“Easy, girl,” Arkh said, gently patting the mane of the horse beneath him. He immediately felt stupid for doing so, as not only was his horse not acting nervously, but she had never—not once—acted nervously. He had never been given a reason to assume that this horse could be scared of anything, let alone something as mundane as coming to a stable. He mentally shrugged, and guessed that he probably just wanted an excuse to pet her.
Arkh dismounted, and led her to an empty stall, where he removed her saddle and bridle. He hung both on a hook outside the stall, closed the door, and walked out to speak to the stablemaster.
“So, how many days?” The stablemaster was a short, thin man, though his voice was commanding enough that Arkh imagined he never had a problem with the horses.
“Just the night. I’ll be continuing on in the morning,” Arkh replied.
“Mhm,” the stablemaster nodded, “And the name?”
Arkh lifted his head a bit. “The horse’s name? Um—”
“No, sir,” the stablemaster interrupted. “I just need your name. My son will be here in the morning, and we’re working on manners.”
“Oh,” Arkh said. “Then, Cartographer Greene.”
“Excellent. And where will you be staying?” Sensing Arkh’s hesitation, he continued. “In case we need to contact you, if something happens with your horse.”
Arkh nodded at that, then squinted for a moment, remembering. “Um, the… The Blasted Badger.”
“Thank you, Cartographer Greene.” The stablemaster said. “Your horse will be fed and groomed, ready for you to ride out by dawn.”
Arkh placed a small stack of silver coins on the table. “Thank you. I’ll see you then.”
Arkh stepped into The Blasted Badger, and was immediately greeted by the odor of smoke, alcohol, and greasy meat, all somehow combined into one super-stench. A small part of him wondered if this was a mistake, but was promptly overriden by fact that it was his first night on the road, and he wasn’t about to let a smelly inn be the thing that made him chicken out. Eyes from all over the tavern began to find themselves upon him, and Arkh wondered if he was the only one here that hadn’t killed someone.
Thankful that his hood was up from the rain outside, he worked his face into the best scowl he could manage, and approached the bar with what he hoped was an intimidating walk. He worked his way onto one of the stools, and pulled back his hood after setting down his pack.
The barkeep eyed him suspiciously, then, after a moment, approached him. “What’ll it be, traveler?”
It took all of Arkh’s willpower to not immediately correct the man and show off his Cartographer’s badge, but Arkh decided that such a gesture would not be appreciated in this particular establishment. He elected to order a drink, but suddenly became aware of the fact that he didn’t know of any, other than ale and whiskey, which he’d never had before. Not wanting to come off as a child, he settled on the more adventurous option. “Whiskey, and a room for the night.”
“Five silver,” the ’keep responded.
Arkh began to root through his pocket as the ’keep began filling a glass, though the clank of coins on the bar caused him to look up.
“This gentleorc’s on me, Duke,” said a strange human, from the stool next to him, to which the barkeep—apparently Duke—nodded. Arkh hadn’t noticed the man arrive, but wasn’t about to turn down free room and drink.
“Awful kind of you, stranger,” Arkh said, doing his best to mimic the accent and diction of what mercenaries he’d met before. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Just in a giving kinda mood, I suppose,” the stranger said. “Though I couldn’t help but notice that horse you rode in on.”
Arkh raised an eyebrow, and reached for his drink. “What about her?” He took a sip, and immediately wondered what, in the name of ash, could possess someone to actually want to drink this.
“Just a curious horse, is all,” the stranger replied. “Can’t say I’ve seen many that look like it. Where’d you get her?”
Arkh couldn’t come up with a lie fast enough, but didn’t want to compromise the hardened persona he felt he was actually pulling off. So, he only told part of the truth. “She was assigned to me, in Cliffport.”
“You’re a Cartographer?”
Damn. Oh, wait! Idea! “Mercenary. Held on contract for one of their Leads in Utica.”
The stranger seemed to buy that, and nodded in thoughtful contemplation. “Well, enjoy the drink,” he said, getting up from the stool as he patted Arkh’s shoulder. “See you ’round, friend.”
Arkh nodded quietly, and took another agonizing sip as the stranger left. After he was gone, Arkh called Duke back over. “Say, who was that?”
Duke shrugged. “Never seen ’im before.” He held up a bottle. “More whiskey?”
“Martyrs, no.” Arkh responded, then rebounded. “That is, no, I’m fine.” Duke put down the bottle and wandered off to another end of the bar. Arkh reached for his pen, then stayed his hand. This moment, he decided, might be best excluded from his journal.