The Prancing Pony was relatively quiet the next morning. The raucous revelry of drunken guests was not to be heard, replaced with the much lighter sound of children at play in the stables while their parents finished a somewhat awkward breakfast indoors. There had been a minor dispute the night before over who would get to sleep in the bed the two families were sharing.
Obviously, the children got the bed.
“You can’t catch me!” sang one of the girls.
“Watch me, Susie!” her brother laughed, climbing onto a stack of hay. The bale shifted suddenly, and a hand grabbed the boy’s ankle. He screamed as a man rose out of the feed.
“You need to be careful around these piles,” said the bard. “They can be unstable.”
“What are you doing out here?” asked the other boy as his friend was let down gently from the haystack and the bard brushed horsehair off of his clothes. “Did you…sleep here?”
The bard looked shiftily out of the corner of his eye. “Our little secret,” he winked.
“Does Mr. Butters know you sleep here?” a girl asked.
“Yes, of course he does,” replied the bard, waving a hand nonchalantly. “I wash the tables after closing time, and he lets me stay back here with the horses free of charge. Well,” he looked around, “there are no horses here right now, but they are wonderful to talk to.”
“You talk to the horses?”
“Yes. How else do you think I rehearse my stories?”
“That’s so cool!”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“So tell us more stories!”
“It’s a bit early in the morning, don’t you think?”
“That’s true,” the eldest girl said slyly. “We should go back to our parents and let Mr. Butterbur know that his live entertainment is awake.”
“Let’s not be hasty,” interrupted the bard. “You do want to know what happens next, don’t you?”
The children were already sitting in a semicircle around the hay pile. The bard smiled and arranged a seat for himself. “Now, where were we?”
“They had just fought the goblins in the swamp,” said one of the girls.
“What else is in the swamp?” asked her sister.
“Spiders, dead people…not much else.” The bard frowned. “Come to think about it, the marshes were so boring that they made for the town of Combe for some much-needed refreshment and repairs.”
“Did the drinker woman get into any fights?”
“Did the Dwarf and the man get into an argument over who would repair their armor?”
“How’d you guess?”
“They wound up paying someone to fix it, didn’t they?”
“Did the Hobbit finally leave her captors and get a promotion from the constabulary?”
“Where did you learn a word like ‘constabulary’? You can’t be more than six years old.”
“It’s been a strange year.”
“Indeed it has.” The bard looked at the children strangely, as though he had bad news to deliver but was keeping it to himself. “No and yes,” he said at length. “Pineleaf was offered a promotion, but she turned it down to keep with the others.”
The bard shrugged. “I’m sure she had her reasons.”
“And the helmet? How much did they get for it?”
“They didn’t actually sell the helmet for beer money,” laughed the bard. “They are actually trying to find a Ranger to tell them more about it.”
“And what does it all mean? What can you tell us?”
“You’ll just have to wait and see. Shall we continue?”
Written by GreyMaster
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