1. Comes the Storm
The bitterly cold wind blew through the tiny hamlet. The people of Belach built their community on doing business in the pass that led away from the sea. On this darkening night, an ancient man rang an even more ancient bell from the lookout on top of the mountain. Its storm warning all traveler’s in the range of its voice told them to seek shelter.
The rain had not yet come, but the storm was coming and the inhabitants of the little community were either in their homes or seeking shelter at the local inn and pub where they could be served drinks and food. Outside the door of the pub the wind blew with a bitter chill, a shape stepped out of the deepening shadows.
Covered heat to foot in a dark gray cloak with the hood pulled down low against the blustering storm, it was impossible to see any details of this new arrival. Opening the door at the inn, a smell of flowers floated in on the air as the traveler entered, causing heads to turn, strangers were not unknown but this was not a normal night of travel.
The stranger’s face, obscured by the hood of the gray cloak, could not be seen. Only a small wisp of crimson hair had escaped and was visible as the traveler moved through the crowded bar.
The stranger passed by tables, conversations did not stop as the arrival of a new person on a night like this drew less interest than drink and the flames that danced on the logs in the fireplace.
The stranger walked up to the owner of the establishment and after a brief conversation, the innkeeper pointed the direction to the room at the end of the hall at the top of the stairs.
Nodding in response to the pointed finger, the crimson-haired stranger dropped a dozen gold coins in the inn keepers hand. More money than he had made in the last twelve months!
The bartender knelt and put the money in the strong-box he kept below the floorboards behind the counter, he had it already spent in his head in a dozen ways. New stables for horses, something called “indoor” plumbing, it made him smile.
Standing and as he turned to look to the source of the windfall, the giver of such bounty had already walked down the hall. He could not quite remember what all transpired, and indeed in another hour he would not even remember where the coins came from. Already the patrons of the pub had lost all memory of presence of a stranger in their midst.
Silently, the owner of the stray hair walked along the hall to the stairs that had been pointed out. The stone tile, polished from years of scrubbing, gleamed softly in the light of the oil lamps. The traveler stood at the foot of the stairs out of site of the others in the pub, a delicate hand pulled back the cowl releasing a flood of blood-red hair that flowed over the shoulders of this now obvious female. Glancing around as she reached out and took hold of the rail, when a sudden thrill of awareness, she knew he was somewhere nearby the sensation caused her to squeeze on the hardwood rail. Acutely aware of the sound of the wood cracking under the squeezing of her hand, she eased up the pressure and without a sound ascended the stairs.
She stepped through the door and looked around, the room had been carefully decorated with items from around the world, a large sleigh bed and its walls made from a local wood, well-kept and more than enough workmanship to keep out all severe storms that the building might endure.
The floor was of broken stone expertly puzzled together with few seams. The furnishings were not from the area, it was obvious that the innkeeper did some trading with those that passed through his doors. Not a surprise as this small community was at a crossroads for those coming over the mountains to trade at the port and those from the ships heading inland.
The green eyes of the woman reflected her soft smile, this was a beautiful place.