Water ran in finger-width runnels down the hillside forming a slick sheen of grey-brown film that coated the broken stoney ground. Sporadic gusts of chill northern wind howled across the road, causing the scrub and thin trees to bend over on themselves. The yellow-grey sky rumbled distantly on occasion, as if encouraging the dwarf who now huddled into his deep cowled traveling cloak, to expedite his shaggy mount’s pace.
Inglor Brathren cast a crude gesture towards the sky, unmoved by its threats. The shaggy, cream-colored, pony that now bore him to a little known inn along the road had proven to be sure of foot and pace over the years. Inglor could see the shack that served as the Bent Reed Inn through the horizontal sheet of rain. The building could be as easily confused for a ramshackle heap of timber and reclaimed river logs. A few windows, not shuttered tight against the storm and a hand painted sign displaying the name of the establishment are the only things indicating it might be more then a pile of debris.
Inglor was not fond of leaving Bargewright Inn but he had enjoyed his meetings with the strange little man he would find inside the Bent Reed, and he knew the information would be good. Inglor couldn’t remember exactly how he had met Sess the Blackling. The strange halfling, all chiseled muscle and skin like polished teak, had made a name for himself as a smuggler in the last few years, virtually coming out of no where. It was said he could do impossible things at the helm of the shallow drafted boats used in the valley, and Inglor had witnessed first hand The Blackling’s expertise.
Inglor noticed the huge wagon with the river boats on either side, both painted brown-black like the murky depths of the deepest parts of the river, and knew Sess was already here.
“Brathen, what are wanting with knowledge about ”/wikis/sacred-stone-monastery" class=“wiki-page-link”> Sacred Stone Monastery son?" Sess’s deep voice tried to hide the smile in his shining eyes. “Almost like ye knew I just had a load what needed to be dropped off in those parts?”
“Almost,” Inglor answered without answering.
“Might not be room for your lot there now, that last load was a big one, like to fill the whole place. All hulking forms and honey colored hair,” Sess had left his tankard of ale, a brew that looked more like dishwater, untouched. “They were draped in furs, and their belts hung with big axes and swords. They were led by savage beauty, I always liked scars, called herself a Shield Maiden or some such. They had blue tattoos all over and didn’t talk much.”
“This is pretty far south for that kind of cargo,” Inglor said absently.
“At’s what I ’fought,” Sess continued. “Stranger still was that were accompanied by orc, or maybe half-orc. I don’t roightly know. He was well enough behaved, and if he said two words I can’t remember them. And not just to me, but to any of them. It was obvious that he was wiv’ them, but not, like wiv’ em.”
Inglor, realizing Sess had no use for the tankard he had bought for the halfling, reached across the table and took a swig, before wincing. Inglor was appalled with every sip, once again trying to figure out how the ale always had a salty tang, like sweat dripping into his mouth, at the Bent Reed.
“So, what did they want with the monastery?” Inglor said through a cringe.
“Not roightly sure, son,” Sess continued his voice going quiet. “They said their god-spirit, somefin’ like a Squall-Ox, or Thunderbull or somefing, told them that their missing tribe mates were there, in a dream. Their leader went on about how men in earth-colored robes and masks took their tribe mates and forced them beneath the earth. Said people come to the monastery to join and serve. And in the dream they saw some are made to serve the svartalfs_-”
“Svartalfs?” Inglor interupted.
“Translates to night elves, or darkness elf, but from their description they sounded more like grey skinned dwarven folk,” Sess grinned. “Seems they can’t tell your kind and elves apart, son.”
Inglor scrawled down everything Sess was telling him.
“Whut’s ’at then?” Sess said flicking his sharp chin at Inglor’s writing. “You writin’ a book, son?”
“Information for a friend,” Inglor said without looking up. A huge grin split his craggy face. Monish Knight had done right by Inglor. Maybe he was his friend at that. “And once delivered, I will wait a few days then sell it up to the Network. So then, what became of the cargo?”
“No idear, son,” Sess said pouring some water from a chipped clay pitcher into a more chipped clay cup. “I dropped ‘em, got me fistful of coin, well two fistfull on account of me hands being so small, and headed here to meet wiv’ my friend Brathen.”
Inglor smiled ruefully as he produced a purse with enough coin to to see Sess’s inky black fists filled a second time, and tossed it across the ramshackle table, causing it land with a clink and thunk. The Blackling didn’t make a move to grab it.
“What is next for the esteemed Sess the Blackling?” Inglor inquired as concluded his notes.
“The Order has taken ”/wikis/rivergard-keep" class=“wiki-page-link”> Rivergard Keep and have made for a bad day for any amateur smuggler on the river," Sess said nonchalantly. “So business is good for those what aren’t amateurs, son. I will make the north-south runs through the winter. Make sure the Network knows it too.”
With that Sess’s quick hands had the Inglor’s purse open, and the Blackling plucked a small sum from it, far less than most would seek to be paid for information. There was a strange sense of honor to the Blackling, and he seemed content to just take what he needed. Also, Inglor suspected, Sess was not too keen to work for the Zhents, but they paid better than the Harpers.
Inglor stood, and Sess stood with him, his muscular form rippling.
“Be safe Blackling,” Inglor told Sess sincerely.
Sess’s black face split with a white grin, “You too Brathen.”