The first snow of the winter season had fallen and Earlgard looked like a fairy castle coated with a white layer of frosting covering the buildings throughout the town, coating the shop stalls with a blanket of white. Towns people walked to and fro conducting their business in the early morning, shopkeepers brushing the snow off their awnings and welcoming their customers. Smoke curled from the chimneys of the inns that baked the early morning pastries for breakfast customers that managed to wade through the snow that the early morning dung-wagons had churned to mud as the snow fell, making their rounds and their noisome collections.
The human drivers slowly plodding with their horses down the middle of the streets and their Goblin helpers, inured to the odors, darting into the alleyways and byways and collecting the pots from the porches and dumping them in their buckets, sifting the matter through their fingers for the odd coin or piece of jewelry that might have accidentally or otherwise fallen into a slops jar or chamber pot. Then they careful haul their cargo out to the street and hopped into the back of the cart where an older Goblin swapped the full bucket for an empty one to the porter and after checking to insure that there remained nothing edible in the bucket he could scavenge for a snack, the canvas covering the large tub was hauled back and the full bucket was emptied into the great mass. Higher nobility houses always ensured that least once in a while, a silver Riyal or two made its way into a jar or was tied into a small bag attached to the jar for the Goblins. Much gibbering about and prancing accompanied the discovery of this type of bounty, even though the human wagon-masters took the wyvern's shares, a surplus always found its way into the Goblins loin purses and the late mornings were split with the caterwauls and laughter as the little gray-green minions imbibed in mulberry wine and cranberry tarts they bought at the backdoor at the lower class inns that would let them.
Haslo trudged down the street down toward the inn were he and Hans had been challenged by the stranger
As he crossed the street, crunching n the new fallen snow, one of the dung-wagons on its last trips up the street and two of its little gray-green workers huddled on the back. The driver glanced up at Haslo and muttered a greeting and a soft “Sorry, M'Lord” and flipped the corner of the large tarp covering the night soil tub back over his workers. Haslo paused as the odoriferous fumes wafted into the street and he held the roll he had been chewing up under his nostrils like posies during a plague to try and stifle the smell as the wagon trundled by, the driver clucking with his tongue at the old spavined horse but it set its own pace, which was slow.
Haslo watched as the wagon passed. He saw the corner of the tarp raise up and two pairs of orange eyes peer out from beneath. He looked up and down the street to check the traffic. Other than a vendor across the road and a few doors up, he saw no one. So he took the cinnamon and sugar-frosted roll he had been having for breakfast and, with unerring aim, whipped it side-handed into the hole where the Goblin eyes had lurked with a smile. The eyes vanished and the tarp immediately dropped and scuffling noise could be heard as a tussle ensued over the foodstuffs. The driver turned at the noise and whacked the lumps in the tarp with a stick and muttered “Quiet back there.”
Leaping over the wagon tracks in the street, he moved on down to the inn and walked through the doors, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness of the inn. He settled down near the back of the inn, knowing that he had gotten here early. His meeting for the duel was to happen at mid-morning and he really wanted to have breakfast. Last night's encounter had interrupted his dinner plans and he was ravenous. Haslo motioned to the man standing behind the serving bar for the board for fare. He stumbled over, still a little drunk from last night"s duty and sat down heavily on the bench across from Haslo with a loud belch.
“Morning, M'Lord.” he said with a gap-toothed smile. He scratched at his scraggly blond beard. A large scar marred his cheek from his chin to his left ear which pulled the skin down on his left eye and gave him a startled look on that side of his face. “If you want some breakfast, we've got toasted bread wid' budd'r and hard-boiled eggs. We's gots' some broiled donkey rump wid' plums lef' o'er from las' night. I can gib' dat to ya wid' some lef' o'er pears an' budd'r nuts that be mighty tasty. You can hab' some sea kale wid' it or some o' dem little onion-leeky things wid' oranges. I thin' they be da' last of the season.” He punctuated the rehearsed speech with a loud burp, a soft poof of flatulence, softly said “Ooops,” and scratched at his chin again. Haslo felt his appetite diminishing.
“I tries some of the Boiled eggs with toast and butter, please?” he said then watched as the bar-keep waddled crookedly back toward the rear of the inn stumbling slightly, his head thumping against the kitchen door, opening it ahead of him. “Oh, sweet El”Lolu,” he exclaimed as he clutched his head. “Toast u a couple of slices and gib' me some of dem' cackleberries,” as he stumbled through and the door swung behind him.
Haslo pulled his gloves off and used them to swat the few flies still active. I guess they don't realize how the temperature has dropped, he thought. He worked a piece of the cinnamon roll with his tongue he had chewed on previously before he bestowed it on the Goblin dung-fetchers and savored it while he waited for his eggs and toast. He hoped that the eggs had not been boiled to hardness resembling diamonds.
He looked up at the sound of the doorway and was pleasantly surprised as a young woman dressed in light brown and white dress holding a tray of food and a pitcher and cups in the other hand used her ample hip to push against the door and then walked across the inn's main floor. She placed
The scraps of boots drew his attention and Haslo looked up at the entrance to the inn as five men entered, two men going to the right and left, covering the exit to the doorway and a third man crossing the main floor and strolling casually to the kitchen, effectively blocking exit from that door. Haslo noticed that the man rested his hand on his sword hilt and it slid the sword blade out slightly insuring its' freedom. A sign of experience, thought Haslo.
