Anthos can hear the noise coming from the Inn, before he even opens the door.
The Inn is noisy tonight. They’ll hardly care what, or if, I play. Still…
A look around the room confirms what he has already heard. The normal group is gathered in the common area, which is composed of groups of tables and chairs, or barrels, or in some cases even wooden rounds cut from a log. Many of the local patrons can be identified from the manure from their stock still on their boots, and their rugged clothes showing bare at the elbows and knees. Some off duty soldiers are near the bar, their weapons and armor stored somewhere for the night, their raucous laughter and horseplay showing that no ranking officer is anywhere in the vicinity. Several small groups of travelers are scattered at the tables, two or three together with their heads close for private conversation. There are even a few dwarves off by themselves in the darkest corner, their long plaited beards, and sturdy, round steel helmets showing in the light of the fire. Nothing out of the ordinary, but each of them is caught up in their own discussions and problems. The smell of wood smoke is drifting from the huge fireplace, and the delicious aroma of something roasting, along with the clanging of a few pots and pans, are coming from the direction of the kitchen. Over the top of that, is the smell of unwashed bodies, leather, oil, and several forms of alcohol.
The individual making this assessment is slightly outside the norm himself. As he steps out into the room, he moves towards an open chair near the fire, a few of those present look his way, wondering.
The image he presents is one to wonder at. You can tell by his features that he is human…almost. His ears and fair skin, however, give him away for what he is—a half-elf. He’s too tall, being 5’ 8”, and much too broad across the shoulders for an elf, but much too fair to look at for a human. His collar length hair is blonde, almost white, and his leaf green eyes show the intelligence that lies behind them. He is dressed quite well compared to the homespun of many of the patrons. His doublet and pants are forest green with brown piping, black boots rising almost to his knees. A white frilled shirt peaks from beneath, with a silver chain disappearing beneath its collar, evidently attached to some sort of medallion lying against his chest.
As he seats himself, he swings an eight course lute, meaning one with fifteen strings -- battered but well cared for—around from its perch on his back, and slides a worn leather pack to a spot under his chair at his feet. His long green cloak joins the pack, along with an intricately carved walking staff, made from some dark, hard wood. He adjusts the cloak slightly, but not before those taking the most interest in his actions sees the handle of a sword peeking from beneath its folds.
He does not play immediately, but gives the room an appraising glance once again. Then, his fingers begin to move, picking and strumming the lute, drawing forth a light melody that is evidently well known in the area judging from the toes that begin to tap, and the heads that begin to nod in rhythm to his playing.
Almost like a conjuror, a small leather pouch appears open at his feet as he finishes the first song, and he hardly misses a beat as he moves into a slightly more lively tune, his fingers moving quickly across the face of the lute. As he watches the crowd, he sees a few begin to mouth the words to one version of this song, and so with the beginning of the next verse, he begins to sing.
His voice is as much a surprise as the rest of him, flowing out in a rich baritone. The words are not perhaps exactly those sung commonly in this little township, but they are close enough for those in the Inn. Soon the makeshift audience is paying more attention to the music, and less to the conversation around them. Now, with their attention, he begins to play more intricate numbers, his fingers seeming to blur over the strings, and as each number is finished, some within the room begin to call out favorites for him to play. Each request is met and answered, each favorite played, with the musician scarcely pausing to acknowledge those who made the request.
Finally, after more than an hour of almost non-stop music, he sits back and draws a flask from his pack, and drinks deeply from its contents. Cheers and whistles come from the group that has been united under his musical tutelage, and coins begin to fall into the leather pouch at his feet. Most of them are copper, but enough silver shine from the pile to let him know that he has earned his keep and then some for several nights to come. A few soldiers near the bar call for just one more song, but he waves them off with an evidently false protest, waving his fingers as if they are on fire. He gathers his pouch, and moving to the bar, takes a tithe of the earnings, and places them on the bar, pushing them to the Innkeeper, a large, red-faced, good-natured man, whose leather apron has overspent its years in this service. He smiles a yellow-toothed smile, with far too many missing for eating conveniently, and gathers in the coins.
