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The Crooked Penny Inn

Hits 3181 | Created 2007-05-14 | Modified 2007-08-25

The candles burned low in the Crooked Penny Inn. The four figures huddled around a beer stained table concentrated upon the tiles in front of them. The game was known as Lucky Mary in these parts and many a man had lost a fortune on the turn of a not so lucky tile. Halgar Blacktooth frowned deeply as he looked again at the images of the four winds from the east in his hand, this was a good hand, but his final tile, the six of goblins which he had just picked up, didn't help at all.

'Come on, Halgar. It gets late.' Said Orthal the Butcher, with a quick look at the long dark windows of the Inn. There was no moon on this night.

Halgar shuffled uneasily on his stool and lifted his mug before remembering that it was already empty. He gazed wistfully at the bottom of the cup, an act he had many times repeated. 'All right, all right, Orthal. So impatient to lose your gold are you?'

This raised a couple of grunted laughs, but there was little humour at a table where a pile of gold lay, which was about to be won or lost.

Carefully, Halgar put down his tiles and picked up another tiny gold coin which he tossed into the pile. He then took a tile depicting a darkly coiled dragon and placed it on the edge of the tower where it confronted a brooding king clutching a large axe.

There was a groan from Halgar's right. His play meant that there would almost certainly be another round of fighting for control of the tower, and that meant another round of gold, and another half hour in the gloomy inn. The sound of rain began to patter against the windows and the wind started to rattle the shutters and door.

'Damn the rain!' Muttered Orthal.

Gespar, the landlord of the Crooked Inn, who had until now been content to lean backwards on his stool near the low fire smoking his pipe in silence, eased himself upright and with considerable groans and gasps stood up and waddled over to the closest window, peering out into the night.

'Ah. Grim night out there.' He said into the darkened room. 'It's raining!'

This caused Orthal to raise his eyebrows. 'Really?' He mumbled.

At was at this exact moment that the naked man chose to materialise three feet above the table and then proceed to crash right through it, causing much screaming and terror amongst the gamblers. There was an undignified struggle as each of the four men scrabbled around the floor, scooping coins into their pouches, and then a lively run for the door of the Inn. Within moments, Gespar found himself alone with the naked man and his broken table.

He sighed deeply.

The man was alive but unconscious and Gespar was tired, so he covered the man where he lay with an old blanket, bolted the door of the Inn, damped down the fire and blew out the candles. With a lantern in his hand he noisily mounted the stairs behind the bar to his small chamber, climbed into his bed, turned over twice and then fell asleep without further ado.

It was probably only an hour or two until he was awoken by the sound of smashing bottles and cups in the bar down below. He lay in the dark for some minutes, listening to the crashes, before letting out another large sigh and finally lighting the lantern and grasping his sword.

Adam had awoken with a sharp pain in his lower back, which he found to be something like a candlestick, which he was lying on. It was pitch black and his fingers traced the countours of the metalwork as he tried to peer into the darkness around him. He was naked, lying on something cold and hard, and covered by a coarse woolen blanket. It was also freezing and he found that his body was shaking with the cold.

After it became apparent that no images were to be forthcoming from the gloom, he finally sat up in the dark. His head swam dangerously. He tried to recall his last memory before waking up, but didn't seem to be able to think very clearly. His hands found the edge of his bed and, clutching the blanket around him, swung his legs over the edge. His feet dangled in mid-air, swinging gently back and forth. A sudden fear flashed trough his mind that he might be on the edge of a large drop. He froze, and thought about it.

There was a dull clang as the candlestick hit the floor of the inn. Satisfied, Adam gingerly dropped off the bench and stood up. With him arms outstretched in the style of a sleepwalker, he shuffled forward until his shin struck a stool. Cursing silently he changed direction a few degrees and then walked into another table, falling forward and knocking three bottles and five cups onto the floor, most of which promptly smashed loudly.

Everywhere he walked Adam seemed to walk into more tables, knocking more items to the floor. At one point he found a low counter that was completely covered with bottles, several of which he unwittingly scooped off. There was so much broken glass around that it tinkled as he shuffled around the walls.

Then a door flew open and light shone forth. A figure, blurred in the unbearable light raised a large sword above its head and boomed, 'Out! Be gone! Out I say!'

Adam froze with fear as Gespar the landlord marched past him and unbolted a door. As he moved through the room Adam observed the carnage around him, realising the reason that there were so many cups and bottles around. Cups? He wondered briefly to himself, that's odd. But he had no time to ponder the significance of the cups, as Gespar was advancing, waving his sword.

'Get I out I tell you! Be gone!' He waved the sword menacingly at Adam, and then pointed with it towards the door.

'I'm sorry about the glass, I..' Adam backed towards the exit, 'I didn't know where I was, I um...' And then found himself outside as the heavy Inn door slammed in his face. It was colder outside and the cobblestones beneath his feet were icy. Mud oozed between his toes.

