Star Dreamer

Chapter XXXIV: What *Is* That Stench?

You'll rue the day!!

[Eric Dunn]

He had watched the fight break out calmly enough, and as the violence engulfed the room Eric smiled. A good brawl would ease the tension alright. He leapt from his stool and caught the shoulder of the nearest brawler. Eric spun the man suddenly and before the man could react, the fisherman grabbed his hair with both hands and bashed the man’s face with his forehead. He was rewarded with the sound of cartlige giving way and the man crumpling to the floor in pain. With a sneer he scanned the room looking for any of those who he carried a grudge against.


Jacques sighed, and stuffed the flute back into a pocket – while ducking the remains of a flying chair. He’d stopped Henri the ringleader, and had obviously managed to quieten him somewhat. What he had forgotten, obviously, was that brawls like this could eventuate without any particular provocation.

He slipped from the stool, sidestepped a wildly swung fist aimed at someone else, and headed for where Fiend was cowering under a table, whining worriedly. “C’mon boy. Let’s get out of here and let these morons beat themselves senseless.” He scooped up the pup in one hand, and picked out the safest looking route to the door. Not that any route was particularly safe at the moment, and he really didn’t want to escalate the fracas by drawing a knife.

Damn yokels!


Well, at least he hadn’t had to break that last silver coin. He noticed the sprite take the baby, but all things considered, decided to leave well enough alone. Now the question was, since there was a brawl … which would be better? To sneak out, or to do something about it? He had a suspicion that these folk wouldn’t treat someone they perceived as a coward at all well. Whether they would treat a mage any better was another question… But, as Adelu had said ‘Better to die on your feet than live on your knees!’ Actually, he didn’t believe that Adelu, the scion of a wealthy family, had ever been on his knees… but it sounded good anyway.

So as he sat he murmured a magical command…

Around the Inn billowed great reeking clouds of foul smelling gas that made the eyes water, the nose run, and added the further indignity of inducing nausea. It was thick, and dark, and opaque, thus obscuring vision and adding confusion. Few rioters continued their efforts when they started losing their last meals! Another command, and the Inn was filled with loud shrieks, as of spirits damned to some unspeakable torment; the noise built higher and higher, the other worldy screams varying from the most shrill to the deepest growl. Noise, he reflected, was good for disorienting rioters. And with that, he spoke a third command and departed safely to the area behind the Inn. He sighed deeply, missing the good, dependable order of that blessed nation?

Noticing a tiny flicker, he recognized the magic of the sprite, and spoke “It’s unusual to see one of faery-kind so worried about a mortal child. But I wouldn’t go back in just yet…it isn’t at all pleasant.”


Tirlina drew up short in her headlong flight for the inn’s back door as Enris came out, a gave a startled “Oh!” as he spoke to her. Panicked by the unexepected encounter, and still nervous about the brawl inside, Tirlina spun and darted back into the stables to return to Rue. The stallion glanced back at her, nickered, and then returned to watching the stall door, taking his duty as guard very seriously.

[Within The Laborin’ Goose]

Punches did or did not find their marks as the brawlers began choking and gagging, and cowering as the sound of what only could be sea daemons filled the tavern – punctuated by the rising wind outside that had begun to rattle the shutters. Fishermen – in various stages of being bloodied or bruised spilled out of the tavern.

Within the ‘Goose it was impossible to see, but Ceart managed to put a fishy-smelling handkerchief to his mouth and herd Fent back into the kitchen. And though the stench filled even the back rooms it was not as intense since the door between was always kept closed – so there was also some visibility. “Out ye go,” Ceart said, gesturing for both the tavernkeeper and his wife, Mary, to head out into the fresh air.

Merkin made his way around front – and found that McKay, along with Jimi and Art – though both boys were on their knees – had made it out. Most of the brawlers where trying to get their eyes to clear, or to stop losing their ale, and any that were coherent were muttering everything from bad ale to ill-omens of the gods.

“Sweet Fools,” Ceart Merkin muttered angrily, looking around for any of the strangers Laurelyn had brought with her. He doubted the jester was the one to spout this trouble – the man had shown sense enough to play a tune or two and quiet Henri – of whom there was no sign. Now – of the young man that had postured so earlier – Enris he had said his name was – Merkin could believe that he might have pulled this stunt! Naught but another young hothead – who had no better sense than the rest of the brawlers!

