The Lonely Inn

Travel the isolated trails between settlements, make your way through the dark, seemingly endless forests, create a small bubble of life when you camp out on one of the plains that stretch from one horizon to the other, and sooner or later you will begin to wish for some of the warmth that comes only from having others around you and having a roof over your head.

Turn a corner and there is a place where several paths cross. Others use these trails; human and elf, minotaur and magi, as they move across the surface of Belariath on their journeys to trade or to raid. And sitting beside that crossing of the ways, set back in a large clearing in the forest, there is the Lonely Inn.

No one really knows how long it has been there; successive generations have added to the original building until it forms a hodge-podge of architectural styles that still convey a sense of homeliness to the low rambling building. The front door stands ajar, golden light spilling out as dusk tinges the sky, turning it a deeper blue and you hurry forward, eager to take a break from your long journey.

Stepping inside your senses are assailed by a confusion of impressions, heightened by your long isolation. A huge, low room, it's ceiling supported by smoke-darkened wooden beams. Wood everywhere, panelling the walls and forming the booths, benches, chairs, tables... golden wood, like rich honey made more beautiful by age as it soaked up the atmosphere, the scents and the smokes. Massive fireplaces form focal centers for different groups, while others crowd the private booths along the walls, or sit companionably around scarred and ring-marked tables in the center of the room.

Such a variety of people. Surely all the races and peoples of Belariath are represented here, from the graceful to the grotesque. Exotic serving girls sway their hips as they move between the tables, sometimes avoiding a grasping paw, sometimes allowing a hand to linger on their almost naked bodies before twirling away, leaving nothing but the lingering sensation of soft skin on a calloused hand .... and the fading tinkle of golden slave bells.

In shadows dwell the darkest souls,
And heroes find them there,
But what if heroes fall within?
Could 'they' the darkness bear?
Or would they fall from lightened grace?
And become the lost souls kin?
Enter the darkness and know much more,
Step into the Lonely Inn

Silence falls as the clear tones of a Bard drift like crystal smoke through the room. Twining melodies evoke images of lazy sun-dappled waves and cool dimly lit forests, mighty towers crashing in flames and the doomed romance of beauty. Something catches in your throat and your eyes prickle as the haunting music surrounds your soul and then slowly recedes, fading away like early morning mist. Deciding you must have breathed in some greasy smoke, you surreptitiously rub your eyes, noticing that not a few others are doing the same as the room returns to normal.

Occasionally a fight erupts. Flushed faces glare at each other, weapons flash. That's life. These are proud beings. You notice though, that if things become serious the friends of the protagonists hustle them outside to carry on the disagreement. Often only one returns. It comes to you that no one race is willing to risk the enmity of all the others by upsetting the delicate balance amongst these visitors. This place is too valuable to risk being outlawed from its comforting warmth. For there is more than food and drink to be found here. Many of the booths have curtains pulled across and, whilst from most there are sounds of giggling and heavy breathing, from others there is near silence... whispered words. Diplomats from races ostensibly not on speaking terms need a discreet place to meet and talk....

Selecting a quiet corner you settle down with some hot food and a cool drink, content for now to watch the comings and goings. Doors lead off from the room to other parts of the building and you can imagine the dark, twisty corridors leading to half-forgotten rooms. Surely there are secret passages and hidden doorways opening into bedrooms where shy virgins sleep in a false sense of security. And that dark forest outside.... how many slaves have been captured, how many maidens ravaged almost within sight of safety....

You find your mind drifting beyond thoughts of food and sleep and look around more carefully.... maybe it's time to entertain yourself....