Chapter Three The Inn of Lost Souls.
When we arrived at the inn to say we were wet was an understatement we were soaked. But thankfully the door was unlocked allowing us to enter and gather around the fire roaring in the hearth, in a feeble attempt to dry ourselves. I must admit I was in somewhat of a quandary being both relieved to be in somewhere dry but full of trepidation over the nature of the storm and I’m afraid the strange nature of our fellow guests did nothing to put me at my ease. All in all they were the most strange and unlikely group of people your ever likely to find.”
The women entered through the unlocked door looking like a group of drowned rats so thoroughly wet they were.
“Sorry to barge in like this but we got caught in the storm and needed somewhere to shelter.” Called Tesler breathlessly dripping water on to the floor.
“Nonsense my dear, think nothing of it, come and dry yourself by the fire ladies. Move out the way George there’s a good fellow.” The speaker was a tall, slim, quite elderly man with an imposing neatly trimmed curled moustache and goatee beard. His bearing was of that of one who had spent a long time in the military with his straight back and worn rugged features. The man he called George was a different kettle of fish altogether. Short with a hunched back and narrow rat like features and tombstone protruding teeth he rubbed his hands together with mock humility that instantly got under Horren’s skin.
“Ahem.” The taller man cleared is throat. “I’ll just ring the bell for the owner she’ll know what to do to help you.”
“That’s a good idea sir I’m sure I wouldn’t have thought of it.” The little mans voice was oily, slimy and full of sarcasm but it seamed to go over the other mans head completely.
“Ahem” He cleared his voice once again in what was obviously his normal habit. “Me names Berisford don’t you know. Captain Berisford of the Engl forth division, heroes of the Gnoll war don’t you know, at your service.”
“Retired now Captain remember, retired.” George simpered.
“What! Of course I’m retired you old fool. This reprobate is me batsman looks after me don’t you know. Now who have I the pleasure of addressing?”
“Slave more likes.” The little man muttered under his breath.
Before Tesler could open her mouth Hanna was already replying readily and with out candour.”
“I’m Hanna Oakwood and these are Darius Fletcher, Lorren Warrior, Horren Druid, Serin Dancer and lastly our Cleric and teacher Tesler Von Abbess.” She said with a smile. Horren wondered, probably like all the rest, why she had used such ridiculous last names but contented herself that at least they were easy to remember and they were somehow fitting. “We were going up into the mountains to celebrate Serin’s nineteenth birthday and to try and find her a husband. Are you free by any chance Captain?”
“What me, no my Lady, but if I was I’d would be honoured to be her husband you know.” He gave a courteous bow in Serin’s vague direction. “I’ve a mem and two fine lads back at Chemo in Engle. Lovely boys they are but even both of them are married I’m afraid.” Horren heard a door open behind her. “Ah the owner of the inn. These ladies got caught up in the storm Madam Davies; the wretched thing’s been raging for days now.”
“Captain!” The women said warningly.
“Oh yes, quite so, quite so.”
The newcomer was certainly an odd looking creature as rushed up to the young women with concern.
“Oh my dear Lord you must absolutely soaked my dears.” Her Dyffid accent was thick and over played as if she was striving to show what a good Dyffid woman she was. “Oh this will never do. It so happens I’ve three rooms up in the attic space you can use, you’ll have to share mind. Oh dear where is my manners I be Gwen Davies and this” She said indicating a chubby bordering on fat teenager beside her. “Be me daughter Morag. Say hello child.”
The girl rushed forward and began pumping everyone’s hand in greeting and when she had done that she began again, words tumbling out of her mouth as if they were fighting to get out.”
“You be welcome. Have you come far? What are you doing up here? No one comes here not since, well you know. That’s a nice broach where did you by it? I think they’re all dead you know. What would you like to eat? We’ve some nice mutton and a good bit of pork left. Do you want a hot drink to warm you? I think it lives in the ruins down by the woods. I’ll set up the drying racks mother.” With that she bustled off still gabbling nineteen to the dozen.
