“I’m telling you, we just need to march right into his cabin and demand his money.” Gorbi’s voice was low but intense and his eyes shifted from side to side as if making sure no one were close enough to overhear.
[Note: The characters just landed in the town of Seaton. To find out more about Seaton, click here:
“Listen, G, for the last time, his money is not ours, even if he is dead. I am sure he had a family somewhere and if he has any possessions at all then they belong to them, not us.”
“Galdar, he owes us the money! It’s ours!” Galdar knew the look in his friend’s eye. He hadn’t known many gnomes in his lifetime, but he had heard they could be stubborn, and Gorbi had a flair for mulishness. Galdar felt his temper start to simmer. What he was suggesting was tantamount to stealing and St. Cuthbert, his patron god, had little patience for thieves. But, despite his streaks of obstinance, Gorbi had an exceptionally logical mind. Galdar had been in a million arguments with his friend and he knew all he had to do was be patient and search for the logic. When he started speaking again he did so slowly and deliberately, letting the wisdom of the Cudgel guide his words.
“Look, all I’m saying is that Derg paid us for the first part of our mission, which was to protect him. And, even though we failed at that, I don’t know who we’d give the money back to, so I guess we get to keep it. The only other part of our bargain was with Shag Solomon. Remember, he said he would double our pay when we successfully returned? So, Derg doesn’t owe us anything more. If we want to collect from Shag, we are going to need to get back to Sasserine.” Galdar let out his breath and felt a great calm slide over him. He had done it. He had kept his calm, followed the light of Cuthbert and found the logic.
After the tumultuous events of last night, Gorbi looked tattered and disheveled. The gome’s dark hair was windblown into a wild mop on the top of his head and his face was crusted with sea salt and grime from their battle with the sea monsters. While neither one of them spoke about the deaths of Derg and the crew, Galdar could tell the sudden loss had had a profound effect on the little guy. Gnomes might be irascible and stubborn, but, as a race they could trace their heritage back to the elves and fairies of yesteryear – the Fey. As such, gnomes had a great connection to nature. Even though Gorbi was trying hard to act tough, Galdar knew his friend well enough to see that the gnome was struggling to come to grips with the deaths.
Hours ago the two of them, along with Kate, had collapsed into their hammocks just as soon as the Dragonsprit had tied up to the docks in the little fishing village. but seagulls and the sounds of the wharf had woken Galdar and Gorbi only a few short hours later. They had decided to let Kate sleep while the two of them scrambled down the gangplank to the wooden pier below in order to discuss their situation in relative private. None of the surviving Dragonsprit crew were moving about above decks, but the two felt it best to be out of earshot anyway. Only one other boat was moored up to their dock and not another soul was around. The small armada of Seaton’s fishing fleet were long out to sea, plying the waters for the day’s catch and few people or ships remained on the half-dozen or so of the wooden piers jutting out into the tiny bay.
“So,” Gorbi said with a sly grin, that means all we have to do is get back to Sasserine and we’ll double our money!”
“What? Did you not hear the part about ‘successfully’ returning?” Galdar felt his ire on the rise again.
Gorbi chuckled, “I sure did. All we have to do is successfully make it back to Sasserine and I’ll be forty admirals richer!” the gnome rubbed his little hands together and grinned as if he were about to dive into a roasted pheasant.
“Uh, I don’t think that’s what Shag Solomon meant by ‘successfully return’,” Galdar admonished. “I think we need to have succeeded at the mission before coming back, Gorbi!”
The gnome looked up at him with a blank look. “What mission? I don’t know of any mission. No one told me of any mission.”
All sense of calm and peace were disintegrated. Fragments of his inner tranquility were flung to the far reaches of his soul as Galdar stared at the evil, maligned gnome sitting on the wooden pier.
“Why you no-good, conniving, twisted evil, no-good fey . . .”
“You said ‘no-good’ twice.”
“What?” Galdar stopped himself mid-rant.
“Yeah,” Gorbi said nonchalantly, as if they weren’t in the middle of a heated argument, “when you are calling people names it’s against the rules to use the same name twice and you called me “no-good” two times. You can’t do that.”
Galdar spent the next several minutes stomping up and down the pier, half-shouting unintelligible curses and cuss words in several languages. The nerve of that rotten gnome, he thought. And then he thought up a bunch more questions, like, how could such a miserable person such as Gorbi be allowed to roam free? Shouldn’t there be a prison somewhere for cretins such as he? And, why in the name of Cyrrollalee had he decided to even team up with the foul being in the first place? Well, Galdar told himself while muttering the goblin word for “son of an ugly prostitute”, it was for Kate, of course. Gorbi was Kate’s friend and since Galdar’s best friend in the whole world was Kate, well then, Gorbi was, by default, a friend of his, too. Although friend seemed like such a strong word right now.
“Okay, so we just complete the mission, right?” Gorbi asked him once Galdar had regained his composure.
The two were sitting now on tarred pilings at the foot of the little town’s wharf. It was nearly low tide and seagulls were having a feast on the sandy beach below them. Crabs scurried for cover under stranded piles of seaweed and clouds of sand flies buzzed in the morning heat as the avian hunters scoured the sand.
Galdar reached out for his calm and logic once more. “Well, I suppose we don’t really know what Derg was doing for Shag Solomon. He never really told us.”
“And he was equally mum about the whole thing when we were with his rich friend back there on Sybar. Well, at least I think he was. I kind of dozed off a couple of times during dinner.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Galdar at that moment. “But, you know who might know what Derg was up to? The captain. I bet he could tell us what the mission was, or err…is,” Galdar said, smiling. He was feeling much better now that he had finished stomping around and Gorbi was talking logically again. Galdar was feeling so cheerful, in fact, that he had almost forgiven his little friend for the argument earlier.
“Ok, so let’s go talk to the captain,” said Gorbi as he jumped off the piling and began marching up the dock toward the Dragonsprit. Galdar grinned, jumped down and followed after the gnome.+ + +
“His belongings are now my belongings. You got that!” the captain bellowed at them, anger and frustration clearly playing across his face. The strain of the night’s sprint through the Eye of the Needle had clearly worn away at the already course Captain Arganat.
Galdar was furious as well. He was sure that the plan was to ask the captain about Deg’s mission, but once inside the captain’s cabin, Gorbi blurted out that they had come for Derg’s possessions. The nerve of that one-track-minded gnome! Now the captain was really angry.
“What my friend here meant to say is that we need to know what Master Derg’s plans were, Captain Sir,” Galdar said, trying his best to smooth things over.
“How in the Nine Hells would I know that!” the captain shouted back at him. “Do I look like someone who cares what other people’s plans are?”
“Well, uh, no, not really, Sir. It’s just we were hired to help Derg complete a mission for his employer and we were hoping there was something among his possessions that would help clarify just what that mission was,” Galdar said in as polite a voice as he could muster.
The captain regarded the gnome and the acolyte as if he were deciding whether or not to make them walk the plank. Galdar was nervous about that prospect at first, then he remembered they were docked close to shore and that he was a fairly competent swimmer and his nervousness dimmed a little.
The captain stood up from the map table at the center of the room. Galdar noticed everything was put back in its proper place after the previous evening’s tumultuous destruction. Arganat walked to his bunk and rifled through a pile of fine clothes and some odds and ends. He produced a small leather tube with a red wax seal at one end from the heap of Derg’s belongings and handed it to Galdar.
Galdar saw that the other end of the tube had once been sealed in wax but was now open.
“This might have what you are looking for. I’ve already read it and it’s of no value to me. Don’t look at me like that! I need to sell his belongings to make enough gold to hire more crew.”
Galdar rolled his eyes and shook his head in disgust as he took the tube from the captain. It was a crime in Sasserine to break the seal of any missive that was not addressed to you and
Galdar could see a roll of fine, tan parchment was rolled up inside the tube. He flicked the tube a couple of times and managed to extract the brittle paper inside. Gorbi stepped close to him and stood up on his tiptoes to see what was written on the paper and Galdar slowly unrolled it.