The other two men came across to table. One was the second that Haslo had seen bracketed by Braum and Testello last night. He didn't appear so brave then in the dark on the street on somewhat more equal terms then but seemed more composed now. His compatriot, also well-armed with a broadsword and small sword, settled next to the serving woman and set his hand on her thigh, leering a lop-sided grin at her, his beery breath already fouling the atmosphere this early in the morning. Liquid courage, thought Haslo, as he smiled at the second, who sat down across from him and made to reach for an egg on the plate. The dagger in Haslo's hand, which had been used to spread butter upon a slice of bread, flashed as it pinned the egg to the plate between the fingers of the second's hand, the edges slicing the man's glove. Gore leaked from one slashed finger and the second tugged against the blade but he was pinned by the tip that trapped the gloved fingers and the wooden plate through the table.
“Oow,” started the second as he tugged to free his hand. The third, seated to Haslo's left, moved his hand from the serving girl's thigh and reach to grab his small sword hanging on his belt. He rose as he drew the small sword and then, inexplicably, kept going as Haslo hooked his leg and pulled it toward himself under the table and up, tipping the man back and over as the serving wench connected with the pitcher of beer, shattering the pitcher. The man was unconscious long before his head struck the clay-packed floor strewn with debris from the night before.
The two men near the door took a step toward the table and Haslo twisted hard on the knife. The second said, “No. Oww, Oww,” and raised his hand. “No! Stop.” He half-rose from his feet in pain and pinched his upper lip in pain with the few bottom teeth he still had, the two men stopping.
“Those are my eggs,” said Haslo, and he nodded to the serving woman with a smile and flicked her 2 silver pieces. She leaned forward, tracking her target with a practiced eye and pulled forward her dress front allowing the two silver Riyals to plummet into the depths of her cleavage. She looked up and gave a sly smile.
“Umm. They're warm, M'Lord. Perhaps,” she said, “I might need some help finding them later.” she turned with a saucy spin to her hips and strolled back toward the kitchen, waiting for the man to get out of the way before she walked past him with a disdainful toss of her brown hair. The man looked over with a “What-Did-i-Say?” look on his face and shrugged his shoulders. She passed through the door and let it swing back, striking him in the buttocks, making him start.
“Now, let us begin,” Haslo said, pulling the dagger out of the table, freeing the second's fingers and flipping the egg impaled off onto the chest of the man stretched out on the floor, the white orb bouncing wit a splash in the puddle of beer across the floor and rolling across, coming to a stop against the boot of the man guarding the right side of the door. The guard scooped up the morsel and brushed off a few flecks of dirt and blood, shrugged his shoulders to his partner and popped it into his mouth with a satisfied grin of found food. He would have liked a beer to wash it down but he would have had to leave the door and his station.
Haslo took another egg and using the dagger, sliced it deftly in thirds and laid it out on the piece of toast. The second kept his eye on the flashing knife blade as Haslo took a bite and chewed it with satisfaction then washed it down with a swallow of beer. As the second sucked on the gash in his finger, Haslo set the toast daintily down on the plate and taking his napkin, used it to brush the small crumbs off his tunics then his lips and said, “Here are the conditions. The duel will be with full sabers. None of those cheap pieces of tin that you get at the marketplace. Go to a reputable swordsmith. Try Warnerius the Swordsmith. Or Herve. Or better still, try getting on a fast horse and ride hard to Kirkenhold. There find and talk to Ovur the Wise, Garbig of the Bear Clan. That Dwarven craftsman makes the best sabers this side of the Drow kingdom. Of course, you'll pay for it. Likely 300 silver Riyals or more apiece. But perhaps that's too good for … What's his name?” Haslo raised an eyebrow.
“Raunald,” mumbled the second. Then he took his finger from his mouth, blood running down his lips. “Ranald.”
“Ahh, Ranald. Yes. Well, have him find good sabers. Don't spend less than at least 150 silver Riyals apiece. The duel will be to the first challenger who falls and the other challenger will go over and count to 30 … I assume Ranald can count to thirty?” The second nodded his head up and down, his right hand still buried into his mouth to stem the bleeding. “Umm. An educated man. Well, maybe next time he'll think twice about picking a fight with the Red Red Ghost." Haslo paused for effect as the second eyes widened. "Touch the lips of the Goddess of El'Lolu and count to thirty. Agreed? Fine. You can go.”
Haslo has pointed his left hand toward the door and the second had turned his head to look where now Braum and Testello, the Fighter and Ranger were now standing, casting shadows into the inn. Braum's sword was out but he leaned upon it, its' tip resting on his boot top and Braum made a big show of examining the edge for any dings and then looking at the guard to see if maybe he had an opinion about the blades's condition. Testello had an arrow out but held it in the same left hand with his bow and check the security of the tip. He pulled the broadhead loose from the shaft, examined it and looking at the other guard as if he might have an opinion (who didn't, judging from his vigorous shaking of his head) he slipped it back onto the shaft firmly, insuring its' fit. The guards by the door looked considerably more uncomfortable with the presence of the other men there now, considering how able they appeared yet nonchalant as they were conducting their business. When the second turned back toward Haslo, he was even more startled to see a tall man in a tall black hat with dark clothing and a staff sitting next to Haslo now, holding the staff with both hands in front of him casually. A faint crackle of fairie fire thrummed up and down the length of the staff's upper half, a faint electric-blue light dancing up and down.
Haslo stabbed another egg and said, “We're done,” and wave his hand and dismissed the second. The second stepped back and tripped over the bench, stumbling over the man on the floor and signaled for the man by the kitchen to come and help him with the prostate fellow. They struggled together, helping him to his feet, and together they helped the man out the door into the street, collecting the other helpers.
Haslo glanced over at Dayne, the Mage, and smiled as he popped the next egg into his mouth. Between chewing, he said, “I felt you sit down.”
Dayne just smiled his faint smile again and the staff thrummed softly. Braum and Testello walked over from the doorway and sitting down at the bench. Said, “Hey, who spilled the beer?”
More to Come - Next
"The Red Red Ghost Dances Again!"