21. Hot Punch, a Plate of Biscuits, and a Briefing

When Inglorion returns to the Shepard’s Rest, he finds Ajax perched uncomfortably in the coffee room, surrounded by their luggage. The landlord has panicked, presented Ajax with a bill, and told him that he and his master must clear out before daybreak. For the last few hours, the waiters have alternated between asking Ajax in supercilious tones if he needs help, and coldly urging him to move along.

Inglorion studies the bill. He finds it obscurely comforting that the landlord omitted the coffee and bread-and-butter that Inglorion had for tea. He pays the ostler, who seems a bit sheepish about the whole matter, and they head out into the balmy summer night. 

“Your Lordship, it’s after midnight. We’ll never find rooms at another inn,” says Ajax. 

“Oh, dear, no. I was thinking we should go into the North Mountains, find this Lavyryx Farm.”

Ajax closes his eyes for a brief, pained moment and says, “Your Lordship, are you sure that’s wise?”

“It’s probably very unwise. However, it’s the only way to gather accurate intelligence about the massacre.”

“They’re sure to know all about it in the Underdark.”

“You’d think so, but I’ll be damned if I’ll rely on some NCO’s after-action report when I could have fresh, first-hand intelligence. Do you know of an egress point in the North Mountains?”

“Which one? There are several.”

“Oh, really? If I were to send you home suddenly, which one would you use?”

Ajax admits, “There’s a new one at the farm itself, sir.”

“There you have it. There’s no reason for that sullen look of yours. We’ll poke around a bit up there, I’ll write up a report, and you can slip off to the Underdark whenever your nerve fails.”

Ajax looks anxious. “Your Lordship, are you staying up here?”

“For a time. I have to retrieve my signet ring, and bring Rosalee to Shelawn House. I can’t do either now, in the middle of the night.” He considers. “I wonder how long it will take to get to Lavyryx on foot? I don’t like our chances of renting a post chaise right now.”

“A day’s march, Your Lordship, if we don’t get lost.”

“I’ll make every effort not to get us lost.”

“The city gates will be closed,” Ajax says mournfully.

“They seem to be staffed up nicely. I’m sure we can find a guard who will let us out.”

Ajax looks dissatisfied. Inglorion grins at him, “I know it would suit your mood to sulk outside the guardhouse in the dark, but I don’t think you’ll get the chance.”

“What will you tell them, sir?”

“The truth, of course. We got kicked out of our hotel for being Drow, and couldn’t find lodgings at short notice. We don’t choose to sleep on the streets, so we’re planning to travel through the night.”

“Are we?”

“Certainly, unless you fancy trudging through the North Mountains in broad daylight.” Ajax shudders. “Exactly. This way we have a decent chance of outpacing any troops they send, and if we do cross paths, we’ll see them before they see us.”

Inglorion’s less sanguine about the trip than he seems. It does seem uncomfortably risky for one and a half Drow to saunter over to the site of a recent massacre. He doesn’t precisely think they’ll be lynched, but it’s an excellent way to get hauled in front of the nearest magistrate. Though he’s not particularly good at acting — it’s one of his weaknesses as a spy — Inglorion decides to spike the guns of any local busybodies by seeking out the magistrate himself and playing the role of Concerned Merchant.

The encounter goes unexpectedly well. Inglorion shows up at the home of the magistrate — a local squire — the following evening, in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. Inglorion’s thoroughly drenched, which triggers the squire’s innate hospitality, and obscures Inglorion’s travel-stained aspect. He’s offered refreshments, dry towels, and the opportunity to state his business. The squire accepts Inglorion’s explanation that he came to check personally on rumors that may affect his shipping business and the interests of his family and associates. Apparently he likes the cut of Inglorion’s jib, because he offers his guest hot punch, a plate of biscuits, and the same briefing he gave to the gray elvish scouting party that left an hour ago. Inglorion steadfastly refuses his offer of refuge for the night — the rain has stopped, and he ordered a room and dinner at an inn just off the post road. Was it the Swan, or the Fox and Hounds? Yes, of course, the Minotaur. A funny name — you’d think he would have remembered it.

The encounter reminds Inglorion that his appearance and demeanor have shifted. The magistrate may have noticed that Inglorion has silver eyes and white hair, but signs of wealth, power and education render his features irrelevant. Where the innkeeper in Liamelia saw a half-breed outsider, the squire sees a gentleman who’s accustomed to authority and responsibility, and to giving orders and having them obeyed. In this case, it’s Inglorion’s job to accept what he’s been given, and to forget for the moment that he left Ajax shivering beyond the tree line in the rain, wondering how he’ll explain to Philomela that the Marquis was arrested as a spy while paying a call on rural elvish gentry. 

Though Ajax is wet and unhappy, his spirits lift when he sees Inglorion striding down the lane away from the squire’s residence. 

“Lavyryx Farm is just another hour or two from here,” says Inglorion cheerfully. “The scouting party has left, and the rest of the troops aren’t due to show up until late tomorrow. The squire gave me hot punch and cookies,” he adds naively, “and I think the punch may have been alcoholic. It tasted like oranges, but also like it could double as an industrial solvent. You know, if you had to strip a small section of hardwood flooring.”

This is outside of Ajax’s experience, so he refrains from comment. They follow the lane for a few hundred yards, then double back through the woods towards the massacre site.

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