Swords and A Squandering Snail: First Blood of the Morning

As related in Swords and Meetings, Cade of Galaras, a poet and dramatist opposed to the Church of Herotus, has joined three accomplices to oppose the Church of Herotus: Eam, a sorcerer and ex-mercenary; Drustan, a Half-Orc Barbarian; and Sabrine, an attractive and stealthy archer. The four now find themselves in the Temples district of Bowden, a relatively wretched hive of scum and possible villainy.

In “Dramatic Entrances,” the first episode of Swords and a Squandering Snail, the group is in the city of Bowden to meet a contact of Cade’s. They intervene when a Holy Knight chases an unarmed man into the tavern in which they drink. The three of them face the Holy Knights and his initiates.

The Minstrel and the Prophet” relates how the group rescues a strange individual known as Incarnos, and meets with Cade’s contact, an attractive woman named Carylle. Incarnos has a tale to tell, claiming to be an immortal servant of gods lost centuries ago. This doesn’t faze Carylle at all, and she in fact speaks of the Old Gods.

In “These Are Not The Myths You’re Looking For,” Incarnos relates that he is a powerful being, once a servant of the old gods, tied to the mortal world by the Herotus. Incarnos had helped Herotus triumph over the old gods and was then betrayed. A fabled staff may lay buried beneath the tavern and gambling den at the sign of the Squandering Snail, and Carylle believes they can find it. The group agrees to make an attempt near sunrise, when few—if any—will be awake or aware.

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Four: First Blood of the Morning

The barest hint of the sun’s arrival glowed along the horizon. Like burning rust, it stretched toward the sky, driving the stars from their home. I wore a heavy cloak against the early morning chill. The spring’s warmth remained absent from the early morning air. The six of us—Incarnos, Carylle, Cade, Drustan, Sabrine and I—crept from the tenement toward the Squandering Snail. I noticed huddled forms in some of the doorways and in the alleys, but nothing moved on the streets so early in the morning.

Carylle pointed to the door out of which we had left, goaded by Murnac and his thugs. “Through the tavern’s kitchen there’s a door I haven’t been through. Old Tathan guards that place like it’s a treasure-trove. No one is allowed into her kitchen.”

“Then let us hope Tathan has not decided to rise early and bake bread,” Drustan said.

Reaching the door, we found it barred from the inside. Carylle pointed to a window along the wall to our right. “That one leads into a hall. The shutter is broken and can’t be closed. I’ll slip through and unbar the door.”

“I should come with you, in case you run into trouble,” I said. Oh, what a hero I.

Carylle offered me a grin. “I appreciate your concern. Try to keep quiet.”
That last comment made me want to protest, but as she was already moving toward the window, I didn’t have the chance. I cast a look back at Sabrine who eyed me with some amusement. Yes, she had likely figured it all out, damn her.

At the window, Carylle carefully pushed back the shutter. The interior proved even darker than where we stood. She glanced around and then, after winking at me, slipped up and through the window without a sound. I doubted I could be so quiet. I took my sword belt and wound it across one shoulder so Frost hung on my back. Boosting myself up, I noted the window was easily wide enough to pass through. I got one foot on the sill, then the other, then slowly lowered myself to the ground.

Just inside the window, to my left, Carylle stood by a door. She pointed to it and mouthed a word I thought was ‘tavern.’ She placed her finger to her lips in an unnecessary warning to remain quiet. I didn’t complain but moved up to stand next to her. The door swung open without complaint. The warm air of the tavern passed by us, bringing with it the stench of stale beer and worse. We waited but heard nothing. I pointed to myself then the doorway, indicating I would go first. Carylle nodded.

I moved as carefully as I could. I didn’t have Sabrine’s light feet, but I could move quietly when need required. It seemed need required it—I heard snoring. I couldn’t place the sound, darkness enveloping the room completely. I would take a step and then pause, listening for a change in that snoring. I would take another step and then pause. I hoped I moved in the direction of the door.