“My thanks for the accommodations friend,” Anthos bounces his coin pouch in his hand a moment, and then with the addition of a few more of the copper coins, “Now, if I could also have a bowl of that wonderfully smelling stew, a piece of bread, and a place for the night, I would be most grateful.”
He takes the offered bowl, and moves back to the chair where he had previously been seated and blowing over the spoonfuls, begins to eat. His mind wanders over the meal, thinking back to what has brought him to this point in his life. It seems like only yesterday….
“Anthos, come on boy! The others are ready to leave, and we still have packing left to do.”
“I’m coming mother. I was just watching this beetle.” With a glance back at the beetle, and only a moment’s reluctant hesitation, the young boy turns and runs towards the small, gaily painted wagon across the clearing from where he was playing. He looks to be only five or six years old, but will proudly proclaim that he is eight.
“Where are we going mother?”
“The troupe is off to Dinsford. Old Thomas thinks we will do better there, as Lord Cowen is supposed to be touring that area, and his retainers are always looking for entertainment while he is busy elsewhere. Now come along. I need your help to finish up. I’ve not been feeling well the last few days, and we have much to do before we leave.”
“All right mother.”
The lad begins to move the last few small crates from their places around the wagon, to their places within. One watching would perhaps be amazed that a boy so small could lift, let alone load, these boxes, but he goes about his work with the ease of long practice, and the energy of youth. As he works, he looks at his mother. Through his eight year old eyes, she is the most beautiful woman he knows. Her hair, unlike his, is long and black, and she wears it unbound and flowing down her back. She is tall and straight, and her dark brown eyes show love and concern every time they look at him. Her dress is the one she always seems to wear, faded blue, patched, and with a pattern that you can almost see if you look close enough. Today, she is slightly flushed in the cheeks, yet pale all the same. In no time he places the last bundle in place behind the wagon seat.
“All set mother. How soon till we leave?”
“Not long. Do you think you can drive the wagon?”
“Of course I can. You know Dilly and Dolly. Those two mules know this business better than we do. As soon as the master calls for the wagons to move out, they’ll take our place in line with or without us!”
She chuckles with the boy for a moment, her laugh tailing off to a slight cough. “I believe I’ll lie down in the back then. There is a poke of bread, and an apple beneath the seat. I’m not feeling very hungry. You eat what’s there, and wake me when we arrive in Dinsford. I think rest is what I need more than anything. Thank you Anthos, you’re a good boy.”
He ducks to avoid the kiss she tries to plant on his forehead. “Don’t worry mother. I’m the man of the family. I’ll take care of everything.”
The man Anthos shakes his head at the memory. He hadn’t been able to take care of everything. When he tried to wake his mother on arriving in town, he found her burning up with fever. He’d gone to the Troupe master, Old Thomas, and his wives had all got together to try and help, but there was nothing that they could do. All of their herbs, all of the wet cloths, nothing had seemed to help. And then she was gone, and he was alone, or would have been without the Troupe. The Troupe. The thought sends him off again into his memories.
“I think you’ve got it now Anthos. Now let’s try it one more time to be sure.”
The young man takes up the juggling pins again, and begins to go through an intricate routine with his taller friend, one of skill mixed with comedy and spoof. At one point he bobbles a little on one of the passes, but not enough to break the rhythm of the routine.
“I’m sorry John. That pass always seems to catch me unaware. I’m more comfortable with my lute.”
“I know Anthos, but we really need a fourth for the show and with Young Thomas laid up with that wrist sprain, you’re the next best choice. You’ll do fine. Even if you drop everything, the people will just think its part of the comedy of the show. You don’t think we always catch every pass do you? After all, when there’s a buxom wench leaning on the front of the stage, you can’t be expected to see every throw being made in your direction, can you?”
The tall young man laughs at his own joke, and Anthos joins in.
“Thanks for that John. Hey! I think I smell fresh bread! If it’s coming from Martha’s oven, we don’t want to miss out. Let’s go see.”
The two lay down their pins, and run together in a makeshift foot race towards a wagon on the outside edge of the circle. The smell of wood smoke blends pleasantly with that of fresh baked bread, both coming from a wagon painted yellow and red, and whose door is standing slightly ajar. The smaller Anthos easily reaches the wagon first.
