Luthlir held out her hand and felt the drops of rain against her palm. She tilted her head up and pulled her hat off to see the dark clouds rolling in. She would need to stop somewhere soon; sleeping out under the sky was not an option tonight.
She slid her hat back on and shouldered her dulcimer as she walked along the dirt road. To either side of her, there were long stretches of field, framed some distance away by trees and woods. As she crested the hill, off in the distance she saw wood walls and a gate. A town would have an inn.
Her coin purse jingled at her hip as she approached, giving the guardsmen a nod at the gate. The rain fell heavier now, forcing her to walk at a brisk pace on the muddy ground. The town was small, and after a few inquiries, she learned it only had two places to rest.
She went to the board house, knocking lightly at the door and pulling her cloak tight around her. As gloomy as the day was, the town still seemed to thrive with a certain color and air to it. But that seemed common for this area of the world.
The door creaked open at the hands of a young girl, her hair cut short at her chin. Luthlir smiled and the girl stepped aside. “Come in!”
“I take it you’re quite used to visitors, little one,” Luthlir crooned. The girl nodded as she stepped inside. Without missing a beat, the child took her cloak and waited for her hat.
“You can wait in there,” the girl gestured to a small room with a couple of chairs in front of a fireplace. “I’ll get grandmum.”
Luthlir took her seat, setting her dulcimer beside her on the floor. Her hands laid on her knees as she looked around. A few paintings were on the wall, and a vase with fresh flowers sat on a table. It looked welcoming enough.
“You’re a crook, you old hag! I’m not paying you a gold piece more!” A voice shouted from another room. Luthlir got to her feet and stepped quietly toward it.
The young girl cowered at the doorway as a man in armor yelled at a kind older woman. He looked angry and the woman seemed annoyed, a table between them. She leaned forward on her elbows on the table.
“Sir, I am but an old woman. One of whom who has opened her home to you, fed you, bathed you. Fifty gold for the nights you stayed.” Her tone was calm, but her voice shook. Likely with age.
Luthlir stepped into the room.
“Is something wrong?” She asked with her most charming smile at the armored man. He looked at her and the rage seemed to slowly melt off of him.
“This old hag knows she’s not worth no fifty gold for a couple of nights,” he insisted. “She’s a thief.”
“Fifty gold sounds fair,” Luthlir paused. “What seems unfair is a man of money who would rather be cheap.”
“What a poor reputation you will have when I speak of you at the local tavern,” she continued as she approached the table. “Ma’am, I do apologize for such truly distasteful company. Rest assured, I will carry his poor name through the town.”
“Hey, hey, none of that—“ The man interrupted. “I’ll pay the damn fifty gold.”
“You’ll pay seventy for taking up this poor woman’s time as well as my own,” Luthlir said, shooting him a sharp look. “Or I will be forced to tell everyone in town you were cowed into submission by a bard.”
“Bitch,” he hissed as he dropped the money on the table. He turned to leave, then paused and looked back at her. “I’ll remember you, bard.”
“Oh, please do, so I can tell everyone you brutalized a defenseless woman!” Luthlir called with a light laugh.
“What a charming girl,” the old woman chuckled. “Are you needing a place to sleep?”
“Yes, please,” she said as she brushed her hair back from her face, mindful of her ears. Slightly more pointed at the tip as they were, she wasn’t ashamed; she just knew in some circles, it was better not to reveal them. “A night, at the least.”
“Certainly. Girl, would you get one of the rooms ready and escort her up? Show her the baths as well,” the woman said. The child nodded and waited for her. “Dinner shall be served soon, if you’re hungry.”
“How kind,” Luthlir smiled. The girl smiled at her and took her hand, then guided her down a hall. At the end of the hall was a room with a couple of tubs, filled with water, flames crackling beneath a grate under them.
“I will come back in a little bit to show you to your room.” The girl bowed, then left and closed the door behind her. Luthlir stared at the door for a moment before stepping to one of the tubs and stripping down.
Dinner was more filling than anything she’d had in ages and the bed was soft and warm. It had been a long time since she’d enjoyed such comforts. Breakfast brought similar joy, being just as tasty, and for a change, with company from another.
The Halfling watched her as she ate, putting away far more than someone of her stature should be able to. Luthlir knew her gaze, however; that of a thief, waiting to pick a pocket. It did not concern her much. She had little to be stolen.
“It’s rude to stare, Marly,” the old woman teased as she walked by. The Halfling looked at her, then back at Luthlir.
“I haven’t seen you before,” she said, her voice too mature for a childlike face, but at the same time, perfectly fitting. “Where are you from?”
“A land far, far from here,” Luthlir chuckled as she sipped her tea. It warmed her deep in her chest and tasted of fruit. “And before you ask, yes I’m a bard. And my name is Luthlir.”
“Luthlir…” Marly repeated, testing the odd word on her tongue. “Well, Luthlir, I’m Marly. I can show you around town if you’d like. This town doesn’t get very many bards!”
“Alright,” she said, pausing at the idea. She only intended to stay a night, but there could be money to be made. “I suppose that would be fine.”
