The volume of noise increased, as a group of drunken merchants barged in from the front door, shouting and laughing, shaking heavy purses from successful negotiations. Fellow patrons cheered them on, a few joining them at the bar in the hopes of securing a free victory drink.
Terrin ignored it all.“What do you know about this Tavern, Wendell?”
Wendell frowned, “Nothing, really—other than it being owned by Wood, correct?”
“Big guy. Nice guy. Amazing cook. Makes a famous drink called Blackseed Rum that my friend Dax is nuts about and…” he stopped. Gnawing on his bottom lip, he considered an idea.
“And?” Terrin prodded.
Smiling, Wendell added, “…and as much as Wood acts mad at Dax, he honestly likes him. In fact, I’d go so far to say that Wood probably likes most of the people who come in here.” His eyes shifted then, taking in the posture of the storyteller. Observing. “Like you do.”
“Me?” Terrin chuckled.
Wendell nodded. “You’re a bard. A storyteller. Which means stories are a good part of your life, profession, and probably your interest. People are a culmination of stories, aren’t they?”
A single eyebrow raised on Terrin’s forehead. “I do like people and stories—though I prefer the deep, complicated, even rare tales that few know and even fewer can tell with style.” He gave Wendell a quick wink. “Which is why I asked about this marvelous building. It is the center of one of my fondest memories. Have you ever heard the story of Butter & Rum?”
Wendell smirked, “No, can’t say that I have. Sounds like something from Woods menu. ”
The bard smiled in such a way that the firelight from the hearth reflected in his eyes. “The Roadkill is one of the most famous taverns in the lands. This magnificent structure is filled with magic and mystery. More so than its patrons realize.”
Frowning, Wendell sank back in his seat. “You said lands, not land.”
Terrin grinned, “Because that is precisely what I meant.” The bard watched Wendell for a moment, seeing his words hook the youth, tugging at his curiosity.
Wendell chewed on the thought for a moment. “Does the tavern really exist in the Black Market?”
Terrin nodded, “It does.”
“Only in the Black Market?”
“Then how come I can’t see the front door to get out?”
“Ahhh,” he sighed, the grin remaining, “Because that’s not the way you came in, is it? You have not gone through the security of the Gypsies and received their permission to enter, which protects the Market. It is not in Woods power to grant such entrance. So when you come to the Roadkill Tavern, you arrive at the Roadkill Tavern.” Reaching over to a small end table resting against the hearth, Terrin lifted a near empty bottle of wine and a single glass in the same hand. “What if I told you that there were dozens of such doors, scattered throughout the mapped world as we know it?”
Dax can port. The Black Market has port keys and we escaped through a door into Chuck’s cottage, Wendell scratched his cheek, I know it’s possible. So why not? Doors that lead you to a great place to eat? “Sure. I’ve gone through a Prime Gate and used other modes of travel. I’d believe you, but I’d ask why?”
The bard looked away, popping the cork from the bottle. “Because the life of every Gypsy depended on it.”
Wendell watched the bard casually pour himself a flute full of wine. Without a word, he reached into his jeans pocket and pulled out his tiny money bag. Reaching forward, he placed a golden coin on the end table. “That’s a story I’d like to hear.”
It was time of upheaval.
The world was still at war and the enemy had yet to be captured.
Though the kings of the world were united in their efforts, and both Evolu and Kutollum camps flourished at the gates of Castle Andilain, the hearts of men were failing. Hundreds of skirmishes were reported along the eastern shores, while the western ports worked desperately to furnish supplies to dwindling armies. Many citizens looked to blame others for their troubles and sorrows as death overshadowed the land.
It was during this time that the great black dragon, Brann, ravaged the countryside unhindered. Thousands died, town and city, the beast ultimately turning his attention upon the ancient Forest of Andle. Why this was, no one knows, but in its rage, dragons fire lit the night sky, covering the valley with smoke and ash. To the horror of all, the great trees burned—along with all those who lived among them.
Mangled and disfigured, the Survivor crawled out from the ash, into the light of the valley. Alive, though barely, he lay there in the fall air, in the heat of destruction. Hills and mountains which had been covered in a multitude of colors, now lay charred and black.
And he wept.
The woodsman of the west were known for their skill and artistry. Not only in the carvings of wood, but their majestic care of the forests they harvested from. Above all woods was cherished the Andle trees. Used by kings and mägo alike for their strength, aesthetic appeal and conductive properties, these trees required specific conditions to grow. Unlike other species…only a handful of mortals knew the secret of these woodlands, and now they were dead.
It is said that the Survivor ventured back into the forest at first snowfall, which quenched the last of the embers. He searched for others of his race.
A brother. A sister.
Week after week he would venture back across the wasteland, surveying the landscape which could never be replaced, crying out for family he would never find.
