Mhyra hated taverns.
She found them noisy, crowded, smelly, dirty – a far cry from the golden halls of Golian, where she had been brought up. Sometimes she wondered if she had done the right thing leaving that grand city – the centre of magic in Tamrinor – but then she remembered why she had left. Her decision had been made and now she had to live her life as best as she could, going where she was needed.
Such as this tavern.
The small village – although the few cottages clumped together barely merited the name – lay about thirty miles due west of Easttown, the human settlement on the eastern side of the continent. Mhyra had come here on a mission. She had been asked to find a certain artefact, an urn, by a nobleman from an almost extinct family. Of itself the urn had very little value, instead, the nobleman wanted it for sentimental reasons – namely, it contained the ashes of his great-grandmother.
Mhyra was no stranger to such requests, indeed she wanted to do good and help people. She agreed without asking for much in the way of reward. The nobleman was overjoyed and told her all he knew – a band of brigands had invaded his house and made off with what little there was of value. He didn’t care about the rest of the stuff they had taken, just the urn. He told her that one of the bandits had dropped a key in their haste to get away. This he had given her along with a vague recollection that one of them had mentioned a camp somewhere near Easttown.
Which led her to this place. If it wasn’t for the fact that bartenders were renowned for being the best sources of information in any settlement, she would have gladly avoided taverns altogether. As it was she did what she had to. She pulled the hood of her mage’s cloak over her shining blonde hair – the once pure white linen had long been tinged brown by dust and weather – and made her way as best she could through the mass of people to the bar.
“Well hello there, sweet thing,” The bartender smiled. Mhyra noticed with distaste that half his teeth were missing. It was always the same. She replied in the most business-like manner she could.
“Fruit juice please. And information.”
The bartender chuckled “Too young for real ale then? Well it’s your money. Information costs extra.”
“It always does.” Myhra responded, placing several gold coins on the bar. The bartender looked at them greedily and reached out. The coins disappeared quicker than Mhyra could see. Again, this was always the way it was.
“So what do you want to know?” The bartender asked.
Mhyra got straight to the point. “I’m hunting a group of bandits. Do you know of any camps around here?”
The bartender grinned his toothless grin again. “Not sure you want to be tangling with those kinds of varmints, little lady!”
“I can take care of myself perfectly fine!” Mhyra responded hotly. In her mind she cursed whatever law dictated that men who ran taverns and inns be such boorish pigs.
The bartender laughed. “Sure, sure, it’s your funeral after all. I don’t actually know of any camps so to speak, but there’s some ruins about eight miles northwards out of town. Folks hear of strange noises coming from there. Maybe that’s where you want to start?”
Mhyra had heard enough. Thanking the bartender – and giving him another couple of gold coins – she stood back from the bar and turned around. And crashed into a Wild One. As she raised her eyes up to his face in shock she dimly became aware of several things.
He had the appearance of a dog. With very large fangs.
He was very large.
He was carrying a huge sword at his belt.
In his hand was a half-full tankard of ale.
The rest of the ale was dripping down his face and the front of his jerkin.
The bar grew quiet. Mhyra looked around nervously. Every eye was on her, including one patron sitting by himself at a table. She noticed he seemed to be wearing glasses – not unheard of but still uncommon. She turned back to the giant in front of her as he opened his mouth and roared at her.
Mhyra flinched involuntarily – more from his breath than from the noise, stammered out an apology, backed away as best she could, reached the door and fled. Behind her she heard laughter – both human and Wild One. She shook her head. Not a very dignified exit but at least she had some information she could follow up. She looked up at the sky. It was night time, and very few people braved the roads at night.
Mhyra sighed. She would have to find a place to spend the night – maybe a stable or something. She reached into her pack and drew out the key the nobleman had given her. It looked like any other key – bronze, worn with age, nothing remarkable about it at all. She put it back into her pack.
“He’d better appreciate this!” she muttered to herself, before walking along the small lane, looking for a suitable place to sleep.
Above her, the moon shone, casting its light down to the sleeping world below.