The Scroll of New Beginnings

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Chapter 5

Later that evening…

Berwyn made his way down the slope of the castle road. The moon was full tonight, enveloping the valley in a soft glow and giving him more light than the occasional lit torch. Berwyn knew it was late in the evening because the main road at the base of the cliff was all but deserted. The men were home spending time with their wives while the children dreamt of days running through the fields and chasing the livestock around the barn. Those who were out were either on duty watching guard, or on their way to the Scarlet Bard. Drinks, laughs, and a good night’s rest are what the Scarlet Bard advertised. Most though came for the Scarlet Bard herself, Diana. Berwyn remembered many a night that was spent there drinking his fill, telling stories with his brother Orin, or wooing the ladies. But none of them caught his eye like Cristiana. He still wooed the ladies from time to time but she knew he never meant any harm. His heart belonged to her, even if it was a secret from everyone else. She had come to his chambers earlier in the evening while everyone else was getting ready and saying their goodbyes. He prayed that it wouldn’t be the last time he saw her. He could still smell the hint of jasmine that she dabbed on the back of her neck. She did it only for him when she went to visit him at his chambers. He loved her just as much as Orin loved Alicia, sometimes he wondered if it was even more, because their love was kept secret.

Lord Orin and Lady Alicia wanted Berwyn to find a wife of noble blood to carry on the family line. They had had Merwenna, but after her no other child had come. Alicia feared she was now barren and cried herself to sleep many nights. She blamed herself for not giving Orin an heir, but he didn’t care. He loved Merwenna and Alicia too much for such formalities.

Berwyn rounded the bend in the road and saw the Scarlet Bard all lit up like it was every night. Ulbran, the owner, did well for himself running the place. He was a good and fair man, but he tolerated no fights inside The Bard. You wanted to fight, you headed outside, or you were thrown outside if you started it in the tavern. It was said that he had the best ale in the northern country; he smiled at that since he usually downed half a keg each night. Rich and creamy, it had a slight burn going in, but then it cooled down and soothed the insides. He could almost taste the ale with each step closer to the tavern and inn. The Scarlet Bard comprised of a tavern, stables, kitchen and an inn. 3 stories tall, it was one of the largest tavern and inn combos throughout the region. The bedrooms were on the top two floors and the reception desk and tavern were on the first floor.

Loud hollering and a lively tune could be heard from the front doors of the place. He figured everyone else was already inside; he usually was the last one to get to Orin’s “meetings”.

Orin and his meetings, He thought to himself.

How many of those have we had? Every time a quest or something or another came up, his brother held a meeting. He chuckled at the memories.

Opening the front doors brought an explosion of sights, sounds, and smells; though some of the latter he could do with out. Some of the boys smelled like they just came from putting fertilizer in the fields. Many of the farm hands were crowded at tables near the stage watching Juliana dance around in her snowflake covered, silver dress. Veils swooshed around as she turned floating this way and that as if the very wind commanded them. A small group of instrumentalists played a lively tune in the background, tapping their feet with a steady rhythm. In the far back corner of the tavern, Berwyn saw Brother Thomas and Orin discussing things over a couple of pints of ale. Orin caught his gaze and waved to him to come over. Berwyn waved back and then made a gesture with his hand of him drinking something. Orin nodded and then turned back to the priest, continuing their conversation.

As he turned his gaze over toward the bar he caught site of a large group of patrons gathered around two tables. At one table sat a very large man with a tall pile of empty mugs and a small pile of full ones. His leather armor and tunic were soaked in ale and a frothy white beard half covered his face in foam. He seemed to be struggling with his next drink but still, he managed to snicker and throw insults across the table to his competitor. As he made his way through the crowd to try and see who he was challenging he bumped into Tova, one of the barmaids, almost causing her to spill the tray of food she was carrying.

“Hey buddy, why don’t you watching where you’re…”She belted as she turned around, “Oh Berwyn, it’s you. Sorry dear, I thought you were one of the merchants who were with the caravan that arrived today. They’ve been a bit rough and rude to Aida and me.” She smiled as she wrapped her free arm around Berwyn’s neck and gave him a hug.

“Sorry Tova, it’s so crowded in here tonight and I was just trying to get a better look at who that big fella was drinking against.” He replied as he put his arm around her waist and hugged her back.

“I know honey, like I said; it’s that caravan that came in today. It’s a big one from Dushuan heading east over to Green Burrows and then off to Wooddale Crossing. A lot of people travelled in this one, seems like two caravans got together in Dushuan and came as one up the mountain.” She dropped off 4 plates of food to a nearby table and refilled some mugs with more ale.

“Why they band together? That would make the trip longer and more dangerous wouldn’t it?” Berwyn followed behind Tova as she made her rounds.

