October 27, 706 CR
“You’re going to have to leave.” Llyn said quietly, the cold stone of the dungeon walls giving her voice a haunting distance, seeming to reply from all sides at once. Glancing up from the book he was quietly reading, Muri glanced up and cocked his head curiously. The cold bars of the cell which Llyn had been moved to pressed solidly against the back of his shoulders where he leaned against them. Llyn was seated on the small stool a few feet away, regarding one of her claws with a slight frown as she honed upon it with a slender rasp.
Thought it was quite difficult to keep particularly well groomed in the dank, dim, poorly ventilated dungeon, she was doing her best. She had many more days yet to go before she again saw the light of the autumnal sunshine. By the time she would be free of her incarceration it would be closer to winter than autumn. To pass the time she read the books that Muri and Dream brought her, kept herself well groomed, exercised as best the limited space the cell provided, and composed in her journal. She was kept company almost every hour of the day by Muri, who had become such a common presence that the scorpion dungeon keeper had, jokingly, offered one of the unused cells for him to move into. At times she was forced to banish him herself. Dream came by often as well, but she could not tell anymore if she was seeing him in her dreams or in the flesh.
Most everyone present enjoyed both of those visitors. Muri for his practice of playing about with illusions, and Dream for his music and humorous wit.
“I merely arrived but a couple of hours ago.” Muri countered as he looked at her, wholly, his eyes traveling up, then down before returning to her eyes. Encamped in the cell with nowhere to go, Llyn had for the most part chosen not to soil much of her clothing. For the most part she remained ungarbed, as her cell was situated such that an abutment of rock kept the few other prisoners from ever seeing her. She knew that Muri did not mind her nudity, nor did Dream though the lecherous marten had made a few quiet and very flirtatious jokes about it.
“No, I mean… the harvest festival is in only a couple of days. The keep will be crawling with people from all over the valley, and even the northernmost duchies of the Midlands.” She explained as she reached over and touched his shoulder through the bars, “A good number will end up in the dungeons too, it is going to be a very unpleasant place. Moreso for you, love.”
“Aye, I had been considering what I might do when the autumn festival began.” Muri replied with a slow nod, frowning as he closed his book with one hand.
“Not autumn, that was at the end of September, in time with the equinox. The harvest festival takes place at the end of this month. Usually it’s a three-day affair, but the Keep stretches it out to five, ending on the dawn of Daedra Kama, when everything comes to a stop. No work, no harvesting, no gatherings as everyone prepares for the possible coming of the Daedra and their ilk.” Llyn explained quietly as she put aside the rasp she was using and stretched. “You’ll have to leave. I don’t want to feel that you stayed cooped up in that tower room for the week, or vanished into the depths of the library, or exposed to the wrath of the Daedra should they be seeking vengeance for your ruining the plans of their minions. I want you to enjoy something of the festival time.” She said, her quiet voice earnest, “Away from here.” Moving from the stool, she crossed over and stood upon her knees near the bars, resting her brow between two of them as she reached out and draped her arms over Muri’s shoulders. “There are places which will have their own festivities, but on much smaller scales.”
“Where?” he asked as he stroked one of her forearms with one hand, stirring his fingers through the dark auburn fur, his single small witchlight bringing out subtle auburn gleams. “I really was thinking of staying, I don’t want you to be stuck here in this cage all by yourself, even for that week.”
“I’ll have Dream, the drunks, and the regulars here for company.”
“Dream’ll be out bedding as many ladies as he can.” Muri scoffed with a frown, whiskers drawing back along his muzzle. Llyn chuckled a soft, quiet breath through her nose.
“Or lords even.” She added sardonically, “But he won’t forget me. Glen Avery, just a few hours walk to the north, where we stayed our first night back in the valley. It’s a smallish place, and many who live there will be at the Keep, though I know that they enjoy a smaller festival of their own.”
“That was the only place I would have thought of anyway, as that’s the only other place I even know around here.” Muri replied with a nod, resting his muzzle in the crook of her elbow, inhaling through the soft fur as Llyn’s free hand combed through the fur of his chest beneath the loose lapel of his shirt.
