If you're going to do exposition, do it nude
The group entered the inn. The innkeeper was a human and seemed surprised to have customers.
“Can I help you good folk?” he asked.
“Yes,” Rory said. “We would like 3 rooms please, for us and 2 more who will be joining us later.”
“Rooms? To stay?” he asked.
“That’s normally what one uses rooms for, isn’t it?” Rory asked sweetly.
“Uh, yes good lady,” he stammered. “We, we haven’t had guests of your sort for a bit is all.”
“Our sort?” Astra asked.
“Er, human, ma’am,” he said, looking to the door briefly. “Not since the pointies…er…elves came ma’am.”
“I was under the impression there have always been elves living in Tandar,” Rory said.
“Oh them, no them’s not what I mean, er, beggin yer pardon ma’am. Them new elves. The Leader and his folk. We’ve had cursed few humans visiting since that lot arrived. More’n a few what lived her moved on as well.”
“Interesting,” Rory said. “Tell me more about this Leader person.”
“Oh he’s not for the likes of me to talk about. No ma’am. I’m just an innkeeper, my wares are for all and I’m the soul of discretion ma’am. I keeps a good clean house.”
“Oh of course good sir,” Astra said. “It’s obvious to all this is an excellent establishment. Truly first class!”
The innkeeper beamed. “Thank’ee ma’am! We tries, me an’ the miss’us. Even with times hard like they are since the poi…since…well, like they are, we don’t water our ale and we feeds the guests our best.”
“That’s very obvious,” Astra agreed. “We’re new here. Could you, respectable man yourself, give us some recommendations to make our stay here more pleasant?”
“Oh yes ma’am!” he said. “Well dinner here is from 5 to 7 and the tap stays open ‘till 11. That gives folk plenty of time to get home before the curfew.”
“Curfew?” Colin asked.
“Oh, yeh didn’t…yes young sir, the curfew. Half 11 all off the streets. It’s a fine law, yes!” the innkeeper said, a shade too enthusiastically, “More of the good work The Leader and his people be doing for us!”
“’The Leader’ again,” Astra whispered in an aside to Rory.
“Mmm,” she grunted in assent. “So the Leader runs the town?” she asked the innkeeper.
“Er, well, in a manner of speaking I guess. The Mayor, he runs the town, The Leader just, er, helps him doing it so te speak.”
“I see,” Rory said. “He, let’s say, ‘makes suggestions to the mayor’?”
“Yes ma’am! Suggestions. Fer our own good and te keep things runnin’ smooth-like.”
“And does The Leader supply men to ‘help’ the Mayor enforce those suggestions?”
“The very thing ma’am!” he said, a shade too loudly. “Why there’s not been a robbery nor a speck of trouble since The Leader started helpin’.”
“I bet the trains run on time too,” Colin said with a disgusted look.
“Trains young sir?” the innkeeper asked, confused.
“Nothing,” Colin said. In a different tone, he continued, “Can you tell us about the baths?”
“Oh the baths it is young sir! Why Tandar be famous throughout the land for the baths! Why the water comes bubbling hot from the ground, full of helpful minerals, just the thing to restore vitality to the tired! Travelers have been coming to Tandar for the baths since time began young sir!”
“I’m sure they’re a wonder,” Colin agreed. “The ladies, and myself for that matter, would like to partake. Can you point us to them?”
“Oh,” the innkeeper suddenly stopped his travelog. “Er, well, ye see, ah, humans, like me and yerself young sir, don’t so much use them now-a-days.”
“Let me guess,” Colin said. “The elves?”
“Er, well, yar, sorta. I can fix ye a nice bath here if ye need te freshen up. I’ve a couple of hip tubs and we can boil up some water…”
“Are humans prohibited from using the baths?” Rory asked.
“No ma’am, no they’re there for all, it’s just, er, well they just don’t so much use ‘em no more.”
“Thank you. I’d like to know where they are. We will be using them after we’ve unpacked,” Rory said briskly.
“Of course, ma’am,” the innkeeper nodded. “They’re down the main street to the left by the lake. Big terracotta buildin’, can’t miss it. Ladies on the right, gentlemen on the left. If ye will, I’ll take ye te ye rooms.”
The innkeeper bustled them up the stairs. Surprisingly their rooms were clean and spacious. The beds were small but comfortable. Colin and Rory took a room, Astra and Dee one and they left the third for the draco.
“Should we call them?” Colin asked after the innkeeper left them.
“I’ll reach out mentally, I’d like to know what Rock’s take on this Leader is,” she replied.
Rory sat on the bed in a lotus pose and closed her eyes. She sat like that for several minutes before sighing deeply and reopening her eyes.
“Cell phones were so much easier,” she muttered. Louder she said, “He’s concerned too. These elves are a bit of an unknown quantity. He’s not sure if they can see through the dracos’ disguise or not. I think we’re better off trying to find out a little more before we make that call. I want to go to the baths more than ever now. I want a first hand look at these elves.”
“I’m a little concerned at why humans ‘just don’t so much use ‘em no more’,” Collin mimicked.
“Agreed, which is why you’re going to stay just outside the women’s baths on guard while the three of us bathe. If we run into anything we can’t handle, we’ll call you. If YOU run into something, call us. Dee can back you up and I’ve learned a few things that might make for an unpleasant surprise to The Leader’s people.”
She stood on tip-toes and kissed his forehead, “Sweetie, I’m afraid you’re going to have to content yourself with the hip-bath when we get back. I don’t want you in the men’s section, unarmed and alone. I’ll scrub your back though, and anything else you want washed.”
