Neil awoke to the sun shining through the slats of the shutters on the window of the room, his lyre clutched tightly against his chest. Foggy memories of the night before came into focus as he pulled himself up into a sitting position, his eyes not leaving the amber wood and fine strings.
Neil rose from the bed, finding a washbasin waiting for him on a small table next to the stool holding his pack. He cleaned himself as best he could, grabbed his lyre, shouldered his bag, and walked out of the room quietly.
The main room of the inn was already warm with a cheerfully popping fire in the hearth as Credence busied herself cutting vegetables at the bar.
“Good morning,” she said looking up at him. “Are you hungry?”
Neil felt his stomach growl in response and nodded to her. She set down her knife with a smile and disappeared through the kitchen door as he took a seat at the bar. Credence returned a minute later with a steaming bowl of porridge topped with fresh strawberries.
“Thank you,” he said as he set his lyre on the bar and his pack on the floor.
“I see your lyre is still in fine shape this morning,” Credence said resuming her chopping.
Neil felt his cheeks burn suddenly as she smiled warmly at him.
“I’m sorry about last night,” he blurted.
“There’s nothing to be sorry about,” she replied, “I know how important your lyre is to you. My heart broke when I saw it last night. I don’t blame you in the least for reacting the way you did when Faleth repaired it for you. Do you know how he did that? It sure would be handy around here.”
Neil shook his head as his eyes focused on the instrument, “I don’t know how he did it, but I’m going to ask him to teach me. Hopefully, I can learn it.”
“You’re up early,” Cade said appearing from seemingly nowhere. Neil nearly knocked the bowl of porridge off the bar.
“By the gods!” Credence half-screamed, “no more hiding and lurking around for you! If you do that one more time, I’ll put a cowbell on you!”
“I don’t mean to sneak around. I’m just tiny and easily overlooked,” Cade said as he gestured to his body with a smile. “I’ll be sure to announce myself when I enter the room in the future.”
“What’s happened?” Jack said as he came barreling through the kitchen door holding a knife.
“Everything is fine, Jack. Our guest just gave me a bit of a surprise,” Credence said.
The sound of boots landing heavily on the stairs pulled everyone’s attention as Tevarin descended with Faleth in tow behind her. Tevarin’s face looked gaunt as she winced against the light coming through the windows on the front of the building. Faleth, however, looked as though he had just finished a relaxing vacation.
“Are you two ready to leave?” Cade asked louder than he had spoken before. The smile on his face gave away that he knew of Tevarin’s condition.
“We’re ready,” Faleth replied as he swung the pack on his back into view.
“What about you?” Tevarin asked Neil, keeping her voice low, but managing to look him in the eyes. “Are you ready to go, or are you going to have another fit like last night?”
“No,” Neil replied as he looked to the floor, “I’m sorry about my reaction last night.”
“Now is not the time for that, Tevarin. You’re only sour because you stayed up late drinking and now you have to live with the consequences,” Faleth said putting a hand on her shoulder. “That Lyre is clearly important to our young friend. I’m sure there are more than a few things you own that would upset you if they were to be destroyed.”
“Whatever,” Tevarin said as she adjusted her pack, “I’ll be waiting outside.”
Neil watched her walk to the door and shield her eyes from the morning sun before she stepped out onto the porch. The door remained open as the sound of her boots echoed back to them.
“I believe we left a list with you yesterday. Is everything in order?” Faleth asked.
“Jack loaded your Wagon with the supplies this morning. Will you need anything else?” Credence asked.
“How much do I owe you?”
“A gold and eight silver,” Credence replied.
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Faleth said as he placed the coins on the bar. “Hopefully, we can find our way back here before long.”
Cade put a gold piece on the bar as well with a smile.
“No time like the present to get moving,” Cade said winking at Credence. “There’s work to be found and money to be made. Let’s get going Neil.”
Neil grabbed his things and followed Cade and Faleth to the door where his step faltered. He turned around to look at the room once more. Credence smiled warmly at him and waved as tears welled up in her eyes.
“I’ll be back before you know it,” Neil said before he turned and stepped out onto the porch.
In the road sat a wagon with Faleth and Cade climbing onto the driver’s seat behind the two horses that would pull it. The door on the back was ajar.
“Get in,” Faleth said.
With a smile, Neil walked off the porch and climbed into the back of the wagon. Tevarin was seated in one of the two seats that ran along either side, asleep on a burlap sack filled with something that looked soft. Quietly, he pulled the door shut on the back of the wagon and sat just as it lurched into motion.
Neil watched from the window in the door as the village passed by, eventually stopping and getting smaller as they traveled down the road. His heart beat furiously in his chest at the excitement that was leaving home for the first time. His mind wandered from his friends in the village to his family, undoubtedly toiling away on the farm. Goddard was probably already out delivering the milk.
A small window opened at the front, and Neil was greeted by the face of a happy halfling.
“How about some music for the road?” Cade said.
“What about Tevarin?” Neil asked, looking cautiously to the lightly snoring woman across from him.
“She can sleep through just about anything,” Cade replied. “You know any appropriate road songs?”
Neil smiled as he pulled his lyre to his lap and began strumming The Winds of Change.
“Perfect!” Cade said looking at Faleth, “Who knew having a bard along for the ride would be so rewarding so soon?”