One armed Moe staggered into the tap room of the Rusty Dragon, dripping wet from the heavy rain. He sniffed and wiped his tattered sleeve across his face, as his proffered tankard was filled with cheap ale. He looked round- the usual bunch of poseurs and would be adventurers, lightly seasoned with a smattering of locals who thought they were living dangerously by coming here. The main body of the inn was for the food and the many visitors, but the taproom was a kingdom unto itself. Boris the barman watched impassively as Moe emptied his tankard. It was refilled equally quickly.
“I heard Long Torm and Scylla and them others that went off to Brinestump Marsh haven’t come back” volunteered Moe, “I just overheard one of the Deputies talking. They reckon they’s deaders.”
“That makes a sort of sense” said Rufus the Bard, “They say there was a show of fireworks to the south late last night; probably the stunties way of thumbing their noses at us.”
“I warned Torm but he just laughed” said Silas the Bow, a slightly scruffy man who made his living hunting game in the lands about, “Brinestump Marsh may not be as large as the Mushfens farther to the south,but the swamp is dense and tangled. It’s easy to get lost in the place. No one’s made a really detailed map of Brinestump— but of course Torm knew best.”
“Reckon you’re right Silas. Torm’s crew were the first off pursuing that Bounty, though I imagine they won’t be the last”, Evan the Boatman shook his head.
“Well the Sheriff is raising the Bounty to 10 gp per head”, continued Moe, “Plus a 300 gp bonus for their leader. They really need to attract someone else- and that’s a good deal of money.”
“What about old Walthus Proudstump?” asked Blackrat , “That old halfling knows the swamp as well as any do. Didn’t Torm speak to him first?”
“Naw always boot first brain later with Torm. Well I suppose we’d best drink to his shade, and those of the others.”
“What about you two boys?” asked Rufus, looking at the Flambeau twins sat in the corner. “You’re always boasting about what great swordsmen you are, but I never see either of you move from that dice table?”
The Flambeau twins, upon being addressed, looked to each other for a few seconds as if silently speaking. Although having no “mental telepathy” as the Vastani Gypsies often boasted of twins having, both Reynard and Dinald knew this freaked the townsfolk out.
“Being this close to Copper pieces wards away arthritis in the old age…” stated Dinald matter of factly. His bluff seemed to work on some of the more gullible regulars, but Rufus grinned into his winecup.
“…and keeping ones fingers constantly in motion helps with nimbility.” Reynald rolled the dice to demonstrate. This was not strictly true, but then he had been suspected to have picked a lock or two in the past.
“However, at 10 Gold per Stuntie head I am willing to take the risk of a lifetime of old, gnarly knobbed fingers like Evans over there and leave this wine soaked table behind (after I take my winnings, of course) and head out into the Brinestump.” Dinald said as he scooped up the used Copper pieces.
“Although our skill at sword play is the best in town, I suppose we’d need the guidance of that feller you talked about…Walthus Proudstump to make sure we don’t walk into a nasty patch of poison Oak.” he continued.
“Hold on there Lads” struck in Silas, “I’m not certain you know what a swamp is, never mind finding your way around one alone. Remember what happened to poor Tomas. You need more hands”
“Funny enough there was a scruffy looking halfling asking around after Walthus yesterday” said Boris. “Not sure I liked the look of him but I heard he went over to the Pixie’s Kitten.”
“There’s a Big Bastard Ulfen scoffing himself in the main room as well- I hear he recently quit as a Caravan Guard-might be a good man in a fight.” added Evan.
“And there’s the Ulfen Witch as well- she seems right well in with Ameiko”, added Blackrat, " She doesn’t say much but I hear she gave Marius Quickfingers the rightabouts when he tried to lift her purse."
Meanwhile Ragnar, the “Big Bastard Ulfen”, had been nursing his watery ale carefully. It had been six days since he had arrived in Sandpoint with a Magnamarian caravan he’d picked up in Riddleport. He was glad to be shot of the “Thieving Varisians”; he’d had to keep a tight hold on his purse the entire journey. Not that there was much in it. Enough for a couple more nights in this flea-bag. And a few more pints of the watered down ale he was drinking.
Well, he’d given up his studies with the Iomedaeans to “find himself”. He just hadn’t figured the answer lay at the bottom of a tankard in the “civilized” southern lands. Nobody here even spoke a proper warrior tongue — he’d had to get by with the merchant babble with its big words for money and screwing people over. Although at least merchants followed a code. Those damn free-living Varisian vermin with their veils and dancing just weren’t his kind.
He needed some action he thought. Something to sink his temple sword into. His hand went to the hilt hanging above his left shoulder. The hilt was well worn; it had been his master’s first sword, presented to Ragnar when he left the temple to begin this journey. The big man’s eyes misted as he recalled his master’s farewell. “Fight well, die gloriously!”
