Sitting on the hard, wooden chairs of the Bad Broil’s Inn may not have been comfortable, but compared to the hard ground and cold stone floors that had been the group’s resting places for the past few weeks, the chairs were like feather pillows. A recently completed treasure hunt to an almost forgotten cavern for one of Duntroon’s better merchants had paid off, and the four adventurers were glad to spread some of that wealth around. While the cold winds that scoured the open lands around the cavern had left them wondering if any amount of gold was worth the effort, but a few nights of warm beds and full bellies tinged memories of the trip with humorous nostalgia.
The quiet strains of a ballad being idly played by the house bard in the corner, and the creaking of the sign on the front of the Inn as it rocked in the wind were nearly enough to put the adventurers to sleep over their lunch. The wood and stone inn was neither large nor terribly luxurious, but the tavern room was warm and homey, and the lamb chops were the some of the best on this side of the open plains. The inn proprietor, Master Broil, had mentioned that he had a private sheep flock grazing within the outermost ring-wall of the city, and the ewes had just started their spring lambing.
A short human of perhaps fifty winters, time had not been kind to either his hairline or his waistline, and so Broil was nearly bald, and nearly as wide as he was tall. He and his wife Alissa had built the inn for themselves over twenty years ago as an outgrowth of his butchering business, and they were fond of telling the story of how much blood, sweat and tears they had poured into the place at every opportunity, and at great length. From the scent that usually wafted around Broil, it seemed that sweat, at least, was still an integral part of the business.
The group was looking forward to at least another month of indulgence at the inn before needing to take on some other task. Be it rescuing a kidnapped child, killing some marauding darkone, recovering a half-forgotten relic, or playing bodyguard to some ponce with more money than brains, some job or another would come up to keep meat on the table. They’d worry about that later; for now, just relaxing and eating well was enough.
Just as they were finishing lunch and getting ready to go their separate ways for the day, a man burst into the inn’s tavern-room. All eyes went to the newcomer, who appeared to have been running, and even the bard went silent as the room waited for the cause of the interruption.
“Gatequest has been attacked!” belted the runner, and then paused to gasp for a breath before continuing. “Everyone’s lost, to the last man.” Then, taking a deep breath, “Something has killed them all; Duntroon is sending help. Pray to the gods for them!”
The creak of the inn sign was the only sound for a few stunned moments, until the one of the other patrons shouted, “Who did it?” But the runner was gone, as quickly as he had arrived, and the question could only bounce off the now closed door. The silence swelled to a roar as everyone began to exclaim over the news. The adventurers caught each other’s eyes and smiled grimly. Something, it would seem, had indeed come up.
The once sleepy inn now bustled with activity, as the city around it geared up for military action. News-starved citizens and travelers clustered in the bar passing rumors and speculations about the attack on Gatequest. One old-timer was convinced that dragons had done it, while another held forth that the destruction was a punishment by the gods for ill deeds, real or imagined, that the citizens of Gatequest had perpetrated. As the hours went by without any real news, the rumors grew weirder, from the ground swallowing the city whole, to plague, hill giants, assassins, angry sentient trees, air elementals, and even a pack of giant undead wolves being blamed for the attack. The bard switched from the usual romantic ballads to odes to the glory of battle. The spirited music was punctuated by regular peals of bells from the ring-walls of the city, and the crashing of pots and pans from the Inn’s kitchen.
Relative newcomers to Duntroon, one of the adventures cornered Master Broil as he ran in from the kitchen to ask about the meaning of the bells, and they all braced themselves for his usual verbosity.
“Well back in the day, the bells were put in to warn the citizens of an attack on the city, but you know they haven’t been used in along time.” He laugh’s after thinking about it for a second. “In fact, about the only time they are used, now that I think about it, is when a council member dies.”
“About two months ago one was assassinated you know; horrible thing done by some Halfling named Zeilier Cox. Never did catch that fella. Some say he’s even here in town still but you never can tell. Them assassins, they can hide in the shadows and are almost like a ghost. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them.
“Anyways those bells ran for awhile during that time, at least the bells that worked. With hardly ever using them, you never can tell which of them will work or not. Anyway that’s the reason the bells are ringing: to warn people, especially on the outside, to watch out and be careful. It also means that the Banguard have right of way and everyone is to move out of the street when they come by. Especially them merchants and peddlers on the streets, they have to move their carts and horses out of their way when the ‘Guard come through. I’d just wish they would run them over anyways and not give them any such warning, but I guess we’d get a lot of good folk hurt, so I’m not wishing ill of anyone, so forget I said that.
“Well I got to go get ready because those bells mean one last thing and it affects me the most. They mean the Banguard get free meals and rest. They can come into any business and demand food, drink, pretty much whatever they need for free while the bells are ringing. Means the Banguards don’t have to worry about coin during a time of trouble and it’s a pretty good law to help keep order in the city. When it’s over, I’ll bill the alliance for whatever was taken and they’ll get around to paying me, sometime.”
With that, Broil resumed his rushing around to prepare his inn for an onslaught of hungry Banguards, and the adventurers settled in to listen to more rumors. At one point, the patrons of the Inn, and the adventurers with them gathered outside to watch a squad or two of Banguards march by on patrol. The distinctive banner of a griffon holding a spear in its claws flapped in the wind, and their winged helmets of painted gold gave them away. The loud jingle and clank of metal striking metal from their shields, armor, and weapons meant they could be heard before they were seen. One inn patron boasted that he had seen a squad leaving the city lead by a couple of members of the Hidden Jackals, an elite company of the ‘Guard who acted as their ears, eyes, and spearhead.