“True, but there have been reports of bands of goblins and orcs in the area. So they banded together and hired a militia of 30 men in Dushuan to protect them along the way.” She dropped off the last of the plates of food in her arm and then finished off the pitcher of ale. Turning back to Berwyn, she continued, “Seems the reports are true, because not 2 days into the journey they were attacked. 50 goblins and orcs rained arrows and rocks down on them in Waterdown Pass.” She turned to the nearest table, “hey buddy; you were with the caravan weren’t you? How many didn’t make it?” A stout fellow with a low brow and scruffy face turned around.

His eyes drearily looked up at her from his third mug of ale. “Yes ma’am I was with them. About 30 out of the 238 merchants and their families didn’t make it, hicup. Sorry. Thankfully that mercenary group, hiccup, did a good job of holding the little monsters off while we, hiccup, hurried on up the road.” He took another long sip of his ale before turning back to his friends.

Berwyn pondered over the scene he described for a moment and then turned back to Tova. Her dull red and yellow dress was protected by a brown apron that was covered in spots of ale and food stains. Her hair was bunned up in the back and her brown eyes looked tired from working all day. “You look tired Tova, have these guys been keeping you busy all day?”

“I haven’t stopped all day since these guys showed up this morning. They set up a small tent and wagon town in the pastures next to the hops’ field.” She turned and headed back toward the bar where Ulbran, the owner, was calling for her. Berwyn heard a familiar voice from the group surrounding the drinking contest. He turned and made his way over to the game to see how it was going. Just as he came upon them, a large uproar of cheers and groans came from the crowd. The big man had just dropped his glass onto the table and teetered on the chair for a second or two before toppling over to the floor. The crowd of locals and, he assumed, the merchants from the caravan were passing won and lost bets around. Rounding the group he saw Halfgrim sitting at the other table, downing another mug of ale and taking a round of slaps on the back.

“Berwyn, good buddy, hicup,” Halfgrim raised his glass and took another swig. Berwyn got close enough to shake his ale soaked hand as the crowd dispersed.

“I figured it would be you causing all the ruckus, my little friend. Only your drinking can gather a crowd this big.” He snapped his wrist a couple of times to fling the excess ale off his hand. He smirked as he saw a large pile of coins sitting on the table next to him. “Just couldn’t leave the newcomers alone could you? Ha-ha. Do you really need to take money from every new person that walks into town, Halfgrim?” He chuckled as Tova came by with a mug of ale for him.

Halfgrim sat his mug on the table and pointed a finger at Berwyn, “Now hold on, Berwyn. That boy came in here popping his mouth off to everyone. He was boasting that he could out drink any man, elf, or dwarf. I was just at the bar having a drink, while I waited for the crew to show up.” He copped a fake innocent look as he grabbed the mug up again. Waving it around he continued, “Now who could pass up a chance to teach a young man about manners and respect to his fellow man. You don’t go around boasting that you can out drink a dwarf, unless you can back it up.” Ale sloshed around onto the table as he talked. His eyes went big as he realized he lost some of the ale and quickly downed the mug before he lost anymore.

“I see, so you were just doing the man a favor. You were teaching him a bit of humility, eh?”Berwyn took a long sip of his ale, like always the smooth, creamy drink slid down his throat, giving it a slight burn before the sweetness set in and filled up his stomach.

Halfgrim smacked his lips and then set the mug back down. “Besides Buddy, I needed some extra coin for the trip. I figured we were gonna be away a lot longer than usual. And the way it is sounding is that we will end up traveling across half of Anoria. That means plenty of stuff to see and buy in every city. Who knows maybe you will find a nice necklace or something for Cristiana…”

“I don’t know what you mean, Halfgrim.” Slamming his mug down at the comment, he looked down at the dwarf. “And you do well to keep comments like that to yourself.” He looked around the room for a moment before leaning in close, “You know Orin and Alicia want me to marry that noble girl, Ellora Tharen, because her father is on the council. His prestige and her royal blood will keep our line pure for the throne of Helmcross; at least that’s what they hoped for me.” His sarcasm raised a few eyebrows nearby.

“Whoa, buddy! I was only kidding about Cristiana. I know what your brother and his wife are asking. They just want what is best for you and for Helmcross. Lady Alicia hasn’t given birth since Merwenna and we all know that they hope the line continues through you.” The dwarf shrugged his shoulders, and then waited for the eavesdroppers to go back to their drinks. “I just think that as a friend to Cristiana that you might want to find her a nice little souvenir on the trip. The Almighty knows that if a war is coming, a nice gift from a friend would cheer her up.” Halfgrim looked past Berwyn, “It’s just a word of friendly advice. Now it looks like Lord Orin and Brother Thomas are waiting on us.” He nodded in their direction and grabbed another mug of ale on the table before weaving through the sea of people in the tavern. Berwyn sighed, and followed suit, grabbing another mug from Tova’s tray as she walked past. She winked at him and then continued with her rounds, slapping a few hands away as some of the boys got a little too friendly.

