Hogs Head Tavern

The day quickly turned to night in the little hamlet. It started to rain. Kindret strode up through the small hamlet towards the tavern that, by the looks of it, everyone in the surrounding area frequented. On the outside there was a hanging sign above the door, it had a picture of a hog, it looked mean like it had been taunted by somebody. Underneath the picture were the words, Hogs Head Tavern.

  He knocked on the door and waited for somebody to answer. The rain had gotten heavier and Kindret was drenched from head to toe, he could feel the water squelching in his boots. He noticed a silhouette moving towards the door, then he heard a scrape and a screech as the door was being unbolted. It swung open to him and a sweet voice beckoned him inside. The heat and humidity struck him as he walked through the threshold. He looked around hoping to see the owner of the sweet voice, he wondered if her voice matched her face. As he looked around he noticed that there were a lot of people in the tavern. They were all staring at him, but most of them turned away when he met their gaze.

  He strolled up to the bar. There were three beautiful barmaids serving people with the house ale. “Excuse me, madam,” he said, but he was drowned out by all the other voices in the room. “I need to know something.”

  The bar staff didn’t hear him and continued serving someone else. Kindret leaned over the bar and tugged at the barmaids dress, she turned and smiled. “What will you be having tonight?” she asked. “We’ve got the finest ales and liquor in all the lands.”

  “I need to know if I can rent a room for the night?”

  “We have a single room and a double.”

  “I’m alone, so the single room will be fine.”

  “You sure I can’t interest you in a drink?” she smiled, bending over slightly showing her cleavage. “Go on, have a drink with me.”

  “You’ve bended my arm, I’ll have one and go to bed.”

  She poured the house ale into a tankard and handed it to him. The top of the tankard was filled with foam, the smell of it alone made Kindret want to vomit, but he was showing off and drank it down within a minute. He didn’t want to seem rude. “I’ll have another,” he said, rubbing sweat from his brow.

  She obliged him. “Take it slow with this one won’t you…”

  He nodded and smiled as she handed him another tankard. He turned around to survey the place. He looked in the corner where there was a group of people with mercenary armor on, they seemed content drinking down enormous amounts of wine and ale. Their armor looked beat up like they had been in a battle recently, either that or they were too poor to have it repaired by a smithy. Kindret didn’t care, his eyes moved on.

  He noticed that there were two fireplaces in the building. Sat by one of the fires was a group of old men, they were laughing, reminiscing about old times. They seemed harmless enough. By the other fire was a woman, she was staring at Kindret from beneath her cowl, she was smoking a pipe, each time she inhaled it lit her eyes. The barmaid noticed Kindret was looking at her. She touched Kindret on the shoulder and turned him to meet her gaze. “That woman is trouble,” she whispered. “Don’t look for trouble with her, ’cause that’s exactly what you’ll get.”

  Kindret turned back without saying a word, he looked back towards the fire where the woman had been sitting only to find an empty chair. Where did she go? he thought.

  He raised the tankard to his lips and gulped down the remaining ale. As he wiped the foam from his lips he felt a nudge from the side of him. He turned to see who it was trying to get his attention, he was surprised to see that it was the woman. She was not alone. Next to her was a giant of a man. He was bald and had a distinctive scar across his head. He said nothing, but every time Kindret looked at him he growled like a rabid dog. “See something that interests you?” she said at last. “I’ve been watching you since you came in. You’re new here ain’t ya?”

  “I just got here this afternoon, yes,” he said, putting his finished drink down on the bar. “I don’t think we have been introduced, I’m Kindret, you are?”

  She coughed and the brute next to her slapped her on the back. She handled the blow like any other man could, maybe even more. “I’m not your concern, Kindret,” she growled confidently. “I work for people in high places. I can be your friend or your foe.”

  “Why wouldn’t I want a friend?”

  “Good, you’re not as stupid as you look.”

  He laughed. “Thanks. . . I think?” he began to walk towards the stairs. “Those ales are strong. I need to sleep it off.”

  The brute blocked Kindret’s path, but the woman tapped him on the arm. “Let him go, we’ll see him tomorrow,” she said. The brute grunted and moved aside.

  Kindret walked up to the stairs and hung onto the rails and his staff to balance himself. He got to the top of the stairs and remembered that he hadn’t been told – nor paid – for the room he was going to be using. He turned on his heels at the top of the stairs, but he remained balanced. He stepped onto the first step and his foot hit the ridge, he started to slide down, he grabbed at the air trying to grip something. However, he kept sliding and by the time he reached the middle of the stairs, he lost all balance.

