The sun began to set behind the western peaks by the time Caldor and Foe arrived on the outskirts of Irbet. Most had headed off to bed while a rowdy bunch gathered outside the inn.
Upon entering the village, Caldor leapt from the gryphon and hurried to the birches. His legs were numb but his bladder wasn’t. The ride had been long, and he didn’t wish to pee in a hole or a pot when at the inn.
He didn’t know who or what to expect.
The small village consisted of one tavern, one farm, and two houses. He had come across smaller places in his time. This wasn’t the worst looking of the villages either. Compared to some of the fishing villages in the East, Irbet was fit for royalty.
“Vesper’s away,” Foe plodded over to the tree next to Caldor, undoing the flap on his trousers. The sage closed his robe, turning away.
The Dermite weren’t private people. They bathed together and urinated together. Their lifestyle was barbaric compared to the Chijin, who were better known for their privacy than anything else.
“I want to ask those men if they have seen the survivor,” Caldor stated.
Foe wiped his hands on his pants.
Most Dermite weren’t hygienic either. At times, Caldor had to open the privy door with his robe or else force himself to remember to wash his hands upon returning to his room. Most folk didn’t have a decent sense of cleanliness, but the old sage knew the benefits of clean hands in his line of work.
“I’d wait ’til morn. No one’ll be able to give yah a straight answer. They’re all knackered,” just as Foe said that, one of the villagers fell from a barrel and onto the gravel pathway. “These middle folk have no skill.”
By skill he meant drinking. The Dermite were known for two things, one - to no surprise - was their skill with a weapon, while the other happened to be the amount of alcohol they could drink. The Chijin for their small stature were surprisingly good drinkers, although their interests lay more in perfecting the best brew.
“To the tavern then,” Caldor stated instead of posing it as a question.
The two men walked along the road. The scraping of their heels against the gravel and the loud shouts from the tavern filled the night air.
Approaching the broken fence, Caldor’s eye caught sight of a news board. Paper and posters were nailed - some tattered and yellow with age, others crisp and white from being recently posted. Given the amount of paper, he was certain people didn’t ignore it. Maybe that was a way of getting the information they needed?
“What yah stopped for? The taverns over there,” Foe called.
“The board - do you think the people around here read it?” Caldor asked, noticing his friend glance briefly at the papers.
“Maybe - why?” Foe asked with tinge of uncertainty in his voice.
“I was thinking of appealing to the populace by posting if anyone has seen the Morzi. They would be rewarded for coming forward, of course. It could save us some time,” Caldor explained.
“I wouldn’ add coin,” Foe warned.
“And why not? It would give them incentive,” Caldor crossed his arms.
“Yeah, incentive to lie,” Foe shot back.
Foe’s comment surprised the sage. His friend normally had a high opinion of those around him, but then again, these people were strangers.
“You have little faith in the people here. I am sure they are honest folk,” the sage remarked.
“No, I don’ have little faith, I just know what money does to people,” Foe sighed.
“And I do not?” Caldor shot back with hostility.
“I didn’ say that,” Foe turned back to the tavern. “Do what yah want - I’ll be findin’ us a seat.”
The sage looked back at the board. Surely the people here were honest. They were farmers and worked hard for what they had. Foe was just being negative.
Taking the journal from the pocket in his robe, Caldor jotted a short advertisement.
LOOKING FOR INFORMATION
REGARDING RECENT TRAVELLERS FROM MORZA.
THOSE WITH INFORMATION WILL BE REWARDED 2 SILVER.
ASK FOR CALDOR LEFWID AT THE TAVERN.
He pushed the paper through an old rusted nail. Hopefully the people in the village would notice, and he would have visitors with information in the morning.
Puffing up his chest, Caldor couldn’t help but believe he had done a good thing. This would save them time and help point them in the right direction. Nothing could go wrong with this plan.
The two-storey cob and thatched roofed tavern illuminated the road outside giving the night a welcoming glow. Loud laughter echoed through the circular windows on the left side of the establishment while shadows of patrons danced into the front yard through the open doorway. The rowdy group outside were polite enough to give the old sage space to make it through the rickety broken gate leading onto the front yard. He stopped atop the step leading to the door when he heard a squeaking above his head.
A wooden sign swung from a rusted chain over the entrance. Its hinges squeaked while it rocked back and forth. For a moment Caldor didn’t want to believe the name of the tavern was The Happy Farmhand.
Thank Fate I am not with my fellow colleagues. Caldor couldn’t have lived through the embarrassment of having to stay in such a place. He preferred staying in classier establishments named for people like Firkin of Beck - a man who apparently slew a bear that ravaged the local villages - or King Cark the Courageous - grandfather to the current king of Derm and first to set up actual borders indicating where the Northern lands begun. He wouldn’t have stayed in a place with a name meant to be a joke and a sign with a boy smiling disturbingly at a sheep.
Most places had a reason behind the name; at that moment, Caldor hoped there wasn’t one.
The tavern grew louder when he stepped inside the dimly lit room. Eight oak tables were full out of the ten packed into the overcrowded space. Two groups stood around claiming the corners of the room as theirs, while they sucked back more brew than they should have. Their voices boomed, clambering together incoherent sentences that put Caldors linguistic skills to the test.
Of course Foe would abandon him to wander around on his own with large thugs stomping about. His friend probably found a comfortable bench somewhere to watch while Caldor tried to navigate the large crowd. It would’ve been easier if Foe had taken charge and gotten them the drinks while Caldor found a place to sit.