“Forgive my girl ladies alas she wasn’t born with much wit and hasn’t gained any in the intervening years. If you follow me I’ll show you to your rooms.” Gwen led them out into a gloomy corridor that was barely lit by the weak guttering torches that hung on walls and passed a massive wooden chest that sat in an alcove. “What ever you do my Ladies do not open that chest. Do not under any circumstances open that chest!”
Hanna raised a querying eyebrow.
“Any reason we shouldn’t, I’m asking purely out of curiosity of course?” She asked politely.
“Because it’s cursed my girl, it holds a demon of incredible power that would destroy us all if it is released.” The woman eyes pointed in different directions which made it difficult to know who she was looking at which wasn’t help by the fact that they appeared to move totally independently from each other. Serin swallowed nervously as an eye seemed to focus on her. “The casket can not be moved from this house if that’s what you’re thinking not without it rupturing and releasing the beast within.”
The woman must have lost a tremendous amount of weight, mused Horren to herself as they followed Gwen up the stairs, at least judging by the amounts of loose flesh that hung off her body especially around her neck. It gave it the look of a chickens wattle the way it swayed back and forth as she moved; it was almost like she was inhabiting the skin of someone far larger. It was very unsettling as was the long climb up what seemed interminable staircases and along gloomy corridors until they reached the rooms they had been allocated in the roof space.
The first room to be opened contained two single beds and a sizable laundry press with a window in the sloping roof that allowed a disturbing view of the pyrotechnics in the storm that still rumbled above.
“Thank you Gwen this will do nicely for myself and my young niece Hanna.” Tesler said ushering Hanna in before she could say anything.
The next was a little smaller with sturdy bunk beds and a reasonably sized laundry press pushed under a small window in the wall.
Lorren and Darius chose this one leaving the last one on the landing for Serin and Horren.
“I hope you don’t mind young Ladies but you will have to share the bed unless one of you wants to try the wee cot out. It’s a family room you see.” Gwen said trying to make the last part seem like a joke and failing completely.
The room wasn’t luxurious by any means but it was certainly spacious compared to the other two. In the centre was a good sized double bed, by the window in the wall a double laundry press, a dressing table for your unction’s and beauty potions, and finally a small child’s cot tucked into the corner.
“When you’ve refreshed and dried yourself please come down and join us in the common room for a bite to eat. Now I’ll leave you in peace and oh yes. Put your wet things into the basket at the top of the stairs and Morag will take them down to the drying room for you. I will tell your friends as I go pass their rooms. Ladies.” With a bow their host left the room and closed the door.
“Thank the God’s she’s gone I can’t wait to get out of these wet clothes.” Serin stated as she rapidly stripped off. She pulled a rough piece of cloth out of her backpack and vigorously began drying herself whilst admiring her reflection in the mirror. Horren followed suit but had finished drying herself long before Serin and now lay contented on the bed her head in her hands watching her young partner trying to tease some shape into her hair.
“Have I every told you what a lovely arse you’ve got, I just love the way it hangs there between your waist and legs?” Horren said dreamily.
“Well I’d look pretty silly without one.” Serin replied with a gentle laugh. “I mean how would I fart if I didn’t have one. I have to be able to do something to cover your lethal silent ones.” Horren was behind her now and ran a feather light touch down her spine making her moan.
“Does she really love me?” Horren thought. “I’m the one that always instigates things, perhaps I just happen to know what buttons to press to get her going rather than she actually loving me.”
Horren index finger made lazy circles around her lover’s sphincter while the other hand did likewise around her maiden’s hood her tongue teasing erect nipples as Serin turned toward her. Horren fell back on the bed drawing Serin down with her, lips and skin tightly touching in the beginnings of passion when…
“Girl’s its Tesla. Hurry up getting changed and join us for some food downstairs will you and don’t forget to put your wet clothes in the laundry basket.” The nun called through the door after rapping it hard with a knuckle. “Are you there girls?”
Horren was hardly in a position to answer as her mouth was stuffed with Serin’s right breast. Serin giggled loudly before replying that they were on their way, could they give she and Horren a few moments to do something with their hair.
“We will meet you down stairs then but don’t be long; I don’t like this place and would rather keep us altogether. Hurry girls.” With that she left leading the others away with her.
