Owen rode through the gate amid a mass of people. He felt exposed as the soldiers in silver and red livery watched him and the large number of refugees from the south entered the city of Lengbridge, looking for protection from the ‘outlaw horde’ that sought to destroy them. Owen heard the murmurs, and they made him angry. But his mission was not to spread unrest. He had one quest.
The stirring crowd of people made him uncomfortable as he was swept with the flow of the crowd into the city. He glanced back; making sure Ewan was still nearby. The old man seemed more comfortable in the large tight crowd than he was, and he cut through the crowd, seeming to have a destination in mind.
Owen followed, pushing people out of the way and knocking a few down in his attempt to keep up with Ewan. Finally Owen caught up, and they pushed their way through the city. Around the outer edge, just inside the massive stone walls, were rows of barracks, stables, and smithies. This part of the city was extremely busy. Owen pushed through as quickly as he could, but as he glanced across the gathering army, he was suddenly filled with anger. He ducked, flipping up his hood.
There was a buzz of anticipation and activity in the city. Ewan led Owen through the streets, away from the center, to a small tavern on the northern side of the city. They gave the horses to an attendant, who led them to the stable, and then went inside. Inside were a number of men, talking in the dim light of the room. Ewan walked to the counter, knocking quietly four times on the table to get the attention of the landlord.
The landlord was a thin man who was surprisingly clean for his surroundings. He quickly turned at the sound of the knocks, and walked over to the counter.
“Ewan!” he said in surprise, lowering his voice. “Never thought I’d see you again after all these years.” He glanced around the bar. “What do you need?”
“At the moment a room to rest, and then a quiet place to talk.”
The thin man looked at Owen. “And who…?”
“Owen.” He said cautiously.
The landlord’s jaw dropped in surprise. “The…”
Ewan nodded tersely, and then pressed a finger to his lips. Owen’s eyebrows narrowed. Once again there was something here he was missing. The landlord turned to Owen, smiling pleasantly.
“Good to meet you, Owen. The name’s Belthas.” He turned and began walking toward a set of stairs. “Right this way.”
Ewan and Owen followed him up the stairs, down a hall, and into a room. It was sparsely furnished with a lamp, chair, cot, and bed, but it would serve. Ewan sat down heavily on the bed, and Owen laid his pack and weapons on the cot, leaving only his dagger and hatchet at his side. He sat down, and Belthas sat down on the chair.
“What do you need, friend?”
Ewan leaned back, drawing out his pipe and beginning to fill it. “We are in search of someone…” He looked at Owen. “You may have heard tell of the battle on the plain south of Moran?”
Belthas nodded. “Some word has come through the lines. I’m a tavern keeper, I hear all the gossip.”
Ewan lit his pipe, sticking it in the corner of his mouth. “Then have you heard tell that the empire has enlisted the barbarians of the mountains to their cause?”
Belthas frowned. “Aye, I had heard rumor, though to what extent they were true I have not known.”
Owen sat quietly, listening for any bit of information he did not yet know. Ewan frowned. “Some of those reports may be true. They were a large part of the battle on the plains. They broke all the way through our defenses and captured a number of the rebellion from amidst the camp.”
Belthas nodded slowly. “You are in pursuit of them, then?”
Ewan puffed away at his pipe. “Aye. We are in pursuit of them. Do you know any reports of where the prisoners might have been taken?”
Belthas shook his head. “I know of only a few people who would know the details of all the workings, and they are on the other side.” He paused, glancing at Owen.
Ewan nodded. “Indeed. This may be the moment I have waited for.”
Belthas looked at Owen again. “You mean…?”
“Aye.” Ewan looked at Owen. “I think I could use a good mug of ale, Owen. Would you go fetch some for me?” he threw him a few coins. “Get something for yourself too, lad.” He winked.
Owen nodded, concealing the feeling of irritation that came up inside. Conveniently getting me out of the way… He walked out the door and down the hallway, then down the stairs. I would listen… but if they caught me Ewan would be furious. He decided to do just as the old man had asked, heading to the bar. The young barmaid smiled sweetly. “What can I get for you, sir?”
