Kern sat down in the common room, staring into his ale. He wasnt sure what he had gotten himself into. Pazuza, and Priests of Dral, and Elves. Whatever was occurring, it was something big. Amelia had said as much. Besides, Kern had an instinct for this kind of thing. Many things had occurred in his life, all of which had seemed important at the time. He had lead a faction of the Alliance against the Death Queens army. He had foiled two assassination attempts on the Kings life. He had even helped The Starlords establish a foothold in the forsaken lands of Vancumar. But whatever was occurring now, whatever he was involved in, was more significant than any of those. A lot more significant. What had he got himself caught up in? Kern wished hed learnt more, before he made his oath. He had always been rash, especially when it came to women. He just hoped he joined the right side, whatever it was. He didnt believe Amelia capable of doing evil, but how much did he really know about her? Still, oaths were oaths, and he would take his own life before he broke one. He just hoped it wouldnt come to that. Kern had no fear of death, but neither was he in any hurry for it.
Kern watched the centre of the room, where a group of patrons were gathered around a table, playing a game of Reaangi. The group had become quite aggressive at times- Reaangi was never a gentle game- but thus far no fights had broken out. Kern hoped it would stay that way. Any other time, Kern would have joined in the game. He had always been quite good at the game, even if he said so himself, and could probably earn himself a small profit. But Amelia had told him to be discreet.
"Is this seat taken?" Kern looked up and met the eyes of a tall man with long blonde hair, and a blue cloak. A harp was strapped to his back, along with a flute case. A bard, more than likely. The man smiled at Kern.
Kern just shook his head, and gestured for the man to sit. There were plenty of other vacant seats, but this man obviously wanted company. Kern sighed inwardly. He wasnt in the mood for chat, and bards were notorious for their capacity to talk. The truth was, they never shut up. And they frequently spoke in riddles. Kern hated riddles.
The bard sat down, placing his harp and flute-case on the floor next to the chair. "Quite a rowdy bunch!" he said, gesturing to the games table.
"Very." Kern replied. Small talk. Any minute now, the man was going to introduce himself.
"Turins my name, friend. Perhaps youve heard of me?" Bards always were conceited about their fame. Sometimes with very little reason. Kern nodded slowly. The name was familiar. Where had he heard it before? Kern was a warrior, and cared little about the work of poets and ovates. Unlike his more romantic Brethren.
"Kern. Kern Aldrich." Kern said, introducing himself.
Turins face paled at that name, and he leaned back nervously. "Sir Kern? Of Angost?"
"Thats right. Youve heard of me?" Kern asked. He was curious, despite himself. His name was quite well-known, but it usually brought respect or awe. Kern had been the Kings Champion, once. But the bards response had been shock. Shock and fear.
The bard shuffled his feet nervously. "I.....I need to be going." Turin said meekly, standing up to leave. "Nice to meet you." Kern grabbed his arm, and forced him to set down again.
"Of course. Turin! Now I remember you!" Kerns smile was wicked. Turin had been the author of all those songs about him. The unpleasant ones. It had taken him months to surpress those slanderous poems. How many bards had he had to imprison, just to stop them spreading. At least twenty, he guessed. And all because Kern had refused to let him share his camp once. Hed never liked bards.
"My lord Aldritch. About those songs. It was my belief they were true. I truly meant no....." Turins words trailed off as he saw the look in Kerns eye. "Please dont kill me!" he said.
Kern laughed. "Kill you. There is no honour in killing a sniffling worm like you! It would be like killing a kitten!" Kern glared contemptuously at the bard. "An extremely worthless and troublesome kitten, mind!" No honour, but it would make him feel better. A lot better. Kern brushed that thought aside quickly. This was no place to start a fight. Besides, the Guild of Bards would have him hanged if he killed one of their own. And he was a sniffling worm. Probably couldnt even defend himself.
"My lord. If it pleases you, I will write new songs. Songs praising your valour. Songs describing your prowess. Songs befitting of the Kings Champion!"
Kern scowled at that. "Kings Champion! Then you would be singing of Sir Maul, as he is the Kings new champion!" Kern shook his head. Bards did talk too much. Hed wanted no one to know of his disgrace, and then he went and told the biggest mouth in the Realm. Well, that was the perfect end to a perfect week.
"So, the rumours are true!" Turin gaped. The glint in his eye suggested that everyone in the duchy would know just how true, by nightfall. A bard could lend credibility to even the most absurd rumours.
Kern just grunted. "Master bard, I grow weary of your banter. Leave me now, or I may change my mind about slaying you!"
Turin virtually jumped out of the seat, but covered it well with a flamboyant bow. "As you wish." he said, picking up his harp. Kern heard him mutter something under his breath, but all he could make out was uncultured oath and my pleasurable company. Kern looked side-long at his blade. Just a quick stab. A little pain. Maybe no one would notice. His thoughts were interrupted by the return of Amelia, arriving with an Elf The purple eye on his forehead marked him as another member of the Order of Dral. The blasted bard had distracted him so much he had not heard their approach. Very few people managed to sneak up on Kern. Blasted half-wit! Kern wasnt sure if that last thought was meant for the bard, or himself.
"I trust all is well, Kern?" she asked, eyeing the bard suspiciously. Kern opened his mouth to speak, but the bard got there first.
"Fair lady, me and your knight here are old friends. We were just discussing the past!"
Amelia looked at Kern. Kern just shrugged. No point in opening up old wounds. Amelia was probably the only person in Ardadain who had not heard the songs.
"In that case, good bard, take a seat. Good company is hard to find these days, and well welcome any news from abroad."
"I think Turin has other things to attend to!" Kern said, scowling.
"Nonsense, Kern!" Turin said, grinning at him. "Ive always time for my friends!"
