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Old 07-19-2021, 06:25 PM   #51
Join Date: Apr 2018
Location: Idaho Falls
Default Re: Into The Labyrinth - a work of fiction

Part 16

They reached the basement of the old Bench Board tavern. It had once been a gambling hall, but it had fallen into disrepair after one of the previous owners of the tavern failed to license the place properly. In his youth Brendun had been a runner for the hall. He could still remember the smell of the Hall Boss, Gurd Oventroh, a cantankerous old half orc fellow from the eastern counties, somewhere beyond the White Mountain. Mister Oventroh would take anything of value from patrons wanting to gamble on games of cards, dice, or spinning wheels and it was Brendun’s job to run those items upstairs to the tavern owner to be exchanged for cash. You see, Mr. Oventroh didn’t like having to keep piles of junk in the Hall. He always told Brendun he liked to keep the place clean, orderly, and presentable.

Now the hall was a mess.

Low sided wooden boxes were all over the place filled with tools, buckets of hardware, nails, hinges, and plates of iron, as well as pallets of flat, large stones, used to shore up the walls below (no doubt used whenever places where discovered that the natural stone was no longer solid enough). There were tarps lying along the walls with small open sacks sitting haphazardly near them or on them, personal belongings were scattered from the sacks here and there, while some of the tarps had small rolls of bread and plates with half eaten apples, and the rinds of ripe melons. The turturons had turned this place into a combination storage room living quarters for the project they had been hired to complete.

He went to one of the tarps, one that was cleaner than most of the others and laid Tabitha down. Brendun found an empty sack nearby, rolled it up and placed it carefully under her head. He put his hand on her check. It was cool, but not cold. Tabitha was still alive.

“Look,” he said to Alo who stayed close by him all the while, “I’m going to go up and see what the crowd is like in the tavern. If we’re lucky, there will still be enough of a crowd that we can sneak out, but if we aren’t lucky, if it is well past sunrise, then it might be a bit harder to get out of here without drawing attention to ourselves. I lost track of the time, a while ago, so I’m not holding out a lot of hope for us being on the lucky side of things yet again.”

“I’ll stay with Tabitha until you return,” Alo said slowly.

The stairs to the tavern were located at the corner of the large room and Brendun, exhausted from carrying Tabitha, pulled his weight up at each step with a hand firmly on the handrail on the left. At the top of the stairs he took a moment to breathe deep and long trying to center his thoughts and regain some of his strength.

The door at the top of the stairs, if he remembered and if the tavern owner hadn’t changed the kitchen around too much, should open near the washtubs and racks of serving plates. The door from the kitchen into the main room of the tavern would still be directly across from this door if things had not been changed. He had no way of knowing how many of the kitchen help might be working, but if he were quick and quiet, he could easily slip by and have a look out into the common room.

Brendun paused at the door at the top of the stairs. He could hear the busywork of several people and he could smell the distinct aroma of yeast, and rising loaves of bread. This immediately put him in a foul mood.

It was early, probably at least an hour before sunrise, and that meant the tavern would most likely be almost empty. On the one hand, those that might be hanging around might be too drunk to notice anything, but on the other hand, anyone not too drunk to notice anything were sure to notice them if they tried to pass. He had to think of a solution, he knew, but for now, he pressed on with his plan to at least get through the kitchen without being noticed.

Brendun cracked the door to the kitchen and saw three big men hard at work. The men were talking to each other and not facing the door. There was no one at the washtubs, and that was a relief. Moving fast, Brendun slipped through the door, leaving it open just slightly, and dashed across the short end of the kitchen until he was at the door to the main room. He knew this door swung both ways and never latched so with one continuous motion he pushed through and standing a step well into the tavern’s main room before the bakers knew he had been there at all.

The room was packed, wall to wall, with people, and Brendun was surprised. It was a shock to him, not just because there were so many people here in the wee hours of the morning, but also because he could tell that something was not right.

All through the crowded room people were grouped close together, either sitting at tables, packed all around with folks leaning in intently, and speaking softly, or against the walls in smaller groups, their heads close together. No one seemed to notice his arrival from the kitchen, and instead of heading back immediately Brendun drifted to his right, slowly, trying to pick out conversations he could overhear. He listened, trying to find out what was going on. As he came up along the side of four middle aged women, each holding a wooden wine cup, he looked away from them. He wanted to give them the idea he had not noticed them, hoping they would take no notice of him either. He fixed his gaze across the room, at no one in particular. The crowd was busy, as people moved with deliberate hesitation from one spot of talk to another, and then as the crowed parted for a moment right in front of them he saw them, sitting in a booth alone.

