The king’s road had climbed steadily through the wooded Sardbury Downs without break, so that by the time the travelers topped the final rise and looked down upon the thatched roofs of Winterhaven, they were as tired from the constant vigil against further ambush as from the actual skirmish they had fought. The town of Winterhaven nestled snug within the valley at the foot of the Cairngorm Mountains before them, farmland hugging its eastern walls, and forests flanking the west. Smoke rose from the chimneys below signaled warmth and food and rest, and they hurried eagerly the last few leagues to the town.
Two soldiers manned the town’s gate, and although the party raised a few eyebrows, they entered Winterhaven without resistance. Istvara approached the younger of the guards, and once introduced, found herself speaking with one Wilhelm of the guard, born citizen of Winterhaven. Upon inquiry, he explained they could seek shelter for the night at the public house, Raften’s Inn, and that if they had come to trade goods, they could do so at the weekend Market. The smithy and the curiosity shoppe held some possibility of trade, but the Market was the best option for seeking items or making sales. When Istvara asked when the chapel of Pelor was located, the guard frowned and said there was no such place in Winterhaven, and that all there worshipped Avandra. Noticing that they were drawing a crowd with their strangeness, Istvara thanked Wilhelm for the information, and turned back to the others.
The group decided to split up to seek information regarding the possible blood cult activities. Lucant, Thom, and Allye headed for the inn seeking ale and conversation. Reeft and Istvara made their way to the smithy to see if the smith would buy their steel and if he might give them any insight into recent goings on.
Raften’s Inn. Lucant, Thom, and Allye entered the inn. They were warmly welcomed by Salvanna, a human woman with curly brown hair and a broad smile. She asked if they’d be needing rooms for the night, but they deferred for the moment, though she looked amused, as though she knew it was only a matter of time before they’d need to seek her out. Then she gestured toward the common room where a dozen or so people, mainly humans, laughed and talked over frothing mugs of ale. She invited them to take any empty table and offered to bring drinks. Thom Planter ordered a pint of ale while Allye asked for a half-pint, and then settled in at a corner table while Salvanna drew the drafts.
Salvanna plunked the mugs on the table and asked from where they hailed. Lucant politely explained they had come up from Cordwin, but got no further as Salvanna interrupted to exclaim she had family there, her own great-aunty Anna Raften who had left this inn in her care. Salvanna chatted a bit about her aunt, but upon finding that none of the three knew her, asked if they were merchants arrived for the next day’s market. Rather than lie directly, Thom gave her a wink. She smiled and winked back and said she wouldn’t mind having a pretty thing or two extra. Allye hid her eye roll behind her mug of ale.
Lucant, having interest in neither ale, nor lies, nor flirting to gain information, turned the conversation back to their purpose: he asked where in town they might find the local chapel of Pelor? Her face wrinkled with puzzlement; did the serious elvish gentleman mean to ask about Avandra’s church? Had they not been to Winterhaven before or know which god watched over their town?
Thom feigned embarrassment and said in a somewhat hushed tone that they were a bit new to this region and hoped she’d forgive their ignorance (and hoped it wouldn’t hurt their business) – [here he glanced around at the “competition”, shrugged and smiled up at her] – and by the way, on that topic, had there been any new faces around besides their own? Salvanna smiled back at him, and also lowered her voice. She said that, in fact, an older man had been round for a number of weeks not long past. Had mostly kept to himself, though he had come down to the common room every evening. Elian the Old, one of her local regulars, had struck up an acquaintance, she thought.
Lucant asked if any they’d heard of anyone bothered by kobolds recently, and she nodded with concern and said yes, the kobolds had grown more and more brazen, harrying travelers on the road to and from Winterhaven, and it had gotten so bad that the militia were looking into it, under the command of Lord Padraig. She said they might see him here if they planned to stay a few nights, or if they had any information about the attacks they could go to his manor at the top of Winterhaven and report it to the Lord directly. Savanna then scolded herself for gabbing instead of pouring, and with one last check around the table to see if refills were needed, headed on to the rest of the room to serve her guests. Thom, Lucant, and Allye decided they’d wait and see if the old man she mentioned would show up and settled to wait for their fellow travelers.
Outside of the Inn. Istvara and Reeft did not linger when their companions entered Raften’s Inn, but set off down the mud and stone road toward the stables. They didn’t have to walk too far before they could hear hammering and smoke and steam billowing out of what could only be the smithy.
Smithy. The dragonborn had to duck her head to get through the doorway, but Reeft glided in gracefully, barely masking his distaste for the lowliness of his surroundings. Heat from the forge radiated against them, as they discovered the source of the hammering, a stout and filthy dwarf was banging away at what looked like the third cousin to an axe.
