The dark cover of night already fell over the high mountains and narrow roads of a distant, distant land. The last drops of cold rain lazily slid the shackles of the dark clouds of the sky, sharply cutting off a sleeping air to its last destination, the country covered by a veil of darkness. It was a distant country, muddy and dark, just like that night. It was raining for many days now and it seemed it will never stop, but you see, it has finally stopped. In the distance, on the road under a big pointed hill, which in those parts of the country stood for centuries and was known for its magical properties, went an unknown rider, covered under his wet cloak.
People from surrounding villages said that it was haunted hill, because there, in almost forgotten ancient times, the terrible witches were burned, and a powerful one, and one false, and there are rumors that even today, when almost a witches at all are no longer there, the passengers which follow the same path, never to return. There were those who said that those things they were not to blame for the witches, or a lost soul, but the traveler who passed that way by continuing towards their goal and not having fully intent to return to those wretched, superstitious, and heavenly forgotten villages. Alas, those who says so, were they other people or the inhabitants of those regions, like elves or dwarves long forgotten, have passed similar like those witches. The dust would be merged with the divine wings of upcoming dance slight breeze.
The people told many things, letting their imagination run wild, but on this way, under that hill, were constantly passing travelers. They were always cheerful faces, bright eyes and smiling mustache. This traveler, however, had no mustache and no cheerful face. It was dark, shrouded in darkness that covered the ground, hidden under a long black robe and wetted hood. With no problem, or any display of demonic witches killed, the traveler has crossed winding road and approached a rain beaten stone walls of the magnificent city.
Indeed it was a magnificent city. Densely packed streets were clean as a girl's tears; high pointed roofs of years old huts gave the city a magical appearance. A fortress, which stood silently in the middle of town, looked like a great royal castles with high towers that hid the beautiful blonde Princess in the stories about the Old Days.
Tired traveler and his horse stopped in front of the gigantic walls. When they saw him, two guards who were on guard duty at the gate on that cold night, came to him carefully keeping their fingers on the troubled hilts of their swords that hung from their belts.
"Who goes there?", exclaimed one of the guards, lean and young.
"A man.", replied the traveler still hidden under his jacket.
"You are a rogue?", said the other guard, lad so fat he could not pass through the doors of medium width, "Get that hood off your head when you talk to us! Did not your mother's hot rod in her hands not teach you polite behavior? "
Traveler raised his hands and gently pulled the linen hood, revealing his wrinkled face. It was a lean face with smooth shaven cheeks. Below the thin and black as line straight eyebrows, eyes discerned the color of the night sky, dark as the depths of the world. Long black hair sitting mottled hairs tied in a ponytail, as he rocked back and after him. It was clear that he is elderly man in his forties.
"I am a Notar, the brother of the monastery Lungum. I was sent on behalf of my fraternity to your count, who sought our help.", traveler spoke, "I have no mother for I've never seen her, and I do want not, so my lack of culture is justified. Would you go now from my path, or I'll have to show you what we have learned in the monastery? "
"Genki, you hear this?", thick guard smiled, revealing broken teeth, "The old man threatens us!"
"Let him be, Jarvale", picked up the skinny guard, "He is going for the count, so it's better left alone!"
"Listen, buddy Jarval," Notar's face was more serious than before, "and you will probably still have a chance to sleep with a thick whores on the shitty floor of a tavern, where the pigs like you belong."
"You have a sharp tongue Lungum." Jarval took the reins of Notar's horse and draw sword from its sheath, "Do you want me to do you a favor and cut him off?"
"Do not touch my horse! He is afraid of wild boar!", cried out Notar.
Strong punch of Notar's leather and muddy boot hit the different Jarval's wide and unshaved jaw. There was blood all around. Pouring from a broken mouth and watering the muddy ground. Not knowing what has happened to him, fat Jarval staggered and fell unconscious in a pool of his own blood. Genki firmly clamped the sword hilt, which soon was found in the nervous hands pointing at Notar. A sharp look from his eyes was enough to lean back the guard who pulled the sword back into the sheath.
"What is happening here in the Lauragast's name?", as a deep voice filled with thunder interrupted the confusion, a man of sturdy, thick snow-white beard, dressed like gentleman in uniform, appeared in the middle of the city gate.
"What is this fat bastard doing in the mud?", a mountain of man sent a sharp look over frightened Genk, then the same view was sent to Notar who sat silently on his horse, "And you, sir? Why did you come here to make the trouble? "
"I am Notar. I was sent out from Lungum to your count on behalf of his problems.", the old knight, still cold and calm, spoke like a true diplomat; "I did not came to make problems, but to solve them. I rode all day without stopping through the mud and rain, my tiredness overcomes the mind and vision. I came here not to argue with the fat guards, but to help the count. But it all seems rather that I will get out of here! "
"Genki, what are you waiting for?", shouted a bearded man, "Get that pig out of here! And tomorrow both of you will, by the Gods name, be on double guard! "
Quick as a rabbit, with difficulty raising dizzy Jarval, Genki and fat one disappeared behind the gates of the city. The man breathed deeply, and then went towards Notar.
"Forgive us, my lord Lungum.", his voice went silent and respectful, "The boys are tired and exhausted, just like you. Please, forgive us. "
"There is nothing to forgive, he got what he deserved."
