01 – The Hoarse Siren Inn
The damage done by those who came before remained hidden in the dark crevices, as did that of the current inhabitants. The city of Lunfere was a gathering hub of humanity in the far north of the Crown Shores, a place where lives crossed, deals were made, and fates were forged. Heavy timbers brace mortared stone buildings and cedar-shingled roofs. Brightly colored fabrics were something for the southern reaches. Here, winter was only pushed back for the spring, never defeated. A visitor might describe Lunfere as a collection of grays and browns. They might describe her people as hardy, stoic, but surprisingly warm if you managed to befriend them. They may also speak in more quiet tones of the de facto rulers of the city, the Five Sea-Leige Barons.
Lunfere looked different at night. Darkness blanketed streets dotted with the warm glow of lanterns. Where the oil-fed flames feared to shed their light, and where the cold moonlight shied away, were dark corners and crowded alleyways where sometimes folk went but did not return.
Some nights, not too far from the bustling docks district, if the ocean was calm and you placed a palm on the frigid, pitted cobblestones, you could feel a deep, rhythmic thrumming. There were old places below these streets where money exchanged hands for blood and sport. Tonight, the cobblestones were still, but people’s voices weren’t.
Courtyards nestled in dead-end streets, commons houses, secluded tables in local taverns, and the cramped bellies of ships were alive with liquor and talk of insurrection. Bloodshot eyes and tense silence greeted any unknown individual who happened by one of these gatherings. After they had passed, angry voices boiled over again.
Outside the city gates, was the Hoarse Siren Inn, nestled between the ruins of old walls and a copse of trees. It was abuzz with people that night, and all were in good spirits.
The Inn was a welcoming place; it was a traveler’s inn where many a tale were exchanged over hearty meals and well-brewed beer. The central structure was a large common room, which was heated by two log fires—one hearth on the north wall and one on the south wall. In between the fireplaces was a sturdily built bar, which on this fine night was manned by Aske Butterbee, a mature man with a receding crown of dark hair and a matching beard. Aske was the owner of the establishment and took great pride in his work and his place, simple as it was.
There were lanterns and candles arranged across the heavy ceiling beams, and on the west wall, a massive notice board hung, where travelers would exchange rumors and services. It was a very recent addition to this notice board that had stoked the buzz one this early winter’s eve.
“I heard she tore a frost dragon’s throat out with ‘er teeth!” A patron hollered as he pointed to a long scroll of parchment that had been hung there a few minutes ago, a name clearly visible in large, text at the bottom.
This claim was met with a few hearty laughs, but many of the patrons looked at the speaker with interest. Another man, perhaps not to be outdone, added, “I heard she killed the Seawolf, hung him up by ‘is nodgers, she did!”
More laughs at that, sprinkled with a few cheers. The purveyor of this rumor looked at his mates sitting around nearby and grinned proudly.
Aske walked down the bar, and after draping the bar cloth over his forearm distractedly, he leaned on his elbow and looked out at his common room. His face bore a mixture of interest and amusement. It had been quite dull in here in the recent months, hearing laughter echo from the walls was a welcome development.
“I ‘eard she crushed the skulls of three men at once between her t’ighs!” An older sea-worn gentleman with few teeth stood suddenly and, with an exaggerated motion, bowed his legs outward and then brought them together, feigning great effort in doing so. With three loud claps of his calloused hands, he indicated said crushing of skulls and then pointed about the room nodding. “Better believe it, saw it me’self!”
Laughter erupted in the common room, and Aske grinned.
“You haven’t seen a women’s thighs since before my grandpa was born, you old sea-dog!”
The old sea-dog was taken aback at this claim and didn’t find it quite as humorous as the men around him. He argued that in fact that he had seen the thighs of that man’s mother, but the retort was carried away by the noise in the room, and sadly went unheard.
A soft voice reached Aske’s ears, slicing through the laughter and ruckus like a knife, “Pardon me, good sir, a moment for a drink, yes?”
Aske started a bit and looked away from his common room towards the voice. A man in a blueish-grey cloak sat about five feet away on one of the barstools and seemed to have been the owner of the request.
Slinging the bar rag over his shoulder and reaching for a mug, the proprietor shook his head a bit, trying to determine when he remembered this man arriving. He took in the appearance of the newcomer as he poured an ale. By the time Aske walked over and placed it in front of him, he had written it off to the man’s incredibly forgettable appearance: forty to fifty years old, plain features, brown hair, brown eyes. It was unkind to say, but he was actually boring to look at.
As such the bartender didn’t even manage to ask for payment, before he had already turned away to perform another chore. It wasn’t until the soft voice once again reached his ear, with unerring certainty, that he turned back, blinked, and answered,
“Ah, just a bit-copper will do.”
A gloved hand produced a square, dented copper piece, and placed it on the bar. The boring-looking man smiled and dipped his head, “Thank you kindly.” Then after a cursory glance over his shoulder at the dueling rumors, he turned back and stated plainly, “That’s not how it happened.”
Aske raised an eyebrow. He may be forgettable, but something about his voice begged that you listen. The bartender leaned on his bar again and lifted his chin, questioningly, “What isn’t?”
The boring-looking man was peering into his ale, swirling it in the mug. He didn’t seem interested in taking a drink and instead set it back on the bar before answering, “Well, for one, it wasn’t a nine-foot snow bear, it was a very, very angry Northern Chromandi.”
Aske grinned as if to humor him. “That so, is it?”
“That is so, yes.”
“Secondly, she didn’t light it on fire with her ‘breath of rage’; it was, in fact, a wildfire bolt that struck the Chromandi across its back whilst she wrestled it.”
Aske’s grin faded a little. The man didn’t seem to be joking. The bartender shifted on his arm and watched the boring-looking man with renewed interest. “How do you know it to be the case, eh- I didn’t catch your name?”
“Brevon, then, how do you know what Locke the Legend actually did?
More laughter clattered the room, followed by the protestations of another patron being made the butt of an unexpected joke.
The man named Brevon took up his mug, looked into it once more, then curiously set it back down, after which he lifted his gaze to the bartender and said simply.
“Because I was there.”