The Unicorn and the Stranger

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Scanning the room beside the big prince, Indulan looked over at the chipped and battered bar where a dirty, gnarled old man stood drying a clay drinking pot with an even dirtier apron, its length covered with splotches of grease and old, spilled food. He spoke just as the barkeep looked in their direction.

"Perhaps the bartender has noticed a stranger arriving, my lord."

Examining the two men and their lithe companion with rheumy eyes, the barkeep frowned. Then he shrugged at the incomprehensible habits of nobles before he spoke himself, turning his eyes and hands back to his drying.

"What'll ya have, lads? If it's more women yer lookin' for, that's the Cock's Glory, two pubs over,"  he grunted, ignoring Nerise' barely stifled sound of outrage as he continued drying the pot half-heartedly. "Though, by the looks of ya and that slice of tart with ya, you'd do better down at the Slipway."

Indulan grimaced at Lawrence's tightening frown before he replied.

"We're not here for women, old man," the Caledonian officer curtly replied, glancing around the small room. "We're here to meet somebody."

"So you say," the barkeep said dismissively and turned to put the pot onto a dust-covered rack behind him before pulling another from a bucket of slimy-looking water.

Another glance around the room yielded the conversation had gone unnoticed. If anything, the half dozen men at their battered tables bent even lower over their pots of ale than before. It was only by chance that Lawrence caught sight of a curious shifting in the shadows in the room's far corner. Perhaps this was the messenger they were looking for.

Waving an ever more frustrated Indulan to silence before he could speak again to the barkeep, Lawrence pointed at the shifting shadow.

"There," he rasped and, without any further hesitation, began to walk across the room towards the shadow.

Curiously, with each step towards the corner, the shadows seem to lessen until Lawrence could make out a tall figure standing in their heart, cloaked against the casual eye and leaning on a heavy, gnarled staff.

"You," he growled in challenge as he came to a halt not five paces from the cloaked figure. "You sent the scroll to me in the garden earlier this afternoon, didn't you."

"Of course," a papery whisper replied from beneath the hood's heavy cowl, the words touched by a strange accent. "You and your people have dwelt in ignorance long enough. If we are to survive the tumult of the oncoming storm, I had to act, to stir you to remembrance of your role and destiny, son of Ironstorm."

Lawrence frowned as he felt Nerise' fingers entangle with his, the lithe young woman close enough that he could feel her tremble. On his other side, the stranger's odd words forced Indulan to drop a gloved hand onto the hilt of his sword, the Caledonian clearly disturbed. 

There was no denying that the stranger spoke powerful words, yet they were not the ones he was looking for. He had hoped he'd hear something about his dreams and how they foretold destiny. Denied that initial hope, Lawrence's frustration flared.

"I've heard vague mutterings from clairvoyants before, stranger and they came true with no more certainly than yours will," he hissed tautly in response. "Talemon has seen enough turmoil to last a legion of lifetimes. Why should I listen, ...?"

"Because of the dream, son of Ironstorm," the stranger smoothly interrupted, leaning forward on its staff. "Because of the plain of fire filled with demons raining destruction down upon you and your brothers' heads."

Lawrence throttled the urge to put a hand on the hilt of his i'yna and, instead, forced himself to complete calm as Nerise' hand clutched his ever more tightly with each new word. There they were, words dealing with his dream. But instead of feeling reassurance that he'd shortly have answers, he felt nothing but grim foreboding instead.

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