To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.
Chapter 16 – Confrontation
Archie “mmm’d” appreciatively as the two plates were placed on the table in front of him. Pewtory sat opposite the peddler and was thoroughly on edge. He looked at the entrance of the Boar’s tusk tavern
- waiting for the town’s guards to burst through the doors at any moment and arrest him.
The dinner in front of them was roast chicken and looked mouth watering. Pewtory could smell the sour taste of the lemon that had been squeezed over the meat along with another spice, cumin perhaps? Mounds of potatoes, golden and crisp spilled over the variety of fried vegetables. The bard saw carrots, suede and cabbage drowned in thick syrupy gravy. The food was the most appetising thing he had seen in weeks, yet still he was reluctant to touch it.
Archie Freestone had no such qualms and stabbed a fork into a potato and plopped the whole thing into his mouth. He then spent the next few seconds doing a serviceable impression of a monkey and revealing the contents of his mouth to all as he frantically waved his hand in front attempting to cool his tongue down.
Pewtory was confused. At the town entrance, the bard had waited as the peddler had driven the clattering cart towards him with a scowl on his face. Archie had jumped down and jabbed Pewtory in the stomach.
“You and me need to have a serious conversation,” Pewtory merely nodded bracing himself for what was about to come next. “Food first!” Archie had said and then ushered the wagon inside the town announcing his trade much like he had done at Gandara.
Those were the only words they had exchanged. Pewtory had followed the peddler like a culled child with his head bent and gaze firmly to the floor.
“Why are you not eating?” Archie said.
“I was waiting to see what you had to say?” Pewtory replied.
“You need your ears for that, not your mouth. Eat up, my treat.”
Thoroughly bewildered Pewtory did as instructed. The chicken was gorgeous and soon the bard was lost in the meal. Archie ordered two goblets of wine and the two enjoyed the meal in companionable silence.
Pewtory finished his meal first and sat back with a contented smile. Maybe Archie was allowing him one last decent meal before he turned him in. If that was the case, Pewtory could have no complaints. He sat back in his chair and studied the tavern.
It was dark, small and very busy. A fire roared in to one side smothering the room with the comforting smell of a logs burning. The customers all huddled together, nursing their drinks and speaking in low murmurs. From the snippets of conversations he overheard, the visit of the witch was very much the agenda of most people’s attention. A few glanced at him and Archie and shook their heads in disgust. Even if Pewtory was dressed up in his bard’s attire, the message was clear at this moment in time, strangers were not welcome in Compton. One particularly large man, with grey fluffy hair, downed his beer and openly stared. He moved the beer across to the waiter to be refilled with one hand whilst the other gripped the counter until it trembled.
Pewtory considered the wisdom of the way Archie had announced their arrival only moments before. The peddler was ignorant to the looks he was getting. He lifted his plate and drank the last of the gravy before washing it down with wine. When he had finished he let out a loud contented sigh. Pewtory shrank lower into his wooden bench and ensured the fish were covered underneath his cloak.
“We need to talk about what happened on the farm.” Archie said instantly bringing Pewtory’s mind back on the peddler.
“Did you get my message?” Pewtory asked. He did not like the stern expression on Archie’s face. He had never seen him like this before. The peddler pulled at his beard as he stroked it.
“No I did not get your message.”
“But I left it in the middle of the barn?” How could he have missed it? He couldn’t have made it any clearer?
“Ah so I am liar now am I?” Archie threw his hands up in the air. He shook his head from side to side and blew out his cheeks, looking at Pewtory as if he had just discovered he was not who he thought he was.
“Of course not, I just thought you’d see it. I spelled it out in stones.”
“Stones? What did it say?”
Pewtory frowned. What did the Peddler think it said? “Hope you liked my work? Catch me if you can? Victim number twenty seven?
Pewtory leaned across the table and beckoned Archie to do the same. He looked around and then whispered.
“It said, ‘NOT ME”
Archie nodded several times and sat back leaning against the wall. He bit the inside of his mouth as he considered what he had heard.
“I swear Archie. It was not me.”
Archie was silent for a few seconds before he launched into his tirade.
“What in the blue moon are you wittering on about? I thought we are friends and now you are trying to insult my intelligence.”
“I...I...I wasn’t?” Pewtory spluttered. He felt his mouth bob up and down like Willow and Wisp. He could not comprehend Archie’s reaction. It made no sense. Why would he be worried about Pewtory insulting his intelligence? Did he think he had been just masquerading as a bard but was really a murderer this whole time?”
“I get up in the morning first thing looking for you. I go to the barn to find it empty. No sign off you, no sign of that other bard nothing. Imagine how much of an idiot I looked when Red Jack comes up next to me and finds you gone, especially when I had spent most of the night, singing your praises and telling him what a special talent you were.
Red Jack was furious I had brought you to the farm and was up for killing you himself, but there I am, reassuring him that you were a good man and my friend. I informed him that we were travelling companions and I had high hopes for our combined skills.
And then, not only had you left without me, now you have the audacity, the front to sit there in front of me and claim it ‘wasn’t you.’ Well who was it then Pewtory? Some other you? Were you not in control of your thoughts?
I may not be the sharpest man, but I have feelings. If you didn’t want to travel with me all you had to do was tell me. I would not have taken offence. Much offence anyway.”
Archie finished his rant by pushing his plates across the table, he folded his arms and jerked his head away from Pewtory clearly sulking. His raised voice had caused the inn to go silent but again the peddler seemed oblivious to his actions.
Pewtory felt his cheeks burn as he registered the curious looks from everyone in the tavern. It seemed every eye in the place was upon him, judging him. He did not care though. If he was confused before, his mind was blown now.
There was no body? They had not found Lionel the Lark or the stones that Pewtory had constructed but how? How was that possible? Had Pewtory imagined it? Was it some damn awful dream? No, he knew it wasn’t? He might talk to his fish but he knew he was not crazy. It had happened he was sure of it. He could still recall the crack as the bard’s neck snapped.
Now that the entertainment was over, most of the tavern returned to their drinks. Pewtory watched as a barmaid sauntered towards him. She held a round tray level with her shoulders, on it was another goblet. She had a black bob of hair with a red streak on one side. She was curvaceous rather than large and was well covered for serving wench.
She stopped at his table and placed the goblet in front of Pewtory. It contained more wine.
“Compliments from a friend,” she said in a lazy drawl.
“Who?” Pewtory asked immediately scanning the bar.
“The guy over there,” she pointed towards a vacant bar stool near where the large man sat. “Oh, he was here a second ago. I guess he disappeared.”
Pewtory had no doubt that he had.