• Archives

  • Topics

  • Meta

  • The Boogeyman - Working Vacation
  • Coming Home
  • Quest To the North
  • Via Serica
  • Tales of the Minivandians
  • Join the NRA

    Join the NRA!

Escort Duty – Part 7

It was past dark when Hollo and Simon brought their horses to a halt. Erika, not paying attention after hours of keeping up at the hard pace the two men had set, almost walked her mare past Simon before Greta took the reins from her and stopped them both. Soren, exhaustion on his face, slumped in his saddle as his horse stopped without being told.

The windows of a building glowed dully in the gloom, and the sound of someone singing and other people talking loudly could be heard from inside. At the sound of their approach, a boy stepped out from the door and watched them expectantly.

Simon dismounted, then put his hand up to help Erika down. She took it without thinking, and almost fell into his arms as she swung down from her saddle. Simon helped her to her feet, then assisted Greta. Soren, who finally noticed their halt, got down and stumbled over.

“We’ll spend the night here,” Simon said, “I know the tavern’s owner. Hopefully there’s still room.” He motioned to the boy, who walked over and spoke to Hollo in hushed tones.

“How far did we go?” Erika asked.

“About ten leagues, my lady,” Simon replied, “A good day, and I believe that any pursuers from the hills gave up hours ago.”

“We’ll know by morning,” Soren said, “If there isn’t a fight tonight, then we’ve lost them.”

The boy and Hollo took the bundles and saddlebags from the horses, then the boy led their mounts around the building. Simon and Hollo picked up their baggage, and the group walked into the building.

They were met with the smell of wood smoke, beer, and cooking onions. The sound of conversation died off as they entered, but picked back up when the patrons turned back to their mugs and companions. In the corner, a man with grizzled hair sat on a three legged stool, plucking at a harp with the head of a dragon carved on it. A black dog, somewhere between a puppy and a full-grown beast, lay at his feet, watching the room for a dropped morsel. Simon and the man exchanged a nod, then the half-elf turned toward the bar.

“Branka, my darling!” he said with a wide grin when the barmaid saw him.

“Why, by the goddess’ blade, it’s Simon!” she replied merrily, coming around the bar and embracing him in her meaty arms. She was short, thick, and had deep black hair that she kept pulled back with a leather thong. Erika’s eyes widened as she lifted Simon, who was a head taller than she, off the ground and squeezed him.

Branka put Simon back down, allowing him to take a deep breath to replace the one she had squeezed out of him, and turned to one of the tables.

“Clear off, you lot!” she rumbled at the two men sitting at it, “That table’s taken.”

“But we’ve been here for three hours!” one protested as they got up and took their mugs to the bar.

“Quiet!” she snapped, taking a rag from her belt and wiping the table down before turning back to Simon.

“Here, have a seat,” she said with a wide smile of yellowed teeth, “I’ll bring mugs and a pitcher.” With that, she turned and hurried behind the bar.

Simon pulled the bench out on one side and offered it to Erika. The princess sat primly, then scooted over so that Greta could join her. Soren and Simon took the other, while Hollo pulled a stool up and sat at the head of the table.

Branka lay five mugs and a pitcher of thick, brown beer upon the table, then smiled at Erika.

“And who might this be, Simon?” she teased, “Did you finally settle down and marry a fine lady?”

Greta, who had been pouring a mug of beer for Erika, started at that, almost spilling the entire pitcher on her mistress, but Erika smiled broadly.

“No, good woman, Simon is only escorting me and my….” she started to say.

“Husband,” Simon said, motioning to Soren, “I’m showing them and their servant to Booda.”

“Booda?” Branka said, “Oh, I wouldn’t try to get through Pesht right now.”

“Why is that?” Soren asked, taking the mug Greta offered him.

“Why, haven’t you heard? There’s a plague going through there,” she replied, “Oh, it’s awful, the stories we hear.”

“Plague?”

“Oh, yes, horrible. It’s gotten so bad that we’ve had to have the boy out front tell people to go away if they come from that direction. Can’t have plague here, now can we?”

“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Erika said, “We’ll be careful.”

Branka chatted with them for a few more minutes, then left to fetch them some dinner. She returned with five bowls brimming with stew and a loaf of dense, brown bread. Soren thanked her and passed her a silver coin.

“You’ll want a room then?” she asked, slipping it into her pouch.

“Yes, please,” Erika said, “One for us and one for the rest.”

“There’s only one left upstairs, but it’ll keep you cozy,” Branka said with a wink. She turned back to the bar and several other waiting customers. Her voice boomed to someone in the back to fetch more wood for the fire, then hectored a customer who was attempting to refill his mug without paying.

Erika’s eyes stabbed at Simon. “Husband?”

“It was the best I could think of, my lady. We need to keep a low profile, and I couldn’t say ‘Oh, she’s a princess and we are escorting her back to her kingdom!’, now could I?”

Erika harrumphed again, then picked up the bread Greta had laid next to her bowl. Tearing off a piece, she dipped it in the stew and took a tentative bite. Her eyes widened, and she grabbed at her wooden spoon and began to drain her bowl quickly.

Once it was gone and the last of the gravy had been sopped up with her bread, she took a sip of her beer and daintily blotted at her mouth with a cloth.

“That was delicious,” she said, “I don’t think I’ve ever had better chicken stew before.”

Simon and Hollo exchanged a glance, and Soren closed his mouth without speaking when he saw Simon give his companion a subtle shake of the head.

“Yes, it is good,” he said instead.

The group finished their meal and the beer, all them too tired for conversation. After a while, Erika rose from the table. The legs of Simon and Soren’s bench scraped as they rose as well. Hollo looked up at the sound, but continued sipping his beer.

“I believe I shall retire, gentlemen,” she said, suppressing a yawn. Branka saw her stand, and walked over.

“Here, lady, I’ll take you up to your chamber,” she said, smiling. Erika looked around, spotted the stairs at the corner of the room, and walked toward them. When Soren did not move to join her, Branka motioned for him to follow, then set off after Erika and Greta.

Soren’s smile faded quickly, and he looked at Simon with a scowl. He leaned in close to the half-elf, his eyes ablaze.

“If word of me having to share a room with the princess gets back to Tor, it’ll be you he strings up by his guts!” he hissed before turning and following the women upstairs.

Simon sat down and grinned at Hollo.

“Well, that went well,” he said, “Guess we’re down here in the common room for the night.”

“You can have it,” Hollo said, standing up from his stool, “I’m going to go sleep in the stable. Too many people in here.” With that, he walked back out into the night.

Simon took the last gulp of beer from his mug, refilled it, and walked to sit next to the fire.

“Hello, old friend,” he said to the old man playing the harp, “What news do you have of the lands to the west?” At his feet, the black dog thumped his tail on the rushes and leaned over for a scratch behind the ears.


Other episodes can be found here.  The entire anthology can be purchased at Amazon.

Previous Post
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: