Stepping out of the carriage house and back into the city, the party is again struck by how well-lit it is. Criminals would not be able to lurk in the darkness, for there is none. Based on this alone, one would believe this to be a safe and law-abiding society. Then, seven Orcs walk past, greet the tax collector, and enter a building across the street. Rastorn, wishing to avoid a confrontation, nods at the Orcs. The rest of the party scowls but keep walking.
“I am both surprised and disgusted by Darkuth,” Rastorn whispers just loud enough for the rest of his group to hear.
Arturus glances about, impressed by how much Humans can accomplish in such short lifespans.
As they walk away from the carriage house, the guard who escorted them to the interviewer yells, “Beware of extra charges at the inn!”
“Thanks, Rastorn,” Orjulun whispers, as he pushes twenty gold into the Rastorn’s hand. “I had my own coin, but apparently couldn’t dig it out quickly enough for that tax man.” He raises his voice only slightly to speak to everyone. “It seems we should watch with whom we associate while in town. Shall we head to the inn recommended by our merchant ally?”
Melias nods, “Yes, absolutely. I don’t think I want to come out until it’s time to leave. I have a feeling this place will bleed us dry of coin if we give it the opportunity.”
“Thanks, but keep the coins,” Rastorn tells Orjulun, pushing his hand back with the coins still within it. “I owe you for that explosion, remember?”
Orjulun shrugs and returns the coins to his pouch. Squirming in his armor, he says, “I’ve got to get out of this. How can Fighters go all day wearing armor? I’m sweating like a warthog.”
Arturus and Melias smile and Rastorn nods in agreement. SeLiem’s focus is elsewhere, so he doesn’t hear the comment. His head is on a swivel, looking for a church of Kubri.
As the party continues down the street, they see many exotic inns and specialty shops, which is something unheard of in Dumas, which only has general stores. The further east they go, the more Far Eastern the city appears, but most of the changes seem to be new and superficial as if the city is evolving quicker than would be natural. The people they see seem either friendly and fake or standoffish.
A wagon repair shop catches everyone’s eye since the badly damaged wagon being worked on is splattered with blood. By then, The Sinister Gr-Inn is within sight a block away.
Orjulun’s eyes lock on the sign for the inn and his pace increases. He whispers to himself, hot dinner, soft beds, warm sheets, and a bath.
As they draw nearer to the wrecked wagon, Rastorn says, “That’s a familiar sight.”
Melias pauses to take a better look at the wagon. He breaks from the party and steps right up to the wagon repair shop. He remembers a wagon had dragged the fallen Ogre body away. He wonders if somehow, for some reason, it came here. Still dressed as a woman, he kindly nods to those working the wagon back to usefulness.
“Imagine having to ride that into town. That’s an attention grabber,” Arturus comments.
The four sturdy men repairing the wagon stop and take a long leering look at Melias. Each one subtly flexes his muscles as they each take a step or two toward the disguised Melias, waiting for him to start the conversation.
Smiling at the attention, Melias, in his female voice asks, “I don’t suppose you could tell me where to find the owner of this wagon?”
“Yes, ma’am”, one of the men pushes ahead to say, “They’re all staying at the Inn down the street.” He points at The Sinister Gr-Inn and adds, “But I live back behind the shop.”
Arturus sighs and looks to the heavens, knowing what must be done to halt these men and the lust boiling in their…brains? Yeah, we’ll go with ‘brains.’ He steps next to Melias and places his arm around the smaller Elf’s shoulder. “Sorry lads, this one is spoken for.” He tries to remember to later tell Melias to never dress as a woman again and what just happened was not to be mentioned by anyone.
‘Melina’ waves coyly to the man as Arturus begins leading ‘her’ away. Once out of earshot, Melias whispers, “That wagon was probably the one that snuck in during the night and hauled away the dead Ogre. I think someone set that whole ambush up, or at the very least, they left with the caravan’s wagon and returned after.”
Rastorn, Orjulun, and SeLiem stop and watch, as it seems to them the two Elves have grown much closer following so many days and nights together.
The lobby at The Sinister Gr-Inn is very small and the party is forced to cram close together as they check-in. The two clerks smile and greet them. “We only offer three-person or two-person rooms,” the first clerk is quick to explain. “There are three rooms still available. I know almost every other lodge in town is full, so you are in luck.”
