“Whoa!” beckoned Baran.
As the wagon came to a halt Darius sat up and looked around, but it was too dark to really see much of anything; there were very few torches lit. He looked in front of the wagon and there stood a great gate that blocked their path.
“Wait here,” Baran told them. He stepped down from the wagon and walk up to the gate and swung the metal ring down; the sound echoed through the silent night air. Again he swung the handle. As he went to knock it for the third time and small hole slid open in the gate.
A little man stuck his quite bulbous nose through the slit and looked at us all hanging from the wagon. When he looked up he let out a womanly squeal, Baran was looking down at him; his face void of patience. “What busy do you have here?” squeaked the little man.
“We come seeking food and hospitality of the inn. We’ve been on the road for two days now; we’re on our way to the great fountain.” Baran calmly replied.
“We’re not a place suited for a giant and his family,” piped the man at the gate.
“We’re not a family of giants, I assure you. As you can see my wife and all the children are or normal stature.” Baran turned his hips and gestured to the wagon. Isolda was fast asleep against nook of the wagon, her dark hair blending into the night hanged off the side of the wagon. The kids all smiled at the little man and waved; Darius gave a half-hearted smile and a nod.
“Very well…” The man jumped down from the opening and yelled at to open the guest gate. An opening within the gate opened up and allowed us to pass through. As we trotted by the little man Baran stopped.
“Thank you for the safe passage good sir.” said Baran.
“Not all replied the man” His nose taking up half his face, while the rest was covered in a large beard the hung to his belly; and a double headed axe on his back. “I’m not sure if the inn will have enough room for all of you, but it’s just down that path; and the stables are across the way.”
“My many thanks.” replied Baran.
He was a strange looking man, Darius had never seen someone so small and yet so scary at the same time. He was very curious now as to where they were and what happened to the man. “Is he cursed?” Asked Darius.
Baran let out a booming laugh that confused Darius. “No, he is not cursed.” Still laughing Baran continued, “He’s a dwarf, probably from the Ironfists tribe of Orocarni; judging from his large nose and that battle axe. Their weapons usually give them away, a dwarf’s weapon and beard are his pride.”
A real dwarf thought Darius, amazing, he’d never seen one before. Sure he’d heard about them from the books at school, but he’d never seen one in real life. “I thought dwarves would be taller,” he replied.
“Well they can be, but he’s about average size for a dwarf.”
“So where are we exactly then?” asked Ryn.
“Oh, we’re in Itrusk, far to the northeast of Basorsia.” answered Baran. “You’re going to see quite a few things that you’ve only read about, and some that aren’t even mentioned in your books.”
“Is this where the great fountain is?” asked Maka.
“No, from here, we’re about halfway there” said Baran.
“Halfway!?” exclaimed Ryn and Maka.
“But we’ve been in her forever” exasperated Ryn.
Baran merely chuckled and kept driving them through the town. Darius, eyes wide open, was staring around the city; it was so bright, with all the torches and fires, it almost felt like midday. He could see all sorts of people, and he recognized them from the pictures in his books; Elves, Dwarves, Halflings, Hobbits, Aaenshi, Ratfolk and Bullywugs. He even saw a Shade, he’d only read descriptions, but never even seen a picture. Darius was amazed at how so many different races could all reside in one place, but at the same time he was curious about so much more; there were so many different people and many he did not even know what they were. One creature was larger than Baran and covered head to toe in golden scales; his feet like his hands were are ended with three strong talon-like claws, but without a thumb, instead it protruded straight back into the ground. His face had a blunt snout, large fangs and a strong brow; and on the back of his head, he had a crest of hornlike hair that resembled a mess of stringy hair. You could feel the tremble of every step he took. Another creature was off in the distance, but looked like some sort of human like hyena wearing armor, but just as tall as the previous creature. Outside his armor he was covered in reddish-brown fur which became shorter around his faces and hands; he looked quite terrifying. Everywhere Darius looked he was filled with amusement and wonder, with a slice of fear.
The wagon finally came to a stop outside the inn, “alright, everyone out; bring in your bags.” The kids jumped up and clambered to get out of the wagon and get into a real bed. Baran softly nudge Isolda, “Dear, we’re here, wake up.” He shook her a little more and she started to wake.