The rain hammered down making shelter the most pressing thing on Adam's mind. There was a table close to the door which he skittered underneath, feeling immediate relief as the muffled sound of rain thumped onto the wood above. It was, however, not an ideal shelter - rain dripped through gaps in the table, adding to the pool of freezing water in which Adam crouched. The wind blew biting, wet gusts at him from all sides. It was not a place to stay for long.

Across the street some movement caught Adam's eye. A man, dressed in dark, heavy looking material was pulling straps down on the back of an old-fashioned horse-drawn cart. There was a canvas cover stretched over a semi-circular frame with some flaps for access at the back. It was these flaps that the man struggled to secure now. Finally he turned and fled a couple of buildings along the streets and then rushed into a gloomy cottage doorway, slamming the door mutely in the storm.

Adam waiting for a few minutes and the made a dash across the street. The man had made a good job of the canvas straps and Adam's numb fingers slipped and throbbed as he tried to undo them. He cursed, and shuffled from side to side. He sobbed once as his cold fingers complained. The knots seemed to be getting tighter with the rainwater. He moved to the next knot and began again. This was was looser, it began to give, ever so slowly, and then he was able to push an end through a loop and the whole thing unraveled. He quickly pulled the flap aside and climbed in.

He crawled to the back of the trailer, shivered twice and passed out.

Surhan stretched his back and adjusted his buttocks on the wooden bench that formed the front of the trailer. It was just two weeks before spring and although the breeze still stung a little the sky was blue and the birds sang. The road outside of the village quickly lost its cobbles and reverted to muddy ruts as Surhan began to whistle a thin tune.

It was the thin whistle that, and hour or two later, broke into Adam's dreams and awoke him. For a while he lay still, with his eyes open listening to the rumble of the waggon, the whistle of Surhan and the sound of wheels moving though wet mud. Stiff all over his body, cold and still slightly damp he pushed himself upright and surveyed the assortment of wooden boxes and barrels that surrounded him. There were some vegetables, herbs, what looked like dried meat, nails and barrels of liquid that sloshed their contents from side to side.

Adam crawled forward and pressed his face to a gap in the planking. He could see some legs, a pair of boots perhaps, and a large white horse pulling the cart. In the distance there was nothing but trees and hills covered with more trees.

As he looked through the gap he saw a figure come into view in the distance. It was walking towards the approaching cart and waved cheerfully at its approach. The driver shifted his weight and reached for a heavy metal object to his side that scraped along the wooden bench. To Adam it seemed as if the driver stiffened. He no longer whistled.

Eventually the cart reached the figure who truned out to be a broadly smiling man dressed in dirty leather trousers and even dirtier wool and linen shirt and jumper.

The driver slowed the cart by pulling the reins gently. The horse looked briefly at the stranger and then began to nibble grass at the side of the track.

'Oh thank god you've passed by,' said the stranger, all smiles, 'you'll be saving me a lengthy walk if you'll give me a ride to Dunsby.'

Adam heard the seat creak as the driver adjusted his weight again. 'You were walking away from Dunsby.' He observed.

The stranger's smile never flickered. 'Yes, I was, wasn't I? Well, Blackthorn village is a lot closer than Dunsby. You see, my cart's axle broke back there,' he gestured with his thumb down the track ahead, 'and I was walking back to Blackthorn to try and get it repaired. But if you're heading to Dunsby, then all the better as I've a friend there who'll do it for free.'

There was a silence then. The stranger kept his smile fixed, the horse chewed grass, a bird sang merrily in a nearby tree. The smile began to look strained.

'I'll give you a ride to Dunsby.' Said the driver finally.

Adam watched the stranger walk around the white horse, patting it on the head as he went by. The horse flinched away and glared at him as he walked to the side of the cart. There was a creak as he climbed up and a scrape as the heavy object on the seat was moved out of the way.

'By the gods, that's a good sword you've got there, mind you, you can't be too careful in these parts can you, eh? The name's Yathran by the way, Yathran of Pampton Town.'


And the journey continued. For a while.

Adam moved away from the gap in the planking and tried to think about what was happening. He replayed the previous night in his mind, but it seemed blurry and dream-like. Trying to think back to before then was a yawning black chasm - he tumbled through it, unable to see anything at all.

His thoughts were broken by Yathran's voice. 'There's my cart, there. Ah, the poor old thing.'

Adam moved forward to the gap once more. On the left hand side of the road up ahead was an old broken down cart of a similar sort to the one they traveled in now. A figure stepped out from behind the cart and stood in the path. He draw a long sword from his waist and held it casually in his hand.

'Bandits!' Cried Yathran.

'The gods!' Shouted Surhan as he fumbled for his sword, and then let out a 'Ugh!' noise. He slumped to one side and then fell from Adam's view. He heard a dull thud as his body hit the ground.

