such disregard, for in an instant he grew with temper. "And who are you to assume your tongue is worthy to address me?" Replies the cloaked man. "This is-", begins the merchant but his words are cut off, "Ah ah! I believe this dwarf thinks highly enough of himself to address me, then he should have no quarrel proclaiming his name to me," says the cloaked man.
The warrior looks to his dwarven kin for reassurance to speak, and with a nod from the merchant, he turns back towards the man. "I am Stolz, of Dales from the lands of Alenor," the warrior announces. Meanwhile, the cloaked man subtly steps towards the warrior, but no one seems to take notice. "Stolz is my personal escort, assigned to me within The Dwarven Commerce for this journey," implies the merchant while focusing on the height-full man whom still stands in silence.
The cloaked man, however, now within arms reach of the Warrior Dwarf- Stolz, cares not to take his eyes off of him. "Well, Stolz. My answer is no, I have the least bit of respect for the dead..." The cloaked man hastily impales the warrior in his side, with a small blade which was hidden beneath his cloak. The man holds the knife in the warrior as the Tall Man accompanying him draws a sword on the merchant. Then, he leans towards the warrior's ear and whispers,"so maybe your tongue can go remind them for me."
The Cloaked man and the warrior lock eyes, then Stolz begins to fall as the man withdrawals his blade. The dwarf's body drops in the muddy sod while the merchant peers at his fallen kin. The Cloaked Man wipes the dwarven blood from the blade with his cloak, then slowly turns towards the merchant, "Now, where is your nephew Luukut?" He asks the dwarf. "Somewhere in Skollig, hired by the king there for reasons I know not," replies the merchant dwarf.
The Cloaked man gazes at his fellow man, as if he had finally received the answer of his true desire behind this meeting. "So, you will go to your king and bring him our offer," the cloaked man demands once more to the merchant. With the Tall Man's blade still at his throat, the Merchant Dwarf is weary, yet while remaining calm he speaks firmly with his words. "As I said before, the king of Alenor will not agree to the terms of your king," the dwarf reminds him.
The Cloaked Man then lowers the Tall Man's sword with his own hand, then irritably steps in close to the dwarf. "Then you will proclaim to your king this. If he refuses to turn over his lands and title to Fallorian rule, and serve in the town of Alesburg as it's alderman under the reign of Fallor's majesty; King Baron himself. Then, by late fall we shall hire Lukuut to unleash his beasts upon the lands of Alenor, including your native village; Grens of Vales." The cloaked man hastily orders the half-ling.
The Merchant Dwarf-Grens, stands shocked in fear of the Cloaked Man's words. Knowing them, not as an offer nor a threat, but a promise with wicked intentions. "Yes, I know of the stories. Of how you and your kin of Vales have suffered the tormenting hell-fires of wyverns for generations," says the man with a malicious chuckle.
Grens, the merchant dwarf, trembles where he stands in fear of his words. "Perhaps I will advise King Baron to fly a wyvern over your home; a frightful memory you would live again; don't you think? So, what say you now?" The cloaked man suggest while peering in towards the half-ling.
Then, Grena takes a quick moment to lay his eyes once more upon the corpse of his kin, then back towards the cloaked man. "Very well," replies the dwarf. "Good. Now go, and inform your king," the cloaked man says in return.
The merchant leaves calmly, not in a scurry as most would. Perhaps it is the embedded pride of a dwarf within him, that allows him to turn away with intent to later have justice; rather than flee in fear. Once the merchant is gone the Cloaked Man looks down at the dwarven corpse. "Burn it," the cloaked man orders his companion, then casually walks out of the alley; in the same direction as the merchant.
Merci pour la lecture!
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