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Threetoe's Stories, and Analysis

Moclem

By Threetoe

Water dripped in the darkness of the dank stone dungeon. The only light shone from the cracks of a wooden door illuminating a pair of enormous green eyes which searched the outside for signs of movement. Moclem served his master well. It was he that called Moclem into being, forged from shadows of the darkest dimension. The creature reached out a claw and rattled the door. Still barred. How long had he been locked in his cage? A day? A week? All for warning his master that he was dealing with matters beyond his understanding. The ritual that created Moclem had tested the masterís luck already. Moclem knew that the spell of binding was all that kept him from betraying his master and sending them both into the Land of Shadow. The board barring the door slid back and Moclem jumped back into the corner of his room. A tall man stepped into the dungeon. A long black beard hung from his gaunt and pockmarked face. "Moclem!" said the wizard. "Step forth!" A huge beast stepped reluctantly into the light. Moclem had the shape of a gigantic walking toad with the arms of a gorilla.

Moclem charged down the mountain trail into the forest, breaking large branches with his long loping gait. The spell that controlled him caused Moclem much pain. Not only did it make him powerless to resist his masterís increasingly insane demands, but it gave him the pains of conscience when he harmed others at his masterís request. He struck a young tree and snapped it in half. This task was the most ridiculous of all. The Master must wish for eternal suffering, for that is all he would have when his plan came to fruition. A candle burned in the top floor window of a darkened mansion at the end of the wood. Moclem scaled the wall with the ease of a great ape. Inside a young woman sat in a chair, knitting by the candlelight.

--

A cold wind whistled through the hamlet of Rosesharn, chilling what would have been a cheerful afternoon in the glowing sun. The only other sound was the sputtering of the stable hand as he sank to his knees in the dirt. He struggled feebly at the bonds that held his arms behind his back. Calloused hands choked back his cries for mercy. As consciousness began to slip away, he felt tears drop from his cheeks. Fear turned to resignation as he stared at the leather-clad brute standing before him. The killerís close-shorn head blocked out the sun, his brow creased with concentration. One last squeeze and something gave way inside the stable handís neck. His eyes rolled back. All expression faded from his blue tinted face. The bald man released his grip on the dead manís neck and the body fell to the ground. He straightened his posture, slapping his hands together in two quick motions as if to brush off the residue of his deed. He then cast his vacant gaze over the silent crowd and stepped back, taking his place in the line of burly goons standing in front of the primitive wooden temple.

"That is how the Lord of the Manor deals with witchcraft!" declared the magistrate, now standing over the body. A small child pulled on his motherís arm. She put her hand on her sonís head and held him still. A tall man in a green hat moved behind the crowd, seeking to catch a view of the magistrate. The official detailed the events of the past month: the crop failures, sightings of creatures of the night, and finally, the disappearance of the baronís daughter. He promised that those responsible would be brought to justice. The green-capped stranger took note of the warning. In times like these, unfamiliar visitors would be the first to be blamed. He looked over the hamlet, a remote settlement deep in the woods. Most of the inhabitants were poor farmers, quietly paying their taxes to the local lord. The child had broken free of his mother and was tugging on the strangerís coat. "Who are you?" asked the child. The stranger smiled. "I am Mr. Merlos," he said, producing a small metal object. It was a figurine of a brightly-painted jester. "Off you go!" said Merlos, patting the child on the head. The child smiled until he was violently pulled away by his mother. As the magistrate finished his speech, the gathering dispersed and Merlos disappeared among them.

Returning to his horse the stranger met old man Jal, to whom the stables belonged. There were tears in his eyes. He threw open Merlosís saddle bag, revealing a wooden wand and several mysterious dolls. "Gill didnít take that girl," he said. "It was some kind of wizard." Jal approached the stranger wielding his shovel in a menacing manner. "Perhaps, you, Mr. Merlos." The stranger made a move toward his horse, but Jal slammed the spade before Merlosís feet. The stable master held the handle of his weapon at Merlosís neck.

"I am no wizard," cried Merlos, reaching for the bag. "I am a puppeteer." He snatched up one of the dolls and began to work the strings. Jal watched in a stupor of fascination. The doll, which bore a chilling resemblance to the stable master himself, danced and jumped in a lively manner. While the stable keeper watched the puppet, Merlos flipped the bag closed, concealing the arcane tools that marked a true magician.