“I’m very dirty,” Colin agreed. “It’ll take a long time to get me clean.”
“It never has before,” Rory said with mock innocence.
“You’re going to pay for that later,” Colin smiled.
“God I hope so.”
A few minutes later, the four companions met downstairs in the tap room and walked to the baths. As the innkeeper noted, it was impossible to miss. A very old building, it still looked more sophisticated than any of the wooden structures around it. A young, human woman sat just inside the entrance behind a counter.
“We three would like to enjoy the baths,” Rory said to her. “Our man will stay outside here, waiting for us.”
“But, er,” the girl stammered.
“Are the baths closed?” Rory asked.
“Then what is the problem,” she continued.
“Er,” the girl blushed, “There’s elves in there,” she said in a whisper.
“Are humans prohibited?” Rory asked.
“No ma’am, but maybe you want to come back another time…”
“We wish to bathe now,” Rory insisted.
“Yes, ma’am,” the girl nodded, getting up.
Rory paid the modest fee and the young girl gave them a tour. To Rory’s eye it looked like a weird combination of Japanese Bathouse, Roman Hypocaust and maybe a modern spa? As in Japan, the bathers undressed and left their clothes in a changing area. That opened to a washroom where attendants kept buckets of warm water and soap. The bathers cleaned themselves and then proceeded to the baths themselves. They were in an open courtyard, surrounded by high walls with vines and trellis. It was pleasantly warm, more than comfortable for lounging naked. Wine was available for the enjoyment of the guests.
The girls quickly stripped out of their travel clothes and scrubbed each other down with the soap, sluicing off.
“God that feels good,” Dee said.
“Let’s keep things G rated until we know what the cultural mores are here,” Astra quietly suggested and Dee soaped her boobs.
“Feh,” Dee sighed. “Yeah OK, not a bad point. I’ve just gotten used to Sexlandia back in Draco land.”
They laughed at that.
“Shit, Rory said snorting, “I think you just renamed the settlement.”
Dee and Astra helped themselves to a goblet of wine. Rory declined. They moved into the pool area. A large communal bath occupied the center of the courtyard. In the shade of the trellis, tables and chairs surrounded the central pool.
“Natural hot spring,” Astra observed. “You can smell the sulfur.”
“Mmmm, rotten egg, my favorite,” Dee said. “I just thought Rory farted again.”
Two elven women soaked in the tub. One in the water proper, one sitting on the edge with her feet in. Rory studied them covertly while they moved some chairs around one of the small tables. The women were average height, curvaceous with dark hair and a slight olive complexion. Their faces looked exotic but not outrageously so. They looked human with the exception of their ears which were long and pointed.
“They look a little Turkic,” Astra observed quietly to the others.
“They’re checking us out just like we’re checking them out,” Dee said.
“OK,” Rory whispered. “We came in here to meet elves.”
“I’m going in the water,” she said in her normal volume.
She got up walked to the pool, stepping down onto the ledge and then lowering herself into the water. It was bath-warm, just this side of uncomfortable which was exactly how she liked it. She lowered more of herself into the water.
“Ahhhh,” she sighed.
The elf woman in the water took a step closer and said, “Hello, you are the human people who are new come to the town today?”
She had an accent, vaguely Slavic Rory thought.
“Hello,” Rory answered. “Yes we are. My name is Rory.”
“I am Lir,” the woman said, smiling. She had short, dark brown hair and violet eyes. She was solidly built, as was her companion. A little shorter than Rory. Not muscled, not fat, but solid. Curvy with hips and thick, dark, pubic hair.
“You are not from Tandar?” Lir asked.
“No we’re traveling from the east,” Rory said.
“Yes, you do not look like humans here,” Lir said pleasantly. “You do not act like them neither. They afraid to come to baths.”
“Why?” Rory asked.
“I don’ know,” she shrugged. She looked at her companion, “We take bath! We don’ smell bad, right Kara?” They both laughed. Rory smiled. “We don’ bite, unless they wants us to neither.”
“Well that’s good,” Rory chuckled.
“You hair is nice,” Lir went on, “Pretty. You an’ your frien’. We don’ see hair like that here. We see you on th’ street. Humans here have hair like us and you odder frien’.”
“Thank you. It’s not common where I’m from, but it isn’t rare either,” Rory said. “You’re pretty too.”
“Than’ you,” Lir said. “OK I touch your hair? I never seen before.”
Rory was slightly uncomfortable but said, “OK.”
Lir took a gliding step closer to Rory, than another. She came well inside Rory’s personal space before reaching up and gently touching her hair. Rory saw her friends tense out of the corner of her eye.
“Is nice. Soft,” Lir said in a throaty whisper. “We see you walking on th’ street, you an’ your frien’ an’ we wonder if all you hair like that.” Lir pointedly looked down. “I see it is. Mebee I touch that too? Yes?”
“I think I see why the human women are afraid to come to the baths,” Rory said sardonically. “No, you may not touch me there. We just met.”
“OK, I unnerstan’, but I wonner, ‘what you do stop me if I do it anyway?’”
Rory hardened her eyes, “You might be surprised.”
Lir threw back her head and laughed, letting go of Rory’s hair.
“I like you Rory, you tough! Like Elves! My man woul’ love you. Mebbe you meet him someday?”
“Maybe, you never know,” Rory answered coolly but not unfriendly.
“My man Lugh, he’ like tough women an I don’ think he ever see a woman with hair like wheat. Maybe you meet him tomor’, eh? All new people meet The Leader.”
“Your man is The Leader?” Rory asked.
“Yeah. He gonna like you, an’ your frien’s,” Lir said with calculating eyes.