“Now remember what we talked about,” Rimor cautioned his companion. “No–”
Kinyan threw the door to the tavern wide open, and paraded in. “Ale! Ale for the heroes!”
“–making an ass of yourself,” Rimor finished. “Well, anyway, now we’ve got that clear…” And he walked in after his friend, the beneficiary of a lot of attention.
The barkeep set two flagons of ale, heavy with head, on the table Kinyan eventually chose. “That’ll be four neds, gentlemen.”
“FOUR neds?!” Kinyan managed to look properly outraged, even as he reached for the ale. “You should be paying us for the privilege of our being in your tavern!”
“Yeah, s’pose I should do that for all my customers,” the barkeep returned. “Course, then I wouldn’t really be running a business. Four neds.”
“Do you not know who we are?”
“No, I don’t,” the barkeep said. “Nor do I care. But unless I see some money on the table in very short order, my friend Cheem over there is gonna care a great deal about you.”
Rimor risked a glance at Cheem. Big. Brutish. Ugly. Nearly bald, yet still with more hair on his head than teeth in his mouth. Rimor had a sort of hunch that Cheem was exactly as strong as he looked, and wasn’t really in the mood to find out firsthand.
“Apologies for my friend, sir,” he said, dropping a five-ned piece on the table.
“Don’t make change,” grumbled the barkeep. But he picked it up and pocketed it.
“We’ll be here a while,” said Rimor. “Once we get to drinking, there won’t be a need.”
“Well, I for one am still insulted!” said Kinyan, rising to his feet and toppling over his flagon as he did so. “You dare to charge the heroes who saved your king from the dreaded Earthmist?”
Silence fell over the tavern — or at least, Rimor thought, it was probably as silent as it ever got.
“You saved the king.” The barkeep was clearly skeptical.
“Indeed we did!” Kinyan roared. “What’s more, he gave us his personal seal as thanks. Said it would ensure us safe passage and good treatment everywhere in his realm. Here, have a look if you’re so skeptical.” He reached into his bag and dumped on the table a belt-buckle sized piece of iron trimmed in gold.
And now the tavern really was quiet.
The barkeep reached for it, lifted it slowly off the table, held it to the light. “Well, I’ll be damned if it isn’t the seal of Becius himself.” He reached into his pocket, pulled out the five-ned piece, and flipped it back onto the table. “Any man who has this is a man I can trust. Let me refill that flagon for you, sir.”
“Well…” Kinyan grumbled.
“On the house, of course.”
At that, Kinyan allowed himself to be persuaded.
The tavern continued to watch them, in near silence, until they were almost done with their round. Then Cheem leaned forward eagerly. “So, masters, won’t you favor us with the tale?”
“Of?” Rimor said, downing the last of his flagon.
“Of how you saved King Becius.”
“Oh, that,” Kinyan said, waving at the air. “Rimor, is it really worth their time?”
“Probably not, Kinyan,” Rimor replied.
“Oh, but it is, it is!” exclaimed Cheem. The tavern expressed general muttering agreement. Rimor smiled. He had chosen well.
“It’s a pity I should have to put you through such a boring tale,” Kinyan sniffed. “But if you must. I have nothing better to do this evening, and I suppose your time is your own to waste. Before I begin, however, perhaps another–ah, yes, thank you! Just what I wanted!” For the barkeep had brought over, entirely unbidden, another flagon.
So Kinyan told of the Earthmist, how it was composed of all the lost souls who had been trapped on earth, their essences unfit to dwell in the Land of Heroes. How the mist, due to its abandonment by the gods, had grown sullen and resentful, and sought out great men like King Becius to slay and add to its number. (The crowd murmured in horror.) Then he told the epic tale of how Rimor and he, through the use of their enchanted armor and swords, had beaten back the mist until it–
“You mean to say,” a swarthy man near their table cut in, “that you killed a mist with swords?”
Kinyan rolled his eyes. “Enchanted swords, my friend, with the power to make the mist solid. You didn’t think we could slice mist otherwise, did you?” And he laughed. The tavern laughed with him.
“Nor did we kill the mist,” Rimor added. “Though it is at bay presently, thanks to us.”
The swarthy man crossed his arms. “I should like to see those swords.”
“Anytime,” Kinyan returned coolly. “I daresay that if you went to the castle yourself, His Majesty might grant you a look at them.”
“You left them with the king?”
“Well, it was his life in danger, wasn’t it? We wouldn’t be very heroic if we saved a man once, and then left him without the only tools on earth to defend himself!”
Applause from the crowd. The swarthy man settled deeper into his chair, and sulked.
“That must have been a difficult task, Master Kinyan,” said Cheem admiringly.
“A vacation, compared to our usual routine,” said Kinyan as he waved the barkeep over. “But then, I don’t suppose you’d be interested in hearing about any of those.”
They would. Oh, yes, they would!
“What next, Rimor? Perhaps the time we vanquished the Sun Cat of Boya Valley?”
“Now wait a moment,” the swarthy man said. “I am from Boya Valley. I know of no Sun Cat.”
“Indeed?” returned Kinyan. “And how long has it been since you were there?”
“Going on three years.”
“Then perhaps you should go back home more often!”
The crowd roared. The swarthy man rose angrily, and pushed his way to the door.
“What a poor sport, he,” said Kinyan. “Now, where were we?”
But of course, he knew exactly where they were. He told them of the Sun Cat, its claws that blazed fire and its skin that burned red hot, and they had finally defeated it by tricking it underwater. (“Rimor’s idea, of course,” he said modestly.) He spoke at length on the Device Maker of Derri, and his devastating array of mechanical men. He might have gone on all evening. But as he began the tale of the infamous Wild Hind, Rimor saw the crowd slumping, and interrupted him.
“That’s enough, I think, Kinyan. The people grow weary. Let us not overstay our welcome.” He rose and bowed. “Ladies and gentlemen, we thank you, but we must now take our leave.”
“No!” cried Cheem. “You mustn’t, not yet!”
“Ah, but we must. We have imposed on your hospitality long enough.”
“You’ve been no imposition! Come, friends, who wants the honor of putting our heroes up?”
And everyone burst into chatter at once.
“They can stay here for free,” said the barkeep. “I’ve rooms upstairs.”
“Aye,” returned Cheem, “rooms that aren’t fit to house a leprous pig.”
Ignoring the barkeep’s look of hurt, Rimor and Kinyan were already busy listening to offers of lodging and breakfast. They paid special attention to those offers that featured mention of a comely daughter in the household.
Late that night, as they were about to go to bed, Kinyan slapped Rimor on the shoulder. “Brilliant idea of yours, pretending to be heroes. And a master forgery of the king’s seal, by the way. Thanks to you, we have a place to stay for a few months! And when they dry up, there’s always the next town over, isn’t there?”
“That was the idea,” Rimor said, and yawned.
“I rather like the part you had me play. It was fun being the braggart.”
“Yes, Kinyan,” Rimor said drily. “That’s why I suggested it, because you have so little in common with a braggart.” And he slipped into sleep before he could hear Kinyan’s full rebuttal. Months, he thought blissfully. They would be safe for months.
Except that the next day, at daybreak, the swarthy man came banging on their door with news that the Earthmist had returned yet again, and was moving toward their village.
“Naturally,” and he grinned unpleasantly, “the first men I thought of were our two heroes.”
Rimor’s face fell. The swarthy man’s grin grew wider.
Let me know what you think of the story. If you like it, please feel free to forward the link to your friends! If it wasn’t to your taste, better luck tomorrow — a new piece of short fiction goes up every day.