By Word of Mouth...

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By Word of Mouth...

...a few people are told the Silver Buckle will be open and holding a gambling event soon. Information is kept to those who will not run to the first bind-chaser they see.


Floors are cleaned, bottles arranged, darts procured. A fire is laid and the stage is set.


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The doors open - the first guest, Lana Poetr, takes in the new interior and gets a bear hug from the bard proprietor...


Open for business!


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"...would have liked to have been invited, if it was the first event!"

"Ed, it was just some gambling. Boss's been under the weather since or he'd have called you back."

"Opening without us? After we've waited - "

"Not opening, just a night of dice, calm down. We're not open open - just kind of...open. And there is a renter, a woman who is helping me with security."

"Helping you?" A snort. "You could have come gotten us."

"I was busy tending. He was sick. Here's his note."

Crinkled unfolding, a ruffling of paper.

Michael, Edward;

After some thought I believe we can conduct some quiet business; just the locals you trust for now. I'll leave it to you. Please be kind to the new resident if you see her. Her name is Bella. She will be doing security for us in exchange for her room. She's not an outgoing sort so bear that in mind and take nothing personally.

Under these circumstances it should be safe to bring Heloise back and so Paddy will take care of that, if she's willing to return. Be sure you escort her home each night.

In my chest (you know where my special key is) there is a bonus for you all. Ilsare has blessed me with you four. Take it in good health and keep me appraised of how things are going there.

Oh, and tell Heloise that Minu loved the clinic and left reading material and healing items for her use.

I'll be in touch

AWR

"So we're open."

"In a way, yes. Just for some. Old Jim's still asking, the Rumford twins, Spinster Edith..."

"Fine, I'll let Michael know. I'll get Helly - "

" - I was going to get her - "

Silence, thick, punctuated with tense breathing. A solid chest-thump.

"I will get her. It's not like your skinny butt's going to be the one protecting her every night."

Heavier silence, then light footsteps. A distant voice: "Fine." A heartbeat. "We'll see about that..."

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Charlie enters the buckle and approaches the bar as he nears, "Scuse me, but I wanna rent a room fer longer than a month, Is Mister Hair..I mean is Mister Andy around?"


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The man cleaning glasses behind the bar is early twenties with tanned skin, brown eyes, and shockingly blonde hair. He is over six feet tall and has shoulders wide and hewn enough to carry tree trunks.


"Mister Reid isn't here at the moment." A long look at the young man, his tone is somewhere between suspicious and curious. "Do you know the boss?"


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Um..yeah, ya could say that. M'name's Charlie, Charlie Poetr, Is there a room fer rent longer than a day?


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A blink. "Poetr, you said." His eyes drift to the back hall door, then to Charlie. "Yeah, we have rooms for rent. My brother Michael will be here in a little bit and he can show you. I'm Edward. Ed." He offers a meaty hand to shake. "Want an ale if you're waiting?"


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Charlie gives his easy going smile, "Sure! I um, ain't got much fer payment though, but let me check somethin." He digs through his pack and sets a couple of boxes on the bar marked Corn, Purple Mushrooms, and foodstuffs with a shrug.


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"Boss'll figure something out. He's always needing silk, and we have food shelves that need supplies." A flagon of room-temperature stout plunks onto the thick bartop. "Drink fast, that's my brother in the door."


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Charlie happily gulps down the ale, wiping his mouth on his sleeve, "So, Ed, which room is mine?"


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The man walking in is not quite as tall or wide as Ed, and a few years older, but shares the same shockingly blonde hair. His deep pool blue eyes take in the scene at the bar and he gives Charlie a pleasant nod as he approaches.


"Afternoon, friend. Do I know you?" His eyes shift to his brother, cool, questioning. Before Charlie can answer Ed breaks in.


"This is Charlie Poetr..." Slight emphasis on the last name, and one furrow-browed moment later, Michael nods, mouthing 'Boss's friend's kid?' at his brother. The bigger man nods back and continues. "...he's come looking to let a room."