“John, when are you going to learn to pick up your feet when you run?”
“Come on Anthos, you know you can run circles around the horses, let alone me. I’m sure it’s because you’re some kind of freak. Now if we could only figure out what kind…?” He laughs again, and throws a half-hearted punch at the slim youth.
Later, as they walk away licking the last drips of butter and jam from their fingers, Anthos turns to his friend.
“John, where do you think Old Thomas will have us winter this year? I know he wasn’t happy with the taxes Lord Cowen charged us last winter. Do you think he will try to find a new patron Lord this year?”
“I don’t know Anthos. We’re not the only troupe working the roads you know, although we are the best. Most of the good wintering places are already taken. Unless we strike off for the North Reaches, where most don’t want to winter, we don’t have a lot of choices. Don’t worry too much about it. Old Thomas has been doing this a long time. He knows all the best spots, and he won’t lead us wrong.”
“I know you’re right John, but I still wonder.”
“You wonder about everything. I’ve never seen anyone else who wanted to learn about things the way you do. Already you know the lines for every part in our plays. You can tumble, sing, juggle, and act. You’ve learned to hunt, track, and even sew and cook. What drives you I’ll never understand.”
“I just want to help out. Old Thomas took me in when my mother died. He trusted me to become useful. I just wouldn’t want to let him down. Besides, I like learning new things. Did I tell you that Eshla, the new fortune teller, is teaching me to speak Elvish? She says anyone who looks like me should know how to speak like what they are.”
“You want to learn to speak like a moron?” With another laugh and a push, John runs on towards the river down from camp, only hesitating long enough to pick up a pine cone and throw it back at Anthos.
As he rouses himself from his reverie, the bard shakes his head again, a smile crossing his face. That was five years ago. A lot of miles had passed beneath his feet since that time. When Old Thomas died, two years back, Anthos had decided to strike out on his own. It was hard at first. He had to learn the “rules” of the game. Most he knew from watching Old Thomas. Some he had to learn the hard way, like tipping a share of your earnings to the Innkeeper, so that next time through he doesn’t throw you out on your ear. And then there were times when he had to make do for meals on what he could scavenge, or hunt on his own. Boiled satchel and herbs was at least filling, if not very tasty. Lately though, things had been going very well. His ear for picking up the latest song, his memory for those songs favored in certain areas, had all helped him to develop his reputation. He even slipped songs of his own making in every now and then, and had heard them repeated by others at places down the road. He didn’t begrudge them the use. He had done the same himself. It was actually a compliment to hear your own music coming from another player—as long as they didn’t claim authorship, or change it too much.
Eating the last crust of his bread, he rose, and gathering up his things, he slipped upstairs to the common sleeping room, and claimed one of the pallets as his own for the night. He slides a dagger out of a hidden sheath in his boot, and places it under his rolled cloak which he is using to pillow his head, another lesson learned along the road. Then, covering himself with his blanket, he settles in for the night. Hopefully, the bed bugs and fleas will leave him alone for the night, but he doesn’t hold out much hope.
Sunrise the next morning finds him dressed and preparing to leave. He walked quietly down the stairs, discovering that the Innkeeper’s cook had beaten him by more than an hour, and was just taking dozens of small loaves from the brick oven. Dropping a coin on the bar, and with a little bow, he lifts one carefully from a basket on the counter, shifting it from hand to hand to keep from being burned, and saunters out the front door of the Inn.
“Now to hope that the stable boy is an early riser as well.”
Thankfully he was, in part he complained because the rooster liked to roost near to his bed in the back. With only minimal delay, the lad brought out Anthos’ closest friend—Moonshadow. His horse didn’t appear to be anything special, but they had grown to know each other quite well over the two years of their acquaintance, and he had learned to trust and rely on him. A dapple gray the color of cold smoke, or morning fog, and whose hooves blended to black in the shade, he knew that Moonshadow could carry him all day, and keep going when other horses would be lagging.
“Did you give him an extra bait of corn like I asked?” Anthos looks questioningly at the lad.
“Yes sir. And I rubbed him down with a nice gunny sack. He really took to that.” The stable boy’s grin shows the truth of his statement.