--

The monster sat alone in his closet, the door left carelessly ajar. Moclemís master had been distant lately, preoccupied as he was with his dark plans. Something called to him. A tiny voice in the back of the creatureís mind, pleading, beckoning him to come forth. Silently and with great care, Moclem emerged from the closet. He stole a quick glance into the wizardís studio as he passed. The sorcerer spoke magic words over the motionless body of the girl Moclem had taken, cast into a chair like a broken doll. The monster slipped past and down the stairs of the tower. Down through the night forest, the voice compelled him, there to a cottage on the outskirts of town. The sound became clearer, a young boy praying at an open window. Moclem crept up to the side of the cottage, his claws hanging down beside the window frame, big enough to crush the boyís skull if he chose.

"Please, dark spirit," said the boy. "I know you are there."

The great creature squatted before the window, its eyes two great glistening orbs.

The boy sniffed and wiped his face.

"My name is Alec," said the child. "What is your name?"

This was a hard thing. To give his name would be to surrender his power, an act which could only lead to more chaos and wickedness. Yet his newfound empathy could not deny a child in need.

"My name is Moclem," said the demon.

"Moclem, my stepmother Elba beats me everyday. You have taken the lordís daughter. She did nothing wrong. Can you not take Elba, full of wickedness?"

Moclem looked back to the tower. It seemed the wizard had been more than careless with the spell of binding. It was not just his voice, but anyone who called on him to do evil, that must be obeyed. The monster stepped to the front of the home and ripped the door off its hinges. The woman screamed as Moclem pulled her out of bed by her ankle. Alecís father grabbed an axe from the wall and hurried after them down the hall. Just as he was about to strike, Alec opened the door. The monster turned to look at the boy, the woman Elba still writhing in his iron grip. Alecís eyes were as stone. His father jumped between Alec and the demon, arms outstretched. Moclem stared for a moment, with an almost sad expression, flipped the flailing victim over his shoulder and loped out into the night.

Back in his closet, Moclem cooed and gurgled to himself. It was the first time in this world he was truly happy. The wizard began screaming in the other room. His spells were not going according to plan. He heard his master storming up and down the hall and finally into the kitchen where he threw pots and smashed dishes. The door flung open, flooding the closet with light. Moclem put his hands behind his back. "Someone has been stealing my cheese!" cried the wizard. Moclem said nothing. The wizard slammed the door shut. Slowly, Moclem withdrew his hands. In one hand was a piece of cheese. In the other was a furry white rat.

--

The town was in a commotion when Merlos awoke in the stable. The townsfolk of Rosesharn rushed through the streets with improvised weapons while the magistrateís goons stood still as statues. The stranger donned his green cap and made for the door. Jal caught him by the wrist.

"Donít go out there," said the stable master. "They are sure to kill you."

"What happened here?" asked the magician.

"A woman was taken in the night," said Jal. "The magistrate will do nothing for her, so the peasants search for the monster themselves. It is not a good time to be an outsider."

Merlos sat and watched the commotion outside through the wooden fence of the stable. He had seen this too many times before, a village haunted, turning on itself. There was an evil wizard at the heart of this conspiracy. As the day wore on, he withdrew his puppets from his saddle bag and held them over the side of the gate. They held their hands above their eyes as if searching for some hidden danger. The boy from the day before saw them and trotted over to the stable. He skidded to his knees before the puppets.

"Hello, boy," said Merlos, as a puppet asked. "What is your name?"

"Alec," said the boy, clearly excited.

"Tell me, Alec," said the puppet, "why do the big ones run around so?"

The boyís smile faded. He cast his eyes to the ground.

"They search for my stepmother," said Alec, "but they will not find her."

"You know who took her, donít you Alec?"

The boy nodded. "Moclem took her. I asked him to."

"Does anyone else know about Moclem?"

The boy lowered his head in shame.

The stranger stood up and opened the gate. "It will be alright," he said, touching the boyís head. He knew now what he had to do. He brushed the straw from his cloak and stepped into the town square. It wasnít a minute before he was grabbed from behind and tackled to the ground. He was badly beaten. A youth snatched up his hat and put in on his head, mocking him as the others kicked him. Bruised and bloodied, Merlos was dragged before the magistrate and his deputies. The burly squad held the battered magic man above the ground by his shoulders as the magistrate held his truncheon low by his shiny leather boots while descending the steps of the square. He held his club by Merlosís cheek.

