For my friend at SilverPenScribe
The Lonely Goat was a quiet little tavern in a quiet little town. The bar was lit by lantern-light, and the fireplace granted the only other appreciably source of illumination on this dimly lit winter's night. Though the wind outside howled like a starving winterworg pack, the hearth kept the inn warm enough for conversation and relaxation, a boon so far away from “proper” civilization. And though the interior was dark, the decorations didn't suffer for it; one didn't need more than candlelight to see the beautiful barwenches' soft curves floating carelessly in dances of servitude to customers lusting after a warm bowl of porridge and a well-shaped backside. This tiny hamlet didn't have much in the way of industry or culture, but the farmers produced more than hardy crops.
In fact, this little tavern kept the town alive during the harsh winters. Huddled for warmth, most of the townsfolk spent most of their days socializing and drinking, only going home to sleep. The few travelers that passed through stopped here for the waitresses and mead, both reportedly the best for miles. Today, the handful of half-drunk patrons in the building were gazing like half-dead cattle at the bottom of their flagons, waiting for day's end. That is, until the door opened.
Most doors open with a creak, a whine, a groan. This one did not. Mind you, this was not the fault of Bulwyf the Carpenter, who crafted the door; nor was this soundless occasion the work of Hrothbrand the Smith, who fashioned the hinges. This soundless ingress was caused by the cloaked figure opening it. All sound around him dimmed; even his footfalls were scarce as angels' breaths. The grey figure glided effortlessly across the floor to a chair in the corner, followed closely by a black-and-white Elkhound. A white-gloved hand carefully lifted a broad-brimmed blue hat and tossed it to the table with a dextrous flip. Pulling the chair back, the man lowered his bag to the ground. The Elkhound lay at his feet under the table, wagging his tail in time to a beat no other ear could hear. The man tugged off his gloves and tucked them into his leather belt, and pushed his dark blonde braids behind his ear. Adjusting the black patch over his left eye, he reached slowly into the bag at his feet. He began to strum the lyre it produced, matching the rhythm of his hound.
Copper coins flew across the bar into the hat upon the table. Patrons pushed back their chairs, pulling waitresses into dances. Poetry and song filled the air, as the man sang of great deeds and heroes of ancient days. The tavern erupted in song and appreciation, cares melting away as the snows would in spring. The tempo changed, and the dancing subsided. The lyrics shifted to those of lost loves and broken hearts, and the skald's voice receded like the tide, leaving nothing but a whisper that spoke of experience and truth. The hound lowered his head to his paws, and his tail lowered.
The song was cut short by an abrupt slam—the sound the doors should have made earlier—as the heavy tromp of boots splashed mud upon the hardwood floor. A massive orc, clad in furs and armor, clearly out of breath, screamed a harsh greeting into the tavern. “Where is the song-thief? Give him to me, and you all will live.”
A honey-sweet voice came from the corner. “Gentle soul, come! Have a seat by me, and we'll discuss your grievances. I'll even pay for your ale.”
“Song-thief! You stole from my tribesmen! Those goods were worth three times the price you paid, and--”
“And your chieftain agreed to that price.” The blue-and-grey clad gentleman returned his lyre to its proper place, dropping his boots to the floor. “I'm not in the habit of breaking business transactions simply because someone raises their voice. I ask you again, please sit, and we shall rectify this situation.”
“You are a swine! And your dog shall roast on our spit tonight if you do not return what you have stolen!”
“You mean, dearest friend, what I rightfully purchased. I, Faraldir Brísi, am an honest man. I'll tell you what: my goods are stored with my horse, in the stables. We'll go and fetch them now, since you feel I've wronged you so. You can take what I bought from you, and you can even keep the money I paid, provided you leave these lovely people to the fun they were having only moments ago. Is that a fair deal, Warrior-born?”
“All of it! No tricks.”
Brísi ordered the orc a drink for his troubles, and the pair walked out, the bard's arm around the warrior's shoulders. Silence stood inside the hall as without; only the snow hitting the shutters sounded over the crackle of the fire. Within moments, Brísi returned, holding a fresh shank of meat. Tossing it under the table, he scratched his faithful companion's ears. “Magni, my boy, you'll eat good tonight.”