After the party requests two rooms for the night and possibly longer, the second clerk says, “I need each of you to sign in. The three-person room is one gold per night and the two-person room is seven silver and the first night’s stay for both need to be paid for in advance. We will settle additional expenses when you check out. Here are your keys. Be sure to list in which room each of you will be staying. They are two doors down from each other. Since you are all loaded down, two porters will meet you at the bottom of the stairs and ask to carry your supplies and such up the steep stairs for you. The rooms are on the second floor. Food is served in the main dining hall downstairs and if you hurry, you can have a meal before they stop serving.”
Orjulun signs the guestbook with one of the names Rastorn used at the carriage house: Art. He takes the key to one of the two-person rooms, not caring with whom he rooms. “Careful of extra services,” Orjulun whispers to the others as he turns from the desk, “they usually come with a stiff price.”
Melias remained quiet, allowing the others to speak for him so he can maintain the disguise a little longer. He agrees to take one of the three-person rooms, figuring there is power in numbers. After paying his share of the cost for the room he signs in as ‘Melina.’ It is strange for him pretending to be a female, but he is starting to like the attention it brings him.
Rastorn, Arturus, and SeLiem pay in turn, each signing with false names.
Two young boys meet them at the stairs and take their bags. On the way to the rooms, they offer to polish and clean the group’s still slightly bloody armor and wash their dirty laundry.
The party refuses the offer, although Melias requests warm water and a sponge.
Orjulun plans on tossing out most of his clothing after he purchases new clothes tomorrow. He also plans on rinsing out anything he’s keeping in the bath he will be taking very soon. He tips each of the young men one gold.
Melias tips a silver, not wanting to give the impression he is filthy rich and therefore a target.
Rastorn pays the boys two copper each for carrying his things, believing that to be an honest amount of coin for their light labor.
While the group is gathered in the larger room, there is a knock at the still open door and two lovely young women in sheer togas ask if any of them will be enjoying private hot baths and whether they will be having them join said bath. They each carry a bottle of wine.
Orjulun is sorely tempted, but says, “I will just have the private bath, without the pleasure of your intoxicating company tonight. Perhaps another night when I’m not so road-weary.” He presses two gold coins in each of their hands for their time and asks them for directions to the bathing room.
SeLiem completely ignores the two women.
The warning Orjulun offered is heeded by Melias, despite the draw the nearly naked women had towards his underlying testosterone-driven maleness. He smiles at the two women, then sits on the bed, crossing his leg in a feminine way.
Arturus removed his disguise the moment he entered the room, but he tells the rest of the group, “Well, this is one indulgence I plan on indulging in.” and leaves, taking both women by the arm.
As much as he wanted a bath, Arturus beat him to it, so Rastorn simply asks for a washbasin of warm water and a rag to be brought to his room, while muttering “harlots” under his breath.
Melias and SeLiem
After he is supplied with water and a sponge, Melias relishes in stripping off his disguise and washing off the girlish appearance and road dirt. As he does so, he thinks back to their previous day, trying hard to recall the number of wagons they saw. He asks SeLiem, “In your caravan, do you recall traveling with five wagons or four wagons and a carriage?”
SeLiem answers, “Five wagons, if I recall..”
Melias washes, changes his clothes, then lays down in his bed. “I distinctly remember one less wagon in the morning. Didn’t Arturus say he noticed half a dozen men ran off into the woods? I think some of those guards hid in the woods until the Ogres left, then came back and grabbed a wagon. They loaded an Ogre to have an excuse when they got back here. ‘Oh, look at poor us, our caravan got ransacked by a hundred such Ogres like this and we were so lucky to get away with our lives.'” He shakes his head. “If I were you, I’d head down to the hall and see if anyone’s in there boasting about how they managed to fight off an army of Ogres and escape with their lives. They left you to die.”
After pondering what Melias said for a while, SeLiem says, “I’ll do that… but I won’t create a ruckus. I already did enough of that.”
Melias shakes his head, unsure what SeLiem means when he says he’s already created a ruckus. Sometimes, he wonders if the young man knows an Elf from a Dwarf. He is relieved when SeLiem leaves to wander the halls of the inn hoping to overhear anyone bragging about fighting Ogres.