Late that evening, a team of four Banguards stopped by the inn for a meal. They were dirty and tired, their heavy leather boots covered in mud that they tracked across the wooden floor of the tavern-room. Their faces were red and chapped from the cold wind. The patrons of the inn quickly moved to give them the table closest to the hearth, and the ‘Guards wearily propped their weapons nearby so they could be picked up at a moment’s notice. As they settled in, a few of the patrons gathered around to talk to the guardsmen, but they were soundly ignored by the tired ‘Guards.
After eating their fill and greasing their throats with several mugs of Master Broil’s best ale, the guardsmen were finally willing to talk. Unfortunately, they didn’t have much in the way of news to provide, and after listening to a few minutes of them drone on about boring patrols, most of the patrons left them alone. It was clear that whoever knew what had really happened was not sharing the information, or at least not sharing it with the common folk.
The next several days brought continued chaos to Bad Broil’s Inn and the rest of Duntroon. The temples and shrines filled with people looking to the gods for answers and comfort. Many clerics had left the city with the Banguard to aid Gatequest, leaving those that remained overwhelmed by the needs of the people. The guards at the outermost gate began to question anyone seeking to enter the city, and to detain any that they deemed questionable. The innermost gate protecting the estates of the rich and powerful of Duntroon was closed to all but the members of the Banguard. Those that could afford to hired private bodyguards to protect them when they had to travel on the streets, and those that couldn’t afford bodyguards mostly stayed indoors. Panic and fear hold the city in their icy grip.
After three days, the constant state of fear began to grate on the nerves of many, and anger and annoyance heightened the already high emotions running through Duntroon. A rumor spread that the outermost ring-wall of Duntroon itself had been attacked, serving only to add fuel to the fire of panic. The four adventurers almost began to wish they were back out on the cold open plains, as the panicked commoners around them became an annoyance rather than an amusement. The inn’s soft mattresses and the benefit of the protection of the walls if the rumored attacks ever actually came were the only things keeping the adventurers within Duntroon.
At lunch on the fourth day after the attack, just as the adventurers were beginning to seriously consider joining the Banguard just to get themselves out of the city, their table was approached by Broil carrying a loaf of freshly baked bread.
“Excuse me, good sirs and ma’am,” he said, “I’ve got some fresh puffersnick bread here. It’ll really finish your lunch off with a bang, if’ you please.” One of the adventurers tossed him a gold coin, and he set the bread down, cleared his throat, and continued.
“Excuse me again, good sirs and ma’am. I don’t mean to be too forward with you, but you have been good to me and my wife. You’ve paid your bills on time and then some, and for that I wanted to say ‘May Thorax watch over you.’” He rubbed his dirty hands on a clean corner of his bloodstained butcher’s apron before continuing.
“This morning while out back of the inn cleaning some fish and washing up some of the dirtier pots, a man approached me and started asking me some questions. Well he goes on and asks me about if I knows of anyone that might be able to provide him some protection.
“Well you know I start to look at him funny ‘cause this man is pretty big, about a head taller then a normal man and so I asks him why he would need any protection.
“Well he says it’s not really him as needs this protection and suddenly one of them elves walks up out of the shadows. This elf, well it was a lady elf, and man, let me tell you this elf was beautiful. Probably the nicest looking elf I’ve ever laid my eyes on. She had them green eyes, eyes that made me stop worrying about anything else. I tell you just looking into her eyes made me feel young again. She had bright white skin and a soft, sweet voice. She looks me in the eyes and tells me that the protection they seek is for her and because of all of the recent troubles in the area they have lost all of their protection.
“She tells me that they are headed to Yellowtail but are worried ‘bout their safety traveling across the open lands.” Broil raised his hand and pointed at the wall of the inn as if the city were a mark on the wood beams.
“Anyways, I tell them that I might know of someone because I seen you in here everyday, and it don’t look like you’re too involved with what is happening around the city. I can see how everyone is shorthanded and it looks like you could use something to do. I tells the man and lady that they should seek you out later today after I’ve had a chance to talk with you, you know, to finds out if you’re interested or not.
“Anyways, I hate to lose your coins for the next month or more but that elf lady really could use your help and it would be a really fine thing to do for someone lost in their travels, especially during these days. If’n you’re interested in helping them out I’m sure you can make some good coins. I noticed the gentleman had some good quality items on his person, and the lady had a silver necklace with some gems inset so I’m sure they have some money. Besides, they tipped me a few gold coins after the conversation.
“Sorry I didn’t get any names for you; they did tell them to me but I’m ashamed that I’m not too good with names. I think he mentioned his was Verarock or something like that. I’m not sure what her name was but it is probably something amazing. Anyways, if you’re interested they will probably be here later today unless they find someone else in the mean time; they seamed to be in a pretty big hurry to get out of town and get on with their travels.”
As he finished, Broil motioned to the barmaid to bring more wine over to the table, and walked towards the back of the inn. As he left, the group could make out the faintest of sounds. It sounded as if Broil was whistling. His meeting with the elven woman seemed to have given him a new lease on youth.