They were four robed and hooded, man like creatures, of the sort that he could not help but recognize as octopus-folk. They sat with a little bit of distance between each of them, alone and together, not engaging among themselves or with anyone else, just sitting. There were no drinks at their table, no plates, no baskets of bread or rolls. They were there, out of place but not being bothered by anyone and that was not right.
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Old 07-21-2021, 06:28 PM   #52
Join Date: Apr 2018
Location: Idaho Falls
Default Re: Into The Labyrinth - a work of fiction

Part 17

A group of seven or eight men and women, including a couple of dwarves, moved in front of and toward him, closing the gap so that his view of the octopus-folk was blocked once again. Brendun turned his eyes away and down and let the group be an excuse to be moved further to the right. He came up against a heavy wooden column supporting the ceiling above. He rolled around the column, casually, until he was right against the corner of another table, this one tucked into the corner of the tavern in a semi private booth. This table was crowded with at least a dozen folk. The people in the booth were quiet, intently listening to a young man Brendun recognized as Willian Paldor, an apprentice to Simon Drandury, the grocer who kept the market stalls at Garden Street and Fountain Row.

Brendun, appearing to be just another citizen of Greenwall, leaned onto the table to better hear what Willian was saying.

“And then, when the harbor master was escorted to the citadel,” Willian was speaking quietly, but there was a note of excitement in every word he said, “captain Juel, of the merchant district watch, went out to that ship and spoke to them octopuses herself. She’s the sister of my master’s wife, don’t you know, and well, master Drandury sent me right away from the shop to tell his wife what he had heard from the first mate of the old Kerrytown ferry. My master’s wife, Elizabeth, she drags me by the ears back to the number nine pier and from there we watched all night for her sister to return. I saw it myself I tell you, I was right there when it happened. The captain returns on the pinnace with that octopus noblewoman, and her whole retinue. Two dozen of them, I counted. Half of them went right to the citadel with the captain, and the others moved out into the city. They were unarmed, and I know those four in the corner were among them. The captain was telling everyone to spread the word that no harm was to come to them, and that they were under the governor’s protection, carrying a message for the queen herself, they were, something awfully important, and if you ask me, not good news at all.”

A short, elderly man, who Brandun did not know, leaned into the table and asked Willian, “How many are out there on that ship, you reckon?”

A dark dressed woman at the far corner of the table leaned forward slowly, and her eyes were up, looking directly at Brendun. At first, he thought he knew her, by the shape of her chin and her thick eyebrows, but when she spoke her voice was not familiar. She looked at Brendun, never taking her eyes off him, but she spoke to the group at the table. She spoke in a husky voice for such a small woman and Brendun was sure, by that voice that he would have recognized her if he had ever heard it before.

“I was told by the pilot of the Sarah Jan,” she said, “that there are over two hundred of their kind aboard that ship. They are wanderers among their own kind, outcast, merchants who trade for their survival with only other ships at sea. That they came into our city, our port, can only mean one thing. They need something that they cannot get anywhere else. I believe they are lying about having a message for the queen and are only here long enough to get what they want. We all remember the last time one of their ships dropped anchor here.”

Her words were filled with malice, and fear.

Brendun was only twelve the last time an octopus-folk ship sailed into Greenwall. There were riots in the streets near the harbor then, as many of the octopus-folk from the ship tried to enter the city illegally. He was too young to know the truth, at the time, but he had been told by some of the adults he knew that the octopus-folk who were trying to get into the city were all criminals, and that the ship was a prison at sea. His mother had told him, before she died, that she thought she had heard the octopus-folk were escaping from a slave fleet, and that they only wanted to get to somewhere where they could live alone, among themselves, peacefully. Whatever the actual story was, that was the time when many of the most dangerous of that kind of folk slipped into Greenwall’s shadowy and more lawless places. He would always remember the wanted posters for “Greg-Half-Eye” and “Jack Nine arms” two of the most notorious murderers Greenwall had ever known. Both were convicted of their crimes, and both were hanged by the neck until dead, which, for their kind took a long, long time. Brendun avoided the Jury Quay for six weeks when he was fourteen, because he heard their bodies were still quivering in the gallows there that summer.
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Old Yesterday, 09:37 AM   #53
Join Date: Apr 2018
Location: Idaho Falls
Default Re: Into The Labyrinth - a work of fiction

Part 18
Lost in his thoughts for a moment, Brendun had missed something else that the woman in the corner was saying, but he already surmised that he had stayed in the room too long. He was beginning to get that familiar tingle in the neck, when the hair begins to get stiff, and he was sure that if he did not get moving again someone here was going to recognize him.

