Chapter 1 - A Night at the Tavern

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Chapter 1 – A Night at the Tavern


The Bloodmists of the North
Chapter 1: A Night at the Tavern

The frigid wind that blows in off the Bangle Bay is able to make even the hardiest Northman cinch his cloak a little tighter; once the sun begins to set shelter becomes the only respite.

A place away from the cold and whatever comforts might be available brought locals and travellers alike to the tables of the Blunt Nail Tavern in Port Parlone. The old ramshackle building seemed to shift with every gust of wind and one might suspect it to blow away entirely if the people inside weren’t there to hold it down. Built as it was; perched on the town’s North Dock, comfort was not its hallmark. Warmth however, The Nail provided in abundance; In addition to a roaring fire, dozens of men and more than a few women were packed into the place adding a palpable humidity to the fires touch. The tables of the old tavern had been filling steadily since just after midday as merchant sailors from lands far to the south and travellers weary from the road came in search for their two favourite things: Shelter from the elements and frothy ale.

Near the centre of the noisy room several members of The Company of The Manticore sat around a long rectangular table which appeared to be pieced together from several planks from the dock beneath their feet. The Company (as they often called themselves) were a group of eight young adventurers who now found themselves in this isolated port far to the north of what most would consider civilized lands. The Company itself was truthfully two groups of four adventurers who had come together by chance to form the larger group. Formally The Noble Four and The Driven, the two groups met as they both answered a call from a small village with an Ogre problem. Finding they complimented each other well and figuring eight is more capable than four they had been travelling together, while getting in and out of trouble, ever since.

As evening became night, the grizzled old traveller –not a day under seventy- who had joined their party several rounds ago, began to speak in earnest. “Listen here. I know what you folks are,” he paused to make sure the members of The Company seated around him were paying attention. “Nothing to be ashamed of, the world needs people who get things done. I was once a young man who got things done. I been all up and down this land and I seen a fair share of the otherlands too. Hell, fifty years ago I almost got a front-row seat to visit the Hellion Palace in chains…I had to decline respectfully,” at this he sat back and took a long pull from his ale mug.

The more observant at the table noticed the multitude of scars crisscrossing any exposed skin on the old man. These marks along with still muscular arms certainly marked him as a warrior, though one surely long retired. Almost before they realized it he was speaking again.

“If I were you folks, I wouldn’t wait for some lord or such to come and offer me money so I can kill his enemy or maybe sleep with his daughter; I’d go to the Northreach, “at this, the faraway look in his eyes went away and he turned a clear steely gaze on Lornaal Icebreaker.

Lornaal Icebreaker was unique among The Company of The Manticore and not just because he was by far the largest and most dangerous in hand to hand combat. He was unique in that he alone seemed to be at home in these harsh lands; because of course he was. A member of a barbarian tribe whose homelands were but a few hindered miles northwest of this very tavern, Lornaal was more comfortable than he had been in many months of travelling with The Company. Not a smart man, the barbarian nonetheless had an admirable practicality about him which allowed him to efficiently deal with most situations. Social settings like this however were not ‘most situations’ and like he often had, he found himself paying more attention to his cup than his companions tales.

The old man was different though and Lornaal found himself compelled to listen when the old man spoke. When after a pause in his story and a healthy pull from his mug, the old man suddenly turned to stare directly into the barbarians eyes speaking to him in the tongue of his own people Lornaal was shocked to say the least. He understood the old man well and knew his words were ones to be heeded. When the aged traveller turned his attention back to the group as a whole, and his words back to the common tongue, Lornaal’s attention returned to his ale and his thought drifted to his homeland…

For most of the next hour the old warrior went on with tales of abandoned keeps, mysterious barbarians and murderous Greenskins. Through it all he made one thing clear; persons of good heart and clear purpose could make a name for themselves in this land and do some good while they were at it. He also mentioned treasure.

When it seemed the old man was finished speaking, at least for the time being, Sebastian Magnussen, a mandolin cradled lovingly in his lap, leaned toward the colleague seated to his right, “I think the old man is a few cups in.” With that he looked around the table at the members of The Company present. Each seemed to be mulling the unknown possibilities that lay to the mysterious north. “Still, it’s been too long since I’ve had any deeds worth singing about,” he said as he began to softly strum. “Should we wander once more?” His head snapped around with a start when he heard a high pitched feminine voice at his left ear.

“I think we should,” Cora Higglemoor said as she hopped up on the bench beside Sebastian. “I grow weary of this town and seek more excitement!” Cora was the one other member of the group who stood out as much as Lornaal, perhaps even more so. She was a Halfling and at three feet tall in her stockings, was quite a site; at least when she allowed herself to be seen. Not one to waste her small stature Cora was an accomplished thief and as she had just proven once again to Sebastian, quite adept at sneaking up on people. Once seated the Halfling helped herself to a large gulp of the Bards ale, then turned to eye the old man quizzically.

From his spot to Sebastian’s right T’Alen VerDeen was seated almost directly across from the old man. Nodding his agreement with the Bard and the Halfling he asked, “What do you know of the lands beyond the spine old one? Have you any maps, or writings of the area?” Leaning back he took a slow measure of his ale. A thought suddenly occurring to him, suspiciously he questioned the old man, “And how do you know what we are?”

