Pursuit of the Red Horned God, Chapter 5

The guards disposition toward Oren immediately relaxed. One old man with a little knowledge had defused the entire situation. Oren wondered at the thought that so much time had passed that these young guards would have never seen a paladin nor recognize the weapon of one. The younger guards grouped up and clamored among themselves. Oren caught whispered fragments. One man claimed he’d known the Order had been reformed. Another confirming the mans boasts. A third implicated the threat of the Red Horned God necessitated the reformation. A more skeptical guard calling out their bravado for falsehoods. Oren smirked to himself as he led the stallion through the West Gate with a chastised apology from the captain.

The dirt roads that had once comprised all the walkways within The Landing had been paved over in cobblestone. All the outer buildings were comprised of stone. If Oren judged their components correctly, probably from the same quarry as the wall. He followed the path to the inn the guards suggested. The smell of the ocean started to overtake the ripeness that occurs when people live in such confined spaces. Buildings of stone gave way to older structures made from wood. Some of them bore signs of fire damage. The stone buildings were not just aesthetic then, he guessed.

When he arrived at the inn, Oren found it to be non-assuming. A susurrus of noise escaped from the common room into the street- men talking, deep in their drink. Most of them sounded to be sailors or guards. Oren led the stallion around back to the stable. A lone boy sat tossing stones into a bucket. As Oren approached, the boy snapped up to attention.

“You’ll be needing feed and grooming for your horse, sir?” the boy asked without prompting.

“Yes, and stabling for the night.” Oren produced his coin purse and drew out one silver coin. He paused and glanced at the boy then at the coin in silent question. The stable boy coughed with embarrassment and shook his head. He produced three more silvers from the bag before the boy offered a relieved nod. There was no helping the price. Oren resisted the urge to use the letter to demand free stable. The news of cultist activity had him on edge. He produced a fifth silver for the boy.

“For your trouble.” He said.

The boy murmured his thanks and tended to the horse once Oren had relieved it of the personal belongings he wanted to take with him to the inn. Securing the sword about his waist, he entered through the back door, startling a scullery maid. The maid started to curse him off before noticing the sword and thinking better of it. The entry from the kitchen to the common room provided enough shadow for him to survey the room and the people in it. His expectations from what he overheard in the street were met. Guards and sailors sat in clumps apart from each other. He couldn’t see a single man who didn’t have a tankard of ale in front of him.

He made way to a table in the corner where no one sat and claimed it for himself. The keep behind the bar took his time noticing him but bustled over in surprise when he did.

“Are you here just to drink, sir? Or do you need a room for the night as well? Don’t usually get travelers here. Mostly guards or sailors who wander back to the port once they’ve had their fill.” The keep gestured behind him.

“A mug of ale. Dinner. And a room. In that order. I’ve already left my horse with the stable boy outside.”

“Five silver then, sir, and I’ll have your first drink for you.” The man said, leaving the table and not waiting for Oren to fish the money from his purse. By the time the man returned with the ale, Oren had stacked five more silvers in a neat column. The keep swept them into his hand and returned to his station at the bar. The woman he had surprised brought out a bowl of stew with a pitiful butt end of bread for him. She scowled as she left the food for him and returned to the kitchen. Tasting the stew, Oren decided that if the conditions of the room upstairs matched the quality of the food, he should not have paid five copper bits for them.

He sat in solitude enjoying the only good thing the inn had to offer so far, the thick, dark ale. Just as he prepared to retire, the old man who recognized his paladin blade walked through the door with some of the seediest guards that had ever worn a uniform. Oren almost waved him over, but the old guard noticed him first with a look of shocked surprise.

Oren narrowed his eyes as the man spoke something to his comrades and they hustled off to a table as far from him as possible. He reckoned that either the soup was worse than he thought, or he needed to keep an eye on them. He flagged the barkeep for another ale and settled in to wait them out.

Apropos of: Arathania


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