Star Dreamer

Chapter XXXII: Morrow's Hold

Bar fight!

[Laurelyn]

The journey that brought the travelers to Morrow’s Hold took nearly five days – two days longer than norm.

As Laurelyn had led the way from the Dun of Br’on she had weighed the advantages of the shorter, usual, route, which would have taken them through the heart of Hillrover territory. And much as she wanted to be in Morrow’s Hold she knew that in every homestead and village they would be asked to stop and bring word of fathers and sons. She was in no mood to relive the nightmare of the Dun everytime she had to remember which names had been called out by Naomha at the funeral; or if the warrior had lived – then she would oft have to speak of the dire wounds.

And she thanked the Gods of Sea and Stone that the five day journey had been completely uneventful; granted, it had not been easy traveling since they rode through wild, empty land of rocks, wind and bracken, but no ill-fortune had befallen them. A fact that Laurelyn hoped indicated that a trend had been broken. “Does this look familiar?” Laurelyn asked, when she finally could ride abreast of Thomis – and the road finally wound its way into Morrow’s Hold. She had never heard whether they had arrived in Morrow’s Hold by land or water – back when Thomis had come with Drwyen and Allenel. Morrow’s Hold mostly clung to the mountain slopes, and sprawled downwards towards the docks – and a restless sea, where fishing boats – plus some faster looking vessels – were tied up. The salt-thick wind carried with it the sound of fisherfolk coming up from dockside – they had erred on the side of caution for the afternoon – since the sea was playing fickle and many an old hand believed that a storm could come in unexpectedly.

[Thomis]

“We came by sea,” Thomis murmured in response. “In ‘The Mer’s Blessing.’” His gaze traced the line of the docks, looking for the curve of Ceart Merkin’s boat. “But yes, though the angle of approach is different …” It had been morning, that first time he had arrived here, with a string of beads and speaking rights in his pocket.

[Laurelyn]

“We best hurry,” Laurelyn told the group when they reached the stables, which sat on the high side of Morrow’s Hold, “Otherwise, every inn and tavern will be packed.” She knew she didn’t need to tell Thomis what trouble a bored gathering of fisherfolk could get themselves into. Quickly she got Fiend from his carrier and led the way down the streets – often answering surprised hails as folk recognized her – till they reached an a busy inn that bore a wooden sign over its door of a wild goose, looking very satisfied, sitting on its nest. The motto indicated that this was The Laborin’ Goose.

The storyteller looked in the door – contemplating the early crowd, and said to Thomis, “Ceart’s not here yet…I’ll let Fent – the barkeep know that these are friends.”

With that she ducked inside – and did not emerge for several long minutes, but finally she signaled the others in, and told them they had rooms. To Enris she said, “I’ve told him that you’re a friend of the Hillrovers, which the kilt will mark you as, but remember to walk warily. Particularly right now – the fisherfolk will be restless since they’ve lost a day’s work to the weather.”

She looked at the others and said, “That actually holds true to all … And I hate to leave you alone for now, but Thomis and I need to go see my mother – otherwise word of our arrival will reach her before we do.”

Before she turned to go Laurelyn thrust Fiend into Jacques’ hands, and said, “I don’t think Grig would like cute competition.” She wasn’t going to add that once explanations were made to her mother about the hasty nuptials, she was going to beg a room for she and Thomis. Her mother had a spare room in the attic, which while cramped would offer privacy.

[Jacques]

The startled jester took the equally uncertain pup, and shrugged setting off the bells in faint music. “Don’t know how much an inn-keeper is going to like having the animal inside either,” he questioned with a glance at each of the door and dog in question. “Guess we can always offer him to the cook if the fishermen get hungry.”

Fiend let out a whimper, and looked up at Laurelyn with deep, soulful eyes.

“Don’t worry boy. I don’t think you’d make even half a mouthful for folks like these.” He turned back to Laurelyn. “You two honeymooners be off now. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” He winked. “That ought to leave you plenty of scope!”