“Ah! You’ll have him spoiled and expecting it of me every night. Thank you kindly for your care.” More coins appeared from his pouch, and were transferred to the boy’s hand. Then stowing his gear to various straps and strings dangling from the saddle, Anthos mounted and rode away, out of town, and into the surrounding forest.
Three days later, Anthos was working his way up and over the lowest saddle of the encroaching mountain range. Here, the air is crisp and the sun almost too bright. The pines are trying to decide if this is high enough or not, and the first snow is still playing hide and seek with the fall sunlight. He reaches down and pats the neck of his horse.
“Let’s stop here for a breather my friend. It’s been a long haul to reach this point; we might as well enjoy the view.” He reaches down to pat Moonshadow’s neck as he steps down from the horse.
“Do you often talk to your horse like that?”
He whirls, taken by surprise, to find and old man astride an even older looking mule, sitting in the shadows of a large pine. There are no weapons in sight, and he relaxes as he sees who spoke. “Quite often he is the only one around to talk to, and more intelligent than many I’ve met. How do you do this fine day?”
“As well as can be expected—better than some, and worse than others. What’s your friend’s name?”
“This is Moonshadow. Most call me Anthos, and you?”
“This is Jaspar, and my official name is Terril Sims Westar, but most just call me Sims. I couldn’t help but notice the direction you were heading,” then nodding at the lute on his back, “and the fact that you carry your own music with you. Mind if I ride along? Company tends to suit me when I’m in these mountains, and I like music.”
“I don’t mind at all. Can either of you cook?”
“I can’t speak for Jaspar, as he’s never shown an inclination to try, but as for myself, I don’t starve.”
“Well, let’s keep an eye peeled for something edible, and we’ll see if together we can’t make something that we can choke down for supper.”
By late afternoon, they are seated around a fire, a brace of rabbits brought down with a sling toasting on a spit, and a pot of roots and herbs boiling away on a nearby rock.
“Watch that pot. It’s got a small crack on the bottom near the handle. I’ve sealed it with pitch, but for some reason it likes to tip in just that direction when it starts to boil hard.”
“We can’t have that. It’ll spoil our gourmet meal.” So saying, the old man puts his hands up alongside the pot, and sings lightly under his breath. The crack in the side of the pot glows briefly, and then disappears. The pot now looks almost like new. With an exclamation and a small oath, Anthos stands quickly, and looks at the pot.
“How did you do that?”
“That? That was nothing. Just a little mending spell. Comes in handy now and again.” A humorous, yet sly look crosses his face. “I could teach it to you—maybe.”
“I believe I would like that. I’ve seen magic before of course, but never so up close, and never the real article. Most of what I have seen is more in the realm of sleight of hand and misdirection. I can even do a little of that myself, but I’ve heard stories and tales in Inn’s around the country about real magic, without ever seeing any.”
He looks at his new acquaintance with renewed interest. This man calling himself Sims doesn’t appear to be anything out of the ordinary. His clothing is that of an experienced traveler, much of it made from well tanned and dyed leather, or tightly woven wool. His saddle and accompanying saddle bags are sturdy and well cared for, but unusually for this area, there is not a weapon in sight. His hair, though there is not much of it left, is short and white, but his face is relatively unlined for someone who has seen as many winters as he evidently has. His hands are long fingered and strong, and Anthos can just see the calluses across the palms and fingertips.
Sims begins to talk. “I find myself, at this time in my life, contemplating my mortality. More and more, as I travel around, I find my old friends, my acquaintances, even just people I have met and known, gone. They are all dying on me. I don’t feel like I’m that old, but as I rise on a cold morning after sleeping on the ground, it does take me longer to get going than it used to. Because of all of this, I decided that I wanted to pass on some of what I know, like that little mending spell you just saw. I suppose I should be honest with you, I didn’t meet you up here by chance.”
“What? What do you mean?”
“I mean I looked for you, and found you. You may not know it, but your reputation has been growing lately. Every Inn along the way, every Noble’s keep I have stopped at, even other performers I have met, all have talked about you.”
