The Hawk and Dove Tavern
A relatively new establishment, the atmosphere of the Hawk and Dove is one of joviality and quaint ambience that is often crowded, smoke-filled and noisy with the banter of voices circulating within the room. It is here that locals come to drink, converse, game and generally relax and amusement themselves without the worries of their often hard and dreary life.
Thayndor Zahir sits in a booth near the rear of the tavern, enjoying the shadows, a chalice of wine, and a hot loaf of bread.
Tall, and seemingly stretched thinner than ever, Neerly ducks through the door from the performance hall into the main room. He can be overheard mumbling "Cursed Blades, what do they know of a good story anyhow." Scanning the room, he nods to the sole patron and then takes his self to the bar to try and pry a drink from the tender.
Thayndor Zahir chuckles at the bard, inclining his head slightly. The young noble is himself tall, but not to the point of being thin, all long coordinated limbs and calculated movements.
Coming away with the watered wine he can barely afford. Neerly raises his chin to the noble seated in the shadow. "Care for some company m'Lord? I'll not break your ear with talk, lest you ask it of me."
Thayndor Zahir laughs. "I noticed you emerged from the performance hall," he observes. "And judging by your plain garb and hungry look you must be a bard." He quirks an eyebrow. "An unfortunate one, it seems, as you are having trouble extracting a drink from the 'tender over there." He laces his fingers in front of him. "Entertain my fellow guests and I with a tale, or a song, or some other entertainment, and I will see to it you don't leave here with an empty stomach," he says, gesturing at the few other patrons in the tavern.
"Done." Neerly smiles and straightens, immediately showing a better face to the noble. "And may I ask the name of my benefactor, young Lord?" He takes a chair and flips it deftly around, setting a well travelled booted foot atop."
Thayndor Zahir inclines his head. "Thayndor Zahir of Hedgehem, young bard." He smirks. "Should it be a good story, I may even ask *your* name, my good man."
Neerly's smile smooths out as he takes a moment to recall an appropriate tale. "Ah then, a tale with a mystery and a shadow." The bard draws a long slow breath and then begins, voice soft and distant. "At the end of the last winter, when the days already become bright and sunny but the night still shivered ones bones, a Blade on leave approached his family home. Due leave of a week and a day, he was warmed by the thought of sharing the evening's fire with his parents and younger sister." Another breath and the bard's voice begins to find its pace and tenor....
Thayndor Zahir nods, interested. He tears a small chunk of bread off of the loaf and eats it, chewing thoughtfully. Leaning back, he listens to the bard's story intently.
"This man was raised a forester's son in thick woods just west of Elkmont, if you know the place. The paths he knew by heart still, even after this his seventh year in service to the Emperor's Blades. Knew every sound, and every smell too, which is why his skin began to prickle while still a hundred stride from his father's steading. A thin, acrid smell drifted through the trees, not a natural smell at all. The smell of lightning, mixed with pain and shadow. The young Blade dropped his bag and flew down the path. His heart paining not from exertion but rather the sweet, sickly smell of burned flesh that added itself to the earlier taint."
Thayndor Zahir purses his lips, nodding to the story along with one or two taverngoers who listen intently.
"Flying round the last few corners he lost all sense of time and mind, fearful of what lay ahead. Now strings of gray sooty smoke floated over the ferns but ahead all was dark. Dark where lamps should be shining. Dark where the glow of the charcoal kiln should be seen. Grabbing hard the bole of the last tree before the clearing, the Blade sought to still his heart, slow his thoughts. Seven years of training now spoke to him of danger, close and personal. He finally brought his head up and took in the clearing, the playground of his youth. All lay in ruin, black scale covered. Burned and broken. The charcoal kiln, that house-high mound of earth and stone, was blown apart, pieces lay over the whole of the clearing. The side of the house nearest the kiln was stove in, as if it had been kicked."
"Oh my," Thayndor notes impassionately, far too low to interfere with the bard's speech.
"Loosening the peace strap on his short sword, he quietly drew it and set it ahead of him. Quietly too, he picked his way among the stones and stumps of the clearing, forced to stay clear of the ruin of the kiln by the still smoking turf scattered about its base. Bothered by the scattering of stones, he stopped a moment to try and settle his mind. Only when he laid eyes on the cap stone laying at the far edge of the clearing did he fully understand the force of what must have happened. The cap stone weighed as much as three men together. Other stones that used to line the inner chamber were scattered about as well, as if the whole of the kiln had been turned inside out and shaken over the clearing."
Thayndor Zahir frowns as if trying to puzzle out what had happened for himself.
"Quicker steps brought him now to the house. A simple, one-room shack. It was well built of stout logs. Shattered and broken like kindling now. He found it impossible to enter. Pull as he might he would need help before he could find out if his family lay within." Here Neerly takes a moment to pull a sip of his wine and a breath before continuing. "The smallest of sounds can fill ones ears when pain and danger mix in the mind. As clear as a temple bell came the rough drawn breath, not from within the home but from behind. Five quick strides found the young blade on his knees beside the burnt and broken form of his father, lying in the sole patch of untouched grass in the clearing. "
"Seventeen days later, this story was told to me by the Blade himself. A fortnight after the burial of his mother and sister, 12 days after the final, painful breath of his father. 'But what caused the kiln to explode like that, I pressed.' He didn't know. His father had regained his voice only once and that to give vent to shadowed dreams and nightmares just moments before his death. He claims his father said lightning blew the kiln from the inside. Claims he knew too, the identity of those to blame."
Thayndor Zahir quirks an eyebrow as he hears the tale, drumming his fingers on the countertop.
Neerly takes another long drink of the thin wine. "I never saw him again, that tortured young Blade. Neighbors say he came round looking to raise a small cadre to exact revenge, but no one would have any part of it. He never reported back to the Blades. No one has seen or heard of him since." Neerly sighs, "I still keep an eye out for him, on the back roads of the Forest District. Half expect to find him wandering still mad from grief and poking at shadows. But never I do, never I do. He is gone, I suspect. Gone to join his family, taking the secret end of this tale with him." Neerly draws one more full breath, then lets it out in silence.
Thayndor Zahir lets the silent sit for a moment before applauding politely. "An interesting tale," he says. "One which is, as you say, fit for shadows and darkness." He gestures to the bartender. "Fetch our young bard some bread and thicker wine," he calls. "Perhaps then he can tell a happier tale, when he is not haunted by an empty stomach!" Thayndor laughs to himself, a distant sound and distant expression on his face as if he was not fully engaged or somehow above the events transpiring here.
Neerly shakes his head, as if to clear it of the last webs of the dark tale. Look up he, he shares the light smile of the young noble. "Many thanks m'Lord. One for the food for certain, but the largest for the opportunity to share my craft."
"As I understand it, Morgance Rosewood - proprietress of this fair tavern - welcomes those with craft such as yours," Thayndor says. "I often frequent her establishment and will requite good entertainment with a meal or a few Kahars, should it suit me." He smirks. "Tell your friends."
Neerly eyes the food with little to disguise his hunger. But he does not loose his patience nor his manners. "Thank you m'Lord, I will. I too often pass this way. I do hope to entertain you again."
"I'm sure you will," Thayndor says easily. "Go on, eat. A bard with an empty stomach sings too often of food."