It was a squat little building, barely standing out among a few scattered houses not far from where the two main roads crossed, connecting the far flung lands in all four directions. Despite that, the town was barely a wide spot on the way, tucked along the edge of the forest where the river bent wide and created a perfect little swath of land.
The ground floor was built up of stone, but the floor above was timber and plaster. There was a wooden sign hanging just outside the gate, the paint was all but worn away, but one could just make out the old pint of beer foaming over carved into the surface. Despite its age, it was well kept and offered a few rooms for those in need. The largest rooms were for the public, however, and there was nary a night that all the locals could not be found there, trading gossip, songs, and the occasional insult.
A large stone fireplace cut through the center of the building, a second smaller ran up the sided of the east wing, allowing for hearths opening to every room. It also had the result of wafting the many smells of the kitchen throughout the entire inn. One could always find hearty bread and a thick stew on the menu, and other seasonal items as they were available.
The innkeeper was usually the one in the kitchen, as he insisted nobody could make the stew right but himself. His wife and five children ran the rest of the inn, and his wife never had any trouble with removing the odd disruptive patron, should the need arise. Fortunately, that was not often.
A fire last year had shut all but the taproom down for several seasons, but now the freshly rebuilt east wing held new rooms and beds, with all new linens and hangings. A grand re-opening party was now beginning – though to most of the locals it was no different than any other night at the place, except that there was half a cow roasting on the fire and the last of the autumn’s fruit had been baked into an array of pies.
The innkeeper’s eldest daughter was wiping down the newly reoiled bar, and the second son was tending to the stables. There were dried flower arrangements hanging over the doors as a ward against evil spirits, and a brand new keg had just been tapped. Even the innkeeper had been coaxed out of the kitchen for a spell to stand at the door and give hearty welcomes to all who came in. There was even a rumor of a prize drawing, though nobody was quite sure what the prize was, or how to enter it. The rumor, at least, still drew folk from all over, and from all the free peoples.
Jan 25, 2021 at 7:59 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:25 am
As used to travelling as she had become over the past year, her backside was starting to hurt… It had been three long days on the road, and she was grateful when the inn finally came into view. A small building, barely big enough to actually claim the name of ‘inn’ … but it would do. There was no stable attached; a small establishment indeed.
It wasn’t as if she meant to stay more than a night anyway. Still both she and the mare would enjoy a much needed rest before continuing their travel. But a place for the animal, she would definitely need.
Jan 26, 2021 at 5:07 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:26 am
Several locals were making their way to the inn as well, chatting among themselves as they went, excited to see the newly rebuilt portions. They had watched the whole thing go up, after all. And what else was going on to talk about? Small towns had large gossip circles.
One young woman saw the stranger standing outside the inn, looking a little lost.
“Miss? Not from around here, are you.”
The stranger shook her head, and the young woman was surprised by how lovely she looked.
“Well, the stables are over that way,” she said, pointing to the structure just down the road, “and everything else is right there,” she said with a laugh, pointing at the inn.”
Just then a group of her friends joined her and began to pull her inside, all laughing. “If you need anything else,” she called to the stranger before the entire group disappeared up the stairs and into the main room, “just ask anyone!”
As the door opened briefly for the group, the sound of conversation and music drifted out into the street before the door shut again.
The stable wasn’t large, for it never had needed to be. It would hold perhaps half a dozen full sized horses, or ten ponies, but it was comfortable and dry and had fresh straw on the floor and fresh hay in the loft.
The innkeeper’s second son, not quite a full-grown man yet, was there to tend to the horses: bring them fresh water, brush them down, and of course ensure the right owner retrieved the right mount later. It suited him well, for he loved animals a great deal more than people.
Jan 27, 2021 at 5:21 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:28 am
She guided her mount to the small stable; the young man taking care of the animals seemed a bit tongue-tied when he saw her. She asked him if he would help her remove saddle and bridle; she could do it herself but he seemed to care for animals more than people like her.
It was easy to see the horse would be well taken care of; now she merely needed to take care of herself. A bath would be wonderful but she wasn’t sure it could be seen to, not with the crowd arriving to the inn just now. It must be a gathering of sorts… though for what occasion she couldn’t even guess.
Jan 28, 2021 at 5:32 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:29 am
“Miss,” the innkeeper’s son said, touching his cap as the lady approached. “In need of a stable? If you’re planning on getting a room I can make sure your horse is fed and brushed down proper.”
Jan 29, 2021 at 5:50 pmNov 26, 2021 at 5:30 am
“Thank you, that would be kind,” she replied.
She cast a quick glance towards the building before returning her attention to the young man.
“It seems like a busy night. Will you be too busy to join the festivities?”
She shouldn’t flirt; he was a kid really, but Diya had never been cautious in that regard; she loved the game too much. She sighed…
“Should I give up entirely on the hope of having a bath pulled?”
Mar 6, 2021 at 9:21 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:32 am
“It seems like a busy night. Will you be too busy to join the festivities?” the woman asked.
The young man mumbled something about the animals needing to have an eye kept on them and it would be crowded inside and then he trailed off.
“Should I give up entirely on the hope of having a bath pulled?”
“Oh, no. I mean, yes. I mean – you can. A bath.” He turned bright red and stared at the dirt. “Ask at the bar, Jorda – that’s my sister – she’ll sort you out.”
Mar 17, 2021 at 9:02 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:33 am
The young man was too shy; it was cute but she wouldn’t make him more uncomfortable than that, it would be cruel.
“Jorda?” She repeated softly trying to figure out the sounds. “I shall do that. Thank you very much.”
She handed him a silver piece; a lot, but she knew how it worked even here where the King of Gondor ruled. She wanted the mare taken care of and she wanted the lad not to feel too bad about her outrageous flirting. She was what she was.
She left the stable, her saddle bag on her shoulder, freeing her hair from her hood. It wasn’t warm – no place was ever as warm as her home country – but neither was it cold. She entered the inn casting a quick glance at the crowd; noticing the groups, the solitary men and the potential… players. She approached the bar where a young woman – looking enough like the boy from the stables to be his sister – had just returned from serving some patrons. She looked a bit harried.
