I sat with the Innkeeper for a moment letting what he’d just told me to swim around in my mind.
“The soldiers?” I asked nodding my head to the group of soldiers taking up residence at the other side of the room.
“Not all of them,” the Innkeeper said, ”but a good lot of them.”
“I reckon half the soldiers here are demonspawn. It’s worse in some places, at least that’s the word.”
“It’s not just the soldiers. All matter of Fain are with them. Werewolves, vampires, ghouls, just wreaking havoc.”
“Why would Ravengard’s men be working with them?”
“Who knows? But folks sure pay up.”
“Taxes. Ravengard raised them. Before when you couldn’t pay, some thug would rough you up. Now a werewolf will you eat your kid.”
“And the Army does nothing?”
“Ha!” The Innkeeper laughed, “half the time I think they’re here to make sure no one messes with the Fain.”
It was beginning to make more sense why the Wardens were disbanded, especially if they were recruiting Fain, they’d want as many creatures getting through as possible.
“I think I’m getting a better picture.”
“The Fain aren’t the only problem.”
“No,” he said, “It’s the Marshall. A man named Skein. Makes my skin crawl. He’ll bring creatures with him but he’s the real monster.”
“You’re giving me second thoughts about heading to Pembroke proper.”
“Is that where you’re heading?”
I nodded, “Raventown, Pembroke city, maybe even Blackthorn Castle. But now I don’t know.”
“What are you looking to do?”
“Guard work. It’s really all that’s left without the Wardens.”
“Well if it’s guard work you want, you can stay right here.”
“Of course. I’ve only got one room for you and I can’t pay much, but I can throw in a few meals.”
“You mean it?”
“Yes. Who better to have when the Fain come round than a few wardens.”
“Deal,” I said.
“Bardo,” the large man said and we clasped arms to seal the deal.
“Owen West,” I said “I’ll go let them know about their new employment,” I motioned to Morgan, Ben, and Eric.
“Good. I need to help clean up anyway. You can start tomorrow if you wish.”
“Perfect. Starting tomorrow I’ll make sure at least one of us is here at all times.”
Most of the food was gone when I got back to the table, but I managed to swipe another slice of bread before Eric finished off the loaf.
“I got us a job.”
“You did?” Ben said.
“Where?” Eric asked.
“Guard work?” Eric asked.
“No, I told him we’re singers so you and Ben will be pretending to be troubadour’s three nights a week.”
The two of them bought it for just a moment.
“You joke,” Ben said, “but I’d be singing for the King in a week and leave you all behind.”
“More likely, they’d burn the place down to make it stop,” Eric said.
I interrupted, “Starting tomorrow, we’ll be keeping an eye on the place, I suggest we grab some sleep.”
Our room was small but there were two beds and that’s really all we needed.
Eric nuzzled against Ben in one and Morgan and I took the other. Eric and Ben were out cold within seconds.
“Do you mind that I just took the job?” I asked Morgan.
“No. We don’t have much choice, I would have made the same deal.”
“I would have been able to get more money though.”
“Oh, I have little doubt.”
I woke with the sun, living in the woods tended to make for early mornings, but it was nice not to wake up in a damp cloak.
Eric and Ben went down for food ad Morgan combed through her hair. I watched the town stirring in the morning through the small window in our room. Eric and Ben came back with some scraps from last night, a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese and some cold potatoes.
“So are we on duty today?” Ben asked.
“Yes.” I said, “until further notice one of us always has to be here.”
“I volunteer,” Eric said.
“You do?” Morgan asked.
“Yes, this place has a bed and food. I’m never leaving.”
“Well good,” Morgan said, “You and Ben stay here. One of you should be downstairs at al times. If something happens, one of you come get us.”
“Where are you going?”
“We’ll be around. Need to get the feel of the town. It’s not the woods. That’s clear.
Morgan and I strolled through town. First, we stopped to get an arms note from the Mayor. We met with the Mayor’s scribe and a few minutes later we had a letter bearing Lord Daggett’s seal, the Lord whose lands Avonsdale fell in. It said we had a reason to carry arms in the city.
Soldiers were exempt and Wardens were allowed to as well, but the order was no more and now we were merely private citizens, so we needed the local Lord’s permission. Really it was just a way for the Lord to bleed some coin from the citizens.
The nobility in Pembroke were really more of a ceremonial thing as the Ravengards consolidated all martial power a long time ago, and they were little more than glorified rich people, but it was still best to abide by the rules, as they could still make your life miserable on occasion.
With our new letters, Morgan belted a long knife on her hip and carried my staff. Morgan also had half a dozen blades in various metals hidden on her person, though trying to find them would likely result in the loss of a hand.
“Come on,” she said.
“I thought we were going back to the Inn?”
“We have a few minutes.”
I followed her down the lane. The majority of Avonsdale was one condensed to one a collection of buildings along the Autumn Road, with houses surrounding until it turned back to forest or farmland. We kept going to the northern half.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
She stopped in front of a smaller building, a single house, old, but well taken care of. It finally dawned on me why we were here. There was a sign out front that read:
I was standing in front of Avon the Bard’s home.
“I know your secret,” Morgan said smiling.
“And what is that?”
“I know that that book you won’t part with is his work.”
It was true. I had a tome wrapped in oilcloth stashed in my bag at the Inn. I was quite the fan. She couldn’t have known the real reason it was so special, but it was a nice gesture.
“I figured we could spare a few moments,” she said.
“Can we go in?”
“I’m sure the caretaker might let you.”
I didn’t get to go in though, as we heard screams coming from down the road.