[Thomis]

The Oath-bound could not keep from laughing at that remark, but he made no other response. Instead, he commented to Rudulpho to try to stay out of trouble, before turning to follow Laurelyn towards her mother’s house.

Maeve frowned just a bit, testing the sensitivity of her healing nose – at least the swelling had gone down, and the bruises were starting to fade – and looked about at the others. None of them seemed to be moving, so with a sign she pulled the doors open and looked inside. The tables were starting to fill, and the unmistakeable smell of fish and damp wool rolled out. Not that she cared—the thought of sleeping in a real bed, rather than in thin blankets on the ground – seemed like paradise. Maybe she would even be able to beg some soap, for something approaching a real bath.

[Enris]

He needed no reminders to be cautious – for one of the survival skills within the CRS was caution. The wrong word, the wrong gesture… and one disappeared. One of the benefits of being a mage was that it was possible to use a variety of small spells to heal minor wounds, make a toy that would delight a child – or some item of minor utility around a household. It was also possible to find lost or hidden things…

Enris had busied himself during the trip and had quietly accumulated a few precious coppers – along with the silver piece he had been holding onto. So he was able to go to the innkeeper and arrange for lodging in the common room, a freshly baked loaf of good bread, and a little cheese. It wasn’t as good as he had been used to at the officer’s mess – but hunger proved to be an excellent spice. Right now, holding onto his limited funds was more important than other considerations. And, he made a point to keep quiet and avoid disturbing anyone. In a morose atmosphere, one more quiet man consuming a meal made little difference. As he ate, he listened to the conversations – hoping to find something useful.

Other than long discussions of the winds, the tides, and the problems of catching fish, he learned nothing. So after a time, he sat in an isolated chair, staring into the fire…and remembering.

[Eric Dunn]

As the evening approached, the keening winds anounced the arrivial of the storm that had driven most of the folk ashore early. It was during this that the door opened to admit another fisherman to the Laborin’ Goose. His curly dark hair was drenched and his long coat soaked through. At his arrival, the conversation dropped and a few muted voices were heard to mutter darkly.

“Did ye swim back?” shouted one patron.

“No,” Eric replied quietly, “Rose is tied up and fine at her dock, and I brought back a record haul tonight.” He then shook out his coat and walked over to the bar.

“The devil’s luck he has,” muttered a patron. “The devil looks after his own, that’s all,” answered his drinking companion.

[Keir]

Ever since the smell of salt air had reached him Keir felt a sense of home. That is until they had entered the Goose when it became more reminiscent of St. Yerron, stinking of fish and stale ale. The bath had soothed him as, unlike in the Dun, he had managed not to be last and the food, while not outstanding and lacking in spices, was hearty and plentiful. All in all he felt pleasantly drowsy and excused himself to seek the comfort of his bed.

[Fent]

The barkeep shot one warning look in the direction of the two drinkers who had muttered about Eric Dunn. With the boats coming in so early, that meant all the more hours of drinking … and though the take for the evening would be higher as a result, it would also mean all the more likelihood of some bit of unpleasantness breaking out. Whatever Fent might think of Eric, he kept to himself. As long as the man paid his tab and stayed out of trouble, the barkeep wouldn’t turn his nose up at the money. “Somethin’ strong?” he asked, reaching for a mug. “And some stew from the kitchens?”

[Eric]

“Yeah,” he replied quietly, “I’m not sure which of those I need more.” Then he looked around from his seat at the bar, noticing the newcomers in turn, but not commenting. When his gaze fell on the table where the two drinkers sat he frowned, but did not rise from his seat or speak to them.

[Fent/Fionn]

The mug was filled quickly enough, and a bowl of thick fish-and-potato stew set before Eric. And after that, Fent wandered down near the other end of the bar, leaving the younger man to his meal. Two tables away, Fionn lifted Rue’s bare bottom to slip a clean nappy under her rump to replace the soiled one that the serving girl already had carted away for cleaning. The highlander had caught the tail-end of the muttered comments tossed in the stranger’s direction, the tone all-too-familiar to one well accustomed to having similar comments tossed in his direction.