“The Innkeep, Jurmas, said that he would have a room ready for you whenever you needed.” Llyn added as she drew the skunk a little more firmly back against the bars, closer to her though still too far away, separated by the unyielding solidity of the aged iron. “You repaired his cistern.”
“I remember, the buck.” Muri said after a moment, leaning back against the bars, letting his tail fall between them to curve loosely at his lover’s hip, “I’ll leave on the morrow then, as the festival will begin the day after.”
Hugging him tightly, Llyn nodded slowly, “I’ll miss you, Love.”
Nibbling at the fur of her arm, Muri murred and chuckled softly as he extricated himself enough to lean forward, glancing toward the far end of the dungeon. “I haven’t left yet.” He churred a soft, humorous growl as his tail curved around her back, flicking at her opposite hip. The scorpion was waiting, motionless as was his usual habit, just a few paces before the closed door at the far end of the dungeon. Llyn giggled as she pressed her brow and cheeks against the bars and nipped playfully at one of his ears.
As far as journeys go, the trip to Glen Avery was a rather uneventful one. Not that he had been forced to walk the entire distance, though. A wagon loaded down with ale casks, sacks of flour, corn meal, and potatoes caught up with him only an hour north of the Keep. Hauled by a team of six horse-morphed keepers in their wholly animal forms, it made good time without anyone at the reins, leaving the buckboard empty for passengers.
Sharing the buckboard with an effusive young antelope named Yrigoll, Muri spent the entertaining passage trading stories with the six horses and Yuri, as he called himself. Each tale seemed more fantastic and unbelievable than the one before, and by the time they reached the outskirts of the glen they were all barely able to breathe for laughing so hard. The horse team blamed their passengers for the fact that they were nearly two full hours late, but all with good humor. Doffing their harnesses, five of them resumed their bipedal half-animal forms to unload the wagon. The last explained that she had been stuck in her full animal form since the day of the curse, but had learned to accept her lot.
As the team finished their unloading and led the wagon away, Muri shouldered his belongings and made his way to the glen’s one proper Inn.
The Mountain Hearth was a somewhat grand building from the front, in keeping with the local theme. A broad porch bounded the front and sides of the three-floor edifice. Various crafts and curios hung from the beams and were worked into the architecture; baskets and broken wheels, discarded antlers and old wood saws. The proliferation of odds and ends gave it a more mercantile flair than a place to spend the night, but it also lent it an air of comfortability and relaxed air. For all the oddments the porch was scrupulously swept clean, the hanging chimes clattering away quietly in the autumn breeze.
Mounting the steps, Muri crossed into the shadows of the porch just as the door was drawn open from within and a Lynx smiled broadly at him. “This way, good sir, if you’ll please follow me.” The feline said in a smooth, rolling purr as he waved one arm back toward the main hall. Bemused, Muri followed the swept arm, passing the Lynx and entering the Inn. The door closed behind him with a muted thud as he surveyed the room and waited for the door-cat to lead him on.
The main hall of the Hearth was a two-floor affair soaring to a vaulted ceiling that occupied much of the third floor as well. The second floor was fronted by a balcony around the back and side walls, with stairs descending along the front wall and ending several paces shy of the door. There were three small balconies, not attached to any manner of walkway, on the third floor, offering a very secluded view for patrons with enough lucre to have secured such a room. The fourth floor was mostly attic space and spare billeting for overflow crowds.
Most of the Hearth’s rooms, however, had no view or balcony. Those that were not open billets were carved from the mountain itself, which served as the back of the hotel. Those caverns extended into the mountain for quite some distance, a labyrinth that tied almost all of the existing ground structures together at some point.
“Welcome back to the Hearth, sire, and I hope you do enjoy the harvest festival for the next few days. I forget your name, sire, as I was working in the kitchens during your first stay here, but I remember you very well.” The Lynx explained as he crossed to one of the stairways leading to the second floor, “Master Jurmas was in a right fine mood for weeks after you repaired the cistern, and it took a great load off of our backs as well.”
“Murikeer.” The skunk offered as he followed the gurrelous lynx up the stairs. The few patrons present offered him little more than a passing glance before going back to their conversations.
