I gazed at the encroaching twilight and slowed down from a brisk walk to a casual stroll. The seaward breezes now rising from the land, pushing warmth from inland over the harbor and then out to the sea. We watched the warm sun turn from pink to red as it hovered above the Western bluff. I took in the sights, reviewing every detail. Whatever lay ahead, I would hold on to these memories. I licked my lips, feeling them cool in the breeze.
The tavern was an inviting place, fond memories folded in around me with the bustle and noise. We sat at one of the smaller tables. Silah looked incredible, elegant. I tried to reflect her grace, sitting straight backed at the table we had occupied. Bromm, Floki, and Sig joined us, while Danin and Rana sat together at an adjacent table.
Bromm smiled and nodded toward me.
"You look good." He said with a subtle nod.
Silah cleared her throat.
"And you, too, m'lady, it goes without saying." Bromm said with a touch of bravado.
"I like to hear you say it." She simpered.
"Now we need to get you in there, Sig. In fact, Denton has offered to give your workers a discount on a work clothes." I tried my awkward hand at talking business.
Sig immediately shook his head at me, looking disgruntled.
"What benefit is that to me?" He said with some disdain, "Hakaar, you should leave business to the businessmen."
I pulled my lips tight, failing at presenting Denton's case.
"Then go talk to him. You should, in the least, get something new for yourself." I attempted again.
"In time, sure." Sig gave a patronizing smile at my persistence.
The door opened and a gust of wind blew past, breaking up the stuffiness that built up from more bodies moving in. The dwarf, Withy, waddled up vacantly to the bar. Macaulay was there, giving the stout form a pitiful look. He moved behind the bar and filled a mug halfway, then filled the rest with water out of sight of the vacant eyed dwarf.
I nudged Silah who was already watching the proceedings, then laid a hand on her.
He's the one who saw—you know—that thing down in the mine. I thought.
"I'm going to go talk to him." She said aloud as she glanced around the table. The dwarf wandered to the side of the front door, looking glossy eyed out the windows onto the now moonlit harbor. I watched as she stooped and talked to him. There was emotion in her eyes, as he reached forward and gripped her shoulder, his own eyes pleading.
The front door swung open again, breaking my focus. A gaudily dressed man pushed through, his loud entry actually quieting the tavern floor momentarily. He looked at the numerous eyes focused on him and responded with a broad grin, soaking in the attention. You could say he was dressed courtly, at least, if you were referring to the court jesters of old. His demeanor was open and genuine, though. The man leaned into the bar and put his own tankard on the bar. Macauley looked at it with some disdain, but, apparently, he had dealt with this before. With some annoyance, he swiped it off of the bar aggressively and filled it with Shatterhammer Ale and put it back in front of the loud jester.
The man looked to us and moved over to the table.
"Hello Hamish," Bromm said, sounding a little reserved.
Sig and Floki also nodded, but they were in the midst of a long pull from their mugs. An especially long pull.
"So," He started awkwardly, "Where did your friend go off to? He was really excited about that book he brought to me. Yollari's Journal?"
There was recognition of this book's name around the table, hooded glances between the others. Hamish himself put a hand to his lips looking a little sheepish about saying it out loud. I was bewildered by the reaction from the table.
"Raenir," Bromm wet his lips, "Went his own way. He didn't tell you?"
"He was pretty excited about it, but that was the last I heard from him." He said thoughtfully.
"Last we saw him, he was alive and well. Just going a different direction is all." Sig said, dipping back into his mug immediately after saying it.
I felt queasy, now understanding the reason for the dodging. This Raenir was the man who had died and was brought back to life by a snake woman. What did they call her? A Lamia? Because of it, he owed her a life debt. They had all but said they never expected to see him again.
Hamish put the tankard to his lips, seemingly exhausted with trying to pull answers out of the tight lipped group.
