Vagabond Ch. 1: Tavern in the Woods
‘Jalute 10, 1124: I’ve been on this path for what feels like a lifetime. The new year has been quite productive, but with that I find new gray hairs in my beard. When the sun rises and I write in this journal I ask myself, what have I done this all for. I don’t think anyone back home would blame me for leaving. It still would have been nice to say goodbye. I am getting close to Rochelle. The past few moons, I am seeing more and more carts being drawn with more and more goods onboard. One cart on my mind was pulled by an impressive parasurolophus. Absolutely stunning creature. I’ve always thought that it’s duck-like mouth and its long round crest was why no one ever feared them when passing by. They are big enough to make a tyrannosaur work for their meal.. if there were any alive today. Those in Hallden said that the Great Quake happened when the last tyrannosaurus was killed during the first war. Those back home said it was the doubt about our faith, which enraged the gods. I believe one one day but then another the next. I'm so close to Rochelle, the First Temple of Quetzal should have some absolute answers.’
The night was especially dark. A tavern sat in an opening of trees. The trees creaked as they danced in the wind. The tavern was built out of wood, and had a thatch roof with a hole that let a fire’s smoke escape. The flames casted an amber glow that appeared on the windows. Perhaps on another night you would see the tavern's silhouette in the moonlight. However, the moon and stars were covered by clouds. This winter had been drier than most but just as cold. Without heavy clothes you wouldn’t be able to survive for more than a day in the elements. From inside the tavern there are muffled voices. They weren’t exactly rowdy, but had a playful element as well as they were empathic.
The tavern's door swings open, the fire shows a man standing tall. He wears a cloak with black fur on the outside and a deep red on the underside. There’s a gold chain that holds the cloak together on his chest. With the hood up, it covers the top portion of his face. With his lower face exposed to the light of the flames, you could see ice and dirt built up upon his complexion. There’s a strap that runs from his shoulder to his hip. It holds a rucksack onto his back. With a sheathed short sword on one side of his hip and a satchel on the other. His face is chiseled with scruff around his jawline. He’s about mid aged and seems well put together, especially for a man entering a tavern at night. No one was expected to arrive at the tavern during this time. He doesn’t appear desperate for warmth but he appears to have some glee to see a fire burn. He steps inside the tavern, where he attempts to shake off the cold.
With a group of men sitting at a table, the largest says, “Who are you? A Nomad? Wanderer, wayfarer or perhaps a gypsy? Nay. You seem more like a vagabond, traveling to avoid something. Why else would you come in here at this time? I’ll let you know that this place is not for the..”
“Enough Kellen.” The brutish man was cut off by an older man standing behind a counter. He cleans a glass while never looking up to see who just walked in. Above the flames there was a boar skewered to be slowly roasted. He sets down the glass, tosses the rag upon his shoulder and walks from behind the counter. He rotates the boar a quarter turn as he walks towards the new patron. “He’s a man just like you all. This is no way to welcome a newcomer into my tavern.” He smiles to greet the man, showing missing teeth and one gold tooth. “Sir, there is a no weapon policy. So if you could hand me your sword, that would allow me to serve you.”
“Sure, thank you.” The cloaked man detaches his sword from his hip. As he hands it over, the old man’s arm buckles for a moment. The weight of the sword was not suggested by its size. The newcomer then walks over to a lonely table to sit down.
The fire crackled as Kellen visibly calmed down. He didn’t want a newcomer to ruin the mood of the tavern he was enjoying. More so, he didn’t want to upset one of his favorite innkeepers. Kellen was a huge man with shoulders that wouldn’t fit easily through a doorway. He was clean shaven, including the sides of his head but with long blonde mixed with white hair draped from the top of his head. He had a scar across his jaw line, it gave his face strange looking shadows as the fire burned to his side. He wore leather armor underneath a fur coat. Presumably, the gauntlets on the table were his. They had studded leather with a cuff of metal. They were blood stained. The newcomer noticed blood splatter on the leather armor as well.
Times have been suspenseful. War was being waged. The Martel State was striving to become the third empire that the world has known. The last empire, Aen Abbervale, brought famine, disease and death across much of the western world. Its leader, Geoff Toulin, ordered to scorch earth while his armies retreated before ultimately falling to an alliance of smaller nations called the Tyranus Allegiance. The energy in the tavern eased as the embers burned.