[Ceart Merkin/Jimi/Art/McKay]

Ceart Merkin – owner of the “The Mer’s Blessing” – led the way into the tavern, with his two younger brothers, Jimi and Art, and cousin, McKay, in his wake. All four men had thick, curly, black hair that haloed their woolen caps, and alert green eyes. “Emlyn’s girl and that Parch fellow are back in town,” Ed called out to the newcomers – all of whom were related to Laurelyn through her mother’s side.

“Well, that’s better tidin’s than that storm,” Ceart said, more than glad to hear that Laurelyn – and Thomis – had survived.

“Any news of Brion?” Art asked.

“Nay,” another fisherman shouted back, “Though neither of them stopped to talk – headed up Emlyn’s way. But…..” The man pointed first towards Enris – then towards Fionn – and added, “They must have come through the mountains – they brought some mountain folk with them!! And a whole parcel of other folk to boot – maybe refugees from that town she was liven’ in.”

Ceart nodded his thanks, and led his crew up towards the bar – knowing Fent would have the most accurate information. On their way up all four men made a studious attempt at ignoring Eric Dunn – a cousin from Merkin’s wife’s side. Ceart’s brothers and cousin McKay knew better than start anything; Ceart only had use for starting fights if it was a good cause, though they had ended more of than a few. As far as Eric was concerned – Ceart considered him to have too much of the wild sea in his blood; he wasn’t just a touch fey – like Jimi with a bit of mer blood in his veins – he was more like he had some sea-daemon in him.

After a brief conversation with Fent and a moment of studying the travelers Ceart pointed Art towards Fionn, sent Jimi and McKay to get a table, and turned himself in Enris’s direction.

[Enris]

He had noted the conversation. Apparently, Eric was not at all popular. Nor, seemingly, did he care for the other townspeople. This could be useful, should the Presidente’ need to subvert any local inhabitants. Individuals who felt excluded often were quite grateful for attention – sometimes to the point that they would give information away. Of course, he doubted his superiors would care about the opportunity to subvert a fisherman. Still, it was a useful piece of information to be filed away for the future.

And then he saw the group of four locals enter – seemingly well known – apparently in a reasonably good humor. They seemed to know, and approve of Laurelyn. One appeared interested in conversation; and, truth be told, Enris looked forward to talking with someone – though caution would be necessary. He smiled pleasantly as Ceart came over, commenting “Care to join me?”

[Jacques]

Jacques entered the common room, and glanced around sourly. Not exactly high class in any way, but he’d seen worse. Over the past few weeks, he considered, he’d seen much worse. Fiend gave a small sound that could have meant either approval, disapproval, hunger, tiredness, or just about anything else. Jacques wasn’t as adept at pup-speak as most of the other travellers seemed to be, and he rarely fathomed what the animal actually wanted.

“Don’t worry boy,” he offered quietly. “I don’t think it’s going to be a night they’d send a dog out in.” He wandered over to the bar, glancing equally sourly at the group of men already there. “Barkeep! A mug or three of your,” there was the barest pause, and the merest hint of something unguessable in his voice, “finest lager, if you please.”

[Fent]

The barkeep blinked, looked at the jester’s belled cap and then the rest of his outfit, and then shrugged. “Let me see what we have,” he answered, and disappeared into a small room behind the bar. The sounds of boxes being moved, glass bottles clunking against one another, and some mild cursing could be heard. Eventually, Fent re-emerged with a dusty, stoppered flagon. He made a show of blowing the dust from around the neck before opening it, and then poured the contents into a mug.

The color and the smell were not promising. It might have been lager at one point, but it was no longer.

Fent set the mug down in front of Jacques and then leaned over to peer into it. “Don’t get much call for lager here,” he said sociably. “You sure you don’t want to try something else?”

[Near the fireplace – Ceart]

“Thank ye,” Ceart said, holding out his hand, “Ceart Merkin…... I understand – from word my niece left – that you’re a friend of the Hillrover clan.”

The big, dark-haired, man pulled himself up a chair, and signaled for a couple of tankards to be brought over. “How is my niece? She has already hared off to me sister’s.”