"Enjoy boys!" His cheerfulness, only slightly dampened, returned and he moved to the bar corner bar on the opposite wall of the tavern, vibrantly engaging Bromm's younger brother, Faolan.
Silah was suddenly by my side again. She reached over and took my mug from in front of me. I raised an eyebrow in her direction.
"Who was that?" She said nodded toward the retreating Hamish, not giving her thievery a second thought.
"The court jester?" I said, prompting some smiles from the others, "He's... well, how about I tell you later?"
I waved my hand in the air to Macaulay, "Another stout?"
He nodded toward me and I caught a few baleful glares from the others.
"You can drink all the Shatterhammer you want. I've had enough amber ale to last me a good while." I glared right back, "You invest in a new recipe—put a proper stout on the market and then we'll talk."
I was about to reach over and pull the mug from the counter when Sabella swooped in taking it off of the counter, her dark hair swirling and her impish blue eyes regarding me with a wry expression.
"How am I 'posed to earn a living if you all serve yerselves?" She gave a stern look as she put the stout in front of me.
My eyes followed her as she moved out into the crowd. Those were the only words she had uttered directly to me. My stomach fluttered briefly, then looked guiltily at Silah who seemed engrossed in drinking from the mug that she had claimed from me.
"How was your boy over there?" I asked Silah, while looking for the dwarf who had apparently slipped outside to continue his wandering.
A sadness touched her eyes as she looked at me.
"I'll... tell you later." I nodded with a grimace, feeling the heaviness start to edge in again.
The Nightwatch Captain and another one of the Bluecoats walked through the door. They were followed shortly after by a man dressed overtly as a wielder of magic. The man spoke to Macaulay with an awkward haughtiness that made Sig cringe. It was clear he wasn't respected. He went to the far end of the bar, near the back of the tavern, taking advantage of the opportunity for free drinks.
The Nightwatch Captain Magra, a sturdy half-Orc, was very pleased to be invited. After getting a drink with his Bluecoat partner, leaned in toward Bromm.
"Thanks for the invite, my man. I could have sworn that Robyn despised me." He said with a toothy grin.
I smiled at his exuberance. I raised a mug as he walked by and he bumped it with his own. I took a long pull from the mug and looked down at Bromm. There was a look in his eye that I couldn't quite read, but he seemed to know something I hadn't quite grasped.
There was a pileup at the doorway as some of the dock workers pushed their way in. Some of which had no idea there was a party and were readily surprised by drinks on the house. They were followed shortly by a series of red coats. The Salamanders had arrived, even with their smiles around, there was a tightness in my chest.
Igul approached our table and raised his mug high.
"Gentlemen, it's good to see you." Igul was a disarming sort of charming. His smile was easy and self-assured.
There were nods around our table.
"Is our guest of honor here, yet? I want to introduce myself."
Bromm bobbed his head around, feigning his search of the room.
"It doesn't look like it? Ah, she'll come in due time and introduce herself to you." Bromm said and reflected the same easy smile to Igul.
"Enjoy the night, gentlemen!" He stepped away, looking toward his fellows.
Bromm eyed them as they shuffled through the room. The bulk of the Salamanders moved to a long table in front of the unoccupied stage. The stragglers that didn't fit, meandered around the room finding other seats. Bromm focused on one that sat near the entrance.
"That one there, Rikvald, he's such a sourpuss." Bromm said, crinkling his nose. "How about we get him a drink?"
"Sabella?" Bromm called toward his sister.
She gave Bromm a particularly grumpy look.
"Are you a tipping customer?" Her fierceness was reminiscent of Bromm's own which, apparently, ran in the family.
"Why, yes!" Bromm said, pressing a few coins into his sister's hand.
She smiled, "Then, dear brother, what'll you have?"
"Naw, not me. That grumpy man in the corner there. Two, two shots of Old Law Whiskey. And if you get him to drink 'em, I'll double that tip." Bromm said, smiling.
Sabella's eyes sparkled at the challenge.
