Episode 2: Tall, blond, and handsome

The merchants were busy securing their wagons alongside an inn that fronted the forest path. Isabelle was surprised that the town had enough visitors to support an inn. Clearly the tavern on the ground floor was a lively place, but its customers would most likely be locals and therefore not in need of a room. The village didn't look so large that it would be hard for even a drunk man or woman to find their way home, especially given the rather unique architecture.

The architecture was something like a patchwork quilt; everything was sown together into one village, but the pieces were odd and rarely matched. A stone tower (Stone? Where did they get stone in this area?) rose up from what was likely the town square. Near it was a quiet country cottage, and next to that rose a low mound with a door in the front. There was even a manse off to one side of the other houses. Between that and the inn lay three row houses, and all across the village could be seen other such strange architecture.

Isabelle decided to abandon her self-guided tour in favor of the warmth and light of the inn's tavern. She pushed open the door on the right and stepped inside, only to be confronted by a scene nearly as strange as the one she had just left. Inside was a variety of people unusual for all but the most cosmopolitan trade centers: A dwarf, three shady characters, and a clean-cut man with shoulder-length blond hair sat at the bar along the right wall. On Isabelle's left could be found a drunk man juggling more knives than she could count easily, two very old men with staves, and a boy perhaps seven years of age. Further back was a table at which sat, among others, a female bard with a steel mandolin. The crowd in the mostly-full room numbered perhaps two dozen, of which half or more were decidedly odd.

The blond man at the bar, who was closest to the door, rose to greet Isabelle. "Welcome to our village. May I take your cloak?"

Startled, Isabelle took off her dripping cloak and handed it to the man.

He grinned, gestured for her to follow him, and walked to the far side of the bar. "The cloak rack's back here. A wet cloak may be uncomfortable, but some of our residents refuse to take them off unless they've had a chance to parade about first." He hung up her cloak. "You can put your sword here too, if you want."

Isabelle looked at the four swords already sitting underneath the cloak rack and decided that this wasn't an ordinary village.