“Excuse me, would you be Jorda?” She tried to imitate the young man’s way of saying the name but the woman would definitely hear the accent. Still she nodded. “Your brother said you would be able to help set me up with a room and a bath. Please.”
Mar 18, 2021 at 3:32 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:35 am
It was a nondescript time of day with no way to spy the sun’s path thanks to the thick cloud that covered the sky like a grey, dirty blanket. The ground on which she sat was dry, and the bark of the tree warmed against her back. The reins of her and Thar’s horse dangled loosely from one hand as she and the horses dutifully waited. It was late in the afternoon, Bardhwyn surmised.
She sat with eyes shut to the dull, dim light of the forest thicket that surrounded her and she felt the quiet tightness of the scar that traced down from the edge of her left eye lid down to the bottom of her cheek – a battle gift from a Southron many years in the past, instilled with a touch of magic so to warn her when danger was near. And there was none, not on this late afternoon. It was just another day on the road, spent carefully picking a path along the roadways, evading other travellers, aiming to reach the next safe place where those of her ilk were tolerated. With any luck, they’d pick up some work, again something worthy of her ilk; a bandit, an outlaw, a traitor, and more – more than she could share with anyone. Anyone besides Thar, that is; also a bandit, an outlaw, and more.
Her horse, Courage, whinnied softly and stamped, causing Thar’s roan, Tamar to whinny in reply. A twig snapped in the distance, and she grinned; the horses heard him before she did.
Thar emerged from the undergrowth, brushing burrs of his tunic sleeve but missed a twig stuck in his shoulder-length hair.
“The inn’s there, and it’s open,” Thar announced, his voice hushed. They were very much alone in the woods but old habits die hard with raiders and bandits.
“Open?!” Bardhwyn bit back a curse. “How ‘open’?” She pulled the twig free from his hair and playfully poked his nose with it before tossing it aside.
Thar chuckled. “You know, the open kind of ‘open’. People, food, drink. It looks like some sort of festival or celebration, at that. We didn’t have much to go on, remember. Just a rumour of a burnt-out building we could take refuge in.”
“I know,” Bardhwyn replied. She buried her face into her free hand, squeezing her eyes in hopes the pain behind would be forced out.
“Your head still hurts,” Thar said. She nodded. “You need to eat, that’s probably why,” he added. She nodded again.
“I say we take the risk, we go,” Thar said, settling beside her. He rubbed his left thigh as he eased his leg out.
“Which wound is that?”, Bardhwyn asked.
“That was the arrow I took during the Ganston raid,” he replied. “I swear that quack doctor didn’t get all of the arrowhead out before he sewed me up.”
“I remember that night,” Bardhwyn whispered. Her face then brightened with a large smile. “By the Gods, we had to get you very drunk before you let him work on you,” she said with a laugh.
“Did you get the doctor drunk as well?”, Thar asked, annoyed.
“I was more afraid he would die of fright before he finished with you. We invaded his home in the middle of the night, threw his family into the root cellar, and forced the man to work on all of us till well after sunrise. He did admirably well, all things considered. Be grateful.”
“You’re infuriating sometimes, you know that?”, Thar mumbled with a shake of his head.
“Yes,” Bardhwyn replied with a flashed grin.
“So, do we go?” Thar asked. “Do we take our chances of being recognised and go to the Wayfarer’s Inn, eat, maybe get a bath, and sleep in a proper bed…”
“And get Courage re-shoed,” Bardhwyn added.
“Yes and we find a blacksmith. I haven’t forgotten,” Thar groaned, struggling to his feet.
“We should get that done immediately,” she added, also groaning slightly as she stood. “In case we need to make a hasty exit.”
Thar nodded solemnly and took Tamar’s reins. “It’s about twenty minutes’ walk. I take we’re walking, yes?”
“Well, I am. You don’t have to,” Bardhwyn replied.
“Come on, we’ll ride together. Tamar won’t mind,” Thar said, rubbing the mare’s neck fondly.
Once in the saddle, Thar pulled Bardhwyn up and seated her in front where she perched, side saddle, and with Courage’s reins tethered to Tamar’s saddle, they set off in the direction of the newly opened Wayfarer’s Respite and, with any luck, an anonymous evening’s rest.
Sep 22, 2021 at 3:57 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:36 am
Bardhwyn and Thar rode in from the east, towards the Inn which sat in an idyllic clearing of trees and flowering shrubs, illuminated with shafts of light shed by the setting sun as it broke through the cloud bank’s edge along the horizon. The road followed a slight bend that traced the course of a nearby river, cold and flowing, it’s waters swift with rains draining off far-away mountains. Shrieks of laughter floated towards them on the air.
“Three cottages to the north, each with outbuildings. A shared well. Road looks clear, no gates or tolls…an unattended horse – how trusting,” Bardhwyn said casually.
“Smoke rising to the west, behind that copse of trees; more cottages, most likely,” Thar added. “So, we leave by the south road, over the bridge… ”
“Only two stories to the inn, that’s good,” Bardhwyn added. “We can jump out a window if need be. Stable is set back quite a ways…”
“Too far, for my liking,” Thar said.
“We’ll need the horses right at the stable door, then,” Bardhwyn said.
Thar grunted, his eyes focusing hard on the Inn. His bearded jaw was set, and his grey-blue eyes scanning the peaceful scene before them, preparing himself, as he always did, when approaching a new and unknown settlement. They were each unarmed, save their small eating knives, their weapons carefully wrapped with hides and fur and tied to Courage’s saddle, acceptable for two itinerant trappers on the road ‘home’ after selling their goods.
More laughter reached them, rippling out from the Inn’s opened windows.
“And there was much gaiety to be had,” Bardhwyn said wryly.
“It’s all a little too ‘nice’,” Thar added, slowing his horse to a stop. In the distance they could see a young hand leading a finely tacked horse towards the stable.
“That horse,” Bardhwyn said, eyeing keenly.
“Yes, I see it. Sleek. Look at its hind quarters. Southron?”
