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The three of them left the wagon maker’s shop and walked down at a pace resembling a column of soldiers in quick march. They passed by the markets, and the Toasting Tankard. They also passed the city’s citadel where the government of Red Spire was housed. They hadn’t seen this from a close view yet. So they all stopped to take a peek. The three of them had seen many castles in their days. Yet this appeared different than all the others outside the Grand Counties to Estalwyn. This was an Elvish design.
Estalwyn especially admired it as it resembled the fortress of T’edithal near her home.
“Octagonal design, Paul. That’ is both a formidable castle and kee
As she spoke of it with favor Paul took a good look at it. The keep itself was shaped like a thick cylinder. It would be difficult to undermine. Even the devices that Estalwyn had would have increased difficulty knocking down the bastion. The whole of this citadel was impressive. Even more impressive was the tower adjacent to it that gave the city of Red Spire it’s name. The Red Spire stood twelve stories high compared to the castle keep’s seven stories. Both structures were equally impressive. The Red Spire, used to be the seat of the city’s government but that had been moved to the fortress as the city was only besieged once and it would be shameful to have the city’s tower destroyed. A castle was a more logical location in these trying times.
Except anybody with a brain would knock down that tower. It would demoralize the city to have it’s spire destroyed. Plus, the tower’s fall would likely strike the castle. It would be a double whammy.
They continued on down to the seaside where the port of Red Spire awaited them. Soon they would be at the tavern. Likely they would enjoy feasting on seafood during that day. Crab, Lobster, and Salmon were plentiful in The Western Sea adjacent to the city. It was certain that during their visit to the Port House Tavern in the Nautical Quarter of the city of Red Spire that a lobster roll was in order.
A ten foot wall with battlements just three miles west of the citadel and spire fortified the approach to the Nautical Quarter. Paul, Estalwyn, and Rilles had not ever been here before. The wall included a gatehouse, battlements and wooden hoardings for an improved fortification. The City Guard of Red Spire knew clearly that an invader would be damned foolish to attack the city from the east by land. Attacking westward from the sea was the most prudent choice. The docks could easily be captured and the wall guarding the approach from the Nautical Quarter kept the citizens calm and the city leaders sure that the risks were mitigated from this potential threat.
Once they passed through the gate the earlier faint smell of the seaside became stronger as they descended down a rampart-like hillside’s paved road into the Nautical Quarter. Sailors, prostitutes, merchants, mercenaries, gamblers, ruffians, and honest folk all mingled freely here. These were from all colors, creeds, and species. Rilles thought he detected a faint whiff of another Houndsman in the area. Beastfolk, although the term was thought to be pejorative by them found a home at sea that was more at ease with their kind than among landspeople.
The paved roads narrowed. The buildings were wattle and daub in the structures turned to birch and oak log structures. Some of the nicer buildings were made out of cedar and pine. Mainly pine though as the only cedars of note and quantity grew in the Grand Counties. Some palm trees were present in the Nautical Quarter. However, the foliage was hard to admire with the noisy cries of merchants selling wares legitimate and wares illegitimate. The Nautical Quarter was a meeting place for vices for those with the money for it. Sex, booze, and illicit entertainment were present here. City Guards were few. This was where the citizens of the city entered at their own risk, and the City Guard only entered when they dared enter. The Nautical Quarter was known to them as the No Entry Quarter. They let the pirates police it.
The Port House Tavern was a large structure at the corner of the main boulevard leading to the entrance/exit to the Nautical Quarter, and this corner intersected with the frontage road that rand parallel to the dockside where quay and jetty thrusted out into the wide greenish-blue ocean that was in front of them. Palms were everywhere along the coast. Ships ranging from large galleys to tiny skiffs were present. Some as tall as the docks they were moored at. Others as tall as the wall that kept the Nautical Quarter separate from Red Spire. The Port House Tavern was somewhere in the middle of these ships. Unlike the other buildings nearby it was built out of a hard stone with large wooden beams as trim. The roof was likely cedar or pine. The building’s massive chimney was producing a black, smoky discharge.
The aroma of smoked meats, barbeque, ale, and fresh bread filled the air surrounding the inn. Rilles’s nose and snout were oscillating like a fan running on high on a hot summer’s day. The Houndsman could easily smell the food inside the tavern. Paul put his hand on Estalwyn’s shoulder and then Rilles.
“Okay. Here goes nothing. We’re going to drum up some informants in there. There’s pound to be someone inside who knows where our target is or helped move it. Be careful and be discreet. And above all don’t attract too much attention. Rilles work the booths and tables. Estalwyn, work the upper floor dining area. As for me I’ll be near the bar. Make up your own cover stories. We’re off.”