"You outsider scum," spit the law man, "you were seen tormenting that young boy, the day after his mother disappeared."

Merlos said nothing, bearing the pain.

"Where is she," screamed the magistrate, "and where is the baronís daughter? Where is Amanda?"

Pain wracked the puppeteerís body, but he straightened his neck and spoke.

"I will speak to the baron alone."

The magistrate was beside himself with rage. Red-faced, he commanded that the criminal be brought up the steps and into the mansion. The crowd watched in silence. There would be another execution tomorrow, but few thought their troubles were at an end. Outside the building the banners did not wave. All the window shutters were closed. Merlos knew that the key to this mystery was the baronís daughter. If the only way to speak to the baron was in the custody of the goons, so be it.

The baron looked years beyond his age. Once comfortably plump, his eyes now seemed sunken and black. His hands twitched nervously as he tried to calm himself with a few puffs from the pipe. He watched with tense fascination as the puppeteer was dragged before him and set sprawling across the floor. The baron leaned forward in his chair and whispered through clenched teeth.

"Where is my daughter?"

"I cannot say," said Merlos, "but I hope to know soon."

The baron screamed with rage and dashed his pipe upon the floor before Merlos's nose.

"Apelsos," shouted the baron to the magistrate, "take him to the tower. There he can ponder what lies to tell us next."

Over the next few nights there were more disappearances, yet no more arrests were made. The baron cared only for his missing daughter and nothing for how the town suffered. Every night, Apelsos unlocked the door to the tower where Merlos hung in chains. The baron then asked him to return his daughter. When Merlos said he could not, he was left half-starved in bonds of iron. At least he could see from the window, watching as the lights went out one by one in the night village, though these nights no one really slept.

--

Moclem took joy as his rats jumped and danced. The fattest, Elba, had grown greedy and huge. The spell of binding was a cruel thing, forcing him to follow any human command so long as it was evil and did not harm his master. This town was full of evil wishes, each soul wishing their enemies to disappear. It was getting to the point that the monster could no longer hide the rats from his master. Then what would happen? Pangs of conscience brought a tear to his eye. How he wished this spell could be broken. The wizard threw open the door to the closet.

"Moclem," said the wizard, barely able to hide his fury.

"Yes, master," said Moclem, hiding the rats behind him and shuffling them under a plank in the floor.

"You have been stealing food from the kitchen."

"Yes, master."

"Why, pray tell?"

"To feed my pets," said Moclem.

The wizard raised an eyebrow.

"You shall fed your pets no longer," he said and slammed the door.

Moclem lifted the plank in the floor and frowned in sorrow.

--

Another night came in the tower dungeon. Merlos wondered how long he had been there. A cold wind blew through the window, chilling the prisoner to the bone. He looked out at the lights of the village, so many dark homes. He heard footfalls on the steps below. It was the magistrate come to bring him his meager bowl of gruel. It been so long, so many people taken; no one believed Merlos was responsible. The baron had long since stopped visiting. When his jailor opened the door, Merlos could smell his fear. No one knew who would be next. As Merlos took the bowl, he spoke to the magistrate, eyes lowered.

"Why would they take the baronís daughter?"

Apelsos took the bowl when Merlos had finished.

"She was the most beautiful girl in the land," he said.

--

He knew it would not be long. Soon the curse would strike the mansion again, as it had struck the village every night since he arrived. It was close, he could feel it. He heard scratching at the window sill. The lone torch in the cell flickered and went out, leaving nothing but starlight on the cool stone floor. A giant ape-like creature leaped through the window. It looked at Merlos through glistening, amphibian eyes. Merlos summoned all his courage.

"Why have you taken Amanda," shouted Merlos, in a commanding voice, "the baronís daughter?"

The creature looked at him curiously. "It was my masterís wish."

It looked at him for a moment and said, "Fear not, I have not come for you. The baron is my prize."

Merlos swallowed in fear. "Take him and magistrate Apelsosís men are sure to kill me."

Moclem nodded and smiled. "I have come for him too."