“I think so,” Bardhwyn answered. She took a deep breath and exhaled slowly.
“Could be nothing, and no one,” Thar said, urging his horse on, towards the stables.
“Southrons, though,” Bardhwyn muttered.
They came to a stop just before the mounting block next stable doors and Bardhwyn slid off onto the block. The young stable hand emerged and looked up, startled by the tall, scarred woman looming over him.
“Oh! My! Why.. uh, hullo!,” he sputtered.
“Hello,” Bardhwyn replied, stifling a grin. She casually stepped down and stood along Thar, who had dismounted and was brushing the dust from his tunic.
“Welcome, travellers,” the young man said with an awkward bow. “Will you be staying at the Inn?”
“That is our hope,” Thar answered with a gracious smile. “We’re trappers on our way home. It appears we’ve come in the midst of some celebration, is it a wedding ..?”
“Ah, no, we’ve just opened. This be our first day opened since the fire. Local folk are pleased to gather, is all,” the lad said. “I daresay they’ll be room for you. Shall I put your horses up. Fee is quarter a silver a night, added to your room and victuals.”
“Sounds fair,” Bardhwyn said with a smile; her eyes followed Thar as he sauntered over to the opened stable door, casually inspecting the interior. “The gelding, he needs a new shoe. Is there a farrier in the hamlet?”
“Aye, there is. His forge is over wonder. I can take him if you like.”
“I would like,” Bardhwyn replied, “very much so.”
“We’ll have our two horses stabled here, immediately in front of the door, if you don’t mind,” Thar announced. Confused, the stable hand looked over at the two horses already placed in the stalls facing the door.
“And, once you’ve done that, make sure the gelding is shoed and returned within the next hour and half,” Barhdwyn added.
She carefully placed her right arm around the young man’s shoulder, it was a heavy arm, muscled and toned from years of archery. She pulled him close and in a low voice said, “And there will be a full silver piece just for you, if you do these things for us and do them quickly. Understand?”
The stable hand nodded, nervously.
“Now, get along. Lots to do.” She released him, aware that the promise of coin had turned the tide and watched the young man jog into the stable. Thar came alongside, holding their fur and hide wrapped belongings.
“Ready?” he asked.
She nodded and followed him along the path to the Inn’s front door, which stood open to the late afternoon air. They entered a large common room filled with people and conversation. Bardhwyn immediately wanted to retreat. Thar pressed forward, however.
“Innkeep!” he called out. “We’re in need of a room!”
Sep 22, 2021 at 1:17 pmNov 26, 2021 at 5:38 am
Interruption was the rule rather than the exception around here. Jorda turned her attention to the young woman who had just entered and asked for a room and bath.
“Rooms are shared only with as busy as we are, but you can have any valuables put under lock if you need for an extra few coppers. Baths should be ready in about half an hour. Come back and ask then, I probably won’t remember to tell you,” she said, not meaning to be unkind but with the flood of new faces and all kinds of requests she could hardly be expected to remind every person who asked about baths.
She was hardly done speaking when another call drew her attention. “If you want I can start a tab for your expenses but you’ll need to settle it before you sleep,” she said as she turned to greet the new guests who looked to be together.
They stood out from the other guests in a way she couldn’t quite put a finger on, but then the place got a lot of odd folk coming and going, so it was almost more common to stand out than to blend in. Jorda brushed aside the strands of dark hair that had escaped her braids and repeated her well-worn statement to them regarding the shared rooms, baths if they wanted, and settling a tab before they slept.
Sep 23, 2021 at 8:06 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:41 am
Sharing rooms… Diya wasn’t sure whether it bothered her or not. In theory she didn’t mind. She knew what it meant to have no comfort and no privacy. It wasn’t so long ago. In practice, even though she was a slave, she’d been privileged in the years before the War, before the world she knew collapsed, before she was forced to leave the country that had become home and travel to the West. And most Westerners… well they smelled. Didn’t seem to care much for baths, or cleanliness. Yet, they called her people barbaric. Wasn’t it ironic?
So no she wouldn’t mind companions but they’d better have cleaned up.
She would have asked for food but Jorda’s attention was snatched by two newcomers, a man and a woman. Both too tall; well Diya was getting used to the unnatural size of Westerners but some of the women were as tall as as men, and not just the elves. There was something in their demeanour that reminded her of… well. Some people must always be on their guard; slaves among others… But there was no slavery in the West. Besides these two were no preys.
Diya looked away lest they thought she was staring – in truth she was but she’d always enjoyed riddles, the game it provided. And once she knew a man or woman’s riddle, the cards got redistributed. Usually to her advantage.
She asked Jorda for some stew – it would most likely be bland, like all Western food. She missed the spices and the tastes of home. Except she couldn’t go back… Not yet. Regrets were useless.
Sep 24, 2021 at 6:05 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:44 am
Thar watched as the young woman’s brushed strand of hair slipped back down, clearly determined to frame her heart shaped face. Her eyes were soft, clear. He felt something stir and barely suppressed a smile.
“Shared rooms?” Bardhwyn asked, her eyes on Thar. He glanced in her direction and shifted uneasily.
“I’ll have some stew…”
Both Thar and Bardhwyn’s ears pricked. The petit traveller who spoke gave the young hostess a smile and nod before walking towards the benches and boards. She had an accent, clearly not Westron or Elvish. Bardhwyn and Thar exchanged knowing looks before returning their attention to their young hostess.
“Stew?” Thar repeated. “That sounds perfect.”
“Add some bread, cheese and some of that beef, if it’s done,” Bardhwyn added curtly, pointing to the spitted steer turning slowly in the inglenook hearth. She stopped. “And I smell pie. We’ll have a pie,” she added, walking over to the bar.
The young hostess’ eyes followed her, placidly.
“Don’t mind her,” Thar said apologetically. “She doesn’t like people…”
The young woman looked up, sharply, with one eyebrow raised.
“I mean to say she doesn’t like lots of people – crowds,” he added hastily, waving a hand at the common room and smiled affably. He then pretended to lose grip on their bundled weapons, fumbled – the young woman immediately softened and helped.
