Late spring had fallen on Ferelden in the form of late, icy drizzle that worked its way under the armor to chafe massive sores where it rubbed and chill to the bone. It had muddied theFor
Northern Road to the point everything
that traversed it was covered in thick sludge.
At least, finally, he was on his way back to Denerim with his small supply caravan. The weather was making travel difficult; he and his escort had been forced to push a loaded wagon out of deep mud.
The apprentice weaponsmith got the horses stabled, rubbed down, and the carts packed away, then all but drug himself to the inn. The warmth of the place made his cold, damp skin immediately start to sweat, but he had no complaints.
There were few patrons;
He also saw a giant of a man in heavy leather armor with an axe and a huge “bastard” sword strapped to his back—a shield, short bow and quiver of arrows, too!—headed up the narrow stairs to the second floor, followed by an anxious-looking robed mage and a very small boy who couldn’t have been more than seven. Other than that, there didn’t appear to be any guests despite the weather.Good. That means I’ll get a room.
“A meal, a room for the night, and a hot bath,” he told her.
The serving girl sized him up, then brought him a brass key, leaning carefully on the bar so he had ample view of her cleavage.
“Would you like your bath hot, ser?” she asked.
She pouted and straightened, crossed her arms over her bosom. “No company, no bath,” she told him flatly. “Or dinner.”
Irritation flared. He was wet, hungry, tired, and sore. He didn’t need a rude barmaid to add to his list of today’s grievances.
“Fine. Forget the bath, then. And the meal. I’ll just take a room and haul in my own water.”
She slapped a room key down on the counter in front of him, then huffed off to the kitchen.
From the table by the fire, the Dalish Elf woman watched the soggy newcomer head upstairs. She knew she and her companion, the mage Rylan, had looked much the same upon their arrival that afternoon, but several hours of warmth and dry clothing had improved their spirits immensely.
So far, though, Rylan had been the perfect gentleman. A bit nosy in his attempts to be friendly during their long trip by foot to Denerim, perhaps, but polite and helpful.
With the worsening weather, they had agreed a dry night at an inn would do them both good after days on the road. They had made good time reaching West Hill, and made arrangements shortly after noon, which had given them time to dry out and relax.
She almost pittied the newcomer. Almost.
The evening had brought another interesting arrival as well. About an hour before the latest traveler, a big man Riari recognized as an Avvarian Hillsman, had come in and settled at the bar, his heavy leather armor and weapons dripping with water. He had eaten three plates of stew and secured a room by the time a young apostate mage had come in with a young boy in a state of shock.
The Avvar warrior had gone about his meal while the runaway mage and the innkeeper spoke in hushed tones. Even with Riari’s remarkable hearing, she couldn’t hear what was said over the sounds of the locals who had gathered for ale to ward off the day’s chill, but was able to gather the apostate wanted to leave the child at the inn before the Templars hunting him came sniffing around. The innkeeper seemed concerned as to the boy’s welfare, but didn’t appear to want to be saddled with him. There had been some arguing, then the giant had shifted and added himself to the conversation.
The innkeeper left shortly after, and the Avvar offered to share his room with the apostate and the boy for the night as protection. Riari had heard rumors of bandits during the trip here, and assumed they were the reason the apostate had a child in tow.
“Are you finished?” Rylan suddenly asked her.
Riari became aware she’d been toying with her food for the last few minutes. She nodded, and the mage took both their plates to the bar. She got up and headed upstairs to the room they’d procured earlier. She didn’t like sharing a room, but until they reached Denerim she was short on funds, and, since she was supposed to keep an eye on the mage, sharing a room was more feasible.
Solel gestured to the bed in the corner of his room as he stripped off his pack and set it against the opposite wall.
The renegade mage eyed him dubiously, so the big Avvar ignored him and unpacked his bedroll. He didn’t particularly want to be stuck with this Anders fellow, but Solel had a soft spot for children. The moment the apostate had told the innkeeper he’d saved the boy following a bandit attack that had seen the boy’s mother and older sister raped and murdered, and his father murdered for trying to stop them, Solel had known he would involve himself regardless of what the innkeeper said.