“Master Murikeer, it is good to make your aquiantance.” The lynx smiled, white teeth gleaming against the gray fur of his muzzle, whiskers twitching pleasantly. “Master Jurmas has gone to Metamor to enjoy the larger festival taking place there, and has left the Hearth in the hands of his staff. I am Tereval, head steward.”
“Well met, steward Tereval.”
“Indeed, sir, indeed.” The lynx nodded without missing a breath or a step, leading Murikeer along the balcony to the far wall directly across from the main door. Drawing open one leaf of a pair of broad, tall, intricately carved doors, the Lynx led on into a broad corridor with a polished hardwood floor, rock walls, and a ceiling that was a mix of the two materials. “Master Jurmas stated that, should you ever return, that a room be made available for your use. Due to the festival, we only have one.” He continued, opening another door to more stairs, which he led the skunk up. “I was lucky enough to see you arriving with the polygamites, if you were wondering why I reached the door so swiftly.”
Muri blinked as they ascended the stairs, “Palygamites?” he asked, somewhat surprised at the strong word coming from the effusive steward’s mouth.
“Aye, milord, the horses. They’ve quite an extended family here, some seventeen of them, all equines of some breed or another. Not that I judge them, mind, being a servant of Eli. Nasoj’s nasty little parting gift has forced us all to take on some very strange social traditions just to keep ourselves sane.” He shrugged as they reached the top of the stairs and the steward opened the final door, revealing a large room beyond. Light streamed in from two windows set in the far wall. As Muri gawked, the lynx smoothly divested him of his satchel and pack, setting them on the large trunk at the foot of the very large canopy bed in the center of the room. “They’re very good people, always were, even before Nasoj. They just have a pretty strange family.” He said with a gentle laugh. “I’ll leave you here to situate yourself and relax. If you have need of anything, just step out on the balcony and ask, or pull the tassel cord there by the door.”
Blinking, Muri almost let the lynx escaped before managing to find his voice and motor skills once more. “Something to eat, if you please, and… this is all you have left?” he chuffed, surprised, as he turned toward the retreating lynx.
“Anything of the season you have a hunger for, milord Murikeer, and yes.” The lynx lied, nodding. In truth he had almost a dozen rooms, not including the three higher balcony suites, available. For the Hearth that was a respectable crowd, even for a festival time.
“Just… whatever’s being served at the moment. I would prefer as much as possible to enjoy my solitude.” He said with somewhat more grace as the lynx bowed out.
“Muri, just Muri.”
The meal was simple, but quite satisfying. He spent the remainder of the afternoon going over a few books that Rick had suggested he read while he had the chance. When Murikeer had explained why he was leaving for the week the raccoon had been amazingly understanding. The crowds would make chaos of the local magic, he explained, and the next ritual he had planned for Muri would require intense, stable focus.
So, shoving a selection of books into the skunk’s arms, he ran him out with the order to spend a week getting himself back together in mind, emotion, and magic. The battle in the follower chapel and the subsequent trial had been quite harrying on him as well. The quiet, relative solitude of the Mountain Hearth would do him well.
As afternoon tended toward evening, however, he found that the growing noise of the crowd gathering at the Inn was becoming too rambunctious to let him quietly read. He wandered out onto the balcony and peered down at the mob below with a frown, his tail lashing back and forth behind him as he surveyed the thickening crowd.
When he arrived there had been seven patrons at two of the tables. Now there were closer to thirty, most of whom were milling around with drinks in their hands conversing with overloud, festive voices. The festival crowd seemed to have gravitated to the Inn a day early, he mused with a displeased frown. With the racket they put on he knew that finding sleep, let alone reading or concentrating on his magical studies, was going to be a challenge.
Luckily, as a mage, he could create spells of silence with little trouble.
For a moment he considered the expense and requirements for a silence strong enough to fill the hall below, but only for a moment. He doubted that the largess of his patron in Glen Avery would extend very far if he ran his customers away.
With a mutter and a sigh he shook his head at the mob, none of which seemed to have noticed his presence above. What cannot be beaten or easily avoided could be joined, he thought ruefully as he returned to the room without bothering to close the balcony door.