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  #31  
Old Nov 23rd, 2011, 09:53 PM
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Landifarne Landifarne is offline
Unfinished Mosaic
 
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Rifford was situated between and around a fertile depression cut by the River Lorkyng and a small tributary known simply as the “Run”. A series of sturdy wooden bridges now arched the small tributary and then over the Lorkyng, but the place derived its name from the shallow ford that allowed one to cross the Lorkyng just below the town’s main square. The region’s hill farms were tilled by local peasants and produced some of Norlund’s richest harvests of barley, millet, cabbages, turnips and potatoes. The homes of the village’s farmers and tradesmen reflected a general prosperity and, other than the growling and barking of the homesteads’ fierce watchdogs, the slumbering town held a peaceful silence.

Above Rifford’s center, just south of the juncture of the Lorkyng and the Run, the tall battlements of Lord Hoxrim’s massive keep could just be made out. A couple guardsmen could be seen patrolling the castle’s battlements, but few burghers were out at this time, as night was quickly falling and the weather was again becoming cold and miserable. With the last remnants of light, the hungry, dirty and tired men sighted a large and brightly lit inn situated before the town’s main square and decided to seek rooms there. Passing a few cottages and closed shops, the three discerned that hanging from the building’s eaves was a large sign proudly displaying the lower limb, complete with unshod hoof, of what appeared to be a horse’s foreleg. An unmistakably strong stink of sweat, bear fat, mildew and animal musk preceding the Highwolders as they opened the door of the worthy establishment known as the Centaur’s Hoof.

“Sha’ an’ piss!” cursed a prune-faced local seated just inside the Hoof’s entrance, “Wha’ a stench!” Turning in his seat to wrangle a better view of the malodorous arrivals, the weathered geezer’s steely gaze fell upon the youths. Assaying the Highwolder trio, the old gaffer hawked a thick wad of sputum in the general vicinity of a tarnished spittoon and allowed the spittle to summarize his assessment of the lads’ worth. It was apparent from the copious volume of fluid accreting in, on and around the urn that the man was difficult to impress.

“’Ere now, back out with you fellows!” barked the inn’s portly owner from behind his bar. Rushing smartly around the counter, it was clear that he was intent upon impeding the travellers’ progress. Having caught a whiff of the companions when the door opened, the aproned proprietor had no wish to foul his common room with the youths’ presence and shooed the companions back into the cold. When the three friends did not move quickly enough, the imposing man resorted to using his ample girth to push them back through the entrance.

“You stink like a sty lads! Ooof! Worse than a sty! Move! Move back now, past the stoop,” urged the fat man. Satisfied with their manner once outside the main door, the innkeep waved off his bouncer. Eremil the Ostler closed the inn's great door behind his back, and, standing on the its front step, sized up the newcomers. “Not beggars I see, but you undoubt’ly have seen better days. What are you at?” the man asked, looking pointedly at Harl, who’s motley collection of gear looked quite ridiculous. “Playin’ at sell-swords? Well, what d’ you want?”

“We need lodging for a night, perhaps two…and a hot meal,” Jonlin stated. “We’ve travelled from Highwold, but encountered some trouble along the way. The weather has been poor the last few nights, and that compounded our misfortune.” Standing in the establishment’s muddy yard, the Highwolders were indeed a miserable sight to behold. It began to rain again.

“A place t’ sleep I can offer you, but it will be in the barn for the night. Lads, stinkin’ as you do, I canna have you in a room upstairs. Would anger my regular patrons, it would. You’ll have a bath to boot, else you’ll be frightening the animals,” the innkeeper said matter-of-factly. “But, before we settle our business, let me see your coin.”

Harl and Aeric began shifting their tunics to bring forth their coin purses, but Jonlin, being less naive than the ostler took them to be, quickly asked what the price would be for the barn, baths, meals and sufficient ale. Eremil, noting the older companion’s uptake, provided a quick itemization.

