The Beginning

"Are you sure you want to wait here, Ceri?" Linna asked her companion. She was beginning to feel anxious, now that their first goal was so near.
::I really think I should,:: came the telepathic reply. ::We don't know how people will react to me in Montfort. I'd rather not have a repeat of the scenes we had earlier. Besides, I rather doubt the proprietor of the Dragon Inn will let me into the barroom. Hooves can be so hard on a wooden floor.:: A laugh sounded in Linna's head.
"Good point." Linna smiled.
::I'll just settle down here...maybe have a bite to eat. I'll keep in mental touch with you.:: A muzzle reached down to give Linna a gentle shove. ::Go on. You want to get there sometime today, right?::
"All right, all right. I know when I'm not wanted." Linna gave her friend a hug, then grabbed her saddle and bag. "I'll take these with me, so you won't worry about them if you want to wander around." She started retracing her steps back toward the road, leaving her friend alone in a small clearing.
Linna followed the road for another five kilometers before she saw the walls of Montfort in the distance. She'd known she was approaching it long before that, however, from the amount of traffic on the road. She stepped off to the side for a moment, staring with awe at the city. It was easily four or five times larger than any of the villages she'd seen on her journey here. 'Surely someone in this place can help us,' she thought as she stepped back into the stream of traffic heading for the city.
::Well, we don't know that for sure,:: came the reply from Ceri, who nevertheless seemed as awestruck as Linna. ::Still, this is probably our best chance.::
Linna nodded abstractedly as she approached the western city gate. The merchant they'd met yesterday had said that the Dragon Inn was on the eastern side of the city, so she had to trek the length of the city to find it. She let the crowd sweep her along while she gazed around. She told herself she did this to let her friend have a chance to see everything through her eyes, but she couldn't help but feel that she was behaving like a--how did the phrase go? Ah, yes--a slack-jawed yokel. She comforted herself, as she looked around at the crowd, with the fact that she wasn't the only one.
With a last long look at the house they had called home for the last couple of years, Dwynn signed the deed and walked away. {Now I have only one thing left to remind me of Crystal.} But there was no way he was going to forget. He pushed back the memories to keep from crying as he drifted aimlessly through the streets of Montford, all thought of seeking his fortune lost in a haze of futility and regret.
Being shoved into an alley by the afternoon crowd slowly brought his mind back to current events. {I have no place to go.} he thought. {My horse is stabled at the Red Dragon Inn... A place for dangerous people.} He pushed back any doubt. {No. I won't think like that any more! I'll start at the inn.}
Just when Linna was beginning to think the merchant had steered her wrong, she saw a large building ahead of her. A sign, creaking in the late afternoon breeze, had a red dragon painted on it. 'Here goes nothing,' she thought as she pushed open the door.
It was rather like other taverns and inns she had stopped in, when she was looking for supplies or information...except that it was much larger and much more crowded. She managed to find a spot at the bar, dropped her saddle and bag at her feet, and waited for a few minutes, looking around at all the interesting patrons.
"What would you like?" Hugh asked, startling her out of her reverie.
"N-nothing for now," she stammered, painfully aware of the thinness of her belt pouch. "I was wondering if...if you know of anyone who's...well... who's seen a unicorn. Or more than one, preferably."
At the Bards table near the performer's circle a large group of apprentices, journeymen and other hangers on had congregated for the late afternoon show. A trio of musicians were currently in the Performer's Circle, playing away at a lusty jig for the semi-appreciative audience. At one corner of the table, Elwynn Evindem sat with Karyn Silversheen and Melyda Carrisford. The blue-robed elf maid was teaching the bookseller a small cantrip which (when it worked right) would tell the caster how much money a person was carrying on them.
"The trick," Elwynn was saying, "is in getting the blinks and eyebrow movements just right. That way, the customer thinks you're just looking at them a little funny. Watch."
She fixed her gaze upon Takayoshi the ninja, who sat nearby with Breannyn the Bard. She then began a series of rather complex eyebrow and eyelid movements, looking for all the world like somebody who had gotten sand in both eyes. After a few moments, the Ninja's sword belt came undone and fell to the floor with a clatter.
"Oops." Elwynn said. "Missed a wink. Let me try again...."
Melyda giggled at Takayoshi's expression as he scrabbled to retrieve his belt. "I'll have to remember that one, too," she said. "It might come in handy some time."
