Cold Nights, Strange Days

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Cold Nights, Strange Days

Postby Wanderlei » Thu Dec 28, 2006 12:10 pm

An Evening Under The Stars


Cold as only December could be. It seeped through clothes and settled inside the bones, content to radiate a dull, chill ache that lasted into the wee hours of the night.
Alain shivered within his cloak. It was dark and of a thick cut, given to him only recently from his sister. The small fire he had made flickered about, throwing large shadows all around the woods. In the distance he heard a howl that might have been a wolf, a faint moan that might have been the wind. And the cold settled ever deeper that night, by the great, old North-South road.

In a way, all of it satisfied him.

They (as in his mother and sister) had been insistent he not make the run from Bree to Shorebank. The road had been deteriorating steadily for years, they said, and it was too late in the season. Bandits roamed the woods, they reminded him, and stranger things if you were inclined to listen to traveller's tales.
But he had shrugged it off casually as only a nineteen year old could. His father had made late runs all the time while he was alive, and Alain had successfully made the run himself at the age of fourteen. Never mind that the road wasn't half as bad back then or that it was done in the spring. A little cold never hurt anyone and he had outgrown bogeymen a long time ago. Besides, the money was too good to pass up.

Not that his family was poverty stricken. Although Alain's father had passed away early, between farming, weaving, and the occasional trading run to Shorebank, they made more than enough to make ends meet year after year. The same held true for this year.

But just barely this time around.

The crops, what little they grew, had been few and of lesser quality. The same seemed to hold true for all farmers in the region. As people had to pay more to buy food, they had less to spend on everything else, like weavings Alain's mother helped make at a tailor's. Or the baked delicacies his sister made at a local cake shop.

Even his own work, helping out with the construction of a new Inn, had stalled as the winter winds came early. Though, as a single youth living in the back of an abandoned Pub, this was not so bad. He could tighten his belt and get by. Probably his mother and sister could too but Alain didn't like the idea of them scrounging to get through the winter. So on the last week of November he had set out south on the old road with two large packs containing whatever tradeable items he could get his hands. No horse for him, as bandits did indeed roam the woods and horses could not travel the secret paths Alain had learned from his father.

Shorebank, a bustling tradetown that sprung up almost overnight at the beginning of the Fourth Age as the North-South road was restored by King Elessar. Located in the middle of the road's split, it was a popular stopover for those going to or coming from Gondor and consequently became a place of great trade.
Seven hundred years had passed since then, and while Shorebank was not quite as busy as it was back then, primarily due to the deterioration of the road, there was still a tidy profit to be made for the bold.

From the faint rumble of the Greyflood and the wisps of smoke in the distance, Alain figured he would be there by tomorrow evening. It had been an uneventful trip, and while there was still the journey back, he could at least look forward to a hot meal and a warm bed for the time being. All in all it looked as the late run would pay off.

A walk in the park, he imagined himself saying once he was back home, touseling his kid sister's hair and thanking her for the cloak. Didn't run into trouble once...
And with these thoughts, Alain fell asleep.

The Bright Eyed Stranger

The sign was simple, a gray X with a river on one side and a tree on the other. The words below indicated this was the Crossroads Inn and Tavern. A moderately spacious, two story building, the Crossroads was reputed to be the oldest and most popular Inn of Shorebank. Certainly the building did give off the impression of age though well maintained and it was possibly the most popular as it was located near the southern side of town where most travellers came through nowadays. Most importantly, it was cheap.

The Elegant Swan and the Rearing Roan could boast more amenities and they had their own sizeable clientele, but the masses went to the Crossroads. Or if it was full, any of a dozen similiar buildings. Shorebank was never lacking for inns and taverns.

Inside the Crossroads, the familiar smells of roasting meats, pipeweed, and a hint of sawdust immediately greeted Alain. It was not disagreeable. Best of all were the two roaring fires in the hearths. He reserved a room and after a change of clothes, had his packs hidden and the door locked. Where merchants sell their wares, thieves were not far behind, as the saying went.
Though comfortably warm, Alain opted to keep his cloak on as he went downstairs for a bite to eat. He looked for a corner table but was dismayed to find them all taken. Worse, they were all occupied by suitably shady individuals who did not look like they would brook company. Then again, corner tables tended to attract such indiduals.

Shrugging, he went over to a larger table by the bar. Alain nodded at the people already seated and some even nodded back. Settling back in his chair, waiting for his meal, he listened to the burble of chatter present in any tavern. There was the usual talk of taxes and weather as well as complaints directed towards Gondor. No one was maintaining the North-South road these days and the wildnerness had encroached upon much of it. Strange things walked the land, it was said, and the dark times were returning once more.

The usual.