[Near the bar – Eric Dunn]

He looked over at the newcomer and his lager. “The beer’s good,” he said, “and the ale’s better. Course, Fent here also has the best whiskey to be had in this town. So, you came in with Laurelyn Hillrover…” The last was somewhere between a question and a statement.

[Fent]

Without a change in expression, Fent prepared both a stein of beer, with a full head of foam, as well as a mug of ale, and set the two on either side of the glass of what-had-once-been-lager. That done, he also prepared a shot of the next-to-best whiskey (the premium stuff he kept for his most favored customers … and the jester hadn’t yet reached that lofty plateau).

[Jacques]

Jacques glared at the mug of … of whatever it now was, and sighed. Wasn’t it possible to get a halfway decent lager anywhere. He picked up Fiend and dropped him on the bar. “Which one boy?” Then, as Fiend began sniffing uncertainly at the glasses, giving the “lager” a distressingly wide berth, Jacques turned to Eric.

“Don’t much go for whiskey,” he said with a shrug. After all, it’d been that bottle or six of Thunderspirits back in Chatterton that had gotten him into this mess in the first place. And the only difference between Thunderspirits and whiskey was a matter of degree. “The other lunatics and drifters and I tagged along with Mrs Parch,” he agreed with a nod towards Enris, setting the bells ringing lightly. “Somebody had to make sure nothing happened to her and the other kids on the way.”

Fiend was sitting by the ale, and gave a short yip. Jacques lifted the glass suspiciously. “You sure boy?” Then, with another shrug, turned back to Eric. “You a friend of the bride then?”

[Fent]

Fent looked at Jacques for a moment, looked at the puppy, and then looked at the what-had-once-been lager. “Wed, ye say?” he repeated, as if in disbelief. Then he stomped off, muttering something about the girl having the gall to duck in without mentioning the change in her marital status. “Mary!” he almost bellowed to someone lurking in the back kitchens. “Wait’ll ye hear this…” The sound of his voice trailed off as he disappeared into the back once again.

[Near the Fireplace – Enris]

He took the proferred hand and returned a firm handshake, replying “Leven Enris, Ceart. And I’m glad to meet you; as her uncle, I’m sure you’re very proud of her.” How could he not be? She had fought with great courage in battle at the Dun. If only she were more ideologically strong… but that was something for another day. “Yes, I have great respect for the clan; they’re good people.” True, they weren’t ruthless enough – what with leaving prisoners alive – but they hadn’t had the benefit of Vactor Adelu’s martial wisdom.

Enris smiled and continued “Laurelyn is well…and very happy. She fought at the battle of the Dun, and it was she who laid to rest the Piper that had not been properly buried so many years ago. And, she was recently and happily wed to a man named Thomis.”

It pained him to do so, but he supposed he would need to break the silver he had been holding onto. He offered “Perhaps you would join me in an ale to toast the young people’s happiness?”

[Ceart]

“Aye, I’ll take ye’re offer,” Ceart said, sounding somewhat bemused. And looking somewhat the same. But his expression cleared and he said, “Wed, ye say? No wonder they headed for Emlyn quick and fast – it tis best that she hear word of it before the gossips. But the Dun and the Piper? I’ll happily buy you the next round – to hear that tale!”

Ceart knew enough of Hillrover history to know that the Dun wasn’t called the Fort of Sorrows for nothing – and that the Piper’s playing was the last thing a Hillrover wanted to hear. What he definitely wanted to know – did Acair still live?

[Ulric]

Ulric had taken far longer than the others to tie his horse up, keeping his head down and his eyes averted, and when he finally entered the bar, he did so behind the cover of some locals. When he found himself a seat at the corner of the bar, somewhat safely tucked in the corner, he sat quietly and and indiscreetly as possible. He knew this place. It was behind here he had been stabbed and left for dead by his countrymen, and set running by fishermen from up the coast – whose town had been raided. He could feel local’s eyes inspecting his back suspiciously… he only hoped it was his imagination.