“Huh?” her eyes still half closed as she looked around with a yawn, stretching her arms out. “What is it Baran?”
“We’re here, at the inn, in Itrusk. I need you to take the kids in and get us rooms; I’ll take the wagon to the stables and get the horses fed.”
“Okay, umm… mmmm.” Isolda slowly rolled down the side of the wagon, dragging her feet towards the inn. “Come on kids, lets go inside.”
“Mom, can I look around town? It’s amazing here!” asked Darius.
“No, we’re going inside to get cleaned up, eat and sleep…Now grab your shit and get inside.”
Darius reaching down angrily rips his bag off the ground and throws in over his shoulder, “fine whatever” he said; it was his conditioned response to mother when he didn’t want to fight.
As they all rush in and head for the front desk, Isolda is the last one through the doors and barely makes it up the steps. She looks around for the Innkeeper, but doesn’t see anyone.
A littlest old lady pops up from underneath the counter. “Welcome to Frog and Flurkins Inn, how long will you be staying?” she asked. Darius stared at her, her face was adorned with a very pointy nose and a silver beard; her face had more hair than Baran’s. And her slightly pointed ears that held her silver mess of a hair at bay.
“Just for the night,” replies Ryn.
“Mmmhmmm….and how many rooms will you be needing?”
“Just two,” interjected Isolda. “One for my husband and me, and the other for the children.”
The old lady’s beedy grey eyes stared intently at the children, like she was examining their very souls. “Okay then, well we only have two rooms available, one has two beds and the other has one. Will that be acceptable?” she said.
“Yes that’ll be fine,” replied Isolda.
“That’s not enough room for all of us!” said Richard, who’d remained silent this whole time, scared of the old hag.
The old ladies eye’s darted to Richard, giving him an uncomfortable feeling, “Is that so…?” she retorted.
Isolda turned to the children, “you all can share the beds, one person may have to sleep on the floor.” She looked back to our host, “that is if you have a few spare blankets?”
“Of course replied the woman.” The smile she gave was the most terrifying thing Darius had seen all day, her misshapen and missing teeth, sending shivers through his spine; making him feel uneasy. “This way please,” she hollered as she jumped down from the counter. Darius again looked at her, having to almost stare straight down, she was barely waist height to him and walked rather strangely, almost like a waddle. As they walked down the hall Darius could hear strange noises and sometimes screams from the rooms as they passed by. “Don’t mind the noise,” said the old woman “they usually quite down in a couple hours.” Darius still felt a bit uneasy being in this place, it was on the outskirts of the town and gave him the creeps. “Ah! Here we are,” cracked the old woman. She opened the door to a room and turned to Isolda, “this will be your husband’s and yours room.”
“Thank you kindly,” replied Isolda. “Where will the kids be?”
“Just down the hall over there,” she pointed down to the end of the hall, it was not lit as well as the rest of the inn.
“Okay, and will you bring my husband up, he’s still at the stalls taking care of the horses; you can’t miss him, he’s quite a large man and smells of fish.”
“Not to worry miss, I’ll show him the way when he arrives.”
“Thank you.” Isolda turned to her children, “Now you five, behave yourselves and no fighting; I’m tired and don’t want to deal with any of your crap tonight.”
“Yes mother,” replied the three followed by Maka and Nibenay, “Yes Isolda.”
“Good, now good night and I’ll see you in the morning for breakfast.”
“But what about supper?” asked Darius, and all the kids looked from him to Isolda with curious eyes.
“Fret not children,” spoke the innkeeper, “I’ll have some snacks prepared for you and the extra blankets sent up.”
“There, it’s settled,” said Isolda, ”and be sure to thank our host.” She went into her room and closed the door behind her.
“This way children,” squeaked the old lady. They followed close behind her to the end of the hall where she let them into their room. “Now I’ll be back with some snacks and blanket, feel free to get settled in.” She shut the door behind herself and waddled off.