“You be wanting to store your things?” she asked.
“Ah, no, thank you. We may have to get at something,” he said with a smile. Which was the truth. They may need a sword, or bow…
“Right you are. I’ll see my Da about your victuals. Seat yourselves and be comfortable.”
Bardhwyn leaned against the bar, looking straight on into the face of a woman of 40 plus years, who was, clearly, the matriarch of the family. She had the same shape of face as the stable hand and hostess, even the same errant strand of hair framing the right side of her face. She was buxom, broad armed, and clearly accustomed to hard work. The woman’s eyes told stories of a life that wasn’t easy, but they were strong and fair and Bardhwyn liked her, immediately.
“Good health to you and your family,” Bardhwyn said – a traditional Barding greeting. I slipped out before she could censor herself.
“And may we all live long under the shadow of the mountain,” the woman finished.
Bardhwyn smiled, for that was the correct way to respond, if you were from Dale. Her pleasure was immediately mixed with apprehension, however, and she studied the woman for a few seconds more. The woman’s eyes betrayed no fear, no concern, no recognition. She may be a Barding, she may not. Either way, it was too late to hide her heritage; Bardhwyn took a deep inbreath and ordered.
“Four ales, if you please, and however many more this will buy.” Bardhwyn said, pulling a half silver from the pouch on her belt. It landed heavily on the oiled bar.
“Four?” the woman repeated, casting a look over to Thar, who was negotiating his way over, dodging and skirting the clientele, their belongings cradled in his arms like a new-born babe.
“One for him, three for me,” Bardhwyn replied.
The matriarch barked a laugh and plucked four tankards from overhead, filling the final one just as Thar arrived. He dropped their bundled belongings onto the floor between them and Bardhwyn slid the first tankard over.
“You shouldn’t have,” Thar said sarcastically. He took a long swallow and watched as Bardy drained the first tankard dry. She slid it aside and took the next one.
“The barkeep may be a Barding,” she said lowly as she brought the tankard to her lips. She threw her head back and drained that one dry.
“Ah,” Thar replied, now watching the woman closely. Bardy slid the second tankard aside and took up her third.
“Taking the edge off, are we?” he asked.
“Shut up,” she mumbled, taking a long, but much slower drink. The matriarch returned, collecting Bardhwyn’s two discarded tankards and held up two fingers with a quizzical look. Bardhwyn nodded. The tankards were refilled and left before her without a word.
“What makes you think she’s a Barding?” Thar asked.
“I like her,” Bardhwyn answered.
“Ah,” Thar said again. He leaned heavily onto the bar and surveyed the common room.
“Is the board by the window clear yet?” Bardhwyn asked into her tankard. She took another long swallow. Thar glanced casually over to the left where, beneath an open window, three overweight locals were seated with unfinished food before them, holding a heated conversation about compost and manure.
“Nope,” Thar replied with a smile, careful not to look at her as he spoke. Instead, he looked amiably about the room, a study of relaxed enjoyment and a contrast to Bardhwyn, who stood with her back to the room.
“Relax,” he said. “You’re too stiff, you look Dwarven-hewn. Like some marble column that should be holding up a ceiling somewhere. ”
She threw him a shrivelling look, bit back a colourful reply and finished off tankard number three. She slid one of the two, refilled tankards over to her companion.
“Very well,” she said, swivelling on her heel. “I shall be as loose as Bree barmaid!” Mimicking Thar, she thrust an elbow out and onto the bar and slumped onto it. She took on a lazy grin and grabbed tankard number four. She held it up in a toast.
“Good health to you and your family, my friend!”, she said, just a bit too loudly and sounding almost drunk.
Thar laughed and raised his tankard in return, knowing full well she was stone, cold sober; Bardhwyn could hold her drink like an elf. “And may we live long under the shadow of the mountain!”, he replied.
Sep 24, 2021 at 5:56 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:45 am
She almost sighed – almost… the stew was bland, the meat barely adding any taste to it. And the herbs… eating was supposed to be a pleasure. It was a way to meet, to share, to discover other people’s fancies, liked and dislikes. Here it seemed, food was merely for subsistance. It might have been depressing if Diya were that sort of person. She usually wasn’t; but she also was tired… The last stretch of her journey was long. She needed to soak in a bath for so long her skin wrinkled like an old apple.
Of course she would never do that; one couldn’t risk appear less than perfect when out of a bath. Although she didn’t quite expect to find an interesting companion tonight… Or rather she didn’t expect the hosts to welcome the kind of trade she was used to here. On top of being dirty and too tall, Westerners had no sense of adventure.
Or maybe some did – she cast a quick glance to the two travelers who’d arrived after her. The woman had already drunk two tankards of ale and seemed to be downing a third one rather fast. Maybe she had a sense of adventure, though probably not the type Diya was likely to offer at night.
She finished the stew before she leaned back a bit, observing her surroundings. Newly rebuilt place she’d been told. Still no grandeur… nothing fancy. It wasn’t that she needed to know much… But she was a stranger in a strange country; and she’d been made to understand more than once that her kind wasn’t welcome. People hadn’t forgotten the war; that she played no part in it didn’t matter. She was still regarded as the enemy in many places. And no matter her skills or looks… it didn’t make a lot of a difference here.
But her sister was lost somewhere in these lands… or settled. She might have found a man who would like an “exotic” wife. C’ian had a beautiful soothing voice. Like their mother. Diya would probably arrive at a dead-end if she ever found her sister at all. Middle Earth was big; even bigger for a woman traveling alone, whose skills were… well, what they were. But she made a promise.
Diya shook her head; that was no frame of mind to be in on a warm evening with the prospect of a bath. Which might even be ready. Jorda had advised to ask… and considering how busy the place was, it wouldn’t go amiss.