She moved to the bar and Macaulay set them out on her wooden tray. She gave a confident nod to Bromm. She stood over Rikvald's table, putting down the tray gracefully and moving the drinks from the tray to the table in front of him. Her long dark hair spilled over her face and she twisted expertly, moving her hair out of her face without her hands. The gyrating provoked a response from some of the other onlookers at the table. I could imagine his view from where he sat.
She returned to her standing position, still talking to him. Now she was laughing as she slung the hair away from her bosoms. Rikvald was a hard nut to crack, though. She then sat down looking to get comfortable. He smiled and nodded, but the smile didn't touch his eyes. He looked to her and took one of the shots and downed it. She took the empty glass and stood, tray at her side, leaving the other behind.
Her polished smile maintained as she turned away, but immediately her countenance darkened as she looked toward Bromm with an exasperated look, giving him a near imperceptible shake of her head.
"I could have done that." Silah said, with a bit of a sneer.
I smiled at her.
"But, that's her job. We're trying to be all subtle-like. Right?" I looked to Bromm, who was giving a polite wave to Rikvald.
There was applause and we looked around. Robyn had soundlessly moved through the door. She was hard to miss, wearing a vibrant blood-red outfit that mirrored the style of Bromm's own. She had an confident smile and beamed as she moved into the fray, shaking hands, receiving hugs and well wishes.
She hovered over our table for a moment, eyeing the lot of us with an appreciative smile.
"Thank you all for coming."
She bowed slightly with a flourish from her hat. The long coat she wore remained rigid. Bromm stood, giving Robyn a solid embrace.
"I have a gift for you!" Bromm said, smiling widely.
He snapped his fingers at Macaulay, who did not appreciate the call to attention. He glared at him and stood on his tip-toes to retrieve a wooden box that held a bottle of Elven Absinthe. It was something that Bromm had retrieved from the supplies that Erland had rescued from the storage area.
She breathed deep, withdrawing the bottle from the box, admiring the brackish liquid. She looked to Bromm and gave him a remarkably affectionate hug accompanied by a lingering peck on the cheek.
"Would you like to join me?" Her eyes sparkled with the words. She looked to Bromm with the softest look I had ever seen cross her face while she broke the seal.
"Two glasses, dear?" She glanced to Macaulay, who was in a better mood with her delight at the gift.
Two glasses were proffered and Robyn took them and set them side by side. She ran the liquid into one then smoothly filled the other in the same pour; not a drop spilled. She laid her hand to the base of the one closest to her. Bromm took his as well. They lifted their glasses and tapped them.
"To us." She said mildly, and, without waiting to hear if Bromm echoed, she tossed the viscous liquid back. She turned away quickly, moving deeper into the tavern.
"Put that back on the shelf, Macaulay. That is not on the menu." She called behind her.
Macaulay obliged, tamping the cork back in place, boxing it, and putting it back in its own nook.
As she moved into the other section of the tavern, a few more glasses rose in the distance. Others hardly looked up from the drinks in front of them, enjoying the free beverages alone. The Salamanders were now collectively aware of the new player in the room. Rikvald wore a scowl, but Igul nodded to her openly. She seemed to recognize him, or, at least, the Salamander uniform. She joined him at the bar on the far side of the tavern.
"Let's move in closer." Bromm said, looking to a table adjacent to the bulk of the other Salamander's and close enough to hear the conversation between Robyn and Igul.
Each of us stood from the table in turn, staggering our departure to the other table. I was last to leave as Floki stayed back, watching the door. Danin and Rana moved to the table just as I was leaving. They looked on, curiously, asking Floki what was going on.
Igul and Robyn were already lining up shots. It was a competition based purely on their fortitude. I could see a humorous defiance in Igul's eyes as he looked at Robyn, who faced away from me. Silah sat across from me, her eyes were wide, watching the room carefully. Her hand was on the table, laid my hand on hers and, suddenly, I was seeing the entire tavern from her view. It took me a moment to get my bearings, but then I began to comprehend what I was seeing.