The woodsman was leaning against the bar when the woman - actually, hardly more than a girl - asked Hugh about Unicorns. As his lopsided smile draped itself across his face, he turned to her. "Unicorns, Miss? Surely you're mistaken. I'd say there aren't any Unicorns for, oh, say 200 miles in any direction." He continued his appraisal of her, ignoring his now-healing scars successfully for the first time in weeks. Suddenly a ninja's clothes began to fall to the ground, and Sherwood spun on his chair. When he saw the belt on the floor, his face lit up, and though he stifled a laugh with one gloved hand, the snort that snuck out was well beyond the limits of tact. As his ruby-colored cheeks returned to the discussion with the Lass and her Unicorns, he begged, "Forgive me, Miss. I'm not normally _that_ ill-mannered." With that, the impish grin returned, though it did not - quite - crowd out the rose in his cheeks for several minutes.
Linna tried to stifle her laughter as she watched the other group. ::You should be glad I never tried anything like that on *you,*:: she sent to her friend.
::And who says I wouldn't have been able to counter it?:: Ceri replied tartly. ::I do have *some* mage ability, even if it was never as good as yours.::
Linna grinned as she turned her gaze to the man who'd spoken to her. "I don't really care *where* they are, so long as we find them. My friend and I have waited three and a half years to begin this search. We never thought it would be easy," she finished wryly.
The casually dressed ninja had a feeling that Melyda had made his katana fall to the ground. He then looked up to see her and Elwynn's giggling faces and realized who the prankster was. He casually shook his head and looked backed to his drinking partner Brea.
Brea raised her glass for a sip, and to hide the smile of amusement at Elwynn and Melyda's little joke. Her green eyes sparkled humourously though, which gave it away somewhat.
"So Brea what brings you here to Montfort?," he asked her with interest. He looked back at Elwynn and Melyda and whispered something under his breath. Instantly, the katana that laid at his side disappeared, and a small charm appeared on his bracelet, along side of two other charms that resembled a wakizashi and some shuriken.
Brea put the cup back down on the table and looked thoughtful. "Well, I was just travelling around and heard about the Bards Hall. Sounded interesting so I thought I'd check it out and try my luck at joining." She shrugged one shoulder then, and looked around. "That and Montfort has a really good library. My Pa always said I could smell books a mile away." She smiled and began to raise her cup for another sip. "What brought you here, if I may ask?"
"What do you make of that?," the ninja asked Brea motioning her to a young woman talking to a "woodsman", I wonder if she needs our help..." he told Brea.
"...Or if she could help us out," the ninja commented mentally to himself. The Battle scarred ninja got up and walked over to where Linna was. "I am sorry if I am intruding on your conversation, but my partner and I (pointing to Brea) would like to know if you need some help. My name is Takayoshi, and my wonderful friend here is named Brea."
Brea followed Takayoshi's gaze to the young woman at the bar, then finished off her ale in a single gulp. Following her companion to the bar, she nodded in greeting at his introduction of her and blushed slightly at the word 'wonderful'.
Linna smiled a greeting to the mismatched pair who had come to the bar. She'd never seen anyone like Takayoshi before, and she couldn't help but stare at his scarred Oriental face. "The blessings of Ashtara on you, Takayoshi and Brea. My name is Linna, and I'm searching for unicorns."
She nodded toward the table where Elwynn, Karyn, and Melyda were sitting. "Is that one a mage? Would she mind if we joined them, so I could tell all of you our story? Maybe she can help my friend Ceridon and I."
::Is this wise?:: Ceri sent, skepticism in her voice.
::Well, we have to tell *someone,*:: Linna replied. ::And if they're connected with the Bards, they're probably trustworthy enough.::
Those who watched saw a young man dressed in dark brown leather and a equally dark green woolen cloak, boldly enter the inn. The outfit had that new leather smell. A large pouch and long knife hung from his belt. He held a crossbow with no bolt and the axe on his back looked far too large even for this well built man. His shoulder-length golden curls danced to the pace of his angry strides as he waked over to the bar. He would have been handsome if his deep brown eyes didn't have that forlorn stare. "Hugh, I need a bottle to drown the hart of an Elf-Queen."
Hugh gave him a glass and bottle with the sarcastic grin. "Hi Dwynn. I can't remember seeing you in here before."
"Things are different now." Dwynn sighed, pouring a glass. He started to turn around and ... "Crystal?" he whispered as the glass burst into pieces on the floor.
Linna wheeled around at the sound of breaking glass and saw a young man staring at her, incredulity and old memories warring in his eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked, concern and puzzlement making her frown slightly.
{No! She can't be Crystal. But the hair, the intricate gestures, the clear soft line of her face, the... It's just not possible.} Inside he screamed as he pulled himself together. "I'm sorry. You remind me of someone," {More than you know.} "I'm well enough. Your name isn't Crystal, is it? Oh, my name is Dwynn. At your service fair lady." He flourished a bow and wiped away a tear. "Can I offer you some wine?"
