Read the PbP log of “Chapter One – It Always Starts in A Tavern”
Argold’s Haven, Gherlen’s Rest
A Meeting of Strangers
It is mid-day at the bustling tiny town of Gherlen’s Rest and today, townsfolk and visitors alike are in a particularly celebratory mood and most of them have gathered inside Argold’s Haven, the chief attraction of Gherlen’s Rest.
A warm fire burns within the hearth of this cosy inn, it’s crackling flame luring cold and weary travelers to sit by it’s side. Besides the usual pennants, hunting trophies and advertisements that adorn the dining room walls of Argold’s Haven, a large canvas proclaimed “Welcome Home, Trayn!" in bold black paint.
The townsfolk, in particular Argold, innkeeper and mayor of Gherlen’s Rest, and his wife were celebrating the return of their only surviving son, Trayn – an Orlesian soldier who was honorably discharged from duty after losing his leg to Ferelden rebels. As such, to commemorate this joyous occasion Argold declared that all food and drink were on the house much to the delight of his patrons. So, while Argold served customers his finest brew, his wife Martha, busied herself in the kitchen, whipping up piping hot meals for empty and growling stomachs. Their waitresses served, entertained and laughed with their guests.
And it was this light and jolly atmosphere that greeted the new arrivals, a Dalish elf named Gilraen and a surface dwarf named Gimshar. Their entrance caused quite a stir among the tavern patrons for it was firstly, uncommon to see a Dalish elf in their midst, and secondly, the notion of an elf traveling with a dwarf was almost unheard of!
One patron in particular chortled with glee and nudge his friends, pointing at the duo with a pudgy finger, “That’s a sight you don’t see everyday!”
Then, one of their dwarven compatriots called out to Gimshar, “What’s a fine lady like you doing with a pointy ear?”
However, instead of taking offense to the racist comment directed at him, Gilraen’s attention was drawn to the presence of the Circle Mage, Royce, who was trying his best to remain inconspicuous. Seated next to Royce was his unlikely companion, Nikolas, an apostate whom Royce met by chance during his relatively short travels outside the Circle.
“Give us whatever your strongest alcohol is,” Nikolas said to a waitress before turning to Royce, “Just drink and forget about it. I can handle anything if it comes up. Maybe even a drunk circle mage can handle a simple conversation from travelers if anything is said.”
Relaxed in his traveler’s garb and fairly certain about the secrecy of his true identity, Nikolas’s attempt to sooth his mage friend’s nerves was met with a retort from Royce, “That’s easy advice for you to give. You’re not the one they’re staring at. My obvious status actually makes your situation much easier to hide, it seems.”
One of Royce’s most curious watched was seated close to the fire, a fifth stranger by the name of Helena of Redcliff. She had arrived a mere moments earlier with her hunting dog, Gram and had been oiling her leather boots before the curious arrivals piqued her interest.
Orlesians in Ferelden
The strangers settled at their tables, ordered Martha’s famous beef stew and Argold’s best ale and mead. The attention that had previously been bestowed on them was stolen the moment Argold wheeled his son, Trayn, into the humble inn and their entrance was met with a resounding applause. Trayn carried a bright smile on his face despite the obvious lack of an appendage and Argold was quick to capitalize on the gaiety of the situation by proclaiming loudly, “My son Trayn, war hero!” causing the entire tavern to erupt into a volley of hoots and cat calls.
“Even if they have to make some sacrifices to get here, it’s good to see some Fereldan soldiers finally coming home,” Helena comments idly.
“He’s an Orlesian, young lady. Well, the lot of them here are,” A fellow patron responded, to which Helena expressed surprise.
“They’re from Orlais?” she asks incredulously, keeping her voice low. This was further west than she’d been in a long time, but it only made sense that Orlesian commoners were finally coming over… ready to colonize at long last after seventy years of oppression. Maker, deliver us. Better yet, deliver them. she sighed inwardly.
Chuckling at Helena’s surprise, the patron pointed at the handicap boy and added, “Though, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Harrinton offspring were born on Ferelden soil, which technically makes them Ferelden. But who they remain loyal to? Who’s to know, eh?”
Leaning in closer to Helena, the man drops his voice to a whisper and says, “But I’d put my bet on the fact that they are nothing but Orlesian dogs.” The disheveled looking patron straightened in his seat and shrugged helplessly at Helena before raising his own mug of free ale in a toast, “Generous dogs nevertheless.” he laughs and takes a big gulp.
“Thank you friends, brothers and sisters for joining us on this occasion. For us small and simple folk, it is all well when one of us returns to us safe and sound in the midst of such tragedy,” Argold said as he began a speech that drew all eyes onto him and his son, Trayn, who was seated beside the innkeep.
“I know that many of us come from far and wide, and there are many Ferelden travelers here today, but let the war remain at the gates of Gherlen this day. We are all but pawns in a bigger picture, let the rulers wage their petty games and leave our sons, brothers and fathers out of it. Martha and I…,” Argold continue, turning to look at his wife whose eyes were filling with tears, “have already lost one son and it is through the Maker’s grace that Trayn has returned to us. Alive. And that’s all that matters…”
“Thank you father,” Trayn said, looking slightly embarrassed by all the attention he was getting.“I may have lost my leg fighting the war, and to Ferelden rebels no less. But, I grew up here in this land and my father taught me about respect. While I serve the Empire and the Emperor, my respect for the Fereldens have not diminished. I…I am just glad I’m alive.”
Shadow in the Crowd
Gilraen, Gimshar and Helena had chosen to sit by the warm fireplace and were in good position to witness the shadows of the crowd cast against the beige walls of the inn. And it was during Argold’s speech that the three of them noticed one particular shadow moving against the flow of the crowd and skulking at the back.
“To Trayn! And to PEACE!” Argold proclaimed as he raised his mug, signaling the end of their moving speeches.
“TO PEACE!!” came the resounding cry of a tavern toast.
Suddenly, the door to the tavern burst open and a young teenage boy rushed in breathlessly. He pushed his way to the front of the crowd towards Argold, all the while calling out, “Grandpa! Grandpa!”
When he finally reached the front, he hugged his knees and panted, “T…Tem..Templars!”
The boy pointed a weak finger at the front door and breathed, “They’re here… They’re.. They’re looking for you. They’re coming.”
Helena noticed that the figure cloaked and hooded in a dark velvet blue was behaving secretively and her eyes continued to follow the figure even as it settled between two bulky patrons in an attempt to blend into the crowd. Then, the figure turned and for a brief moment, Helena caught the person’s face. It was a woman with eyes the colour of emeralds. And it was at the exact same moment when the word, Templars escaped the boy’s lips that their eyes met and locked.
The Trouble with Templars
“Something we can do to be of service, sers?”
The sandy-haired Templar turns and sees Helena drinking a spoonful of stew from her bowl, her eyes searching his. She appears to be an overly-helpful yokel than anything else and so, he brushes her off politely by dipping his head, “Pardon me, miss,” He says,“I was about to speak to that Circle mage over there….” He points at Royce as he continues to make his way over to the wizards…“Excuse me.”
The sandy-haired Templar had arrived with two other fully-helmed Templars who proceeded to speak with Argold, much to the innkeep’s annoyance. Normally, the arrival of the Chantry’s warriors would have caused an atmosphere of tense unease, however, Gimshar’s merry tune on the flute prolonged the spirit of gaiety.
Seeing the Templar make his way over to where he was seated, Royce feels a lump growing in his throat. “They couldn’t possibly know that I haven’t gone home, could they? Do they suspect Nikolas?” he thought.
He fights the urge to kick Nikolas from under the table and make a dash for the door. “Looks like I’ll have to bluff my way out,”
“What business have you here, Templar?” Royce said in his deepest voice.
“Greetings mage,” the Templar greets. He looks around, pausing for a moment, considering what to say to Royce, and replies quite openly, “My business is with the Chantry. And as a Circle Mage, I’m sure you know the ways of the Chantry. We are on the hunt.”
“Apostates,” He intones, his eyes searching Royce’s. “To be more precise, we are searching for one particular apostate. Do you know anything about that?”
Royce’s mind races as the Templar mentions the hunt, fearing that they may have discovered Nikolas after all. He struggles to keep his voice even and reply to the Templar with authority, hopefully to discover that they are after a different apostate, and if not, to buy time for Nik to escape.
“An apostate?” Royce’s mind races and fear grips his heart. Convinced that they may have very well discovered Nikolas after all, the Circle Mage struggles to keep his voice even, “Very troubling. I have only just arrived here. Perhaps if you described the individual to me in greater detail I could help,” Royce offers.
“Yes.. troubling,” The templar repeats after Royce carefully. “Well, it’s a woman we’re looking for. We’ve been tracking her for the past 5 days. Short, dark hair, green eyes.”
The Templar then set his eyes on Nikolas who was seated next to Royce, “And what about you sir? Heard anything about runaway mages or seen anything suspicious?”
Meanwhile, Gimshar ended her song and the crowd gave her a rousing applause. ENCORE! ENCORE!" they cried. “Who would have thought the dwarves were any good with music?” they chuckled and laughed. She smiles as she looks over the faces of the crowd, knowing that she does have one power at her disposal, and that is to play a sad, slow song that both man and woman would give pause to. Holding up her hands momentarily to the crowd, she calls out to them, her eyes finally resting on Argold and Trayn.
“Friends! We celebrate for peace and for Trayn’s return here this evening, but we must always remember those who have fallen. They are our brothers and sisters, mothers and our fathers. Neighbors and our friends… We remember them all and honor their sacrifice for us.”
The dwarf dips her head – hopefully striking a dramatic moment of silence and remembrance along with the rest of the crowd, before slowly raising her flute to her lips, allowing the first melancholy chords to flow forth. The crowd swayed into a mood of solemnity with her next number. The tune lulling the moments of gaiety into moments of deep reflection. This time around, her music attracted more of the crowd and almost everyone’s eyes, including Argold and Trayn were on her. Martha, Argold’s wife dabbed her eyes as tears started to flow.
The crowd stopped laughing and they no longer swigged beer and ale but rather they swayed to the music, some even bowing their heads in reverential silence. This made it easy for Gilraen to seize the opportunity to reach the fleeing woman fast.