Muri brought up a hand to scratch lightly at one of his ears as he became dimly aware of his surroundings. The scent of aged wood and straw was heavy on the air, scents unfamiliar to him, but not alarming in their presence. Llyn's scent was also close at hand, with the more distant, subtler scent of the marten they had met the previous evening. His ears picked out the many mingled sounds that managed to get through the heavy door of the room he and Dream had shared; the gleeful chorus of children mingled with the louder, more sonorous voices of adults going about their morning tasks. Claws scratched and whispered on the floor, muffled by distance but easily discernable mingled with the other sounds of a town awakening to greet another day.
He finished chasing an itch away from his ear, feeling marvelously clean once again, and stretched that arm. Laying it down, he was only then startled to find that he was not alone. His arm came down across a softly furred shoulder in very close proximity, and he suddenly realized why Llyn's scent was so strong. She was in his bed.
His eyes popped open abruptly, only to find himself staring into the deep, mahogany colored fur of her shoulders. She was lying facing the wall, away from him, her tail draped limply across his hip. How she had come to be there, he had no idea. The marten, Dream, had been lucky enough to secure a room at the inn with two beds, the only remaining open room in the place. The local timber crews were in town, and had booked almost all of the other rooms, aside for those taken by a few locals and trappers who were in town. Llyn had been offered the communal billets, though both Muri and Dream had argued against it, she had only chuffed at their machismo, and turned in while they were mulling over how to get her to accept one of the two beds.
Apparently, at some point, she had found the billets to be not to her liking and snuck in to join them.
Sneaky mink, Muri thought, as he rolled over and slowly sat up, stretching. Dream was already awake, sitting upright and cross legged on his own bed, quietly tuning what looked like a large dulcimer. He caught Muri's gaze as the skunk finished his stretch, his dark eyes unreadable. Muri quailed inwardly as he sensed a darkness about the marten, in the hardness of his eyes as their gazes met.
He had sensed that the marten and Llyn had shared something in the past, which Llyn was apparently beyond, but Dream was not. Muri had suddenly become a rival, apparently, and he did not find he much enjoyed that status. He gave Dream an helpless shrug, indeed not knowing when Llyn had come in, or why she had decided to share /his/ bed. Had she asked, he would quite willingly have slept on the floor. Even wooden planking was a better surface to sleep on than some he had used in the past.
Dream, having finished what tuning he could do without waking the duo sharing the opposite bed, picked up his instrument and left without a word. Muri shook his head slowly as he picked up his bandoleer, slinging it across his shoulder and following the marten out before the door swung closed. At least he understood how Llyn had gotten in without being heard; the door was designed to close by itself, a simple series of well oiled wooden pulleys and counterweighted rope drawing it quietly shut behind him as he left.
The common room of the inn was a calmly busy place that morning, with perhaps a dozen or so patrons scattered here and there in the large central room. The inn had been built mostly within a cavern, a few of the upper rooms built above the exposed frontage so that they were able to have windows, as the lower level did, but for the most part many of the rooms were within the cavern itself, which was broken up by floors and walls. The stone kept the place cool in the summer, but Muri could imagine that, so close to the surface, they got rather cold in the winter. The room that he and Dream, and Llyn, had shared was one of those above the common room, and had two windows to one side, and a fireplace built into the far wall. He would think that the cavern rooms would also have hearths, but how they evacuated the smoke was a mystery to him.
Dream, reaching the common room even as Muri was standing at the banister of the second story and looking around, did not take a seat at one of the half dozen or so round tables. Instead he moved over to an open side of the common room, where a lone chair had been propped against the wall near the huge common hearth. Banked low, the fire in that hearth was being used to heat a huge black cauldron, most likely the communal hot-water supply. He spent a few minutes affixing legs to his dulcimer, quietly speaking with the proprietress of the inn, a doe by the name of Nylin, then pulled the chair over and sat down.
Muri descended the staircase, moving over to one of the tables that was unoccupied. For the most part, the quiet speaking patrons gave him merely a cursory glance, eyebrows arching and ears turning as they noted his lack of clothing. It seemed a mere curiosity for most of them, rather than an offense, which eased some of Muri's fears. He had to be fascinated by the collection of creatures seated in the sunlit room, chatting amiably with one another over mugs of cider, idly watching Dream tune his dulcimer.