“I’m going to kill her, you see if I don’t. I just don’t believe that woman, is she a witch or something?” Horren moaned as Serin rolled off her and went back to sorting out her hair. “I’ll swing for the bloody woman see if I don’t.”
The meal was a strange affair surrounded as we were by the oddest group of people you could ever find. Mind my sister seemed to fit in perfectly.
The loud hubbub of conversations dropped to whispers as Serin and Horren entered the room and began crossing over to where the others sat at a long table near the wall.
Horren wasn’t going to accept that the approving glances were for her as much as they were for Serin and felt as usual outshone by her lover who was enjoying the attention immensely. They had both chosen to dress in fine silk dresses, Serin’s white and Horren’s pale blue, and they had both chosen ones that left a shoulder and arm bare. When married to their hair the effect was stunning. Serin’s long hair flowed over her shoulders and down her neck in waves of shimmering scarlet that was set of by the white lace headband and hairnet set with tiny glinting pearls. For Horren her shorter hair was piled up on her head in tight curls from which attached to a bone comb a long gossamer veil cascaded down her back.
“Ahem! Would you two fine ladies do me the honour of allowing me to escorting you to your table?” Beresford asked pompously.
“Why my dear sir we would be honoured to be escorted by such a fine fellow.” Serin said with a smile. The old soldier in a fine set of green dress leathers courteously offered an arm to each of the women.
“Ahem! I have never seen such a beautiful sight as you six ladies in all my born days. You have cheered this old soul up my dears, you really have and that’s no mistake.” Berisford remarked as he helped them to their seats.
If truth be told they did make a fine sight, even Lorren in her funereal black.
Tesler wore a white silk nun’s habit over which hung a deep blue tabard with designs picked out with golden threads. Hanna wore diaphanous pink silk that only went to enhance her fairy nature. Darius wore a brown low cut dress covered in hunting scenes her curly hair topped of with a bone comb pierced with blue gem stones. Lorren wore a black tight bodice silk dress full of lace flounces at the edges. Her long black hair was held off her head by small jewelled combs and with her pale face and black lips, nails and eye makeup she looked stunning and very exotic. A real Queen of the dammed.
Morag bustled to their table as two pale gaunt young women served the others in the room.
“Hello again. What would you like to eat? We’ve mutton stew or honeyed boiled ham? With red or white wine? We’ve small beer if you prefer.” She babbled. “It’s difficult to get supplies now some of the villagers have gone. Do you want cheeses or steamed preserve pudding? They run away they said but I think they were killed. We’ve some fresh fruit and nuts too.”
“I’ll have the mutton stew please Morag, it is Morag isn’t it, and I’ll have the cheeses afterward in fact we all will and a bottle of both red and white wine.” Tesler told the girl with a cheerful smile. “I suppose the villagers ran away to get themselves a better life?”
“What in the middle of the night in a storm I don’t think so Holy Sister?” She lent forward and bellowed confidentially into Tesler’s ear. “I think the reaper done for them and poor Carly Glendower only thirteen too.”
“Coming mother. The ladies would like the stew mother and a bottle of each of the wines followed by cheese and fruit.” She called dashing back to her mothers side. “They are nice mother can I play with them?”
“No Morag child, now go and prepare their meals for Lorain and Dauphine to serve while I get the wine.” The right eye swivelled in its socket and glared at the women who were now deep in conversation.
“Did she just say what I think she just said?” Lorren said casually as she cleaned the eating knife with a napkin spinning it around in her long fingers.
“Well I think she said what you think she said, assuming that is what I think she said is the same thing you think she said.” Hanna remarked confusingly. “But then again we both could be thinking of two different things she said which means that no I don’t think she said what you think she said because I may not have heard what she said that is what you think she said. So until you tell us what you think she said we can not have a clue that it is indeed what I think she said or not.”
“I don’t think I’ll bother now I’ve just lost the will to live.” Lorren said rolling her pale eyes.
“Oh goody do I get you knife now or do I pluck it from your dead body. Hanna continued with a winning smile.
Tesler decided to take charge in hope that she could be able to keep the peace.