“Will be a penny each to sleep in the hay, two each for a hot bath, which you’ll be havin’ if you’re to be stayin’ here…two each for a meal, and five for a pot o’ ale,” the innkeeper insisted, reaching out a meaty hand, palm up. “Comes to one mark even, if you want the drink. Pay in full now, me lads.” Although it was a steep price for such lowly accommodations and food, the woodsman did not feel like haggling and paid the sum to get out of the rain as quickly as possible. At his easy victory, Eremil’s eyes gleamed more than the silver mark Jonlin brought forth. “Good. I’m Eremil, owner of the inn. Stow your possibles in the barn, an’ don’t disturb the animals. Loren will bring your victuals an’ water,” the man said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder. Concluding his business with the young men, the innkeeper pocketed the coin and re-entered his establishment. The Hoof’s massive oaken door slammed loudly in the companions’ faces.

“Pleasant man, that one is,” commented Aeric, laconically. “Probably eats his upstairs guests anyway.”

Making their way to the oversized barn situated on one side of the hostelry’s enclosure, the companions observed a smallish figure darting from the structure to the servants’ entrance. Piping in a high-pitched voice that he would be right back, the cloaked boy entered what, from the delicious fragrances emanating from it, reckoned to be Eremil’s kitchen. The travellers’ empty stomachs growled loudly at the enticing thought of hot food. Entering the lamp lit barn, the mens' feral odor agitated two lazy mules locked in a pen near the front. To the rear, a sparse layer of hay was strewn in an empty stall, awaiting new occupants. Moving away from the braying animals and into the far end of the barn, the companions threw down their belongings and rested for a while. Jonlin’s presence, whether due to the smell of bear fat or wolf fur, seemed to upset the animals if he strayed at all from the farthest corner of the barn and the men deemed it wise to keep the mules at ease by avoiding going near them.

Unpacking their equipment and supplies, the three began removing their travelling clothes and outerwear in anticipation of the promised bath. Some of their spare underclothes remained slightly clean, if damp, although most of what Harl and Aeric could change into had managed to get soaked in their water logged sacks. Jonlin was a bit luckier, possessing a single tunic and pair of light trousers that had remained relatively secure in his oiled pack. The errand boy Loren popped in his hooded, dripping head between the barn's doubled front doors. Beneath the hood, the dirty, smudged face of a young boy and a short tangle of wet black hair were visible. The rain had picked up considerably.

 
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Last edited by Landifarne; Nov 26th, 2011 at 12:15 AM.
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  #32  
Old Nov 23rd, 2011, 11:11 PM
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A boy of a dozen winters, Loren has black hair that is sopping wet from the cold rain outside. A light stubble covers his face, signifying his recent transition into manhood. His baggy clothes are soaked despite the gray cloak that envelops his body. Loren carries a tray bearing three bowls of steaming soup containing turnips, onions, and bits of pork. Each bowl also comes with a biscuit fresh out of the oven. I'll be right back with your ale. And I'll get started right away on preparin' your bath. The boy seems relatively unaffected by the smell, at least visibly so. Disappearing from the barn, it is a few minutes before Loren returns with a large pot of ale and three empty mugs. Disappearing yet again, the boy visibly struggles to haul a barrel into the barn.
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  #33  
Old Nov 24th, 2011, 11:27 AM
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Landifarne Landifarne is offline
Unfinished Mosaic
 
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The Spa Treatment

“I have your drink here and I’ll have your water ready in ten minutes.” Setting a glazed pot and three small bowls on an upended barrel, Loren ducked back out, leaving the three to decide the order in which they would enjoy the pleasure of the anticipated soak.

“So, who’s going first?” Harl asked eagerly.

“Let’s draw straws,” Aeric ventured, picking a few strands from the ground. His two friends nodded their acquiescence. “The short straw wins.” Turning around, the youth plucked at the stalks and arranged them appropriately. With the straws held high, Harl and Jonlin studiously peered at Aeric’s hand, gauging the sticks’ relative merits. Choosing the central stalk, Harl’s eyes jumped with glee as he beheld the smallish strand pinched between his fingers.

“Looks to be a winner,” the former stable hand chortled. Picking the stalk on the right, Jonlin laughed when he saw that Aeric had broken the strands into minuscule pieces and that his choice won by the smallest of margins.

“Jonlin’s got the smallest one,” admitted Aeric, displaying that the remaining stalk was somewhat longer than Harl’s. “And mine is a bigger than yours.”