A black fox wearing a simple kilt of featureless black broadcloth sat at a nearby table chatting animatedly with a squirrel dressed in much finer garb, the two laughing often. The fox's feral, toothy smile seemed amazingly threatening, but Muri realized that it was the only way the fox could smile at all, and the squirrel was apparently not alarmed by the predator's smile at all. Sitting at another table were several burly creatures; a stoat, a moose, and a wolverine mumbling over huge tankards of whatever drinks they had chosen, the lot of them wearing heavy woolen shirts of a garish white and red checkerboard design. The slacks they wore were loose, light, and patched extensively. Even as he eyed them a fourth creature joined them, the gangly limbed raccoon dragging a chair over and plopping herself in it with a tired yawn.
A tall, slender framed buck ducked through the curtained doorway leading to what was obviously a kitchen carrying a large platter with plates of food upon it. A stack of mugs piled next to a pitcher of bright golden cider dominated the center of the tray as he sat it down, turning and vanishing behind the curtains once more. He did not even managed to snag his ten point rack of antlers on the cloth, which Muri had to smile at. There were a few tears near the lintel of the doorway, owing to the buck's very wide rack, which admittedly had to be cumbersome at certain times. At least the velvet was gone this late in summer, and the antlers would eventually be removed.
"May I get you something to warm your soul, good sire?" a voice asked quietly close at hand, brining Muri's attention back to his table. He blinked, turning his gaze upon the willowy, slender doe standing nearby. She wore a loose, pastel green dress and apron, a kind smile upon her narrow muzzle as deep, amber eyes met Muri's with calm warmth.
"No, milady." The skunk shook his head and smiled back with as much grace as he could remember, "I've no silver, so shan't disturb your grace with demands." He bowed his head slightly. He chided himself inwardly, his graces were sorely lacking, rusty with nearly three years of disuse.
"That is unfortunate." She whispered with typical cervine solemnity, "The kind sir Dream stated last eve that he would be covering all charges."
Muri glanced over at the marten, who had taken out his hammers and was running through the scales of his instrument, making minor tuning changes, "I would not wish to lean to heavily upon his largess madam." He commented, remembering all too well the marten's dark look upon finding Llyn in Muri's bed, "Though, I would be willing to assist in what labors you have around the place." He smiled, "I have some minor ability with earth magics."
"Earth." Her tall, scalloped ears twitched, turning back briefly as the first trill of music filled the room, "We have no earth mage here at the Glen." She nodded, smiling once more, "Only a kindly addled wood mage." She chuckled and Muri smiled, nodding back, "I shall ask Jurmas if he has need of some assistance, then, good sir." With that she turned and navigated her way gracefully toward the bar and thence to the kitchen, her triangular tail flashing white in the broad pools of sunlight as she passed through them.
Dream launched into a long, slow moving reel, letting the music carry through the large commons room without adding his voice. There were times for inspiring ballads and mood bolstering songs, but a morning serenade did not often suit itself to such power. Muri leaned back in his chair, his foot idly tapping time with the deeper notes while his tail shook and waved in time with the swifter melodies in the higher scales. He could even identify the song, Highland Sunrise, though there were a few modifications, an arpeggio where he was not familiar with it, an altered note here and there, but nothing that detracted from the music itself.
Muri smiled at the martin's artistry, both visual and musical, for he had set himself up at the edge of a pool of sunlight, and as he played the glow of the morning sun gleamed softly from the polished planes of his instrument. His hammers, made of some very dark wood, flashed and flickered rapidly as they darted from string to string, though the dark brown creature himself was not directly in the sunshine, which, being between himself and his audience, obscured him with its brightness. There seemed to be only the dulcimer and the flashing hammers, drawing music out of nowhere.
The scuff of a chair being moved nearby brought Muri's gaze around quickly. Llyn settled into a chair at his table, rubbing her muzzle as she yawned a huge, toothy yawn. "Why didn't you wake me?" she murred, rubbing her whiskers as she blinked across at Dream.
"You would wake eventually." Muri replied, turning his attention back to the music, "He was not particularly pleased."
"Who? At what?" she asked, scratching between her ears, licking her whiskers as she stretched yet again.
"Dream, at your being in my bed." He turned to look back at her, then quickly averted his gaze away once more as she stretched. He could not help notice the smiling leers of the timber workers at a the other table, the lady raccoon scowling as she poked the moose in the ribs with an elbow. "What's between you two?"
"Between us now?" Llyn deflated, relaxing as she propped her elbows upon the table. Muri had already noticed, quite sharply, that she was not wearing the ragged leather vest, only her swordbelt. "Nothing, I would think. He has his life, I have mine, and seldom the twain shall cross."
"In the past?"
She fixed him with a level stare, then sighed, "We were... we were lovers once."
