Fan Fiction

30 July 2005, 3:18 PM

The Tavern by James Le Grice []

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The Galloping Ghol Tavern lies at the very edge of Forest Heart on the ancient King's Highway between Muirthemne and Stoneheim. For just over two hundred years, the Galloping Ghol has served as a watering hole for local foresters and a place for weary travelers to put their feet up after days of journeying on the North-South road. Never was there a night when the pub wasn't filled to capacity with hungry customers. Given its location on a main road next to the borders of civilization, the Galloping Ghol attracted a diverse range of guests. Scrawny elves could be seen mingling with plump little dwarves. Huntsmen could be found having a sherry with members of the government. It wasn't unusual to find a centaur draining a pint of mead with a warlock. The tavern did not discriminate based on social status, and even though most of the customers were human, it certainly did not limit by species, unlike many similar establishments throughout the empire. The Galloping Ghol was a welcoming home to all travelers and locals.

Once, on a particularly stormy night in March, the tavern played host to a chance encounter. As always, the pub was filled with inhabitants, more than usual this night as many people just wanted to go somewhere warm out of the rain. Oswald, the owner, had just sold half the rooms upstairs to a group of Northern men this afternoon. While it was in no way his place to ask questions, Oswald couldn't help but feel a little nervous about letting these men in. When they had arrived, the Northerners were all clad in chain mail and armed to the teeth. Swords, axes, crossbows, longbows, shields, you name it, they had it. Now Oswald had had soldiers stay at his tavern before, that was quite common, but he couldn't make up his mind if these men were real soldiers or not. They were armed like soldiers, but they bore no official markings of legionnaires and their leader had nothing to signify his imperial rank. Soon after the men had settled in and had supper, Oswald realized that there was nothing to be worried about. These men were most friendly and easy to get along with. As the other customers poured in, the Northerners made a natural addition. They provided entertainment, narrating stories of their past adventures and telling some of the funniest jokes anyone in the pub had ever heard. The men also had a healthy appetite, as northerners traditionally do, which proved profitable for Oswald. As the night wore on, Oswald was able to let out a sigh of relief. Whatever initial prejudices he had about these men, they were gone now. The only danger any of them posed was that of a seven-foot tall goliath called Cormac towards a very uninterested looking two-headed fire breathing woman whom he'd been trying to chat up all night. He posed no physical threat to her, he was giant but gentle; but there was just the chance that he might bore her to death going on about how he acquired each of his tattoos.

It was getting late, and the crowd was starting to thin, although the rain continued to beat down outside. While the other men drank and were merry, Anselm, one of the group's bowmen, sat by the window anxiously watching the shadowy forest outside. He had a right to be worried about the team's leader. After all, Anselm had known him longer than the others had. The two of them had fought together in the Great War. What could be taking him so long, Anselm thought? No sooner had that thought crossed his mind when Anselm spotted his leader, Cruniac, striding out of the woods. And to his surprise, Cruniac was accompanied by two other men.

Cruniac, a mustached man wearing a rather official looking traveling cloak and mail, saw himself into the lobby, dripping water all over the floor. Anselm came out of the bar to greet him immediately.

"What in the name of Balor's brains has taken you so long? I was beginning to worry something had happened to you!" Anselm let out.

"Steady on, man," Cruniac said as he wiped a sheet of water off his cloak. "I've only been gone just over an hour!"

"But it shouldn't have taken you that long to get to the forester's hut. It's only just up the path there!"

'Well I had a slight delay," Cruniac nodded towards the rustic looking men behind him. "And once I got to the forester's hut, I had some negotiating to do."

Anselm lowered his voice.

"You did get them, didn't you?" he said.

"No worries, I got them. Mind you, I was only able to get a couple of them. These things turned out to be a lot more expensive than I reckoned, which shouldn't be too surprising given how rare they are."

Anselm looked a little disappointed at this news.

"Do you think a couple is going to be enough?" he asked.

"It's going to have to be enough. I did as much haggling as I could to get the price down, but even still, if I bought a third we would have no money left for food or shelter. We'd have to go begging. But don't worry, Anselm, two will be plenty for the job. "

"How much did they end up costing?"

Cruniac sighed.

"Only a small fortune. Let's just say we're going to be on very tight budget from now on, until we raise some more money that is."

Anselm cringed. A shortage of cash did not make for easy traveling. It was only just now during a momentary pause in the conversation that Anselm took notice of the two men accompanying his leader. They looked like they had never seen civilization before, and given their perplexed expressions while standing in the tavern's lobby, Anselm figured he might just be right about that.

"Cruniac, who are they?"

Cruniac diverted his attention back to his companions. Hairy was the best way to describe them. The two had long unkempt hair and their faces were hidden under overgrown beards. The two, one was slightly taller than the other, were both dressed in coats made from the fur and skins of a variety of different animals. Both coats were now drenched and heavy from the weather.

"Oh, these are some people I ran into while on my way to the forester's." said Cruniac very matter of factly.

"And why are they here with you?"

"Well I wasn't about to leave them out there, now was I? I was passing along on my way and saw these two young men camped out under an oak tree trying to keep dry. I realized from the looks of them that they must have been living out in the woods for a while, and I thought to myself, Forest Heart's no place for two young men to be living out on their own. It's far too dangerous, especially in this kind of weather. They could catch cold and die; I'm sure you'd agree, Anselm.'

'Do you even know who they are?"

"No, no...I'm not quite sure they speak our language, or if they can even speak at all. Regardless though, I was able to persuade them that they'd be better off coming with me to the tavern here. You know, so they could dry off, get warm, and sleep in a proper bed for once.'

Anselm just stood there trying to think of what to say. His leader never ceased to amaze him. Cruniac leaned his head through the door into the smoky bar room.

