Myrrh’s tavern was big, blocky and dull on the outside, its walls made of roughly halved logs, as if the settlers simply couldn’t wait long enough to make proper boards. Considering that this was where the booze was, they probably couldn’t.
The door was more homey, though, in that it was sewn flaps of treated animal skin. Just like the tents of his tribe Myrrh and her friends slapped it aside as they entered, Yenrab right behind them.
The interior was more crowded than he would have expected for this hour, but he wasn’t really sure how these things worked either. They had the booze tent in the tribe, but that was more of a festival thing and it didn’t get dragged out too often.
He sneezed unused to musty indoor places.
While her friends spread out to mingle, Myrrh sauntered to the bar. A large orc with small tusks was serving greasy food and cloudy alcohol from behind it.
“Dunmer, meet Yenrab,” she beamed as her husband dutifully leaned over the bar to smooch her on the cheek. Yenrab turned away, feeling embarrassed. He dropped his ruck to the floor and leaned it against the bar.
“He’s out here from the Confederation of the Bear, just like you.” (Footnote: Though it sounds like a nation, the Confederation of the Bear was more like an office meeting. They’d come together occasionally, make nonsense talk, then go back to whatever they’d been doing before.)
“That right?” he queried with thoughtful hesitation. “The Yenrab?”
His common tongue was thick and slow, but understandable.
Yenrab nodded slowly.
“Yeah, ya know, probably? Have you heard about me?” he asked, switching to Orcish.
“Hells yes, I heard about ya!” Dunmer beamed. “Hey, Myrrh,” he continued in Orcish, to Yenrab’s surprise, “did you know this is the Yenrab!”
“I gathered as much,” she said with a yawn and a sly grin. “I’m not much for hero worship though and I kept my tongue. Besides, I’ve been saving that part for you,” she added, to the bartender’s tremendous joy.
“Gross,” Yenrab stated flatly. They both laughed.
“Listen, Dunmer, Yenrab here has gotten himself involved with prophesy or destiny or some other gods-awful nonsense and he is supposed to find an adventuring party. You got any leads?”
Dunmer scratched under his armpits and sniffed his fingers. Yenrab felt relieved that he could do that here and so he did the same. (Footnote: In some tribes this was as good as shaking hands.)
“Nothing happening,” Dunmer announced. “We’ve got the lunch crowd in and the hunting troupe is back in town which is why we’re so busy. They caught regular game meat but nothing special, so I bought their lot cheap and I’m gonna grind it up tonight. Tough luck, Yenrab. Why adventuring anyways? Aren’t you all about saving people?”
Yenrab sighed. A couple of patrons, already drowning in their drinks despite this early hour, startled and fell off of their benches.
“Oh my gods, Yenrab, that is one hell of a sound you make. Intimidating that is,” Myrrh observed.
He smiled back at her.
“Yeah, I can’t really help it,” Yenrab explained. “I guess that’s just how I am. Anyways, to your question, yeah, I am all about saving people. And I saved some lady who just ran off without even thanking me and I fought this guy that seemed to be possessed maybe and he yelled a bunch of stuff about Gharag and me burning forever and then I killed him and I found a magical book.”
He reached into his pack.
“Nope. No, no, no and no,” she asserted.
“But . . .”
“No means no, Yenrab. I’m not about to get myself and my husband involved in your destiny anymore than we already have been. You already told me what the book said you need to do and that’s enough. You are a good man, I can see that, but we have a life right here. We don’t need to be rolling around in dung fighting monsters and whatever the hells else so that your Great Bear can win a trophy, or whatever those gods above get when they gain victory.”
Dunmer contemplated the young half-orc with sympathy.
“Sorry, Yenrab,” he sighed, “but she’s right. So, what can we do to help you along and move destiny away from us?”
Myrrh busted in again. “He was told he needs to get a job. I figure we can find him some guide work here in Place for Ships. It isn’t adventuring, but it’ll get him some coin and send him to somewhere that has what he needs.”
Dunmer beamed with excitement.