Ragnar lifted his head from the ale and glared around the room. There, those two shifty varisian bastards, the twins who’d just shambled in from the Snug. “They’ll do nicely,” he thought. He rose to his full height and stretched the kinks out of his shoulders. It was time to kill something. Or at least beat it senseless.
From a shadowy corner the big man was watched by a tall half elf, emitting a distinct odour of damp leaf mould. Boris noted that he was probably trouble, ordering only a tiny goblet of the cheapest and most watered down mead. He had sneered at the serving wenches, and even had the cheek to complain about a non- existent smell of urine in his corner. He had wanted to throw the miserable tramp out but he had been restrained by Ameiko.
“Leave it. Got a chip on his shoulder like a lot of half-elves” she had said. He watched the vagrant through slitted eyelids as he no doubt imagined problems with his surroundings. Boris was absolutely correct.
The half-elf Rasha settled back into the dark corner of the Rusty Dragon and grumbled endlessly to himself like the appalling cheapskate he was. “What a dump” he thought.“It reeks of stale urine- not like my cosy woodland hovel at all. The wench is hideous, like most full blooded humans and the food looks revolting”. As if to add credence to this he reached into his bag for a few strips of rancid lizard meat that had nestled into the bottom.
“Only the truly desparate would come into this awful place” he sighed. "Ah well, I guess I’m a bit careworn and desperate myself. If only that Woodsman’s wife hadn’t been almost comely. And so eager. And so noisy…”
He was just bringing the flagon of what the locals called “mead” to his lips when he noticed the large man get up and head for the two Varisians. He saw that this movement was also noted by the strange looking human woman at the bar. She whispered something to the very large looking barman next to her who reached below the bar for something hidden below it.
“Now this should be interesting”, he thought, settling even deeper into the gloom to watch.
Dinald stopped short as the Ulfen giant flexed his muscles. “Brother I do believe you are right!” he smiled, casually unsnapping the restraint on one of his rapiers….one of a matching set. Dinald quickly looked around to see if any Owners, waitresses or cooks were looking to stop what might be an enjoyable bar room exercise, and noticed Ameiko staring straight towards him.
“This gent fits the description Evan mentioned…‘Big Bastard Ulfen’. He is big and he seems Ulfen. I guess well have to ask him if he’s a bastard though” thought Dinald as he prepared a typical Varision pre-fight greeting. He hooked his foot around the spokes of one of the empty chairs at the table, in case the lout started any funny business- he intended to slam the chair into the Ulfens kneecap.
As the locals saw what was coming Boris slammed down a massive club on the polished oak bar.
“I will not tolerate this nonsense in my bar Dinald. You know the rules- and you’re disturbing my customers.” Ameiko’s calm but clear voice rang across the bar. Seconds later Garrick, the very large Half Orc bouncer came in from the back room, and stood glaring across the bar.
“And as for you Ulfen” continued Ameiko, glaring at Ragnar “take your business outside, before I have to embarrass you in front of all the other customers. You’ve had enough to drink. Go.” The rest of the customers went deathly silent.
“Amei, Darling, please…you misread the situation! This gentleman was coming over here to…socialize. Obviously drawn to our tables’ Dice and Coppers game. I was going to offer him a chair and buy him us all a round of your most expensive ale.” Dinald simpered reassuringly as he slowly slid an empty chair towards the big newcomer. Although Dinald and Reynald would have liked to teach the lumbering outlander a sharp lesson in city manners, Dinald wanted to ignore the authority of Lady Ameiko even more.
“And besides Miss Kaijitsu,” Reynald interjected; face glowing red with blush at addressing who he thought was one of Sandpoint’s most beautiful women. “we would like to propose to this…uh…guy a teaming to ward off the gobbers from the merchant roads. We would be hard pressed to do that outside on such a miserable night.”
Both the twins then look at the owner with wide innocent eyes and half pouty lips.It didn’t look like she believed a word of it.
“Hmmphf…if you just talk fine. Any trouble- you’re all barred. You can stay then.” she barked to the glowering Ulfen- his reaction still unpredictable. . "この不自由な方のやがていっぱいです! 私が私の生命にここで無駄に選んだら! " muttered Ameiko as she turned away.
As Ragnar stood there uncertainly, a harsh female voice cut across the bar.
“Hold fast der! EN landsmand i denne gudløse sted? " Starting in surprise Ragnar turned round, and saw a tall blonde woman, with attractive fine features and pale shoulder length hair. She was wearing white robes and animal furs- obviously also Ulfen.
“En Ulfen her? Vel mødt søster!” replied Ragnar.
“What the fuck are they talking about?” whispered Reynald to Dinald.