His attention was suddenly diverted to a small crowd a few tables down from his. There was a singular fellow, seated by himself and speaking to them. Alain didn't need to hear the man's words to know it was him the crowds were listening to.

He was a tall man, a head above Alain, with broad shoulder and a powerful build apparent even beneath the sable cloak he wore. It was a fine garb though travel worn like the rest of him. As he had his hood up, Alain could not make out much of the stranger's face, the only exception being his eyes.
Like two pinpoints of light they were, bright, almost hellishly so, blue and piercing like a winter sky.

"Don't look."

Alain turned to the voice.

"The eyes, don't look at 'em." said an old gaffer sitting across from him. He spoke out of the corner of his mouth while chewing on his food.

The youth raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

"Came by a month ago, I reckon," the gaffer resumed. "Never gave his name, or if he did, he never told me. Just started talking and singing out of the blue-"

"Talking about what?"

The old fellow shrugged irritably. "About the old days, I suppose. Numenor. Elves. Gods and demons and who knows what else. Couldn't make heads nor tails of it but can't say I was really tryin'. Don't think it's good to hear such things... and it's worse to know about 'em. It ain't something normal folks can know." He shook his head, "No good can come of it."

By this point Alain had stopped listening and only nodded now and then out of politeness. Maybe the gaffer was trying to pull one over him, maybe he really believed all he said. Just the same it didn't really concern him.

He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. Beneath the murmur of voices, beneath the clanging of beer mugs and dishes, there was a faint sound like a low rumble. He listened to the muted roar of the Greyflood and waited for his food.
Last edited by Wanderlei on Thu Dec 28, 2006 1:33 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Sirion » Thu Dec 28, 2006 1:00 pm

Words. That’s all the tavern was these days. Words, words and more words; they suffocated the place with their endless ignorance. There was no escaping conversation without labeling yourself as a man who wasn’t good to talk to. And that proved little help when you wanted to ask questions.

Next in line after words: ale. Ale was common in any inn, any tavern and even brothels. It played heavily on the senses, a thing Moor had come to dislike greatly in his forty years. Too much of it and you either dropped or you became a moron. Not that it really made any difference, considering the amount of morons in this place. To be drinking ale while breaking fast, what a stupid thing it was.

For himself, Moor sat at a table not necessarily considered isolated, but aside from the center. His small table was near the foot of the stairway up to the rooms, at the corner between it and the bar table.

Moor was a man of few words, leastways to people not familiar with him for more than a comforting period. He hailed from Crosshelm, a small waypoint town where the river Isen met the North South Road. Near where they said the gap of Rohan had been long ago, though that name hadn’t been said by anyone Moor knew. Of old many things had changed.

He was a traveler, and little else, to be sure, though he’d been called many things in his forty years. Little point in correcting people; men called others what they wished, to the Abyss with what they said was true or not. Apparently, eventually, Moor ended up here, in Shorebank. A lively enough town, to be sure, though Moor had seen livelier ones. Everything was the same these days, with little more than orcs and goblins trudging around in the hills for bounty and bandits as always.

If what this blue-eyed fool preached was true, Moor would almost welcome the change. At least he’d have something to do. His thoughts wandered as they always did during meals, and he dipped his bread into the hot soup. Taking a great bite from the glistening roll, he declined the customary action of wiping up the liquid that dribbled down his chin, soaking through his goatee. The grayness was starting to reach out into the hair on his chin and above his lip, as it was with his bushy, slick brown hair atop his head, pulled back as it was into the long tail. He cared not. All people aged, and he attributed the onset of grayness to his boredom, lack of activity.

As more people turned to bounties for money with the approach of snows, more people disappeared. It was folly to go out with so many other men in the mountains. It attracted more attention. The most this rugged old man, cloaked and wearing aged leather and mail had gone out with was five, himself included. They’d attracted enough attention with just the lot of them for him to know that the amount of men out there now was unhealthy.

Nearby he could hear the mutterings of some young pup, and as he stirred his body from the ache of sleep, the brat of his hilt against the metal of a bit of his mail sounding, his keen ears picked up their words. He laughed. Old gaffer had it in his head that they were all going to be swarmed with orcs and the demons that had plagued the Third Age. Unnatural Moor’s fat thumb, it was. He remembered stories of the elves, and any who remember stories of the elves remember stories of the demons, and the flaming whips of ages long before the Third. With the elves now gone, what stories remained but the frightened tales whispered in the dark silence, as myth and legend?

Moor spoke to his food, and though he meant to mumble he surely knew that his words would be heard by the old man. “So long as it’s a change, what be the risk with the amount of wanting men and ready swords. All things come when they will, one icy-eyed preacher won’t change it or help it.”
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Postby ProblemChild » Sat Apr 21, 2007 4:28 pm

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