"I think we can accommodate you, Charlie. Or do you prefer Mister Poetr? Let's have a walk upstairs and I'll show you what's available. Name's Michael by the way..."


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"Great! Um Mike, call me Charlie, my friends do." Charlie sets the mug of ale down and follows after him, pausing to evaluate the artwork on the walls.


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Michael's jaw sets at the appellation "Mike" and he shoots his brother a dark look. Ed tries to hide a laugh inside a cough, fails, and starts making minute corrections to bottles in the bar cabinet as an excuse to turn his back.

"Follow me then." A quick scan of the boxes on the bar before he starts toward the back hall door. He doesn't hurry Charlie, letting him take a look at the artwork, statues, and pottery on display as they walk.

The collection is eclectic and there is only one hanging that appears old - an unsigned black and white ink print of an archer of pure north Telish Throne descent, dressed in now-archaic Huangjin garb. The rest of the pieces are new and bright. Someone with an appraiser's eye for artwork would see a lot of striving artist's names and a few as-yet unrecognized ones.

At the far inside door Michael selects a key from many on an iron loop, swinging the double doors wide and stepping onto a landing with stairs up and down. He pauses to let Charlie catch up and ask any questions he might have.

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"This is a mighty fine place, Mike..um does it got a back door? Sometimes I get purty ragged an dirty, I dun wanna mess up the front none."


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"I'll let Mister Reid talk to you about back doors, Charlie. Up here." A short flight of steps to a main room, comfortable with bookshelves and a writing desk, and a fireside area for lounging. He leads Charlie across the lounge area and shows him where the upstairs privy is and a small room that is locked with an ornate rug in front. "This is the Benefactor Bedroom and it is for their use only when they or their families visit. It remains locked unless they are here."


There are halls to the left and right and Michael shows him five rooms off these halls, some with mahogany furniture, some with walnut, some of knotted pine. Each room has a unique, sumptuous wool rug over smooth wood floorboards, a bed large enough for two (or maybe three), a private screened-off bathtub, a bookshelf, dressers, a chest, a standing wardrobe, and a weapons rack by the door. Unlike both floors of the inn Charlie has seen, the rooms are devoid of artwork and artifice, blank slates for their inhabitants to decorate.


"Did anything catch your eye?"


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"Um yeah, these are all real nice an all, but uh, bit too fancy fer me, Mike. Got anything smaller with a window or on the ground floor?"


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A head shake. "The ground floor bedroom is for short stays, a few nights at most, or for family of a patient in the clinic. For long-term renters Mister Reid decided to offer luxury accommodations and better security; the Silver Buckle is warded by the Tower Academy against elemental attack and scrying, and...well...wait...hm. There is the basement..." A longish pause. "You'd best talk to him. I'll send a message and see if he's close by." Michael leads Charlie back to the bar and heads out to the nearest bird messenger.


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The day wears on; locals visit and both Edward and Michael keep a sharp eye on who comes through the door. Charlie is offered food and more drink and Edward is content to shoot the breeze as he alternates bartending and security. Business is steady but contained.


A little before sunset a petite, pretty girl in her late teens enters and bounces to the bar. "Eddie, Michael!" Her smile is radiant, framed by waves of golden-brown curls and long-lashed eyes that flicker from brown to green in candlelight. "I saw Mister Andrew, he's coming from the east gate. Something about a renter?" With that she offers Charlie a smile, dropping into practiced hostess mode. "Can I get you something sir?"


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Charlie grins laughing at a joke Ed just told him about a horse, "No thank ya, Miss, I'm stuffed like a holiday turkey as it is. Did I hear ya say Mister Andy's comin? I'd be the renter in question. I'm Charlie by the way." His grin turns into a sincere smile. "I sure hope ya work here an that Mister Andy pays ya well. "


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Her smile is bright in return. Edward's shoulders tense. "I do and he does. I'll be helping Miss Elly in the clinic too!" Michael bumps his brother and eyes the front door.