  Cartwheeling through the air, Kindret found himself in the corner of the room, in the lap of a very angry looking mercenary. He was wearing his drink and his pipe had been doused, he threw Kindret across the room and drew his blade. “That was the finest tobacco in the north,” he shouted, raising his blade and waving it around. “I’m goin’ to bleed ye dry!”

  “Kill him, Hiliak!” the mercenary’s companion shouted.

  Kindret dragged himself up off the floor. His head felt light and blood dripped down from a cut on his chin. He grabbed his staff and brought it up just in time to meet Hiliak’s blow. He deflected the blow and quickly thrust his staff upwards into Hiliak’s stomach. He clutched at his belly, the windblown out of him, he struggled for breath. He stood up and threw another attack at Kindret, who evaded the attack, diving to the left of him, but Hiliak’s attack met with the brute who in turn clobbered him round the head with his shovel-like mits. Hiliak fell down, his eyes were spinning in his head. The brute chuckled and looked around the room. He pulled the blade from Hiliak’s hand and threw it across the establishment. “Any ye want to suffer the same fate as this weakling?” he growled, moving around the room looking for a combatant.

  Suddenly a plate whizzed past Kindret’s face and into the wall. Then another and another. The whole room wanted to fight. The elderly gentlemen who had been talking quietly together by the fire were the first to their feet. They kicked over the table and used it as a shield whilst they were throwing objects at anyone they could see. The brute moved towards them, but he was stopped by the mysterious woman. Kindret moved towards the bar and got hit on the back of the head by a jug. It smashed on impact splashing its contents all over him. He turned, with redness in his eyes. “Who threw that?!” he bellowed, unable to contain his temper any longer.

  “I did, what of it?” a mercenary shouted from behind his shield.

  There was fighting going on all around him, but all Kindret’s eyes could detect was that one mercenary. He held his staff in both arms. The adrenaline pumping through his veins made him more alert. He could feel a pulse in his eyeballs. It sobered him and made his movements easier. He felt lighter, stronger, and faster. He moved towards the mercenary batting away bits of debris with his staff like it was a game.

  As Kindret got closer to the man, he could see that he was sweating heavily. His face was dripping and his hands had become too slippery to hold the spear he was brandishing. The light in the room, the candles and fires, they seemed to be dying. They were swaying, but there was no wind. Then the light changed direction, it seemed to be drawn towards Kindret.

  The mercenary saw that Kindret was almost upon him. “Help me, comrades!” he screamed, dropping his spear again.

  “Nobody is going to help you,” Kindret said coldly, raising his staff. “You will be brought to swift justice.”

  He brought his staff down on the man. It hit him once and knocked him unconscious. Then the light died and all that could be seen in the stale room was Kindret’s staff, which was visibly pulsating. People around him were whispering. “He carries a Mages staff,” they said. “He must be a Mage.”

  “I am a Mage!” he shouted, waving his staff around himself like a man gone mad. “Which dog here wants a taste of what he just had.”

  The room fell silent, not a cough, scrape or word could be heard. “That’s what I thought,” he banged his staff on the bloodied wooden floor and an instant later the room flooded with light. Kindret’s staff relit everything in the room.

  The mercenaries collected their allies and turned tail and ran from the tavern into the night. The brute and the mysterious woman approached him again. “That was quite a show,” she laughed. “We could use your services, more now than ever.”

  “I just want to go to bed,” he yawned. Turning to the bar where the barmaids had been hiding, “Which is my room and how many gold pieces do I owe you?”

  The barmaids stood up and looked around at the chaos that was their establishment. “It’s room 3. . .” but before she had time to finish her sentence, the mysterious woman stepped in.

  “I’ll pay his room and any other debts he has,”

  “Free bed and board, thanks,” he said, unable to hide his shock. “but I don’t even know your name and you’re parting with coin. Tell me your name.”

  “Llyandraa is my name,” she turned to look at her companion. “He’s, Gizard, a half breed, but a good blending of bloodlines I think.

  Kindret yawned again. He took the room key and started to walk to the stairs. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

  He climbed the rickety staircase gingerly and then walked the length of the hallway until he came to his door. He slid the key in the hole and turned it. He could hear the click when he unlocked it. He turned the brass knob and opened the door, it creaked and cracked, to reveal a small, cold, and very damp room. However, he was not interested in the ascetic merit of the room, he saw it as a place to get his heavy head down. He hadn’t slept properly since he left the island. He walked over to the bed, put his staff underneath it, and pulled the sheet back. Although the room was somewhat messy, the bed linen was crisp and almost white. That’ll do nicely, he thought.

  He took off his stained clothes and placed them on a hook behind the door. He moved over to the bed, sat down, then slid under the covers. He drifted into a deep sleep.

The day was cold and wet on the island of Merderva. Kindret woke up to alarm bells ringing. The town was under attack! He was at home alone in his makeshift bed. Where is Nadia, he thought.