"No, thank you, Dwynn. Not right now." Linna knew she'd need to keep a clear head to be able to present her story and request for help. She still felt quite astonished, though; partly at Dwynn's continued stare--was it shock? Longing?-- and partly at the many offers of assistance she was receiving. ::I never expected such a small-town feeling in such a large city,:: she sent to Ceri.
::Neither did I. Perhaps we'll find our answers here after all.::
The sound of breaking glass, though oft heard in a restuarant, was sufficient to draw Sherwood's attention. The look on the two faces nearby - the lass and the fellow who had dropped the glass - described tension between the two and evaporated the smile from his lips. Quickly Sherwood checked for footing around the bar, and smoothly moved his cape to clear the handles of his dagger and sword. The weapons remained sheathed, waiting the next moves of the players in this game.
The commonly dressed oriental turned around to see the caped man standing there ready for a fight? His dagger and sword shone out of his cape! The 3" scar under the oriental's right eye blemished his face as he looked upon the battle ready man with fearless intent.
"You may cover those up now," the oriental spoke, "Or someone will get hurt and it will not be pretty. Just take it easy, our good friend here just accidently dropped his drink on the floor. However, if your are wanting to fight, then please take your fights outside. However, I would warn you that the Bard of Montfort are here." The oriental pointed over to where Elwynn and Melyda was, and then pointed to Brea.
The oriental then looked back to his group, and then glanced back to the man. "Of course I believe that Linna wouldn't mind having you join our little mission here. By the way, what is your name sir?," the oriental then paused for an answer, "My name is Takayoshi and my good friend here is Brea."
"No one will get hurt in here, gentleman." A glint of actual humor passed his eyes. "My thanks for your concern though. My name is Dwynn, ... Dwynn of Montford." Dwynn extended his hand first to Takayoshi and then to Sherwood.
"Would you care to introduce yourself, Sir?"
Takayoshi looked over to where the two magical pranksters were. "Maybe it is possible Linna that you could ask Elwynn or Melyda to join us. They are accomplished magicians...of course, no offense to you Brea." He smiled at her, and looked back at Linna and the caped man, waiting for their responses.
Brea smiled back, and replied softly. "None taken my friend. Magic is far beyond my meager talents." Then turning to address Linna, she added with a welcoming smile, "And I'm sure our friends will be more than willin' to help you."
The woodsman steps back a from the unexpected challenge by the oriental, simultaneously noticing the continued exchange between the girl {Did she say her name was Linna?}, he thought, and the fellow, Dwynn. "Er, I guess I _will_ put things away," he says, as he resumes a more casual stance. His mouth begins to twitch into its more normal shape, of an upturned crescent, as he continues, "I thought there might be a little excitement for a moment there, is all. My name is Sherwood," and, as he extends a hand, "Are you _also_ looking for Unicorns?". The smile is once again firmly planted across his face as he waits the fellow's reply.
Shaking hands. "Looking for unicorns? Dreams, cloudcastles, tranquility... why not unicorns too? If this fair lady is looking for unicorns I will gladly accompany her on such an onerous quest, if she will have me. Hugh, more glasses... and bottles too!"
The elf maid observed the goings on with casual interest, and then had a large table cleared for the party. Ordering a large tankard of root beer for herself and a round for the table, she settled back in her chair.
"I must apologize for my associate's, uh, reflexes." she began, nodding and winking at Takayoshi. "We've been very busy keeping order for the Festival. It's been rather nerve-wracking on all of us, what with murders, kidnappings, and multiple jay walkers to catch. Allow me to introduce myself! I am Elwynn Evindem, elf-maid, sorceress, and Chief Businessperson of the Bards Hall of Montfort. This is Melyda, our new resident bookseller, and (I hope) librarian, and our retainers, Takayoshi and Breannyn."
"Karyn Silversheen, Bardmistress of the Hall." Karyn said, speaking for the first time. "How might we help you, young lady?"
The swordsman had been spending the last few minutes fighting a powerful wave of memories--ever since he had heard the girl asking about unicorns. As she and the group took their seats at a large table, he moved down the bar to a seat close to them. He had to know why she was so keen to find unicorns; could it somehow be related to what had happened to him so many years ago? He surreptitiously began to eavesdrop as the girl started talking.
Linna sat down at the table with the now large group. ::The Bardmistress? We've struck pay-dirt!::
::Indeed and we have. You're definitely right to want to tell them our story,:: Ceri sent.
Linna introduced herself to the three women who had originally been sitting at the table. "My friend Ceridon and I are looking for word of unicorns. As for why...well, it's something of a long story. It started three and a half years ago..."

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