The snoring turned into snuffling and then grunting. I froze. I thought the sound came from my right. I considered drawing Frost. When I called on its magic, it would shed dim light. Usually, no one noticed, but in darkness such as this, it might help to light my way. It might also wake whoever slept here.

The snoring, snuffling and grunting stopped. I could hear breathing, but I couldn’t say of how many people. I took a cautious step and then another. My heart beat fast and it rang in my ears. I desperately wished I knew some spells of silence, or perhaps something to keep the patrons sleeping. Another step and I reached out, hoping I was near the door.

Pale light washed over me, almost blinding me. The doors of the tavern opened. Carylle stood there, the crossbar in her hand, a grin of satisfaction on her face. She winked at me again and put the bar on the ground without a sound. In the faint illumination I looked around at the tavern. Four men slept in the reeds on the floor, blankets wrapped around them. I thought I recognized them. Were they the thugs who had stood with Murnac? Did he expect our return?

As the others entered the tavern, I pointed to the figures on the floor. Carylle glided past them. Sabrine stood with the others by the door. I knew she walked as though on air, with no more sound than a feather falling. Drustan, however, had no such skill. I looked about at the bodies on the floor. Not knowing what else to do, I drew Frost and called on its magic. Should they awaken, I might be able to silence one or two before they could call out. Drustan seemed to have the same idea and he drew out his broad-bladed spear.

I heard something, not loud but not quite identifiable. It reminded me of the sound of a crossbow mechanism released. The men on the ground stirred. I put the blade of Frost to one’s throat. Drustan moved forward, spear ready.

The man who had my blade at his throat woke. He had enough sense not to cry out. I put my finger to my lips. He swallowed, the action making his throat caress Frost. He grimaced. Another man started to rise. Drustan leveled his spear at the man’s chest. The second man dropped back to the floor, hands raised in supplication.

“There is no need to harm them,” Incarnos said, his voice a whisper. “We can bind them and hide them.”

Though he spoke in a whisper, it seemed enough to wake the other two men. We had little time to decide our next actions. Sabrine had her bow in one hand and an arrow in the other. Incarnos moved forward and stood before the men we had not yet threatened.

“Do not speak and no harm will come to you,” Incarnos said.

“Thieves!” one man shouted.

Sabrine’s arrow struck him in the chest, silencing him. That had an effect on the others, all of whom remained quiet as mice. Incarnos went to work shredding the blankets the men had slept in and using the cloth for bindings. Cade stood near the door Carylle and I had come through. He closed it quietly and looked around the room.

“Where is Carylle?” he asked.

I looked around. The only light came from the open door and Frost. I thought I could see an open door behind the bar. “The bar.”

Cade looked. He nodded and vaulted over the bar. He still had his blade drawn. As he approached the door, Carylle came out. “There’s a cellar in here, through the kitchen.”

Incarnos had completed tying the three captives. He gestured to the door. “Let us hide them in there.” He pointed to the dead man. “Bring the body as well. The reeds should cover most of the blood.”

We did as he said. Drustan dragged the dead body and one of the men. I dragged another and Incarnos took the third, lifting him easily from the floor and carrying him. I didn’t have time to comment. Carylle stepped back as we entered.

The room had unlit oil lanterns ensconced on the walls and a great hearth in the southeast corner. A cauldron hung from a metal rod set into the hearth near the top. A long, wood table took up most of the space, leaving little room to manoeuvre around it. Beneath it were stacks of pots, mostly iron, and bowls, mostly wood.

We left the bodies there, in front of the hearth. Carylle pointed to the door across from the one to the tavern. We followed her through it. The area looked like a dry storage room. It had stone walls with no windows. From the light of Frost, I couldn’t see the ceiling. Shelves lined the walls with bags of grain covering them. Barrels filled the centre of the room. Each was marked with a cup, a pig or a fish. Amphora sat stacked atop the barrels. Carylle stood at the southwest corner of the room, pointing at a wood plank door on the ground with a simple, rope knob.

“The cellar,” she said, her voice barely more than a whisper.

“We had best hurry,” Cade said. “The shout should likely woke someone up.”

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Swords and A Squandering Snail continues in “Deals and Tokens.”

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