Heart racing, Merlos rested his head against the stone wall. The creatureís master was the key. If he could reach the villainís den and break the spell that bound the demon to this world, its reign of terror would be at an end. Moclem appeared in the room again, this time holding the bodies of the baron and magistrate, rolled up in tapestries the monster had ripped from the wall.

"Moclem," shouted Merlos. The demon paused. "I demand you take me to your master!"

"All in good time," said the creature. "Master doesnít like uninvited guests."

"You will break my bonds at once!"

Moclem smiled at Merlos, and breaking loose the puppeteerís shackles said, "See you soon."

The puppeteer felt his wounded wrists, carrying the magic bag he had retrieved from the empty mansion. With the disappearance of their master, the baronís men had fled, leaving the hamlet a cold, deserted place. But those villagers that remained did not fail to notice the stranger walking down the courtyard steps. Merlos was quickly surrounded.

Before he was in range of their spades and cudgels the stable master Jal threw himself before the stranger. "Do not harm this innocent man," he said, waving his arms. "It was not him that killed poor, sweet Gill! It was the baron and his henchmen!" Someone threw a rock and struck the stable master in the shoulder. He would not budge. Merlos pushed him aside and stepped before the mob.

"It is not me you should fear," said Merlos. "It is yourselves." More rocks flew, Merlos ducked into his bag, with one hand up begging for patience. When he came up with the puppets, the mob seemed stunned with the absurdity. "You may think you command the darkness," said Merlos as the puppets danced, "but who, in fact, holds the strings. You are destroying yourselves, calling darkness to you."

"What is this nonsense!" cried a woman red-faced with rage.

"No," yelled Alec, rushing to Merlosís side. "I did it! I told Moclem to take Elba and he did!"

The crowd was suddenly silent.

"I called on Moclem," said the angry woman, tears in her eyes.

"As did I," said a farmer, his face to the ground.

Merlos put down the puppets and looked on seriously. "I will do what I can to save your friends. I ask only that you do not interfere." Merlosís face fell into a solemn frown. "I fear this will not happen. One among you will call the demon a final time, and I will be the one taken."

The crowd dispersed and went on their weary ways, exhausted and afraid, but now with the slimmest hope the curse could be lifted. Jal helped Merlos back to the stable, the magician now feeling the pain of days in the dungeon. Alec brought him a biscuit as he lay down in the hay. Merlos smiled and thanked the boy. "Have a good nightís rest for once," said Jal. Merlos laid head back and closed his eyes, but there would be no sleep tonight.

The wind blew fiercely that night. Merlos rested his hands behind his head on the bed of straw, trying to keeps his eyes closed. Wind blew through the stable, stirring up the straw. The storm beat against the roofs and windows of the cottages as the ground was pelted by a driving rain. The animals broke loose and fled the building. In the chaos of the storm, the puppeteer summoned his courage, for the worst was yet to come. He felt it coming on the edge of the night. The storm died down as suddenly as it came. The creature was near. It made no sound, but he knew it was there, hovering, waiting.

"It's time," said Moclem.

Merlos opened his eyes and took the creature's outstretched hand. The monster lifted the man up and slung him over his shoulder with one motion. The demon smiled, revealing rows of tiny pointed teeth.

"Do you even want to know who called me for you?"

Merlos said nothing.

"It was your little friend Alec," chuckled the monster. "You canĎt blame him for making sure his wicked stepmother stays gone, can you?"

"Silence monster," said Merlos, "and take me to your master."

Moclem seemed to lose his sense of humor as he carried Merlos deeper into the woods. The creature leapt over quick streams and rocky ravines. Finally, at the heart of the wilderness, they found the dark wizardís tower. Slivers of candlelight reached down to the front door where Moclem stood. He flipped his prisoner onto his feet before him. "The time has come."

The monster placed his palm onto Merlosís head and things began to change. He tried to speak but his head seemed to be tearing itself apart. His eyes bulged and his teeth grew. All the while Moclem seemed to grow impossibly huge. The monster held the puppeteer up by his new tail. Moclem bent close to the rat, Merlos.

"It is a magic candle that binds me to this world," whispered Moclem. The demon wore a sad expression as it spoke. "I know you cannot understand my speech," said Moclem, "for how can I betray my master?"

"Moclem!" came an angry howl.

