I. Arrival: The Tavern
It was late afternoon when Cydric Araesto arrived in the coastal town of Dargon. Hot and tired from his journey up from the capital of Baranur, he rode through the main street of the town, seeking a place to rest. His eyes fixed on a large building near the middle of the street; a sign above the door proclaimed:
BELISANDRA’S in bold red letters. Below the name was a painting of a young buxom wench raising a large tankard of brew. Cydric dismounted in front of the building, put his horse in the adjacent stables, and went inside.
The common room of the tavern was large and brightly lit by lanterns that hung from the rafters. The smells of fresh-brewed ale, Comarian tobacco, and wood smoke reached Cydric as he sat down in a corner table and mopped his brow with the edge of his cloak. He called out to a passing serving girl and ordered a cold pint of Lederian Special Brew.
As the girl left to fill his order, he leaned back against the wall and sighed wearily. “I am finally here,” he thought. “But should I even *be* here? Does my future lie in Dargon, or was it all a fever dream?” He shook his head ruefully. “It is too late for regrets. I made my choice, and I can never go back.”
He turned his attention outward to the tavern. The place was nowhere near capacity, he noted. To his right he saw a young couple holding hands and conversing quietly. At a table in front of the bar a group of richly dressed middle-aged men talked and drank. Near the entrance, a hooded figure in blue robes sat hunched over a mug of brew. A thin, bearded man smoked a small pipe in the glow of the fireplace. And at a table in the center of the room, a pair of leather-clad women arm-wrestled.
The serving-girl returned and placed a large tankard on the table in front of him. She smiled at him as she turned and made her way back to the bar, where a stout woman of about forty summers watched the arm-wrestling women with a look of mild interest. Cydric took a long pull of the cold brew and made a sound of approval. He settled back, letting the tiredness bleed from his bones.
Then, without warning, the strange vision that had been recurring in his mind for months once again intruded upon his thoughts. He tried to purge it from his mind, but the vision persisted. He gave up the effort, having learned early on that the only thing he could do was to let it run its course.
II. Reverie: The Vision
He was sitting on a large boulder that lay half-buried on the shore of a vast golden sea. The sky above him was a deep cobalt blue. Far in the distance, on the horizon, an object sparkled and glittered. He hopped off the boulder and walked to the edge of the sea, straining to see what it was. Then he knelt down and scooped up a handful of the golden water. He raised it to his mouth, but before he drank it he cast his eyes toward the object on the horizon again. He sighed, and his breath turned the golden liquid in his hand to plain colorless water.
The water slipped through his fingers, and where it wetted the sand a small lump of a transparent substance appeared. He picked it up, and the lump grew into the shape of a life-sized human skull. The skull floated out of his palm and came to hover in front of the boulder. Beams of white light lanced out of the skull’s eye sockets and struck the smooth stone, sending up a cloud of dust. After several moments, the skull ceased its activity and set down atop the boulder. Cydric brushed away the rock dust and saw that the skull’s eye-beams had carved into the stone an outline of the continent that contained the Kingdom of Baranur. A small “x” marked a spot on the western coast of the continent. Below the outline were the words “Corambis the Sage”.
As soon as Cydric read the words, the transparent skull rose into the air and, with a clack of its jaws, sped away over the golden sea toward the glittering object on the horizon.
III. The Tavern: Company
The vision faded. Cydric looked up as the serving girl returned and asked him if he wanted another drink. “No, that will be all, for the moment.” The girl turned to leave. “Wait a moment,” he called.
“Do you know of a person called ‘Corambis the Sage’ ?”
The girl looked at him oddly. “Yes, everyone knows of him. Are you just arrived?”
“Yes, I am. Do you know where he lives?”
The girl cast a glance over her shoulder. “A moment, milord.” Cydric watched as the serving girl went over and whispered something to the blue-robed patron. The person nodded and stood up.
Cydric’s hand instinctively moved to the Zanzillian sundagger he wore on his right hip as the blue-clad figure approached and stopped in front of his table. The figure removed its hood to reveal a feminine face framed by a mane of flame-red hair.
“Thuna tells me you are looking for the Sage,” she said in a conversational tone.
“Do you know where I can find him?”
“Better than that; I can take you to him. May I sit?”
Cydric nodded, and the woman seated herself.
“So,” Cydric said, “how much will it cost me for you to take me to him?”
“Merely a moment of your time,” the woman replied, smiling. Cydric found himself smiling back. She couldn’t be very much older than his own twenty summers, he decided. He paused a moment before replying to study the way the lantern-light reflected from her clear green eyes.
“That sounds reasonable,” he said.
“My name is Holleena,” the woman said, extending her hand. Cydric took it and pressed it against his cheek in the traditional courtly manner. He told her his name.
“So tell me, Cydric Araesto, what brings you to our humble town?” she asked.
A piece of the vision flashed through Cydric’s mind. “My horse,” he replied.
Holleena laughed. “I see. Do you wish to visit the Sage now?”
Cydric felt his stomach rumble. “Not just yet. I seem to have forgotten about supper. Would you care to join me?”
“I would, indeed,” Holleena said. Cydric raised his hand to signal the serving girl, but Holleena stopped him.
“Let’s not eat here,” she said.
“Belisandra is a good cook, but as anyone in Dargon can tell you, you haven’t eaten until you’ve had a bowl of Simon Salamagundi’s famous stew.”
“Fine,” Cydric said. “Let’s go.” He tossed a couple of coins onto the table as they rose to leave. He offered his arm to Holleena, and together they left Belisandra’s tavern.