The four companions were unusually quiet as they threw back the bitter ale.
"Even the brew is lousy." Heath, the fighter remarked, breaking the silence and scowling at the dark liquid in his tankard. Still, he shrugged and swallowed the rest of the drink.
Peak, the leader of the group nodded in agreement as he too scowled at his own murky refreshment. He was regretting his choice to come to the icy-cold Spine of the world more each day they had been traveling. Now they were finally in Icewind Dale, his long awaited ale was less than welcome.
Their road into the mountains had been long and dangerous and many times, Peak had to remind himself of the reason they came to the harsh place. Adventure. They had only just reached Easthaven, but already optimism was low and tensions were high.
"Bah. Humans." The dwarf, Harran rolled his eyes as he downed the rest of his drink. "Can't take their liquor." He added, motioning the barkeep for another.
"Aye. But dwarves can't hold it." Kano, taunted, bored by the outing already. He absent mindedly cast small fireball spells in the palm of his hand then distinguished it, for no reason other than for something to do. He didn't drink, so he was waiting for the others to finish.
The dwarf simply nodded with a grin, not taking the bait. He greedily swept up his next drink when the gruff bartender placed it at the bar.
"So what next?" Kano asked Peak, eager to continue. "Now that we're here, where do we begin?"
The others looked to Peak too. "Well.." He began, scanning the room for a distraction. Truth be told, he didn't really have a plan. He had suggested to the others that they take their adventure to the bitter north, upon hearing the wealth of treasure and quests that he had heard from other travelers.
"I suggest we stay here for now." He continued, drawing a sigh from his companions. "We should learn as much as we can from these ten-towns. The best place to do that is right here."
He ended by sipping his drink quickly to avoid any follow up questions. Heath, the largest of the group slumped with resignation at the bar, his weight causing the drinks to shake.
"Great idea, 'fearless leader'" he said.
Harren ordered another drink, having drained his tankard. "Fine by me!"
"Wonderful" Kano said, sarcastically "Maybe we can stay here long enough for Harren to drain all the ale from this place, as well as the gold in our pocket."
Harren paused a moment, then shrugged again. "Fine by me too!" He said with a laugh, causing the others to join in. Peak was glad that the two were not fighting as they usually were.
Suddenly the tavern door burst open, inviting the chill air into the toasty room and allowing a few snowflakes to drift onto the floorboards.
Peak twisted at his stool, more in annoyance at the sudden cold than any curiosity. But when he saw the new stranger, he knew he was no average citizen of Easthaven. He was covered in plate armor, the first the group had seen since they had entered the dale. They had become aware that the town-folk were rather too poor to afford good armor and weapons.
Peak supposed the man was one of some importance. Their eyes met and the stranger strolled confidently across the dimly lit room to greet them.
"What's this?" He said, setting his eyes on each of the party. "New faces in town? Well met strangers."
Taken aback by the polite tone of his voice, Peak did not answer straight away. His experiences so far with the citizens of Icewind Dale had shown they were as bitter as the weather itself. Regardless, he extended a hand to greet the armored stranger.
"Well met." Peak replied, somewhat suspiciously.
He looked to the others, who were leaning back, watching their appointed spokesperson talk.
"I am Hrothgar, formally of Hillsfar. Welcome to Easthaven." He said enthusiastically.
"Greetings" Peak replied and motioned to his group. "This is Heath, a fine warrior and protector." Heath nodded and raised his shield with a grin. Peak pointed to the elf, "Kano, a most powerful wizard and Harren, a rather 'noble' dwarf." He added with a nudge. An in-joke just for the companions.
Kano looked bored and waved the greeting away. Harren simply gave Hrothgar a thumbs-up, without looking as he guzzled down another ale.
"And I am Peak." He finished, preferring to keep his profession a secret, especially from people of power.
"Well met again!" Hrothgar replied to each of the party. "May I?" He asked, pointing to a seat at the table.
Truthfully, Peak didn't want the man to join them. They had things to discuss and would now have to wait until he left. Nonetheless he nodded with a polite smile.
"I am curious as to what business brings a group of travelers here at this time of year." Hrothgar said casually, grabbing complimentary ale from the innkeeper with the slightest of nods as thanks.
Before Peak could reply, Hrothgar held up his hand to stop him. "But I suppose your business is your business." He grinned.
"Though.." He continued, leaning forward. A grim look came upon his face as he addressed the crew. "I would offer you a simply piece of advice. While you're in my town, you'd do well to be on your best behavior. I serve as a protector of this township from all manner of threats, and any who would do the people living here harm in any way will answer to me."
The companions watched and listened to the man in silence, Kano scowled at the comment, though only briefly. He was clever enough not to test the seemingly powerful man.
Peak only looked straight at the man, not breaking eye contact. He didn't appreciate threats.
Suddenly, Hrothgar leaned back again, as if nothing had been said. "But I'm not here to make things seem unwelcoming..." He took another swig, and pointed the tankard and wiggled it toward the puzzled adventurers. "You seem a rather decent bunch, and I have no wish to label people as troublemakers."
"I assure you, our intentions are hardly unruly or disruptive." Peak replied without missing a beat. Hrothgar grinned and nodded. "I believe you." He said, and then rose from his seat to leave.
"You look like able bodies." He said, causing Kano and Heath to look at each other in confusion. "If you require work or adventure, come see me. I live just two doors away." He pointed left, presumably towards his house, then strolled out of the tavern as quickly as he had arrived, creating more than a few confused stares among the group.
"Ass." Heath said, slumping again. "Aye." Harren agreed, raising his tankard in a mock toast. Kano angrily dusted his blood-red robe of the new snowflakes appearing from the open door.
Peak simply stroked his untamed beard and looked to the door, thinking of the strange man.
"You're thinking of his offer?" Heath asked. Heath had always been Peak's most trusted friend, having formed the group some years ago. "Dunno." He simply replied.
Slamming down his drink, Harren added "I think we should at least talk to the man. Maybe he has the adventure we seek."
"Aye, maybe." Was all Peak could reply. He yawned, prompting him to realize his tiredness. The road to Icewind Dale had not been kind. He would decide the party's course in the morning.
He wasted no time in purchasing two rooms for the group.
But that night Peak was restless. Had he lead his companions, his friends to Icewind Dale for nothing? Hrothgar's request was the only promise of adventure they had for weeks. Perhaps it was worth taking him up on the offer.
Finally, with a nod of confirmation only to himself, Peak closed his eyes, but was interrupted by the incredible snoring of his dwarven bunk-mate. He groaned. It seemed like he wouldn't get any sleep after all.