The Whistling Stag
Gareth laughs, shaking his head. "We'll get there, Malra, don't worry! Take a a little look at the town, all right? We're going to be here a few days." His eyebrows arch up into his hair. "And if it's pretties you want to gift a companionship, you'll need to know where to look, eh?"
Malra sighs exaggeratedly, but listens as Gareth names off the various wooden buildings they pass by. Quaervarr is like any other inkspatter-town (a phrase he overheard from a retired guard captain) he's seen since he returned from Evermeet: dusty, dull and smelly.( Granted, Quaervarr doesn't smell quite as bad as some. )The Oakfather's house, the guardhouse, blacksmith and butchery are noted without enthusiasm A mixture of floral scents wafts from the one the human names as the apothecary ("She makes perfumes on the side. Might be useful."). Two dwarves argue in the doorway of Strongshield's Leatherworks. Gareth pauses briefly at Truffles Trinket's, saying with some surprise the building was new. ("A second-hand shop in Quaervarr? The North is
growing.") Malra nods absently, his impatience growing.
But his impatience fades as they pass Head to Foot. From within comes the distinct high voice of a female halfling, cursing creatively in her native tongue and asking Cyrrollalee's patience in dealing with dimwitted merchants who couldn't tell finegrade linen from an orc's snotrag. Malra grins broadly. Quaervarr, he decides, isn't such a inkspatter-town after all.
Gareth's tour guide impersonation ends as they approach the Whistling Stag Inn. Outside the three-story building stands a flat piece of wood, shaped like a tree. Fading paint indicates it may once have been used as a theater prop, but now it's literally papered with ...well, papers. Malra gives it a curious glance, but his attention is drawn back to the inn as Gareth pulls open its door.
The two push thread their way past a knot of drovers arguing loudly over who has to check on the teams in the morning and into the main room of the inn. Laughter, chatter, orders, and more arguments crash over the gathered patrons like a wave.
Hunting trophies of all kinds -- deer, wild board, owlbear, wolf and others -- line the walls. Three large pillar candles in three separate corners burn, more for their pine-needle scent than for light. Large glowglobes hang off candlewheels dangling from the ceiling; smaller ones, roughly the size of a human man's fist, stand in glass or metal lanterns on tables. A tapestry of a hunting scene (obviously magical, as the beings depicted within all move) takes up an entire wall. Jayla, the Waukeenar Goldeye who served as the caravan's healer during the trip, stands nearby with Sheltoth, the caravan's resident mage.
Gareth nudges Malra in the ribs, then points off to his left: Sorn is sitting at a table with the human he talked with outside the town gate, and several other people Malra doesn't recognize. His gaze lingers appreciately on the one woman in the group, then flicks away to follow a younger, dark-haired girl carrying a laden tray through the crowd. Malra's mouth is suddenly watering; from the girl or her burden of bread, garlic butter, venison pies and Shadowdark Ale, he isn't sure.
"Malra, I think we'll both have better luck if we bathe first," Gareth mutters.
"But of course we'll bathe first!" Malra says. "You think I wanna go around smelling like I'm human, or somethin'?"
Gareth gives him a fish-eyed look. "Thanks for the compliment, friend. I think!" He slaps Malra on the back. "Ah, enough. Sorn's set us up with rooms. The staff will have baths ready -- let's get there before the water's cold."
"Hey, no problem," Malra replies as Gareth steers him toward the stairs leading to the inn's upper floors. "I don't mind how humans smell, actually. It sure is different. And yeah, we do need to get there before the water gets cold."
Another of the inn's staff waits at the second floor landing. The young half-elf smiles at them, brushing honey-colored curls from her face. "This way, please." She leads Malra and Gareth to their room, and opens the door.
"In you go, good sirs."
The room is comfortable: thick rugs, two beds with thick bedding for the Northern nights, a desk and chair, an armoire with a pitcher and bowl for wate, and two robes hanging from hooks on its side. A small door indicates a garderobe. The windows are real glass, and well-made; the shutters thick and chink-free. Best of all, the room is dry.
