“Mr. Elwood?” A soft voice asked the burly man sitting at the bar. He turned and discovered the voice came from a pale, silver-haired woman in a dark cloak.
“Who’s askin’?” he replied with a gravelly voice.
“Someone that wishes to discuss a business venture with you,” the woman smiled. The man’s bushy, brown eyebrows dipped when he narrowed his eyes at the woman. He stroked his beard in thought for a second, then shrugged and nodded.
“I’m listenin’,” he replied. The woman smiled and cocked her head towards a dark corner.
“Someplace less open, if you please.” Without waiting for a response she walked to a candlelit table in the darkest corner of the tavern. Elwood took his filled stein with him and wobbled his way to the table. He had been drinking in the tavern for several hours already, after visiting every bank in the city. He reached the table and let himself fall into the wooden chair.
“It has come to my benefactor’s attention that you’re in search of a business loan. Is that correct?” Elwood chuckled.
“Aye. Can’t get it though,” he said, then raised his voice to a mocking pitch. “Too many inns already,” he mimicked the sentiment echoed by every bank. The woman nodded.
“There are a lot of Inns, but you know that obviously. So what would make yours different?” she asked. A broad smile grew on Elwood’s face.
“Thank you!” he exclaimed. “Of course I know the market, and I know I have to be different. No one ever asked, or let me explain my idea.” His eyes sparkled. “Even if you don’t lend me the money, thanks for listening. My idea is…,” he looked from side to side to check for accidental eavesdroppers, then leaned in over the table. “…topless women,” he said with a smile.
“Topless women? Is that your biggest draw? How so?” the woman asked with more than a little bit of confusion on her delicate face.
“The servers, the maids. All the female staff will be topless.”
“And that’s it?” Elwood nodded, but the woman shook her head.
“Personally, I don’t think that will be enough of a draw,” she said. Elwood felt the emptiness of disappointment in his gut, but he nodded his head.
“I understand. Thanks for listening.”
“Wait. There is a different way we can help you, if you’re willing,” she spoke quickly to keep him from leaving the table. He turned his attention to her again, and she kept talking. “We will extend the loan, with payments you can manage, if you’re willing to accept some,” the woman paused to find the right word. “Unsavory chores every now and again.”
“I’m listenin’,” Elwood nodded.
“Once your Inn is successful, there’ll be a regular stream of adventurers seeking to defeat the local dragon. Your task,-“
“We have a dragon?” Elwood asked. “Since when?” The woman smiled.
“Since about the time your Inn opens up. Now, your task will be to feed them false information,” she said.
“You mean I’m gonna get them killed?” This time she shook her head.
“Not at all. More like, starting them off with a disadvantage. Nothing they can’t overcome if they’re good enough. Of course, many of them won’t be good enough,” her face softened. “But that’s not your fault.” Elwood lifted his stein and downed the bottom half of his drink. He placed it down and looked at the woman.
“So far, I’m not against it. But, what’s gonna happen to me if my Inn isn’t successful?” The woman chuckled.
“As the only Inn in the area, I don’t think that’ll be a problem.” Elwood looked at the empty stein, then back to the strange woman.
“Lady, we just said there’s a whole mess of Inns here.” She nodded.
“There won’t be when you open,” she smiled. Her pupils narrowed to vertical slits. “Don’t forget, there’s a dragon moving into the area.”