The men at Kellen’s table finished their ale. The newcomer watched as the old man did a round with a pitcher. He fills the men's tankards with more ale. The men all wore fur coats but had different attire underneath. Made from various linens with varying colors. A group of misfits? Perhaps not a group at all. The old man looks over to the newcomer and raises the pitcher as if asking if he wanted some. He’s met with a slight nod. The room still had a brisk feel even with the fire burning. The men stared at their ales, either contemplating what to say or trying not to think. The only ones who wanted war were those who were high enough in command to not take part in it or those that wanted glory. Glory doesn’t come without hope, if you don't believe and aren't persistent then it will never come. For some, the will to live is a pursuit of glory. For others, being alive when the sun set was enough.
The old man walks towards the lone traveler with the pitcher and a fresh tankard. “What brings you traveler? May I stow your sack?” He pours into the goblet, the ale bubbles and foams perfectly to the top.
“Sure thank you, there’s nothing fragile in it. I'm going to guess, the next question you have for me is coin? Which I can give, but what I’m really hoping to get is a bed. I’ve slept a few nights now in the woods. It would be nice to lay off the ground.” The man said. He hands the sack to the innkeep who sets it behind the counter. “Is this some kind of celebration? I heard the noise from some distance.”
Kellen looked at the newcomer. “Celebration? Nay, we’re just trying to get our hands on something that can hold some ale.. I still want to know, who are you Vagabond?”
“It doesn’t matter who I am, I’m just traveling through. I’m on my way to Rochelle.” The new patron says then looking over to the fire burning. “I am quite hungry, any chance I could get some of that pig?”
“You refuse to answer my simple question yet you want some of my kill? What else are you after? Do you want my bag of coin as well?” The innkeep didn’t interfere with Kellen this time, he was now just as curious as his regular customer. “Listen, we just finished a bounty. It’s done but didn’t exactly go as planned. We’ve lost a few men, good men with better women as mothers. Tomorrow I will have to tell them about their sons.”
“I am sorry. I assure you that I’m not after anyone's coin. Like I said, I just want a bed for tonight.” The cloaked man said as he lowered his hood. Black hair falls to his shoulders and his green eyes glow from the reflection of the fire.
“It’s what we’ve signed up for. That’s more than the men that have been dragged into the war can say. Not a single soul on that front line asked for that.” Kellen shakes his head. The next to him says something close to Kellen’s ear so no one else would hear.
The innkeeper walked over to the lone traveler. “This place used to make me a lot of coin. When Tours fell to the Abbervale during the second empire war, I lost a lot of customers.” He places down a plate with cheese and fish meat. “But, that was many winters ago. They tried to rebuild the city. Each time people began to settle there, they were met by bandits and robbed. No one lives there anymore. No one even attempts.”
When the last war ended the celebration didn’t last long. Food shortages were far reaching and still felt in parts of the west today. It had been twelve winters since the war ended. One of the few areas that fared well was Rochelle. Rochelle was a grand city on the north side of the Great Bay. It was a city built by sailors, it was much more efficient to trade by the sea then pull carts across the land. If you traveled by land, there were many risks you would be willing to take on. Bandits and thieves were born from the hardship that the war brought. Villages were raided and burnt to the ground by these people. For most, the war's end was a long way from peace.
This tavern was just a few days' travel from Rochelle. These men knew that they were more fortunate than others. Now again, these people were staring at war. These men had no reason to pity themselves. They had ale in their cups, food would soon be in their belly and nothing but their usual chores to do the next day. Even with losing some men, things could be worse. The mothers of the fallen might not even shed a tear, at least their sons died with freedom. A freedom those in the Martel State armies didn’t know. As the State took over towns and villages, its men were forced into the army. If an able man was not a farmer or a rancher and refused to join the army, they were hung for treason. Their corpses swung from the trees just outside their homes, either until they decomposed or until something came to scavenge their flesh. Even those that tried to free the soulless husks of their loved ones were hung for interfering with the State.
Chantel Martel, the queen behind the state, was merciless and dedicated to show what the State could do. She inherited a powerful and rich nation from her father, Charles Martel.
“Where are you from vagabond?” The innkeep asked. The old man had a weathered face, a fallen brow and dull eyes. His fur coat had clearly seen many winters, he was obviously cold but didn’t seem bothered by it.
The man referred to as Vagabond looked into the old man’s eyes. “Where am I from?” Then he gulped down some ale. “I’ve left home so long ago it doesn’t even feel like I can say it’s where I’m from.“ Kellen shook his head again then took his share of ale from his mug. Feeling like he wouldn’t get much time to speak, Vagabond continued to say “I’ve been to many places, but I’m new to the West.”
“So you're a spy then? You’re one of the Wyllvs, working your way into our society to see how our economy works? Seeing how our armies train?” Kellen said with conviction. Wyllv was the shorthand term for those of the Wyllvian State. The state that was threatening the rest of the west with its hunger to conquer.
