B10 – NIGHT’S DARK TERROR
12 FYRMONT OF 1005 AC
RIFFLIAN AND THE SILVER SWAN INN.
Despite being in the middle of summer, and not at all cold, the proximity of the fire crackling in the fireplace, gave the inn a pleasant warmth for Glimreen, almost like the warm blanket with which his grandmother enveloped him the evening before going to sleep when, still little gnome, the Serraine community was preparing to go to bed. He started to miss Serraine, the Flying City of gnomes, his immense library and its wonders. He was away for some time now, several months judging from what he had deduced and how longer would he stay away? He had now answer to the question. Another month? One year? Or for a lifetime? If he returned he would go to his friends at first, the other gnomes with whom he shared the work in the library, to embrace them, one by one. He was looking forward to tell them his incredible adventure and the pleasure he would have aroused in them. Especially to Branwys, his childhood friend. Later he would have visited the sphinxes. He was fascinated by the legendary and ancient creatures. He respected and considered them like anybody else Serraine, though he was unable to learn their language … yet! With their knowledge, their wisdom, they would surely have been able to help and advise him. Here, that’s what he particularly felt the need now: a good advice. Too many questions, too many questions and the more he dug, the more he seemed to go down into the mystery, and instead of finding the answers he was looking for, other new questions cropped up. The book first. The letter then. Imprisonment with dragons and the mysterious man in black, and the mysterious powers that had awakened in him. And now these people who had released him from his fate, apparently by accident. They were also linked to his fate and to the name of Rheddrian Benekander. The raspy voice of a customer of the Silver Swan, brought back to mind for a moment the chief librarian of Serraine, the druj Matazumi. He would have willingly asked a few questions to him too, but all in good time.
The Silver Swan was the most obvious stereotype of an inn run by a halfling and Stubbs Plattermann was the perfect owner. Plump and friendly, the ruddy cheeks and perpetually mussed hair of the color of a carrot cake, a dish for which the Swan was particularly renowned in the area. The environment was small but cozy and, above all, clean and refined. Fresh flowers decorated the windows in a heart shape and, on every shelf and centerpieces, there was a fine exhibition of handmade lace doilies, porcelain vases and flowers, lots of fresh flowers, which contributed to spread joy and serenity, with their bright colors, all around among the patrons of the inn. These were mostly elves although Glimreen also counted half a dozen humans. They were mostly horse merchants there to sell the animals of which the elves, it seemed, had never enough. Rifflian was in fact the meeting point between the humans of the Grand Duchy and the Callarii elves, who lived mostly in the Radlebb Woods and the largest horse market in the kingdom was, obviously, there.
“There!” began Stubbs resting on their table some steaming dishes of pumpkin soup and potatoes accompanied by crusty bread cut into small cubes. “Stephan! Some new nice stories? I saw your nephew Taras through here ten days ago. He was with the scion the Rhoddendron house [note: do you remember Stoik? See here], Stoik if I remember correctly and another, taciturn, man. I never saw him before.” The halfling had settled on a high stool at their table and he watched them while they savoured the soup. “If you want there’s more of it.” He chuckled smugly.
“Excellent Stubbs. The best pumpkin soup … ” Stephan flattered him cleaning up every last drop from the elegant ceramic dish, decorated with swan-shaped silver filigree. “He told me what happened to you in Sukyskin and I must say that I was very sorry to learn of Novannes’ and Hakos’ death. Damn goblins! I hope you have sent quite a few of them in the Abyss. “
“Unfortunately I was not there and I owe to my new companions being here now, alive and well.” Stephan, spurred by their curious guest, then began the account of Ilyakana’s events, of his kidnapping and the daring liberation in Xitaqa and the meeting with Loshad, until the events of the previous night. All this time Glimreen remained silent and aloof. He had caught only a few flashes of conversation, however,he was also optimistic in this respect because, at each passing day, he seemed to understand better and better the Thyatian, the language used by his friends.
“Curious, very curious.” Stubbs mumbled. He rose from his chair and trotted with the typical rhythm of the hins, heading for the bar: an imposing wooden structure, with rich silver and ivory inlays depicting swans and other lake creatures. The companions exchanged dubious glances. The innkeeper returned moments later with a bottle of wine and the inevitable carrot and almond cake. “From the Shires .. For special occasions!” he winked uncorking the bottle and pouring the ruby content in the cups of the friends. “You know what is it so strange?” Stephan asked at that point, expressing the curiosity they all shared. “Before, those men, those of the Ring of Iron, at the Inn of the Gnome Ferry … it was not a random encounter then!”
“What do you mean IT WAS NOT RANDOM?” asked Dan.
“Before?” Titus remarked.
“Yes sure. Now it’s clearer to me. The woman who was here yesterday, asking about you, clearly knew you. She knows who you are. And she knew you were coming here and .. “
“Which woman?” asked Titus and Adrik, in unison.
“The stranger … the one with icy eyes!”
. . .
“Dan, what do you think of all this?” Adrik, Dan and the rest of the comrades had gone out to stretch their legs after the sumptuous meal at the Swan. Stephan alone stayed inside the local conversing and drinking, especially drinking with his halfling friend. The last lights of the sunset reflected on the clear, calm waters of the Windrush River. At that juncture a magificent wooden boat, over fifty feet long, left the pier of the small port of the village of Rifflian. An elf, with a shining mail armor and a golden surcoat, depicting a prancing unicorn on white background, was standing on the bow of the ship. At his command the other elves unfolded the main sail, also depicting the prancing unicorn and the boat began to pick up speed. The magnificence of the boat, the colors of the sunset, the majesty of the elves gave the scene a touch of otherworldly atmosphere. It was almost like a daydream. “The personal boat of the Grand Duke Stephan Karameikos III” Dan gave voice to his thoughts. “I happened to see it, just another couple of times, in Specularum. That is his elven guard. “
“You mean the Grand Duke was there?” Marjana seemed almost overwhelmed by the possibility.
“I don’t think so.” Dan answered. “It’s more likely one of the annual trips for the so-called changing of the guard.” Then, seeing that his companions watched him waiting for more details, he hastily concluded. “The elite guard of the Grand Duke is composed exclusively of Callarii elves of Rifflian and the Radlebb Woods. They play a shift of duty that lasts one year and then they alternate. This looks one of those rotation trips. “
They stayed there while the boat left Rifflian and disappeared around the first bend of the Windrush, then Dan broke again the silence to resume the speech from the question of the dwarf. “I fear that Golthar, the Yellow Wizard, is proving a more cunning and unpredictable adversary than we could think. He knows who we are and what is the purpose of our trip. It is also ahead of us, one or two days at worst. He is not alone neither. The Iron Ring is rooted and branched out throughout the territory, from Specularum to Fort Doom and up to Kelvin. He has accomplices, this mysterious woman, on our tracks, could be one of them and it is therefore likely that she already knows that we are heading to Threshold.”
“If it is true ..” The voice of Marjana came out of her throat almost choked with anxiety.
“We will act with caution.” Titus said. “We will drive as fast as possible towards Threshold and I will leverage my noble rank to ask immediate audience to Baron Sherlane. If he is the righteous and honest man he is said to be, he will give us all the support and help we need.”