The Tavern Cursed
Part Three – The Goat and Shovel
A clatter of bowls and mugs were set down on the surface of the rough table the pair had taken seats at. Many cuts and scrapes marred the table. The pair had their swords on the table, kept close at hand. The food Bakanon served was typical of what was on offer, being comprised of coarse, dark bread, only a few days old, alongside a watery stew. It contained a mix of withered root vegetables brought out of storage, kept there for who knew how long, and a few strips of a hard, dried meat. The butcher who had sold it to Bakanon had sworn that it was beef, though he had doubts about that and had not tried it personally. The tall man took one look at the bowl set before him and gently pushed it aside, a pained look appearing on his face. The woman took to the bowl with gusto, in marked comparison to her companion, tearing off chunks of the bread to dip into the bowl to scoop up the stew with. Between mouthfuls of the food, she threw back great gulps of her ale, slamming the mug back down on the table.
“Adequate,” she announced. “The food is good though. Bring more.”
Her companion slowly sipped at the wine he had been given, swirling it about in his mouth as he tested the taste of it. “Bring the rest of the bottle,” he instructed Bakanon. “Your predecessor had remarkably good taste.”
Bakanon scurried away to comply, his mind churning over. Most of his customers drank cheap beer and ale, and little enough of it at that. This pair together, with their appetites and tastes, would no doubt earn him as much tonight as the rest of his customers combined, so keeping them happy was a must.
When he returned from the kitchens, with another bowl of stew and the rest of the bottle of wine, the woman was cleaning out her bowl with scraps of bread, having demolished its contents already.
“I am curious as to the sign out front, and of its meaning,” the man said as Bakanon laid out what he had brought with him.
“I am much afraid that I do not know of it, and nor did my predecessor,” Bakanon replied apologetically. “Even old timers have never been able to explain it.”
The man slowly nodded his head before shrugging his shoulders indolently. “A pity. It is a most curious one. How is this place called?”
Bakanon scratched at the back of his head. “Doesn’t rightly have a name as such,” he admitted. “Some call it the Goat and Shovel, for obvious reasons, as well as other names beside. I just call it Bakanon’s, after myself.”
The man nodded again, watching Bakanon through eyes lidded half shut. His companion continued to eat, not looking up, devouring the food with a ravenous hunger. “I am called Carse of the Red Blade, but to most am known simply as Blade. My voracious friend here is Fianna, or Peregrine if you prefer, that being the meaning of her name in the Aedring tongue I am led to believe.”
“You are both most welcome here,” said Bakanon exuberantly.
Blade slowly gazed about the interior of the tavern, taking in its dingy nature, and its few customers. “You seem to be somewhat lacking in clientele, friend Bakanon,” he pointed out.
Bakanaon sighed disconsolately and took a seat at the table with them. Absently he rubbed at a spillage with a much stained cloth he carried. “Sadly it is as you say. I had presumed when I took possession to the tavern that, given the locale, there would be a roaring trade, for there are potential customers aplenty, yet, alas, they seem to avoid my establishment. I work hard, yet no matter what I do or attempt, I seem to remain invisible, beating my head against a wall that lies raised between them and me. I am much afeared that there lies a curse upon this place.”
Blade’s long and languorous face quirked, in part, more awake, his eyes becoming alert and a look of interest showing. “A curse you say?”
Bakanon admonished himself silently for having allowed the word to slip out. He had paying customers before him, and talks of curses would only dissuade them from staying, or, more importantly, returning. “Do not mind my mindless blathering.” He quickly said. “There is nothing to it, I am sure.”
Blade waved aside the objections with a languid flourish of his long fingered hand. “Perhaps I can be of some assistance. I have some small understanding of the workings of the Mysteries, and an experience of curses, at least enough to ascertain the validity of your theory.”
Bakanon sat up straight, brightening at the prospect. “It can not hurt to know at the least,” he admitted, “And I would very much be in your debt.”
Peregrine looked up from her bowl of stew, reacting for the first time to Bakanon’s presence, eyes narrowing with a cagey uncertainty. “You had best know what you are doing,” she said. “Cruses are not to be meddled with.”
“I am not totally ignorant of the processes or theory,” Blade assured her. “It would be best, however, that there were no others about while I attempting this. It does take some concentration and, as my companion pointed out, it never hurts to be too careful. We do not wish for any to blame you for any accident that may occur, as unlikely as that is.”
Bakanon dashed to his feet, clapping his hands together to gather the attention of the other patrons present. “Closing time,” he boomed. “Come back tomorrow.” Bleary eyed men muttered barely coherent objections and protestations as they stumbled to their feet and staggered unsteadily towards the door. A couple needed assistance to make it to the door, where they were then unceremoniously dumped. Once the last had left, Bakanon shut the door behind them and barred it so that none could get in.
“It would be best to stand aside,” Blade warned, looking about the tavern’s interior. “And make no sound,” he added. “A distraction could have dire consequences.”
Peregrine jumped up to take a seat on the crude bar, comprised of little more than some heavy planking that had been nailed down to some barrels. She drew her sword and sat the naked blade across her lap, watching her companion at work. Bakanon scurried his hefty frame to stand behind the bar, out of the way.