Didn’t he realize that with the storm blowing in – that there would be no way to air the Inn since the shutters needed to be kept shut?! A few brawlers you could throw out in the rain – with no harm to Fent’s business. Well, Ceart decided, he’d better have a spell or two to clear the tavern!?


Thanks to the help of Laurelyn’s young uncle, Fionn had managed to pull free of the fisherman who had seemed intent on knocking the highlander unconscious. But when the fighters – suddenly united in their efforts to leave the choke-filled tavern as quickly as possible – tried to pull him to the door, he shook them off and almost dove for the floor.

Where was the basket? Eyes watering and throat burning, he pushed chairs and overturned tables, plates and mugs aside. Not a sound from Rue to tell him where the babe had disappeared to. Maeve, he knew, had slipped out – he had let her go without comment or interference, knowing the girl would welcome some time away from both him and infant.

But Rue – last she had been seen, most vulnerable of them all, she had been sliding across the floor, eyes wide at the sight of the moving vista of the tavern.

[Eric Dunn]

The fisherman had fled the tavern with the others and was in the process of losing the stew he had just eaten when he saw something flicker in the stables. Lifting himself back up, he stumbled over to the stable rubbing his eyes and continuing to cough along the way. Once he reached the stable, he opened the door and entered. The stable was empty, except for a baby tucked away in the back of a grey stallion’s stall. When Eric moved to check on the babe, the horse blocked him and pushed him away with its head.

“Fine ye stupid beast,” he snarled, “Keep her for all I care.” He looked around angrily. He hadn’t gotten a chance to take out much of his frustration, and he was still spoilin’ for a fight.


He noticed Eric as the man argued with the stallion, and decided that it was time to make use of a saying he had heard from a comrade – ‘When the going gets tough, get going!’. Not particularly heroic, but eminently practical! He softly murmured another spell and became invisible. Could the sprite still detect him? Perhaps, since faery senses were more keen than mortal ones… but for now, it seemed that a very low key approach would serve best!


Jacques managed to stumble his way out of the door, holding his breath, before finally taking a deep gasp of the fresh outside air. Fiend, clutched in one of the jester’s hands was alternately choking and howling.

“I know boy,” muttered Jacques. “Smells just like that big blubbery thing those wolf-men had with them, didn’t it?”

Well, it had been one way to end a brawl, though not his particular method of choice.

He coughed miserably, and glared bleary eyed around the area. First no lager, then that idiot Henri causing trouble, and now that damn fool Enris causing more havoc than any group of brawlers could. If the man had had to resort to magic, couldn’t he have tried something a little less antagonistic?

Fiend coughed, whined, and coughed again, to end with a whimper and a shudder. “Now all we need is for it to bloody start raining.”

[Eric Dunn]

He glared at the horse, and started cursing the fool who had ruined his fun. But just then, with a vicious crack of thunder, the rain began to pour. Eric watched as the sudden downpour drenched the other patrons who hadn’t yet found shelter. Then he began to snicker and laugh. Serves ‘em right to get caught in this deluge, he thought. “Looks like we may be stuck here a while,” he said conversationally to the stallion.

[Enchanted Stallion]

The grey beast snorted at Eric and pranced slightly, becoming agitated by the man’s refusal to take a hint and move on.


Rue, still safely wrapped in her basket, jerked in surprise as a rather large droplet of water fell from a small hole in the roof of the stable to land <splat> right on her forehead. Her eyes widened again as she stared upwards, and she made some sound, understandable only by other infants, or perhaps the stallion, in protest at the thought of more rain leaking on to her.

Which, of course, it did. Another over-sized, and very cold drop fell and spread out over her nose. She screwed her eyes closed and sneezed in disgust, fists waving as if trying to fly herself out of the stall. It looked to threaten to set up a steady drizzle of water all over the baby and her otherwise dry and warm blankets.

[Eric Dunn]

He heard the baby cry out, and looked over. Seeing the drip, he moved to take the basket. When the horse again tried to block him, he grabbed the animal’s head and stared into its eyes. “Look, she’s getting wet. Now move aside and let me help the child.” Then he shouldered the horse aside and picked up the basket. Exiting the stall, he looked down at the babe and began drying her face. “Great,” he said to her, “Now who do you belong to little one?”


