Douven Staul's Last Pint

Salvana Wrafton's youngest daughter, Ilsa, plunked a simple earthenware mug down hard enough to splash a quarter-cup of the Inn's dark, frothy stout onto the scarred oaken tabletop. The massive dwarf grinned and smacked his lips appreciatively, but Ilsa merely narrowed her eyes and retreated with a 'tsk,' lingering only long enough to snatch up the empty tankard she had delivered on her previous visit.

"I am thinking this will be your last tankard of the evening, Master Staul," laughed the dark-eyed man sharing his table, leaning back to drain the last swallow of Selgaunt Red from his own goblet. "Madame Wrafton seems none too pleased with your antics; you might have cajoled one or two more out of her otherwise."

"Maybe giving the little lass a pinch wasn't such a good idea," mused Douven Staul, "but by Tymora's eye, the look on her face was priceless! Still, Bairwin, I believe you're right… Ah well. I'll need to be makin' an early start of it anyway, to get out to the site tomorrow before sunrise."

Bairwin Wildarson's eyes flashed. "You've decided to begin digging in the burial site, then? Are you sure that is wise, Master Staul? The wilderness has not been so safe of late, I hear."

"I can handle a few unruly kobolds, have no worries on that count." The dwarf paused to take a long pull from his new mug. "In any case, old fellow, I simply have no choice: I've come too far to turn back now!" He wiped a bit of foam from his beard, then leaned toward his drinking companion, countenance turning serious. "I tell you, I think that little midden-heap south of town may well be the greatest treasure in the Serpent Vale!"

"Yes, yes," snapped the greying, green-robed man at the adjacent table, peering up irritably from a large leatherbound tome. "We've all heard your wild theories about Shadraxil's resting place… Honestly, Douven, you may be right about the grave's location, but do you honestly believe you'll find some vast undiscovered treasure horde? You're wasting your time out there, I promise you."

"Believe what you want, Valthrun," Douven replied stiffly, "I will accept your apology when I return with the proof I seek. I would think you, as a fellow scholar, would understand my thirst for knowledge!" He grinned.

Valthrun's eyes narrowed. "Do not presume to place me in the same league as you, sir. I am an accomplished historian, and you are a mere treasure hunter with delusions of grandeur. Do you even know the old story of Shadraxil? If you did, I do not think you would be so quick to cavort off to her possible gravesite, kobolds or no kobolds.

"Speaking of which, I would be more wary, were I you, of the kobolds themselves… I tell you, something is amiss with those creatures. Why, just a few months ago they were content to herd their goats in the high hills and steal the occasional chicken or bushel of wheat from the outlying farms. Now they grow so bold as to attack caravans on the King's Road! Their recent boldness speaks of fear and desperation, as when a new predator or power moves into an area… if Lord Padraig does not act soon, trade will begin to suffer."

Staul made a show of stifling a yawn, at which point Valthrun, visibly bristling, snorted in derision and returned his attentions to his tome. Bairwin laughed to himself, stroking his pointed Sembian beard. "By all the gods, Master Staul, I believe you are the only man who can shut that old scholar up!" He smiled and extended a hand to his smiling drinking companion as he rose, reaching into his coin purse. "Remember to stop in and say hello on your way out of town in the morning; I'll have the new stock unloaded from today's shipment by then, including those sunrods and spades you ordered." He leaned forward, speaking with an intensity which Douven might have caught, had he been less deeply in his cups. "I'll be most anxious to see you on your way… and, ah, to wish you luck and good fortune."

"I will do that, friend Bairwin! You Sembians, always trying to weasel more silver from an honest man's pocket…"

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