Blade began to work, clearing a space at the centre of the room, dragging benches and tables aside and sweeping away the rushes on the floor. Bakanon licked his lips nervously, twisting his tattered cleaning cloth in his hands. Second thoughts as to the sensibility of taking up the offer began to plague his mind.
“He does know what he is doing?” he asked of Peregrine in a whisper.
“I have known him but a week,” Peregrine responded, “So I can not judge that. If you were to ask me, this dabbling in curses and magic is best left not done. Better a sturdy blade in hand, and foes of flesh and blood to cleave, than meddling in things not meant for man.”
Her words hardly inspired a sense of confidence in Bakanon. Grabbing a mug, he poured himself a drink to try and settle nerves already stretched tighter than a bowstring.
When at last Blade had finished clearing a space to his satisfaction, he took from his belt a small pouch. Fingers dipped in, removing not coins, as Bakanon expected, but a small amount of powdered dust. This he began to slowly sprinkle upon the floor, tracing out some form of twisting, eldritch pattern. More dust followed, elaborating upon the designs started, and as the pattern grew in size and complexity, it resulting in an eye watering effect, twisting vision around it of any who gazed too long upon it. The air and floor appeared to warp and waver, stretched taunt by forces unseen. Peregrine grunted at it, her fingers curling around the hilt of her sword, as clearly unnerved by the effect as Bakanon. He took a long swig of his drink, trying to avoid looking towards it, yet even out of the corner of his eye it drew the eye into it.
Finally Blade finished the long and delicate procedure to his satisfaction and he sat back and studied his work. A touch of sweat beaded across his brow, while his face had come fully awake, all sense of indolence now a memory. “I do hope I have the right of this,” he stated.
Bakanon gulped hurriedly. “You have not done this before?”
Blade smiled lazily and waved a long hand in a dismissive gesture. “I have seen it done, and am certain that I have followed the steps correctly. There is only one way to test the theory.” From his side, he drew his rapier, the silvered blade whispering from its scabbard. “A precaution,” he smiled. “One can not be too careful.”
He took a deep breath, held it for a moment, and then slowly exhaled. What came forth was not merely breath, but a trilling song as well, rising up into the air, a sweet sound that rung like gentle chimes, and whispered among the heavy wooden beams that supported the roof. For Bakanon, it was if the dingy air of the tavern lightened and the scent that pervaded the place became less pungent. As the song continued to ripple outwards, Bakanon felt his concerns begin to ease and his step lighten.
The dust on the floor began to shift about, as if stirred by a wind that touched it alone. From it a glow emerged, a pale sapphire light, edged with hints of emerald, flowing along the patterns trace upon the ground. It rose upwards like curtains that shimmered and swayed, rippling towards the roof and bathing the tavern in its soft glow.
Blade ceased his tune and stood for a while, still and silent, merely observing the results of his endeavours and considering them. “Almost there,” he announced.
Once more he began to issue forth a tune, yet one at variance with his previous one, for this held a lower tone, and slower, tinged with a sombre refrain. The shimmering glow reacted to it and flared brighter yet. From the glow emerged tendrils of light, weaving outwards, probing at the air. Some latched onto furnishing and beams, crawling sightless across them. One squeezed beneath the door that led to the kitchens, while another came gliding across the floor towards where Bakanon cowered behind the bar. It paused before him then rose up like a hooded cobra, swaying back and forward. Though it possessed no tongue, Bakanon had the sense that it scented at the air. He made to brush it aside with his hands but they passed through it as if it was nothing more than cold, intangible smoke.
Then one of the questing tendrils that had latched onto a beam that supported the roof began to pulse dark, the sapphire of its hues dimming through indigo, and deeper yet, through intense amethyst so dark that it became almost black. The pulses rippled back through the tendril and into the lights of the patterns, corrupting them in turn so that the glow began to draw light into it rather than giving it out, plunging the whole of the tavern into a stygian gloom.
“Is it meant to do that?” Peregrine asked. She jumped down from the bar lightly, her sword in hand. Her posture had changed too, now one of wary readiness, uncertain as to the form of the danger, but prepared to meet it with the fierce, unyielding resolve of her Aedring heritage. Her motions were fluid as she moved about, those of some great stalking cat on the hunt.
“No, I do not think so,” Blade replied. Not only did the worry permeate his voice, but his face likewise reflected it, a deep frown cutting across his brow. “It has found the curse, but it seems to be feeding on it as well, and the darkness has been taken into it.”
The dark tendril, now swollen in size well beyond that which it had started at, radiating an air of pure malevolence, detached from the beam where it had anchored. It floated down through the air, swaying about like a drunkard, before arrowing straight for the door that led out of the tavern. Solid planks or not, the door shattered under the impact as if constructed of mere twigs. As the tendril vanished out into the Souk, it dragged the rest of the corrupted light after it, engorging it further.
As the first screams echoed from without, Peregrine and Blade exchanged glances and then made a dash for the doorway, weapons at the ready. Sighing bitterly and regretting his inquisitive nature even as he started to waddle along, Bakanon followed them out.
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