Eladrin: Dawn Chapter One
Next Chapter-------> Eladrin: Dawn Chapter One By Nicholas Paschall The interior of the tavern was loud, people laughing and drinking, thick plumes of smoke from long pipes and the clinks of silver coins being tossed about as many card games played out. Older veterans traded stories they’d all shared with each other a hundred times before, while tavern maids walked about with great platters bearing mugs of frothy Peppered Mead for any to take for a few copper pence.
Melfice kicked off the gathered snow from his boots, pulling down the cowl of his traveling cloak to look for the man who’d posted the wanted flyer. Pulling it from his pocket, he unwrinkled it and looked at the neat pen strokes that spelled out his next job, if all went well.
“Horatio Smytheson in search able-bodied adventurers to find lost heirloom from Blackmire Stretch.” He mumbled, crinkling the paper when he confirmed that his employer said he’d be holding interviews tonight at dusk.
Peering out the stained glass window front, Melfice narrowed his eyes. Sun was just beginning to set, so he had an hour, perhaps an hour and a half, before he’d be needed.
“Perhaps a drink?” He muttered, eyes scanning the room, lingering on the gentle curves of a few of the tavern maids.
“Maybe more, if I’m lucky…”
Walking into the room, he slipped through the crowd and made his way up to the bar, where he flagged down the barkeep. An older man with more paunch than anything else, he had great mutton chops of wiry white hair and a slight comb-over, with a ruddy complexion balancing a pair of greasy glasses on the end of a bulbous nose. He gave a quick laugh and wiped down the bar in front of Melfice as he approached.
“Come in, lad!” The man laughed, waving a hand behind him where an assortment of dusty bottles stood in neat rows against mirrored glass. “Fancy something to ease the chill from your bones, eh?”
“Just a Peppered Mead, please,” Melfice asked, sliding six pence onto the bar, “and perhaps any information you have on a Master Smytheson?”
“Ah, you’re one of them, then?” The barkeep chuckled, pulling a frosted mug from a trough of snow below the bar. He walked to the wall and pulled a tap that jutted out, one of three, and filled the mug to the brim. “You’ll be wanting to go ‘round back hall with doors to private rooms. Ol’ Horatio rented room three, and there are already a few of you waiting there.”
“Oh?” Melfice took his drink and sipped it tenderly. The drink was spicy, and bubbly. “Anything noteworthy?”
The barkeep shrugged. “Big fella with a shaggy Arguile with him, damn thing pissed twice before he got it back there, think he might be a Shaman, mebbe a Druid… a wee lass, dressed in vestments of an Acolyte of the Red Harvest. Couple thuggish looking men with more scars than common sense, the likes you see skulking about every job offer… then, there’s you.”
“Me?” Melfice gave a soft smile. “You seem to have a measure of what the others are, what do you think I am?”
“A mongrel elf if I’m not mistaken. The way you seem to ghost your hand over that journal attached to your hip with a length of chain makes me think you’re a wizard, most likely a fresh apprentice looking to make a big haul. That sound right?”
Melfice flushed, glancing away when he spotted the massive bartender’s smile grow wide. “Didn’t take you for a racist…”
“No offense, just saying what I see.” The man slapped the bar top once before turning to fish another mug from the snow. “Lemme give ya a drink on the house for my manners.”
Before Melfice could turn it down, the man slid the full mug over to him, the foamy top spilling over the edge and splashing on the bar top. A man, a laborer if the calloused hands, thick arms, and musky smell, threw an arm over Melfice’s shoulders and sang. Several of his friends raised their mugs and sang along, one calling over the off-tune melody.
“Hey now, can’t have a full mug while the rest of us drain our last!” The man laughed, earning jeers from the surrounding people, “drink your fill or be the next to buy a round!”
Panicked, Melfice began chugging his first drink, most spilling down his chin and onto his fur-laden robes, a round of bawdy laughter filling his ears as he drank deeply. The song continued until he finished his drink, letting out a large belch as his head swam. The men cheered, applauding as they pressed his second mug into his hands. He threw the arm off his shoulder and raised a hand as if warding them away.
“I, *urp*, must go, things to do you see…” Melfice tried, doing his best not to panic from the close contact.
Luckily, the barkeep came to his rescue, snapping a dirty towel at the elbow of one man. “Here now, the lad has business in the back! Leave him be, or I’m cutting you off and sending you home to your wives!”
“Yer a cruel man, Billy!” One man cried dramatically, earning a round of laughter from the others.
Melfice walked past them towards the hall leading to the darkened backrooms of the tavern. It ran parallel with the open tavern hall, with three doors opposite the wall leading to the bar, another at the far end of the hall leading to the kitchens. The doors were numbered up to three, and Melfice stopped before the one the barkeep had claimed he was supposed to wait in. Looking over himself, he frowned.
