The day is cloudy and the winds are brisk. The air is cool but not cold, it being mid-fall. Arden is glad that he will not be sweltering in his chainmail.
Egg pulls at his armor and scratches, “Perhaps, I’d cook better in a leather jerkin…”
Arden laughs, “You’ll thank me when that chain stops a hobgoblin’s sword! Learn to live in it. It’s part of who we are now.”
Egg knew that Arden had humble beginnings as well. He was a farmer by trade but fate played its cruel hand and so the farmer picked up a sword.
They rode easily down the winding road that led from the Keep. The small village of Coot’s Mill was in the distance. Not within bowshot of the Keep, but still close enough to offer some protection if the villagers had advanced warning. Sir Kent, the Castellan, had cavalry patrolling the immediate area around the Keep and the road in both directions. Even so, bandits often preyed on lone merchants or travelers, sometimes in broad daylight. Arden and Company had two run-ins with the bandits. The first was decisive in that the bandit chieftain was killed. Their last encounter with them resulted in the loss of five of the company’s horses and the death of Jacob Scoggins.
Arden and Egg ride past the site of the new church. “It looks big for such a small village”, says Arden.
“I think it will hold more souls than are living in Coot’s Mill,” laughs Egg. “I’d wager that fewer than half of the villagers will want to attend.”
“Yes,” smiles Arden, “they don’t look like the church going type, do they?”
“Oh, don’t be too certain,” Egg replies. “I’ve grown closer to Eos since hiring on with your company!”
“Just hedging your bet, Egg. We’ve been lucky so far, but we may meet Eos sooner than you or I hope.”
Past the construction site of the church, a ramshackle building comes into view. It is part lean-to, with canvas sides and roof that open up during hot weather. A crude sign is painted and hangs on a post near the front. About a half dozen horses are tied nearby and the same number of men can be seen within.
“Guardsmen for merchant wagons coming from the south, I’d imagine,” Egg says, looking over the assortment of armored men. “Lumber wagons come up from the south and bring full loads to the cities. Empty wagons sometimes bring coin to pay the workers.”
They hitch their horses along the post with the others. Arden looks over the horses, but doesn’t recognize any as Company property. They are mostly broke down riding horses meant to carry guards. Even Arden’s horse is just average for a riding horse. If he were noble born, then he could afford a military horse.
They men quiet down as Arden and Egg enter the tent. The smell of stale ale permeates the building. A woman tend to the tables. She comes over and removes dirty tankards and mops up the table with a dingy rag. Arden and Egg sit down on rough cut stools. The table is made of rough boards as well. Little or nothing about the place speaks of any refinement.
“Will you be having two ales then, sir?” the lady croaks. She is missing most of her teeth but is only nearing middle age. A hard life is etched on her face.
“Not sir, but yes, two ales please, madam.”
Arden and Egg take in the crowd for a few minutes and then she returns.
“Egg Barkley,” she says, “looks like fortune has smiled on you, no?”
Egg grimaces and the woman prattles on, “I hear that my dear own boy is working with you. Could you tell him his mum is still working here in this ale tent. Tell him I could use some nice, fancy clothes, and good food to eat…maybe even a room in that fancy inn at the Keep?”
Egg growls, “If you want to tell him, then go up the hill and do it yourself! Perhaps he’s not come to see you, ’cause you could give a rat’s arse ’bout him?”
The woman scowls and leaves, dirty rag in hand. “You just tell him what I said, you hear? And that’ll be two pennies for the drinks.”
Arden fishes out a pair of copper pieces and lays them on the table, “Egg, you don’t seem to fond of her. I’d say there’s more to this than you’ve told me?”
Egg levels with Arden, “We’ve all got a past. You know that Catamont was a thief…but he’s not a “no good” thief, just a thief. He’s ashamed ’bout his mum and she don’t care for nothing but herself. I figured he’d let you know if you’d asked him.”
Arden had to admit that Egg was right. Each man in the Company certainly had skeletons in their cupboard. The past didn’t matter to Arden so much. The measure of a man was how he stood side-to-side with his brothers-in-arms.
They drink the ale in silence for a bit. The ale’s quality matched the place it was serves. Arden drank half and then pitched the rest on the dirt floor. He stood up to leave.
Some of the men seated nearby are talking low as Arden passes. One calls out to him, “You aren’t in guards outfit and I can’t recall seeing you passes us on any of these runs to the south…so what does that make you? Maybe you do your patrolling in the small hours?”
The men in the tavern all stop their conversation. All eyes are on Arden and the guardsman.
Another voice speaks out, “Maybe we should check his saddlebag? If he’s a wagon guard like us, he’s bound to be broke?”, laughter erupts from the others.
Egg tries to head this off, but Arden stops him, “If you want to check my belongings, you’ll need to bare steel first.” Arden steps back to make some room, his hand on the hilt of his greatsword.
[Note–the bar maid planted some suspicion in the mind of the guards about Arden’s intentions. They are challenging him as if he were a bandit.]
[Morale check to see how many guards (out of 6) are seriously going to engage with Arden and Egg. I figure a 7 or higher will mean they are interested in some kind of fight. Surprisingly the leader is all talk! He failed his moral, result=3! Only one fellow stands to challenge Arden. Instead of drawing his blade, he flings his ale in Arden’s face and lunges at him to grapple!]
One of the guards, a big burly bastard, stands up and flings his drink at Arden.
Roll=11! The ale splashes right in Arden’s eyes. I rule that the man will get a free attack at +2 and Arden will be at -1 to hit for next round.
The guard swings at the blinded Arden but it goes wide missing him!
Init=Arden 1, Guard 6.
The guard tries to grapple Arden, result=6 a miss! Arden swings his fist at the man’s face…7. The guard blocks his arm and counters.
7…a miss! Arden swings again…12! a solid blow! I roll the critical hit table…the result is “strike opponent’s leading leg, opponent is -1 for remainder of the battle”. Instead I rule that Arden’s blow hit him squarely in the gut, knocking the wind out of him for the remainder of the combat.
The guards watch their comrade, cheering him on. A collective groan erupts when they see the big man take a hard punch to his gut.
[Guard loses 2hp…his chainmail takes the damage, but he is still winded.]
Egg stands at the ready, eyes on the other guardsmen.
Several more punches are thrown. The big man is clearly outmatched. He can’t get inside Arden’s defense. Arden lands two more solid blows and the man falls hard onto the dirt floor. He’ll be out for awhile.
The others guards are busy looking into their cups and apparently don’t feel the need to question Arden’s occupation further.
The bar maid wipes the rough boards of the bar. She gives Arden a dark glance then turns away to attend to some chore.
Egg follows Arden out into the street.
More to come….