She stood up and walked back to the bar, just as the woman from before spoke drunkenly… Diya smirked. She was a lot of things, but a fool she wasn’t. She’d seen this scene play out a few times before. This woman wasn’t drunk, though she might convince others. A really interesting riddle there, if she had the time…
“Miss Jorda,” she looked for the words. Her Westron was still heavily accented. It would change in time, but it was weird. And yet… she’d had no one to correct her accent when she learned so… She stuck to simple sentences for now. “Is the bath ready please? Where should I go?”
Sep 30, 2021 at 10:23 amNov 26, 2021 at 5:57 am
Jorda was all over the place, taking orders, delivering food, and answering everyone’s questions. Her father, however, was taking his time moving around the room and making conversation.
He eventually made it to the bar where a man and woman were enjoying several rounds of ales, by the look of it. His broad smile was partially hidden by an impressive but well-maintained beard, the reddish brown hair just beginning to show speckles of gray.
He clapped his hands together, and speaking perhaps a little too loud for the proximity, said, “Welcome, new friends! I am Jorvan; welcome to our humble establishment! I hope all is to your liking, yes?”
“Miss Jorda, is the bath ready please? Where should I go?”
“Oh. Probably.” She pointed to a door at the back of the room. “Through there, down the stairs, keep to the left until you get to the end of the hall and you’ll be there.”
The room was filled with steam coming off the several bathing barrels, large enough to hold four people each. The small windows at the top of the room were unable to vent the steam fast enough, but did allow some fresh air in. At one end of the room stood a wide hearth with a crackling fire, a rack of towels beside it. Benches lined the walls, and there were bundles of fresh peppermint, lavender, and rosemary hanging from the rafters.
The old woman, hair long turned silver-gray and wrapped up in a bun on top of her head, carefully folded her clothes and placed them on one of the benches, then slipped into the wonderfully hot water with a sigh as it carried away the aches and creaks of her joints. She leaned back against the edge of the barrel and closed her eyes, breathing in the steam-infused scents of the herbs hanging above.
Sep 30, 2021 at 9:38 amNov 26, 2021 at 6:22 am
“Welcome, new friends! I am Jorvan; welcome to our humble establishment! I hope all is to your liking, yes?”
Bardhwyn, jolted slightly by boisterous Inn keep, blinked rapidly and smiled. Thar, with a broad smile, raised his tankard in a toast.
“Indeed, all is very much to our liking and congratulations on your re-opening!”, Thar exclaimed.
“Why, thank you, thank you,” Jorvan replied. “It has been quite a trial, but…”
Jorvan’s head snapped around at the sound of shattered pottery emanating from the kitchens. It was quickly followed by a long, sharp, angry howl.
“MORGOTH’S BREATH!” he bellowed. Jorvan stomped off, demanding to know what was happening and calling out several names, many of which sounded like variations of his own – those of his children, no doubt.
Glancing over and out of the Inn’s open door, Bardhwyn noted how the deep dusk was settling with the sinking of the sun, causing the shadows to deepen in the hedgerow and copse of trees to the west. A few points of light broke through the branches, telling of the cottages just beyond. Emerging from the shadows she saw the stable boy easily leading her horse back from the farrier. Courage’s head was high and his gait now even thanks to a new iron shoe.
‘Good lad,’ she murmured.
‘Eh?’ Thar asked.
‘Courage,’ she replied. ‘He’s back.’
Thar nodded, and Bardhwyn watched as his left shoulder dropped. A sign he was relaxing, just that much more, as was she. One more contingency plan in place, just in case.
Thar’s fingers drummed against his tankard as he watched the debating farmers sitting underneath the window.
‘I have a plan,’ he said quietly, lifting his tankard up for the mistress of the house to see. The matriarch glided over, wordlessly took Thar’s tankard and refilled it. She raised an eyebrow at Bardhwyn, silently asking if wanted another. Bardhwyn shook her head. Thar leaned in, wearing one of his charming smiles.
‘Ah, madam, may I ask: what are your rules about games of chance in your fine establishment?’
The Matriarch held Thar in her gaze for a few seconds, then looked at Bardhwyn, her eyes seeking confirmation he could be trusted. Bardhwyn replied with an almost imperceptible nod.
‘No knife throwing, no fights and ten percent of the takings,’ she replied.
‘That’s fair,’ Thar replied and with a flourish two, finely carved Dwarven die appeared between the fingers of this right hand.
‘I believe these fine gentlemen need a bit of diversion.’ Thar turned towards the debating farmers, who were now discussing how deep one should plough when sowing winter corn.
‘Their conversation is far too serious for such a fine evening as this…’ Taking his full tankard, Thar sauntered over to the table.
‘No fights,’ the Matriarch repeated. She left a full tankard next to Bardhwyn’s elbow.
‘No fights,’ Bardhwyn repeated, pouring the remainder of her ale into the fresh tankard and with a smile of thanks, she collected their belongings off the floor and slowly followed Thar. He’d settled himself on the far side, just under the window, having successfully pushed a rather short, rotund farmer further down the bench. Jorda was busily clearing away the farmer’s plates and bowls.
‘… and so it occurred to me, gentlemen, that you three, being fine, upstanding yeomen, you could be trusted.’
The three farmers all guffed and chortled various responses of ‘why yes, yes’ and ‘of course’.
Bardhwyn slid behind one of the farmers, immediate opposite Thar, and proceed to sit on the bench, right before the window, forcing two farmers to scuttle to the right. She dropped their belongings and smiled sweetly, but still earned a furtive glance from the man to her right, confirming that yes, her face was scarred.
“You be wanting your victuals here, then?’ Jorda asked, the errant strand of hair still impeccably framing her face.
‘That would be excellent, thank you and round for these fine yeomen, too!’ Thar replied. Again, the farmers guffed and chortled various responses of ‘no, no need’, ‘why that’s most kind’ and ‘one more wouldn’t do any harm.’
What Bardhwyn lacked in charm, Thar easily made up for. What he lacked in guile and cunning, she easily made up for. They were a good team. The dice came out and Bardhwyn half listened as he explained the rules to ‘Orcs Eleven’, a difficult game that always favoured ‘the house’ and with which Thar emptied many a bandit’s pocket. Her eyes, however, lightly rested on the exotic, if not slightly bored looking, traveller who was completing a rather large bowl of stew. A plate of bread sat nearby, untouched. ‘Curious’, Bardhwyn thought to herself. ‘Either she doesn’t like bread or she doesn’t realise its for all to eat.’
