Appendix A: Chapter 26

[Editor's note: Chapter 26 of my 2008 NaNoWriMo entry.]

Roland entered Swinnerton-Dyer’s Birchwood Inn. He recognized the basic layout of the first floor as a tavern, but all the details were wrong. The walls not the standard splintery bare wood, but were smooth and painted a light blue, and covered with framed paintings of pastoral scenes. The tables were square instead of round, and each had a flower standing in a tall narrow vase on it instead of being strewn with empty, occasionally upright tankards. The floor was not just clean, but actually polished. Roland wasn’t aware rooms like it even existed outside the Royal Court.

Roland stepped up to the bar. Along the wall behind it he saw expensive-looking bottles of wine neatly arrayed along a mirrored shelf. Roland saw a well-groomed man kneeling behind the bar, adjusting things on shelves out of Roland’s view. The man seemed to be oblivious to Roland’s presence.

“Excuse me, sir?” Roland asked politely, trying to get the man’s attention. The man look up at Roland, then returned his attention to his work for a minute before standing up and walking towards Roland.

“Is there something I can assist you with?” the man asked in a slightly condescending tone.

“Do you have any rooms available?”

The man looked Roland up and down. “We do have a few of our lower-tier rooms on the second floor available,” the man answered reluctantly. “Though I shall require payment up front. No offense.”

Roland plucked his coin pouch from his belt and emptied its contents on the counter.

“Yes, this shall be enough for one night,” the man said, sweeping up enough coins to pay for three nights at the inns he had been staying at along the way. He reached behind the bar and laid a key on the counter. “Your room is number 203, up the stairs to your left. Will you be requiring anything else?”

Roland picked up the key and the few coins remaining. “No, thank you, sir.”

“Indeed,” the main said.

Roland turned and climbed the stairs to the second floor. Out the corner of his eye, he saw the man watching him carefully as he went up, as though he didn’t quite trust someone like Roland in his immaculate inn. Roland found his room, which was decorated in a similar manner as the first floor.

If Lord Arundel was indeed in town, he would probably be away doing whatever it was he was doing. That gave Roland time to catch up on some much-needed sleep. He laid down on the bed, the first time he had been able to do some in far too long a time, and soon fell asleep without even bothering to close the curtains in front of the window.

—-

Roland awoke to see the sky beginning to redden as the sun began to set. He was still tired and his body wanted to stay in bed for another few days at least, but Roland reminded himself he was here to gather information, not to recuperate from the journey. He washed his face and changed into a clean set of clothes. He considered leaving his cloak and chain mail on the bed, but that would make it far too obvious he was carrying a sword, and he wasn’t willing to leave that behind as well. He grabbed a couple of maps from his pack and brought them down to the first floor with him.

Roland took a seat facing the entrance at an empty table along the side wall. He considered ordering something to eat, but decided it would be best not to completely deplete his funds when he still had a little food left in his pack.

He casually studied the maps, but kept most of his attention on the entrance to the inn. There were a few people at some of the other tables, but none of them looked like the sort of people Roland was watching for.

An hour passed, and Roland was beginning to wonder if maybe he had slept too long and missed their arrival, assuming this was even where they were staying, and assuming they were in Doomhammer in the first place. Roland was beginning to wonder if he had wasted his day when a group of seven people passed through the door, each of them wearing heavy brown hooded cloaks.

Roland straightened slightly in his chair and held a map in front of him, just low enough so he could see past it as he watched the group. The entire group walked up to the bar, and someone in the middle began talking to the man behind the bar. Roland noticed that while the three in the middle were turned to the bartender, the other four spaced themselves around the cluster and were looking at the rest of the room.

Roland quickly lowered his head to stare directly at the map. Roland’s gut told him the group was made of four bodyguards protecting three people. Roland thought it best not to not look like he was watching them, lest he start being scrutinized himself. Glancing occasionally up from the map, Roland saw the group begin moving away from the bar and towards a set of empty tables. As Roland suspected, the three who had been talking to the bartender took one table, with the four suspected bodyguards pairing off and sitting at two tables nearby.