  He rushed outside and all around him were the remains of his herd of cattle. The sky above had turned a sickly shade of red. He saw the ships in the harbor. They were loading captured people onto it, they were slave traders. He heard Nadia screaming and he ran down the ever-lengthening pathway. It twisted and buckled as he walked on it. The earth beneath him was fracturing under its own pressure, cracks began to appear and in the cracks, he could see lava bubbling to its surface. He ran and jumped over those obstacles until he was on the beach where Nadia and his friends were.

  He got closer and closer until he could see Nadia’s face. “Release her!” he demanded, pointing at the bandit who held her.

  The bandit laughed and raised his sword to her throat. “She’s mine for eternity,” he replied, slitting her tender neck.

  “No!” cried Kindret.

He woke up kicking and screaming in sweat and tears. The other guests began to bang on the wall and he looked around the room. He realised it was all just a dream. As the sun rose it hit the window of his room, the condensation slid down the glass pain in tiny droplets of water. The light-flooded the room and Kindret got ready to meet whatever challenges that would present themselves to him.

  He strolled downstairs slowly. He looked around at all the mess from the previous night. The barmaids were still cleaning bits of food and drink out of the curtains. He reached the last step on the stairs when he noticed the mysterious woman, Llyandraa approaching. “Morning,” he moved towards Llyandraa. “Thanks for getting the bill last night.”

  Llyandraa didn’t speak, but instead, she gestured towards a back room. Kindret hadn’t seen the room before now. It was so well hidden that nobody would notice it without being shown it. He walked with Llyandraa to the unknown room. She opened the door and allowed him to enter before she did. The room was dark, lit only by flickering candlelight. There weren’t any windows, only one way in and one way out. “What is this room, Llyandraa?” he asked.

  “It’s a safe room,” she explained. “Nobody can hear anything outside this room.”

  Kindret was puzzled by her comment. “Why, what are you going to say?” he asked, waving his staff around as if expecting an attack.

  “You can relax,” she confirmed. “I want to ask you a favor. Well not a favor, more of a job offer.”

  Kindret slumped his shoulders and rested on his staff. “Sure, what do you have in mind?”

  “Right now I have had a problem with bandits,” she brushed her long dark hair to the side of her face. “They block everyone who doesn’t pay to cross the bridge to the northlands.”

  “And I can do what exactly?”

  “Kill them or convince them to leave.”

  “I’ll see what I can do, Llyandraa.”

  Llyandraa opened the door and stepped to one side. The natural light in the other room was almost blinding to Kindret. He shielded his eyes and walked out of the dark safe room. “I’ll pay you once the job is over,” she whispered softly.

  Kindret walked through the bar and lounge of the tavern, where the barmaids were still cleaning, and he gave them a sideways glance before he walked out of the front door. He stepped out onto the mud-covered street and began to walk towards the northbridge. As he walked along the path he heard something rustling in the undergrowth. He decided to investigate. He prodded and poked through the bushes with his long black staff. He could feel that something or someone had gripped it. Whatever it was, it was strong and it was pulling him into the bush. He tried to balance himself, but the opposing force was stronger than he anticipated. He fell forwards into the bush and when he looked up he could see scaley green skin and two very sharp eyes. It was a Raptor, a rarity in the northern continent.

  It stood four feet tall and it inspected its prey with keen eyes. It moved its head from side to side. When Kindret finally stood up the creature jerked back. He reached into his pocket slowly and pulled out some meat. “Here you are, little fella,” he said, throwing the meat near the creature’s talons. “Go on, it’s good meat is that.”

  The creature bent down and picked up the meat in its strong jaw. Its teeth ripped through the meat like it was fabric on a freshly sharpened sword. Kindet watched until the creature had had its fill, then he walked over to it and stroked its head. For a second it looked like it enjoyed the petting, but it growled, turned, and ran into the woods. Ah, well, that was a nice experience, he thought.

  Kindret moved on shortly after the Raptor had run off. He was close to the bridge. He could hear the babbling water, he could hear the terrible banter of the bandits. He climbed a hill to get a better view and assess the situation. The path was blocked by a few guards and a fence of wire. Kindret had never seen that type of wire before. It was sharp and jagged and it marked an outline of where people could go. There wasn’t much of a choice. One way or no way!

  The bridge itself was guarded by more bandits. They had erected a blockade that cut the bridge into two parts. The blockade was full of spears pointing in all directions, but Kindret had noticed that the blockade was on wheels to let people through once they had paid. The trouble was, he noticed, it had to be unlocked by a key, and that key was in the guard’s possession.