"Mister Reid." There is a smile in his voice and maybe a hint of relief.


Edward nods, one eyeball still on Charlie and the curly-haired girl. "Boss." The girl turns toward the tall Tilmarian man walking toward them, with twinkle in her eyes.


"I warned them you were coming." Her face lights up at the proprietor's exaggerated head-shake.


"Too much time around Paddy, Milady. So four on one, eh? Hello Charlie, you're here for a room?"


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Bella walks in and eyes the bar as she passes quirking a brow in a questioning look towards Eddie and Michael, her eyes resting momentarily on Charlie before looking at the two men and girl behind the bar.


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"Mister Andrew! Good ta see ya! *Charlie ambles over and offers a hand with a quick glance at Bella*, say Yer help says I gotta talk to you direct like iffn I want a room in the basement, so how bout it, ken I?"


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"In the base..." Andrew shakes Charlie's hand with a quizzical look at Michael and Edward; Michael shrugs. "If you're sure - have you seen the rooms upstairs? They're very nice - "

Michael leans casually across the bar, whispering to Andrew."He's seen them, Mister Reid. He wasn't interested in anything fancy. Just something small and quiet with a window or 'back door'."

"Well, let's head to the basement and see what we have." A nod to Bella as the bard passes; his gaze shifts from mother to son and back before moving on. He doesn't expressly invite her into the conversation, nor does he expressly exclude her. "I have two small rooms down there and maybe one might suit your needs." He strides to the far inside door, unlocks it, and heads to the stairs down from the landing. Once inside, he turns to Charlie. "I'm not trying to sound like your father, Ilsare forbid, but...why the need for an escape hatch?"

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Bella just watches them then goes over to Ed and Michael and quietly whispers for them to keep an eye on "the boy" and then goes about her business, seemingly not paying any more real attention to Charlie than she would any other of Andrew's guests.


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The answer to the escape hatch question had to come later. Charlie had turned, perhaps to answer, perhaps to tell the tall, skinny man to mind his own business - the young man's mouth hadn't even opened when there was a squeal behind them and a shattering crash. Andrew spun and ran back, Charlie on his heels.

The pretty girl had dropped a tray of mugs and ale dripped off broken crockery in a bizarre casserole strewn across the floor. Bella was already standing in front of the weathered, gap-toothed man that the girl pointed at, and Edward's scowl was carved by thunder across his face as he slid over the bar.

Bella's silent, cold stare contrasted perfectly with the big blonde's visible anger. The man eyed them both, stuttered, his leathery hands waving in supplication. "Twern't ta cause trobble, sorry, sorry missy, I shouldn'ta done that, jest had a beer moment, ya know? Don' pound me, won' do it 'gin, I swar..." Andrew folded his arms.

"Jim." It was a statement, not a greeting. "We've had this chat once before. Heloise's bodily parts are not for pinching and not for groping. We let you back in on the promise you'd keep your hands to yourself. I see we have to revisit that agreement." The bard's voice was level - in contrast to his normal expressiveness, each word was clipped and flat.

"Ahh, hells. I won't do it 'gin, swar it - on Mist's watery grave! Swar!" A feeble attempt at a smile and a pleading look at the barmaid and to each face in turn. Andrew turned to Heloise.

"Milady, it is you who should decide. I would say let's kick him out and see how he fairs at the other taverns, where the ladies carry knives to chop off offending fingers, but as you let him have a second chance last time..." He tilted his head as her jaw firmed. Her voice was clear and carried across the tavern's open space.

"He's had that chance." Her thumb jerked toward the door, the other hand rubbing a spot on her well-rounded behind; Edward was already reaching for the man's grimy collar. Bella stepped back and "Jim" was escorted out, protesting apologies all the way. Andrew nodded to Heloise with a little grin.

"Done and done. Now, about the basement..." But Charlie had someone to meet, and things had run a bit long. He said he'd return and left. The tavern settled down, the floor was cleaned. Just another evening at the Buckle.

...............