Jorda appeared, heavily dropping a tray of tankards, a plate of bread and a bowl of butter onto the table and announced the rest of their food was forthcoming. The farmers eagerly took up their tankards and Bardhwyn lazily took a hunk of the bread and speared a chunk of butter with her eating knife. She watched as Jordah stopped to speak briefly with the exotic traveller, whose face, afterwards, took on an expression of weary relief. Her cloak and accoutrement were Haradrim, but her face and eyes were not. This lone traveller was curious mystery, Bardhwyn mused but this was neither the time or place to delve…
“Here be your stew, beef and pie!’ a voice boomed behind her. She turned to see Jorvan behind her, his face composed and what ever disaster in the kitchen now quelled. He held a large tray stacked with bowls and plates and more food than she’d seen in weeks.
‘Now the stew is my father’s recipe, rich and mild, so you can eat more than your fill. I’ve made a good batch here,’ Jorvan added, looking Bardhwyn square in the eye, much like his wife had.
“Aye, you look like you could use a good meal, lass,” he said, good naturedly. ‘My good lady wife said, ‘pile it high’ and I can see why.’ He placed the food down, in between Bardhwyn and Thar, forcing the dice game to hurriedly shift down the table.
‘Thank you,’ Bardhwyn said in a small voice, feeling child-like. The smell of the stew and beef engulfed her, her mouth watering in anticipating. But despite the rich aroma of the stew and blood-rare beef, it was the deep-dish fruit pie that mesmerised her. She pulled it over and sunk her knife into its flaky, golden crust, releasing rich, sweet steam and the smell of berries and apples.
‘Oi!’ Thar cried out. ‘Save HALF of that for me.’
Bardhwyn glared. Thar glared back.
‘I mean it, Barding,’ Thar grumbled.
Bardhwyn bit her lower lip, hard, before carefully carving the pie in half.
‘Satisfied… Barding?’, she asked.
Thar smirked. He picked up a few slices of beef, shoved them into a wedge of bread and unceremoniously dunked it into his bowl of stew. The dice clattered to a stop and in unison all three farmers shouted, ‘ORCS ELEVEN!’ Thar’s smirk widened into a grin; he had them hooked.
It was shaping up to be an interesting evening.
Sep 30, 2021 at 11:31 amNov 26, 2021 at 6:25 am
Diya thanked the young woman even as she let Jorda return to her duties. A busy evening indeed. She might be in need of help that didn’t seem to be forthcoming.
Ah, maybe after a bath Diya might feel more inclined to help, but for now, she needed to soak in and rest her tired limbs. Who knew though? Helping might bring the price of the night down. What money she had wouldn’t last forever. And she had no idea how long she’d be in this land.
She returned to her seat to gather what few belongings she’d dared leave there. Her cloak really, which no one in their right mind would steal. She needed something warmer in this cold land. At home, she’d still be soaking up the sun until late at night. And while the nights were cold, they were dry, and never miserable; here it was cold as well as wet, and the humidity seeped through the bones to keep one cold even with a fire nearby.
“kharaal idsen khüiten gazar…*” She breathed in her native tongue.
She pulled her belongings close to her, walked to the back door and followed the path Jorda had directed her to take.
When she entered the bathing room, she paused. Humid… as this sun deprived country seemed to be. But warm. Again, not quite what she was used to but the bath would feel wonderful. She took a few steps in before she realised she wasn’t alone.
“ealayk allaena.**” She cursed under her breath, in Haradric this time. She’d hoped to be alone; but she should have guessed it was too much to ask for such a busy night. It would do.
“Good evening,” she offered with a smile, that the woman probably didn’t notice; she seemed completely lost in her own thoughts – and maybe the happiness of a warm bath. Maybe some Westerners had a sense of hygiene.
She folded the cloak and her dirty clothes, placed them along with her pack as close to the barrel as she dared. She immersed herself with delight; two days on the road, she never went that long without a bath. Finally scrub away the dirt and grime. She sighed happily.
*cursed cold land
** damn it
Oct 6, 2021 at 3:10 pmNov 26, 2021 at 6:33 am
The evening darkened and the air filtering in from the open window gradually cooled. The Inn hummed with laughter and voices, with Jorvan’s voice booming out, happily welcoming friends and guests as they arrived through the Inn’s open door. The smell of good food and ale surrounded them all and a bank of pipe smoke created a soft haze that took on a warm glow from the lit candle sconces. All was well at the Wayfarer’s Respite.
Bardhwyn, now full of stew, beef, and pie, watched silently as Thar, who ate slowly and sparingly, gradually freed the farmers from their pocket money. She took a precious Eastron cheroot from an inner pocket, lit it and with one long draw, relished the flavour of the exotic rolled leaf. Its smoke was unique, noticeable, spicy and far more aromatic than Old Toby. Thar grinned in recognition but kept his attention on his marks. The three farmers were now rather drunk and each a bit poorer, but they were thoroughly enjoying the game and Thar’s expert attention. The bandit had a way of making everyone think he was their best friend, and in only the direst of circumstances would he ever let you know whether it was true. As he had done with her, and it changed everything.
She sighed heavily, stubbed out the cheroot on the windowsill.
“I’m off to find a bath,’ she announced. “Good luck, gentlemen,” she said, swinging her legs over the bench. “Mind our things,” she reminded Thar.
The trio of farmers good-naturedly smiled and offered their thanks and Thar flashed his trademark grin while reaching for his half of the fruit pie.
“Don’t soak too long,” he said. She understood. So far, they were unnoticed and relatively safe but that could change with the next person destined to walk through the Inn’s open door.
Another silver talon to the Matriarch ensured the ale would keep flowing to the game table, and, after a few minutes’ wait, the delivery of a small bar of soap. She sniffed and suppressed a smile; it smelled of roses, her favorite. Bardhwyn followed the woman’s directions towards the baths.
