After sitting a while in the common room of the Bishop’s Finger enjoying a cold beer or warm spiced wine and putting up with Peffy’s incessant advances and double entendre, a bell you hadn’t noticed before hanging from a decorative pull rope behind the bar tinkles several times.
“That’s your cue, boys” Peffy says with pouty lips. “Such a shame to see this lot go. C’mon, up and meet our resident wizard” he says with a flourish twirling his fingers in the air. “More like resident Loon, but, what the hay, he pays his rent every month, and there’s no denying that hunky butler makes me all squishy insides”. He sighs, a far off look in his eyes, then suddenly snaps back to reality. “Okay, must save that one for later, but c’mon boys”.
He leads you upstairs to the second floor along well worn grooves in the steps. The steps continue to the top floor but Peffy leads you down the hallway until it ends at a door and knocks. “He’s rented the entire floor for over 30 years” he whispers then stands upright as the door opens to reveal a large man in a simple tunic and baggy trousers. He has a hard face, complete with a scar across the bridge of his nose and the makings of a beard that could have been made of steel wool. He stares at Peffy with no apparent facial expression. “Oh, hi there”, Peffy says, giving the large man a quick wave and then drawing his fingers back as if they might get bitten. “Brought the Master fresh mee-…I mean, please tell the Master his new hires are here” he says, twirling his hair in his hands while shrugging and smiling. The man looks at Peffy with utter contempt before turning towards your group and saying in a voice that sounds like gravel: “Come in. The Master will see you presently”. As you enter he shuts the door behind you and you hear Peffy’s footsteps retreating back down the corridor.
Even though there is a small fire in the fireplace it takes a few minutes for your eyes to adjust to the gloomy room. The room is large and at the same time cozy. The walls are the same wooden paneling as downstairs and the few windows are closed and shuttered. There is some artwork hanging on the walls, a few landscapes, all crooked with frames covered in dust. There is a large desk on one side of the room with literally dozens of books and scrolls strewn about it’s surface. The remains of several candles sit cold in their holders. A large leather chair resides behind the desk, it’s soft cordovan skin broken in from decades of use. Quills are everywhere; ink pots too. A large long haired white cat lays sprawled across many of the papers. It gives you a look, quickly surmises you have nothing it could benefit from and lays it’s head back down. Bookshelves line most of the empty space along the walls, each filled to the brim.
Across the room is the fireplace, it’s mantle covered in bowls and urns. A large oval rug lays in front of it and six large comfortable high-backed leather chairs similar to the one behind the desk arranged in a circle, one with a small step in front. A man sits in one. One of the smallest, strangest men you have ever seen.
He looks a derelict. His eyes are looking in different directions; his hair is a mess and his ears stick out like the wings of a bird. He is dressed in a ridiculous outfit; a long robe covered in stars and half moons. On his lap sits another cat. An orange tiger stripe nearly as big as Odo himself, for surely this is the town eccentric, there can be no doubt of that.
“Sit please” the burly-man says as he takes his place behind Odo, crosses his hands in front of himself and stares straight ahead. In the light you can see he is older than you first thought, but still hale and built like an ox.
“You must forgive Charles, he is… shall we say… unused to entertaining guests.” Odo says, petting the cat and looking you each in the eye in turn. You feel, no, you know he is measuring you. The cat does the same, then flexes his paw, exposing his claws before settling again under Odo’s hand, encouraging him with a nudge to resume his petting. “So, we are all here: the certain elf, the happy-go-lucky halfling, the arrogant priest, the hippie druid and the amorphous blob which will become Mondo’s character. Ahhh, but why are we here, you may ask? A fair question. I’ve work for you. Yes. Work. Work which could make you rich and me very happy. Charles, where are our manners? Drinks for our guests. Yes, drinks while I tell them a story”.
Odo closes his eyes and breathes deeply through his nose as if recalling some great moment of his life. He exhales and begins slowly: “There are legends and then there are legends. There are gawds and then there are gawds. Long ago, when the gawds were many, the people knew them and they walked among us. The gawds gave us gifts; treasure, artifacts of their very existence! But being weak and stupid, we wasted them and when we weren’t given more tokens we turned our backs on the gawds, claiming it was they who were foolish and to be forgotten. One gawd, Carannog by name; the blacksmith, was made heart sick by the rejection of humans and wept red tears of the fire that was in his veins. It is claimed by those who know well, that as those tears fell to our plane, they transformed into stones as red as fire and just as deadly. Wizards there were who gathered these ‘Tears of Carannog’ and fashioned mighty wands of fire. They used the stones to increase their already great knowledge of fire and fire magic, gleaning from them, or so they thought, the very essence of the gawd.”
Odo sits silent for several seconds. The only sound is that of the hissing of the fire punctuated by a few snaps and pops. He begins again: “ But they were hideously wrong. They knew little and less of the gawd and soon they, and all the stones, were consumed. All, that is, but one. One wand. The last Tear of Carannog. For centuries it was highly guarded and valued by the Order of the Crimson Dancers. Then it disappeared and for decades no one knew of it’s whereabouts. Until Necten, that is”, Odo sneered the name as if it left a bad taste in his mouth. “Necten. My brother. He stole the wand and vanished. I chased him for 20 years and never had a glimpse of him! Then finally word spread of a powerful wizard near here; Cheltenham of all places! A tower in the wood, no less, like something out of a fey story. I confronted him and he used the wand to disfigure me and leave me broken and dying. But for Charles here, I would have perished”.
He stops again, shaking his head slowly as the great red tabby looks at up at him and squeeks and purrs. “Yes, you too, Hephaestus, you helped save me as well”, he says as he scratches the great red cat. He sighs and resumes: “As I lay recovering for months new rumors spread: Nectin was gone. Vanished again. But I know the Tear if Carannog is still there! I can feel it! It’s been 30 years since his latest disappearance. I have sent several… uh… expeditions to his tower, but none have come back. It has been over a decade since so many of your type have gathered here in Cheltenham! It has to be a sign!” He swoons a bit as he is clearly excited. He blinks several times and takes a deep breath. “My new friends” he begins again, wiping the saliva from his mouth, “all I ask is the Tear of Carannog. All else of my wicked brother is yours! Take it, sell it, keep it! It matters little to me.” He seems drained, as if that last bit was too tiresome to go over again in his mind. “The Tear of Carannog. The Tear…” He sighs. “Now, I am tired and need my rest. You leave tomorrow morning. Charles, please, my bed, then show our new friends out”.
Charles comes to the front of the chair and shoos the large red cat from his Master’s lap and prepares to scoop up the old man like a doll. You notice for the first time that Odo’s legs, which had been hidden under a blanket and his cat, are withered and frail, looking even through his loose fitting robe like two burnt sticks. Charles whispers something in the old man’s ear.
“Oh yes”, Odo says, “the tower is in the King’s Forest.”