Smiling at his friend Sebastian says, “Silly Wizard, we carry enough arms to raze this town twice over. What else could we be?” Catching the eye of the serving wench and indicating the old man, he shouts: “Mademoiselle, a drink for our new friend!” And with a carefree grin picks up the pace on his mandolin,

In the morn we march on the great white north,
On our way to cut down any horrors that spring forth,
_ I and my fellows we are the eight,_
For any who oppose us death will not wait…

At the far end of the table another member of the group had been giving the storyteller only half his attention. While Alma Errante’s ear had been on the old man his eyes had been scanning the room. While his thirst for adventure ran as strong as any of his friends, his other thirsts were strong as well. A dark and handsome native of the Old World far to the south across the Alorean Sea, Alma had a taste for the exotic, and the tall, thick, pale skinned blonde women of this land were as exotic to him as any he’d ever seen. Once Sebastian finished his short song Alma offered “North it is then… In the morning I assume,” as he stood. Excusing himself, he began to saunter off across the room, pausing after only a few steps he turned to Sebastian. “Make sure the Halfling doesn’t touch my sword,” he said with a grin, tilting his head to indicate a large blade leaning against his vacated seat.

Sebastian glanced across the table at the impressive greatsword then down at the Halfling beside him then finally back to Alma. Returning the dark man’s smile he promised only, “I’ll do what I can!”

Seemingly satisfied Alma turned and continued on toward the woman who had caught his attention.

Uncomfortable with the cavalier attitude of his fellows and strangely annoyed with the Bard’s song Lornaal bellowed, “Ale, and keep them coming!”

Seated between the old man and the thirsty Barbarian, Terrence Hornwood, The Company’s youngest member had remained abnormally quiet. More comfortable in finer establishments, Terrence was somewhat depressed by his surroundings. The rot gut this tavern passed off as wine did nothing to raise his spirits, though a slight grimace with every sip was the only complaint he allowed himself. Glancing at Lornaal after his sudden outburst he quickly turned back to regard the storyteller; thoughts of the adventures and treasures this old man had seen dancing in his head and starting to improve his mood. A thief equally if differently skilled as the Halfling, Terrance couldn’t help but wonder what treasure the old warrior might still possess. Shaking such dangerous thoughts from his head he took another sip of his wine.

From his seat at the far end of the table near the recently vacated seat belonging to Alma, the Ranger Matrim Taim who acted as The Company’s tracker and unofficial leader spoke for the first time. “Which is the best course of direction if we are indeed heading out on the morrow?” A skilled and intelligent man, the soft-spoken Matrim was possibly even more practical than the Barbarian Lornaal. The Ranger would of course be the one to start asking useful questions about undertaking their journey and not immediately begin daydreaming about the treasures that may sit at its end.

“That is my cue,” the Bard stated as he rose from his seat mandolin in hand. “With Matrim and T’Alen on the case our next grand adventure will soon be planned. With a nod to his companions he moved off towards an open area near the bar, “My public awaits!”

Matrim nodded his understanding, Lornaal glared at him, T’Alen shook his head in mock exasperation and Terrence grinned in spite of his wine.

The eighth and final member of The Company of the Manticore watched the Bard go. Brother Talton Brigston, Cleric of the one true God had remained silent during the entirety of the adventurer’s tale. Due to a profound and inexplicable mistrust of the old man, he had decided to hold his tongue. As Sebastian moved off he finally broke his self-imposed vow of silence, “You know if that minstrel had an ounce of focus his skill with the bow would rival even yours Matrim!”

The Ranger thoughtfully nodded in agreement.

“And don’t get me started on that lecherous heathen!” The big Cleric exclaimed jabbing a stubby finger toward where Alma was cozying up to young local woman nearly as tall as he was. “If he could give up his addiction to the flesh his skill with sword and spell would be as great as any in the land!” After casting a quick morose glance at his nearly empty cup Talton looked longingly at the girl Alma was courting, “She is a fine lass though… Bah this ale won’t do., I need something stronger!” Eyes brightening, he asked no one in particular “Does this place have mead?” At that he heaved his great bulk off the bench and trundled off toward the bar.

Terrence smiled as he watched the grumbling Cleric walk away. He started to turn back to the old man, who’d begun speaking once more, when he noticed Cora had left the table as well. “Where did she get to now?” he muttered to himself just as he saw a tiny booted foot disappear out the tavern door.

“Aye, eager to go but unsure why,” the old man smiled wistfully. “I remember being young. It’s kinda like remembering the sun rising on the day of your first born. You can picture things and feel the strong emotion; but it’s all a picture in your head now. Indeed a head with heavy brows and an awful ringing from one too many blows.” The old man paused again appearing to consider his next words. “The Northreach is no place for the weak. There are beasts out there that scramble over the hills from Mith to Lodd. It’s not some fancy Sunday stroll in Thrayce that’s for damned sure.” He looked up as Brother Talton returned, “I will tell you this; don’t be afraid of the Braumen.” Clearing his throat he glanced meaningfully at Talton, “I know they are strange and don’t worship the one true God, but they been living here since the first men.” Talton shifted in his seat uncomfortably at the old man’s seemingly derisive mention of “the one true God”, but the old man kept right on talking. “They are the closest thing we have to the Northwatch now, so heed their warnings and listen to their council; should they even deign to talk to ya. Try to stay friendly with the tribes. All of the tribes.”

The Company of the Manticore had many more questions, which for the most part, the old man was happy to answer. As the men still sitting at the table continued to talk, Alma continued to ply his lass with tales of his exploits and plenty of ale, while Sebastian began to ply the room with songs of heroic deeds in far off land.

*

Cora Higglemoor however was on a mission.

Chapter 1 - A Night at the Tavern

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