--Chapter Four: The Coming Storm and the First Clouds
A few days after the traders left on their various routes, everything was more or less back to normal for The Windmill Road. The next big event would be vacation season, which would not be far off now that the days were getting sufficiently warm. Relatives would travel to see each other, or others would want to head west to “get away from it all.” The occasional southbound dragon slayer could be found among these people. Also, every now and then a traveling entertainer or mage would stop by. Isa did not like traveling mages much, though, mostly because she did not trust them. She attributed this to the fact that half their tricks could be explained by the words, “It was up his sleeve.”
The first of the seasonal travelers were just starting to come. One night there were four to show up at the tavern—an extremely light crowd, but this would pick up in coming days. Though none of these four knew each other, they were content to eat at the same table and talk. Isa eavesdropped while performing her usual stunt of pretending to clean dishes behind the bar.
Of the four, three were men. The woman and one of the men were newlyweds from the heartland. They were now going east for their honeymoon. One of the other men was headed west for a family funeral. Isa listened to these stories, but she found nothing spectacular in them. The last man, though, told a tale she could not believe.
“I just set out one day to travel wherever the road would take me. Now that I’ve made it this far and seen so many things, I think I’ll turn back; wouldn’t want to worry the family back home, you know.”
The reason Isa could not believe it was because in her years growing up and listening to thousands of stories, nobody had ever stopped at The Windmill Road and turned back. She looked at him carefully and decided there was something not quite right about his appearance. His clothes were too heavy for long travel for many days in the sun. They were also bulky, as if he were wearing several layers. His skin was well tanned, and his coal-black beard was long and slightly unkempt. Still Isa could not put her finger on exactly what seemed odd about him...
And then she noticed it: on his tunic’s right shoulder was a tiny emblem, a shield with red and gold vertical stripes. This man was from the Desdon army, and he was lying about his origins. Isa did not know what to make of it, so she tucked the information away in her brain until later, when all but the bearded man, who had introduced himself as “Nidric,” had left the table to go to the hotel for the night.
Nidric stood up to his full height of two meters and addressed Isa directly as he walked toward the bar.
“Hi,” he said, nodding. “Mind if we just talk for a bit? I’m not tired enough to get some sleep yet.”
“Sure,” said she, putting down her latest “dirty” glass. Then she added, “A bit surprising that you wouldn’t want to go any farther than this little village on the Windmill Road...”
Nidric said, “You know, I’ve been wondering about that name. Is ‘Windmill Road’ the name of the road or the town?”
“Both,” said Isa. “The village is just so small, it ended up getting named after the road. Besides that, it’s really hard to travel the entire road without going through here.”
Nidric nodded and scratched beneath his beard. “So they say. Is it true that all the merchants in the heartland meet here before traveling East?”
Isa thought for a moment. How much information was it wise to give a spy? “Well, they all travel the road, and like I said, it’s hard to travel the road and not go through here.”
Nidric continued his nodding. “Understandable,” he said. “So what other types of people go through here?”
“All types,” said Isa. “I wish I could be more specific than that, but literally everyone from everywhere goes through...”
“Everyone from everywhere,” Nidric repeated softly. “Well, thanks! That clears up a lot. I should get going now.”
He stood up and made to leave. Just as he was standing in the open doorway, Isa said, “Have a safe trip back to Desdon.”
Nidric froze in his tracks, turned around, and closed the door. “Who told you I was from Desdon?” he asked.
Isa pointed to her shoulder and then folded her arms. “You have the emblem of the army.”
“Listen, Nidric—if that is your real name. We’re simple people in this town. We haven’t been involved in any war thus far, and we don’t want to be involved in one anytime soon.”
Nidric put a hand up and said, “Do not worry. Our army would never attack this town unless it were controlled by the forces of Incria. We have an interest in the trade route, however. If we don’t secure it, Incria will... And that would be a huge blow.”
“But if you secure it, won’t Incria attack to get the route opened for them again?”
Nidric shook his head and made to leave again. “Most likely, at this point, they won’t even know what hit them. Oh, and by the way: I’d appreciate it if you didn’t go around telling everyone old Nidric was here. All the same, worry not. The sooner the trade road is in Desdon hands, the sooner this horrible war will end—and that would be best for everyone, after all.”
Isa considered this long after Nidric left. She wanted to believe his last sentence... but it was really hard for her to trust a man whose first words she overheard were a blatant lie.
Then, just when she was about to close up the tavern for the night and go to sleep, she remembered Cerie. The fairy was already asleep, resting on top of a pickle jar on one of the shelves behind the bar. Isa called her to attention, and she woke up, flashing a brighter green to signal that she was listening.
Isa said quietly, “A Desdon spy was just here. The whole army might show up in a matter of days. Go tell Diamo.”
The fairy flew with alarming speed to the door, where she slipped beneath the crack in the bottom and went off like a shooting star into the night.
Nidric appeared with the others in the morning, but Isa was not the waitress; it was Jinn’s turn. Isa had to ask Jinn later about the man from Desdon.
“Oh, I didn’t pay him much attention. That married couple was so cute.” After a pause, she remembered something, though. “When he paid his tab, he said he wanted me to give you a tip for last night. We each got five linnes—not bad.”
“Not bad at all,” said Isa, taking the coins offered her. In her heart, though, she knew this was not a tip for her service; it was a ransom for her silence.