Galdar could tell the message was penned by someone with a flowery hand. The letters of each word was artistically written with many unnecessary swoops and serifs. It read:
Great Sir, I humbly request to redeem that favor bequeathed upon my Troupe by your vaunted Order. I wish to travel safely from Seaton On The Coast to Grayhill through the Wood. Only you can make the arrangements with Dryer-eplith and Yargrove and I see no other alternative. You can expect my troupe to reach the capitol of the Viscounty on Earthday the Eleventh of Fireseek in the Common Year of 594 and we shall be arriving by sea under cover of night. After this great deed, I would happily call our debts repaid. SS
“SS,” said Gorbi, “that’s Shag Solomon!”
“I am guessing this is the message Derg told the Governor of Syberate he was hired to deliver. Someone named Catspaw was what he said and he was to meet him at some place called The Traveler’s Rest,” Derg said thinking furiously.
“Captain,” he continued, “do you know someone named Catspaw or someplace called The Traveler’s Rest?”
The captain sat back down on his stool and shook his head. “I know a lot of folks and been a lot of places but none of them rings a bell. Mayhaps the library in town will have your answers.”
Gorbi looked shocked. “Library? There’s a library? Here? In this crappy little town?”
The wooden sign hanging over the door of weathered, blistered blue paint was odd; a rainbow of fruity colors springing forth from an open hand. Well, Galdar had seen weirder signs in Sasserine, but how this signified a library was beyond his reckoning.
The three of them stood in the dusty plaza outside the wooden structure, a look of doubt passing between them.
“Are you sure this is the place?” asked Kate, “This doesn’t look much like a library.”
An hour ago, Galdar and Gorbi had bid farewell to Captain Arganat. The gruff seafarer had told them before they left that he planned to stick around Seaton for a week or two in order to scrounge up replacement crew and said he’d give them a discount on the fare if they wanted to sail with him again.
The two then gathered their gear, woke up the still slumbering Kate, and marched into town.
Seaton wasn’t much of a town, compared to Sasserine, but it covered about a mile of coastline and consisted of several hundred buildings, mostly made of bleached wood with the occasional brick wall. The visitor’s wharf, where the Dragonsprit was moored, lay on the outside of the town-proper. Dozens of wooden shanties clustered about a smelly fish market and several inns of questionable repute. A road from the south cut through the market and ended at a stretch of thirty-foot stone wall that surrounded the inn city. Several huge stone braziers were set atop the wall spaced out about fifty yards apart while spearmen in gold and white livery walked the battlements.
A pair of sleepy guards paid the trio no mind at all as they passed through the gates and under the wall, emerging on the other side into a windless, hot and muggy central township. There were no great buildings in Seaton, the tallest being only two stories. The buildings were set far apart from each other with wide avenues of brick and packed dirt between them. Galdar had spied a small, withered park with a small fountain and a bit further on was a weathered stone statue of a one-gallant king. The inner-town was bisected by a small river and the wall was open to the west where the town looked out upon the Jeklea Sea. Galdar could see a small amphitheater a bit futher on and he also spied several small buildings that appeared to be churches or shrines to a variety of gods or other celestial beings, he wasn’t sure which, but he did not see the sign of St. Cuthbert anywhere.
“Excuse me, where might we find the library?” Kate asked a passing, plump woman with a basket of herring resting on her hip. The red-faced woman looked startled at first and then turned to point to a good-sized wooden building just ahead on the northern banks of the little river.
The three of them now stood in the blessed shadow of the building with the odd sign hanging above the door. Several open-paned windows line the walls to either side of the door and the high, slanted roof was made of dull-orange curved tile.
“I don’t recognize the significance of that sign,” Galdar said. “But, I guess we could just go in and ask.”
“Wait,” Kate, standing between her two friends held her arms out to stop them while never taking her eyes of the sign. The back of Kate’s hand cracked right into Galdar’s face while Gorbi simply walked under her other arm. “What if it’s a freaky fortune teller. I think that’s what the sing means, with an open hand and a rainbow coming out of it. Or, maybe it’s the home of a deranged wizard. I think I’ve seen Gorbi cast a spell like that. I mean, what are we really even doing here. We’ve still got some coin left in our pockets. Can’t we just hire passage on a ship back home?”
“Hey! Who are you calling deranged?” Gorbi protested.