Rue blinked again and considered her rescuer with a black-eyed stare of amazement. Her only answer was a quick stream of babble ending in a hint of a laugh, and further waving her fists. Perhaps she was trying to explain how she had been moved from the tavern to the stall. Or how grateful she was not to be drenched.

Or maybe she was trying to warn Eric about the watery-eyed men behind him, who had also taken refuge in the stable. “Stealin’ babies now, Eric?” Ed Flick asked, and stopped for a moment to hack out what sounded to be at least half of one lung. “Damned smoke.” When he straightened, he braced himself on the arm of his companion – his cousin, Bill, who didn’t look too steady either.

[Eric Dunn]

He set Rue’s basket out of the way carefully. “Nope, just found her tucked away in the leaky stall,” he said evenly, “Besides, I think she’s a bit too young for you two.” He turned to face them with the beginnings of a smile. Two on one it might be, but they had both obviously gotten a bigger dose of the cursed smoke.


Tirlina, who had been just about to move the baby herself, was thwarted by Dunn, who rudely shoved past the stallion’s defense to snatch Rue’s basket from the straw. Knowing the great grey horse would likely trample the man sooner than let him leave with the baby she’d told him to protect – and thinking for a brief second that maybe Dunn deserved it -she relented and darted to the horse’s head to whisper in his soft ear.

The stallion calmed, and Tirlina hid herself in his mane behind his ear, both to watch what happened and to be ready to issue new commands to her large ally if need be. The damnable Big Folk just couldn’t seem to mind their own business, and there were far too many of them in too close a proximity for her comfort. Keeping her wings still, so that she wouldn’t glow, Tirlina watched men face each other down over Rue with an angry scowl on her face.


Bill’s broad face darkened with the first touches of rage, and he started to splutter something out. Ed interrupted, or tried to, but Bill threw his arm off, leaving the other man to brace himself against the stable wall. “Now why’d you have to go and say something like that?” he remarked to Eric. “Bill never touched that girl-”

“-And even if I did, she looked a hell of a lot older,” Bill broke in. Hands balled into fists, he stalked forward like a slightly drunken bull ready to charge. “You better take it back, ye damned killer, or I’ll beat an apology out of you.”

To one side, Rue watched the proceedings silently.

[Eric Dunn]

He bristled. “Someone touched her,” he said evenly, “And as far as her age, I guess the whiskey made her look older. Are you going to tell me it made her look like your wife too?” He knew that would goad Bill, but he was ready. Bill might be bigger, but he was clumsy. And Ed was a coward.

Eric grinned, these two had earned his wrath quite a while back.


“Now you’ve done it,” Ed said tiredly. Bill sputtered something with a touch of rage in his voice and, head down, charged Eric with a choked bellow. Ed, behind the bigger man, shook his head slightly, pushed himself away from the wall, and half-staggered after his cousin. All right, so Bill had made some mistakes in his life. Some of them awful mistakes. But he was still a cousin, and Eric Dunn was still Eric Dunn, and somebody needed to smack the sneer off the fisherman’s face.

“Rbithft,” Rue commented skeptically, and started counting the toes on her left foot, which had somehow managed to kick free of her blankets.

[Eric Dunn]

Eric side-stepped Bill’s charge, swinging a rabbit punch at the man’s back as he passed. Then he eyed Ed. Looked like this would be two on one. Eric’s crooked grin widened. He hadn’t had a good fight in almost a week.


Watching from behind the horse’s ear, Tirlina stared in open-mouthed disbelief. She had rescued Rue from the bar room brawl only to have a brawl break out in the stable – in the very stall to which she brought the baby to protect her? Was the poor wee baby cursed as well as blessed?

The sprite’s childlike expression transformed into a tiny dark scowl. Enough was enough. With a quick whisper to the grey stallion, she dropped away from his mane as he threw back his head and whinnied in challenge. He sidestepped and shoved at the men, getting himself between them and the once-again abandoned basket. Tirlina transformed, grabbed up the basket and baby, and darted out of the stall door under the cover provided by the horse. As soon as she was clear, the grey let loose with an angry snort and began kicking and plunging at the three men who had disturbed the quiet peace of his stall.

