The Piggyback Acorn (Chapter 1-9: Needham's Tavern)
The Tavern goes silent when Q'uonan enters with Woodberry. Over a dozen people dressed in combinations of cloth, leather, and metal are seated at each table: Some alone, some in groups of two or three. Colorful weapons rest in holsters slung over the backs of each chair. The scent of sizzling, charred meat hovers all around. Fat candles housed in glass lanterns line each table, multiplying the orange warmth of the room. Stuffed heads, horns, and antlers of exotic animals hang from the walls all the way up to the second floor, where a wooden balcony separates the tall ceiling from a row of closed doors.
The Tavern Chef sneers from a doorway behind the polished wooden bar on the right. He vanishes with a grunt and calls for someone. Woodberry spots the girl from the window sitting alone at the farthest table in the left corner: Glaring at us with large, unblinking eyes framed by long brown hair. She wears a tattered red dress which may have been quite beautiful a generation ago.
Q'UONAN: "I like this place. It is very much like my home. And I apologize, for - ah! Zudin!"
WOODBERRY: "Why do you keep saying that?"
It appears that Q'uonan is unable to respond. A middle-aged woman emerges from the kitchen carrying a tray. She wears a dress that is simple in style, but made from very fine cloth. Looking in our direction, the woman raises a hand to her mouth and gasps.
WOMAN: "It's true! It's true! A real-life Faerie!"
WOODBERRY: "I... yes?"
WOMAN: "Aren't you just too beautiful?! Your wings look like butterflies!"
WOODBERRY: "Aw... well... ya know... I grew them myself."
WOMAN: "Could I - I mean... that is to say... um... could I touch them?"
WOODBERRY: "...I guess? Be gentle, though, please."
The woman rests her tray onto a nearby table, ignoring the patron seated there. She gallops over, each step of her shoes echoing loudly. She waves her hand at Q'uonan, who blushes and bends down so the woman can reach his shoulder. The woman examines Woodberry with delight.
WOMAN: "Incredible! It's like they're made of silk! And look at these little pointy ears!"
A cloud of glowing dust surrounds Woodberry.
WOODBERRY: "...Could we be best friends?"
WOMAN: "Of course! You're welcome here absolutely anytime!"
NUGGET: "Erm... Woodberry? We're here on business..."
WOODBERRY: "Oh. Right. I'm Woodberry. This is my horsie, Q'uonan."
Hearing his name, Q'uonan stands upright and puffs his chest out. He squints around the room.
WOMAN: "I'm really, really sorry for my manners - it's just that I never thought I'd ever get to see a Faerie in my entire lifetime! My name is Sinefah. I'm the matron of this little hole in the wall."
WOODBERRY: "What's it called? We wanted to read the sign outside."
SINEFAH: "Needham's, after our proprietor, Lady Needham. The Madame isn't around much these days, as she's semi-retired. She took me in years ago, when I barely had two sticks to rub together, and I slowly took over management. Where are you from?"
WOODBERRY: "Ah, y'know... the woods. As for Q'uonan..."
Q'UONAN: "I come to Tir Gwylit through the border, on a rope."
SINEFAH: "Is that so? The way you're dressed, I bet you must've traveled a long way!"
WOODBERRY: "He isn't allowed to talk about it."
SINEFAH: "Of course. I apologize. We certainly have enough patrons for me to know better. I have the worst habit of eavesdropping on peoples' stories. I'm stuck indoors all day, every day, like a groundhog. The most adventure I ever see firsthand is a little hike now and then, discovering new tea for my collection. Local, exotic, herbal, floral... I've got it all. Do you know what tea is?"
WOODBERRY: "Dunno. Can you put acorns in it?"
SINEFAH: "Maybe? Is that a local specialty in the woods? I didn't even know they were edible."
Woodberry pats Nugget.
WOODBERRY: "You're missing out! This one's mine, though."
NUGGET: "Woodberry, please!"
SINEFAH: "I'll try any tea once! Tell ya what: Bring some more of your special acorns over next time, and I'll trade you."
SINEFAH: "Speaking of trade, that's quite a Pelt you've got with you, sir!"
Q'UONAN: "...Yes? Then it is a gift, for you."
Q'uonan lays the pelt, almost the size of a grown man, across the bar's counter top. Sinefah chuckles.
SINEFAH: "That's generous! Though I think it'd be most beneficial if we traded it properly. It's a great way to build up your resources here in Tir Gwylit!"
Q'UONAN: "I... yes..."
SINEFAH: "Speaking of which, you look pretty scratched up. Got any Health Potions on you?"
Q'UONAN: "I do not."
SINEFAH: "How about I give you two bottles, then, and two Silver for the pelt?"
Q'UONAN: "That is most generous! I thank you."
SINEFAH: "Not at all! Can you imagine someone wearing this thing as a cape? Or a blanket. Could keep them warm for years."
Sinefah reaches for two sealed glass bottles, filled with red syrupy liquid, from behind the counter. She counts one silver coin, and ten bronze coins. Q'uonan extends his hand, twice the size of Sinefah's.
SINEFAH: "Sorry about the extra weight! Thought I had two silver."
Q'UONAN: "It is no trouble. I have never seen these before. In my home, we only trade."
SINEFAH: "Well, how about that! I'd love to hear about your home someday!"
Q'UONAN: "Agh... er... yes."
Q'UONAN: "Agh... er... yes."
Q'uonan plays with the coins in his open hand, listening to them jingle.
SINEFAH: "So what're you up to now? Planning to stay here in town, or just passing through?"
WOODBERRY: "We're here to deliver something."
SINEFAH: "Ah, I see. Well, feel free to let me know if you ever need a place to rest. They used to say, even before all the drama, that people would travel out of their way to Bryn Colledig specifically to visit our Tavern. Great food, comfortable rooms, and great company. Most of the time!"
Sinefah chuckles to herself. Woodberry glances at the patrons, whispering amongst each other.
SINEFAH: "If that's all for now, I've gotta run out back and wash a mountain of dishes. My cleaner ran off the other day, so unfortunately I'm a bit short-handed at the moment."
WOODBERRY: "Ran off? Was he scared of a monster or something?"
SINEFAH: "You could say a beast was involved... but no: Pate ran off one morning with some hussie adventurer. Said they were in love, or whatever. The fools. It won't last."
SINEFAH: "Anyway, what's done is done. I won't give him his job back, even if he begs. That said, if you happen to run across anyone looking to earn a few extra coins, point them right here! I'll pay a fair wage - not as much as adventuring, but hey, it's something. All I ask is for dependability."
Sinefah tucks the tray under one arm and stomps her wooden heel against the floor, turning to go back into the kitchen.
SINEFAH: "Come back anytime, all right? I mean it. And if you find any more goodies out in the field, bring them back here. I'll make sure your pockets are full to bursting!"
WOODBERRY: "You got it!"
Enrapt, Q'uonan studies Sinefah's every movement as she passes around the corner. Woodberry glances uncomfortably at the tables one more time.