Lightholder Tavern <Palace District>

It is said – primarily by the proprietor, a jovial merchant-classer named Solas Creek – that all roads in Fastheld lead to the Lightholder Tavern. On any given night, it’s not hard to see why he might justify such a claim.
The pub, which started centuries ago as a small refreshment wagon for laborers building Fastheld Keep atop Caryas Hill, sees boisterous crowds filling its rafters with laughter and pipe smoke at all hours of the day and night as travelers make their way through the realm.
About three dozen tables are arranged among the polished wooden columns on which hang the wrought-iron lanterns that help give the tavern its name. Solas or one of his assistants can usually be found working behind a wide C-shaped counter, serving mugs of keg-tapped ale to thirsty patrons who stand at the bar.
The floor is strewn with amber rushes, except in a circle of about twenty feet in diameter, where the stone fireplace and chimney rise toward the ceiling.

Solas Creek is behind the counter, pouring another mug of ale from a wooden keg. He slides the battered cup across the counter to the waiting customer.

Ezirith enters the tavern, looking around. Ezi seems to be going to lengths to stay out of the way of anyone who’s higher class than her…which is pretty much everyone within eyesight and then some.

Into the tavern march a couple of the Emperor’s Blades, accompanied by a fist-faced man – a scowling man whose features all seem to squeeze in toward his blunt nose – wearing a simple brown cloak and bearing the signature wooden staff of a priest in the Church of True Light.

Ezirith cringes back from both the Blades and the priest – although since she’s a peasant, she probably has good reason for trying to avoid the Blades at least; peasants don’t get trials.

The crowd hushes and parts like the high grass before a surging wildcat as the priest and his escorts approach the counter. They pay little heed to the peasant girl. The priest gets to the counter and scowls at the bear-like barkeep: “Solas, we have heard that one touched with the Shadow was seen at the crossroads this day. Did you bear witness?”

Ezi’s eyes widen as she hears the words of the priest and she shivers, tucking her arms in to herself. It’s obvious that the peasant doesn’t like the sound of that, from her reaction.

Solas squares his shoulders and presses the palms of his hands against the hard wood of the counter as he leans across to repay the priest’s scowl with one of his own. “No. I got no use for ’em, to be sure, but I didn’t see a damned thing. I got plenty to do ’round here, chasin’ out the rabble and keepin’ the drunks from skullin’ each other without worryin’ about yer street corner conjurors.”

“Of course,” the priest replies, a sour smirk touching his face. “Then you will not mind if I question the patrons of your fine establishment?”

Ezirith shivers some more, watching quietly. The peasant doesn’t move from her spot, several feet away from the Blades and she seems somewhat amazed by Solas’ words – after all, such words from a peasant would result in a corpse.

Solas Creek grunts and shakes his head. “Not *inside* the tavern, you don’t, Lightbrother. The agreement stands. Bus’ness is bus’ness.”

Ezirith just listens quietly, trying to keep out of the way of the patrons, the Blades and the priest.

Bowing his head, the priest offers his hands, palms out, in concession to the barkeep. “Let it never be said the Church would do anything but honor its sacred pacts with the merchants of Fastheld. I had merely hoped to win your assistance in scourging our realm of the blight of the Shadow-Touched. My hope, it seems, was misplaced. We will trouble you no longer, Solas Creek.” The priest wields his staff and leads the silent sentinels of the Emperor’s Blades away. As the trio passes Ezirith, the priest might be heard as he leans over to speak to one of his escorts in a whisper: “Grab a peasant off the crossroads and call it good.” With that, they are gone.

Solas Creek watches the departure of the priest and his guards. He mutters something, but it’s lost in the slow resumption of the noise in the tavern as he goes off to refill another mug.

Ezirith shivers again and does not leave the tavern when the priest and his escort does. Instead, she moves away from the door – further away, anyways.

There’s a clattering and a yowl from Ezirith’s right – a wobbly black cat with splotchy fur and bits of exposed pink flesh comes bounding uncertainly off the shoulder of a surprised patron, who just saw their platter of roast go airborne before thumping on the rushes. The cat hisses as it zips past Ezirith and makes for the door as another patron is heading out. The cat escapes into the shadows of the crossroads, leaving chaos in its wake.

Ezi yelps in surprise, stumbling backwards as the cat zips past her. Her eyes widen but she doesn’t actually say anything, perhaps worried that she’ll get blamed for the whole thing if she opens her mouth.

Solas Creek grumbles something unintelligible, grabs a fresh platter with a lump of gravy-soaked roast, and makes his way toward the table where the cat just wrought its havoc. “My apologies for Her Highness,” the keep says, offering a broad smile to the patron, a tradesman by appearances. He then places the substitute roast before the man. “Courtesy of the Lightholder Tavern, for the trouble.” The patron nods his thanks to Solas, who then starts walking away from the table. A dog, meanwhile, has moved in to start cleaning up the spilled roast, tail wagging.

Ezirith moves closer to Solas, stammering, “Pardon, sir…but would ye be needing a bar-maid to serve your patrons?” She seems worried that he’ll say no…although it’s very unlikely that she’ll leave the Lightholder unless forced to for a while.

Solas Creek seems distracted, slowing as he passes the open door, looking outside. The priest and his soldiers have set upon a wiry haired old man in peasant rags, hauling him off through the torchlit shadows toward a waiting wagon. The keep frowns: “Why I do it…” And then he finally seems to notice the peasant girl at his side. He scowls down at her. “What?”

Ezirith flinches back from Solas’ scowl but repeats herself, still stammering, “Would ye be needing a bar-maid, sir?”

“I got vassals doin’ that work ’round here!” Solas snaps angrily, although it almost comes across as a sort of wince-inducing prepared speech. He jabs a beefy finger at Ezirith. “The Lightholder ain’t got no use for peasants who ain’t got His Majersty’s coin to spend! Test your fortunes on the Great Ro…” And then he looks away, distracted again by the door and the crossroads as the wagon rolls away with the prisoner. The scrawny black cat is there too, sitting next to one of the stanchions outside the tavern, golden eyes fixed on the barkeep. “Go on!” he shouts, but not at Ezirith. At the cat. The cat’s tail twitches, its inexplicable gaze still locked on Solas. “I mean it! Go! Don’t waste the chance!” Lingering only a little longer, the cat finally gets up on all fours and scampers off into the shadows. The barkeep looks down at Ezirith, then says a bit more gently than before: “Not hirin’, lass. Not peasants. But don’t be goin’ out just now. The Light hungers tonight. No need to feed it.”

Ezirith flinches, glancing over to the cat and then back at Solas. She nods at his last few words, “D-didn’t have much hope that ye would be, sir. But I had ta try and see.” The fact that the Light hungers isn’t commented on by Ezi, but it too gets a nod.

Solas Creek nods. “Like as not, they’re happy enough with the catch they landed. May be we seen the last of ’em on the crossroads tonight. May be not. No sense takin’ chances.” Then, he gestures at a broom leaning against the wall. “Earn yer shelter.” With that, he makes his way back to the counter.

By Brody

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