No such person is found.
The two comely young women escort Arturus to the private baths and each bite and suck the corks off the wine bottle they carry. While pouring wine down his and one another’s throats, they tell him this is just the start of the first of three exquisite steps toward making them all less dirty. Because, as they repeatedly say, they are all three very dirty.
During the first step, two slightly less attractive women strip him and scrub him with warm, soapy water and extremely soft brushes while the two original women feed him grapes and share more wine with him. Once he is completely clean, he is rinsed off by buckets of cold water.
The two women snatch the wine and escort Arturus to an enclosed room for the second step: the hot bath. The bath is a very large barrel filled with water heated by hot rocks to just below scalding. The two attractive young women strip off their now wet and transparent togas and pull him in with them. By the time they leave the bath, both wine bottles are empty.
The third step takes place in a tiny room filled with pillows.
Orjulun takes a bath in a small barrel. The water is warm.
He finishes his bath, shivering a bit as he gets out. He washes the road grime from his clothes and wraps himself in a towel before returning to his room. Noticing Rastorn studying in a corner, he decides not to disturb him more than necessary. After carefully laying his clothes over the end of the bed to dry, he travels back out to the hallway, looking for one of those young lads, or anyone else who works at the inn. Not finding anyone to bring him food, he heads back to the room and dines on jerky and hardtack. Exhausted from the day’s events, he gladly climbs into the soft bed, leaving Rastorn to read in peace.
Before he falls asleep, he prays, then makes his plans for the following day. He will rise at dawn, study spells, grab a quick bite to eat, then head out into the city to buy clothes and possibly equipment and travel rations.
There is no light in the rooms beyond the one lantern hanging at the door and there is no table to set his book upon for study. Rastorn is used to spending nights sitting on a bedroll, peering down through the gloom with a single candle lit to see his book. To him, a desk is not a requirement.
After washing up with the water basin and other items he requested, Rastorn finds his way to the main dining hall. There is one empty round table with four chairs at it, so he chooses that one to sit at, rather than sitting with strangers at the long tables. Moments after he sits, a large pit-faced woman sets a large metal plate of food and a tankard of ale down in front of him. She pulls a two-pronged fork and a dull knife out from her sweaty cleavage and sticks them into the hunk of meat on his plate. Looking around, Rastorn sees that everyone else is eating the same food that he has, although they are all almost finished eating. The food is far better than what he is used to, but not the fancy Darkuthian cuisine of which he had heard tales.
Everyone eating seems to be keeping their voices down, so overhearing any conversation is difficult. The hall is populated with a wide mix of people, from well-off merchants to stagehands. There are two Half-Elves in the roughly 200 seat room and one Dwarf. One fellow may be a Half-Orc or may be just extremely ugly. Everyone else is Human.
The hall empties and the server waits for him to finish, so she can take his plate. As he takes his final bite, five men enter the room and begin cleaning the hall. On his way out the door, he notices one of the front desk clerks standing in the hall and writing notes of some sort in a large book. At that moment, he steps on a crinkled piece of paper. Picking it up, he sees it is a wanted poster. He recognizes it as the same one he saw posted all over Dumas a day before they left. When he looks up from the poster, the clerk is gone. He slips the poster into his pocket as he ascends the stairs.
Back at his room, he pulls out a candle and begins his nightly ritual of studying his spell books until he is ready for sleep.
After his “bath,” Arturus discovers the only clothes he has with him are dusty, dirty, and bloody. The washing women hand him a robe to wear back to his room and a porter carries his belongings up for him. The porter mentions tomorrow morning a tailor can come up to his room and measure and fit him for clothing which could be ready within a day or he can have his clothing laundered by daylight. Arturus thanks him, takes his clothes, and tells the porter his services will no longer be needed. “Have a wonderful night,” Arturus says, as he unlocks the door.
Melias watches as Arturus enters the room. He seems a little drunk and has a huge grin on his face. He collapses on his bed wearing just a robe and falls instantly into a deep sleep.
Arturus will not be standing any watches tonight.
As he falls asleep, he decides he feels much more relaxed than he has in a long time. In fact, he knows it will take something quite bad to rid his face of the smile he wears.
To be continued in Chapter Five next week!
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