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Trouble at the scholars.., p.1
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       Trouble At The Scholar's Inn, p.1

           J. E. Sandoval
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Trouble At The Scholar's Inn
Trouble at the Scholar’s Inn

  By J. E Sandoval

  Copyright 2012 by Jim Sandoval

  ISBN: 9781476346892

  It was unseasonably cold for early summer in the city of Avonshire. Janelle Argos and her best friend, Holle MacLeod, walked through the cobblestone streets as the sun went down over the city wall, casting a red glow across the cloudy sky.

  It had been a long day. Janelle had received two more requests for weapons training. Her days were really starting to fill up. All of her students were women who wanted to learn how to defend themselves, and nothing pleased her more than when one of them told her of how her lessons had saved their lives.

  Janelle had been raised by her father and brother. Her father was a general in the Free Company, a mercenary army of some renown. Knowing that one day, after he left, Janelle would be on her own, Felix had trained her how to fight since she was nine. Four years ago, Felix followed in their father’s footsteps.

  She glanced over at her friend, Holle, a Caledonian by birth. She was a bit shorter than Janelle, her full figure and pronounced breasts struck quite a contrast to Janelle’s lean and muscular build, as did the rest of her looks. Holle had flaming red wavy hair, unlike Janelle’s straight black locks. She also had piercing green eyes, whereas Janelle had brown. The most striking contrast was her clothing. Holle wore a black shirt and the traditional yellow and black tartan kilt of clan MacLeod, while Janelle wore black doeskin pants, boots, and a dark blue shirt. Even their choice in weapons couldn’t be more different. Janelle favored the quarterstaff, but also kept a sturdy dagger at her waist. Holle had her bow strapped to her back, along with a quiver of barbed arrows. The only thing they really had in common was their disdain for the traditional roles of women in society, but that fact alone was enough to make them the best of friends.

  “Your father closed up his cart late today,” Janelle said.

  “Aye, and if ye hadn’t helped us close up, we’d still be workin’. Thank ye.”

  Janelle waved in dismissal. “Think nothing of it. Always happy to help a friend. Any idea why he was so busy?”

  “Aye, tomorrow is Sunday, an’ the Church insists that all ‘merchants o’ vice’ close their carts down on a day of worship,” Holle answered. “Everyone buys twice as much ta get them through. Da won’t be openin’ t’morrah. Not worth it only bein’ able ta sell pipes n’ sulfursticks.”

  Janelle shook her head in disgust. “That is such a stupid rule! If people are going to buy twice as much the day before, what is the point?”

  “Ah don’t know! Maybe it gives ‘em some kind of holy thrill down in their jumblies.”

  Janelle laughed deeply. While she believed in God, she had no love for the Church, or rather the higher-ups who insisted on keeping up appearances. If there was one thing she hated, it was hypocrisy. They insisted that poverty was a virtue while they lived like kings at the holy trough.

  “Why is Iberian Nightshade considered a vice?” Janelle asked.

  “Ah asked Eleenia before she left. She said that when the Iberians brought it back from th’ western world, them there savages over there used it in their pagan worshipin’. An’ when ye smokes it a lot fer a while, ye get all ornery when ye try ta stop.”

  Janelle’s thoughts turned to their mutual friend, Eleenia, a healer in training. She was by far the most brilliant woman they had ever met, and probably the most brilliant person for that matter. She had met El at the Scholar’s Inn five years before when she came to the University. She was the only daughter of Lord Alexander Ki Kalendeen, a famous general from the south. Eleenia was playing in a King’s Table tournament. The odds were so stacked against her that Holle and Janelle wagered heavily on her. When she won the tournament, her opponent took the loss personally and tried to get violent. Janelle and Holle stepped in and gave the man and his friend a good thrashing. Afterwards, over the objection of her brother Gabriel, El asked Janelle to train her, since the weapons school denied her request to study martial arts because she was a woman. She was Janelle’s first and best student, and was now a very close friend.

  They walked past a man, out cold from too much to drink, lying on the side of the road. Janelle pointed to him. “You see, that is what I consider a vice. That poor guy has probably already been robbed blind. Why doesn’t the church take issue with taverns that stay open on Sunday?”

  “What would they bloody drink in their communion? Christ himself was accused of bein’ a drunkard. Ah think they used to say it was grape juice, but a Germanic priest, Father Martin, pointed out a verse in 1 Corinthians about people getting’ drunk at communion. Made a bloody big stink in the church,” Holle said.

  Janelle chuckled. “I’ll bet it did.”

  They arrived at The Scholar’s Inn. The inn was situated next to the University and was a favorite destination for faculty, students, Holy Defenders, and city guards alike. It was a two-story building that had a full kitchen, twenty guest rooms, and even a full bath. The inn was run by William and Kat Brewer. The Brewers were wonderful people. Will was a master at brewing ale and beer. He was also the primary cook. Kat took care of the customers. Even if the inn were packed to the rafters, she would make everyone feel like they were the only customers, but being summer, it would most likely be empty. They were also trained at the Bardic College in Cauldar’s Spring, and would sing for their guests. Kat was also an extremely good lute player. During the school year, Kat would hire on extra help, but now during the summer, she and Will would be the only two running the inn.

