Chapter 1

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(Content warning for; implied violence, blood, non-graphic depiction of surgery w/o anesthesia)

Chapter 1

The crowded tavern bristled with life, a dung heap crawling with vermin. Tier'ghan sniffed, regretted it, and covered his nose with a handkerchief as he wormed his way to the bar. A trio of knee-high snotlings darted by him, one of them tangling a mud encrusted foot in the hem of his robes. A sharp jerk of his robes sent them tumbling away with a squeak. He patted his belt relieved to find his purse still attached and his coin inside. He barely had enough for food and lodging as it was. As he turned back to the bar, the barkeep greeted him with a leer.

Tier'ghan forced a smile. "I need food and lodging for the night. The more food the better. And any narweed if you have it."

"You're a mage then?" The barkeep's leer grew wider and Tier'ghan barely suppressed a grimace. So much for no one realizing. "You'll be wantin' a room for your paladin too then?"

Tier'ghan turned to lean against the bar and let his gaze travel the crowded room. Plenty of shady looking characters here. For a small farming town, Boldier seemed to have a lot of unsavory types. At least three ogres, all sporting dented and stained armor. Mercenaries, most likely. Plenty of mundane humans who looked to be farmers or local workers, shabby clothes, unkempt hair and teeth. He'd be more likely to trust the ogres or the pair of smartly dressed trolls huddled at a corner table who looked as out of place as he felt. Either way it would be best to not let anyone know he was traveling alone. A mage without a paladin was in for trouble.

"Yes, he'll stay in my room with me."

"Right'o. I'll go see to yer food. There'll be empty seats near the bard."

Empty seats? Tier'ghan surveyed the room again. Sure enough, in the far corner to the right of the fireplace a small circle of empty chairs sat facing a hunched figure. Didn't people usually want to be close to the bard? It wasn't as if they could smell any worse than some of the people he'd passed on his way to the bar. Replacing the handkerchief over his nose, Tier'ghan started back across the room. He wove a small spell as he did so, taking care to give it as little power as possible. Just a hint of morning dew, a sprinkle of citrus, and a touch of lavender. Weaving them together he sent the spell along the sticky floor, letting it radiate out from him as he visualized it growing slowly like a flower. He didn't need another mishap but the stench was ruining his appetite. A mental flick of his fingers and the spell was cast. Now he was even hungrier.

He took one of the seats nearest the wall and sat facing the bard. There wasn't much to see beyond a dirty cloak, mud spattered boots and long slender fingers that were currently tuning a old lute. Strands of hair just a bit darker than the wood of the lute hung from under the hood. Overall, it wasn't a very appealing picture. Most bards Tier'ghan had met wore the most colorful clothing they could find. Anything to stand out. This one seemed to be trying to disappear into the woodwork.

Leaning back Tier'ghan watched them for a moment then propped his feet up on a nearby chair. There was something odd about the energy surrounding the person. He'd only felt this kind of power from other mages, and top tier ones at that.

"I've got a couple of coins if you'll play something while I eat dinner."

"Not interested." The soft husky voice surprised Tierghan.

"Not interested in the coin or in playing for me?"

"Either. Both. Lute is busted." It was a bald faced lie and Tier'ghan frowned.

"I can fix it."

The hood lifted a fraction and Tier'ghan got a glimpse of a narrow chin and full lips before it lowered again.

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