As they entered the Port House Tavern the three of them did exactly what Paul had said for them to do. And that was drum up informants. Estalwyn ascended to the upper floor via the spiral staircase to the right of the door. Rilles entered the dining room and began flirting with a waitress who couldn’t tell he was a Houndsman underneath the cloak. Paul made it to the bar where he ordered a local ale and proceeded to assess the situation.
This place is mainly pirates and mariners. The landlubbers are here too. Either can be sources of information. The key is to stay discreet about making these inquiries. Simply because these people are going to think we’re with the city guard after a while if we ask enough questions to people around here. They’re all armed too. I see a lot of cutlasses and sabres around. A few two handed claymores too. My basket hilt and my sword arm are up to the task. Rilles will aid me along with Estalwyn. But at that point we’ll need to bug out. The Houndsman will wipe them out without much difficulty at all, and Estalwyn we’ll have a few tricks up her sleeves as well. We’ll be fine if a confrontation happens.
“Here you are, Sir.”
The bar maid handed Paul a pint of a reddish pale ale unlike Redmalt’s blonde ale they had enjoyed. Especially he over the past few days. The ale tasted as if it was sickly sweet. There was little to no hop bitterness or spice. This was nothing like the porters and pale ales from his hometown of Pinningdale. Rilles tapped him on the shoulder.
“Follow me, Paul.”
Paul left the beer on the counter and followed Rilles to the upper level. The Houndsman led him up a flight of steps to the upper floor of the Port House that was public. The third floor were private rooms apparently according to a sign etched in the building’s stone with a chisel or something more unconventional. It was an interesting way, but not uncommon way to let people know not to go up to the third floor without paying for a room.
I’d rather stay on a ship than here. This place is unsafe compared to the Toasting Tankard.
They reached the top of the steps and Estalwyn was talking to a bar maid, there were hardly any people around this part of the bar.
Red flag. Stay alert.
Rilles approached the woman whom Estalwyn was standing by.
“Jessy, this is Paul. Tell him what you know about the Union.”
The young woman was pretty. Raven haired, fine delicate facial features with cheekbones that were so high they almost waved at the looker. She looked nervous. She had a burden, that burden possibly was the truth regarding the whereabouts of the Red Spire Burglar’s Union Chapterhouse or wherever they were storing the blessed wood.
The Lumineer of the lumber may be recovered with the information from this woman’s words.
“Hello, Jessey. I am, Paul as Estalwyn and Rilles have told you. Please help us in finding what and whom we seek. Our time is short and I’m certain the patrons of this bar will be alerted to our presence eventually.”
She’ll get to the point hopefully.
“I understand.” She said this in a firm tone and her expression turned somber. “Ask away.”
“Have you seen a gentleman named Ranwick in this bar?”
“I think I have.”
Paul turned to Estalwyn.
Estalwyn begrudgingly produced the Telaspi Globe monitor showing a still image of Banwick near the high value asset area. She reacted positively and pointed to Ranwick right away.
“That’s an odd painting. I have seen him. What kind of paint is that?”
“That’s not important, Jessey. Have you seen him recently, and do you know where he is right now?”
Paul said this last bit in a firm tone. He didn’t raise his voice though. He could not afford too. He also didn’t want too many members of the criminal element an it’s fringe knowing about the services they provided and their capabilities.
“I have. He was in here night before last with two others. Likely those dead by him, possibly wherever that icon depicted. He discussed with them plans to meet here whenever the mission was over. I overheard if anything were to happen though, and if they were to get separated from him they would meet at the North Bridge twelve miles out of town. He said to look at a stump under a pylon. Said something about a special map and way for them to get to where they were going I know it is north. The others had something in common about them. They all were out of town save Ranwick….”
Paul stopped her.
“How do you know this?”
“They both had foreign accents. I’m not quite sure if Ranwick knew them as friend or what. But it was clear they were not from around these parts.”
“Anything else you think you need to tell us. Is the road to the North Bridge clear? How long will it take us to get there?”
“Nothing really. It is a five hour ride. Won’t take you more than that probably. It is a patrolled road. Militias and the City Guard’s Outer Patrol Units handle it. The North Bridge is the edge of the city’s lands outside it’s walls. You’ll pass by their little border post before the bridge.”
“All right. Thank you for your time.”
As they turned around a group of five men stood by them.
“Jessey, they bothering you?”
Her response was a timid one and it was panicked.
I don’t blame her.
Paul looked over them. They were dressed in the garb of thieves or burglars prepping before a job. He knew their kind. They wore the black and brown leather tunics of the robbers near Pinningdale, these were also favored by the Thieves Guild and the Burglar’s Union. These were just the tops of the clothes, they wore the padded trousers favored by men-at-arms and foot soldiers who were without the means to purchase chain mail, scale mail, or full plate. Another voice could be heard.
