ld Kellar felt tired. Not the physical drain that accompanies a full day’s toil on the crops, leaving the mind awake and eager for an evening reprise. He felt mentally exhausted, and noted for the third time since he bought his last drink that he couldn’t remember the last time he didn’t feel cognitively sapped. Since being elected Village Elder his dreams of a quiet and modest retirement were shattered. Nearly all his time was spent settling minor squabbles, budgeting Harken’s meager resources, tabulating taxes and negotiating with traveling merchants on his Lord’s behalf. A confirmed bachelor, he was glad to have his evenings free to enjoy the Cliffside Brewery’s signature ale and the company of the townsfolk when work was off their minds.
However, the past few nights had given him little sleep and others had noticed him absent of his jovial demeanor. Whispers passed of goblin raiders and dark wanderers. These whispers were more than rumors to Kellar; they were his secret burdens. The goblin raiders had been annoying enough, but petty larceny could be compensated from the baron’s purse. Recently the goblins from Harken Forest had grown braver, and had gravely injured Varrow Del when he caught them in his farmhouse. Kellar knew better than to ask Baron Stockmer to activate the militia; a fighting force had never been seen in the Harkenwold and the local volunteers were mostly adolescent men trying to impress each other and the handful of unbetrothed women in the province. No, what Kellar needed was a solution, and a discrete one.
As he absently packed his pipe he felt a sudden hush descend in the brewery. A short figure in exquisite garments not seen in the Harkenwold gently closed the tavern door behind itself and pulled the hood of its heavy cape lower over its face. Kellar’s eyes narrowed as he tucked his tobacco pouch into his tunic pocket and he fumbled for a match. “Now who could this be…” he
grumbled under his breath. The figure never looked up, only made its way to a vacant table and sat without making the slightest sound. Gradually, the tavern transformed back into the bustling hub of social activity it was meant to be, and Kellar felt a quick smile play under his beard as he noted the look of relief flood Marrek the bartender’s face. Kellar’s expression turned dour again as he followed Marrek’s gaze to another dark figure seated in the corner opposite to the most recent arrival. The taller man seated there also had a hood pulled low over its face, and had been sitting there since Kellar arrived. As he wondered to himself he struck up a match and began puffing on his pipe. He absently waved his hand to extinguish the flame and noticed the hooded figure turn its head to stare at the short newcomer. Silently, the figure stood and walked out of the tavern. The short traveler didn’t seem to notice, and Kellar thought nothing of it.
Throughout the night more strangers began to arrive; two Elves, one with a great bow of intricate design and the other wrapped in loose robes with a sturdy walking staff and a bound tome. Then came a Dwarven cleric, though Kellar could not identify the deity to whom the cleric paid homage. Next came a Dragonborn, and several of the patrons again hushed themselves to stare at the odd sight. Lastly, a Tiefling arrived, though it walked in a peculiar way that made Kellar feel as though it thought itself shorter and more stout than it actually was. As each new traveler arrived they all settled at the same table, though their expressions made it clear they did not know each other. A plan began to form in Kellar’s mind, and he look a sip of ale to wet his lips as he sauntered over to the strangers.
“Good friends”, he greeted as he approached their table. “Allow me to purchase beverages while we discuss a matter of grave importance. We have been trying to keep this as quiet as possible. Creatures have been raiding the village in the dead of night, emerging from the caverns nearby to plunder our homes and businesses. In recent days, they have become more bold, wounding one of our farmers. Dealing with creatures such as these is beyond the talents of simple villagers such as we; but for adventurers such as yourselves, it should be an easy matter! What say you?”
The eclectic table of would-be heroes turned to him in an uneasy unison, as though unaccustomed to being greeted as a group. It was the hooded halfling that first spoke:
“You say these creatures attack at night? How very… convenient.”
Kellar tried to ignore the unease the comment caused him as he set about informing the party of the specifics. He ordered Marrek to clear their tab and offer them dinner courtesy of Baron Stockmer, then retired back to his table. As he watched the group finish their drinks and walk out into the night he couldn’t help but feel that this was a momentous occasion. He felt a little more lively for the first time in a fortnight and allowed himself another ale as his refilled his pipe.