A small figure sat in the corner on the opposite side of the tavern from Lord Orin’s table. His hood was low over his face and a puff of smoke trickled out from a brass pipe. Zookji kept one hand close to a dagger in his lower pocket while keeping the other on his pint of ale. A small, lavender backpack propped his feet up in front of him. He was large for a gnome, larger than most, but he was still small enough to get into tight places. When he was younger he had been an outcast in Geldwheel. The other gnomes made fun of him because of his size, and so one day he packed up his things and left. He hadn’t been back to Geldwheel in over 50 years, and he had no intention of returning either. He spent the next 5 years roaming from town to town, stealing what he could and getting by the best way possible. It wasn’t until he reached Berdeen that he found his true calling. A beautiful woman caught him trying to pinch her bag of gold. She dragged him back to her hideout, deep in the warehouses on the docks. There he learned that the woman, Camaru, was the leader of the thieves’ guild. She took him in and taught him the ropes, utilizing his gnomish size.

He watched as Berwyn and the dwarf, Halfgrim, sat down with the other two. He had been given the task of following these guys by Camaru, three weeks ago. Seems some skulky, annoying little man showed up at the thieves’ guild unannounced one night asking for their services. He showed Camaru a mark on his right hand, and her eyes had gone wide. What ever it was, Zookji had no idea but he had been called back from the streets that very night, and sent off to Helmcross to keep an eye on these guys and report back to Camaru as often as possible. What ever these guys were into, had to been important and had to be worth something. But he couldn’t get over the fact that Camaru had been so shaken over a marking on the guy’s hand. She was the strongest, most cunning person he ever knew.

Well anyways, he needed to concentrate on the group now. He slid his feet off the pack and put it over his shoulder. Then grabbing his mug of ale and keeping his pipe in his mouth, he slipped off into the crowd making his way closer to the group. Soon Zookji found a table in the back corner that no one seemed to want. When the gnome sat down and looked around he knew why. It was farthest from the bar and out of sight from the stage, which most of the patrons were keeping an eye on. The dancer, Juliana, Zookji had heard called out, had now finished her dance number. She now reappeared in a simple brown dress and apron and started waiting on tables with Tova.

Zookji’s pointy ears quivered every time she walked by; even if he was a gnome she was still a beautiful sight to see. She came back his way after taking orders from Lord Orin’s group and a few other tables. He noticed that her warm smile was brightened by her silken white hair. As she walked, her hair seemed to sway back and forth over her shoulders as if carried by a faint breeze. She saw him watching her and started to make her way towards him. He choked on his pipe when he realized this and drank his ale quickly so she would have something to refill.

Coming up to his table she held her empty tray flat against her chest as she bent over to grab his mug. “How are you doing, little sir? Let me pour you some more ale,” She poured the ale to the top of the mug allowing a little to peek over the lip and slide down the side. “I haven’t seen you around before? Are you new in town?” She sat the mug back down and stood back waiting for a reply.

“Yes ma’am just came in from Green Burrows this morning. I am on my way to Geldwheel to see family. I always enjoy stopping in the Scarlet Bard before heading off down into the tunnels north.” He did his best not to stare at her smooth features; he had never seen skin so light and delicate before. “You are a wonderful dancer miss, the best I have seen across Anoria.”

“Now, now, you don’t mean that. I am sure there are far better entertainers in the bigger cities. Almighty knows it’s a rough life up here in the mountains. But anyways, are you needing anything else?” She leaned forward and smiled at him, “Have you had supper yet? Or do you have room for some of Tova’s famous apple pie?” Her smile and lavender eyes made Zookji’s ears turn red and began to twitch.

“Yesss, yes I would like some pie. I over heard some of the patrons talking about it.” He rested his feet up on his bag once more as she slipped into the crowd again. He suddenly realized that for the past few minutes he had been puffing on an empty pipe. Sore at himself for being weak around a human female, he grabbed some more pipe weed and lit up again. It was colder back here since it was farthest from the fireplace. He wrapped himself up in his worn, brown cloak. He looked back at the group who were now deep in conversation. He perked his ears up and concentrated on the movements of their lips. One thing that Camaru was most proud about the gnome was his ability to read lips. He was a master at it, and it made it possible to remain far away and hidden while still eavesdropping in on a conversation. He watched intently at Berwyn and Brother Thomas who sat across from Halfgrim and Lord Orin. With the other two’s backs turned he only got half the conversation.

Seems like they are carrying something to Abydos? Zookji pulled out a tiny piece of parchment and began to make notes as he waited for his piece of pie.