“Jessey, would you betray us, sweet pet.”
Rilles’s snout did not oscillate this time. He could not help but point.
A lizard man.
As it approached Jessey seemed to tremble more.
“Can I help you, folks?”
The lizard man stood at seven feet. His massive frame and scalar body and his long projections across his neck were present.
Paul stood up and Estalwyn did as well. She spoke in an even and firm tone to them.
“We don’t need any help. We’ve paid for our drinks and we’ve now had a good time. We’re about to leave.”
“Oh. Don’t do that.”
The lizard man said this and paused he was looking them over. This party blocking their exit was now a half-dozen in number. They wore leather armor and were openly carrying their swords and maces. The lizard man had a long scythe shaped sword. This was a weapon common to his people. Paul had observed their surroundings. They were further back away from the steps on the upper level of the Port House Tavern. On their right was the stone wall of the structure. On their left was a dense wooden rail.
“Why shouldn’t we? You going to buy us drinks?”
Good. Estalwyn is buying us time.
These assalients were likely expecting them to be underarmed unarmed, or undertrained. Paul, Estalwyn, and Rilles were all carrying concealed weapons: Rilles had his trusty broadsword underneath his cloak sheathed in his belt scabbard. Paul, on the other hand had his basket hilted sabre underneath his own cloak. This fast, stabbing sword was his preferred weapon of choice. He was a merchant, not a fighter. This fast blade was meant to be used in duels and skirmishes. It favored an aggressive user. Paul had carried this blade for years and there were a few notches on the blade.
I don’t know what Estalwyn is carrying. She may have a dagger, a sword, or her short axe. She left her bow back in the supply wagon at the Toasting Tankard. That woman herself is a mystery.
“I don’t know.” The lizard man continued. “Maybe we could have you explain why you are seeking one of our friends.”
“That is none of your business as there are some matters that should stay private at a public house, even.”
As Paul interjected this the lizard man’s five companions drew their swords.
“What if I told you that this isn’t really a public house to outsiders such as yourself. You’re obviously spies from the City Guard. Those fools will see your quartered bodies at the edge of the gate. The Nautical Quarter is of a different law. We have had our conversation.”
The five charged them.
Paul drew his sabre and began locking swords with one after getting the jump on the first one that charged him individually with a low diagonal chop and a fast thrust to the abdomen. He bellowed to Estalwyn and Rilles after this.
“PUSH THEM TOWARDS THE RAIL.”
The swinging of the swords Rilles and Paul made a difference in this. But the double-edged axe of Estalwyn did incredible damage. She chopped with one edge of the axe and then withdrew the axe and chopped with the other side. Her agile Elvish body moved with svelte speed and fury at the now disorganized and panicked rabble that was meeting it’s doom against a wooden rail.
The last foe felled by Estalwyn broke through the wooden rail and fell to the dining area below landing on a vacant wooden table. A candle was knocked over and a flame was fanned on the table, the flames were quickly extinguished by a fast thinking barmaid.
One to go and that is the lizard man.
Rilles and the lizard man were locked in sword play. Finally, Rilles struck the lizard man in his neck protrusions. These were stems to protect the lizard peoples necks from being broken by the larger predators native to their land. While slicing these off Rilles barely avoided being struck by the Lizard Man’s scythe. Finally, Rilles cut off his opponent’s tail while executing a spinning attack.
The lizard man was in anguish and his life blood was leaving him uncontrollably. He dropped his sword and seized Rilles’s blade with both hands underhanded and disarmed him.
A blast of light for Estalwyn’s eyes blew the sword to the ground and out of the lizard man’s hands. Rilles charged the lizard man head on at a crouch, lifted up the reptilian foe and bit into the enemy’s neck while clawing off once proud scales into flakes and dust. Rilles shook the lizard man with all of his strength until the lizard man became a lifeless sack of bone. He then dropped him to the ground.
Rilles spat out crushed flakes from his mouth and spoke while panting.
“We were your first fatal mistake, I’d bet. Now you’ll answer to a higher court instead of the City Guard.”
The lizard man’s mouth just opened and shut without making any noise. They all walked down to the dining room with their weapons drawn. The barkeep or publican looked disgusted. Rilles bared his canines.
“Sorry, but not sorry. We won’t be coming back though.”
Rilles put the hood of his cloak back on. The sun was now rising and ships that were once moored and lifeless were now preparing to embark on a journey. So were they. They stopped at the Toasting Tankard to fetch supplies and then they left the shadow of the Red Spire and the safety of it’s walls to advance upon the North Bridge.