Clucking his tongue, Harl couldn’t resist turning the tides on his impish friend, “Since you’re last, you might as well wash everyone’s breeks too.”

Rolling what looked to be a former brewing cask into a work area adjacent the barn, Loren settled the over-sized barrel under the porch’s eaves and went to haul cold water. Seeing that the boy’s efforts would take some time and feeling impatient to get clean, Harl filled one-quarter of the tub with rain catch and then accompanied the lad to the inn’s kitchen to fetch several buckets of scalding water. Deciding that it would be better to scrub off as much of their journey as possible in the rain before slipping into the welcomed bath, the companions did so and allowed each in turn to luxuriate in the tub for a few minutes before pouring a final bucket of near-scalding liquid over the bather’s head.

After the bath, Aeric cleaned and slathered a small amount of Willim’s balm onto Jonlin’s leg before wrapping it a final time, the familiar scent of bear fat and ammonia filling the yard. Tending to the travellers’ needs and lingering as long as possible, Loren chatted eagerly with the young men between trips to the kitchen. Seeing Jonlin’s wound, the boy’s interest in the companions grew even more apparent and the three promised to relate their tale over drink.

Near naked, and with teeth chattering in the cold, the Highwolders soaked and scrubbed their mildewing garments, hanging them to dry inside the barn. The men were able to stay somewhat warm the rest of the night by wearing a few items and wrapping themselves in horse blankets of questionable cleanliness, but the stalls’ fences soon bore the weight of their entire travelling wardrobes. Understanding that it would take at least a day for their raiment to dry and to also purchase new supplies, the companions resolved to sleep in Rifford the following night as well. Having already expended two extra days during the first leg of their journey, the companions were not keen on losing another. Yet, the three knew that their gear had to be cleaned thoroughly, that Rifford’s lord had to be warned of the Ghoboldi threat to the north and that supplies had to be laid in. Hopefully, the weather would be kinder on the morrow.

With the arrival of the ale pot, the companions’ spirits soared, and they speculated on the journey ahead as they drank. Loren joined the group after his duties were finished and was given a bowl to share in their drinking. Even though the barn was his normal billet, the slight boy relished the opportunity to listen to the tale of the three adventurers roaming through the wild and would not have been turned away regardless. Upon learning that Harl was a former stable hand out to seek his fortune, the boy’s eyes danced. Loren clung to Aeric’s every word as the dramatic apprentice told the tale of the Highwolders’ encounter with the dire wolves. Skipping no detail, Aeric fed the lad’s notions with perfect descriptions of the pack leader’s bite, Harl’s lethal blow, Jonlin’s fell shot and the skinning of the wolf. Still feeling remorse, the apprentice mage also admitted to Loren his guilt at not having been able to warn his mates.

“Aeric’s much too hard on himself,” stated Harl. “I couldn’t sleep that night and was awake before the wolves attacked our camp. I didn’t hear them coming at all and they were at our throats before I even realized it.”

“Is that the fur?” queried the inquisitive boy, poking at the hanging fur. “It is the color of snow, but it smells pretty foul.”

“Yes, it’s more valuable than a normal grey pelt,” explained the woodsman. “But it would be worth far more if we had been able to also remove the skull. Northern warriors like to wear wolf skins with the skull and fangs still attached. They wear them as hoods and see it as a badge of courage. I have seen Norlunder mercenaries do the same and a white pelt with the head attached could be sold for ten marks or more. Yes, it’s a shame we weren’t out on a hunt with the proper gear. Still, we got the tails from each of the animals we killed, and you can judge how large the pack leader was from its length.” Harl dutifully obliged Jonlin and the boy and exhibited the silver-grey plume he had taken as a trophy. Loren was awed by the humble stable hand’s deed, and seemed to have found a new hero. Calling the young boy’s attention once more, Jonlin looked him in the eye and lowered his tone. “You wouldn’t be able to sneak into the kitchen and filch a bag of salt, would you? We ran out of it a few days ago and I’ve had a hard time curing the pelt since. And, with the price we're paying the innkeep, I shant feel bad about the theft if you can manage it.”
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Last edited by Landifarne; Nov 26th, 2011 at 12:07 AM.
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