You are the proud owner of a Crossroads In in a mystical kingdom where a lot of Unexplained Stuff goes down. A group came to stay tonight with a kid who has "Chosen One" Stenciled on his knapsack, surrounded by robed dudes. As the owner of Crossroads Inn, you're pretty sure something requiring better insurance than what you've got might be brewing.
I've been doing these for about a week and a half now. I'm rather proud of this one. It might be the Next Big Idea I need for a novel. I told the prompt-writer she's better Anne Elk this prompt right away.
"Kind sir, is there room at the inn?"
Tall man. Bald head. Crimson robe with sequined edges. A bit gaudy, but I've seen worse.
"Half a moment, half a moment," I said. With some urgency. as the thatch above the kitchen was still technically on fire. "Let us put the fire out. Then we'll count heads. Dragon was on the hungry side, so I'm sure we've got a vacancy or three."
The well had run dry, but we had enough guests to form a bucket brigade from the duck pond. A few buckets had come out of the privy before my wife got wise and kicked the two knights errant down to the pond with their mucky helmets still in their hands.
"Next time we buy an inn, you do better due diligence!" my wife screamed.
"Yeah, like the one you said we had to have in Ostchester, the one with the enchanted mirror in the hallway? How many guests did we lose through that -- all before they'd paid.!
We had the fire out in a trice, and set our man Hamlet to repairing the thatch.
"Now then," I said to Baldy of the Crimson Robes. "How many?"
Turned out there were quite a few. At least half a dozen in Baldy's vein, along with a ragged carter who smelled of horse and a disgustingly bright-eyed waif of about nine or ten who looked like a real horse's ass.
Maybe that sounds harsh to your ears. But if you've run inns as long as we have, you get to peg people pretty quickly. And this group made it easy, what with "Chosen One" stenciled on the youngster's knapsack.
"Ought to charge you triple, bringing that in," I said to Baldy, pointing at the lad.
Baldy tried to retain the expected look of sincere hopefulness on his face, but there was a smirk barely hidden underneath his pencil mustache.
"But, if your story's good enough, you might talk me into quadrupling. So I'd suggest you get inside, get your dinner, and keep your noses tucked underneath your blankets until, oh, shall we say one or two ay-emm, when the baddies hunting yon vunderkind come a-spying to put everyone in this humble hostelry to the knife, save for the proprietor and -ess who cower cravenly in the cellar until the eldritch lights have passed."
"Well, if there's a way -- "
"Now you're talking doubling the quintupling, kind sir."
"There is a way?"
"Hamlet!" I hollered. "You still remember the hidden, forbidden path that leads through the Swamp of Fear to the dazzling Caverns of Mystery, where adventurers seeking their fortune and protection for the One Who Will Restore Justice and Mercy to the Universe may be escorted and hidden and be entertained by comical hijinx along the way?"
"No," Hamlet said. "Or at least, last time I took that path I was left wanting after being stabbed by that eldritch sword and nigh on died and such. That spot in me back still itches a bit."
"Let's get your dinner, kinds sirs, and as my wife is a-cooking I will check with other sundry characters and spirits who inhabit the inn and surrounding swamp and wood to see if they have ways that don't recall past cursed wounds."
"Did you say 'curse-ed,' with the accented 'E'?" Baldy asked.
"Indeed I did. As an innkeeper, one is compelled to know the badinage. Helps keep a roof over one's head, so to speak."
They set to on pork pies with bread and cheese and ale with less than hearty appetites, save for the wait who ate for three grown men and then napped confidently underneath the table as the crimson-berobed and carter smoked uneasily by the coals of the dimming fire.
They looked to put-down and careworn I sent Hamlet on a quick errand to the crags to see about another way, and entertained the group as much as I could in Hamlet's absence by being forgetful, stumbling about as a fat innkeeper should and bringing them raw potatoes instead of scones with butter.
Hamlet came back about midnight -- cutting it a bit close, as always with that muttonhead -- and I was able to bring the Berobed Half-Dozen some good news.
"I have outside in the pines eight stout eagles willing to take you on a skyward journey to wherever you might care to go as long as it is in the general direction of their crags in yonder mountains as they have to get up early for a battle three valleys over," I said. "Only be quick, as they are ill of temper and at least two of them are sleepy enough they might be prone to dropping things. And, just to help you on your journey, Hamlet reports an ill feeling on the bridle path about a half hour's run from the inn and getting closer."
The company roused the waif who, with much complaining, was compelled to re-don his stenciled knapsack -- spelt, of course, with the accented E -- and with a few shrill cries and one muttering of "You could have done that BEFORE you picked me up, you filthy bird!" the group was off, silhouetted against the rising full moon as they continued their journey.
"Did them a kindness, you did," my wife said as they disappeared into the moonlight. "And they didn't pay."
"What? Oh, damn!"