The mid-day sunshine shone through the large windows of the Blood on the Vine Inn, and fell upon Nikolai Indrirovich as he sat alone at a table near the back of the common room. Around him scrolls and notes lay spread about the table, and the Burgomaster flipped through each, a plate of cheese and bread forgotten by his side.
Nikolai”s wife was fond of scolding him for preferring to take his work to the inn, accusing him of avoiding her and the children, but the truth was that he enjoyed being amongst the folk of the village he represented. The fact that his numerous children were not running about distracting him was an unforeseen benefit of working at the inn, but he”d never admit to it to his wife. Today, oddly enough, the inn was empty, only a single Vistani, passed out from the drink, sat far in the corner of the inn. The Burgomaster shook his head in disgust. Some of the village folk had complained that the Vistani were coming to town more frequently, worried that the gypsies might become more common, but Nikolai figured they would move on eventually, and that nothing in Barovia would hold much interest for the vagabonds.
Nikolai was so occupied with the gypsy that he missed the sound of horse tack and the jingle of a harness as a carriage of highly polished black wood and brass finish arrived outside the inn. Pyotr, the innkeeper, came rushing around the bar, a look of worry and shock on his face.
“Nikolai,” the innkeep hissed at the Burgomaster to get his attention, “The Lord of Barovia arrives!”
Nikolai Indrirovich rose to his feet, surprised, sweeping crumbs from his tunic, and fixing himself up quickly to look as presentable as he could. Pyotr had swept the inn doors open, Just as Viktor Greben, the commander of the von Zarovich house guard marched into the inn. Greben”s stoic face scanned the room, his eyes piercing into each of the dark corners of the room, seeking out danger, and finding none. The guardsman spied the Vistani and his brows furrowed as he took a few steps towards the gypsy and stood at attention, eyes locked on the drunkard.
Beyond the door, Nikolai could see Count Strahd von Zarovich as he stepped from the carriage, and waved his additional guardsmen away. Strahd walked purposefully towards the inn. The Lord of Barovia hesitated at the door, staring into the bright sun, and seemed to smile fleetingly. Nikolai blinked. The Count was always stern and serious, brooding almost, but this was the first time the Burgomaster had seen him smile. Many worried that the Lord of Barovia had fallen into melancholy spirits, alone in his castle. Nikolai knew that the Count had received word that his parents were coming to settle into Strahd“s new seat of power, so perhaps this would help bring new cheer into the Count”s life.
Strahd nodded to the innkeeper, as Pyotr bowed low, and strode across the room straight to Nikolai’s table. The Burgomaster bowed low, and Nikolai was aware of how nervous the Count made him.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Strahd asked in his heavily accented manner.
“Of course you are welcome, my lord!” Nikolai gestured to a chair, and sat down as Strahd von Zarovich settled himself across the table from him. Pyotr rushed over with fresh bread and cheese, and a bottle of his best red wine, bowing low once again as he scuttled away as quick as he could.
“Is my lord satisfied with the labourers I sent over,” the Burgomaster asked nervously, “do you require more skilled workers?”
“No.” Strahd replied flatly, “No need to worry, Indrirovich, the labourers have done a fine job of repairing and restoring the castle, and have even brightened up the courtyard in celebration of my parents” arrival.” The count smiled, and Nikolai was taken aback again.
“My lord, forgive me my assumptions, I mean no offence, but you seem very happy today”¦” Nikolai stated, his curiosity overcoming his anxiety at speaking to the stern lord of the land. Strahd chuckled, a sound the Burgomaster had never heard, and then poured two glasses of wine, handing one to Nikolai before sipping of the red liquid himself.
“I’ve received word from my parents,” Strahd said as he ripped a chunk of bread from the loaf, “They arrive tomorrow, and they bring with them my younger brother, Sergei.”
“A prince of Barovia! I had no idea that my lord had a younger brother,” Nikolai said with a smile.
“He was a babe when I left for war,” Strahd replied, “But he comes now as a young man. But the truly good news is that he brings with him his betrothed!”
“Gods be praised!” Nikolai exclaimed excitedly, “There is to be a wedding then? Here?”
“Yes,” replied Strahd as he rose from his seat, wincing at an old injury in his leg, “But this means much work to be done. I would like the village to be decorated in celebration for their arrival tomorrow. The wedding, I imagine, won’t be for a while yet.”
“Of course! It will be done, my lord.” Nikolai assured, “It would be an honour for us to receive such a noble family! What joyous news!” Count Strahd von Zarovich strode across the inn, stopping at the door, framed in bright sunlight, and smiled at Nikolai Idrirovich.
“The innocence of the young who are lost to love,” Strahd mused as he stared off into the sun, “I look forward to the renewed energy this will bring to Castle Ravenloft.”
Count Strahd turned back to Nikolai and nodded.
“My father wrote that Segei”s betrothed, a woman named Tatyana, is a rare beauty.” Strahd laughed, “I can see this marriage bringing a great change to this region. I feel that this wedding will be one that no one in Barovia will ever forget.”