Francis' hooves made a steady clopping on the packed earth of the road as the group approached Kendall Keep. They had resolved to be somewhat more careful in their dealings with the local folk than they were on the way to BriarPort. The Old North Road continued on its way to the realm's borders, but the four turned off toward the keep's imposing silhouette. The road swung back and forth on its way up the hill, giving defenders a nice clear shot at anyone approaching. A gong pealed from within the walls. The drawbridge was up, and there was a faint sheen of oil over the moat water.
"Halt! Who goes there? Friend or foe?" someone called down from one of the guard towers.
"Friend!" Terzin called back.
"Names?" someone in the other tower shouted. They gave them. "Right!" There was a sound of hurrying footsteps and a creak of chain. The drawbridge lowered, and they crossed over. More footsteps of the first guard ascending, the other descending to raise the portcullis. After passing that, they found themselves facing a set of heavy oaken doors. A small hatch opened up, revealing a dark-skinned woman in her thirties.
"Hello, my name is Sabine, I'm the gatekeeper here at Kendall Keep. Would you tell me who you are, and what you're planning on doing here?"
"We're a band of adventurers," Terzin informed her. "Here to search the woods for treasure, and monsters."
"Well, I wish you both luck and no luck at all." She seemed slightly nonplussed. "I would rather there were no monsters to find, but if you do find them, I wish they have treasure for you."
"So do we."
"This is a peaceable place," she informed them firmly. "Inside these walls, we do not want to have any fights, any killings. We do not want to have any knifings inside the bar. You'll sheathe your weapons, you'll unstring your bows. We'd appreciate it if you'd peace-bond anything that you're carrying. If you cause any trouble in here, you'll live to regret it."
"We will be causing no trouble here," Robin assured her.
They followed her instructions and were allowed through the doors to see a short open stretch and then a second wall providing yet another defensive position. They could hear the portcullis being lowered and the bridge raised.
"So how long are you planning on staying here, have you any idea?" Sabine inquired.
The group exchanged an uncertain look. "Just a few days, I expect," Robin told her.
"The woods call us," Terzin added portentously.
She raised her eyebrows. "Your enthusiasm is impressive. There are stables right over there if you want to have your mule cared for. We also have a general storage area where you can rent space for any additional equipment that you might have brought with you. If you head down this wall, turn down, you'll find both a tavern and the inn. You shouldn't have any particular difficulties, as I said, it's a peaceful, quiet place. And... 'the woods call you to adventure?'"
"Yup," Robin sighed with a bemused look at her cousin.
"Well, there is some honest for potential adventures in the area, just... go carefully, young man."
"Thank you," Terzin replied graciously.
"And thank you very much for the directions," Robin added.
The stablegirl was a few years younger than any of them.
"So, mule, huh?" she said, looking Francis up and down. "Should be able to find space." The travelers unpacked their supplies and paid for two days lodging and good treatment after their time on the road.
"So, what're you guys doing in town?" the girl asked.
"Looking to see if anything interesting turns up," Robin said ingenuously.
"Boring town; I've lived here all my life, believe me, I should know."
"Outside of town, more like."
"Are you going to head out to the caves?"
"Caves. Adventurers always head out to the caves, well not always. We've had quite a few in here recently, and some of them left and didn't come back," she added in a hushed voice. "People were trying to tell me they were just caravan guards heading further up, but I think they were adventurers."
"Why?" Harrick wanted to know.
"'Cause they looked like you guys, 'cept not exactly like you guys, of course."
They set out in search of the inn. In the late afternoon, the shadow of the wall cast a premature twilight over the inner keep. They passed a lot of small houses with their backs up against the wall, a smithy, a chandler, a quartermaster's with all sorts of peculiar gear stacked out front; the inhabitants of this isolated community glanced at the travelers curiously and at Harrick somewhat warily, but between his civilized dress and his companions it was clear that he was "all right." Very few of the locals were armed.
The inn was a half-timbered building called the Green Man, the tavern next door the One-Eyed Cat. They entered the former and were immediately approached.
"Hi, I'm Wilf, can I help you? You must the people who just came into town."
"How did you guess?" Robin asked. She was tired; it had been a long trip.
"Because I've never seen you before and the gong just went off, I'm clever that way," he replied cheerfully. "We have comfortable rooms and reasonable rates. If you're interested in something a little less upscale, we also have a comfortable floor and reasonable rates."
They decided to share a single roomno need to stretch their funds farther than necessary when they weren't sure how long they would be stayingand followed Wilf upstairs.
"Ordinarily Callista would be handling this, but she's busy taking care of the laundry, there will be fresh linens on your bed by the time you get back from dinner. Assuming that you are going to dinner, you look a little road-weary," he observed. "You just going to go to sleep as soon as we get up there?"
"We'll be down for dinner," Robin assured him.
"Good. That'll give us a chance to get everything squared away." He led them down a hall and removed a key from his belt, unlocked the door, then handed Terzin the key. "Your key, sir."
The room held two small beds against the walls, a small window, and a small table with a washbasin. The adventurers dropped off their gear and most of their weapons. A woman bustled past them bearing a heap of fresh linen as they walked back down the hall.
"He put you in the third on the right? I'm Callista, if you need anything just ask, also my daughter is roaming around here, I'm sure you've already met my husband Wilf, he's also in charge of the tavern next door, so head over there, I'm sure you'll be able to get yourselves something nice to eat and drink. Are we going to be having you here long, or are you just stopping along the way?"
Another exchanged glance. They really weren't very good at this.
"We're not sure yet," Harrick answered honestly.
"Well, you're welcome here for as long as you care to stay."
She bustled off, and they continued on their way through the connecting door to the tavern, where they found a table and surveyed the place with some interest. A one-eyed cat walked past. The menu was written on a chalkboard (it did not feature any toad). The evening clientele was beginning to fill the place up. One man wore brown robes and a tonsure; he handed a basket to Wilf behind the bar.
"Sowhaddayouguyswant?" the harried serving woman asked, looking them over. "Four beers, four fish?"
"Do you have anything other than fish?" Jared asked.
"There's meat in the stew."
"Stew, then." Everyone except Robin opted for the stew.
"I'll get those right out to you. Jess, would you bring over some beers?"
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