"My name is Pralimir. I am the commander of the garrison of Larovgrad. If you are willing, I will bring you to our count. He's waiting for more than two days now. "
"I will see the count now, but with the first rays of the sun.", Notar lighted off the horse, "Take me to the tavern where there's good beer and good lamb, to rest from the road and sleep for a bit. Count, when he waited three months to call us for help, can wait for just another night. "
Without question old Pralimir lead Notar to the "Nodding Barrel", a favorite inn for every passenger who ever stopped at the famous Larovgrad.
The inn was known throughout the Empire of Elin. Stories were circulated, as it was before the time than the king of the old Elin, Lar the Confused, built a city, this inn stood on the road itself, surrounded by dozens of kilometers of deserted forest. Of course these were just stories, for it was known, and yet people are reluctant to talk about it, that that was an inn built by a thief who snitched whole Imperial lodge, and then, with the whole Empire on his back, hanged himself in a basements, above which people are still drinking to this day.
It was built of stone and it stood at the entrance of the city. Its rooms were filled with the stench of thick smoke tobacco, and guests drunk who rails. Nevertheless, Notar liked this place at first glance. Prices were reasonable, and guest rooms were neat and clean, which could not be said for the other rooms of that are more reminiscent of a barn than at any tavern.
When they left the horses at the barn and sat at the only free table in a tavern, Pralimir called innkeeper. Greasy mustache adorned his wrinkled face, and in the light of oil lamps, his bald head shined as steel in the sun. Soon they found before them two full pints of warm beer, and hot, well-salted lamb. Tasted its quality, which was not very satisfactory, two complete strangers began to talk and be happy as to know each other for years.
"But you tell me good man," ale slowly started to pound on the Notar's tongue, "What is count's problem? Is it perhaps related to some kind of witches around the city? I heard some interesting stories in a village on the way here. "
"Do not listen to that old blather!" the old man laughed loudly, "They are burned hundred years ago, and so far they have broke up to dust!" His face was sudden serious, a hoarse voice of silence, "I'm not sure because I have not addressed, but I heard that within a month count changed exactly twenty-three servants in the palace. I knew many people who have served the Count, and I saw them none leave the city. They just disappeared. People are saying that some kind of a curse reached the good count because he was looking for some kind of caves beneath the castle, and then woke up the devil, he has now rebounded. I personally think this is nonsense. I am not a man who believes in witches and boogieman, but I tell you that something is wrong! "
"I will find that devil!" Notar's face was serious as in most of the time, "And then I'll get him to get back to underground!"
It was midnight when Notar went to his room and Pralimir home. He could not get sleep, and he thought what was the problem to solve. He thought for a long time, but could not find the answer.
The rest of the night he spent thinking about the beautiful redheaded Ilina. She was so beautiful. He could not forget the wonderful moments that he had spent with her. When he was beside her, he felt an explanatory gap. Now, if she were lying there next to him in bed he would grab her with both hands and hug her. He would love to kiss hers warm and rosy lips, and he would have loved her then and loved her until the night can not escape the sun's rays. He remembered when he was last time in Vukodol fifteen years ago, she was still a girl. Like every night, when they would be there, he waited at what would be a great oak, where people usually gather in the summer days, and then spent hours with her talking, and exchanging views and kisses. Once he has gone a little further, and their relationship have risen at a lofty, spiritual level. He took her virginity. Unfortunately, her father found out about all this. There was talk about this weird old man that was notorious and hated by all, which was proved when he beat Ilina the Beautiful and close her in the cellar. As much as he tried to reason with him, Notar could not reach the merits of the old man. Then he thought, and perhaps even understand, what kind of man he really is.
"One day I will return, my lord Palija", Notar told him that day, "but trust me on this. When that day comes, you will pray to Lauragast to take you away!". He did not like thinking about that horrible and bad man. He tried to regain his thoughts only on her. Recalled her beautiful curves and strained. He would gave up his monastic robes and his oaths, he thought, just that he was there with her in Vukodol. One day, he will leave all this and he will live with her in a small house hidden in the shadow of high-exuberant foliage.
The day came quickly as it has passed. The inn was full of workers and peasants, and merchants and travelers, but Notar had no more time to waste; he had to go to the castle. The road to the castle was long and arduous, because the streets were full of various Larovgrad population. There were merchants selling everything and anything, from dull, rusty swords to the most terrible dragon scales. Beside them was the swashbuckler who have occupied the attention of the world as were employees, whores, healers, and many others. Clad in a full steel, beaten and rusty, they played a dance that Notar was well known of. Plesomach, the deadliest sword dance, which the monks of Lunguma studied very carefully.
Finally, after, as it seemed, hourly struggle with tight streets of the city, he found himself surrounded by high walls of the fortress which stood steady on a hill in the city center. It was beautiful, and the city itself, and something like Notar met only in stories about the Old Days, the days of Royal Elina.
"Who are you?", stepped out the guard in uniform decorated with red and black colors, "What work brings you into the palace of the Count of our great city?"
As Notar explained who he was, and why he was here, the guard brought him into the house that was hiding behind a huge wooden doors.
The interior was lavish palace more bigger than outside. Thousands of impressions of various battles and heroic enterprise of the old counts were lying on the walls of the great hall. It seemed as if the thing was bigger inside than the outside.