Vote the Adventure: Chapter 1
Darkness dwells in the hearts of all men. It is only the conviction of the strong, holding it at bay with the light of honor, that allows civilization to endure. On this, all our foundations lie. Black, indeed, will be the day when righteousness gives way to avarice and spite. On the shoulders of few, rest the fates of many, and when they fall, all will be consumed.
~ Stephan the Wise
The roar of the fire in the pit at the far end of the dining room was completely muffled by the rowdy conversations emanating from every table. Ethon made his way carefully down the main aisle between the two main tables that ran down the center of the hall, taking care not to trip over satchels, helmets, bucklers, and all manner of other gear piled up against the benches. He carried a large round tray on his right shoulder crammed with goblets, some full of ale, most empty. When he stopped at each section to drop off more drink and take up the empty cups, he was greeted with hearty cheers and claps on the back, some coming perilously close to upending his tray. Ethon marveled that most of the ale managed to make it to the travelers instead of soaking up dust on the inn floor. He'd been lucky so far tonight, and he prayed that it held.
He looked around the large room, making sure the serving girls were getting meat and mead to everyone who needed it. The Inn of the Black Stag was full almost to capacity with knights, squires, bards, merchants, and all manner of men he imagined lived in the three kingdoms. The majority of the patrons were almost certainly on their way to Lionsridge for the Tournament of Roses that occurred every five years in the spring and was set to begin in the next few weeks in the Southern Kingdom. The winter frosts had ceased, and the sun grew higher in the sky each day.
The lords sprinkled throughout the three kingdoms would be sending some of their surest swords and bravest knights in an attempt to win honor for their house and their king. Unlike the annual tournaments, the Tournament of Roses was open to all men, so long as you had a horse and a sword (or could afford to buy them), and many a simple man gambled all he had to try to forge a name for himself amongst the highborn of the three kingdoms. It swelled Ethon's heart, not mention his pockets, to see people from all walks of life put aside their differences and talk of great deeds past and great deeds to come as they filled their stomachs at his tables.
He made his way back to the kitchen and dumped the tray of goblets into one of the large sinks filled with soaping water. Young Will, who had yet to reach eight, sat atop an empty ale cask in front of the sink, drying the last cup of the previous load and setting it aside on the counter next to thirty-odd others. He looked sullenly at the newly filled basin and sighed in exasperation. "Not again, Mr Ethon," the boy pleaded. "I only just finished this load. My hands're run raw."
Ethon started filling the clean goblets with more ale, mead, and wine and placing them on the tray. "I'll hear none of it, William," he admonished, not unkindly. "If you like you can trade places with Jeoff. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to wash dishes and let you shovel dung from the stables." Will stuck out his lower lip, and began to clean the next load. Ethon reached out with a large paw and mussed the boy's hair. "Cheer up, lad. You'll be getting double wages tonight, maybe even triple if we can get enough drink into the merchants. I bet your mum would appreciate the extra coin." The boy grinned and began to wash all the harder. Ethon gave him a smile, loaded his replenished tray onto his shoulder, and made his way back out to the dining hall.
He could tell something was amiss as soon as he entered. The raucous laughter and boisterous conversation had been replaced with a tense silence. Every man, woman, and child was seated, save two, who were standing on opposite sides of the long table nearest the kitchen. The face of the man on the left was beet red and taut. He wore steel chainmail over a leather jerkin and a dark blue tunic. His raven hair fell to his shoulders, framing the neatly trimmed goatee that adorned his chiseled face. The rearing white bear of House Morgan adorned each of his sleeves and the cloak draped over his chair. Ethon recognized him immediately: Sir Alyn Randolph, captain of the regiment of soldiers stationed in the barracks at Swiftriver just a few miles north of the crossroads where the Inn of the Black Stag was located. He was a frequent patron and Ethon had never known him to be anything but an honorable man. Sir Randolph leaned forward slowly, placing the palms of his hands on top of the table. "What did you say?" His words were weighted and deliberate.
Ethon turned his attention to the man standing across the table from Sir Randolph, a man he didn't recognize. He was tall and thin, definitely not a professional soldier like Sir Randolph. He wore light leathers, the shirt dyed green a shade lighter than his trousers. His brown hair was cropped short, his face soft and smooth as a baby's. "I said," the man began, imitating Sir Randolph's pose, "that Theodore Morgan couldn't lead an army downhill if you pointed him in the right direction and kicked him in the arse." A wry smile blossomed across his handsome face. "Was I not clear? Should I have used smaller words?"
Sir Randolph made a move for his sword that stood propped against his chair, but stopped short. From nowhere, a bronze dagger had appeared in the stranger's hand, which now pressed tightly right up underneath the knight's jaw. "Careful, now," the man said. The soldiers on either side of Sir Randolph made as if to stand. "You may want to tell your men to keep their heads," the man said, his eyes not moving from Sir Randolph's. "That is, if you value your own."
Poll closes Thursday, April 30th at noon.
Click here for Chapter 2