The young bard, blushing to the roots of his face, shuffles his feet a little. “There are many more talented than I on the road, I’ve heard them.”
“Perhaps that was true when you first struck out on your own, but not anymore. I’ve heard you play myself.”
“I have a good memory for faces, but I don’t remember you from anywhere.”
With a gesture down at himself, “I don’t always look like this. It’s another one of those little skills I’ve acquired. That’s one more thing I can teach you, and I do want to teach you. Let me give you a little sample of what I have to offer, and then you can decide what you want to do.” Without moving, he begins to sing softly again, almost to himself, and though Anthos listens carefully, he cannot understand anything that he hears. Suddenly the old man begins to emit a glow from all over his body, and then his outline seems to blur, and he is gone. In his place sits an imposing figure. Dark hair, heavy eyebrows, broad shoulders and muscles, and dressed all in black. The figure, still singing, reaches into empty air behind his back, and produces a lute, but not just any lute. Anthos can tell that this instrument is probably the finest of its kind he has ever seen. Made from a deep, rich, red wood, with ebony inlay around the rosette in the center, and what appears to be gold tuning keys, the 13 course lute, or 24 strings, almost glowed in the firelight, and then Sims began to play. From the first note, Anthos could tell he was in the presence of a master, and the sound coming from the lute was mellow and smooth, and so entrancing…..
The next instance, or so it seemed, Sims was once again standing before him, reaching behind his back to put the lute back into…nothingness. Anthos was left with the feeling that he had just experienced the greatest performance he had ever seen, but he didn’t quite remember anything specific about it.
“What…what just happened?”
“I told you I wanted to give you a sample of what I had to offer. The changeling spell I’ve already mentioned. That’s the one that made me look like someone you wouldn’t want to make angry. It’s very useful when there are rowdies in the audience, or when you want to leave town unannounced. The summoning spell is what brings my lute to me, and returns it to safe keeping when I don’t need it, but the charm spell which I played is what you are feeling the after effects of at the moment. Now, I offered you no suggestions during that spell, but if I had, more than likely you would have gone along with whatever I suggested. It doesn’t work on everyone, but most. It helps to bring people to your point of view, at least for a short time. It’s great for hostile crowds, and irate husbands.” He smiles to show he is mostly joking. “Now if you think this is something you would like to learn, the position as my apprentice is open. It won’t be easy, but it should be fun, or at the very least interesting. What do you say?”
Anthos is looking at the older man like a shipwrecked man looks at land. “I don’t care the cost. I don’t care how much work. If you can teach me to do what you just did, then I’m in. Your playing alone would have brought me to you, but the thought that I can do magic—that excites me more than anything in my life.”
“Then it’s settled. Let us say that as of tomorrow morning you are officially my apprentice, unless the night’s rest brings about a change of heart. For now, do you mind playing that second song from your performance a few days ago? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the third verse sung that way before.”
The next several hours pass away with the two musicians passing Anthos’ lute back and forth, first one, then the other playing song’s and teaching lyrics, until by mutual consent, they both made their way to their bedrolls and sleep.
Someone was kicking at Anthos’ feet. “Wake up apprentice! It’s time to get started.”
Slowly the events of the previous night made their way to the front of his sleepy brain. Then with renewed excitement as he recalls what had transpired, he quickly climbs to his feet. “I’m sorry. What time is it?” He asks as he realizes it is still dark.
“Time to get moving, the sun should be up soon, and we have much to do. Get the fire going, and let’s break our fast, then we’ll be on our way.”
As Anthos puts sticks together, and begins to blow last night’s coals in to a flame, he looks again at the old man. “Where are we going in such a hurry?”
“I have a place not too many days away. We’re headed there. We have an important job to finish before we can really get started with your training. You need an instrument.”
“I have a lute. We played it last night.”
“That lute we will give to the first farm boy we see who looks like he has the least inkling of intelligence. You need a real instrument. That is why we’re going to my shop, and that is why we need to hurry.”
“But I like my lute. I’ve had it for most of my life. I’m used to it.”
“Are you my apprentice, or not? If you are, then there is no more argument. You will do as I say, because I tell you that you need to do it. If not, then we can say our goodbyes, and I will wish you well in the rest of your life. What is it to be?”