It looks like they are saying something about keeping “them” from the Shadowlords. He had heard about the Shadowlords from Camaru, nasty bunch that seemed to give his guild master the shivers whenever they were mentioned.He wondered if that was who wanted them to keep an eye on Lord Orin’s group.

Juliana appeared once more in the crowd with a tray in hand full of food and drinks.“Here you go honey. Enjoy the pie and let me know if you need anything else.” She winked at him and then made her way over to Lord Orin’s table. Zookji’s ears went red again as he watched her while biting into the pie.

Dang. This is really good. No wonder I hear about this from merchants in Berdeen passing through. Seems it is everyone’s favorite at Lord Orin’s table too. That dwarf Halfgrim has a whole pie in front of him. Unbelievable, how can dwarves be on the council when they eat and drink like animals? The gnome stuck his nose up in disgust while he continued working on his own plate.

Now let me see, what have I missed? So they are leaving in the morning for Dushuan, good. Berwyn seems to be distracted by something, he isn’t giving much input anymore. The priest…What was his name? Oh, yeah, Brother Thomas seems to be doing most of the talking. He is saying something about meeting up with someone in Abydos. I better send a message tonight to Camaru; she will want to know about him, I’m sure. Seems like they are just about done talking, I better finish up and send this note to Berdeen.

Two more gulps and a swig of his ale, and Zookji was off through the crowd. Dodging chairs and drunken patrons, he finally made it to the door.

Just as he was about to slip out the door there was a loud commotion behind him. Turning he saw another beautiful woman glide through the sea of customers. Her scarlet hair seemed enchanted almost like it was a living fire. She wore a blue satin long dress; it rippled like water across the floor as she walked. When she reached the stage everyone quieted to almost a dead silence. Those who were dumb enough to open their mouth were slapped across the back of the head. He noted that Lord Orin and his friends, instead of leaving, stood by the bar. Ulbran whispered something into Berwyn’s ear that seemed to startle him. He was about to sneak out then when the instrumentalists began to play a soft, flowing tune.

The Scarlet Bard, Zookji thought. He had heard of the fabled beauty of the women who held that name over the ages. But now, after finally seeing one for the first time, he realized how much injustice they did for her beauty. She was tall and elegant, and yet she held a power over the people with complete humbleness on her face. As she took to the stage, the musicians began a soft melody that seemed to cause the candle flames to dance back and forth. Zookji closed the door and stepped aside to lean against the door post.

The Scarlet Bard began to quietly hum a tune that embraced the melody of the musicians. She swayed back and forth as she continued; her eyes were closed as she seemed to gaze through the ceiling to the starry night above. Zookji couldn’t take his eyes off of her lips; lush, crimson and angelic in his eyes. He was engulfed by the third repeat of the melody; he seemed lost and translucent with the whole spectacle. If it had just been like this for the rest of the time, he would have been in paradise, but then she began to sing…

“In Days gone by we remember those before us.

Loved ones lost, their memories adorn us.

They fought and died a struggle for our freedom.

But darkness gave way to light,

Weakness gave way to might.

So I say let’s lift up our drinks,

Lift up our drinks in praise.

Let’s lift up our drinks,

Lift up our drinks in joy.

Drink to those before us,

Drink to those around us,

Drink to everyone,

Let us drink.

Days go by; we work to make a living.

As the sun goes down, do we make a difference?

As time goes by, love those around you.

For time is short and we only get one chance.

So I say let’s lift up our drinks,

Lift up our drinks in praise.

Let’s lift up our drinks,

Lift up our drinks in joy.

Drink to those before us,

Drink to those around us,

Drink to everyone,

Let us drink.

Drink to everyone,

Let us drink.

Drink to those before us,

Let us drink.

Drink to those around us,

Let us drink

Let us drink

Let us DRINK

The place was in an uproar. People cheered and waved their mugs, the contents sloshing about and soaking nearby patrons. Some were already banging their mugs on the tables and calling out the Scarlet Bard’s name, begging her for another song.

“Diana, Sing us another song…”


“The Scarlet Bard…”

Diana, an angel of my heart, Zookji smiled as he stumbled into the nearest chair in a drunken stupor.

He was mesmerized by the sounds of her humming again as she smiled at the crowd and began another song. Something a little more vibrant and lively, Zookji found himself tapping his foot along with the beat. He didn’t even notice that Orin and the others had slipped out into the night as the crowd got into a rhythm of cheering and tapping along to the melody. And so it went for the rest of the evening as Diana kept the crowd enthralled for another 6 songs. Zookji couldn’t remember the last time he felt so alive, and in those next few hours he couldn’t remember where he was or what he was supposed to be doing, and he didn’t care, all he knew was that he wanted this night to last forever.

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