The fourth and fifth days of travel were miserable ones for Darius. Farrow’s terrain was very different from the green lands of Rising. Farrow was filled with bushes, small trees, and long grasses. Brown was more abundant than green, as Farrow was generally dry. However, the weather the past few days had been rainy, making the muddy roads difficult to traverse. Darius had the rhinos march in front, which helped smooth the path. Even though the rain made travel more difficult, Darius extended the time that they were to march. They rose earlier, and slept later. As a result, they reached the city of Dindalnor at the end of the fifth day, which was an unexpected surprise and relief in many different ways.
“Sir! Dindalnor’s governor sends his greetings,” the scout said while riding alongside Darius.
“Excellent. Was he willing to make accommodations?” Darius asked.
“Sir! He said that the taverns are empty in anticipation. The famous wine of the Dindal’s awaits your arrival!”
“Even better. Exchange horses with a fresher one, from the hares in the light company, then ride back and tell the governor we appreciate his consideration. Once he has acknowledged, go into the city and start preparing for our arrival. I haven’t been to Dindal before, so I will leave it to you to make the appropriate arrangements with the residents. The men will probably be too exhausted to make much trouble, so go ahead and let the tavern master’s know it’s alright to keep the drinks flowing. We’re early anyways; we can afford to spend a few more hours in town tomorrow.”
“Acknowledged. But sir, wouldn’t it be best to head to Tendal as quickly as possible?”
“We wouldn’t arrive at any different time, based on the schedule we have. I’m taking resting time into account. Whether we waited or not, we would still arrive in the morning of the eighth day. I’d rather let the men rest after pushing them the last couple days. Now get to it!”
The scout rode to the back of the procession, and was soon seen riding ahead and off into the distance towards Dindalnor.
“Sit and have a taste, Captain,” an eager soldier said.
“Thank you, I’ve been looking forward to this,” Darius said to the subordinate.
“Sir, it sure was nice of the governor to arrange this accommodation for us,” the eager soldier said.
“Well, he is quite an eccentric person. Too eccentric for me, though. I’m glad to be here relaxing instead. He would have kept talking if I didn’t say I had to make tomorrow’s arrangements,” Darius said while taking a drink from the wineglass in front of him.
Darius was talking with a human soldier from the ranks, a young man, much like the rest of the troops. They were in a tavern with fifty other men, all drinking and having a rowdy time. Four women and a man were serving drinks and food to the soldiers, and two people were behind the counter pouring the drinks and preparing the food.
Darius took a sip of the famous wine that made Dindalnor so famous. It was sweet and mild, tasted like vanilla and berries, and had a fruity aftertaste. Paired with the sugar cookies that the waitresses were handing out, it was a welcome relief to the weary travelers. Darius didn’t particularly care for cookies with his wine, which was quite normal, but somehow the Dindal’s wine went well with sweets. He decided that instant to refrain from more than a couple glasses, for fear of what the morning would feel like.
He sat at the bar, observing the men behind it as they poured drinks and talked with the soldiers. He laughed and turned around. The tables held four people at each, except for a couple of tables where a bearan and rhinos had decided to sit. Three were at each of those tables. He marveled at the chairs especially, which didn’t look like they could take the weight of a rhinos.
“That’s because we reinforce them very specially. They may look like wood, but there is much more to that chair than meets the eye,” the bartender suddenly said.
“I didn’t particularly…” Darius tried to reply.
“Sir, just hold on a second. I see a hundred people a day, at least. You can’t fool me. I get ninety-nine questions a day, and many of them are the same question, made by people with the same puzzled look on your face,” the bartender said.
“I give up. Far be it from me to argue with the man who knows how to converse with anyone. Not my profession,” Darius said with a laugh.
“A most wise person, you are. I assume in some authority, from the way you hold yourself?” the bartender asked while simultaneously trying to flatter Darius.
“Again, you’re right. I’m the commander of this rowdy bunch, actually,” Darius said while sipping from his glass.
“Really? That rowdy bunch, you mean?” The bartender pointed towards a table.
“Yeah, that’s them.” Darius shook his head. The four soldiers sitting at the table were being served in turn by a waitress. As she went around to each of them, the person who was just served a drink slid his chair back and a bit to the side. The waitress obviously knew each man was staring at her from behind, yet she kept serving drinks in the same manner.
“Well, a bit better than our usual patrons. At least they are keeping their hands to themselves.” The bartender laughed. “And besides, she’s going to milk your soldiers for every tip they can muster.”
“This group remembers that I’m still in the area. I bet you anything that the rest are making far more noise. Gambling, alcohol, and women are the same three weaknesses that all men, especially soldiers, have.” Darius calmly looked on as the room full of red-faced men rumbled with the sound of casual talk. Darius also partook in speaking with the bartender, who proved to be a welcome companion for the night.
After a while, and a few glasses of wine too many, Darius asked the bartender a question.
“So how much profit is our little stay making you?” Darius asked, somewhat under the influence of the wine.
“Ah, profit. Are you sure you want an answer?” the bartender asked.
“Don’t hold back on me. We brought ourselves a coffer of coins or three, the king thought it best to make sure we had enough in case our provisions proved insufficient. He doesn’t mind letting the soldiers rest a night. It’s a long way, still a couple more days,” Darius said with a sigh.
“Where are you going?” The bartender washed a glass as he asked.
“Just to, no, wait. Sorry, I’d rather not discuss that. No changing the subject, anyways, profit?”
“Well, the governor asked we reduce our prices out of respect. But I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I’ll go a step further. The girls keep their tips, and as for the regular items, I’m going to give it all to you, on the house,” the bartender replied.
“You’ll do no such thing!” Darius tried standing up in outrage, but his legs told him that it was better to stay sitting. “Enjoyable or not, I won’t stand for taking things for free like a freeloader!”
“Really sir, it’s fine. My largest cost is the staff, and from what I’ve seen tonight, they made out quite well. And they enjoyed it. Serving a well-disciplined troop is much more rewarding than the casual drunk. The wine barely costs a thing, to locals. It’s only a night’s worth, and it’s only this inn. Please, I must insist.” The bartender set down one glass then picked up another.
“Hmm, nevertheless, I won’t be settled unless I compensate in some way. Fine, no money shall be exchanged. Instead, name what you will, and I will give it to you. New clothes, furniture, the use of a fine mason or carpenter. Name something useful, that you desire.” Darius hit his fist on the bar, signifying that he was absolute in his desire.
“Like I said, it’s really fine… oh! Wait, yes there is! It’s not worth much on its own, but I can make an excellent profit using it. Yes, I think that will work just fine. I have heard, dear commander, that Rising has particularly good apples. I should love to have a few, for pies and ciders and whatnot.”
“It is done! Apples, an excellent compensation! Why, I’ve got a large stock with me already, part of our provisions. If you’re going to reduce the cost of our meals anyways, a basket or two of apples is nothing!” Darius laughed while muttering the fruit’s name to himself a few times. He then turned in his seat and looked towards the tables of soldiers.