Oct 6, 2021 at 9:18 amNov 26, 2021 at 6:35 am
After a good long soak, the old woman leaned forward and opened her eyes, noticing for the first time that she was no longer alone. She offered as a greeting a tip of her head, then reached for a small cake of soap and began to scrub, proving that the hue of her skin was from the sun and not the dirt, and that no amount of steam could remove the wrinkles.
As she washed, she started to hum a soft, easy tune that conveyed neither joy nor sadness but one of simply being.
When another woman entered the baths she gave the same tip of her head that carried neither recognition nor judgement. If anything, her face simply said she’d seen just about everything that this life could offer and surprises were rare occurrences. There were, perhaps, more thoughts behind her eyes, but those she kept to herself.
Oct 7, 2021 at 10:34 amNov 26, 2021 at 6:43 am
Out of the corner of his eye, Thar watched Bardhwyn exit the common room, while also casually perusing the crowd, looking for any out-of-the-ordinary behaviour – like dark, shadowy characters sitting in alcoves, smoking or furtive, unwashed men nursing a pint while playing with pet ferrets. Thar detested ferrets.
There was one customer who sat in the shadows, their face obscured by some sort of mask. It was carefully tucked up so they could eat and their attention was fully on the food before them. He made a note to keep an eye on them. One rather talkative guest was enjoying a large pot of tea and enjoying their conversation with the locals. A fine gray cloak draped across the bench next to him screamed ‘Gondorian’. Thar detested Gondorians, too.
The dice game was running itself now, the farmers fully engaged with winning then losing. Each loss just a bit more than their last win. And around and around, until they’ve lost more than they’ve won. It was Thar’s job to keep them jolly and wrap up the game when they still had a few coins and before they each felt the bite of their losses. It was a dirty job but better to be filched by someone with a bit of heart than some of the ugly bastards that were out and about. Just three or four more rounds more and he’d wind it up.
Another round of ale first, though. He held up his tankard for the Matriarch to see. She tossed her head in acknowledgement.
‘More ale, gentlemen?!’ he called out.
The farmers guffed and chortled various responses of ‘no, no need’, ‘why that’s most kind’ and ‘one more wouldn’t do any harm’ and Thar smiled in genuine affection for the three of them; he decided on just two more rounds. There was no need to be greedy, not tonight.
Oct 8, 2021 at 11:54 amNov 26, 2021 at 6:59 am
The Inn’s bath was large, with barrel-like tubs arranged in a large, flagstone lined room, the floor gently sloping to the centre where a large iron grated drain took the water off, no doubt through a sluice to the nearby river. A standing screen stood in one corner, for modesty’s sake, no doubt. The fire in the hearth burned well, adding warmth to the already humid air and she could make out a large metal pipe coming into the hearth and over the fire, heating water as it was fed from outside. At the end was faucet and tap. She walked over to the tap and released some of the heated water into a bucket, impressed with the simple ingenuity of it all.
Bardhwyn poured the hot water into an empty tub and held the bucket up as an invitation.
“Anyone else?”, she asked.
One bather was the petite exotic from the common room, her hair now damp and her tawny skin rosy from the heat, and the other, an older woman with hair done up neatly in a bun on top of her head. They each declined. Bardhwyn slid the bucket back in place, then dropped heavily onto a bench. She carefully placed her cake of soap to one side, then removed her boots, rubbing each foot once free. As they were all female, she continued to undress, casually piling her leathers and tunic in a heap next to her. Collecting her soap, she turned to pull a towel off a nearby peg.
She heard a sharp intake of breath. Bardhwyn turned. The eyes of the younger woman were upon her, carefully masking surprise? The elder continued to bathe, unfazed.
Scars and healed wounds covered her body: Malthus’ knife wound was like a thick, red belt across her abdomen, plus there were several other knife wounds, several arrow wounds and, of course, the lashes on her back from her short time in a hareem. But the most prominent scar, aside the one on her face, was the traitor’s brand on her inner right forearm.
She draped the towel over her right arm, inwardly cursing herself for forgetting. She’d been around outlaws and bandits for far too long and the brand a badge of honor. She was now among ‘gentle-folk’ who, rightly so, weren’t used to seeing such things as ‘honorable’.
“Don’t worry,” she said with a chuckle. “They don’t hurt, not now at least.” Using the step stool, she was up and into the next empty tub, quickly submerging herself up to her neck. The heat of the water immediately overwhelmed her and she allowed herself a groan of pleasure.
“Halyek Salim Hakkar,” she breathed. ‘Praise the God of Water’.
Ani-la, the Rhunic woman who saved her life, so many years ago, would mutter this prayer a dozen times a day, at least. Hearing the old woman’s voice in her mind, Bardhwyn allowed a momentary heart-flush of love.
Oct 9, 2021 at 9:40 amNov 26, 2021 at 7:03 am
Diya observed the scarred woman, as she undressed; there was something in her posture that was reminiscent of Ahmad. He may have been years past his best fighting days but the way he held himself – and his temper – reminded everyone that the sword he wore at his hip was a weapon he knew perfectly how to use. Did this woman also have such a temper? She certainly had the bearings of a warrior.
And, Diya suppressed a gasp, barely, she definitely had the wounds that came with.
Though the lashes… her own scars, while not as deep as the woman’s, tingled in sympathy. Surprisingly though, it was the mark on her forearm that she hid. As if she were ashamed of that one… more than the one on her face.
As harsh as the South was, no one would dare mark a woman in such ways. Well… that wasn’t entirely true; the unlucky ones ending in unsavory places in Umbar – an inside sneer at that – might find themselves marred like that.
“Halyek Salim Hakkar…” the woman whispered. Diya’s breath hitched. Fear… But mostly curiosity…
Few Westerners spoke her language, although the woman’s pronunciation was different. Another dialect? Which tribe? Was she one of these people who worked for slavers in Rhûn to bring back new or escaped slaves? Or…
“May he bring you prosperity and happiness,” she answered in her own language.
