A chill gust followed briskly in behind the stranger as he entered the door of the Blue Moon Alehouse. The sun had set hours ago and strong winds blowing over the banks of the Moonswash Stream could cut through a man. But the warmth radiating from the tavern hearth stood as a guard against the invading cold, stopping it before it could march very far beyond the threshold.
The cloaked stranger stood out against the halfling traders whose boats tie up along the lower quay of Fallcrest. Two tiefling families make their home inside Fallcrest’s walls. Amara Azaer who runs a small trading company not far from the Blue Moon occasionally imports fine ales for the Blue Moon. Despite this many took notice when the stranger let the hood of his cloak fall to his shoulders, revealing two horns framed by raven black hair.
Earnest Threefoot had never seen a tiefling up close. Having earned himself a bit of a reputation among the merchants of lower city, he wasn’t exactly….welcome in the House Azaer. This particular tiefling looked very well connected, smartly dressed and sophisticated.
“Now who do you think HE is?” Threefeet said leaning forward in a vain attempt at a better look.
“Trouble, with a capital T.” Aylwyn Summerstorm stopped plucking at his lute, reaching out with it and pushing Threefeet back back into his chair with its neck.
“Yeeeaaah.” Threefeet said in an excited tone. Having never learned how to read, Threefeet had no idea what a “t” was, let alone a capital one. He feigned a greater understanding. “Exactly.”
Aylwyn signed deeply. “Do me a favor would you? Try to make it through one evening without getting me into trouble. We’ve overspent what little goodwill we’ve earned here. We’re operating at a deficit.”
Threefeet crossed his arms. “You worry too much. Kemara would never dismiss you. You’re the best minstrel in Lowtown.” He paused, looking at his friend out of the corner of his eye, “Second best in hightown.”
This stopped Aylwyn’s plucking and shot him to his feet. “That man…is a HACK!” The half-elf retorted proudly and strode with confidence towards the front of the Alehouse. Threefeet smiled. He loved it when Aylwyn got “in character.” When the bard reached the fireplace he stopped, dropped his head and placed one hand on the mantle. He took in a deep, cleansing breath and spun quickly sending his cloak into an arc that unfurled over the heads of the patrons closest to him.
Deftly his fingers plucked at the strings of his lute and before the first verse of his poem had slipped of the edge of his tongue he had the drunken halfling onlookers enthralled.
“I hate this one.” Threefeet mumbled to himself. Aylwyn was a magnificent performer, but Threefeet preferred his quieter moments, after closing time, when his friend cared less about performing and more about pouring an ale into his stomach and his soul onto the floor. It was in those quieter hours spent in the fading candlelight when Aylwyn’s guard dropped and, having plied himself with Kemara’s finest, couldn’t help but reveal torn corners from the pages of his past.
His companion occupied, Threefeet’s gaze returned to the teifling who had taken a seat close to the performance. His horned head cocked to one side then another. The Strangers eyes seemed to be searching for some deeper truth. So…despite his friends instructions to the contrary, Earnest Threefeet took one last gulp to empty his flagon, pushed himself away from the table and walked towards the stranger.
When Aylwyn caught sight of Threefeet pulling a stool up beside the tiefling he asked himself if this friendship was worth the obvious trouble it brought with it. When Threefeet slapped the stranger on the back and threw his arm around his shoulder by way of introduction it caused him to snap a string on his lute.
There was an audible gasp, followed by surprised laughter from the crowd. Aylwyn used the diversion to his advantage. “Forgive me, brothers and sisters.” he bowed, stretching his hands outward, presenting the disabled instrument to them as an offering “You see the tools I’m forced to work with.”
The crowd applauded and laughed, some pointing towards Par Winomer, the Blue Moon’s owner. “Give him a new lute, you skinflint!”
In one movement Aylwyn slung the lute over his shoulder, and as he walked past Threefeet deep in conversation, placed one hand on his shoulder. “We should go now.” He said.
“Aylwyn!” Threefeet said, ignoring his companion’s obvious dissaproval. “This is Serim. He’s the third son of a southern noble.”
The tiefling locked eyes with the bard. “We’ve met.”
“Have we?” Aylwyn retorted quickly.
“I’m sure we have. This is the second time I’ve seen you perform. The first was in the House of Finsdale.”
Threefeet’s gasped. “You were a minstrel of Finsdale?!” Aylwyn, tell me more!”
“Thou art mistaken, stranger…” Aylwyn’s tone deepened and when Threefeet saw his friend’s hand move slowly to the hilt of his sword he lost his smile ”...as I’ve never been to Finsdale.”
“Come.” The tiefling stood, casting the right side of his cloak over his shoulder and placing his hand on the hilt of a twisted dagger. “Let us speak more of this outside.”
Threefeet had never heard the Alehouse so silent, even when Per let them stay well beyond closing. What had he gotten them into? Nobody moved for what seemed to him like an eternity. The tension was too much, he could feel the back of his neck getting hot.
“Now look here!” Threefeet shot to his feet, striking his arm out stiff and planting the palm of his hand squarely on the tiefling’s chest. The young barbarian’s speed startled the stranger and he pulled the dagger from it’s hilt, striking out swiftly.
“No!” Aylwyn cried. Threefeet dodged to the right, grabbing the tieflings arm by the wrist and squeezing it so tight that he cried out and dropped the dagger. Threefeet lunged forward, cracking his skull against the reddish flat plane that sat between the tiefling’s horn. He crumpled like a pile of rags at their feet.
“HA!” Threefeet chuckled. “Their heads are soft!”
“Hrrrrrr….you IDIOT!” Aylwyn shook his head. “WHAT DID I SAY?!”
“What is your problem? He attacked US. It was self defense. Hell, everyone saw it.”
“And when the guards come they’ll ask questions I don’t have answers for, Earnest. DAMN your impetuousness.” He bent over reaching into the tieflings cloak. Feeling around his belt he found a coin purse and snapped it from it’s loop. “You were a good friend, kid. Try to stay out of trouble.” And with that he headed out the door into the night.
The air was still with frost. But the night was young and Aylwyn wondered how far he could get from Fallcrest before the sun rose.
“You’re leaving?!” Threefoot stormed outside, the gravel crunching under his boots. “After all we’ve been through, you’re just leaving?”
“Yes.” The bard replied, looking down the banks of the stream. “I’m leaving.”
“Well, fine.” Threefeet crossed his arms to block the cold air from his chest. “You’ll need protection, so…I’m coming with you.”
“That’s your choice.”
“Where are we going?”
Aylwyn Summerstorm placed his finger in his mouth, then quickly plucked it held it into the cold night air. He pointed.
“Which way is that?” He asked.
“Southeast.” Threefeet replied.
“Then we’re heading Southeast.” And as the chatter began to rise within the orange tinted walls of the Blue Moon Alehouse, the bard started walking toward the King’s gate.