“Ha! Imagine that—I’ve already been asked today if there wasn’t someone here who could guide a group to Gennopolis. They’ll be back later,” said the bartender elated as he scooped light-brown sludge out of a pot and plopped it into a bowl. He slid it in front of the barbarian. “Stick around, Yenrab and have some meat slurry while you wait.”
Myrrh moved about, lighting lanterns and hanging them from iron rings in the ceiling. Night was darkening the sky and Yenrab wondered if the two men who had inquired about guides were going to come back. He had spent his time talking off and on again with Dunmer and Myrrh and simply contemplating life when they were busy or that one longer period when they got all grabby with each other and left off for twenty or thirty minutes. Hardly the way to run a business, he had thought, feeling embarrassed all over again. (Footnote: The proper way to run a business is to pay someone else to do it for you.)
He’d had time to really think about what was going to happen next. He would help a couple of people get to Gennopolis, assuming a good interview with the two men that Myrrh had lined up when or if they returned to the tavern. It would be a journey through a lot of untamed wilderness of at least two months, maybe even longer, depending on how tough his potential adventuring companions were. He expected that he would be pulling them out of swampy mires, saving them from drowning and releasing them from pit traps and briars. He’d once accompanied the tribe’s shaman on one such journey a year ago, to trade pelts at the edge of the great big city for tremendous amounts of metal goods and beautiful beads. They’d refused the blankets, though. He’d make sure to remember to do the same when he got there this time with his employers.
“Yenrab!” Dunmer yelled, breaking him out of his reverie. “Your job just came in.”
Yenrab turned and peered at the entrance. A face not much older than his own gazed back, uncomfortable and nervous. Half-pointed ears and angular handsomeness marked him as a half-elf, much as the lute he carried marked him as a bard. Yenrab tried to see into the man’s eyes, but he was having none of that, averting his gaze and staring at the floor as he walked over to the bar.
“Um . . . b-b-barkeep, sum . . . somethi . . . something strong. Whiskey!” the man shook out, his nerves overcoming him. Yenrab imagined he’d need some drinks before he was worth talking to, so he twiddled his thumbs and let him take his time.
It didn’t take long. A few long draws from a battered pewter mug and the bard was looking confident and ready for the world. He stared Yenrab in the eye and Yenrab returned the gaze with a happy glint.
“Hello, stranger. I am Yenrab and I hear you are in need of a guide to Gennopolis.”
The bard nodded, opened his mouth to speak, then shut it again. He didn’t seem to know the first thing about what he was doing here.
“Here, I can see you are uncomfortable. Let’s start with names. I am Yenrab,” the half-orc stated amiably, ready to let his fame do the talking for him.
There was a silence. It grew longer and uncomfortable. (As opposed to those short and comfortable ones.)
“You know, the Yenrab? Rescuer of Settlers and all that? Folk Hero of the Western Reaches?”
The bard finally answered, “Never heard of you. But, hey, if you say so.”
The man’s speech was already a little slurred, his demeanor challenging.
Just great! Yenrab exclaimed mentally.
“Okay, I get it; I let my head get too big there, haha. I’m Yenrab, formerly of the Confederation of the Bear and ya know, I’m known around these parts for being a good guy to have around when you are in a bind. And who are you, if I can ask?”
“I am Carric Smith, hailing from Chalnaharren,” he returned with spirit-laden breath. Seeing the lack of understanding on Yenrab’s face, he frowned and said, “Icegard. I’m from Icegard.”
“Ah, yes, Icegard. So from the same place as most around here. You’re a settler!” Yenrab exclaimed. His face screwed up in confusion, sizing Carric up. “But you don’t really look like one of the settlers. You’ve got such small arms and shoulders and sticks for legs.”
“Yeah, I know,” Carric Smith groused.
“I look at you and find myself wondering how you can carry even your own body, let alone the gear for a journey. Have you been ill? My little sister has more substance. Good gods, man, you need to eat.”
Carric looked flustered and angry, staring at the floor. Yenrab took note and felt immediate regret.
“Listen, Carric, sorry about that. I’m just a dumb barbarian, okay? It’s just, the tales I heard back in my tribe of the land of Icegard, well, it is a place of constant fight and struggle. And heroes of such rugged nature and battle prowess. I was just confused,” he explained in a tone thick with apology. “If you need a guide, I’m happy to do it. A gold piece a day, one gold up front (About $100 a day for those unversed in their gold to dollar exchange rates). And I promise that I’ll get you there safely. You have my word.”