Wondering what her mother would have made of such an interesting approach to tool-making, Istvara shouted a greeting to the dwarf and complimented him on the fine axe. After repeating herself to be heard, the dwarf put down his hammer and tongs and introduced himself as Thale Coalstriker, Blacksmith. They asked him if he bought or sold steel, and he said he had little enough ability to do either, as kobolds had been scaring traders away from town, though Lord Padraig and his militia were seeing to that, but speaking of, he was in fact working on a special something for the Lord himself, the very fine axe they could see before them, which they could tempt away from him for their own instead, in exchange for a bit of gold… Reeft looked as though he was imagining the results of combining his lifting spell with the dwarf and adding in the forge. Istvara patiently ignored the dwarf’s delusional greed and mentioned they too had encountered the kobolds and wondered if the militia had any need for additional hands to help thin their numbers? Thale did not know about that, but they could find the Lord in his manor or perhaps at the inn and ask? And bringing the axe along as a gift might do wonders for their chances in being heard out… Reeft pointed out the “axe” was unfinished, and Thale smoothly suggested they put gold down now to ensure its completion to their liking. Calling upon memories of her mother dealing with merchants and other tradespeople, Istvara managed to convince Thale that they intended to purchase the axe without actually promising anything or parting with any coin. The dwarf smiled at his imagined success, and feeling generous, offered the tip that Lord Padraig didn’t care for adventuring types. He stared pointedly at Istvara’s mail. If perchance they were to approach him as merchants… Reeft nodded his thanks and said that since merchants was precisely what they were, all would work out well. He suggested through a series of gestures and smooth words that Istvara was merely a hired shield for the journey. After one more attempt on both sides to offload some goods (the kobold loot vs. the disgrace of an axe), they parted on friendly terms, and Reeft and Istvara retraced their steps back to the inn.
Raften’s Inn. Reeft and Istvara walked into the inn and ordered an ale and a cider from Salvanna before spotting their companions across the room. They were sharing a table with a wizened old stranger who seemed barely capable of lifting a full mug of ale using both scrawny arms, but as they watched for a minute, he demonstrated he had no problem whatsoever lifting it several times—until it was empty. When Thom waved to signal Silvanna to refill their guest’s mug, he made eye contact with them and gestured that it was fine to approach.
Bracing himself for the company of another bore (he could hear the old man’s wheezing and rambling above the din of the crowd) Reeft led the way over, seating himself as far as possible from the stranger and after the barest of polite greetings immediately investigated his drink. Istvara was forced to improvise seating on the stone hearth, as none of the free chairs or benches looked quite up to holding her. The old man was Elian, and he was chatting about how long he had lived in town, how the market had been a bit spare recently due to fewer traders, and yet there had been someone new recently, and odd one you might say though he wasn’t one to gossip… Another refill of his drink prompted Elian to comment that there was no shame in speaking of a friend, because he had become friendly with the man, name of Duvan, and they had had many fine chats about the town and its history—Duvan was very interested in history, were any of them?—then they might be interested like Duvan was about the old burial site southwest of town? Although he couldn’t imagine there was too much interest for historical types, as it was currently a trash heap, but Duvan had the crazy notion that a dragon was buried there. Who in their right mind would look for dragon bones in a trash heap outside of a respectable town like Winterhaven? Elian challenged them with a pop-eyed stare before sitting back, checking the level of ale in his mug (low), pressing his lips together as though in thought and puzzlement over the ideas people could come up with when they had too much time and too little sense, but when the pitcher of ale came round their table again, he started up with a shake of his head. Hadn’t seen Duvan since he set off to see the trash heap though, darnedest thing. Maybe he was so disappointed in finding naught but other’s unwanted leavings that he simply kept on going to the next town. Elian sighed for a minute in memory of his friend’s foolish errand, took another drink, and then when they asked what he could tell them about Lord Padraig, brightened and continued his history. The current lord had taken over rule of Winterhaven after his father passed away twenty years ago. The Padraig family had ruled the town for over two centuries now. It had remained a mostly human settlement ever since, following Avandra… The old man’s words stumbled off as the ale’s effects finally seemed apparent. He mumbled drunkenly to himself, smiling down into his mug. The companions exchanged looks indicating Elian had ceased being a useful font of information. They rose together, murmuring thanks to him for his time and stories, which roused him for a final “Walk in the Light!” before he slumped forward against the table. They sought out Salvanna to inquire about rooms.