Anthos brings his lute around to the front of his body, lovingly moving his hands along its surface. Then with a deep bow, he hands it to Sims. “I am your apprentice, and we will do as you say.”
“Good. Then let’s get ready to go.” He takes the lute, and wraps it in a leather case which he pulls from amongst his gear, and settles it with his saddlebags awaiting final packing. “Let’s eat.”
The rising sun finds them already on the trail, working their way down the mountain. “The first thing you need to learn is wood.”
“Wood, what has that to do with magic and music?”
“For us--everything. To make real magic and real music you need a real instrument, like I was telling you last night, and you need to learn how to make such an instrument. To do so, you have to understand wood. You cannot make an instrument of power—such as we are seeking—with just any wood. Each wood has its own resonance, its own characteristics, and its own life. And not every wood will work for every musician. The two must be paired. The wood that I might choose may not be the wood that would be the best for you, or for someone else. Some woods are just of no use for this purpose. Yellow pine, for example, does not lend itself well to making either music or magic. Some woods lend too harsh a sound to the music, and so are not sought after for that reason, woods like iron wood. Other woods are too soft spoken for an instrument of power, woods like willow or ash. So we must find which wood is best suited for you, and then we can begin.”
“For now, as we ride, I will begin to teach you a few of the words of power that will enable you to make magic. You can use these words without your lute, but they will never have the same power without it, and your spells will not last as long. Now, each word is a combination of tone, inflection, and pronunciation. Try to get by without any one of these, and the spell simply won’t work. This is why we sing our spells. They come out like a song, and we remember them in the same way. I will also teach you many nonsense words that you will encircle about these words of power. They will not interfere with the magic, as your mind will direct what you intend, but they will keep others from attempting to use these words for their own purpose. Remember that you must intend to create magic for magic to happen. You could say these words till the sun stopped shining, and no magic would happen if you do not focus properly on what you want to have happen.”
“There is a third element to this as well and sometimes even a fourth. Some spells can simply be sung properly, and with the proper intent, and the magic will occur. Other spells, more powerful spells, require a gesture made at the proper time in the incantation, and still more powerful spells often require an ingredient, or several, along with a gesture, to complete the spell action. All of this you will learn, and more.”
“You admired the mending spell that you first saw me use. I think that that is a good place for us to begin. I will sing the word, and then you will echo it.”
The rest of the day, and most of the next was taken up with the learning of these words of power. By the end of the second day, as they sat around the fire, Anthos was able to have his first successful spell. He had been concentrating over a frayed harness, and attempting the mending spell, when suddenly the harness leather began to glow, and the leather became as new.
“I did it! I mended the harness! I MADE MAGIC!”
Sims laughed from where he was seated against an aspen tree. “Don’t sound so surprised Anthos. I wouldn’t have chosen you if I hadn’t seen your potential. That particular spell took me a week to master, and it was also my first. You have the ability boy. You’ll do fine. Now try it again. Until you can do it five to six times in a row without it failing, you’ll need to keep working on it.”
The next morning, as they are sitting together over the last of breakfast, Sims gives a huge sigh. “We should be home today, probably in time for lunch. Then we can really get started on your education.”
“Will we start making my lute right away?”
“Yes. We’ll do that and other things. You’ll see.”
As they ride along, Anthos murmurs under his breath the words he has learned, careful not to think of making magic that he does not intend, but trying to imprint the words in his mind. He’s always had a knack for memorizing, and could usually repeat a song on just one repetition, but these words seem to have a slippery feel about them, that make them hard to remember. Sims had told him that he would only be able to perform a certain amount of magic each day, less at the start, and more as he became accustomed to the use of the words of power. “Think of this as like lifting weights. As a child, you can only lift a small amount, but as you grow, and continue to work and lift, you can lift greater and greater weights. Making magic is similar. You have to build up your ‘magical muscles’, get them used to the work, before you can do greater magic. More complex spells require even more magical ability, and are harder to cast. To sing a great spell, with ingredients and gestures, requires great concentration and ability. I could tell you the words to use, the motions to make, and the ingredients necessary, and you could not perform the magic today. You need to work up to that ability. Either nothing would happen, or you might end up causing yourself an injury. It’s unpredictable, but the magic still probably wouldn’t happen. You will get there though, of that I have no doubt.”