Many of the participants were oblivious to the bout of wills happening just to our side. However, each of the Salamander's eyes were on the competition, my back itched seeing some of the adjacent Salamander's sizing me up from Silah's perspective. Perhaps my standoffish attitude toward the largest one in the group, Preben, had played in my favor?
Silah stood close to me, in my mind, her vision rolling out before me, she pointed out what she saw in the room from her own vision. My grip on her hand tightened.
"Not yet, my beast. They are all waiting on Igul." She said evenly, then a touch of humor entered her voice. "Oh, that poor Captain. So much for a night off."
She pointed beyond the wall over at the main bar. Magra's eyes were instantly sober and wide, watching the tension ramping in the room without having any way to stop it. I was reminded of the foreboding I felt as the huge crab claw came crashing down on me just weeks earlier. He had one hand on his blade and the other was prodding the man next to him at the bar who had already had consumed a bit too much.
Igul and Robyn took another set of shots. This time, Robyn turned and leaned against the bar. What she'd had so far seemed to have had some affect on her hearty resistance, but she combed the crowd through smile crinkled eyes.
"Oh, she's good." The smiling Silah, crooned over my shoulder. "You're right to admire her. She's got moxie."
Remind me to ask you what moxie is after this. I thought.
Igul turned to face her.
"One more?" He said, holding up his glass.
"I think you're one behind, mate." She said, dipping into a more casual tongue.
He smiled, his eyes watered slightly from the pace. But there was a genuine respect there. He looked to his men, taking the same pose against the bar as she did.
Silah and I watched, my grip on her tightening with each passing moment.
"Calm. Keep calm. They're waiting for something." She whispered soothingly in my head.
Igul nodded, "You're probably right."
He tipped back, putting the shot down easily.
"One more, then." Robyn slurred.
Igul turned to her sluggishly and shook his head.
"One more." She said sharply, her tone intimidating.
Now, that was the Robyn I knew. I thought.
Igul let out a sigh, obliging.
Faolan, who was manning the second bar, was eyeing Macaulay across the way. There was a nod between the brothers and another two shots were poured. Igul turned to pick up the shot. Robyn didn't turn, but retrieved the shot, still facing forward. The pressure of the tavern changed as the door opened.
The man with the soft hat had joined the party. It was a foppish thing that that hung down slightly over the left side of his head. His court attire resembled what the man, Hamish, wore except both more subtle in its coloring yet more extreme in its design and flourish. This was the first I had truly laid eyes on the man, and the disgust of his fellows among the Salamanders seemed well earned with the haughtiness that dripped him.
Igul was about to turn, but when he saw who it was, he faced toward the bar, putting the shot glass down, and steadying himself.
"E'robyn Abegale Beckett." The man called out toward her, standing a few strides away.
"No one has called me that in quite some time. How, if I may I ask, do you come to call me that now?"
"I am an agent of your Mother." He said formally. "She is bereaved by your father's passing and seeks to reconcile."
"Hmmm, your timing is good. I was having a bit of a soiree." She raised the shot glass and passed it under her nose with some drama, "Word of my good fortune precedes you."
"Indeed, it seems good news is fleet of foot." He said flatly, he chanced a glance toward our table, but his eyes settled on Bromm.
"My friends are gathered here to see me off." She saw his gaze and pulled his attention back to her, "I'm sure mother will be pleased to see me again. Tell me, how is her gout. Has she managed to find a cure?"
"She did not mention that among her afflictions. Perhaps it was cured some time ago." His eyes narrowed with the question.
"You have travelled a great distance on my Mother's behalf." Robyn's voice had a fierce edge to it. "Tell me, How does an emissary of Akeron come to work for my mother?"
"Surely you can understand the sensitive nature of these dealings. Your mother was being thorough." He seemed cowed by her intensity, glancing toward Igul whose back was still facing him.