“Look, Kate. It’s pretty simple. Shag said he’d pay us forty gold admirals each if we succeeded in this mission. I don’t know about you, but that’s more gold than I’ve ever seen in my life, and if we need to spend a little extra time to deliver this message-scroll to someone, then I think it’s going to be worth it knowing I’ll be able to retire in luxury once we get back home. Now, unless you know who Catspaw is and where this Traveler’s Rest is, then I think we need to do as the captain suggested and find a library to see what we can learn about them.”
Kate didn’t look convinced. “You think we’ll be able to find out where a person is in a library?”
“I don’t know,” Galdar said, “but it’s a start, I suppose.” And with that he ducked under Kate’s arm and opened the door.
The interior of the Seaton Library was Spartan. Creaky wood floors and grey weathered wood planked walls formed the inner shell of a large open room. Light from the windows brightened the place up to an adequate level, but no lanterns or torches were set. Squared beams placed here and there throughout the room held up a low ceiling, hinting at a level above. Threadbare rugs created a path from the front door to the center of the large room, as well as to three or four side chambers. Dusty marble statuary sat in a couple lonely corners and a few rickety chairs, benches and small tables were scattered about in no obvious arrangement. Near the back wall of the large room sat a plain wooden table, covered in books, papers and manuscripts, an ink well and several quills joined the clutter. Four plain but sturdy chairs sat around the table. An aged, white-haired man in a pale, blue robe sat at one of the chairs and looked up as the door opened.
“Welcome to the Temple of Lydia!” the man beamed.
“Oh, sorry, wrong place,” Galdar said. “We were looking for the library.”
“Well then you’ve found it!” the man said, still beaming.
Kate, Galdar and Gorbi looked around with skepticism and confusion.
“Uh, where are the books?” Gorbi squeaked.
“Ah!” the old man behind the desk intoned, grinning and pointing to the top of his wispy-haired head, “tourists, huh? Well, all the books are right up here. Now what can I help you with.”
“Wait a second,” said Kate, “you mean you have all of the books in the library memorized?”
“That I do, missy,” the old man squawked gleefully, “you don’t believe me? Ask me a question.”
Galdar looked down at the parchment with Shag Solomon’s message scrawled on. “Alright,” he said, “where is the Traveler’s Rest and who is Catspaw?”
“Ah ha! Trying to trick me are you! That’s two questions! So, I’ll answer your first. If you want the Traveler’s Rest, well, you’re in the wrong town. You’ll find that inn in Saltmarsh.”
Galdar furrowed his brow. “And where is Saltmarsh?” he asked.
The old man laughed. “The first answer was free. You want any more and you’ll have to pay the fee.”
Gorbi looked furious. “What fee! I don’t know if this is a library or temple, but neither one charges fees where I come from!” he shouted.
“Well that may be,” the old man replied, “but you’re here now and where we are at we charge for both.”
Galdar studied the old man shrewdly, “Well, this might be our first time in the Hold of the Sea Princes, but we didn’t just get off the boat yesterday. What do you take us for, fools? You could be just making this stuff up. If I’m going to pay for knowledge I at least want to see it in a book, and not from the mouth of a toothless old man.”
The priest of Lydia leapt to his feet, “Ha! You seem to imply you are some wise traveler, young-one. But, if you were so smart you’d know this isn’t the Hold of the Sea Princes, you are in the Kingdom of Keoland! And I am not toothless!”
Galdar swaggered toward the old man, holding back a grin, “Kingdom? You call this a kingdom? If it is, I’d like to talk to the person in charge here. I’m going to talk to the king about this!”
“Oh ho!” the priest hooted, “there you go again, thinking you are so smart! The Kingdom of Keoland if vast! So big that Our Magnificence, King Skotti, whose throne lies at the heart of the great city of faraway Niole Dra, has viscounts to run each of the twenty-seven counties of our great nation. Fat chance of talking to the King and you sure won’t find him mucking about the likes of a town like Seaton!”
“So, what you are telling me is that your king cares so little for you that he has put a second-rate magistrate in charge of your town?”
“Second-rate?!!” the old man looked hysterical, “second-rate, you say? Not on your life! Shows you how much you know! The fanciful Cronin Secunforth III, Viscount of Salinmoor, rates no more than fourth at best! That scoundrel of a man and his waspish wife and snotty children spend no time at all here in the county seat of Seaton and instead choose to spend all of their time up north in that backwater town of Burle! And now, good sirs and madam, you owe me two silver sails for this granted wisdom.”
“Really?” Galdar smirked, “I don’t remember agreeing to pay you anything. You gave us that information all on your own.”
The old man’s face turned red and sputtering sounds tumbled from his mouth. “Wha? Why you little trickster! Why I ought to …”
“Now hold on there, gramps,” Galdar said while holding his hands up, “here’s a gold to tell us what we want to know. Okay?” He fished a gold admiral out from his pocket and handed it to the old man, who snatched it away and promptly bit down on it, then studied the coin hawkishly, then grunted, apparently satisfied at the authenticity of the gold.
“So, we are looking for someone by the name of Catspaw,” Galdar continued, “would you know who that is?”
The old man looked a bit ruffled, but his coloring had returned to a more even pale and she sat back down in his wooden chair behind the table. “Of course I do, trickster. Most people do. Catspaw happens to be one of the most adept rangers in these parts. He spends most of his time in the Dreadwoods up north, but he will often wander down into the Hool and sometimes wanders this far east.”
“The Hool?” Gorbi asked, “what’s that?”
The old man started to protest, but Galdar pointed at the gold coin and the man sighed, “The Hool is a vast and trackless swamp that separates southwest Keoland from The Hold to the southwest and the nation of Yeomanry to the northwest. There’s nothing in there but death and the hands of a thousand bullywugs and ten million mosquitos.”
“So, you said this Traveler’s Rest is in another town? Saltmarsh, you say?” Galdar asked.
“Yes. Saltmarsh is a fishing town on the edge of the Hool, about twenty miles west of here.”
Galdar looked back at the note from Shag Solomon, “And we are also looking for a place called Grayhill through the Wood. What would that be?”
The librarian-priest looked oddly at Galdar, “well, I suppose now we know why you want to find Catspaw. You’ll need him if you plan to travel to Grayhill by way of the Dreadwood. Grayhill is the capital of the Barony of Grayhill and one of the few settlements in existence within the boundaries of the Dreadwood, but it lies on the northern side of the wood. Sane people go around, I can’t imagine why you would want to go through it.”
“Well, you might have already guessed by now we’re not just anybody,” Gorbi said while puffing out his chest.
“Not anybody sane is what I think,” the old man retorted.
“And who is Dryer-eplith and Yargrove?”
The old man raised his eyebrows and stared at them. After a moment he continued, “I will tell you Yargrove is referring to Reynard Yargrove, The Great Druid of Sheldomar Valley and who currently lives somewhere in the Dreadwood, but I sincerely doubt you have enough coin left in that pouch for me to tell you about Dryer-eplith.”
The trio of friends looked wide-eyed at each other.
“Actually, I think Lydia has earned Her gold. If you want any more answers, I’ll require further recompense.”
Galdar shook his head. “No. Thank you, you’ve been very helpful. Thank you for your time and knowledge, good man.” And with that, the three of them left the Temple of Lydia. Or the Library, take your pick.
“Well, that was interesting,” Galdar said, “so, what do you think?”
“I suppose we could stay here in Seaton for the night. But out money isn’t going to hold up forever. If we’re going to make a profit on this little adventure, I’d just as soon get to this Saltmarsh place as quick as we can, find this Catspaw guy at the Travelers Rest, deliver that note and get back to Sasserine so we can collect our pay!”
Galdar liked Kate’s level-headed wisdom. “Yes. I concur,” he said matter-of-factly. Then he looked up at the sun which was near directly overhead. “But it’s got to be getting close to noon now. If we have twenty miles to cover in this heat, we’ve got to get a move on now.”
“These stubby legs aren’t going anywhere without something underneath them. I saw some stables back there on the other side of the bridge. Let’s go see if they have any ponies for sale.”
“Gorbi, we can’t go spending all of our money now. A pony could cost half of what we have!” Kate said.
“Aw come off it, Kate! It’s going to be midnight before we get to Saltmarsh at the rate I walk. You’ve got to be kidding me . . .”
And so the friends left Seaton by the Sea along the Western Road and the argument continued for the better part of the afternoon.