Moclem trotted up the tower stairs, stopping briefly at his closet to toss Merlos inside. The puppeteer-turned-rodent found a mass of rats all in different stages of starvation. His animal mind strained to remember his human self. Versed in the ways of magic, the spell would be slower to affect him, but in the end, he would be just like these wretched creatures. With a few attempts, Merlos got the feel for his new body and jumped onto the shelf. As he ran across, he looked down and saw the crowd beginning to stir. They knew something was afoot.

The rat leapt onto the doorknob and kicked the latch free. The rats, rousted by freedom, poured out of the closet. Merlos plopped down into the crowd and was carried down the hall toward the light. The wizard looked at the motionless body of the baronís daughter with grim frustration. He was in between outbursts when the squeaking, writhing swarm burst into the room.

"Moclem!" cried the wizard.

The demon stepped out from the shadows. It blocked the rats from approaching the wizard. Instead they swarmed over the body of the girl. "No!" cried the wizard. "Protect the girl!" The demon slapped the rats away from the body and jumped back to protect the wizard. All the time he watched as Merlos crawled across the cushioned seat toward the shelf where the black candle stood. When he reached it, the girl was half-eaten. The rat turned and snuffed out the candle with a whip of his tail.

"Take me away from here," said the wizard, in abject terror.

"As you wish," said Moclem.

Merlos slid off the shelf and landed in his boots, slapping his scorched backside. Before him stood Moclem in all his horrible glory. The monster put his arm around his former master, the wizard still stunned by the ghastly scene. Moclem let the bearded conjurer watch the feast until the first tear came to the villain's eye then snatched him off the ground. The wizard thrashed uselessly under the monsterís arm. With his other hand, Moclem made magic signs while his animal mouth spoke charms from the darkest reaches of the world. Soon a whirlwind of shadow surrounded the pair and they disappeared with a bloodcurdling scream.

All around the lost villagers of Rosesharn sat beside the body of the Baronís daughter, blood dribbling from their lips. There was Elba, the wicked stepmother, and bad magistrate Apelsos, and even the baron himself. The horror of the scene was not lost on Merlos. He saw his magic bag where Moclem left it for him. He pulled out the dolls and worked the springs with vigor. It might not be too late for these lost souls as it clearly was for the baronís daughter. How much of their human selves was left, the puppeteer could not know. The witless villagers rose from their gruesome feast and followed the puppeteer as he danced out of the tower. Merrily the macabre train skipped through the woods, until they reached town.

Analysis

There's the notion of people experimenting with forces beyond their understanding and control. In this case, a wizard called something into existence from a different dimension and wasn't adequately prepared to handle it. This sort of unevenness between a set of skills or knowledge should be possible with magic, and it might not even be possible to attain all the skills you'd need to fully control a situation.

The demon was bound through some spell, and there are lots of things to note about it. This instance of a binding spell had a few side effects -- the creature's personality was altered and others beyond the wizard can control the creature, provided they know the creature's name and have bad intent. Whether or not the demon could hear evil prayers at a distance could be due to the spell or its own nature. The creature could act freely beyond the confines of the spell in this case, even to the minor detriment/irritation of the wizard (stealing his cheese, for example). The demon's name could be passed around easily and quickly made its way around town. The binding spell was fueled or otherwise tied to a physical object (the candle).

What is the wizard's unfathomable goal? Villains might have random insidious plots, sometimes too mysterious to explain.

People are changed into rats through the power of the demon. A transformation-style spell like this has many parameters that need to be defined. In this case, the puppeteer had to get used to his body, but it wasn't difficult. There's also the notion of how much of your old self is maintained, and in this case, the demon supposed the mental transformation to be instant, while in the puppeteer's case the mental transformation was slower. There was a carry-over in the sense of Merlos's backside still being scorched once he turned back into a human. Once the humans regained their form, they remained rat-like for a time, continuing to devour the body, so the mental transformation doesn't have to work the same speed going back or forth.

The demon's change of personality (quite possibly, anyway) led to him keeping pets and raiding his master's stores to take care of them. This would be most amusing if it could happen to you in your own tower. You might occasionally notice your own summoned critters misbehaving and developing quirks, much like a dwarf in dwarf mode, and if you are controlling a particular character, you might have to discuss it with them, as the wizard in the story did.

There was a dimensional teleport style spell at the end, possibly linked to the wizard's "eternal punishment". Moclem also had the wizard watch the horrible feast -- out of raw cruelty or a cruel sense of justice, it is not clear. Forcing people to watch things is a common event in stories.