Solicitation for final payment on shipment of the piano. Solicitation for payment on more chairs for the concert hall. Solicitation for renewal of the wards on the Silver Buckle, signed with a flourish by Omer, along with the price in large, bold numbers. That brought a wry grin; he was sure the elf enjoyed sticking it to him on a regular basis.

A letter from a Fort of Kings merchant extolling several new styles of furnishings, not that he needed more. That letter was set aside for the fire. Solicitation of taxes for Mariner's Hold. A letter of new pottery designs - wait, that was from mother. That letter made special stack, ones he'd read sooner than later. A letter from...Katelyn Poetr? Requesting time to speak about a possible exchange? Hm. He set the letter with his mother's. Solicitation for...Muse.

He rubbed his eyes, stood. Hells with this - it was late, he'd finish in the morning. Pacing to the bar, he cleaned needlessly, straightened what was already straight, considered some self-entertainment or maybe a special cigar. The tavern was dim, the regulars gone, Billy the piano player, Michael, Edward, and Heloise all home. Paddy he hadn't seen today but Edward said he'd had some business to attend and wouldn't be back until Sunra. He was almost decided - a cigar by the fire, then bed.

Lost in his musings, he didn't hear the door or the footsteps, and jumped when Charlie greeted him.

Well, he did say he'd be back.

Katelyn was with Charlie and he slipped to host mode. Found out what Katelyn wanted - a room, in exchange for healing potions. Well, yes, he could use those. Never didn't have a need for them. His deal with her was generous, he knew it, Charlie said as much; even his agreement with Charlie was more than within the young man's means.

They commented on that, on his soft-heartedness. He told them of Tyrian, of how he would not be in the position he was if it wasn't for the years she'd given him breaks and let him live inside his means instead of scrabbling for rent. They bought it, and he had not one but two new renters. He hadn't told the truth, though. Not entirely.

They were children of friends, close friends. Lana's daughter, Daniel's son. What better way to pay homage than to offer their children safety under his roof? He knew if Ty were old enough, he'd want the boy living somewhere safe. He'd want that little security, as much as any adventuring parent of an adventuring child could enjoy. He also knew mentioning that would set all Charlie's bells off at once. Stubborn and prideful that one, as is the birthright of all young men. So he made his excuses and smiled inwardly. It was a small thing, but it was something he could do for his friends.

Charlie's excuse, and it was a sorry one, for why he needed an escape hatch was "messy clothing". True to that, the boy didn't seem to be particularly enamored of bathing, but that wasn't the reason. He decided not to press, and further, decided - more on the clear affection between Katelyn and Charlie, and the kid's determination - to let them know about the trap door. Charlie was pleased with the basement room and didn't want him to change a thing.

Now all he had to do was explain to Buddy why he'd rented out the man's office...

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Kat walked in proudly the next day, looking for Andrew, seven carefully wrapped serious healing potions clutched in her hand. Not finding him, she went up to admire her room some more. "It's as big as Mama's living room, and so pretty!" She set to putting away her few belongings.


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Charlie worked hard to conceal and secure the trapdoor in his room. Moving the desk slightly, he used a bit of cord and gum to hide even the tell tale signs of it from under the rug to his trained eye then carefully rigged a small trap to go 'bang' if the door was opened. True to what he promised, he left it unused..mostly.


Satisfied with his work, he spent the remainder of the afternoon going through his sword routine. The rent was paid up for a bit, he'd have to go gathering again fairly soon but there were more important things. The soft swish of his blades moving through the air filled the practice room. He was glad to be out of the elements, it helped him focus. Those coming and going took one look at his face and kept walking. There was a quiet joy and passion there, calm, yet blazing every movement he made was as practiced as any dance. After, he was seen with nothing but a towel and and some soap, knocking on Katelyn's door, no modesty whatsoever, "I really need a bath, Kat, now a good time?"