[Fionn]

Fionn deftly finished rewrapping Rue’s bare bottom, nodding in acknowledgment as Art pulled out a chair and sat at the table. Cousins of some sort of Laurelyn Hillrover’s, he knew from some of the greetings he had overheard. Likely to be questioning all the strangers who traveled with her, then. Rue turned her own head, to blink wide-eyed at the man, and then waved her fists as if daring him to cause any trouble. Or perhaps simply because she was trying to figure out how her arms worked.

[Barrit/Henri]

Barrit, lanky lad – with wavy, uncombed hair leaned over to his companion – a rather arrogantly handsome young man, and said, “Henri, ain’t that the bit of drift that Vendel found washed up on the beach?” Henri finished downing his ale and turned a belligerent eye towards the tall foreigner who had come skulking in. “Aye – that’s the one,” he agreed, “The one Vendel found stabbed – and the folk from Tanner’s Town came hunting.”

“You’d think that he’d have more sense than come back here,” Barrit added.

“Foreigner’s like that have no sense,” Henri said, standing up. He sauntered over towards where Ulric was sitting, and once near he hooked his fingers of his left hand in his belt – the right hand was close, but hadn’t touched, his dagger. Then he grinned – he loved a good fight, particularly with enough ale in him to give him courage, and said, “Hey foreigner – whatcha doin’ back in town?” His voice raised a fraction, so it would carry better, “We’ve no use for raider’s comin’ here!”

[By the fire – Ceart]

At the sound of Henri’s voice Ceart cursed and turned to see who the boy was harassing. He muttered to Enris, “Looks like one of your traveling companions has a problem.” Ceart Merkin had heard of the stabbed raider who been found washed up on the beach a while back – some falling out with his cohorts – and who had fled Morrow’s Hold a couple of days later. Only slightly ahead of angry men from Tanner’s Town. How the man had come to be in Laurelyn’s party he had no idea, but Fent had said the foreigner was one she had mentioned as being part of her group.

With his own hand resting on his dagger Ceart moved forward, and declared in a loud voice, “That man is traveling with my niece’s group – and so is under Merkin protection!!”

Movement at one table indicated that Art had stood up – after pointing Fionn in the direction of the kitchen – where the babe could be left for safety. Elsewhere in the inn McKay and Jimi were readying themselves. As was Barrit – who saw that Henri was about to become out-numbered. He wasn’t so drunk he hadn’t failed to note the oddly dressed man at the bar, who while he had a pup also had a dangerous look to him. It just never had occured to the young fishermen that the raider had anything to do with the recently returned Laurelyn, and her companions.

The other fishermen in the bar were clearing way – they knew that Henri was usually fool enough to fight – even when out-numbered. And the strangers that Laurelyn had brought with her were unknown – but not to be underestimated, they remembered when Thomis Parch had last come to town.

[Enris]

It was typical of peoples who had not had the benefit of a strong hand that they were oriented to lawlessness. Ah, in Seldez such things would never happen! If the militia men standing at every corner had not dealt with matters, the CRS would have certainly done so. In the meantime, it seemed likely that it would be necessary to aid Ulric – not for Ulric’s sake, but rather because he was perceived as being part of the same group. And appearing weak was not a desirable option. Magic could, perhaps be used… but negotiation seemed the better first step.

Enris stood and said firmly “By your own words, this man has done you no harm. And surely you would not welcome Laurelyn and her friends back thus? Or are you one of those men who do not fear the curse of the gods on all who deny hospitality to travelers? Most men of the sea do not desire to face sea and storm – alone.” There were strong strictures against attacking wayfarers, and almost all avoided harming innocents. If nothing else, he would place himself on the moral high ground – an important element in winning the hearts of the people.

As he waited an answer, he held his staff and prepared a spell. As a CRS mage, he had learned spells to deal with crowds… and spells to kill. And like all of his kind, he had no compunctions about using them.

[Jacques]

Muttering something best left unuttered in a public bar, Jacques glared at Henri, and then at Enris. And then harrumphed into his moustache. Things looked to be getting a might unpleasant, and he for one was getting a little tired of it all.

