The man walking along the forest path had his dark cloak pulled tight around neck with his hood pulled over his head. He had been walking this path for several days now and the snow was just beginning to let up. The path was getting broader and more heavily traveled the closer he got to Rockport. He passed several men on horseback, some going to and some leaving the city. Most had passed without noticing him. He stayed to the side of the trail and blended into the shadows. He topped a hill just at the edge of the pine forest and got his first look at the city some called the ‘City at the End of the World’. The city wall was half a mile away and fresh snow caused it to sparkle as the sun broke through the clouds. As he knelt down on one knee to take in the view, a hawk appeared over the trees. It circled and landed softly on his shoulder.
“Well, Rep, ol’ buddy,” he said, as he shared a small piece of dried venison, “It looks like we will be leaving the forest for a while.” The hawk shook his piece of meat, tossed it up, grabbed it and gulped it down. He adjusted his grip and turned his head to the side as he closely watched the man eat the other piece. The leather armor under the cloak kept the raptor’s sharp talons from sinking into his skin. The hawk had been his companion for several months now. One day he just showed up. Trevan named him Rep and they had been together ever since.
It had been five years since he left his cabin. Trevan had grown a lot during this time. He was six inches taller and forty pounds heaver. He had become a hansom young man, a masterful woodsman, excellent tracker, talented hunter and skillful fighter. He had grown to love the forest and understand its creatures. He had fought owlbears, displacer beasts, ogers, orcs and other forest monsters. He was even learning to harness the magic of nature to talk to animals and walk without leaving any trace. Like his father before him, he had become what many call a ranger.
About four weeks ago, in a little village named Comesh, he had met a man who told him of an expedition that was being organized in Rockport. They were going on a great dragon hunt. A dragon that had been quiet for centuries was again causing trouble. From the description that the stranger had given him, Trevan was convinced that it was Abraxas. It took him a while to get here but he was determined to join them. He was hoping that he would not be too late, that they would wait until after the last snowfall before starting. It was early spring now, this snow should be the last and his destination was in sight.
He had been to many cities and towns but had never seen one this big. He could see where the path joined a major road just before it came to a stone bridge over a river. The Blood River it was called because of the color of the water. The road went straight to a large entrance gate in the wall. The wall was made of dark stone and was about 15 feet tall. Looking down on it from the hill, he could see that it was about ten feet thick with a walkway on the top. He could see armored guards milling around at the gate and on the wall. Watchtowers were placed along the wall. These rose ten feet above the wall and were pierced with arrow slits. The top of each watchtower had a huge ballista. These looked very much like Trevan’s crossbows, but were huge weapons fixed to the floor in a way that permitted them to swivel. They were tended by two or three armored guards each. These guards on the towers were all watching the sky, as if a dragon might appear at any moment. Beyond the wall he could see the snow covered roofs of countless buildings and smoke rising from a hundred chimneys. He could see the streets that sliced the city into many irregular pieces. There were towers, like the ones on the walls, at many locations within the city, and they all had ballista mounted on their roofs. These towers were close enough to each other that if a dragon were to land on one, it could be shot by at least two others. Beyond the city he could see water extending to the horizon. This was the Great Inland Sea. It extended back to his left as far as he could see. To his right, where the city wall curved back to the sea, there was another entrance gate and a road that went up to a gap in the mountains. These were called the Black Mountains and somewhere within them was Abraxas.
Trevan walked down to the road. Just before he crossed the bridge Rep flew up, circled twice and headed back towards the forest. Rep often flew away for days at a time, but always managed to find Trevan wherever he might be.
There was very little traffic in and out of the city at the moment. Rockport was an open city. Anyone who behaved himself was permitted entrance. The heavy wooden gate stood open. The guards at the gate appeared to be bored and only gave Trevan a passing glance as he passed through the gate and under the portcullis. This was made from heavy iron bars, and was currently in its raised position. There was an identical raised portcullis at the inner side of the wall. Between them, in the ceiling above, were murder holes. Any unfortunate invader that managed to get caught between the portcullises could expect to get a boiling oil bath. Outside the gateway was a large open courtyard with streets going off in several directions. The courtyard and most of the streets were paved with cobblestones. There were several merchants with their carts parked haphazardly about. Most were just trying to stay warm. They had very few customers. All of the buildings surrounding the courtyard were two stories tall and made of stone, the same black stone as the city wall. Against the wall to the right was a stable and a blacksmith. He could see a couple of inns, a furrier and candlestick maker shop. Most of the shops had a wooden sign suspended above the door proclaiming with a drawing and sometimes in words the name of the establishment. Most of these signs could not be read because they were still wearing a coat of snow. As the sun was growing warmer, many of the shops shutters were beginning to open. Most of the tracks in the snow led to the door of the largest inn facing the courtyard. This seamed a good spot to inquire about the dragon hunt. He went in, dusted the snow from his cloak and lowered his hood.
The door opened into a large room filled with tables. There was a wooden stairway at the far side of the room that went up to a balcony that wrapped around the room. Under the balcony and all along the wall to the right was a bar. In the far left corner was a large fireplace. There were several wooden tables and benches. The place was filled with patrons. Most were sitting at the tables in small groups of two or four. Some were eating, many were drinking. There was a group of five dwarves sitting around the fireplace. They had obviously been there for a while, drinking and being loud. It was much darker in here than it had been outside. The shutters were still closed against the weather. The only light came from the fireplace and three oil lamp chandeliers that were suspended by ropes from the high ceiling. A young dark haired woman carrying a tray filed with drinks was moving between the tables. There were several men standing at the bar, each with a drink on the bar or in his hand. On the other side of the bar was a seven foot tall half-orc engaged in some kind of contest with a man at the far end involving a dagger and stabbing the top of the bar between their fingers. Trevan walked up to an empty space along the bar and waited.