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Blushing to the roots of her hair, Kat grabbed Charlie by the arm and dragged him into the room. "Charlie! Don't you ever do this to me again! What if someone saw you? Next time, wear clothes and bring fresh clothes to change into. Be sure you clean the tub and don't drip water on the floor." With that, Kat left the room in a huff and went down to the main room of the tavern. As she went, she thought, "Well, he is getting some worthwhile muscles, anyway."


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Charlie allowed himself to be drug in, snickering the whole time, "She wants me!" , he yells loudly to those in earshot before the door shuts. After Katelyn leaves him alone, he does exactly as she tells him too, cleaning up after himself.


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*Bella slips a note under the door where Charlie is bathing*


Charlie-

Next time I see you walking through this inn without a stitch of modesty I will hog-tie you and hang you from the beams downstairs for all to see.


You know I don't make promises I can't keep.


- your mother


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Charlie reads the note after his bath, "*Cuss, cuss, cuss and cuss!*" he looks around for something to wear and settles on a small robe of Katelyn's. Quickly he darts through the Buckle wearing nothing but a silly grin and a too short robe.


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A cough from behind Charlie as he dashes down the stairs from the Resident Halls.


"First, do not wear that in the tavern unless we have staff in the clinic for the little old ladies having heart seizures and the men laughing themselves into one. If you even reach up to scratch your head in that robe, you'll get arrested for indecency.


Second, deep pink really isn't your color."


With that, Michael turns, whatever brought him there forgotten or put aside, and closes the door to the tavern - firmly.


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*keeping a hand firmly on the bottom front hem, Charlie nods still grinning* Sure thing, Mike. Beats streakin in the buff, but not by much. *He edges away front to Micheal, then dashes off again*


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Bella walks up silently to Michael as he moves back about his business. She speaks softly so that only the two of them can hear her.


"Keep an eye on him. If he ken keep hisself outta trouble it'll be good fer this inn. But he got the potential to bring in as much if not more trouble'n he ken keep away. Keep on 'im. Jest don' let 'im know I told ya to."


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"He can't be much worse than Mister Reid, really." Michael grins. "We'll keep an eye on him. From what I've seen, Kate can do a better job of keeping him in line than any of us can though - you should talk to her."


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Bella shakes her head.


"Nah, we'll see how it goes quiet like fer now. Ya learn 'lot more by watchin' sometime's then meddlin'. Jest... won' hurt none ta put some fear inta the boy. He may be a man... but he still gotta learn how ta act like one. Let 'im know little atta time he cain' do nothin' in this inn what won' be seen. Hopefully, mosta the time it'll be true."


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Charlie looks a bit dumbfounded at the neat pile of clothes on his couch, then shrugs and reads the note from the Elohanna. "Aww Pits, time ta go gatherin I guess." He tears the blank bottom part of the list off and writes a quick note to Katelyn on it. The note reads:

Kate,

I'm catchin a ship fer Hurm first thing tomorrow morning. Iffn you and Muscles ken meet me there, I got some cherries to pick. Tell Muscles ta get his steel nice an sharp, we're gonna be hackin on giants I think.

Charlie.

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Andrew drops by the bar and points out a purple-clad man heading to the portal who is flipping a shining new key in one hand. "Michael, new tenant. His name's Celador; he's in the interior mahogany suite upstairs. Would you put another chest in the room for him? He's paid extra for it.


Oh, and if you see Helly, Kate or Minu, warn them - he's, um, friendly."


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Charlie does a double take as they pass by the practice area, his shirtless torso sweaty and heaving from his workout. "Cel! Good ta see ya, Are ya staying here too?" Charlie grabs a towel after sheathing his blades and swaggers over to the man, rubbing himself briskly "Jest so we're clear, me and Muscles, ya remember Robb doncha? We look afta Kate, so mind yer manners, savy?" Charlie finishes his eyes taking on a flat predatory look briefly, then he grins easily. "I'll be glad ta show ya around, Cel."

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While making her rounds around the inn, she bumps into Michael who tells her about the newest resident. Elly smiles and thanks him for the warning and then goes about preparing a care package for their newest resident and carefully places it in his room.


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