"Innkeeper!" he called out to Oswald, who was behind the bar. Oswald stopped what he was doing and came out into the lobby. The look of surprise in his eyes proved that he had the same reaction as Anselm when he saw Cruniac's two companions.

'Innkeeper, you wouldn't happen to have a couple more beds available for my friends here, would you?"

Oswald looked back and forth from the wild men to Cruniac. If they were friends of Cruniac, they must be respectable, he figured. Oswald smiled.

"Well yes, as a matter of fact. I just happen to have a couple of spare beds up in the loft. Mind you it's going to be a bit drippy up there tonight what with this rain and all."

Oswald looked jovially at the two men in furs.

"I hope your friends here don't mind the occasional soggy piece of thatch falling on them during the night!"

The two men said nothing, creating a somewhat awkward silence in the conversation. Cruniac took it upon himself to break that silence.

"I'm sure they'd be happy just to sleep in a proper bed for once. That would be great then. You go show them up to their beds, and fetch them some dry clothes and a razor so they can clean themselves up a bit. Any expense they require, I will pay for it."

Cruniac turned to the two.

"When you've had a shave and dried off, come downstairs and get some supper. We'll all be in one of private rooms off to the side. I'll introduce you to the lads. We'll all be eager to hear more about you!"

And with that, Oswald led the two men up the stairs, leaving Cruniac and Anselm alone in the lobby.

"Now I expect you lot have eaten already, but I'm famished! I hear they do great wild boar bangers here, I think I'll order a plate of those."

Anselm did not look amused.

"Cruniac, what are you playing at? I thought you just said we were on a tight budget. And now you're throwing around our money for some homeless people you don't even know!"

"Anselm, I'm sure you'd do the same in my situation. I couldn't just leave them out there in the woods. I brought them to shelter, it was the right thing to do."

"Do you know what kind of people live out in Forest Heart? Criminals, Cruniac! This woods is notorious for being a hideout for murderers, thieves, and sorcerers. How do you know that these two friends of yours aren't going to slit our throats while we're sleeping and rob us blind?"

Cruniac let out a little laugh and started towards the bar room door.

"Now that's just paranoid nonsense, Anselm."

Anselm, however, was not convinced. Meanwhile upstairs, Oswald had just left the two strangers alone up in the loft with dry clothes, a washbasin, a couple of razors and a pair of scissors. Once Oswald had left, the two got out of their wet clothes and changed to the warm dry ones. The taller of the two sat on his bed looking pensively into the basin.

"Good lord! Is this really what I look like?"

He hadn't seen his reflection in years, and the wild bearded man staring back at him had given him a start.

"'fraid so, Kalwa. I don't think I look much better either."

The shorter of the two men had already grabbed a pair of scissors and started cutting away at his untamed mane.

"It's going to feel so good sleeping in a bed again! I can't even remember what that feels like."

Kalwa was still staring in awe at his fierce looking reflection.

"Yeah, you're right, Pippin. It'll be a welcome change from piles of leaves."

Kalwa tilted is head to the left, trying to examine all the grizzly hair under his chin. Pippin had already cut off most of his own beard.

"So what do you think?" Kalwa asked suddenly.

"About what?"

"About this Cruniac guy, and these men of his. Do you think we can trust him?"

"I don't see why not. He's paying for us to stay here, isn't he?" said Pippin as he started to cut his long shaggy locks. Kalwa grunted.

"He looked like a soldier."


Kalwa looked away from his basin and stared at Pippin in surprise.

"So?! It's like turning ourselves in. I haven't spent the last six years aimlessly wandering in Forest Heart just to waltz up to the authorities and say 'Hear I am! Hang me now!'"

Pippin snipped his scissors and another great clump of hair fell to the ground.

"I think you're over reacting. He's not a real soldier, anyway. Official legionnaires have a badge on their chest signifying their imperial affiliations. He didn't have one. Besides, I don't think he's from The Province; he had a northern accent. Probably from somewhere up near Gower. But even if he was a real legionnaire, I highly doubt he'd be concerned with something that happened years ago in a backwater fiefdom over fifty miles away."

Kalwa shook his head.

"That's easy for you to say, Pippin. You're not the one who's committed the serious crime here. Oh Lord!"

Kalwa thought back on the subject.

"He was a member of the nobility!"

"He wasn't yet," said Pippin. "Technically speaking he was still only a blacksmith. But anyway, I think we can trust this Cruniac fellow. Remember he was saying something about there being an open spot and us being welcome to join him and his men? Well I think that would be a good opportunity. It would give us a chance to get back into the world."

"You think we should join them? We don't even know what they do!" Kalwa said.

"Whatever they do, it would be better than spending the rest of our lives wandering in that forest. Anyway, are you going to shave or not? You heard what Cruniac said; they're waiting for us downstairs. And I think we ought to tell them. You know, about what happened."

Kalwa did not like the sound of that at all. He looked positively alarmed at the suggestion.

"No way in Hell!" he said.

"Come on," Pippin coaxed. "If we want them to trust us, then we should trust them. Besides, it would be good to get this off our chests anyway. It's best to start things off truthfully. If we're going to join them, then we should make it clear who we are. They're going to want to know why we were in that forest anyway, and I don't think we should lie."

Kalwa shook his head and then turned back to the basin. As much as he didn't want to come clean about himself, he did want to return to the civilized world. But it was this matter of telling the truth that was bothersome. It would be so much easier just to give them a false story. They'd never have to know... But he supposed Pippin was probably right. It would establish a certain level of trust he came out and told the truth about himself. Kalwa splashed water over his bearded face. There would be time to decide this after a good shave, he reckoned. Looking at the razor in his had, Kalwa just hoped he remembered how to use one of these.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~