It was the traditional response she learned as a child. If this woman was a tool of the slavers, Diya might be taking a great risk… but the scars of the whip on her back… The riddle was too tempting. And Diya loved the game.
Bardhwyn stopped mid-scrub, taking a few seconds for the woman’s spoken words to register. Rhunic, southern by the inflection? She remembered traders from south of the deserts sounding similar, carrying wild and fantastic goods on animals with long necks and humped backs. ‘May he bring you prosperity and happiness…’ May He, indeed.
It seemed today was a day for resurrecting things from her past.
She studied the woman and noted a playful inquisitiveness behind her dark, brown eyes and a comely face.
Her immediate instinct was to be very, very careful.
She smiled softly and she completed the triplet in Westron: ‘and your people, victory.’ You’re from Rhun, I take it?’
Diya wrapped her head around the words; so that was how they translated into the Western tongue. It was courteous of the woman to offer the final blessing… they didn’t know each other, she didn’t have to.
And she couldn’t miss the irony of a Westerner wishing victory to one of the East – or the South for that matter. She smiled too.
“Born there, yes. You…” How…? “Visited?” No… that wasn’t the word. “You spent much time in Rhûn? Your accent is good.”
“Thank you,” Bardhwyn replied, while reaching for a long handled brush hanging off a nearby peg. “I had a good teacher, though I’m sure she’d tell me I’ve forgotten much and I’m not rolling my ‘r’s’ well enough.” She soaped up the brush head and proceeded to scrub her back, using her left hand.
So, the North, Diya thought. They did roll their ‘r’s’ more, and the inflection was a bit different. What could have brought this woman to Rhûn though? That was… risky at best. Surely the slavers would have thought her a worthy prize, the scar notwithstanding. The woman was striking… in a different way. And would have been a rarity there. Could the lashes…?
“Always correcting, teaching…” Diya chuckled. “Aunties…”
She let the word hang between them. It was a common enough word; one used to refer to any woman in the tribe who wasn’t their mother but still took care of the children. It was also one used among the slaves, to speak of the favoured ones or the elderly who would teach the newly acquired slaves about the house rules.
Bardhwyn by her own author
Oct 9, 2021 at 11:51 amNov 26, 2021 at 7:06 am
“So true,” Bardhwyn replied. A tingle of pain arced down the scar on her face, just enough to sharpen her wits, but no more. This woman was cunning, of that Bardhwyn was sure, but she wasn’t here for her, or Thar – no, that would be nigh impossible. Or could it? Could she be here to satisfy some outstanding grievance from the south? Stranger things had happened. She sighed.
What name shall she use, Bardhwyn wondered. Elanor? Klara? Sidora? She decided on ‘Elanor’, her mother’s name. Thar would understand she was on guard but not wholly under threat. Using Sidora – that usually ended with blades out and lots of disruption.
“My name is Elanor,” Bardhwyn said. “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Oct 9, 2021 at 11:54 amNov 26, 2021 at 7:12 am
If that was her true name, Diya would gladly relinquish a silver piece – not more, a girl needed to eat after all.
But she understood…
“Diya,” She hesitated… Elanor didn’t strike her as one the slavers would use. Although… They were sneaky, corrupt and disgusting. She suppressed a shiver, even as she smiled too. The woman was a mystery, but if Diya wanted to solve it… “al Din.”
Since she knew the language, “Elanor” would realize Diya’s name was Rhûnic, her attachment, not. She belonged to Harad even more so than Rhûn after almost two decades. It might not make sense to have kept Din ibn Jibril’s name; he was her first master, not her father. A cruel one at that. But since she couldn’t claim her real father’s name anymore…
Oct 9, 2021 at 11:57 amNov 26, 2021 at 7:13 am
“Diya? What a lovely name.” Bardhwyn said. She was intrigued now, a Rhunic first name, but a Southron surname. Bardhwyn was feeling her patience beginning to slip away. Either it was to be a quiet night’s stay, or it wasn’t and she wanted to know sooner than later.
“So, Diya, what brings you…”
The door of the bath suddenly swung open, dragging in a rush of cooler, dryer air. In stepped a man, haggard looking, his thinning hair tousled, the colour of old straw. He was stout in the middle but walked on spindly legs. He blinked in the dim, steamy light.
‘Close the door, Giles!’, the older woman called out, matter-of-factly. ‘Your letting out all the heat.’
‘Ah, right…’, Giles mumbled, shuffling to the door. He slammed it shut and turned around on his heel. ‘And good evening to you, too.’
Giles soon noticed there were two other bathers, both women. A lascivious smile spread over his lips.
‘How’s your wife?’ The older woman asked, not looking in his direction.
Gile’s smile dropped. ‘She is well, very well. Thank you for asking.’ He shuffled to the last empty tub. “I see I am in luck, how fortuitous, there is a tub empty, waiting just for me.’ He began to disrobe.
Bardhwyn watched, unimpressed. ‘Giles’ had to be either inebriated, or he was completely lacking in discretion. With a stretch she pulled down a clean towel. Winding it into a ball, she aimed squarely at the man’s head, just as his trousers dropped.
Surprisingly, it unfurled and draped over his shoulder.
‘Wot, ah.. Oh! Thank you,’ he said looking over. Bardhwyn pointed to the standing screen. Giles looked over to the corner.
“You’ll be wanting to change behind the screen,” she said. “Won’t you?”
‘Ah, right you are, so sorry! Yes, how silly of me, I do apologise. I will just…’ Giles leaned over and began to fight with his trousers, providing both she and Diya a view they’d rather not have. After a bit of difficulty, the man was soon holding his trousers about his waist and shuffling towards the screen.
“Please allow me to introduce myself, as I am afraid I got off on the wrong foot,” he called out from behind the screen. “My name is Giles ap Wolfred and I am the school teacher here in this fine village..”
There was then a thud, like the sound of bone hitting wood, a small gasp of pain, quickly followed by the sound of something heavy sliding to the floor, then silence.
Bardhwyn looked over at Diya.
Oct 9, 2021 at 12:01 pmNov 26, 2021 at 7:17 am