"Then sit, good bard!" Amelia said.
Kern grumbled to himself, as Turin sat across from him. What was he playing at? Bloody worm. Turin just grinned at him. Kern wondered if he could behead the bard without Amelia noticing. That thought amused him, and he returned the grin. The bard frowned at that.
"Tell us, Turin," Amelia started, "What is new in the world?" Kern cringed. Obviously Amelia knew nothing about bards. Theyd be here all day. That was never the right question to ask a bard. Too general. Hed talk forever. Blasted bards.
"Alas, I have little to report, lady." Turin said, obviously disappointed with himself. Kern raised his eyebrows at that. A bard with nothing to report? Maybe the Gods were smiling on him after all. "I have done very little wandering, recently. I have spent the last few months in the Mir Valley. A very backward place, with little excitement. But it pays me well. Very few bards that far south, you see. Very few indeed." Mir Valley? Kern had never heard of the place. But the truth was a knight seldom got to visit such quiet rural places. A knights destiny lay wherever blood needed shedding.
Amelia leaned forward at the mention of the valley. "The Mir Valley you say?" she asked, a little excitedly. "Then have you perchance visited Doromir recently?"
"Yes. Many times in fact. Very nice folk in Doromir. Very generous." Turin replied
"Then you must know Morandor?" Amelia said. Kern wasnt sure where this conversation was going. Small talk was something you never engaged in with a bard, if you could help it. And Amelia hadnt seemed the type for it.
"Yes, fair lady. Morandor the wizard. Very powerful they say. Ive only met him once or twice, but he was always amicable. Very fond of his ale, if I recall right!" Turin laughed to himself.
"And his apprentice?" Amelias tone was dead serious, as was her face. Kern wondered briefly if she was mocking him.
Turin smiled at that. "Young Grendel? I have had that pleasure, yes. A very friendly young chap. My favourite customer, he is. I told him Id teach him the flute. The lad shows a great interest. And a lot of potential. Wasted on magic he is. He should be a bard. Hed be a good bard, except for his troubles."
Amelia stared at the Elf, and something passed between them. Kern wasnt sure what it was, but it seemed troubled. Maybe this Grendel had something to do with her message. "What kind of trouble, Master Turin?" the Elf asked.
Turin frowned. "Its not my business to say, sirs. I dont want to land the boy in hot water, nor do I want to spread rumours!" Turin avoided Kerns gaze, and ignored his laugh.
"Master Turin," Amelia said, heatedly, "I am a Seeress of Dral, and am on a very important mission. You are a Bard of Cymria. You know of our cause, and what it will mean if we fail. This boy is important to our quest and if you know something, I beseech you to tell me." she said. "I can make it an order!"
Turin sighed to himself, shaking his head. He glanced momentarily at Kern, then turned his gaze back to Amelia. He seemed to be wrestling with his conscience. After a few moments, he mumbled something to himself, then shrugged. "The lord has been accused of murder, Seeress!" he said. "Some innkeeper in Gothmarket was found slain, and Grendel is believed to have been responsible!"
Amelias eyes widened, and another look passed between her and the Elf. Kern shifted uneasily. What had he gotten himself involved in? Murderers, and wizards? The Gods were having a joke on him, thats what they were doing. Eleniel was laughing at him! Murderers. Kern couldnt break his oath. Maybe his own death was the only alternative.
"And do you believe these stories are true?" Amelia asked, suddenly tense.
"What is truth, Fair lady?" Turin asked. "Everyone believes themselves right, and their cause just and true. Even the Demons believe their way is the right one. Just because we believe them wrong, doesnt make it less true. Orcs believe they are right, but we slay them anyway."
Kern tightened the grip on his sword hilt. "Damn you Turin! No riddles! Answer the lady!" he scoulded. Blasted bards.
Turin swallowed nervously. "Myself, I believe them to be false." Turin answered. "Grendel seems a gentle boy, and incapable of such actions. He has a love of music, and no artist could ever be capable of such maliciousness!" Kern laughed again at that comment, but Turin ignored him. "But all rumours have a bit of truth, no matter how slight!" Turin finished, eyeing Kern pointedly.
Amelia looked at the Elf, her eyebrows raised. The Elf nodded in return. Some agreement had passed between them. Kern felt a little left out. If they were to be dealing with murderers- and bards- Kern had a right to be told. He hadnt sworn not to ask questions. But now was neither the time nor the place.
Amelia stood, and adjusted her cloak. "Master Turin, would you be so kind as to accompany us to The Temple?" she asked. Kern shook his head, but Amelia made a special point of ignoring him. Everyone seemed to be ignoring him today. Hed saved her life, hed done his job. Now he was just the hired muscle. He sighed to himself. He had once been one of the Kings chief consultants. How the Mighty had fallen.
"To what end?" Turin asked cautiously.
"His Eminence, High Priest Aradin, has a special interest in the boy. He would be very interested to hear what youve just told us. And any thing else you can tell him!"
Turin smiled, and then bowed. "Who am I to refuse a summons from the High Priest?" he said. Kern groaned. Everyone ignored him. "Very well, fair lady. I shall accompany you on your journey. The Temple is not far from Kingshead, if I remember right. Id like to stop there after the Temple. Im quite popular there, you know. They call me Turin the Charismatic. Charismatic. I like that!" Turins voice trailed off until he was talking to himself.
Amelia rolled her eyes, and the Elf grinned. "Very well, master Turin, it is agreed. We will leave tomorrow, at sunrise!"
Kern groaned even louder. He should have killed the bard when he had had the chance. Now Turin had grown from insignificantly annoying to annoyingly significant. Worse, he was now a travelling companion. Damn the oath. Kern wondered if he should kill himself now, to get it over with.