It had taken another three days before Flint and Loden were able to contact her. She was thankful for that time as she was still having difficulties understanding how members of her order were moved to form a militaristic sect. Even after days of seclusion and meditation she still did not understand and sadly the goddess had not illuminated her on this subject. Despite the heavy weight of her new knowledge she was happy to be meeting up with her travel companions. At least in this area she believed she understood her purpose.
They had met at one of the many taverns in Carskot, the Lord’s Lament. Like most of the taverns in town, it was small and had no rooms to rent. It had opened only a short while before they gathered for their mid-morning meeting. The tavern had a simple counter along one wall, the door and a modest window were along another wall with pegs for hanging cloaks and other outer wear. The two remaining walls were lined with benches and a half dozen tables filled the centre area. An older man was behind the counter wiping mugs clean with a dry cloth and occasionally eating a bit of porridge from an overly large bowl. Two women, likely the man’s daughters by the look of them, were cleaning the main room.
Loden took a long drink of beer, smacked his lips and let out a contented sigh. Flint’s beer sat untouched on the table before him, she could tell that Flint was upset, seemingly angry. His eyes had a flat, distant look, the muscles along his jaw were tight. Other than a brief nod when they had entered the establishment he had said nothing and appeared deep in thought.
Asta tried a lighthearted approach, “I’m sorry if the beer is not to your liking.”
Flint looked at her. Loden spat to one side, earning a scowl from the young woman who had just cleaned the floor in the area where he spat. The silence stretched out for a bit, Loden took another long drink.
Flint let out a deep breath, rolled his shoulders a couple of times then said, “I’m sure the beer is fine. Thank you, priestess.”
“The beer’s great.”
Asta took a sip from her own mug, keeping her eyes on Flint. He picked up the mug and took a couple of swallows. Carefully, with a deliberate slowness Flint returned the mug to the table, “The beer is fine.”
“What is the problem?” She asked with a smile, “I can tell something is bothering you.”
Flint drank some more beer and Loden gulped down a few more swallows nearly draining his mug. “I have some issues with the behaviour of the local lord. It seems he thinks he has the authority to command those who owe him no fealty.” Flint had spoken in a quiet manner, but in the nearly empty tavern, Asta was sure that the others had heard his comment.
Loden gave a short bark of a laugh, hacked up some phlegm and was about to spit again when Flint slapped his open palm on the table, startling everyone. “By the gods man, not inside.”
Loden stopped in mid-action of spitting, sat back, looked at Flint and swallowed. Then he took his mug, went to the counter for a refill and said, “I’m going to step outside for a smoke.”
Flint looked around, “Perhaps we should step out as well.”
“There’s a nice courtyard out back.” Asta offered.
“Shall we then?” They picked up their mugs and went out to the courtyard.
After they had sat, Asta said, “Alright tell me what happened.”
“The Lord of Carskot seems to think he can command myself, Loden too and even the head of the caravan, Mr. Dahlah. Not to mention he levied fines against Mr Dahlah for products not delivered by the caravan, some ongoing arrangement he had with Lord Gainsly. He begrudgingly paid the basic fee for our services in delivering the bandits to him, with no additional considerations. Then when he learned that Loden and I had plans to travel onward from here, leaving the bandit situation to he and his men, his lordship became downright childish. He threatened to withhold help from Cof Crossroads, unless the two of us joined his relief force. He said we had too much valuable first hand knowledge of the situation to just let us go.”
Asta was unsure what to say to that, she waited to see if Flint would continue.
After a few moments and a couple of swallows of beer, he did, “I have to wonder how a man like that has retained power for so long. I also wonder how he has not been lynched by his own people?”
“He and his family have ruled for many generations. Carskot and its holdings have been stable for a very long time. Even in the face of GreensBridge’s expanding influence he has maintained his independence.”
“Well that’s likely to change. If the Fox doesn’t destabilize his realm, then the Tannican armies will. Even with the expansion to his military over the past few years he only sends patrols out for a yateer, though the territory he claims is four times that distance in every direction but westward. All the outlaying communities have been left to their own ends, despite the taxes they pay.”
Asta knew that Flint was offended, maybe even incredulous, that the local lord ruled contrary to the Old Ways. She also knew that there was little for her to say that would relieve his sense of umbrage. It had been many generations since the river cities and towns had followed the Old Ways. For that matter, it was only the more distant and isolated communities that still followed those traditions. At best they were considered quaint, more commonly they were considered barbaric by the standards most people held today.
Before she could think of anything useful to say, he continued, “To tell the truth, even the travel situation with you and Loden is bothering me. If we were headed to GreensBridge, then at least I could look into some things I need to research at the library and maybe consult a member of the Arcanium. Yet, the plan seems to be to head northeast, even your visions indicate that will be the case. And, while I owe Loden a life debt I’m also supposed to be trying to help my people, our continued existence may be a stake, certainly our way of life is threatened. If I’m not headed to GreensBridge, then I should be returning south to continue my investigation.”
He took another drink, then looked her in the eyes, “I certainly mean no disrespect to you or your goddess, Asta. In fact I find your company pleasant and the powers of healing your goddess has bestowed on you speaks well of your intent and purpose. Loden, despite his dismissive attitude, is generally an asset as a travel companion and I even think the two of you could be some help, regarding the situations my people have to deal with. Sadly, Loden seems uninterested in future conflicts and it seems your goddess has other plans for the three of us.”
Asta gave him a sad smile, “I’m sorry you are so conflicted about this Flint. I wish I had an easy answer for you. I can say though, that as best as I can tell, my presence in relation to the two of you seems to be the only intent of my goddess. In my visions we travel northeast from here, but I’ve seen nothing specific that indicates my goddess has any plans for you. I also believe we will find a ruins and after that things are less clear, though I think you no longer will be travelling with us. As I understand things, I simply have to travel with the two of you and provide what aid I can.”
He considered her words and after a moment gave a nod then drained his mug, “Well. Thank you for listening. I think I know how to deal with the local situation now. Ready to provide some aid?”
A bit taken aback she laughed nervously, “What did you have in mind?”
“Lets find Loden before he gets too drunk, then I’ll explain my sudden inspiration.”
They left the small courtyard and went back inside, Loden was not there, but they did find him out front; smoking, drinking, spitting and talking with a couple of old grey-bearded locals. When they appeared to be waiting for him he finished his conversation and set his mug down by the tavern door. He looked expectantly at the two of them, “What’s the plan?”
Flint said, “I think I’ve figured out a way to deal with the local lord. Let’s head to the keep, I’ll explain on the way up.”
“Well, this will likely be entertaining.”
Flint countered, “Let’s hope not. The faster we are gone from here, the better.”
Loden grinned, “I couldn’t agree more.”