Chapter Forty Three

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Smoke filled his nostrils, waking him from a fitful sleep that he did not mind leaving. He rubbed a large hand over his face, through his beard, and let out a sigh that did little to express his mood. Ever since Jon had arrived in Bared, a small city just off of the Gurdia only twenty leagues after the split of the Thine, he had experienced every mishap imaginable. Part of the problem was the panic that most of the Vintish cities and townships seemed to be in. Some people were refusing to leave their houses, while others were setting off for larger cities or castles in search of safety that wooden walls and sparsely armed men did not offer. The rumor was that the Lost Prince and his Silent Brotherhood were hitting the smaller towns, killing everyone that resided in them and then putting the towns to the torch. It was an absurd story, of course, but everyone seemed to know it. The word was that Dunmont was razed to the ground in the same manor.

Jon shook his head and pulled himself out of bed. He dressed as quickly as his old bones would let him, grabbed his bundle that including his knives, arrows, and his bow, and was out of the room in search of the source of the smoke. A sigh of relief escaped his lips as he realized the fire had not reached the inn, but he quickly rethought his situation when he noticed that half of the buildings in the small town were ablaze. Townsfolk were busy scurrying through town, taking whatever they could hold in their arms and fleeing to the outskirts. He put the bundle on his back and began walking through the fiery town.

It was not long before he had seen every inch of the village, acutely aware of the oddity of the fires, before he stepped back into the inn and sat down at one of the empty tables. After some time of relative silence, a man shuffled out of the kitchen and stopped where Jon sat. He was middle aged, stood a foot shorter than most men, and was soft in the belly and pink in the face.

“All my damn serving girls have run off,” he said, obviously frustrated. “What can I get you?”

“Just a flagon of mead, perhaps some bread.” Jon’s belly rumbled as the innkeeper moved back into the kitchen after taking up Jon’s coins. He glanced around the empty room, at the tables and chairs that stood vacant, pushed away as if they were abandoned with haste. It took only a few minutes for the innkeeper to hurry back to Jon’s table with a tray of bread and a large mug of mead. “Any idea what is going on?”

The innkeeper looked up as if startled. “What?” he said, “Oh, outside, yes. I honestly do not know the whole story, something about the Silent Brotherhood coming here next. It is the same with the neighboring towns and villages, the townsfolk panicked when they heard the news of what is happening. It seems no one feels safe these days.” A deep frown covered his face. “Once people started leaving, other people thought they could take whatever they wanted. Looters!” He spat the word out. “Craven fools if you asked me.”

“They will burn down the town if they are not careful,” Jon said as he took a drink of the mead.

The innkeeper shrugged. “It is as Alador wills it. I am old and tired, my friend. I have little and less time to worry myself with the actions of these people. Besides, I think there is room enough between my inn and the surrounding buildings to hold the fires back.”

“You will not leave then?”

“Hah,” the innkeeper scoffed. “And go where, I wonder? I am not a young man any longer, and I have nothing anywhere else in the world. If I leave this inn here I have lost everything. Those folk out there know better than to try to come in here and start trouble. I wasn’t always a tired sod.”

Jon chuckled lightly. “I would not doubt you for a moment.”

“I’m surprised to see you traveling alone in these parts. Word is that Lord Went has Westerlay under siege, and the Merchant Lord is marching on Dunmont. The realm is not a safe place for those on their own, I would think.”

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