The townspeople prayed for an evil spirit to come and help. The boy did this before he knew it would work, and the other townspeople might have done it before or after they knew it actually worked, though they likely learned Moclem's name from the boy or someone he told. People should do this kind of thing -- it might be fitting for the current megabeast religions, for example, and having it actually work sometimes would be a bonus, though people would need to have more individual goals first.

Any person near the demon was able to detect his presence without any other queue than just being near something evil. This could be a result of a particular sensation, like a chill, or something that is just known/felt even more directly.

There was a sudden storm to announce the coming of an evil beast to a location. Of course, if there are lots of evil beasts around the world, this could quickly get out of hand, but in a context where they are few and powerful, having all sorts of associated environmental effects and side effects of their presence would be cool.

Merlos used his puppets a few times to cast spells to charm and control people. While Merlos was performing his first charm spell, he was also able to performing another simultaneous action (hiding his wizardly stuff). He used his magic to search out people and secrets -- Merlos seemingly calls the boy, who holds the secret, over to him with his puppets. The puppets seemed to be key to these spells. Some spells should require particular skills and items, like puppetry and puppets, while others might rely simply on spoken words, gestures and/or natural ability, like Moclem's powers.

There was a brutal and primitive execution carried out by the baron's goons. People gathered to view the execution. This might be an activity not unlike a party or meeting. There was the notion of punishment not just for the kidnapping, but for the notion of practicing witchcraft. Civilizations and other entities could have a set of rules or ethics associated to these sorts of things.

There was a public speech from an official regarding the recent troubles, with declarations of intent and so on.

Merlos was interrogated and imprisoned for a time to facilitate interrogation.

Merlos tried to isolate the ruler to have a private discussion, which is a common notion, for which there should probably be both the option and a good reason to do it. There's also the notion of intentionally or at least not minding being locked up in order to gather more information that partially presented itself here.

Although the baron's thugs and the magistrate had some legal powers derived from the baron, they were used only for that crime which the baron actually cared about, while the others were more or less ignored. The acts of enforcement-type entities in the game could be similarly weighted, rather than just obeying the broad entity ethics like they currently do.

There are paranoid mobs in the story, and an outsider was targeted in particular, which is a fairly common theme. The outsider made an initial effort to conceal his differences (especially the saddle bag). Characters should be in tune with entity traits like this and be able to fit in and players and others should suffer consequences minor or major for not doing so. The peasants armed themselves for their witch hunt and they also threw rocks, and somebody jumped in to project somebody and protest their innocence -- it would be nice to have people think about things like that as they weigh their individual ethics and allegiances. There was also a situation where people became particularly suspicious of somebody that strolled out of prison right after important people were kidnapped -- it's difficult to capture the entirety of a situation for an AI character to consider, but efforts in this direction could be made, especially for the more common events.

The people didn't believe in Merlos's guilt, especially after a time, but didn't really care either and were indifferent to injustice, though they also didn't have the power to change the situation by themselves. This is sort of the default situation for a computer game character, since they don't care about the things they don't care about, but the notion can also be explicitly explored, especially as it relates to your character trying to get things done.

There's a case of somebody mimicking somebody else to mock them, in this case while wearing a distinctive article of stolen clothing.

It's a common event to have somebody unceremoniously deposited before a ruler prior to an initial questioning.

Evil villains should be able to put their evil henchmen in time out, as with Moclem in the beginning of the story.

People should be able to have hobbies that they can carry out without them being associated to a job even if they have aspects of a job, like knitting in the room.

The nice man gave a toy to a child he didn't know. Critters in the game should be able to do things like that.

This story has instances of an abusive parent and a protective parent, and in a few instances, a character (the dad, Moclem) are forced to prioritize whom they protect. The mother also gets impatient and yanks the child away from the man with the figurine.

Moclem climbs up walls and goes through a window to get the baron's daughter.

The demon picks up people and hauls them off. Though this happens in limited ways (taking people to a hospital bed, say), it could afford to be more specific about what's going on and increase the situations in which such a thing could happen.

The demon in this story, modelled roughly on our notion of a frog demon, had mismatched animal part bodies.

We had stables, with a traveller parking his horse there and sleeping there himself as well.