There were just too many people in the tavern for the odds to be in his favor. He knew it. It was just another bit of good luck that the person who did recognize him was someone he knew he could trust. Kenneth Fraddle.

Kenneth was a few years older than Brendun. When Brendun first travelled to the capital to take a run at the Death Test, Kenneth was a regular guard in the Counting House of the Queen’s Sheriff at Millton, the village north of Greenwall, the very northern border of the kingdom itself, where the many wind driven mills were built to grind all the wheat brought into the country on the Queen’s ships.

Greenwall, was on the western coast of the Hakkru peninsula, on the Bayfield Sound. It was connected to, but south of the city of Bayfield and it was a city of rain and almost constant winds. The soil was dark in the fields east of the city, but there the farmers grew wine crops, fruits, and rare nuts. Wheat came from the south and west. South of Greenwall you crossed the Bay of Norr, while to the west of Greenwall and Bayfield, across the sea, you would be in the City States of Leran, a place ruled by tyrants and thieves.

Keep going south and east from the city of Norral, in the Bay of Norr, and eventually you would be in Acklaj, the capital city of the kingdom of Kijzta, and the palaces of the Queen of the House of Korr and her family. The Death Tests of the Queen, they say, were modeled after the first Death Tests of the old ruler of Ardonirane, farther to the east than Brendun had ever dared travel, in a land of dry desert sands and fierce tribes. Greewall was about as far north and distant from the capital of Kijzta as a place could get, but even here the Queen of the House of Korr kept track of everything and everyone coming and going across the Sea of Ses Elran, whether they were her subjects or not, and the Queen had been keeping her eye on Kenny for a long time. That was how she came to know Brendun.

The Death Tests had been set up long before Brendun was born. The architects, engineers, and wizards of the House of Korr had chosen the ruins of the old Lavinar Abbey as the place to construct the special chambers, traps, and battle rooms for the Death Test in Acklaj. By the time Brendun was old enough to be allowed to take the risk, the Death Test had passed four hundred ninety-seven and killed two hundred twelve, or so they say. As a young man of seventeen, Brendun was stronger than most, agile, and quick minded. He entered the Death Test with two friends. All three of them survived. His friends, Roger and Fran were sent west to join the Queen’s Darrls in Fasminir, Brendun was selected to go to Bayfield and joined the Door Guards in the counting house of Millton. His first assignment was as Kenneth’s Dogsbody. Kenneth, on the day Brendun was assigned to the Counting House, had been promoted to Captain.

Three months, and several unbearably dull assignments later, Kenneth was dishonorably discharged from his post, opening an officer’s position in the Counting House for Brendun to take. You see, Kenneth was a hard man, a brave man, and a handsome man, but he was not a smart man. Kenneth liked women, wine, and betting on horse races. He had enough sense to choose fine wines, to keep his head in the game, and usually picked the right horse in any race, but the women he chased, well, that is where Kenneth’s failings came to the surface and after a disastrous breakup with a tool master-maker’s wife, Kenneth was no longer a favorite of the Queen. Brendun moved up to Second Lieutenant, when Gabrielle Dolon took the Captain’s office. Kenneth? Well, Kenneth stayed in Greenwall, after all, even if he wasn’t all that a Queen’s Man should be, he still had his good looks, his winnings from the ponies, and even now, more than ten years since that time, he still had his strength.

A large, clean, and well-manicured hand appeared out of nowhere below Brendun’s chin, took his shirt in a tight grip and pulled Brendun away from the table. He didn’t dare reach for the knife tucked in his belt, for fear of drawing attention to the scene, but let himself be dragged quickly away from the table. The crowd was so thick that at first Brendun didn’t get a good look at the man who was rough handling him. He could only tell that the man was tall, broad shouldered, and had long dark brown hair under a wide, fancy, brown felt, three-cornered hat.

He was suddenly spun to the left and forced against a section of the tavern wall between two windows, the only clear spot around, and that was when Kenneth’s smiling face, ice blue eyes, and large front teeth came into Brendun’s view.

“Kenny!” Brendun said with joy.

“Dun-man, my boy, what the hell are you doing here,” Kenneth’s words came fast, and he sounded troubled.

“Kenny, let go of me,” Brendun now said as he put both of his hands on Kenneth’s fist, remembering that it was easily almost twice the size of his own.

Kenneth did not release his grip, but pulled Brendun’s face right against his own, whispering, “This is no time for a reunion. There are people looking for you. You’re in a lot of trouble Mark. I heard you were dead. I heard assassins had already gotten to you. We need to get you out of here, now.”
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