  It was already dark by the time they got there. Had the University been in session, the inn would be packed, but since it was summer, things were winding down for the night. As they entered the inn, they saw only one other customer, a large, gruff-looking man, probably a blacksmith. He glanced up at them and smiled.

  “Good evening to you, young ladies,” he said, lifting his tankard.

  Janelle nodded politely.

  He went back to his drinking, chewing on a salty-stick every now and then.

  Janelle and Holle picked out their usual table next to the cold hearth.

  “Do ye want ta sit somewhere else? There be a draft over here,” Holle said.

  “Nah, a few drinks will warm us up.”

  Kat, a blonde haired woman in her late forties, a bit on the heavier side, came out from the back. She spotted Holle and Janelle and smiled as she walked over to them.

  “Good evening, my friends. The usual?”

  “Aye,” Holle said. “What’s ye got ta eat tonight, Kat?”

  “Well, I have a treat for you tonight! I used some of Will’s light ale with some flour and made a batter. I have chicken breasts cut up, so I dip them into the batter and fry them in some lard. I also made a honey-based dipping sauce. I think you are going to love it!”

  Holle’s eyes lit up. “Aye! I’ll have an order of that!”

  Kat looked to Janelle.

  “That does sound good. Make that two orders. And a light ale, of course.”

  Kat looked at them expectantly. “And what are we forgetting?”

  Janelle rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on, Kat. That was five years ago. It only happened once!”

  “And will only happen once. Hand them over.”

  Janelle removed her quarterstaff and undid her knife belt, handing them to Kat. Holle unstrapped her bow and handed over her quiver.

  “And the knife in the boot!”

  Holle sighed and pulled the dagger out of her boot.

  Kat smiled. “I’ll just take these in back. You can have them back when you are ready to leave.” She trotted off into the kitchen.

  “I don’ understand. All we were doin’ was protectin’ Eleenia.”

  “I know!” Janelle said. “Anyway, I’m the only one who walked away with a scar,” she said, pulling back her sleeve revealing the scar that ran the length of her forearm. “Well, other than the one you shot in the knee. His adventuring days are certainly behind him. I wonder what ever happened to him.”

  “I heard he joined the town watch.” Holle hugged herself. “I feel bloody naked without me bow an’ knife.”

  “I know what you mean,” Janelle replied.

  Kat returned with their two tankards and a bowl of salty-sticks. “There you go. I’ll just go back and get started on the chicken now.”

  Janelle took a drink of her ale and looked to the empty seat at her left. “It is weird coming here without Eleenia.”

  “Aye, but she’ll be back in a few weeks, I’m sure. Do ya think Gabriel will be successful on ‘is quest?”

  Janelle smiled. “No, and I’ve put ten gold on it. I’ve also put ten gold on Eleenia finding the cure for snakepox.” She crunched on a salty-stick and took another drink of ale.

  “Oh, I dinna know if ye made a good wager. Gabriel seemed pretty determined.”

  “Gabriel is a stupid, hypocritical, self-righteous ox.”

  Holle laughed. “Oh, come on. He’s mellowed over the years since the tragedy. He’s a nice fellow ta talk to.”

  Janelle leaned in, sporting a devious grin. “You are just befriending him to get closer to Liam Brandvold!”

  Holle’s face went red. “Oh, stop, ye bloody numpty! Lord Liam has shown no interest in me.”

  “Oh, so it’s LORD Liam, is it?”

  “He’s the last survivin’ son of Lord Brandvold, so wouldn’t that make ‘im a lord? I know it would in Caledonia.” Holle took a deep drink from her dark beer.

  “I suppose it would.” Janelle shuddered. “Ew, that would make Gabriel a lord too!”

  Holle shook her head. “Nay, Holy Defenders renounce their claims to lordship when they take the vows.”

  Janelle felt a little sad. “Just think, the mighty house of Ki Kalendeen will be no more once Eleenia marries.”

  “Not if Gabriel succeeds in ‘is quest,” Holle said.

  “Zero chance of that happening.”

  Kat returned with two plates of piping hot food and a ramekin filled with an orange sauce. “There we are, girls. Janelle, this should match very well with your ale, as it is what I used to make the batter.”

  Janelle picked up one of the hot golden brown nuggets, dipped it in the sauce and took a bite. It practically melted in her mouth. “Oh, Kat! This is fantastic! The sauce is sweet, yet spicy! I hope you have this on the menu regularly!”

  Kat smiled with satisfaction. “It will be my standard Saturday night special.” She turned and headed back to the kitchen.

  As they continued to eat, a commotion rose outside. There was some yelling and clanking of weapons.