Tirlina considered for a moment putting Rue in her pocket, but the baby was considerably larger than the little bunny she had carried thus, and she hadn’t cleaned out her pockets in a while, so she wasn’t sure there’d be enough room. Instead, she ran for the exit, ignoring the pouring rain outside that somehow never touched her or Rue or the even the basket. Shelter was nevertheless a priority for Rue’s sake, and Tirlina glanced quickly around the muddy, smoky alley. The stench pouring from the open back door of the inn didn’t affect Tirlina, but Rue coughed. The sprite glanced down at her little charge to see her face screwed up in distress, and she coughed again. Tirlina hurried off down the alley away from the billowing foulness, looking for any open door or nook she could find and heartily wishing for a nice green forest cove and golden sunshine.


As he listened to the exchange, his estimation of the folk in the village declined. Murderers and child molesters were walking around free? What kind of place did Laurelyn call home? As for Bill, there was nothing Enris had more contempt for than someone who would assault a child… his eyes narrowed as he thought what could be done with such in a CRS prison.

In the meantime, there was something he could do. He murmured quietly, creating a spell that would, with any luck, give Bill a taste of his own foul medicine. The spell was designed to transform – in this case, if it worked, Bill would become a rather pretty, but scantily clad young woman for a day. It would have worked better if Enris had touched Bill… but he wasn’t that interested in getting involved!


Within the other stall, Beast, Laurelyn’s rawboned hunter, whinneyed in disgust at having her meal disturbed and reached her head over the stall to snap at any nearyby human.


The sounds of fighting had drawn Jimi Merkin towards the stables -while on his quest to find the mage dressed in Hillrover plaids. Ceart definitely wanted a talk with that gent about cleaning up the ‘Goose! That it was Eric Dunn embroiled in a fight didn’t surprise Jimi, but the air shifting and shimmering around Bill did stop the young man in his tracks.

[On the street – Jacques]

Cursing roundly, and loudly, at the torrent that was now falling from the sky, Jacques shook his head. The hat and bells were so sodden that they didn’t even make the barest whisper of a ring, nor even a dull thud.

Fiend, however, was yipping gleefully and jumping and bounding through puddles. His fur was matted with water and mud, but the pup obviously didn’t care.

Jacques pulled his hat more firmly down over his head, and tried to pick somewhere suitable for shelter. The inn, obviously was not it. And everyone else seemed headed for the stable, so staying well away from there was an obvious choice. No point avoiding a brawl in the inn just to be caught up in the inevitable brawl in the stables.

Instead, he turned and stomped through the mud towards the nearest house. Maybe there was some woman there with some common sense. And a warm fire, and some lager, he hoped fervently.

[By the Stable – Fionn]

The highlander eventually stumbled out of the inn, having determined – despite the heavy smoke and reeking stench – that neither Rue nor her basket remained inside. He stopped, rubbing his watering eyes, and coughed all the way around the corner to the stables in the rear. And stopped in surprise at the sight of a rather large, dirty looking man shimmering into the form of a lithe, pretty young girl wearing … well, not much at all.

And around him, the fisherman – Eric, someone had called him – facing down the rather stunned looking Ed. And a grey stallion doing its part to add to the chaos. And then Laurelyn’s horse reaching over the edge of her stall to take a quick bite at the unwary Ed’s shoulder.

Concluding that none of this concerned him at all, he turned to Jimi, whom he vaguely understood to be Laurelyn’s cousin or uncle or some sort of relative. “Have ye -” He stopped, coughed again, holding up one hand in apology, “seen a babe? In a besket?”

[Eric Dunn]

He had not let the chaos stop his fight, until Bill changed so abruptly. Unable to check his punch in midswing, he winced as his fist connected with a MUCH smaller and weaker target than he had intended. Looking up at Ed’s sudden howl, he saw the blood where one of the other horses had decided to take a chunk out of the man’s shoulder. “Better see to your cousin,” he shouted over the din. And with that, he backed out of the stable, hoping to avoid any more stray magic.


”’Fraid I haven’t seen ne babe,” answered a dumbfounded Jimi – though he was of the opinion that Bill, no matter, what form he… she?... was in, had gotten what was deserved. While there was strong suspicion of what Bill had been about – young Lillie had gone a bit mad and never had been able to identify her attacker.

So he ignored the downed woman ….? and said to Fionn, “Ceart’s wantin’ to find someone to clean up the ‘Goose.”

There was no need to be naming names and stirring up more trouble for Laurelyn’s companions – though they had done a fair job at it themselves. Jimi grinned – that had to be one of the most interesting ways of breakin’ up a fight. Despite having lost some ale himself.



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