“No I am not,” Vagabond answered. “I am from their bloodshed, not for it. I was born in Falkmire, but I left home a few winters ago. When the Wyllvs took over the town, that’s when I left.”
“Ah look at that, finally some cooperation. Not so hard is it?” Kellen smiled and drank more.
Another man from Kellen’s group had a look of surprise on his face and said “Falkmire? That’s the far North, you’ve come some way. You’ve done that travel on foot?”
“Not just on foot, sometimes I work a deal to ride with a shipment. I take odd jobs here and there.” Vagabond’s way of talking and demeanor were new to this group. He sat upright and had a tightness to his posture that was more common in royalty then those that filled taverns at this time of night.
“Kellen,” the old man said. “Falkmire is near the fissure. It’s an old city, it was there before the great quake.”
“I know where Falkmire is, Joel. I also know that their people don’t leave without good reason. So what brings you here stranger?”
“Falkmire is far from the city it used to be, less than half its population stays. Like I’ve said, I’m here for a bed. But who would say no to some ale?” Vagabond replied.
The old man let out a snort, and cracked a smile. He stood up, filled Vagabond’s mug and said, “I’m Joel, the innkeeper here and there’s plenty of beds open. There's plenty of ale as well.” He went to leave the table but turned back around. “You’ve become familiar with Kellen, and these men are a part of his crew. I'd have said their names if I knew them, but Kellen isn’t known for having the same crew members. Are you ready to tell us your name?”
“I’ve grown quite fond of the title Vagabond, you can call me that. I appreciate the hospitality.”
Kellen laughed “I don’t know how they do it in Falkmire but titles are earned. If you’ve traveled from way out there then Vagabond is as good of a title as you can get.” He stood up and walked behind one of his men. Slapping on his back he said “This is Bordeau.”
“You’ve known me for years, Joel. My mother sells you your cheese.” Bordeau says as the old man steps back into his place behind the counter.
Joel starts cutting cheese and meats. “Oh I've known your mother a few times, Bordeau.” The old man chuckled. Bordeau then mumbles something incoherently.
Kellen pointed to the one sitting next to Bordeau at the table, “that’s Charles and the third one is Cass. We hunt dinosaurs.”
Dinosaurs, resilient beasts lived in the wild. Some species were domesticated to be beasts of burden. Other species were used as war mounts. It didn’t take long for the states to learn how to breed these creatures to build on their most desirable traits. Some bloodlines of bred dinosaurs were no longer domesticated. With cities falling and armies being destroyed by war, a lot of dinosaurs found their way back to the wild. These bred creatures had increased aggression, longer claws and other characteristics that weren’t found naturally. In various situations, bounties were placed on such animals. Bounties were often fulfilled by Rangers. It didn’t have to be claimed by a Ranger, as long as they could take down the beast with proof.
“You’re Rangers?” Vagabond grew curious, dinosaur bounties could be very lucrative.
“Me and Bordeau are the only ones that can carry that title. Charles and Cass here, well they’re on their first hunt.” Kellen had a glow to him. It was either his pride or the ale he had consumed. “We have a camp not far from here. I have some other men watching over it.” Kellen sat back down across the table from Bordeau. “Joel sometimes has some details for us, he sees about everyone that comes through the area, albeit not many. Plus, it’s far safer to cook a full pig in a building than out in the wild.” Kellen raises his tankard. “And, Joel is never short on ale.”
Charles and Cass have pale complexions and a dullness to their eyes. They both stare into the fire that roasts the boar. They act as if they weren’t just introduced, or like they’ve heard any part of the conversation. Kellen looks them over for a moment and shrugs. Returning to his seat he says to Bordeau, “What do you think about our new friend here?”
“Well, he certainly has nice gear. Doesn’t seem like a merchant or have the bullness of a mercenary.” Bordeau looks over Vagabond, taking in his clothes and reading his face. “It’s up to you, but I’d be up for it.”
“What time do you plan on leaving in the morning, Vagabond?” Kellen asks with narrow eyes. “Actually, it doesn’t matter. We have a field camp set up, with a couple more men watching over it right now.” He walks over to Vagabond’s table. Placing a blank piece of paper in front of him. “If you travel to the sun as it rises, you’ll come upon a river, it’s mostly frozen but if you travel up stream you should be able to find our camp.” He then sits back down in his spot by Bordeau.
“What’s at your camp?” He asks.
“Well like I said, we hunt dinosaurs and we’ve lost some men earlier.” He puts his hand to the side of his mouth to hide it from Charles and Cass. “And I don’t think these two are doing too great.” Returning his hand to his tankard. “The bounty we’re working on is still active. So if you're looking for another odd job or possibly a ride to Rochelle. Well, we’re your best shot I’d think.”