“Who cares that’s probably the Ulfen Witch. A right looker too!” responded Dinald.
At the Varisian’s words, Rasha rose languidly and strolled between the giant, the witch and the bored rogues.
“If I might interject, gentlemen, and lady, you sound like you’ll be needing a scout. That is unless your plan of action is to go crashing through the brush like drunken ogres until the Goblins come to you? I admit that plan may have some merit if you don’t want to work too hard at finding them. In any case, I also thought I heard a rumor of free premium Ale, though I’m sure what passes for the finest in this establishment will most likely have the bouquet of Orc sweat.”
Reynald nodded toward the newcomer, and motioned for a new round of the best ale on tap for all at the table. Dinald pulled a chair across and waved the female Ulfen towards it. With a hesitant nod, she complied. “The big outlander will probably be less likely to start a fight with the girl present” he thought.
“Vell, if zis lovely lady is a friend of yours, then so am I!” said the Big Bastard Ulfen, as he took the offered seat, and rising up, motioned for the witch to take the vacated chair, while he took an empty chair from a nearby table.
“Now, I am Ragnar Yellowbreeks, warrior of Iomedae. And I am thirsty!”
“I am Ailukka Kolveig, of the Agjarnkyn.”said the Witch, speaking slowly but distinctly. “I heard you speak of der grim drillesyg alf…..Ach! Goblins!?”
“He’s Reynald” said Dinald nodding to his brother across the table.
“He’s Dinald” said Reynald hoisting a newly filled pint of Boris’s best.
“We are the brothers Flambeau.” They said annoyingly in unison. If the others at the table had known the hours spent on getting that introduction just right, they would either have been mightily impressed or amazed how much effort the twins could put into wasting their lives away.
“What about this surly halfling Boris mentioned?” asked Dinald. “Anyone know anything about him?”
“You joke brother” chimed in Reynald, “We need Adventurer’s Bold not a mascot.”
The atmosphere of the bar changed as a high-pitched growl came from the other side of the bar.
“Small? SMALL? SMALL? Are ye talkin’ ta me or is ye chewin’ a brick? ‘Coz iffen ye be talkin’ to me, ye’ll be wishin’ ye’d been chewin’ a brick ‘coz ye’ll be ‘avin’ more teeth left a’ the end.”
The outburst was met by laughter. Until a flagon came flying through the air crashing into one of the regulars, sending ale splashing across half of the bar.
“C’mon then, ye bastards. Let’s tek it outside an’ see how funny yees think it then. I’ll tek the lot ’o yous.”
Garrick the bouncer sighed a deep sigh as he headed over to sort out the growing altercation –a sigh that told everyone that such events were a regular happening at the Rusty Dragon this close to closing time.
The half orc grabbed a spitting halfling by the scruff of the neck. The little fellow was thrashing around, trying to punch and kick at the bouncer, but his limbs simply weren’t long enough.
“Garrick, ye pig-fuckin’ bastard,” Ungo shouts. “One o’ these days I’m gonna be sober. An’ I’m gonna ‘ave me axe wi’ me. An’ then I’m gonna gut ye like …”
The rest of the halfling’s tirade was cut off as Garrick opened the door, and hurled the little fella out into the gutter.
He closed the door, sighed once more and looked around to see if anyone else deserved the same treatment as the halfling, before returning to his stool on the bar and picking up his knitting: it looked like a cold winter was on the way this year.
“Dear oh dear!”said Dinald, rolling his eyes. “Halflings! I ask you!”
“Now, that one,” said Ragnar admiringly, pointing at the door through which Ungo was just tossed, “that one I would approve of!” He got up and headed for the door “Please excuse one moment!”
Outside in the chill autumn dark the halfling was dusting himself and cursing. Ragnar noticed that there were Shoanti tribal tattoos on his arms- possibly there were some halfling communities within the Shoanti territories, or perhaps this one was an adopted stray. Still- no matter. As he listened to the halflings curses, he frowned in curiosity.
“Please excuse me Master Sindsyg, but what is ‘Bampot’?”
The halfling sneered as he rearranged his kilt to hide the fact that there was very little contained beneath it.
“Master? MASTER? MASTER?” he shouted, continuing his earlier tirade. “D’ye ken ahm lookin’ like a wee bairn t’ye? Ye bastard. That’ll be MISTER if’n ye be plannin’ on speakin’ ta ma face an’ not me axe, C*ntCleaver.”
He calmed a little.
“Bampots – all o’ the boggin, bowfin, dreeps in there,” he scowled with a nod towards the bar. “Think’n they’re harder than me jus’ because they’re a bunch o’ lanky bassies. They’d never say it to ma face if’n they met me alone though, cuz they know I’d nut the feckin’ bastards.”