  Kindret steeled himself before he moved to the bridge. The sky was getting duller and duller by the minute. It would rain soon. As he approached the bridge the skies opened with a torrent of heavy rain, thunder could be heard for miles around. Kindret strolled over to one of the checkpoints the bandits had set up. The guard eyed him up and down as if he was measuring the weight of a bag of flour. “You there,” the guard said, spitting on the ground. “There’s a price to pay if you wanna use this ‘ere bridge. Ten gold coins.”

  “Ten gold pieces?” Kindret scoffed. “I could almost build my own bridge for that price!”

  “Yeah? Well go do that then, but you ain’t getting through here without paying us!”

  The commotion attracted the attention of the other bandits and they walked towards him. Kindret prepared himself for the attack he anticipated. “Problem here, my friend?” one bandit said to the toll taker.

  “Yeah, boss, this little shit isn’t paying the toll!”

  “It’s extortion. This isn’t your bridge. You didn’t build it, the Monastery did.”

  “You will pay or you will leave.” his demeanor turned. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword. “Pay, leave, or die!”

  Kindret moved towards the guard. His staff came to life. It pulsated with energy. The bandit pulled out his sword and his men did the same. “You shouldn’t threaten innocent people who are trying to get to the Monastery or the Northlands,” Kindret said, pushing his staff into the air.

  “Get him! Kill him!” the bandits shouted.

  They rushed towards Kindret without fear. They circled him looking him up. They saw him as an easy target. One bandit jumped into the fray, screaming as he did. He swung his sword and missed Kindret’s throat by mere inches. Kindret brought up his staff in defense as another attack came. He parried the bandit’s sword away and rolled out of the way of another attack that came in from another bandit. Kindret’s heart was beating in his eyes, the adrenaline he felt gave him a buzz. It made him quicker and stronger, but the odds were stacked against him.

  The bandit leader came rushing towards him. His sword was as big as him. He was missing an eye and had scars across his battle-hardened face. He jumped high into the air, twisting and turning as he did. He landed on his feet behind Kindret and thrust his blade towards his back. Kindret ducked out of the way just as another bandit was in front of him. The sword slid effortlessly into the gut of the other bandit. He fell dead in an instant.

  There were still too many bandits for Kindret to handle, even if he used magic, he couldn’t get them all. The storm that was brewing above their heads was getting harder to ignore. Bolts of lightning started to appear closer and closer to the bridge. Kindret hoped that it would strike a few of them down once it reached them. The bandits regrouped and charged at him. He parried all of them at once with his staff and pushed them back. They stumbled and slipped on the wet wood of the bridge. Then suddenly a bolt of lightning hit one of the bandit’s swords, his body started to spasm out of control, he soiled himself and fell backward into the river. He lay lifeless as the river washed his body downstream.

  The bandit leader roared like a wild animal before it attacks its prey. He threw his men back into the fight. As they moved towards him, Kindret summoned flame to his hand and threw it at the bandits. It struck one bandit in the face. He fell down writhing in agony clawing at his charred face. Then out of nowhere, something jumped from the water and onto the bridge. It was the Raptor Kindret had befriended earlier. It clawed at one bandit, its sharp talons cutting deep grooves into his flesh. Then it turned and attacked the leader. It had him pinned under its weight, but Kindret couldn’t help, he was being attacked by two other bandits.

  He saw that his Raptor friend was fighting a losing battle with the bandit. His anger and fear prompted faster action. He rolled and flipped through the air like a circus acrobat and threw three fireballs, it hit two of the men in the chest and it set fire to their clothes. They screamed and dived into the violent river. The third fireball missed the bandit leader, but it managed to distract him long enough for the Raptor to rip his throat out. The bandit gargled the blood trying to breathe. The Raptor bit him again, decapitating him.

  Kindret slumped down, exhausted by the battle, and called the Raptor over. It walked over to him with the bandit’s head in its mouth. It dropped it in his lap and grunted. “Thank you, my friend,” he stroked the Raptor’s head. “I couldn’t have done it without you.”

  Kindret walked over to the bandit leader’s dead body and searched for the barricade key. He went through the bandit’s belongings and found scrolls, coins, jewels, and the key. The scrolls looked ancient, only a Mage Scholar could decipher its content. The coins and jewels he found were quickly pocketed. Then he inspected the key. It was silver and had a skull on its face. The key gave Kindret a chill. Something evil had created it. The barricade had been unlocked during the assault, but Kindret hadn’t noticed. He walked over and opened it fully. Behind him, the Raptor followed. The skies changed from grey to blue in what seemed to be an instant. Kindret sat down on the bridge and hung his feet over the calming river. The raptor sat beside him and placed its head over Kindret shoulder. “Looks like we’re going to be a team,” he said, stroking the raptors elongated snout. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

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