Carric glanced again into Yenrab’s eyes. He wasn’t angry anymore, just hurt and shy, plus a little drunk.
“I’m going to be an entertainer, Mr. Yenrab. I’m going to be successful and famous and when I do, I’ll remember that you were the one who took me there to that great stage in Gennopolis,” he exuberated, seeming to talk to himself more than to the barbarian in front of him.
“Uh, thanks?” Yenrab replied.
“Hey, barkeep!” he shouted over his shoulder, surprising Yenrab with his sudden onslaught of confidence. “Dwarven spirits for me and my new guide!”
Dunmer nodded, swiping two grubby mugs of pewter and pouring foul spirits in from a tap in a keg. The fumes made the air above it go hazy.
“None for me, Mr. Smith, though thank you for the offer. I have to keep a clear head for our trip. We set off tomorrow.” He winked. Carric nodded and tossed him a gold coin. The throw was erratic, but Yenrab picked it out of the air anyways without difficulty.
“There’s your other one,” said Dunmer, pointing with his chin to a new stranger entering the bar as he plopped two mugs of dwarven spirits in front of the bard. The bartender’s eyes peered doubtfully at the thin man. Carric, though, did not shy away from the alcohol, slugging down half of one mug as if challenging his consciousness to a duel.
Looking at the entrance, he saw a man in patched clothing full of random and mismatched, colored patches. Not one article seemed to fit him well.
“He’s a strange bugger, that one,” Dunmer confided. “His name is Tracy Riley and as the story goes, he came here to Place for Ships along the coast via some fancy elven sea vessel. The ship was all decked out with ribbons and streamers. Some of the dock workers told me that his arrival surprised the heck out of them. They’d never seen such a fancy ship, right, so they all bowed and kowtowed when the ship docked. They were all expecting royalty because, well, it was as fancy a ship as has ever been built and so they expected some elven king or prince or something to walk on out. But, instead, elven sailors came down the plank with Tracy here, shoved him to the ground and another elf threw his trunk of things overboard and they all left in a huff.”
“Tough luck that. He must have slept with someone he shouldn’t have,” Yenrab suggested. He felt blood rise to his cheeks.
“No, I seriously doubt that,” Dunmer replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “Just meet him. He’s weird. Heck, the dock workers even said that, as the ship pulled off, Tracy there looked happy as a horse in hay, yelling thanks to the ship and then stripping down and jumping into the sea to get his stuff.”
“He wasn’t sarcastic?” Yenrab asked.
“He was not sarcastic. And, when he was here earlier, he moved from table to table asking the most bizarre questions and doing some strange things. He’s not dangerous. I don’t think,” Dunmer reassured him, “but he sure is odd.”
Yenrab sized Tracy up as he approached. He could see immediately that he was a half-elf, like Carric. Also, he was thin and weak, like Carric and he was dashingly handsome. But that is where their similarities ended. Tracy stared into the Yenrab’s eyes without wavering and strode forward without pause. As he walked, he spoke in a noble and refined timbre of voice that might well cast confidence if it weren’t currently being used to talk to himself.
“Are you Yenrab?” Tracy Riley asked, a half-smile frozen in place. It looked eerie.
“Uh,” Yenrab answered, taken aback, “yes?”
“You should know your own name,” Tracy chided (Footenote: He has a point). “Study it tonight so you can remember it better next time.”
Yenrab opened his mouth and tried to talk but there were no words to be said. Did Tracy just insult him, joke with him, or was he serious?
“Oh and I’m in,” Tracy Riley said, throwing him a platinum piece and strolling to the bar.
“Be ready in the morning,” Yenrab smiled.
“Beerman!” Tracy Riley yelled before he dug his fingers into the wood of the bar and picked slivers out, his eyes wide with wonder.
“Yeah?” Dunmer asked, moving over to him.
“Three beers,” he yelled, joyful. “Two for myself and one for that monster who is gonna maul me in the woods in a week or so.”