Sir Ser the Fearless nodded towards a sweet’s shop crammed with eager eyed urchins, “I choose this one.”
“What’s a matter with you, ‘eh… you hungry for a lollipop?” The dwarf reached up and flicked two fingers against Ser’s helmet with a resounding dong. “We should be finding an audience who has what we really need! Follow me.”
Ronnie Bowfingers struck out across the cobbled lane towards the Soggy Bottoms Pub of Yarnolth, muttering something about the last time he had a decent sized pint. He got precisely three steps away when a slim hand tugged him backwards by his waist length red beard. He sputtered and glared up at Skeap, the hooded woman who held a fist full of his hair in one hand and the jowl of Sir Ser’s helmet in the other.
“What we need is a place to sleep and not to spend the night in another barn” Skeap tilted her head towards the heavily armed curfew guards ambling through the narrow lanes. Sleeping in the streets was actively discouraged. “So it’ll be the inn for us. Agreed?” She turned away, not giving them time to respond. They both nodded anyway, a force of habit more than anything else.
As a group, they turned to consider the Buttons and Bows Inn. It was a rather small establishment, perhaps only a dozen rooms in all. Skeap and Sir Ser arranged their weapons while Ronnie scratched at his lower legs with a painful cringe.
“I told you there was Burning Leaf behind those trees.” Skeap said with a roll of her eyes. “That’s what you get for not watching your step in the shrubs.”
“When a man’s got to go… he does nah’ bother a ‘watch his step’ ” Ronnie said in a high pitched voice.
“So, what’s it to be?” Ser interrupted, “Sandworms, skeletons, orcs?” He listed their options extending one finger at a time.
“Goblins,” Skeap said. “Those other stories aren’t ready yet. You think you can manage your part this time?”
“My lady,” he scoffed, “a true knight-”
“A ‘true knight’ doesn’t fumble his sword and cut down half the awning over the fish market.” Skeap pinned him with a stare until he blushed.
“Goblins… stick to the script.” She said and led them across the street. The sounds of laughter, clinking cups and general revelry could be heard from behind the inn’s entry door. It sounded like a large party gathered inside.
“Come on fellas,” Skeap reasoned with a smirk and a laugh, “unless there’s someone in there who’s a field expert on goblins we don’t have anything to worry about…”
“And that’s when I bargained with the goblin chieftain, ‘O Kack Lu Laktush’…I said, ‘Gud ur Lak Takosh’“ a laugh erupted from between Knight Frances’s gleaming teeth. He turned to confide in the pretty maid near him as Skeap, Sir Ser and Ronnie Bowfingers froze inside the doorway.
“But of course I couldn’t marry his daughter…goblins are worse than trolls when it comes to personal hygiene…so I did the next best thing and let them give me the Yarnolth ambassador in trade.” He chuckled, shaking his head in a flurry of blonde curls.
“Sneaky bit of subterfuge, I admit, but when one is commissioned from the King to rescue an old friend…well,” Knight Frances shrugged his complicated metal armored shoulders and his smile set off a round of applause.
Ronnie, who happened to be nearest the door, was the first to turn and grasp the handle which had only just shut behind them. There was a bit of a scuffle as Sir Ser pushed behind him leaning for the exit and Skeap hissed at them both. Just stick to the script…we’ll be fine…where are you going?
“Well met, good travelers!” Knight Frances leaped to his feet and bowed to the newcomers, “You three look as though you’ve been on the road. Come tell us what you’ve seen.” The knight ushered Skeap to a spot near him at the largest table. Ronnie gave his leg a swift scratch and Ser moved to stand behind the knight, folded his arms and set a serious look on his face.
“We came from Rengalm,” Skeap said, pausing to introduce her companions. “The first night of our long journey was spent out of doors.”
“Aye, sleeping on the ground and whatnot…” Ronnie ambled through the room, passing Sir Ser who was rubbing his eyebrows, deep in thought. “Didnae think we’d have any trouble but we heard some nasty rumors out that way…deadly rumors.” He picked up a mug and eyed it against the light…empty.