Delgon let Kate and Gorbi fight it out. Kate seemed in a mood to argue and as long as they were arguing Gorbi seemed to not notice the fact that they were already well along the road to Saltmarsh without any ponies at all. Galdar loved to travel and explore and this strange new land was more than he could have asked for. He closed his ears to his arguing friends and instead concentrated on the magnificent sights and sounds and smells of this alien land.
Just on the edge of Seaton he noticed a tall statue of a noble looking man wearing a crown. A small plaque identified the figure as King Tavish the Great. Just outside the northern gates (which were just as well-guarded as the southern ones) he spied a quaint cemetery resting in a field surrounded by tall golden grass. A beautiful shrine to the goddess Wee Jas stood just at the entry to the graveyard.
The sea breezes were cooling, as the temperature and humidity in this hot land would have been miserable without them. The sky was cloudless and a deep, dark blue. Tall golden grasses with fluffy tops of down dominated the landscape, while short shrubs and stunted, windblown trees dotted the view. To his left, Galdar looked out across the bright, blue sea, the sun sparkling and glittering atop the water all the way to the thin line of land at the horizon that marked either the Monmurg peninsula or one of the Sea Holders’ islands. To his right, the fields of grasses and trees stretched for mile before ending in a hazy strip of dark green marking, what he thought, must be the edge of the faraway Dreadwood. Behind him lay the walled city of Seaton, but in front of him the road beckoned. Dusty and wide, the road snaked ahead, cutting a wavy line across the fields of grass as far as the eye could see.
Galdar was happy to be on the road and he felt a sense of purpose in his steps and a sense of excitement of what might lie around the next bend in the road. At first he tried to keep the smile from his face, this was serious business they were on, afterall. But then, after a while, he relaxed and grinned foolishly, for which he found he didn’t really care! And the miles drifted away underfoot.
Birds of countless types darted from tree to tree as they walked (and argued), while their passage stirred up small fox-like creatures for which Galdar was unfamiliar, the small vulpines scampering across the road and yipping as if scolding their presence. There were bigger creatures, too. Galdar was startled the first time a small herd of strange antelope with long, twisted horns burst from the tall grass and bounded away in giant hopping leaps.
It was several hours after leaving Seaton when Galdar heard the loud growling. The sound startled him, too, until he realized the sound was coming from his own stomach. Galdar called for a halt by the edge of a small, burbling brook that cut under road. Kate and Gorbi had stopped arguing an hour earlier, but Galdar soon realized they had just stopped talking to each other altogether. That turn of events was perfectly fine with him, he preferred eating in silence, anyway. It allowed him more time to concentrate of the food.
The three plopped down in the grass, just off the road and soaked their feet in the cool stream while rummaging in their packs for the packets of food they had wrapped tightly in palm fronds before leaving Sasserine. Tonsil had fed them well while aboard the Dragonsprit, so there had been no need to dip into their precious rations. Galdar was very happy that the salted pork had survived the week just fine, he was slightly disappointed that the cheese and dried papaya had taken on a slight mold, and he was devastated that his mother’s lime sponge cake had completely disintegrated and become hard as bark. Gorbi had brought a flask of sweet red wine, which he silently shared with the other two before draining the flask himself.
When the meal was finished, Galdar let out a large belch, rubbed his stomach and then jumped straight to his feet in a wild panic, startling Kate and Gorbi in the process.
“What!?” Kate whisper-shouted at him, “Are we in danger? Should we hide?”
“No!” Galdar looked exasperated, as if Kate should have known the reason for his sudden burst of fear, “I just realized we just ate all of our food! We’re in the middle of no where and we have no food! We’re going to die!”
“Simmer down!” Gorbi scolded, “we’ll restock in Saltmarsh. No one is going to starve, Galdar.”
Galdar shook his head as if trying to shake cobwebs free from his golden locks of hair and then let out a deep sigh. “You’re right, Gorbs. I’ve just never been this far from available food before and it’s got me all in a panic. But, let’s not dally about here. The sun is getting low and I usually get pretty hungry after sunset.”
Galdar enjoyed the rest of the afternoon as they hiked along the dusty coastal road. The sun dropped low in the sky and spread it’s warm, orange glow across out across the bay below them. But as afternoon turned to evening, and the sky turned to deep purple and still the trio saw no sign of civilization, Galdar began to fret again.