Roland was too far away to overhear the conversation at the main table, and certainly wasn’t going to move to a closer one, so he had to content himself with a few furtive glances in their direction. From their behavior, the three at the middle table seemed to be upset or frustrated about something, but it didn’t look like an argument. After about five minutes a server came by and poured three glasses of wine for them. The man lowered their hoods as they drank and continued their discussion. From the angle between their table and Roland, he couldn’t see two of their faces, but the one he could see had an unmistakable unibrow.

Was that Lord Arundel? Roland didn’t have much of an idea what he looked like, but guessed that it was. Presumably he had found someone to guard him and his companions — other nobles, perhaps — on their trip to Doomhammer. No other explanation for the group readily sprang to mind.

Satisfied he was going to learn all he could from watching them, Roland gathered his things and returned to his room. The bed tempted him, but instead he cracked the door just wide enough into the hall to let him watch the stairs. After some time had passed and the last light of the sun had vanished from the window, he saw seven cloaked figured climb up from the first floor and continuing to one of the floors above. That confirmed that they were indeed staying at the inn. Roland gratefully returned to the bed, knowing he needed to get as much rest as he could for the coming day.

—-

Roland awoke again early in the morning. He ate the last bit of food left in his pack, got fully dressed, gathered his things, and again stood just inside the door to the room, watching the stairway again. Roland eventually saw a group of seven descend from above down to the first floor. He nervously waited for a few moments, then followed.

The group was just heading out the door as Roland reached the first floor. He walked up to the bar and returned the room key to a relieved-looking bartender. Roland exited Swinnerton-Dyer’s Birchwood Inn and followed the group at what he hoped was a safe enough distance to avoid being noticed.

The group headed directly to the village square, then on for another block until they entered a side door in a large building which Roland guessed to be some sort of town hall. The building stood at the edge of what had escaped the great fire. He noticed that wooden supports had been stood up along the wall facing the fire, suggesting the building had just barely survived it.

Now that he knew where the presumable group of nobles were at, Roland retraced his steps to the village square, and noticed Anna leaning against the back of the statue’s pedestal impatiently.

“Finally,” she sighed as he approached.

“Sorry,” Roland said, noticing that it was at least an hour after sunrise. “I was a little busy with some business of my own.”

“Which was?”

“You go first,” Roland said. “How’s the search for Derek going?”

“Not too badly, I guess. A few people think they saw someone who looked like him. They said he was traveling with someone.”

“With who?”

“They didn’t say. A man, but none of them were able to give me a better description than that.”

“Where did they see him at?”

“Here and there, but mostly around Doomhammer Hall.”

Roland frowned, thinking.

“I don’t know why anyone would be taking Derek there, though,” Anna continued. “It’s been under repair since the fire and hasn’t been opened again yet.” She shrugged. “That’s about it.”

“Doomhammer Hall wouldn’t happen to be over there, about a block away, would it?” Roland asked, pointing in the direction of the building he saw the group of seven enter.

Anna nodded. “You’ve seen it?”

Roland desperately wanted to be able to explain it away as coincidence, but the idea seemed increasingly remote. Why would Mattias’s goons take Derek to the same place where the nobles were going? Or was it Mattias himself? The lack of description would certainly fit. But why Doomhammer in the first place? War could erupt here between Telerand and Lantaria any day. Unless…

“Anna,” Roland asked quietly, “what you said about Derek’s abilities. Is there a limit to what he could do with them?”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“Is there anyone he wouldn’t be able to summon?”

Anna stared into the distance for a moment. “I don’t know. It’s something he tries not to do at all. Why do you ask?”

Roland bit his lip, a terrifying realization taking shape in his mind. “Remember back in Helioth? How Mattias was telling me he wanted to fake the return of the Demon King, to get Telerand and Lantaria not to fight each other?”

“Yes…” Anna said slowly.

“If Derek’s helping him, he might not have to fake it.”

Chapter word count: 1,735 (according to wc)
Total word count: 47,592 / 50,000 (95.184% complete)

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