And regardless that Solel was on his way back to his Hold in the
The innkeeper had seemed a decent sort—he’d run out to gather a group of locals to help hunt down the bandits, leaving Solel to offer his protection for the night. The apostate, who introduced himself as Anders, was a bit reluctant to take him up on his offer, but Solel was a difficult man with whom to argue. His size alone intimidated most people into agreeing with him.
While Anders got the boy settled, Solel removed his armor, cleaned and dried it as best he could, tended his weapons, and went about setting a rather nasty surprise for anyone who might try to enter the room unannounced.
“What’re you doing?” Anders asked, coming to peer over the giant’s shoulder.
Anders made a face, impressed. “That’s nasty.”
“Supposed to be. I told you I’d protect you and the boy for the night. I keep my promises.”
Solel grunted and continued his work.
“Just one question, though, Avvar. If we need to get up in the middle of the night to use the…facilities…how do you propose we do that without risking an important limb?”
Solel nodded in the direction of the window.
“That, or I’m sure there’s a chamber pot under the bed.”
Solel finished with his trap and settled on his bedroll. “When you’re ready, turn down the lamp, but don’t put it out.”
Solel snorted. “I’m just full of them.”
Riari, too, set a couple of traps before climbing into bed in full armor. At Rylen’s raised eyebrow, she shrugged.
Rylan studied the door. Riari had laid a pair of tripwires in close succession; one appeared to be just that—a thin line meant only to trip an intruder—the other attached to a small pouch.
“What’s that?” he asked, indicating the pouch.
Riari pulled the blanket up, laid her short sword beside her. “Sneeze powder.”
Rylan winced. “Cruel woman.”
The mage got settled in the room’s other bed; Riari was impressed to notice he had the sense to keep his wand with him. She reached over and turned the lamp down so it barely gave off any light.
“The nightlight’s charming,” Rylan commented.
“Scared of the dark?”
She shot him a glare.
“All right, all right! Sorry.”
He crawled gratefully into bed, oblivious to the scratchy straw mattress and the stiff blanket. It still beat sleeping in the back of a wagon or on the hard or muddy ground.
He was so eager to get to sleep he forgot to bolt the door or turn out the light.
The apprentice weaponsmith suddenly lunged in and caught his attacker across the arm, drawing blood, but received a slash across his chest in return. Swords rang again, then the enemy was backing out the door, holding an arm to a nasty belly wound.
Riari cranked the lantern up in the same movement she unsheathed her short sword and leapt at the pair of bandits to come stumbling into her and Rylan’s room. One of them hit the tripwire and sprawled flat on his face; the Dalish woman was on him immediately with a strike that laid open his shoulder.
“Rylan!” she barked, throwing him a glare as the mage’s opponent dropped hard to the floorboards, unconscious. Her attacker, having met her brutal offense and seeing his friend sprawled on the grounds, made the sensible choice and fled.
“Sorry!” the mage shouted back over the noise of the dissipating energy, though he looked far too smug over the success of his spell. “Rather a good hit, if I do say so myself.”
“It’ll be your last, you idiot!” Riari snapped, slapping at the resultant flames licking the doorframe.
“But it worked…”
Solel’s leg trap caught itself a rather unfortunate victim as well—the last of the bandits, intent in sneaking into the room to deal with the apostate and the boy. What he hadn’t been counting on was the Avvar.
“Hey!” Anders said, looking after him, “that was one of the men that attacked the caravan! These weren’t local bandit catchers!”
Solel gave him a glance as he flicked the blood from his battle axe. “Apparently not. Someone must have told them you were here.”
Anders looked utterly befuddled. “That can’t be right—the innkeeper said the bandits were staying here and he was gathering a group to catch them.”
Solel scowled. “They attacked us. Were we supposed to be the bandits?”
Anders started pacing. “I don’t know. I don’t know.”
The Avvar gestured him back toward the bed, where the boy was sitting up, wild-eyed. “Stay put. There might be more of them.”
The shouting down the hall was getting louder.
Solel heard running footsteps approaching from further up the hall and stepped into the doorway, throwing his arm out just as the man approaching reached him.
“Hey, you got another one!”
He had enough time to think, Well, this is the perfect ending to a horrible day… before blackness swept over him in a ripple of white-hot electricity.