Muri raised an eyebrow curiously. He understood intimacy well enough, but had thought that it was against her faith to engage in bedding others outside of wedlock, or handfasting at the very least. "How long ago did you two cease?" He was not comfortable knowing that she and the marten had shared their beds once, but had to admit to himself that it was nothing unusual. He had shared many beds with fawning ladies seeking to curry favor with Heiorn or his cadre of fellow mages.
"A few months ago." She did not look at him, resting her hands upon the smooth surface of the table, "Though not because we no longer cared for one another." She caught his gaze out of the corner of one eye, "He had his things to do, and I had mine. And mine often took me far away for extended periods of time."
"Your patrols." Muri nodded, "I think he still has feelings for you."
Llyn laid a hand upon his, leaning close and catching his gaze directly, "Whatever we had in the past is just that, in the past." She murred deeply, pointedly, "Now we are merely friends, Mur."
Muri caught a missed note in the music, nodding his head slowly, and knew that the marten thought differently, and that was going to cause strife. He knew that the marten's respect for him had suffered because of Llyn's actions and displays, but he could see no way to prevent that. He would simply have to find some other way to head off any growing resentment that might turn the marten against him. "Okay, Llyn, but I don't think he agrees."
A shadow loomed over them, causing them both to blink at the sudden change in light levels, and look up. The buck was standing patiently near the table, his slender cervine face hard as he looked down at them, "You wanted to pay your way with work, skunk?" he asked simply, his quiet voice deep but gentle for his stern expression. Muri merely nodded as Llyn gave him a startled look.
"Yes." Muri nodded, "If you've need."
"I've need, if you've the magic, skunk." The buck jerked his head toward the back and Muri stood to follow, "My cistern broke with last winter 's freeze, and I haven't had the time or withal to craft another."
"How badly broke?" Muri asked, quailing. He had no wish to spend the days required to fashion a new cistern out of stone.
"Just a single crack, but in the worst possible place." The buck ducked, parting the curtains with the points of his antlers and stepping into the heat and bustle of the kitchens. A rat and a lynx glanced up from their respective chores as the unclothed skunk walked past them, following the buck out the back door. Ascending a path around the back of the inn, the buck led Muri up to a relatively flat ledge above the inn's common room. Nestled between the back wall of the attic level and the continued upward slope of the hillside was a massive stone cistern that had been fashioned from a single huge boulder some time in the past. Muri, impressed, whistled quietly at the massive tub-shaped reservoir.
Water flowed freely from a crack in the flank of the massive stone, opposite the valves that controlled the water, when there was enough water in it to control. The crack was very near the bottom, so it was unlikely that it could hold much. "Last winter was pretty damned cold, and I guess the old tub couldn't take it any more. It's fed from a spring further up the hill, but I have to let it leak into the cave for now."
"That should not be too difficult." Muri affirmed as he moved over to examine the crack. Due to the nature of the rock, which the skunk could not immediately identify, the three foot long crack had no radial cracks accompanying it. "You drain it in winter?"
"Heck no, it's in use all year round." The deer crouched and pointed to a series of holes under the bottom of the bowl, "The chimneys come out there, so we can usually keep it warm enough through the cold months, but even so, it was too cold."
"Does the water freeze over?"
"Sometimes, can't do much about that."
"Toss a couple of waterskins full of air in there, they'll break up most of the ice before it can freeze solid." Muri ran his hand over the crack, using his spirit sight to examine the nearby hills. Finding a likely node of energy, he returned to normal sight, "And get yourself a pyrock or two."
"Can't, they're too damned expensive and hard to find."
Muri chuffed, shaking his head at that old myth. Pyrocks were apprentice level magic, though the binding of their energies to make them truly portable was more of a challenge. If they were fixed, a link to the surrounding energies could be formed easily. Mages typically did not produce them in quantities with the express purpose of keeping them rare, and thus highly prized. The same went for illumination gems and other trinket magic. "Well, I'll fix the crack. It'll take me some time, so you might as well go back to your duties."
The buck patted his shoulder a couple of times, the strength in his slender arms evident with the unconscious force of his blows, "If ye can fix this, son, it'll pay your way here for months." He said, then turned and walked back down the path.
Crossing his legs, Muri settled into a light trance, reaching for the nearby node of energies. The first thing he needed to do was redirect a thread of power from the nearby node into the bottom of the cistern, then place just a hint bit of fire energies into it. Simply done, the bottom of the cistern was now one big pyrock, linked to the local energy flows. So long as life flowed into that node, and the cistern was not moved very far, the magic would keep the water temperature several degrees above freezing forever. He did not place a great deal of fire in the magic, lest he cause it to grow so hot it boiled the water away during the warmer months.
Next, he went about sealing that crack, which turned out to be far more difficult than affixing the fire magics had been.