“So what did the girl say amongst all that meaningless garbage?”
“That some of the villagers have vanished and she thinks their dead. Killed by someone she called the reaper, who ever that may be?” Hanna answered soberly.
“She was saying something similar when she first met us.” Serin said. “I was too wet to pay much attention.”
“I’ll have a little chat with her later, a nice girly chat.” Hanna said with a smirk
“Hanna behave!” Tesler rebuked as the pale waitresses brought up their stew and a round board of cheeses and fruit. Gwen arrived with glasses and the two bottles of wine which she duly uncorked and poured out.
Serin used this time to examine the other occupants of the room. Besides Beresford and his servant there were seven in total. At the table nearest them were an elderly couple, they must have been fifty or more, who were staring lovingly into each others eyes and feeding each other from their own plates!
She accidentally caught the man’s eye.
“Isn’t she beautiful?” He said.
“Oh stop it George!” The women said in a flustered, embarrassed voice.
“Are you newly weds?” Serin asked slightly uncomfortable with the thought.
“Oh yes.” He said
“Oh no.” She said. “We’ve been married such a long time. How long has it been now?”
“Yesterday, last week, last year, 30 years ago who cares when you love someone like I love you my precious?” He said before resuming their longing looks into each others eyes. “It seems an eternity and yet only yesterday.”
“That’s creepy.” Horren muttered.
“I think it’s sweet?” Serin whispered as the man George dabbed his wife’s lips with his napkin. “All right it is a bit creepy.”
A strange silver haired man with rather bulging pale staring eyes picked up his knife and muttered under his breath.
“Ah I see, some form of crude eating device. Most inefficient, direct adsorption is superior.”
On the opposite side Hanna was trying to engage a hansom somewhat intense young man in conversation with her usual tact.
“Hello there, are you married by any chance as we’re looking for a husband for my friend Serin there. She is beautiful isn’t she?”
The young man looked at his knife fiercely as if noticing it for the first time.
“Nay Lady I height not wed for my betrothed has been stolen from me, but I will find her again and aye I will rescue her and together we will then reclaim her birthright, her realm, glorious Avalon.” His voice rose as he spoke with great pain and intensity. “Camelot shall be freed I Lancelot vow it.”
“Ah jolly good.” Hanna replied extricating herself from the conversation.
“Is this some sort of mad house we’ve stumbled into?” Darius remarked worriedly.
“I was wondering that myself.” Horren muttered more than a little put out by the three women at the table by the door cackling and pointing bony fingers at the other diners.
“If it is then they have an excellent cook, this stew is delicious.” Tesler was in the process of draining the last drop when Hanna piped up with gallows humour.
“True but I wonder if it is mutton, no ones found a finger nail have they?”
Tesler went a rather tasteful shade of green before drinking rapidly, to Hanna’s obvious joy, a large goblet of wine.
And outside the storm still raged on throwing itself at the building like a beast possessed.
It was still crashing and banging with considerable violence when they went up to their rooms to discuss what they were going to do on the morrow.
“I suggest we back track to the harbour and sail back to the school.” Horren said full of trepidation and some measure of hope.
No one replied either because they chose to ignore her or that they didn’t hear her.
“I suggest we investigate these disappearances and a good place to start would be these villages. Hanna, tomorrow morning try and use that winning charm of yours on the girl, I’m reluctant to let you loose but I don’t think we have any option if we are to glean any information.” Tesler concluded.
“I was going to try this evening but she seems to have vanished so tomorrow it will have to be.” Hanna replied with a mighty yawn.
“Lorren try to engage the serving girls in conversation will you?”
“What do you expect me to talk with them about?” Lorren said a little coldly.
“Oh I don’t know dear but I’m sure you will think of something, like showing them your latest tattoo or something like that.” Tesler looked into the bleak face of the warrior and blanched a little. “Ah yes well I think we should try and get some sleep don’t you. Good night girls.”
Later Horren and Serin laid cuddled up in the bed, all thought’s of carnality wiped from their minds by the pyrotechnic display outside that constantly lit up the room in a series of blinding flashes.