“We’d only just fallen asleep,” Skeap continued and raised her voice, “…when a horrid sound woke us.” She glanced at Sir Ser who muttered softly; his face pinched in concentration.
Skeap cleared her throat and tapped the table with an impatient finger at Ser who was staring at the back of Knight Frances; the bonifide goblin expert! She could tell that his mind was spinning away; his eyes glazed with worry.
“The terror of it was enough to curdle your blood,” Skeap raised her voice a bit more, “it was the howling of…” she stopped to give Ser his big entrance. He looked up in the sudden quiet of the room and opened his mouth.
“Rabbit!” He yelled
Skeap flinched, closed her eyes and rubbed at her temples. Ronnie tossed down his empty mug with a curse and everyone looked over at Ser; his mouth still hanging open. He snapped it shut with an audible click.
“That hardly sounds right,” Knight Frances said with a frown. “I’ve never known a rabbit to howl and I’ve seen nearly every kind of dangerous creature known to man.”
“It was, er…” Sir Ser tapped his fingers against his lips and glanced to Skeap for help. She raised an eyebrow at him as if to say “I told you to go with the goblin story but would you listen to me? No. Well buddy, you got us in this mess, you get us out!” He turned to Ronnie but the dwarf had already moved on to check the next table for stray mugs of ale; scratching his leg as he walked. Ser addressed the crowd.
“It was, I mean were…rabbits…were-rabbits…yes, Wererabbits!” He snapped his fingers and with a feverish zeal raced on. “They look just like every other rabbit…cute, cuddly, with those long floppy ears-”
“How is it I’ve never seen one of these beasts?” Knight Frances asked. Skeap folded her arms across her chest and nodded in agreement. Ser leaned over the table and confided in a stage whisper to the room.
“I’m not surprised you haven’t seen them, because they…they’re nocturnal.” His shoulders rose in a shrug of nonchalance as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “The things only appear at night.”
The patrons of the Buttons and Bows Inn looked from Knight Frances to Sir Ser, shuffling in their seats and murmuring to each other. Skeap steered Ronnie away from the knights mug and the dwarf distracted himself with his itching legs. Knight Frances put a hand to his chin; looking thoughtful.
“So, you’re telling me that every innocent looking rabbit is one of these beasts?” Knight Frances scoffed and the crowd mimicked him.
“No!” Sir Ser looked sideways, covered his lips with a fist and murmured, “I don’t think…”
“Only certain ones,” Sir Ser declared and paced around the room, gaining energy as he went. “During the day you can only spot a Wererabbit…by…holding it up…and checking for the dark rings beneath it’s eyes…you know, from lack of sleep.”
Ser paused for this information to sink in. Knight Frances nodded his head in understanding and the crowd nodded with him. Skeap let out a small puff of air and put a finger to her twitching eye lid.
“Alright then…but, what makes them so dangerous?” Knight Frances asked and a dozen heads turned to ask the same question of Sir Ser. He thought for just a moment before placing two hands on his hips and announcing in his most authoritative voice.
“They’ve got a mouth full of sharp little teeth and they stalk their prey, using those big ears to send signals.” Ser put two fingers behind his own head, wiggling them to demonstrate. The crowd adjusted in their seats nervously. No one wanted to be the first to call out a madman.
“Have you any proof?” The knight insisted. Sir Ser turned to Skeap with a pitiful groan.
She gave a smug look that said, “You’re going to owe me for saving your neck” and deftly kicked Ronnie in his infected shin. The dwarf flinched, glanced up from his emptied mug and belched. Skeap gave him a pointed stare which wandered down his leg. A light went on behind those ale blurred eyes.
“Oh aye!” Ronnie Bowfingers pulled up the leg of his pants, “Here’s yer proof.” He revealed several rows of raised blistering rashes which looked like tiny mouth shaped bite marks. “And they itch something fierce!”
The crowd was instantly won over, including Knight Frances who offered to pay for their rooms in exchange for more tales of these amazing new-found creatures.