Owen smirked a bit at being called sir, but leaned on the counter absentmindedly. “Could I have two small mugs of ale and…” he thought for a moment, then something caught his eye. “And that chicken.” He pointed at a small chicken turning over a fire.
The barmaid batted her eyelashes at him distractingly. “Of course!” He stared off into space, trying to ignore her. He leaned on the counter as she walked off to get him his order. When she returned with the ale and the chicken on a metal plate, he paid her and then walked off up the stairs. He heard a giggle as he walked away, and shook his head irritably.
He walked quietly down the hall until he reached the door, but paused as he heard Ewan’s voice, dim through the door.
“… so after all those years, I found him, as I knew I would. And I have watched him all this time, and he is ready.”
“Ready for this, Ewan?” Belthas voice sounded incredulous.
“Aye. He is a strong lad. I’m proud of him, though I won’t let him know that. He’s ready to take the…”
Owen pushed open the door. Ewan stopped, turning toward him, smiling. “Ah, and here he is!” He took his ale, and then leaned back once again, sipping it. Owen sat down on the cot, ripping off a piece of chicken and beginning to eat. He looked up to see Belthas standing.
“Well, I shall have your horses ready before dawn. Good luck.” He directed the final comment in Owen’s direction, and Owen once again felt left out, as if he had missed some massive piece of information. I should have listened. He sighed and bit of a piece of the chicken leg.
Belthas walked out the door. “Let me know if you need anything!” he said, and then closed the door behind him. Ewan turned to Owen.
“I am going out to take a walk. Do as you wish, just be back here before nightfall.”
Owen nodded, and began to eat his chicken. The old man walked out the door, and Owen was left alone. He found the silence enjoyable for a few moments but it was not long before he began to grow bored. He took his half eaten miniature chicken and his mug of ale and left the room, locking it behind him with the key left on the bed.
He walked down to the main room, and took a seat at a table by the fire, eating quietly and listening to the men talking around him. A few, he gathered, were soldiers scheduled to ride south within the week. The rest were workmen and craftsmen from around the city, except for a few quiet men in the corner who looked to have been travelling for some time. He looked down at himself, wondering if he looked as ragged as they did.
He ate every bit of the chicken, then put his feet up on a table and began to sip the ale. The barmaid came to his table, taking the plate. She smiled sweetly and giggled, but Owen ignored her, feeling awkward. She walked away, seeming a bit disappointed. He took a long drink, relaxing. After he finished, he went back up to the room, and lay down on his cot. It did not take long for him to doze off.
He woke to Ewan coming into the room and sitting on the bed. Owen sat up, shaking his head to wake up. Ewan smiled.
“So lad, we have been discussing how to find the information we need, and I believe I have found exactly who will know all we wish to discover.”
“He is a high ranking soldier, but I knew him once, and he owes me a debt. I would not doubt he remembers me, but I am too old to go into the main barracks stealthily. So you must if you wish to find your friend.”
Owen sat thoughtfully.
“He may resist you, but if you take him unawares before he awakes in the morning, you are strong enough to overpower him. You must get the information from him and escape without being found by the guard. It will not be easy, but I have seen you at work. You are up to the challenge.”
Owen was not sure whether to be flattered or worried. He chewed slowly on a bone, thoughtful.
“It is likely you will need to make an escape quickly. I will wait to the north of the city, in a rocky area where I can stay hidden. Find me, and we will ride.”
Owen nodded, steeling himself. “Where do I find this man?”
“He will be in the barracks in the center of the city. He will almost certainly be the only man with his own private quarters.” He brought out a piece of parchment with a rough map drawn on it. It looked as if he had just drawn it out. He pointed to it. “Here we are. The barracks is just south,” he moved his finger. “Here. You will need to climb this wall, and then it’s just in this door and down to the quarters… here.”
He pointed to the position on the small map. “Tomorrow, as soon as you have the information you need, I will be waiting outside the city with the horses, here.” He pointed at a marking outside the city. Owen nodded and took the small piece of parchment, tucking it into his pouch. He lay down.
“If I must rise early enough to surprise this… contact… then I need sleep.”
Ewan nodded. “I as well will get some rest.”
Owen closed his eyes. His mind was full of thoughts, and he did not fall asleep for some time. When he finally drifted off, his sleep was dreamless.