The brass bells over the door of The Book and Barrel jangled merrily once again. Eyes turned to glance at the newcomers: a fearsome-looking dwarf in chain mail stood backlit in the doorway, glaring around the relatively dark common room. Behind him stood a a slender Kankoran, its improbably tall longbow extending far above its head. After a few long seconds, the dwarf jumped slightly as if prodded from behind. He turned suddenly with a jangle of iron rings and glowered at the impassive canine. The canine’s lips curled in the smallest hint of a smile, and the reddish, foxlike being glided past the dwarf towards the bar. The dwarf watched him for a moment, and then stumped after him. The Inn’s patrons seemingly decided, after a moment’s hesitation, that the two probably weren’t worth their attention. For now.
Quint Diantoni stood wiping the bar with a flannel cloth, watching the newcomers carefully. He fervently wished that the thrice-damned old monk hadn’t named his inn as the clearing house for (he shuddered) adventurers.
Adventurers. Always with delusions of grandeur, always staying too long when they’d no money, never staying long enough when they did. The five that had come by today made his fists itch. The accursed monk had come to his wife just a couple of days ago to “make arrangements”, and curse the gods, this bunch had come in on his shift. Maybe these two would be illiterate and not able to submit the “Curriculum Vitae” that the monk had demanded. Maybe they were just passing through. Maybe they were rich and would tip well tonight, and he could sneak a few gold pieces out of his wife’s magpie’s eyes.
The two newest arrivals approached the bar. Quint kept his face straight — the foxlike Kankoran’s face was right at bar level, and the dwarf’s was well below it. From his vantage, Quint could just see the dwarf’s polished helmet. Plenty of time to mock the squirts’ size later, if it turned out they had no money.
“This is ‘The Book and Barrel Inn’?” the Kankoran barked politely. Quint grimaced. He could pretty much understand the hodgepodge of barks, growls, and whines that made up the Wolfen tongue. He just hated how canines sniggered when he tried to speak it. He mentally shrugged and gave it a try anyway.
“Yes, sirs, I honour you. The Book and Barrel Inn, finest inn in town, don’t let ’em tell you different. What can I get you?”
“We seek someone who can write in the Elvish tongue. And some… paper. And pen and ink.”
“And an ale!” came the muffled voice of the dwarf, also in Wolfen.
Great. They were applicants for the monk’s (may his pointy teeth fall out) quest. This night was not going to be enjoyable. Maybe the legendary thirst of the Dwarves might at least fill this evening’s coffers. Their legendary thriftiness, though, gave him no hope for those elusive tips.
“Paper we have, sirs, and pen and ink. And ale, to be sure. I’m not sure who around here can write in Elvish, though. You may want to ask tonight’s other newcomers.”
“Fifteen gold for a sheet of parchment, good sirs, pen and ink you can use no extra charge. I don’t know what the elf there will charge you for the writing.”
“Two sheets, publican. You honour me,” said the kankoran.
“And an ale!” the dwarf repeated.
“Yes, sirs. Four gold for the ale. I’ll bring it all to your table right away. Bernal! Bernal, you lazy good-for-nothing. Get out here!”
The dwarf and kankoran cautiously approached the table where the elf, orc and gnome were conversing. The gnome seemed to be finishing up a story.
“…and so the ogre says: ‘Keep your hat on. We may wind up miles from here!’” The gnome grinned hugely, looking from elf to orc and back again, apparently expecting something. The other two exchanged a glance and then looked back at the gnome.
After a moment, the elf hazarded, “Ha ha?”
“Excuse me,” the kankoran interrupted. “We are looking for someone who can write in Elvish. We need…” his face contorted as he tried the unfamiliar term, “ray-zoo-mays. There is a monk looking for a group…”
“I can help you there!” the gnome burst out cheerfully. “Just you come right over here, Mister Wolfen, and we’ll get you sorted.”
“Kankoran, actually,” replied the canine, taking a seat near the gnome. “You may call me… Pierce.”
“Jolly good, jolly good. I’m Alastrom, wizard extraordinaire. The elf is Andarist.” He scrabbled in his pack. “Got some paper in here somewhere…”
The waiter slouched over just then with a tray holding the dwarf’s ale, a small inkwell, a sharp quill, and two crisp sheets of parchment. He carelessly dropped them on the table, spilling a little of the ale.
“Watch it, kid,” snarled Did. “Spill another drop of that liquid gold and you’ll carry back the mug in a very uncomfortable location. Understand?”
The waiter sneered and tossed his head, making his cunningly crafted dragon earrings jangle. The dwarf stroked his club lovingly, watching the youth saunter away, tray dripping. “If the evening gets boring, I think I’d enjoy teaching that one a lesson in manners,” he muttered. He sipped the ale and raised his eyebrows in surprise “Decent ale? In a human settlement?” He drained the rest of the mug at a draught and bellowed for more. The gnome had produced his own tiny quill, and was chattering animatedly with the kankoran, carefully writing a sentence now and again.
The dwarf turned to Andarist. “Well, while the pup and the gnome fiddle about, what say you help me write up this ray-zoo-may thingummy the monk wanted?”
“Ah yes,” returned the elf. “I can help you there. We too are seeking employment with Cunctipotens Zabulus, as per his notification. You are not literate in Elvish?” he finished, looking from canine to dwarf.
The elf waited for more, but the dwarf kept silent. “Very well then. Let’s get started.” Andarist took the quill pen, dipped precisely, and asked, “Name?”
The elf resisted the urge to quip, “Did Blackcrystal what?” and carefully inscribed the letters. “Age?”
In the due course of time, the two curricula vitae were inscribed and delivered with appropriate ceremony to the bartender.
Next: Zabulus enters. The characters are introduced. The party leaves Tselt. The swamp & bugs. The weather changes. Slavers.