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The Atropa Belladonna, a sturdy inn off the main plaza of Vercingetorix, dominated its city block. Riverstone walls climbed two stories from the street and dark timber walls soared another four. No other buildings touched it, save its two-story stable and carriage house.
The interior of the Atropa Belladonna matched its exterior grandeur. A long polished bar occupied the entire back wall of the common room. Wide stairs climbed to the ceiling and vanished there. Two private rooms with glass doors flanked the main entrance, giving the common room into a squat ‘T’ shape. A roaring fireplace guarded the eastern wall, banishing the frigid morning.
A bored human woman in her early twenties leaned against the bar, studying a spread of playing cards. She looked up at our entry. “Bella, we’ve got guests.” She called through a door behind the bar.
A pot clattered down and glass shattered in the back room. “Shit.” A deep throaty voice exclaimed before its owner appeared wiping her hands on a towel. “Hello there.” She smiled. “And welcome to the Atropa Belladonna. I’m Bella, the owner of this fine establishment.” Bella extended her hand like a princess. “A pleasure to meet you all.”
Wyanet took Bella’s hand and shook it. “We are searching for food and lodging for the next several days.”
Bella took her hand back and rested it on her wide hips. “You’ve come to the right place darling. The Atropa Belladonna is the best inn in all Vercingetorix.” Bella leaned over, resting her ample chest on the bar top. “Rooms are a dragon a night and you’ll get half off drinks for the duration of your stay. How many rooms do you need?”
“A single room will meet our needs.” Wyanet placed three dragons on the bar. “We will be staying the next few nights, perhaps more.”
Bella deposited the coins in her cleavage. “I like it when my guests pay upfront but are you sure you only want one room sugar? They only have one bed in them.”
“We will manage.”
Bella shrugged a shoulder and winked at me. “Of course, who am I to judge.” She pulled a dyed green leather book and battered quill pen from beneath the bar. “I’ll need you all to sign in before I give you a key.” Bella opened the book to a middle page and placed a stained inkwell beside it.
Wyanet took the quill and scratched her name into the book, then gave the quill to Phebes who did the same. I took the quill from Phebes and scribbled down my fake name. Bella sprinkled a coating of sand over the fresh ink and examined what we had written.
“Wyanet, that’s a beautiful name. It matches its bearer. And Phebes… that’s a unique name, but you Elves always have strange names. And Per… Pers…” Bella looked into my eyes. “We’re going to call you Percy, that will save everyone time.” Bella put the book away and handed a ring of keys to the barmaid. “Raisa here will show you to your room. You’ll be in room thirteen for the duration of your stay.”
Raisa took the key and smiled at us. “Follow me.”
Wyanet placed another dragon on the counter. “Could you bring us breakfast, if you have time?”
Bella collected the coin and put it with the others. “I certainly can, sugar. Food’s getting scarce nowadays, but I’ll see what I can put together for ya.”
“This way.” Raisa insisted.
Wyanet and Phebes followed Raisa up the steps. My foot landed on the second step and an earth-shattering grip latched onto my wrist.
“We do things differently in my tavern.” Bella hissed into my ear. “If I find out you’ve treated one of my girls improper, I’ll flog you myself. Got it?”
I pivoted to face her and gave her a bow. “Yes, ma’am. I would never do anything dishonourable.”
Bella released her grip. A smile broadened on her lips. “Enjoy your stay.”
I sprinted up the stairs to catch up with the women. Raisa lead us to a room overlooking the street on the third floor. She unlocked the door and handed the key to Wyanet.
“I’ll be back soon with your food.”
We entered the room. Two small tables flanked the spacious bed. A knee height round table surrounded by four chairs sat at the foot of the bed. A writing desk occupied a corner beneath a window. Every flat surface hosted a pewter three-armed candelabra with fresh tapers.
Wyanet and Phebes dropped their rucksacks on the short table and began stripping off their armour. I took my sword wrapped in my other cloak and slipped it under the bed. Raisa returned after a few minutes. She carried a tray of fresh scrambled eggs, diced pan-fried potatoes, and a handful of sausage links. Raisa put the tray of food on the low table.
“This is what we could find for you.”
“What is causing the food shortage around here?” I popped a chunk of potato in my mouth.