When Sims’ home came into view, Anthos was a little surprised. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but this wasn’t it. There was an outbuilding that looked like a barn, but the main living space was a cave. Sims had built a wall, window, and door right across the opening into a huge cavern. The window had shutters inside, that when closed, made a formidable defense for the home. A small corral and a lean-to had been constructed nearby for the stock.
“I came across this area one time during my travels, and saw the potential right away. There is an underground spring in the cavern for water, and even room to bring the animals in if needed. I’ve had some dwarven friends of mine explore for me, and they could find no other access other than along the front of these cliffs. I had them build me an escape hole out the back, but it is well hidden and locked from the inside, and I’ve never had to use it. I have stocked it over the years with enough food to last me several weeks, and it’s really quite a pleasant place to live. Let’s take care of the animals, and go see the inside.”
They stripped the saddles and blankets from their respective mounts, made sure their friends had hay, oats, and clean water, and then proceeded to the front door. “My lock to keep out the curious is another word of power, this one is for moving things, and I use it to lift the two bars from the inside of the door.” His voice rose in the curious singsong that Anthos had come to recognize as magic, and then with a push, the door opened before them.
The inside was just as amazing as the outside. Anthos was not sure they had not somehow been transported to another location. The inside no longer resembled a cave in any description. The rough logs of the exterior wall had been planed down and polished, the caulking between them seamless, and almost undistinguishable from the wood. The dirt from the cave mouth outside, here inside gave way to smooth stone, worked and polished to look almost like marble from some mansion. The stone wall of the cave had also been worked, with shelves and niches cut in here and there for convenience. The stalagmite and stalactite columns had been carved as statuary, and candelabra. Anthos had not seen a finer, more beautiful room in all his travels. The furniture placed around the room was solid oak, with pillows and blankets draped for convenience. Further in, the young bard saw an intricately carved table with several chairs around. In a side chamber Anthos sees a wood burning kitchen stove, and tables for preparing meals.
Seeing the direction Anthos is looking, Sims explains further. “The smoke from my fire is channeled out through several openings in the cliff face, and through the branches of a tall cottonwood, and in winter, the heat from that stove alone keeps the inside here quite comfortable. As you can see my dwarf friends did a little more than just explore for me. They were well paid for their work, and their silence. All this didn’t happen overnight, of course. You should have seen what it looked like when I first came here. I’m sure I un-homed several animals when I walled up the front. Over the years, however, I have added to it little by little. I don’t often have guests, but I do have a comfortable room set aside for when I do. That will be your room. It is just down this side passage to the left. My room is down the other side on the right. Why don’t you settle in, and I’ll see what the mice have left us in the way of fresh food.”
Anthos moved down the passage indicated to find a very comfortable room. A large four posted bed stands near the far wall, and there are shelves cut into the wall here too, along with an open empty trunk. He suddenly realizes that he can see in this underground chamber, yet he has lit no torch or lantern. He looks for the source of light, and discovers that several of the candelabra-like carved stones are glowing with a soft yellow light. He can also see that there is a shutter device over each area of light that can be closed for sleeping. More evidence of the magic of his new mentor and the skill of the dwarven craftsmen who helped him to build this place.
Anthos stored his clothing and gear, and returned to the dining area, just as Sims comes from the kitchen carrying a tray of dried fruit, bread, and cheese, and a large jug of some drink. Now that they are actually in his home, all of the urgency Sims had displayed on the mountain seems to have fallen away. They sit casually at the table in a comfortable silence, eating cheese and bread, and drinking from the jug of cold water.
“I find myself tired after our journey, as I have no right to be. Tomorrow will be soon enough to begin on your lute. Take the rest of the day to explore our home, and the surrounding forest, and we will begin in earnest in the morning. If you get hungry, the larder is just through the kitchen, as is the access to the spring. I believe I will turn in early, but never fear tomorrow will be action as normal.” With a smile and a wave of his hand he walks slowly down the passage to his room, shutting the door there with a soft click of sound.