Yathran had the reins now and was pulling them, saying, 'Woah boy, woah.' The cart slowed and stopped.

'Hail Yathran!' Shouted the figure with the sword in the road ahead. 'Easy one, that!'

'It was, it was, I think he soiled his pants at the sight of you in the road. Never even saw my dagger! Ah, and a full load of goods bound for Dunsby I think!'

At this moment Adam, who had been rooted to the spot in horror by the unfolding drama, came back to life. My god, they'll search the goods and fine me! He thought in a sudden panic.

As Yathran the bandit walked to the back of the cart to look over his prize he saw a figure, wrapped in a blanket, running towards the tree line. He shouted sharply to his companion and pointed to the fleeing figure, then broke into a run after him.

Adam stood on something that sent a dagger-like pain through his foot, but so full of adrenaline was he, that he didn't even cry out. His mouth was dry, his bowels were loose, his limbs heavy and slow moving. He reached the trees and crashed through a thorny bush that tore gashes in his arms and legs and snagged his thick blanket. Even in his state of panic Adam wasn't prepared to part with his blanket and ran on, pulling it free with an effort that took a couple of previous seconds.

He ran down a slippery slope and into ankle deep mud. Taking a quick look behind him he saw one of the bandits enter the tree line, close behind. He ran on through the mud, low branches scratching his face, gnarled roots tripping his feet. The wood was mossy and stank of decay, he ran past rotting logs and clouds of small flies that casually changed direction to follow him, surrounding his head.

He ran for a long time. Eventually the pain in his chest and sides made him limp to a stop as he turned around to look for his pursuers. He could see no-one. The only sound in the wood was his laboured breathing, which seemed to echo around the trees and into the depths of the forest. He slumped down against a wet tree trunk and tried to bring his lungs under control. The pain seemed unbearable for a minute or two, but then he began to recover - his chest rose less dramatically and the wooshing of blood in his head started to subside.

When he realised that he was finally alone, and no bandits pursued him, then he also realised that he was cold, wet and his foot hurt like hell. He lifted his foot cautiously and peered at the sole. There was a large black thorn buried deep in his instep. Wincing, he got his fingernails around the base of it and waggled it out, tears streaming down his face as he clenched his teeth. When the torn finally came loose, a well of dark blood spung up and began to trickle gently into the mud below.

Adam pushed his thumb over the wound and examined the thorn with a vindictive eye. As he stared at it he heard a rustling noise to his side, getting closer. Something small was rushing through the fallen leaves and plants, something very much like a large brown rat. Within moments the creature had arrived and set to work lapping up the small drop of blood under Adam's foot. It was slimmer than a rat with a long, pointy head and eyed Adam cautiously as it lapped away.

As Adam washed his wound with a clump of moss he had found (he seemed to remember that moss was good for wounds) a thought occurred to him: if the rat-like creature had smelled his blood so quickly, and from so far away, was there anything... A large crash followed by a howl some distance away snapped Adam's head up. Within seconds he was on his feet again and limping through the trees.

Genach watched the naked man wrapped in a blanket stumble on through the woods in obvious distress. His hair was a mess, face muddy, the blanket torn and he limped from an injury to his right foot. Some distance behind him a large, dark shape followed slowly, it's large white tusks marking it as a mature adult. The watcher in the tree slipped sliently to the floor and began to quickly stalk his way through the trees to intercept the blanketed man.

Adam let out a high pitched noise of terror as he turned to face Genach.

'Shush. Be calm. Quickly, lie down on the floor and do not move. An adult wenfaur is following you.'

Adam stared for a second or two and sank to the floor. He lay still watching Genach taking up position in a large bush a couple of metres away, wondering if he was doing the right thing, but trusting in the newest stranger in his life.

A couple of minutes later the wenfaur approached. It looked around for a few moments and sniffed at the air. It was about four feet high and several feet long with thick, dense fur and a broad, smiling face punctuated by two sharp, curving tusks. It walked towards Adam letting out a guttural snarl, drawing back its mouth and revealing two rows of wicked teeth. It stopped and crouched like a cat, tail swishing.

Genach leapt first, sword held high, arcing downwards.

The sword cut through half of the wenfaur's body before it even noticed Genach. It let out a mighty squeal and jerked its head around violently, trying to gore its attacker, but it was already dead. The next moment it slumped to the ground, blood pooling from the terrible wound.

There was silence for a while, followed by the rustle of leaves from many directions.

Adam set up, watching Genach cutting large chunks of wenfaur flesh. At his feet a dozen of the rat-like creatures lapped at the blood pool.

'Hail, stranger!' Said Genach, with a grin.

'Hail.' The weak reply.

'By the gods,' Genach looked up from his butchery, 'you look miserable. You can tell me your tale as we walk to my camp. It isn't far and you can eat and rest there.'

'Thank you.' Adam felt tears welling up in his eyes.

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