“Whole region’s sufferin’. We’re doin’ better ‘en most farther south, but we’re still strugglin’. Nothin’ll grow around the bay.”
Wyanet sat down at the table. “How long has this been happening.”
Raisa thought for a moment. “Close to five years now. I don’t remember the last time I saw the sunshine or had a day it didn’t rain. Can’t grow anythin’ in a bog.”
Phebes heaped herself a mound of eggs. “The weather here isn’t natural?”
“I’d be surprised if this gloomy weather was natural anywhere. It’s a shame, really, this used to be a nice place to live. Now people are gettin’ desperate. I’m lucky Bella took me in when she did. I was on my way to a brothel. It’s the only way for a woman to make enough to get by.” Raisa took a step back toward the door. “Anyway, If you need anythin’ else, give a shout.” Raisa closed the door behind her.
“So… what else are we doing today?” Phebes nibbled on her eggs.
“I’ll need to find the blacksmith, because, apparently, my sword isn’t good enough.”
Wyanet made herself a plate. “I wish to speak with more of the locals. I still do not understand what is going on here.”
We finished our breakfast and put our gear back on. I wandered the streets by myself for several hours and got lost. I paused at an empty crossroads and attempted to get my bearings.
“Excuse me, Mister.”
A twelve-year-old girl came towards me. Her ratty hair a tangled mess. Stains covered every inch of her tattered dress, which complemented the dirty smudges on her thin face.
“Are you looking for some company?” The girl undid a couple of buttons on her dress revealing more blue-tinted flesh. “I’ve only been with a couple of men before, and I’m the cheapest in town.”
I stopped the girl. “I’m not going to do that. Keep your clothes on.”
“Please? I haven’t eaten in days. You can do anything you want to me.”
“I’m not going to take advantage of a child.” I turned away, then turned back. “Tell you what.” I dug a dragon out of my coin pouch. “I need help finding Rory the Blacksmith and then getting back to the Atropa Belladonna. Do that and this is yours.”
The girl nodded. “You’re looking for Von Richten street. That isn’t far from here.”
I followed the girl down a twisting path of alleyways to a squat pavilion with wooden shutters on every side. The rhythmic sound of metal hitting metal sang in the air. The heat from the forge hit me like a wall as I entered the pavilion. A muscular girl in her mid-teens dropped her hammer on her anvil and shoved a glowing bar of metal into a bed of coals beside her.
“What do you want?”
“Are you Rory?”
“Yeah. What do you want?”
Rory looked past me to the girl standing at the threshold of the building.
“Get in here and get warm, but don’t touch nothing.”
My guide rushed past me to the forge and warmed her hands over the coals.
“I’m looking for a sword. I lost mine a few days ago and was told to come here for a new one.”
Rory went to a rack of basic broadswords as I spoke. She pulled the first one off the rack. “These are all I keep on hand. They’re fifteen dragons a piece. If you want something different, that’ll be a custom job. It’ll cost triple, and take a week to complete. Take it or leave it.”
I fished the coins out of my pouch and handed them over. “That one will work.”
Rory shoved the sword at me. “Good. Now get out of my shop. I have work to do.” She waved us away.
I strapped my new blade to my belt as I strolled down the street.
“Anywhere else you need to go?”
“Just back to the Atropa Belladonna. I need to meet up with my friends before I do anything else.”
“That’s an easy one.”
The girl slipped her cold hand in mine and pulled me down another twisting path toward the tavern. Lamplighters moved through the city when we reached the right street.
“The tavern is down there.” The girl let go of my hand and pointed. “Can I get my money now?”
I handed the girl the coin I promised her. “If I need a guide again, where can I find you?”
“I’ll find you.” The girl smiled and darted down an alleyway.
The entire tavern smelled of beef stew. I went straight up to our room, where Wyanet and Phebes sat eating stew from a small pot. I hung my cloak from a hook on the door and joined the two women.
“Get a new sword?” Phebes asked.
My Fae companions materialised and landed on the table, sniffing in the rich smell of the stew.
“No, I’ve had this one for ages.” I rattled the sword at my hip and ladled my dinner into a wooden bowl.
Three heavy knocks pounded on the door. I stopped mid-bite. Wyanet’s hand curled around her dagger. Phebes jumped up and pulled open the door.
The story will continue, November 14th.
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Written by: Sweeney
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