A Bard's tale. From The Book of Ashton
 
" He doesn't look like much of a bard, Vern." The cook's skepticism was palpable. She was a giant and formidable woman, with a flour covered apron. The kitchen staff tended to assume whatever opinion she deigned to offer, and there were many. " He has a lute, Dolly. You heard him play that jig out back, the door was open, I know you heard it so don't deny it. You let him worry about the song and you focus on that stew." Vern was a short man, and a portly one. Red-faced and smiling, it was obvious he loved his place in the world. The book and pipe wasn't the grandest of inns, but it was near the merchant quarters of Swindlemyer, the capital of Harland. Two stories tall with wide windows and a large hearth, the building was generally full and well liked. Men and women of every nationality could be found within, even an Erosian man or two from time to time. The man sitting upon the performers pedestal was tall, and lank. His clothing was warn but his lute was pristine. Vern once dreamed of being a minstrel, and had a very soft spot for starving performers asking to earn bread and a bed out of the rain. Pride billowed from the form of the hungry lutist, and his eyes shone bright enough to banish any pity directed at him. " I am Frederick Quicksilver, traveling bard, and your entertainment for the night. If you'd care to tip me and request a song. I'd gladly oblige." There was little bravado to his voice, and almost no showmanship. For a bard, he was quite matter of fact. Vern silently swallowed his regret, a bad bard often led to brawls and damage to his building. " I heard the jig, Vern, but maybe you should ask for a little more next time. I've seen door mice with more spirit." Her ladle, wielded as a queens scepter, threatened to clunk Vern on the head as she shook it in his face. Dolly was often the one who would wade into the brawls, ladle cracking heads left and right, until she could toss the trouble starters from the book and pipe by their belt loops. The crowd wasn't quiet, wooden mugs clunked on tables, men and women called for drinks and stew, and several drunkards sang marching songs at the bar. The bard sat quietly upon his pedestal, after clearing his throat, and awaited his turn to perform. "He might as well be choking up there, for all the songs he is singing. You better hall him down before he gets the mugs thrown at him, imagine the mess, Vern." Internal conflict colored Vern's features. He didn't want to drag the haggard bard from his spot until he had a chance, at least, to earn his spot on the common floor, but he didn't want his establishment destroyed either. As the innkeeper stared at the kitchen floor, preparing himself to rescinde his charity, when a new voice rose above the crowd. " I see you're a different crowd than I expected. In the merchant quarters, I thought you would be too dainty for a true bard, but here you are and here I am." It was a baritone voice, reminiscent of the bard Vern had met behind the inn, but with a depth of power that couldn't belong to the same man. The crowd was suddenly silent, and all but the drunkards stated in anticipation at the bedraggled man upon the pedestal. A few notes, the man strummed upon his lute - pitchy and clumsy, the people prepared to riot after his interruption, but then he began to sing. " A fist to the noes will curl your toes, I knife to the gut will kill ya. This is the inn to which everyone goes, The beer that we drink is swill, yeah. But everyone goes where the tavern wench blows and the innkeepers don't try to stuff ya..." His voice was captivating, the crowd danced and cheered with every new line, even as Vern felt his establishment was being insulted. Clearly this bard belonged in the high courts, truly the gods must be his patrons. He sang only one song, over and over, but each time it began again the drinkers and eaters at the book and pipe joined in louder and louder. Eventually, Vern was certain the watch would be called, but he loved the energy, the atmosphere. Finally his inn had the heart it always needed! Frederick strolled through the crowd, the sloppy strumming of his lute lost within the cacophony of the people. More than a few young women offered cleavage and a kiss, and most of the men offered a slap on the back. It was almost as if Frederick's voice showed the people they could live, and celebrate life whenever they wanted. Tears began to collect in Vern's eyes, it would be a night he would remember for the rest of his life. Frederick continued to sing as he approached the bar and lifted one of the drunkards mugs to his lips. After a short swallow he winked at Vern and promptly upended the remaining contents over the head of the drunkards neighbor. Eyes wide, Vern watched as a moment of comradery and joy instantly became a nightmare. The man turned and clobbered the drunkard sleeping next to him, and from that moment all was chaos. Fists, chairs, and people flew in every direction. Tables were smashed and kegs broken open, and all Vern could do was cower behind the bar. "Why would he do that?" Vern muttered to himself over and over again. Dolly trudged from the kitchen towards the common area, her face ready for war, when Frederick gracefully swooped up to her and led her in a merry dance through the mayhem. The pair remained completely unmolested as they whirled through a full on brawl, and Dolly looked like she weighed two hundred pounds less than she did as she smiled and stared rapturously into the eyes of the hypnotic monster that called himself a bard. Somehow the same song that Frederick had first performed echoed through the room, patrons only failing to sing when they were being struck in the face or being hurled through the air. Blood streamed from cuts and gashes on every face and bruised mottled every inch of exposed flesh, but the people continued to laugh and to sing and to fight. Vern couldn't believe that the guard hadn't arrived, and Dolly! How was a man to run a respectable establishment? Eventually the patrons of the book and pipe were too battered, bruised, or unconscious to continue battling on, and Vern finally hauled himself out from behind the counter. Upon a stool that once held a drunkard, Frederick slurped the dredges from a cracked mug that once contained ale. "How could you do that, bard? They were eating from the palm of your hand. You've destroyed my inn! Why did I ever give you a chance?" Vern's face was the shade of an autumn apple as his frustration overcame him. With another wink the bard placed a sack upon the bar. "Fear not, gentle innkeeper, I'll not make you bear the burden of repairs alone. As to why? I was once a soldier. Ashton has always been there to guide me. Now that my soldiering days are through, I do my best to bring pleasure to Ashton, as I think he is the one responsible for my survival. A bar brawl or two doesn't get any body killed, but Ashton surely knows I'm grateful." The innkeepers mouth hung open in astonishment. An Ashtonic bard. Who had ever heard of such a thing. Vern picked up the well worn leather sack and instantly felt the sheer weight of gold within. He quickly scrabbled at the purse strings to peer inside, and when he looked up the bard had gone. Dolly sat, nearly giggling, at the counter as Vern realised he had enough gold to rebuild the entire building, let alone repair the common room.