“Great!” Marly grinned at her. She seemed friendly enough, plucky as she was. A charming thief; what a dangerous combination.
After breakfast was finished, Marly hopped down from her chair and led the way out into the town. In daylight, free from rainclouds, the town seemed almost cheery. Her new Halfling friend led her past a few houses, a tavern, past the other inn and to a place she called the caravansary.
“This would be the best place for you to perform if you wanna make money,” Marly explained, gesturing to a small stage. “They use this place for announcements all the time. All the caravans going from the north to Greyhawk stop here. You can usually do some shopping here, too!”
“You seem quite informed,” she chuckled. A charming thief; what a dangerous thing indeed. Marly looked up at her and grinned.
“Yup! I’ve traveled all over the place,” she explained. “I’m friends with a member of the caravan guard.”
“How quaint.” Luthlir looked out at the crowd. More caravans were making their way in, with groups of guards accompanying them. Within the hour, it would be packed full, she imagined.
“You go ahead on to the stage, I’ll go ask if you can perform!” Marly exclaimed before running off. She had no chance to protest.
She chuckled and shook her head, then made her way to the stage. Charming indeed. For such a sweet little town, it certainly had some interest.
“Anwar! It’s wonderful to see you again,” the old woman called out. Heavy boot steps followed with a hearty laugh. Luthlir glanced over from tuning her dulcimer.
“As if I would go anywhere else.” He was tall, with a strong voice that sent a warmth deep in her chest like the tea. Well-built with an easy smile, but his eyes.
There was sadness, melancholy. He was a man who fought for a living and lived for more than himself. And it hurt him. She could see as much in his eyes.
“We’ll get you a bath ready,” the woman said as she pat his arm. He was well-loved. Was he Marly’s friend, perhaps?
“Thank you, much appreciated.” He brushed his hand from his hair, then paused as he caught sight of her. She looked down at her instrument, just barely catching his smile.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
She became heavily aware of his footsteps as he approached, then pulled out a chair. She glanced up with the barest tilt of her head to catch the old woman handing him a goblet. Ale, perhaps?
“You were the bard playing in the caravansary,” he said as he took a sip. “You’re good.”
“I take compliments in the form of coin, good sir,” she said as she looked back at her instrument. “But I do thank you for the praise.”
“You know what you want in life,” he laughed. “I can appreciate that. What’s your name?”
“Luthlir,” she said as she gave the instrument a test strum. “I take it you are Anwar?”
“Yes,” he chuckled. “Where are you from, Lady Luthlir?”
“I am no Lady, simply Luthlir will suffice,” she said as she sat the instrument on the floor beside her. Even as she said it, she became aware of her posture more than ever. Straight backed, shoulders down, hands daintily folded in her lap. The picture of obedience. “And I am from a place far from here.”
“Well, miss Luthlir,” the way he said her name made her shudder and a light warmth came to her face. He smirked. “Does this place have a name?”
“Are you going to tell me what it is?”
Anwar frowned, then shrugged and gulped down more of his drink. He seemed fine enough to let it go. She was relieved.
“Where was this one from, Anwar?” The old woman asked as she set a cup of tea in front of Luthlir. She thanked her, but watched Anwar.
“Grisalt, far south of here. In some ill-begotten country named Orisene,” he said as he set his goblet down. Luthlir gasped, then covered her mouth, drawing his attention. “I take it you know of the place?”
“…Yes.” Luthlir admitted as she bit her bottom lip. “What do you mean when you say ill-begotten?”
“Judging from the caravan and what they said, it’s gone to shit,” he said as he rolled his shoulder. “I didn’t pry.”
“I see,” she looked down. “Thank you.”
“Is that where you’re from?”
“Yes. But the Orisene I knew was beautiful.”
“Sounds like things changed,” Anwar said as the girl returned from the baths. She told him it was ready and he got to his feet. “I don’t suggest going back anytime soon.”
“I don’t intend to,” she said, more to herself than him, as he walked away. “Not even if I wanted to.”
Dinner was an affair, though peaceful. Marly was too excited to see Anwar and the old woman had no qualms about bringing them alcohol. Luthlir enjoyed the wine she was brought, surprised in what it brought out in her.
"We should get to know you better," Marly said as she slid her another goblet. "You're a bard; tell us your story!"
"Marly," Anwar warned. She looked at him and he shook his head.
"It's quite alright," Luthlir chuckled. "She's not wrong. I am a bard."
Anwar watched her, then reached for something at his side. A moment later, he was sliding a handful of gold pieces her way. She stared at them for a moment, then took them and put them in her coin purse.
"I've never been paid for my story before. I suppose I owe you as much now." Luthlir looked from Anwar to Marly, then at her hands. "Alright. Alright."
"Yay!" Marly exclaimed. It was hard not to share the little Halfling's enthusiasm.
"I come from Orisene. Outside of Grisalt by maybe a couple of miles," she said, the words heavier than she thought they would be. She had not thought much of her home for some time. "I was a slave."
"No wonder you left," Marly muttered. Anwar nodded.
"That's not why I left."