Robyn stepped away from the bar, shot glass in hand, standing defiantly in front of the man. She was still a pace away. She waved the shot glass in the air. She tossed the contents it back into her mouth, and smashed it to the ground. The drama of the action held everyone's attention.
Igul began to turn from the bar with the breaking glass.
"I think it is more likely that you are here on an old score." She breathed menacingly.
"Oh." Silah uttered distantly in the hollows of my mind as she caught something I failed to see.
The red faced man, took a deep breath to yell toward the sluggish Igul. And, while everyone was focused on the shot glass smashing to the floor, there was a pistol ready in Robyn's other hand. Two shots rang out, burrowing two holes into the man's skull. There was a spurt of blood as he buckled to the floor. Silence closed in as the gunshots faded and smoke rose from the still outstretched pistol.
"Tell Queen Stilletta she will have no satisfaction today," She said, dropping the pistol with a clatter to the floor, and putting her hands in the air, "Night Watchman, I surrender to your custody!"
The glassy eyed Igul looked on, stunned.
"Put the gun down." Floki's voice rolled harshly over the silence.
His bow was taut and an arrow was trained on a scowling Rikvald, who lowered the half stock musket he had trained on Robyn from the corner.
Igul spat on the floor. The Salamanders were now watching him as Magra, the now very sullen Nightwatch Captain, moved with both duty and trepidation through the glares and posturing toward Robyn. I felt sorry for him, he wouldn't live down being a pawn in this game easily.
"Robyn Beckett, you are under arrest for the murder of," He looked at the oozing body on the floor with some disgust, "this man."
"Now, that's my name." She said with a half smile toward Igul who refused to make eye contact.
"Fedr, come on, man. Help me escort Ms. Beckett to jail." The clerk stumbled forward, wide eyed and completely incapable of moving without steadying himself on the walls or tables.
Magra's eyes had a slight gloss to them, but he was sober enough to cast a glare around the room, waiting.
"Stand down, men. This is not worth it." Igul looked disgusted, then added with a hiss, "It never was."
"Then get out." Magra hissed through gritted teeth toward Igul, "What's done is done."
"Outside." Igul called to the table full of his men.
He turned back to the bar and picked up the shot.
Bromm stood from the table, bristling, sending his chair to the floor. I got to my feet as well, but kept my distance.
"You knew." Bromm said fiercely, needling his finger toward Igul. "And here, you tried to make me feel bad for not trusting you."
"I wish we had met under better circumstances." Igul said, letting Bromm's anger roll over him. "That's all I can say."
"You sold your soul for a bounty? Is this how your queen operates." Bromm pushed.
"Don't turn this into something more than it was." Igul clenched his jaw, "This was business and I have a duty to the throne."
"Petty revenge, and on foreign soil, no less." Bromm clenched his fists, I moved forward and put my hand on his shoulder, steadying his nerve.
Bromm held back. Igul shook his head. He cleanly finished the contents of the shot glass and put it down with a gentle tap.
"I'm going to report that E'robyn Abegale Beckett is dead by our hand when she attacked and killed him." He nodded toward the man with the collapsed face on the blood slick floor. "And, it's true. This dies with him. She can keep her own name and this godforsaken place."
He began to walk toward the door.
"We leave first thing. Don't make me a liar by letting her step foot in Akeron." He said while he walked, casting his eyes about, glaring at everyone and everything, "It won't end well for any of us."
Danin moved to the side of the clearly dead man, checking vitals, but also rifling through his pockets. I glanced sidelong at him. He suddenly reminded me of a particular battlefield cleric I knew: save the ones you can, take from those you can't.
I was watching the go Brach family converge near the main bar as they determined how they were going to clean this up when their father, Hagan, walked in sniffing at the air then saw the body, blood seeping into the floorboards. He threw his hands up emphatically.
"What the hell is going on in here?"
(Get to know Akeron.)