During a crisp morning, after a fresh snowfall upon the ground, he discovered animal tracks. A giant mule deer, leading him into the heart of the forest. Food scarce and nearly a week without fresh water, he took up his makeshift bow and began the hunt. Hungry and desperate, he pushed himself on through the night.
The wind called his name as he wandered over rock and ravine, specters from the past appearing in his peripheral vision, only to vanish as he gave them notice.
By the third morning, the Survivor had lost his way.
Seeking shelter from an oncoming storm, he hid in the crack of a large stone outcropping. Building a fire, he waited out the storm—his only sustenance being water from the melting snow. The flames flickered away from the opening and it was then he noticed a soft breeze coming from behind him. From the blackness of the cave.
Pulling a torch from the fire, the Survivor gripped it tight as he crawled over cold, moist stone, pushing through narrow passages, the echo of dripping liquid growing louder.
Down he crawled, into the depths of the mountain, the pangs of hunger his only companion.
Some say the flames died out, leaving him within the void, forced to feel his way. Others say he tore the tattered rags from his own body to feed the fire.
Either way, the discovered something which gave life to his lungs and hope to his heart.
Encased in stone, unknown to man, was a cavern filled with such wealth not even kings could dream of. Gold, gems…and the hum of magic.
A dragon horde.
Enough wealth to sustain a kingdom for a hundred generations.
How long he stayed there is not known, but returning to the surface posed a greater challenge than his descent. The Survivor, when he emerged into the sunlight, was exhausted, bloodied…and at the point of death.
When he awoke the next eve, he did so to the sway of a wagon.
A Gypsy train.
Hundreds of wounded and bloodied refugees, making their way Southwest.
The Survivor had heard of this people. An abominable breed. Citizens of the land had rejected them, farmers and villagers alike, branding them a menace to all good society. Even during the harshest of times, when the races joined together for safety, these Iskari were cast off, spat upon and called ‘unclean’…forced to live under the open sky of Andilain, exposed and vulnerable to the ravages of war.
Vallen raiding parties, sent to burn and desecrate the land of humans, had discovered the Iskari vagabonds. Though the Gypsy’s tried to defend themselves with blade and magic, most of the men had been killed, while many of the women were carried off. Children who did not hide, if caught, were simply eaten.
Yet despite the horrors and hardships, these people had stopped, taken in a stranger at the verge of death and bound his wounds.
The Survivor sat in silence, watching the train of strangers push their wagons through the woods, through mountains of soot and ash. Once beautiful faces were now grim and long, their eyes dim. Painful, hopeless expressions. But what soon caught his attention, was the line of Gypsy’s, both young and old, spread out like wings from each side of the train, sifting through the ash as they went. Each male circled the base of burnt or damaged trees, poking and shifting the charred remain with their long staves.
Twice a cry went out and men would rush over, forming a circle around a tiny flash of green, an Andle tree, refusing to die.
Could it be that the Gypsy’s were looking for shoots and runners, the Survivor pondered—the last tender growth of the dying forest? Words he could not make out clearly were uttered and with it, a small flash of light.
…and with each new discovery, another member in the train would begin to sing.
“It is our last chance at life,” whispered an old woman. She raised her head from under the worn shawl, her wrinkled face forming a toothless crevice of a smile. “This beautiful forest is our greatest hope to live another generation. We are without a land, without a home, without a people. So we must learn to live through others.” Eyes yellowed with age studied the Survivor carefully, “As I believe the same can be said of you.”
“What could you possibly know of me?” he replied cautiously.
Looking up to the rising moons, the old woman muttered, “You possess a great treasure, unseen by men, but only by sharing will it be hidden again. A life for a life the agreement must be, deep under ground where captivity makes free. To the mägo you must look to weather this storm, and open your doors, your heart mate reborn.”
The old woman wandered away from the wagon, leaving the Survivor shaken.
Could it be possible, to bring back the love of his life? Was there magic so strong in the land? A life for a life? The words puzzled him—until a woman began to wail.
Dropping to her knees in ash, the young mother clenched her infant tight against her chest, swaying.
The wagon stopped.
Women left their own children or wounded and made their way to the distraught mother. One by one, a hand was placed upon the mothers shoulder, a new cry of pain and heartache joining her own. Weeping for the loss of a child.
The loss of countless lives that would never come to pass.
The tears feel freely, the men dropping to their own knees in silence as the women formed a connected train out from behind the mother.
A life for a life.
The Survivor had no family left.
And these people—these good people who came to the aid of a stranger—had no home.
It was then the Survivor determined to change that.
To change both their futures.
There University of Magic recorded that a man, with an entourage of Gypsies, sought the Mägo Council and hired their finest minds to weave magic in exchange for what the University now calls their finest possessions.