“Are you asleep?” Serin asked in a whisper.
“No, are you?” Horren replied sarcastically and getting an elbow in her ribs for the pleasure.
“Did you hear what that young man was saying to Hanna while we ate?”
“Yes some of it. His girl friend’s been kidnapped or something like that. Taken to some place called Avalon. Never heard of the place myself have you?” Horren stretched to ease the tension in her muscles especially around her neck.
“Yes I have. You remember my brother Owen?” Serin asked snuggling closer into the crook of her lovers arm.
“Yes I do, he was very hansom if I remember, quite a catch for someone. Ooff!” Another elbow in the ribs reminded her who she was with. “Well you did ask and he is. Not a scratch on his sister though. But what has this got to do with the young man below.”
“I was coming to that before you rudely interrupted me. He told me about Avalon and Lancelot.” Serin paused staring at something that she thought she could see on the curtain rail.
“Well what did he say?”
“That Avalon had fallen into the sea and that Lancelot had vanished with all the other knights.” Serin had sat up and was staring at the rail more intently. “But that was three hundred years ago! And did you know that there is a poisonous snake hanging from the curtain rail.”
“That’s puzzling to be sure but only if he isn’t insane. What did you say!!!?” Horren’s gaze followed Serin’s pointing finger. “How do you know it’s poisonous?”
“Because it’s the same breed as the one that’s draped over the headboard rail, that’s why.” Serin squeaked her eye’s wide and staring.
Horren turned her head slowly to find herself confronted by a large snake slowly sliding onto the bed its hood extended its fork tongue tasting and smelling the air.
Let’s just get out of bed nice and slowly. That’s it keep it as smooth as possible.”
The two young women slowly decamped and retreated toward the window refusing to take their eyes on the apparition that was rearing up from the bed. Suddenly Serin felt something touch her neck, the flickering of a tongue.
“Horren we’ve forgot something.” She said in an artificially calm voice.
“What?” Horren replied as the serpent on the bed reared up even higher.
“The one on the window rail, the one that’s licking my neck at the moment, I do hope he’d not hungry.” Serin’s eyes were wide and staring.
Horren swore heavily.
“What ever you do Serin don’t panic.” Horren said eventually. “I’ll try and communicate with them.”
“Well if you could hurry up, it would be nice before this one decides I’m supper.”
“It’s no good they can’t hear me.” Horren said panicky. “You try.”
“What do you think I’ve been trying to do? I thought you could speak to all animals?” Serin froze as the snake slithered around her neck on to her bust its tongue flicking across her naked skin.
“Yes animals, mammals, not cold blooded reptiles!” It was Horren’s turn to freeze as the second snake slithered on to her arm. “If we stay still they may just slither off.” She swallowed hard.
The stood there as still as they could whilst the snakes continued their investigations for the women’s sweaty bodies.
“What snakes are they?” Horren asked more to break the silence than any real desire to really know.
“I remember seeing them in my brother’s book of beasts. I don’t know what they are called for certain but I do know that their bite paralyses its prey and then it swallows it whole. They have opened up one that was killed and found a crushed roe deer inside.” Serin flinched as its head glided over her thighs. “I know I wanted to loose my virginity but not like this please.”
Suddenly there was a knock on the door followed by the rotund shape of Morag.
“Sorry to disturb you but I have lost my snakes. They’re sting vipers but they won’t hurt you. Mother said I shouldn’t keep them caged up so I let them loose but I forgot they like your bed to sleep on.” She babbled. “Oh there they are.”
“Morag shut up please and just take them away.” Horren pleaded.
“They won’t hurt you I’ve already drained their poison sacs.” She carefully unwound the snakes and put them in the sack she had with her. She was about to leave when she stopped and turned back to the two women. “Oh I just remembered I haven’t done it this week. Mother is going to be so mad she takes the venom off me you see. I wonder what she does with it? Well good night ladies sleep well.”
For a few moments the women stood there hugging each other with relief.
“Sleep well? What in this insanity, is she mad!?” Horren breathed.
“I have a feeling they all are.” Serin replied as another bolt of lightning lit the room to reveal them huddled together on the bed wide awake.