Behind the bar, between shelves of bottles, was a large painting. It was a view from the water of what must have been Rockport with the mountains rising behind it. The city was in flames as a huge red dragon was breathing fire down on the ships at sea. The half-orc noticed Trevan and walked over. He had small tuffs of stiff red hair at random spots all over his body except for his hairless head. His nose was definitely pig-like in appearance and he had a pair of 3 inch tusks protruding from his lower lip. His muscular arms were bare and were covered with many old scars. Trevan jumped when the half-orc slammed his ham-sized fist down on the bar in front of him and snarled loudly, “What?”
The inn became silent for a few seconds before everyone returned to their plates and their conversations. Trevan replied, “I’ve just arrived in town. I am here to join in the dragon hunt if it hasn’t left yet. Do you know anything about it?”
“Food, drink or room?” the half-orc said with a stare.
The barmaid hurried over, placed her tray on the bar and said to the half-orc, “I’ll handle this, Buxter.” The half-orc turned with a grunt and returned to the other end of the bar. “He’s not much of a talker,” she said. “My name is Heather. I heard you asking about the dragon hunt. You may be too late I’m afraid. I heard that Sir Gleamheart finished signing up everyone yesterday. They will be leaving in a couple of days.” She was thin, about 5’-7” and had silver-grey eyes. She looked up at Trevan and gave him her friendliest smile.
Trevan asked, “Who is Sir Gleamheart?”
“You have never heard of Sir Gleamheart? I thought everyone knew him. It seams like I’ve been listening to stories about him all my life. He is a paladin of Heironeous, the god of valor. He’s leading the expedition.” Heather continued, “The church of Heironeous is funding it. They say that this entire hunt was the church’s idea. They say Sir Gleamheart told some cleric that he was planning to take a small party into the mountains to find and kill the dragon. He has been causing a lot trouble you know. And the church convinced him to take a large party to be sure of success but I think it was to be sure he returned with Abraxas’s hoard.”
At the dragon’s name, Trevan interrupted her and said, “So it is Abraxas!”
“Yea, that’s the one all right. You’re lucky you aren’t going,” said Heather. “That’s him there,” she said as she pointed to the painting. “Everyone in the expedition will probably be killed.”
Looking at the painting Trevan asked, “What city is that?”
“That is Rockport. They say that Abraxas has burned it to the ground three times. This is a picture of the last time. It was about 50 years ago. He can’t burn it again. All of our buildings are fire proof now. They are all made of stone with clay or slate roofs. And we have the dragon towers.” Trevan looked like he didn’t know what she was talking about so she continued, “I’m sure you saw them. None of the buildings can be over two stories tall and the towers throughout the city are taller than that. If a dragon lands he will be killed by the ballista on the towers. But that hasn’t kept him from burning nearly every other town or village. He has been attacking everybody and everything he sees. He seems to be very upset about something. They say someone stole something from him. I hear a lot of stories here. I heard that it was magic gem called the Dragon’s Eye. No one knows what it does, but it must be very powerful for it to have upset him so much. No one has been able to use their magic to find it. The church has tried several times.”
“Where can I find Sir Gleamheart?”
“I just told you, they are all going to get themselves killed. If you insist on taking to them, they are using an old warehouse on the waterfront. It’s easy to find because they painted a huge symbol of Heironeous on the side. You know, a silver hand holding a silver lighting bolt. But it won’t do you any good to go there today. This is Sun’s Day, a holy day for them. They won’t talk business until tomorrow. Why don’t you get a room for the night, have a drink, a warm meal and get a good night’s sleep. That way you will be fresh for tomorrow.”
Trevan got the impression that she had made that same pitch to sell room, drink and food many times before. He pulled a gold coin from his money pouch and tossed it on the counter. “How much will this get?”
Heather smiled broadly as she quickly grabbed the coin. “This will get you our best room. Wait here just a minute.” She took the coin to the other end of the bar. She quickly returned after a brief conversation with Buxter. “I am afraid the only room we have available is a communal room with two beds and one of the beds is already rented. If you don’t mind sharing a room, I’ll vouch for him. He won’t be any problem. The good news is that you will get the room for two nights and that includes food and drink today and tomorrow,” she said with a smile.
Trevan replied, “Throw in a hot bath and you have a deal.”
She handed him a key and said, “It is the first room at the top of the stairs. When will you want your bath?”
He took the key and told her that he would take his bath right away, before eating. He went straight to his room. His roommate wasn’t there. The room was small and cold. The small window was shuttered. There were two small beds and a chest at the foot of each. They were both open and empty. There was a small table with a water picture and bowl. There was a single candle on the table. In a few minutes, a couple of elderly halflings carried a bathing tub half full of warm water into the room along with soap and towels. After cleaning up, Trevan left his backpack in one of the chests and left his weapons, except for one dagger, on the bed most distant from the window.
Not what I was hunting for but wonderful anyway! Well done!