Several hours later, Galdar thought his feet were going to simply drop off his legs. The sky was filled with a mosaic of bright stars and little Celene shown a brilliant blue, nearly full, just above the horizon, while her giant silver sister, Luna, was just a sliver that split half the night sky overhead. The sound of the waves in the distance had become a dreadful cadence as he marched along wearily into the night, but just as he was thinking about crawling into a patch of nightflowers and curling up to sleep when Kate let out a shout from up ahead.
“I see lights!” she said gleefully. “Up ahead, it’s a town! It’s Saltmarsh. We made it!”
At Kate’s word, new energy filled the Galdar and he hurried up the road and over a crest of a hill and was delighted to see the lights of a small town, tucked into a small valley between grass covered hills. The town appeared to consist of several dozen buildings with many lanterns lighting the streets between and cozy hearth-fires flickering merrily behind slatted windows. The sounds of a lute and drum drifted up to greet them and the distant ring of laughing and merriment could be heard.
They hurried their step just a pace and nearly skipped down the road where it wound down into the valley below and then turned to meet up with the sandy beach of Monmurg Bay. They passed neat rows poplars and palm planted long ago along the Coast Road’s edge, creating a grand entrance to the sleepy little fishing town. They passed several small homes on their right and Galdar could smell the aroma of spiced fish and turnip pie mingling with the sweet scents of fruit wine. Voices could be heard from within the homes, often punctuated with laughs or shouts. A dog barked somewhere further up ahead and the surf crashed upon the beach.
“Well, imagine our luck!” said Kate as she pointed at a large building just up ahead. Galdar could see the place was a two-story wood and brick affair and much larger than the homes they had just passed. A wooden sign hung from the covered porch, depicting a brightly painted red knapsack tied to a pole. The words “The Traveler’s Rest” were carved upon it.
The inside of the inn was in full swing when the trio entered. Two dozen locals, mostly fishermen by the look and smell of them, ate, drank, laughed, gambled and danced to the sea shanty played by a pair of bards on a tiny stage in one corner of the common room. The singer, a middle-aged elf, played a hammered dulcimer and belted out a bawdy tune, while his partner, a buxom blonde lass, sat on a stool working the bagpipe and foot-drum.
Now, I don’t want a harp nor a halo, not me
Just give me a breeze and a good rolling sea
I’ll play me old squeeze-box as we sail along
With the wind in the rigging to sing me a song
A long, polished bar ran along one side of the common room with a short set of steps leading to an office and the kitchens. A longer flight of steps led up, past rows of windows, to the second floor of the inn. Several barmaids twirled amongst the rowdy bunch, bringing pints of the good stuff and bowls of chowder to the hungry crowd. Galdar saw that a pint and bowl seemed to go for a silver sail and a pinch of the barmaid’s bottom cost you another.
Kate managed to gain the attention of a rosy-cheeked barmaid as she slapped at the hand of a drunken lad. She took their coin for the night, which came to a dozen silver sails, pointed up the stairs and said that food and drink and fun would be extra, of course. She also said if they were planning to stay longer than a night they should talk to the proprietor in the morning. Kate asked if Catspaw was around, the maid gave her an odd, confused look and then shrugged before whirling back into the boisterous crowd.
The room upstairs was cramped and the bed was full of lice. The three didn’t need much room as Galdar was the size of a typical human child and Gorbi was considerably smaller than that. Kate was just a slip of a girl, so they pushed the bed into the far corner and set their bedrolls upon the floor.
Galdar wondered how he was going to manage any sleep at all with the sounds of the music and shouting below. It was so loud he could even make out the words of the song, but he only managed to hear a single stanza before sleep claimed him.
Now let ev’ry man drink off his full bumper,
And let ev’ry man drink off his full glass;
We’ll drink and be jolly and drown melancholy,
And here’s to the health of each true-hearted lass.
We will rant and we’ll roar like true Keo’ish sailors,
We’ll rant and we’ll roar all on the salt sea.
Until we strike soundings in the channel of Monmurg;
From Ulek to Port Toli is thirty five leagues.