The night was dark and cold as a cloaked figure trekked up the cobblestone path. A tavern loomed overhead and lights illuminated the windows from within. The rowdy occupants put the cloaked figure on edge but they took a deep breath and approached the oak wood door.
Pushing it open cautiously, they looked around to inspect the environment. Men and women were seated at the wooden tables, clinking glasses of ale with wide smiles on their faces. Off to the furthest corner of the tavern, two men brawled viciously and their audience cheered them on. Quickly, the bartenders intervened and threatened to kick them out if they couldn't get along. The men laughed, shook hands and sat down together to drink.
No one bothered to turn their attention to the cloaked figure and they breathed, approaching the bar.
A bartender moved to serve them. "What can I get you?" he asked.
The cloaked figure cleared their throat and leaned forward. "I've heard this place serves the best… chicken burgers?" they whispered in a husky, male tone.
Glancing around quickly, the bartender nodded. "You've heard correctly. If you would follow me out the back, you may choose which chicken we prepare for you."
The bartender led the newcomer around the bar and herded him through the back door. Closing it, he turned to the cloaked man with a grim expression.
"We only have one left for you to choose from," he admitted. "The absolute best."
The cloaked man felt his spirits rising. "Thank you-"
"You poor sod," the bartender sighed, leading him down the corridor to the last door. He reached for the handle and cracked it open. "I hope you know what you're doing."
Bowing his head, he entered the next room. Four candles were lit, one in each corner. They illuminated the room and the man jumped as the bartender closed the door behind him, leaving him alone.
Shadows lurked where the lights of the candles didn't reach and the man felt shivers crawling up his spine. He could sense that he was not alone, but he wasn't able to see anything aside from the candles.
Suddenly, a candle went out. The man turned to see what had caused it and behind him, another died. He sensed a presence moving about the room and in seconds, the last two candles were snuffed out.
Thrown into darkness, the man held his breath. His skin crawled and he barely kept back a whimper as a feminine voice spoke.
"Who seeks the service of the Ravens?" was the question and something was placed into his hand. He had to narrow his eyes but with a sharp scraping sound, a small flame ignited in front of his face. A hand grabbed his and moved it up to the flame, setting alight the candle he held.
The light made him feel safer, until he saw the face of a woman right in front of him. Her face was barely illuminated, casting shadows across her features. The man choked on a cry of fright, unable to stop his trembles of fear. What had he gotten himself into?
"Reveal your identity," the woman hissed.
The man lifted his spare hand, begging it to stop shaking. He carefully pushed back the hood of his cloak, afraid the woman might strike for him if he made any sudden movements. As the hood fell, the woman drew back and the man heard her hushed voice.
"Your Majesty," spoke a male's voice and more candles quickly came to life, spreading light to the entire room.
Four people bowed before the man and he noticed that there was only one woman among them. They were all dressed in black clad with what looked like war paint smeared across their arms.
"Forgive our demeanor, our King," one of the men spoke and they straightened up. "Only the bravest seek the help of the Ravens. What does a man of your status require from the common folk?"
The King watched them carefully and found his voice. "There are enemy spies among my kingdom and I fear the life of my daughter. She has never ventured out of the castle, and so I have hope that I can acquire your help to draw out the spies and eliminate them so that my daughter may feel safe."
The four strangers exchanged glances and one by one, they nodded. The woman looked up at the King. "Your Majesty, do you understand that the help you are asking of us will require an ongoing payment?"
"Of course," he dipped his head.
The three men shared wicked grins and turned to the King. "If the princess has never ventured outside of the castle, then please allow us to offer a fool proof way to draw out these spies."
The woman narrowed her eyes and slowly turned to glare at her companions. "Don't. You. Dare."