They were soaked by the time they got to the village, or at least Brandon was; Sorcha still somehow seemed to be immune to the rain’s aim. The village was small, no more than two dozen buildings in the central cluster, plus various outlaying farms and mills. The streets were empty, the windows all bright with firelight and the chimneys smoking in the dark.
The homes were constructed largely of fieldstone and wood with thatched roofs, with some of the larger buildings having stone or clay shingles. It was to one of those larger buildings that Sorcha lead him. A sign out front read ‘The Creaky Door.’
“They’re good people,” she said, “if not the most imaginative in the world.” She opened the door, which Brandon noticed was actually pretty quiet, and lead him inside and out of the rain.
It looked like something out of a movie. In fact, it looked a lot like the tavern in Bree from The Fellowship of the Ring. Not precisely, of course. The layout was different, it wasn’t nearly as packed with various peoples, there were no hobbits, and certainly no ring wraiths attacking the place, but it had exactly the sort feel that Brandon associated with that scene. It was a pool of welcome light against the dark outside, with ale and a warm bed waiting after a hard day on the road.
Sorcha marched straight up to the bar, which a wizened old woman tended with a rag in one hand and a watchful eye on the patronage, which was sparse but looked to be coarse local folk taking a break from the day’s work. She slammed something down on the bar top. The old woman glanced down at it a moment and frowned thoughtfully.
“You’re from the Hall,” she said. “Had someone else come in not two hours ago to deal with the rats, but the job ain’t done yet. You’re welcome to go see what the holdup is.” She resumed her hawk-like scan of the common room.
Sorcha narrowed her eyes. “Someone else from the Hall came here before us?”
“Nope, not from the Hall,” the woman said, polishing the bar with her rag slowly. “Just someone lookin’ for work, an independent.”
“Independent? You can do that?” Brandon asked.
“It’s not too uncommon, but it is pretty rare for independents to go after low-level grunt work like this.” She turned her attention back to the barkeep, who glanced back at her indifferently. “Okay, we’ll go check it out. Thanks.”
“Not at all. Cellar’s down back, door’s off to the side, behind the bar.”
The followed the bar around to the side of the room and headed further back, finding an old rickety door. It opened easily, but with an ear-splitting creak, putting aside all question in Brandon’s mind where the place had gotten its name.
Light spilled up from downstairs. Someone had lit candles, and indeed, someone was still down there, seated on the steps and looking back up at them. She didn’t seem surprised to see them, nor did she seem to be at all anxious or startled.
She was dressed in some sort of dark blue travel cloak with the hood pulled back, leaving long, dark hair flowing in waves down her back. Her eyes were still and calm, nearly glowing as she stared upward at them with an odd sort of expectant serenity. Her olive complexion instantly set her apart from any of those they’d seen in the common room upstairs.