  “What d’ye think that is all about?” asked Holle.

  Janelle shrugged.

  Suddenly the door burst open. Masked men began pouring in. They were all dressed in black from head to toe and armed with various weapons. When the last one came in, he slammed the door shut.

  “Hayes, get something to bar this door! Sanders, Brooks, secure the kitchen! Coleman, take those three in the kitchen with you! Watson, Powell, Collins, and Turner, fan out! Make sure any rear entrances are barred. Mitchell, check upstairs. If anyone is up there, bring them down. The more hostages we have, the better!

  Men scattered upon receiving their orders. One came over to Janelle and Holle.

  “Alright you two, come with me,” he said, drawing his sword.

  Janelle stood up and raised her hands, as did Holle.

  “You too, old man!” he said to the large smith.

  The older man got up. They were led into the kitchen. Two other armed men were there. Kat was sobbing, being held by Will.

  “Easy, my love. Easy. I don’t think they want to hurt us,” Will said, stroking Kat’s blonde hair.

  “He’s right,” Mitchell said. “So don’t do anything stupid and we’ll all most likely walk out of here tonight. Sanders, Brooks, search these three for weapons.”

  One of them men went to Janelle and began patting her down, not being particularly careful of avoiding inappropriate touching. “Enjoying yourself?” she asked.

  “Shut up!” he replied. He pulled his hand back. Janelle suppressed her instinct to duck or block and braced herself. The slap rang out, causing Kat to wince. Janelle glared daggers at him. He finished and moved onto Holle. “Its dangerous for two young girls to be wandering the streets unarmed. Someone might try to steal your virtue.”

  The other one was pulling a variety of weapons off of the large man. “Expecting to run into a pack of wickeracks, old man?”

  “One can never be too careful,” he replied.

  The brown-haired leader of the group came into the kitchen. He had taken off his mask, revealing his sunken cheekbones, narrow nose, and thin lips. He also had a scar down the left side of his face. “Alright, people, we are secure. Half the city watch is outside, but they have no way to get in.”

  “What are we going to do, Boss?” Mitchell asked.

  “First, we send them a message to let them know we are serious. Which one of them do you think is the most dangerous?”

  The three lackeys pointed to the older man.

  “He was carrying an arsenal of weapons,” Brooks said.

  “Fine. Bring him. Saunders, gather up any knives, cleavers, or anything else that could be used as a weapon, then come outside into the common room. We need to discuss what we’re going to do.” He turned and left the room, Mitchell and Brooks in tow.

  Saunders grabbed a sack and emptied its contents onto the stone floor. He began tossing anything sharp he could find inside.

  Janelle walked over towards Will and Kat. Saunders paused, put down his sack, and put his hand on the hilt of his sword. Janelle put her hands up, indicating she meant no harm. Upon reaching the couple, she patted the sobbing Kat on the shoulder. “It will be alright. Don’t worry.”

  “Stay here. Stick your nose out and we’ll slice it off.” He walked out of the kitchen and closed the door behind him.

  “That Saunders fellow dies first,” Janelle said.

  “Given they’ve let us see th’faces, I donna think they be intent on let’n us live. Do ye ‘ave a plan, Janelle?” Holle asked.

  Janelle looked around the room, high and low. The only two doors in the kitchen were to the common room and down to the larder.

  “Will, is there another way out of the larder?”

  “No,” he replied.

  She looked up to the rafters. There was a good five feet between the beams and the second floor. Also, the wall that separated the common room from the kitchen ended at the rafters.

  “Kat, where are our weapons?”

  “I put them in the larder to keep them out of the way,” she said between sobs.

  “They are probably going to get thirsty at some point, but probably aren’t going to want to get drunk. Will, after their first beer or ale, I want you to start spiking their drinks with grain alcohol. Do you have any?”

  Will nodded.

  “Good,” Janelle said. “Holle, give us a boost up, would you?”

  Holle cupped her hands and bent her knees.

  Janelle placed her right foot on Holle’s hands. The strong Caledonian lass hoisted her friend up.

  Janelle grabbed hold of one of the rafters and pulled herself up. She looked around. She could see the entire first floor of the inn. Various boxes and supplies had been stored up here. A pair of wooden vents sat on either side of the chimney, but they were too small for anyone to squeeze through. She crawled along the wooden beam until she could see down into the common room. All nine men were gathered behind their leader,
who was standing at the open door with his knife to the throat of the old smith.

  “And this is just to let you know we are serious!” the leader said. He slit the smith’s throat and pushed him outside. “We’ll give you some time to think about it, and then we’ll kill another hostage!” He closed the door and placed the large wooden bar across it.

  Janelle turned around and crawled back over to the kitchen. She jumped down to the floor, landing softly. “They killed the smith and told the watch they would kill another hostage if their demands weren’t met.”

  Kat began to sob anew.

  “Do as they say. We’ll wait for the right time.”

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