Episode 14: Gathering storm

Arthur excused himself, saying that he had to get a few things organized at his house before that afternoon's meeting began. Isabelle went back to her room and spent the time before the meeting in the sort of quiet thought that usually occupied her as she rode guard for a caravan. When it was time for the meeting, she went down to the tavern and blinked in astonishment.

The room was comfortably crowded with an even stranger assortment of people than had occupied it the previous night. This was only part of what amazed Isabelle. The other part was the nagging feeling she had that the room had not been quite that large the last time she was in it. She had no way of knowing for certain, since she hadn't bothered counting tables or making any similar measurements, but she couldn't shake the feeling that its size had subtly grown to accommodate the crowd. She took a seat at the end of the bar by the stairs and took a better look at the people gathered there.

Max, the bartender, stood behind the bar with his arms crossed. His warhammer lay on the bar before him. To either side of him stood a guard wearing a breastplate and longsword. Two similar guards sat at the bar in front of the first two, and another two stood by the door. Arthur was at the end of the bar by the door, writing something on a small slate tablet that he had with him. The only other person sitting at the bar was a very beautiful lady of indeterminate age who had long black hair falling down past her waist. She seemed relaxed, but her eyes kept flitting over the crowd assembled before her.

The crowd sitting at the tavern's tables contained some familiar faces but many unfamiliar ones. Isabelle recognized the large man who had run the town meeting that morning, "Jack Knifeman," the two old men with staves from the night before, the dwarf from the night before, and a couple of the shady characters. There was even a figure in black sleeping in the shadows of the rafters towards the back of the room, but Isabelle couldn't see it well enough to tell if it was the other caravan guard or not.

The door opened and one of the more normal-looking male patrons from the previous night entered, pursued by the two women that he had been sitting with. One of them was waving her steel mandolin at him threateningly. The other trailed behind them, grinning as she watched. They claimed their previous table, and the bard snuggled up to the man, who put his arm around her. Isabelle blinked and looked away.

Arthur spoke up. "Looks like everyone's here; let's get this party started."