Now the sage had to deal with inebriated imbeciles. That’s when he spotted his friend in the farthest right corner of the room. A iron torch hung on the wall near the table, a perfect amount of light to allow him to look over Naygu’s text hooked to his belt - if they couldn’t get rooms for the night, that is.
The smell of stale beer and bile filled the air. He was forced to dodge punches and brawls to make it to his friend. He stepped over a man passed out on the floor who, despite being out cold, had a death grip on his stein.
Avoiding broken glass, he scuttled between two patrons just before they went to blows. A broken chair with a missing back left leg leaned against the wall. Another patron doubled over near the far left corner, his skin a pale green while he dry heaved.
Pushing his way through the crowd, Caldor finally arrived at the counter where he saw a tall brutish man stacking steins. He had a dirty cotton cloth rested over his shoulder and a tattered apron around his waist. He picked up a stein from the stack before turning to fill it with the golden liquid pouring from the spit in the barrel behind him.
Of course Caldor’s luck would have the bar only low enough for his nose to breach as he peered over the polished pine counter like a small child.
Banging a flat hand on the top of the bar, Caldor watched the barkeep look at him with narrowed eyes.
“Excuse me!” Caldor shouted, hearing his voice buzzing in his ears.
“What can I get yah, wee man?”
“Do you have two rooms?” Caldor shouted.
“Fa’ how long?”
“Tonight,” he shouted louder.
“Yeah. Three silver each.”
Caldor passed the man the coin from inside his robe.
“Are yah wanting them now?” the keeper gestured towards the stairs to the left. Caldor shook his head.
“No, two pints of your local craft,” Caldor lifted two fingers.
The keeper nodded and reached for two steins. Caldor hoped they had at least been washed.
“What brings yah here?” the keeper began pouring the pints, while Caldor used his arms to prop himself higher along the bar ledge.
“Looking for someone,” the sage shouted.
“Oh? Who yah lookin’ fa?” the keeper set one of the steins down. The white froth spilled over the side pooling evenly around the bottom.
“A Morzi,” his words made the keeper’s brow rise, “have you seen one?”
“Nah, they aren’t fa’ places like this. I’d check the farm,” the keeper replied.
Good advice. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to stay in such a lowbrow place.
“Thank you,” Caldor said, placing six coppers onto the counter.
Irbet was going better than he thought. Not even an hour into his visit and already he had a lead on where the survivor could be.
Dodging fists and shoves, Caldor - and the brew - made it safely to the table where Foe waited. His friend leaned back on the bench, his head against the wall with his mouth open. It amazed Caldor how the Steward could sleep anywhere, no matter how loud.
Slamming the pint in front of his companion, Caldor noticed Foe spring forward at the noise.
“Enjoy,” Caldor shouted. His ears were already ringing, but he preferred the noise in the tavern over the screams he would have been hearing back in Demor.
“Yah made it. I was worried,” Foe yawned, before taking a sip from the stein.
Caldor did the same. The fizzy liquid danced over his tongue. The blonde brew was sour and the taste reminded him of wood. The brew wasn’t Dermite with its weak flavor, but it would have to do. He took another swig before setting the stein back down.
“I could tell you were worried by the volume of your snores,” the corner of the sage’s mouth creased his beard when he smirked.
“La’reen’s babied yar pallet,” Foe spat, taking another swig. “Yah face looks like yah bit yar tongue.”
“Not the worst I’ve had. Not the best,” Caldor mused.
There had been a sweet cider in Calin that tasted like peaches and a mead in La’reen that reminded him of liquid sunshine. Northerners made a good stout that was hardy and heavy. Even their lighter beers had a strong punch.
Morza also made an interesting wine created out of dragon fruit and goji berries. The taste was hard to describe and had made his tongue tingle when he tried it in La’reen. It had been a popular export to the southern oasis and had brought much fame to the small mountain community.
Maybe his palate was becoming pickier with age, but he also wanted some enjoyment out of what he drank.
They used to make a good wine. Caldor forced himself to correct his thoughts. There was no one left in the city, except one survivor.
Upon leaving Morza, Caldor had seen what had happened to the remaining citizens. The wall that had protected them from the dangers in the forest had trapped them inside, allowing for Sydrin’s forces to kill them off. Morzi bodies were piled higher than the gateway to the valley that had to be around ten meters high. All were left with the same fatal wound across their throats.
How lucky he was not to have been in Morza. He would have likely ended up hanging from a tree or burning in the streets. At his age, he wouldn’t have survived such an event, but there had been children in those piles that would never grow to his age. Those brilliant minds would never grace the world with their wonders and discoveries. He squeezed the body of the stein until his knuckles went white just thinking of how the world had become a larger pit of misery.
There was one survivor that escaped… one that knew the truth of what happened. He needed to know. He needed to find out what had led to such utter devastation.
Caldor glanced up to see the man before him. Foe’s heavy brow shadowed his bull nose, and his shaggy long hair lay tangled across his hunched shoulders while he leaned on the table. One hand scratched the side of his face, rustling the short beard the hid his square jaw. Another two steins sat in the middle of the table.
“When did you get those?”
“When yah were dreamin’. Now, drink. It chases them monsters away.”
Caldor grinned upon hearing his friend. There were plenty of monsters haunting his thoughts, and certainly the drink would drown them for one evening.