Read the Prologue here...
The Inn, Dimholt's Keep...
Herron was a fairly untroublesome child, as four-year-olds went, but that didn’t mean that raising him while trying to run an Wayhouse alone was an easy task.
True to Vaneria’s prediction, not many people actively sought out the Manor in the Woods, recently named Dimholt’s Keep for the sake of asking directions, to stay. An old Adventurer, who ran a brisk trade in weapons and trinkets when he wasn’t picking fights with the Undead, the occasional supplier who needed somewhere safe to process an unusual regenent before taking it to this or that Alchemist or Potioneer... None of them stayed for long.
At least, not at first.
In the first year, their only visitors were the Nature elves who helped Vaneria get the grounds capable of supporting living things (and set up a small commune nearby when they realized how few people were willing to come near the Manor, making it a perfect location for those who didn’t want to be bothered by every passing traveller) and a few bored Adventurers daring each other to stay overnight in a ‘haunted house’.
It probably said a few things about Vaneria that she didn’t bother to disabuse them of their belief that her ‘young woman with a toddler’ appearance was not actually an illusion cast by an evil witch to ensnare the unwary. If it became a problem and adventurers saw her as an Evil to be defeated, she could reveal the truth. In the meantime, it kept the number of annoying visitors down nicely, and animated skeletons didn’t need to be paid to do the simpler cleaning.
Part of the Wayhouse’s popularity may have been the side-trade in useful Quest items, even after the Old Adventurer failed to return. There was certainly no shortage of trinkets to choose from; cash-strapped adventurers who wanted to barter with whatever adventure-worthy item was in their pack, or drunk enough to drop something that Vaneria re-discovered lying around the taproom after everyone had gone home or to bed. Vaneria would return the item if someone came looking for it, but she wasn’t about to spend half a day chasing down every traveller who had been in the Inn just to ask if they had dropped something.
“If they were old enough to go on adventures, then they were old enough to take responsibility for their own belongings", was an oft-repeated phrase when Herron asked why.
(Frankly, a lot of the young Adventurers didn’t seem old enough for either, but Vaneria couldn’t play mother to every child in the world...)
If a week passed with no response, Vaneria sold the item on, and cursed the stereotype that Innkeepers always had the newest and most interesting gear.
On the other bright side, Vaneria wasn’t the only one looking for a bit of peace and quiet, away from the constant Quests and would-be Adventurers. People willing to put up with a gloomy atmosphere slowly trickled in, until the Manor Wayhouse was an Inn, with a small village slowly springing up around it.
Speaking of new people... “Good morning, young Maia.”
A little girl poked her head around the door, checking for patrons before she came in. The daughter of the Necromancess - names were dangerous in that line of work, and Vaneria had no objections to a psuedonym - she and Herron were of an age, and had naturally gravitated together as friends and playmates, when Necromancess decided that two single mothers were better than one, and agreed to settle down in the same general vicinity as Vaneria.
Vaneria wouldn’t have minded settling down together, either, but that phrasing always gave people odd and inaccurate ideas.
Vaneria had heard the rustle of pages from Maia’s latest book, and the crunch of the gravel that warned her of impending custom well before the child had reached the door, but there was no need to tell her that. Maia’s intense scowl as she tried to figure out Vaneria’s mysterious ability to anticipate visitors was far too entertaining. Maia put the puzzle aside for another day, looking around. “Is Herron here?”
Vaneria indicated the living area behind the bar. “Getting a headstart on his lessons for the day. Go ahead, I’ll be there shortly.”
Mina skipped happily to join her friend, and Vaneria shook her head. If that girl wound up as anything other than a Lorekeeper, she would be very surprised.
Vaneria’s good mood vanished abruptly at the sound of heavier feet on gravel, and the additional shuffle of a staff. Then a second set of footsteps, weighed down by armor. One of those alone could be coincidence, both together suggested someone from the Prophecy Archives, and an enforcer. Vaneria braced herself, casually reaching behind the bar.
The door opened, and an old man carrying a staff that reeked of magic stepped in, followed by a dour-man clad in protective armor. Sometimes, Vaneria hated being right. “What do you want?”
The old man offered her a grandfatherly smile. “Vaneria, I presume? I come to offer my aid.”
Vaneria scowled at him. “Not much of an offer, if you come with an enforcer.”
Enforcers were Warriors employed by the Prophecy Archives, for cases when the subjects of a prophecy were less than enthusiastic about playing their part. Vaneria had been building A Reputation among them for well over a decade now; namely a reputation for being particularly difficult to deal with. (She had a smaller, but quickly-growing reputation among the bards, as an inspiration for cheeky and comedic songs about the haughty being brought low)
The enforcer stepped forward. “Vaneria, by order of the Archives, you are to be remanded to the Halls of Prophecy, and-”
He was cut off by a loud ‘clang’ as a cast-iron skillet collided with his helm. Iron was excellent at nullifying magic, such as the protective enchantments on his armor. The enforcer fell with an even louder ‘clang’, and the wizard scrambled to level his staff at her. “Now, young lady, if you and your ward will just - oof!”
A marble rolling pin connected with his middle, fracturing the wood of the staff along the way. Vaneria pointed to the door. “Out, and take him with you. I won’t ask again.”
The Wizard sulked out the door, the enforcer levitating behind him, and Vaneria sighed, picking up her cooking implements. Perhaps it was time to look into hiring security.
Business at the Inn had grown enough for Vaneria to hire a cook and a serving maid, and even earned a few favours in the process. The cook was a former assassin who'd taken a job where the target had been a lot more important than the one who commissioned them claimed, and the assassin needed somewhere to avoid the small army searching for him. The serving maid’s mother had decided that the girl needed some useful occupation before she started getting Ideas about taking the next Wizard or handsome woodcutter’s son who wandered through up on his offer of a Quest.
The village had also grown enough to have a fairly steady number of patrons socialising after the day’s work, as the population wasn’t quite large enough for an actual town hall. The downside was that it kept Vaneria very busy, and Herron had reached the age of wandering and being curious about visitors. Vaneria looked up sharply at the sound of a trio of five-year-old children trying to sneak out. Wiping her hands on a towel, she followed them, standing in the doorway. Herron darted back toward her. “Mama, there’s a man who says he knew my parents! He says he wants to take me to my family.”
The by-now-familiar old man, apparently hard of hearing, if Vaneria’s repeated “No, never and absolutely not”s had yet to sink in, looked like a deer in the light of a galloping carriage, and grabbed Herron before the boy could run back to Vaneria, holding him up like a shield.
Vaneria reached for her pouch, and the fist-sized ball of granite inside. It would work to knock him out in a pinch... the point was rendered moot when a dragon dropped through the canopy, the backwash from his wings knocking the Wizard over. Herron wriggled free and ran to hide behind his mother’s blue robes. The Wizard beat a hasty retreat.
Vaneria ushered Herron back inside, Mina and the newest addition to their little gang, Vili, following him.
Read the next chapter here...
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