The other kids immediately started to jump around on the beds and fight over who was sleeping where; as usually Darius got outvoted and ended up being stuck with the floor again. Darius, upset that he had to again sleep in the worst spot for the second time this trip, hastily set up his bed in the nook next to the window. He wanted to be able to look out and see the town and everything that was going on, it seemed liked the people here didn’t sleep and he wanted to explore it all.
After the kids finished the snacks from the innkeeper, that they learned was called Viveca, and her name meant Little Woman. Though they learned her name, none of them dared asked her why she was so small. As they settled in for the night, Darius huddled in his corner, blanket overhead and small lantern in hand stayed up reading one of his books. While reading he could hear the snores of his sister and older brother, and he thought to himself about exploring. So he snuck out of the room and down the hall. While he was sneaking down the hall he bumped into Viveca, and his face turned to guilt.
She turned her nose up to him and gave him another terrifying smile and said, “don’t worry, I won’t let them know you’ve gone. There’s more food in the main hall if you’re hungry; and plenty of guests to talk with if you’re in the mood to conversate.”
“Umm..thanks,” whispered Darius. She started down the hall skipping and whistling a shrieking tune, Darius thought to himself that maybe she was trying to scare away ghosts with her tune.
As he continued down the stairs and into the main hall, he saw so many odd looking creatures, some he couldn’t even find the words to describe; others just looked terrifying. But out of all the people he saw, one caught his eye; a man that oddly resembled Viveca in a way, but less hairy and a more youthful look to him. Darius walked over to the man, “is this seat taken?” he asked him.
“No, it’s free.” replied the man, his voice cracking so heavily that it felt like needles were being stabbed into Darius’ brain.
“Thanks,” he said with a grimace. As he started to snack on some of the table bread and random fruit he looked at the man, “I’m Darius Siegfried, of Astonia.”
“And I am Egan,” he cracked, as jumped to his feet atop the table and he raised his hand; a fireball appeared within it, “the little fire, from Bytopia!” Egan beamed and looked full of himself, like a great spellcaster of the ages.
Darius stared at the fireball, he’d only ever seen one that small once, and it was made by a small child. With a bit remorse, Darius gave a very unconvincing, “that’s incredible!” holler. “So Egan, can I ask you something?” he stammered.
“Sure, my young halfling.” Egan replied as he sat back down.
“Oh, I’m not a halfling, I’m a human.”
“Are you sure?” Egan replied and looked quite perplexed.
“Umm..yeah, last I checked. I’m just a young human boy, about twelve years of age.”
“Oh, well if you insist, but I’m not so sure about that.” Egan gave Darius a very concerned and penetrating look.
Darius laughed and felt a bit awkward, not knowing how to fully respond; he asked his question, “Um, what are you, you remind look kind of like the Viveca, the innkeeper?” Darius began to fidget in his seat, “I mean, what type of person are you, or rather race I guess?”
“That smelly hag,” snarled Egan, “Yeah, I guess we’re similar, that old bat.” He stood up and shook his fist in the direction of the front desk, though no one was there. “Well, we’re Gnomes, little halfling. Though she’s a sorry excuse for one, despite her scary demeanor.” Egan looked around him, as if checking to see if anyone overheard him insult her.
“Oh, well what’s a gnome?” asked Darius.
“You mean to say that you’ve never heard of a gnome before?”
“Not once…” Darius felt a little uneasy and started to twiddle his thumbs and look around the hall.
“Well to put it simply, we are skilled in the art of magic and illusions, we live in the hills and mountains usually near dwarves…the filthy beasts…and, as you tell by meeting me, we are pretty energetic and kind.” His face, beaming with pride and happiness.
“So you’re not like dwarves?” asked Darius.
“Well some say that the dwarves are our ancestors, but I’ll never believe that load of codswallop.” Egan spit at the ground with force, only to spit on his own shoe.
Darius let out an amused laughed. Him and Egan sat there talking for a while, Egan told him about some of the adventures he’d been on and educated him about some of the creatures in the main hall. After about an hour or two, Darius decided that it was time for him to go; he wanted to explore the city. “Good luck, my young halfling friend.” shouted Egan. Darius smiled and gave a wave as he walked out of Frog and Flurkins and into the street.