The corridor was dark and somewhat slippery, causing Aurei to hold the light stick high as she carefully descended the gentle stone steps down to the Muddy Boot’s secret bathhouse. The Inn had been built many centuries ago, some said by the Elves of the Great Forest, while others claimed the Dwarves, but over its long existence the tavern had been rebuilt several times, though always on the solid stone foundation that also served as the lower half of the wall of the first floor of the structure.
She had rediscovered the long forgotten hidden entrance to the underground bathhouse some years ago while exploring the Muddy Boot’s vast cellar. Her sensitive Drow eyes had detected a slight heat variation along the east wall of one part of the cellar, and soon she and her foster parents were slicing through cobwebs down the same cut stone stairs that wound and turned into a fairly wide cavern. They estimated that the room was located directly beneath the small waterfall at the Miller’s mill pond, and the underground room featured an eight foot waterfall that dropped into a knee-deep stone pool that then emptied down into perhaps other caverns through a small drain hole at the western end of the pool basin. Though the water that came down was from the tributary of the Southflow river that emptied into the Miller’s pond, apparently it mixed somewhere between the Millpond and the underwater waterfall with some sort of warm mineral spring, for the water that filled the bathhouse basin was very pleasantly warm, perfect for bathing.
Duke Gamel had ordered them not to tell anyone about the discovery of the bathhouse, as it gave the family a secret place (as well as a source of water) if the town was ever attacked. Only the Bugleys and a few of the staff of the Muddy Boot knew about it. Now with father Bugley gone, Aurei wondered whether she should share the secret with Pinel or keep it to herself. She stripped off her barmaid dress and eagerly got into the pool, wading out until she was standing under the waterfall of warm water. Closing her eyes as the warm water flowed over her, she could almost hear the sound of mother Bugley laughing as they played in the water when she was a child. For seemingly the hundredth time that day, the memory brought tears to her eyes, but she kept the painful thoughts and cherished them as she washed with some of the lye soap – the same sort her mother had taught her to make- that they kept in the room to bath with. The thought of Pinel’s brood tromping through the peaceful place made bile rise in her throat and she then and there decided she would not tell him about it. Even if he threw her out of the Inn and she had to move, she would not reveal its whereabouts to them. It would sit –unused- as a shrine to the memories of her foster parents and especially mother Bugley. Aurei slipped down into the pool, finding the carved out indentations and settling back into the water with a contented sigh. She would just rest there for a little while, then go to her basement bedroom and read her sealed letter from Gamel before going to bed. Satisfied with her itinerary she closed her eyes —just for a moment. Almost at once she fell into a very deep sleep.