“Dirty fools, they got me soaked in mead!” Melfice growled, snapping his fingers of one gloved hand. A twist of energy, a slight cool breeze shifting down the hall, and his robes dried up and grew warm, the stain vanishing. “An ill omen for me if ever there was one…”
Opening the door, Melfice walked into the room and allowed his eyes to adjust. It was perhaps twenty feet long, and just as wide, with a gigantic table dominating the center, a great oval with deep-cushioned chairs. They filled four, soft muttering between two of the men punctuated by a pair of low whines and panting. A young woman, blonde hair pulled into twin braids that went down her white vestments, looked up from her tankard as if she’d been lost in thought. An older man leaned back in a chair he’d positioned against the far wall, a two-headed wolfhound panting at his feet with one head while licking itself with the other.
“Are you Mr. Smytheson?” The young priestess asked, eyebrow raised.
The older man snorted, earning wary looks from the two younger men sitting in the middle of the table. “Him? Nah, look at him. Wizard, most likely. That or a scribe, and I doubt we’d see one at a job like this.”
“Don’t like wizards,” one of the younger men, a lanky man with tanned skin and long brown hair in ringlets running down his back, grumbled. “That’ kind of power… ain’t right.”
His friend, another callow man with similar skin tone bearing an eyepatch over his right eye and several scars running alongside the right side of his face and neck, snorted. “Yer jus’ too dumb to realize how useful the blighters can be. Never change, do you Wheeze?”
The aptly named Wheeze gave a choking, dry chuckle. He took a long drink off his tankard and lowered his eyes to his drink rather than respond. The old man, dressed in faded leathers, waved a hand at the table before Melfice.
“Welcome, young man. I imagine our host would want us to be on acceptable terms, should we end up working together? Come, share a drink and a tale.”
Melfice stepped fully into the room, closing the door behind him. He dropped into a chair with two seats between him and the Priestess on one side, and two seats between Wheeze on the other. The old man gave a minute nod, as if Melfice had passed some unknown test.
Choosing to not be bothered, he cleared his throat. “So, um… my name is Melfice. Melfice Nelfeshne. And yes,” he said, giving a pointed look at Wheeze. “I am a Wizard. I’ve been a licensed arcanist for about three weeks and have run low on funds—”
“Happens when you spend all yer money on weird shit for evil magic,” Wheeze whispered to his friend, who thumped him on the shoulder. Melfice ignored him and pressed on.
“—so I’ve chosen to work with others to gain some quick gold.”
“Smart. Self-serving, but to each their own…” the old man said, reaching down a withered hand to rub one of the Arguile’s panting heads between the ears. “You two, you’ve been chummy. Friends from past jobs, I gather?”
Wheeze gave another rasping chuckle, allowing his cohort to answer. “Yeah, could say that. Names Needles, this here’s Wheeze. He’s the muscle, I’m the brains. I know how to pick a lock, sniff out hidden shit, the works. Wheeze? He just bashes things that get in our way with whatever his weapon of the week is.”
“Got me a new broadsword off that last gig, the one from that bandit fella? With the hair?” Wheeze offered, taking a sip of his mead.
Needles nodded, shaking his head. “Yeah, ‘member him now. Heh. He screamed loud.”
The Priestess pouted at this statement, Melfice noted, though he saw he wasn’t the only one. The old man had spied it too, though what he thought of her reaction Melfice couldn’t tell. He instead looked to the Priestess as the old man waved a weary hand at her.
“And you?” He asked, though his tone was a tad softer, nay, kinder than when he’d addressed the two violent mercenaries.
The woman jumped in her seat when she realized they had addressed her. “Oh, me? Yes, I suppose so… well, my name is Elena Leafmender. I’m a Daughter of the Red Harvest. I’m a trained healer and can channel a bit of power from my Lady to mend wounds and knit together broken bones. I’m doing this job for my own reasons, though I’m afraid I’d rather not share them with you, if it’s all the same.”
“Fair enough,” the old man said, pulling a pipe from the confines of a side satchel.
“Names Skellington Wildbough. Druid of the Ashen Pine, though I doubt that means much to any of you…”
“The Ashen Pine are a druidic sect that have settled in the taiga’s north of the Cross Mountains, before the Frigid Wastes. You all train to withstand the cold and channel the colder aspects of nature magic. You all revere… Grandfather Winter?”
Skellington nodded slowly. “Close. Greatfather Wynter. The rest… spot on, lad. Bit of a reader, are you?”
Melfice fought the sudden blush he was feeling from the praise. “Yes, um.. k-kind of c-comes with being a wizard, I-I suppose.”
Elena stared at him in awe, as if he’d just performed some amazing miracle. “That was amazing! How did you know that?”
Melfice didn’t know what to say, so instead shrugged and drank some of his mead. He could feel the alcohol lifting his spirits, though he knew better than to get too chatty.
“Any idea where this Smytheson guy is?” Wheeze groused. “Getting’ bored jus’ sittin’ here listen’ to all you jawin’.”
“Bets to be patient,” an unknown voice said from behind Melfice, gathering everyone’s attention. They turned to regard the smiling man that’d just slipped into the room, a bundle of scrolls under his arm. “Because wonderful things come to those who wait, my friend, and I believe we’ve all waited long enough!”