“Damn parochial imbeciles, out here in the middle of nowhere thinking they have to look big and do something bloody stupid.” The words weren’t even a whisper, and were breathed in exasperation. And that damn fool Enris was going to make things worse with his posing, and cursing…

He fished an elaborately carved wooden flute from one pocket, and palmed a tiny packet of deep green crystals at the same time. Then, picking up the mug of ale and releasing the crystals into it with a magician’s hand where they vanished, he lifted the mug of beer and walked over to Henri. “Here, friend. Why don’t we all sit down and have a drink, eh? You’re an ale man I see.”

He thrust the ale into Henri’s free hand, not caring whether Henri took it or not. Typically, surprise was enough for them to do so. If not, things were going to be a lot more unpleasant than a little spilled ale.

Jacques turned carefully, his eyes resting briefly on those of everyone in the room, and let his voice drop into the carrying tone he used for performances.

“Tell some stories, play a little music,” he swapped the flute from its place against the beer, and into the hand that had been holding the now liberated ale. “And relax a little.”

He pulled out the chair nearest to Henri and gestured with the flute. “Here, sit down and relax. Must’ve been a hard day. Time to kick back and talk to your friends.” There was the barest of emphasis on that last. “How about we all get another drink, on me barkeep.”

Fiend jumped from the bar and trotted over to Henri, looking up at him with large, soulful, brown eyes.

[Ulric]

So far things had worked out fine without Ulric having to move a muscle, but he knew that he could not allow his travelling companions to shield him forever. He turned around slowly, careful not to startle the other man prematurely.

“Drink up,” he said. His smile hid the tension in his muscles as he prepared to dodge any drunken attack that might come his way.

[Henri/Barrit/Ceart]

Once landed in a chair Henri took a deep swig of the ale – completely bemused by the turn of events. At his old table Barrit stood – ready – and equally confused, but slowly sat down when it became apparent that Henri had been defused. Ceart looked to have already relaxed, but his keen blue gaze swept the room – gauging those who had been ready for a fight so they could ease the afternoon’s boredom; those who murmured agreement to Enris’s statement about curses; and those who looked uneasy at these strangers. Again he pitched his voice to carry across the room, and said, “The gentleman has a good suggestion – some music and a few tales will pass the afternoon!!”

[Tirlina]

Tirlina perched on a ceiling crossbeam in the back room with an indignant “hmph!”, and watched Fionn look for a place to settle Rue. After days of tedious but uneventful travel, the tiny sprite had begun to believe that Luatha’s concern for Rue was exaggerated, and that Tirlina’s assignment to watch over the human baby would be quite simple – even boring. But then the Big Folk had had to go and bring the poor babe to a place like this. The first scent of the place had been enough to send Tirlina darting unseen back outside for some clean sea air, but she hadn’t dared stay out of sight of Rue for long, and apparently with good reason.

It occurred to her to give Fionn a good long talking to about the kinds of places and situations he’d been exposing Rue to, but he still was not even aware of Tirlina’s existence, and her natural instincts to keep things that way prevented her from scolding him now. Instead she unconsciously flicked her transparent wings in irritation, as was her habit, the motion causing the light below her in the room to glitter across them with an silvery iridescence.

[Jacques]

Breathing a sigh of relief, Jacques took up a stool at the bar, and looked at the flute while he considered something appropriate to start with. At least they’d managed to avoid any unpleasantness, though he wasn’t entirely convinced that the air of goodwill would last very long. The sooner they were done here, or the sooner the weather improved, the better. He took a long pull from the beer mug, and suppressed a grimace. Not a decent drop of lager – some tavern this was.

Fiend was staring up into the darkened roof space, and had his tail thumping against the floor in a regular rhythm. Jacques glared at him and looked up into the roof. Then, when he couldn’t see anything – and surely that flicker of the light was just that damn beer – he lifted the flute to his mouth and began to play a jaunty, but somewhat coarse, tune he knew by the simple name of “Oh, Mary-Lou!”. Whether or not they knew of it here, it might at least remove the remainder of the tense atmosphere.