Two large copper tubs dominate most of the floor space. One's set closest to the far wall, within easy reach of a pull-cord. Pannikins of soap hang off their sides, and steam rises from the surface.
"If you need more water, please pull the service cord. Enjoy your stay at the Whistling Stag." She smiles, giving them a wink, and leaves.
Malra strips down very quickly, says, "Last one in is a smelly old dwarf!" and hops enthusiastically into the nearest tub.
Gareth follows suit, after kicking their clothes away from the tubs. Malra doesn't notice. He's busy splashing around after dunking himself entirely in the water and soaping himself down. After an initial scrubbing, Gareth sighs and settles back into the water. "Hot water is a gift of the gods."
Malra nods, not caring if Gareth can see him or not. He's enjoying his bath, that's for sure. "I feel like ME again!"
Gareth laughs. "You can have a bath everyday if you wish! Sorn won't scrimp, not here. The Whistling Stag's an old customer."
"Hey, I can get into that!" Malra scrubs his thick brown hair with soap, then ducks himself again.
For a time, the only sound is splashing water as tendays of sweat and dirt are sloughed off. Then Gareth asks, "Did you notice the compound a ways off from the town? The fancy building tricked out in red and black marble?"
"Yeah. What is it?" Malra wrings excess water from his hair, peering out at Gareth with one brown eye.
Gareth's expression is sober. "I've only seen one before, in Waterdeep...but I believe it's a Red Wizard enclave."
"Huh." Malra blinks. "The Red Whozits? Who are they?"
The human stares at Malra as if the elf had suddenly turned into a two-headed goat. "You've never heard of the Red Wizards of Thay?"
Malra's brows crease. "Err..yeah. Kinda. They, like, run around wearing red robes and stuff, right?"
"Yes," Gareth says slowly. "And trying to conquer Rasheman, and Aglarond, two neighboring countries. They're not -- kind people." He leans on the rim of the tub. "They've begun enclaves to sell their magic in other lands. Most cities refuse, but the enclaves are growing. It surprises me to find one in the Silver Marches. The Red Wizards have no love for High Lady Alustriel."
Malra's eyes go wide. "Ooooh, yeah....those guys. Yeah, nasty arse-wipes they are. The Red Whozits of Thunk...or whatever."
Gareth laughs. "I wouldn't say that too loudly near the enclave. That's considered the same as their own country, and their laws and punishments apply."
"Yeah, well, any get in my way, and I'll thunk them. They all think they're better than anyone else, but Hells, s'not like they bother me much anyway. I don't even understand what they're saying half the time."
"You're not missing much, my friend," Gareth says, laughing again. "As I've heard, mostly ranting about destroying enemies and conquering all of Faerun."
Malra snorts, working on a knot in his hair. "Them and what army?"
"Devils, demons, slaves, hideous monsters they've created...so say the tales. Though now the talk is they're trying to buy
all of Faerun." Gareth looks down at the brown-colored water. "Malra...how about taking up Belantha on her offer of more water?"
Malra rolls his eyes. "No kiddin'. Do it."
Gareth pulls the service cord, and very shortly afterward the maid reappears, accompanied by two pairs of teenage human boys lugging clean tubs and water. The girl oversees the pouring of the new baths, then leaves so Malra and Gareth can preserve their modesty...but not without giving them a wide smile.
"You said her name was Belantha?" Malra asks as the boys retreat with the used tubs of water.
"Mmhmm." Gareth closes his eyes. "Belantha, Olareen and Selwys, the Whistling Stag's permanent ...um... staff
Malra laughs, squirting water between his hands at Gareth. "You skirt-hound. You been here before?"
"Yup. This is my third trip with Sorn."
Malra props his elbows on the tub's edge. "So...what are they like?"
"What? You expect me to spill my secret ways of wooing the ladies?"
Gareth chuckles. "You're impossible. All right. Belantha's been here the longest, but she's not the oldest. She has a gnome's fondness for gems, and a pretty shiny rock is the quickest way to get her to...."
The conversation and laughter lasts long after the water grows cold. Current Mood: creative