For now.

[Fent/Fionn]

The bar-keep nodded to the jester in something resembling thanks for averting, at least momentarily, an outburst in the common room. When it looked like Eric Dunn had finished his first bowl of stew, he refilled it quickly. The strangers seemed to have been reason enough for the locals to leave Eric alone for a while … another good sign. Maybe the afternoon would pass peacefully enough, then…

Or maybe not, he thought with a sigh. Over in one corner, Bett,one of the local ‘girls,’ jumped to her feet from her perch on Ed Flick’s knee and stood glaring at the man indignantly, chattering something about how he should keep his hands to himself (as if they hadn’t become well-acquainted with her body years ago), or at least offer a girl more than a few coppers for a dance to the music. One grab by Ed, and a step back by Bett, led to the jostling of Stef Nance’s arm. Stef in turn, upset at the flood of beer now covering his lap, leapt to his own feet and whirled.

Bett jumped to one side, almost smirking in satisfaction as Stef hauled Ed to his feet by ears. At the same moment, both Ed’s and Stef’s drinking companions were scrambling over chairs, tables were turning over, and the fight was on.

It didn’t take long for the mayhem to spread throughout the small, and crowded room. Before Fionn even realized what was going on, someone had jerked him up and aimed a fist – a very large fist – at the highlander’s face. The small basket with Rue, tucked under the table, went skidding across the floor.

[Tirlina]

That did it. Tirlina squeaked out a strangled gasp of alarm as Rue went sailing across the floor, and the sprite dove from the rafters for the basket, her tiny face set in fury. The basket skidded to a stop under a table near the door to the back room – where Fionn should have gotten the baby to a bit more quickly, Tirlina thought angrily – and she dropped down next to the little carrier. With a glance at the all-out brawl that was still far too close for comfort, Tirlina decided that her duty to Rue would finally have to outweigh her natural dislike of being seen by Big Folk.

With a glittering flash, she was big, too, and might even have been able to pass for a pale young child had it not been for her oddly luminescent silver-white garb and her quite obvious dragonfly-like wings. Without a second’s pause, she scooped up the basket with Rue, and slipped from the bar room into the back, and out a back door of the inn. Padding barefoot with almost dance-like grace across the narrow muddy alley behind the inn, she went to the stables, where it would be quiet and dry, and safe for the baby.

She had to search for an empty stall, and quickly found that the crowd inside meant a crowd in the stable. Sighing, she quietly spoke to a tall grey stallion who looked particularly well-kept and well-mannered, and the looming beast gave a noble toss of its head at her and stepped aside to give her room to share his stall. The straw was clean, and Tirlina settled Rue in the back corner of the wooden enclosure before softly singing instructions to the horse to keep watch over her charge. The stallion nickered and tossed his head again.

Satisfied that the stallion would be a far more reliable protector than Fionn aparently was, Tirlina flickered back to her normal sprite-size and flitted quickly back toward to rear entrance of the inn. She would have to have milk and clean cloth for diapers for Rue if she were going to care for her for long, and hopefully she could find what she needed in the kitchen and be gone again before exposing herself any further to the raucous humans and their violence.

[Ceart and Other Merkins/Henri]

Though Barrit was across the ‘Goose from the fight he had a chair at hand, and figured that anytime Henri would be leading the way into the brawl. But as it was – Barrit had to make his own choice – which was to take a swing at a brawler who stumbled into him. As for Henri – he was still comfortably settled by Ulric, and sipping his ale. A fine ale – that made him feel relatively content with the world. “A good tune,” he said to Jacques, “But could ye play a little louder – its gettin’ noisy in here!”

With the full outbreak of a brawl Ceart pulled what looked like a small weighted sock from his belt, and signaled his cousin McKay – and two brothers, Jimi and Art – to move in to break up the fight. Art – who had kicked the leg out from beneath Fionn’s assailant – had briefly wondered at the glimmering child that had taken the babe to the kitchen. But had little time to ponder as he too had to duck an incoming chair.

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