The ale was arriving at the table as Garenol slid into a seat opposite Malus, with his back to the entire room. Four glasses were being placed on the table by an attractive young barmaid, since the Bloody Fist was renowned as being safe enough to actually have attractive barmaids. Most of their competitors tended to strive for barmaids with an acceptable number of teeth and no more. Malus and Garenol ignored her.
Garenol pulled two of the pint glasses of brown ale towards himself, wiping away the perspiration on the outside of one of the cold glasses. In a quick motion he had half the first pint happily on its way down his throat. “So we are just waiting for Jean Pareil’s contact to find us here?” Garenol asked Malus as he leaned back in his chair, visibly unwinding.
“Yes, he should know who we are,” Malus replied as his eyes moved back across the room slowly.
“I’m not sure I like this. Jean should have come personally. The less people involved the better off we are. This leaves us exposed.” Garenol said quickly around another large mouthful of ale.
“If it concerns you, kill the contact. It’s just some messenger anyway, Jean wouldn’t send someone important into Haarkedamia, not with the Ivory Council having three members in this city alone,” Malus replied.
“Do not kill the messenger, Malus,” Garenol said, wiping foam from his mouth and picking up his second glass. “The city is already on edge from the shitstorm you caused this morning. Peaceful cities frown on having one of their mages blown apart in front of a hundred witnesses.”
“As I recall, you killed the mage, Garenol,” Malus replied, focusing his gaze now on his companion. “I was merely attempting to stifle as many witnesses as I could.”
“Listen, you damned lunatic, I disappeared a second after it started,” Garenol rocked his chair forward and put his hands down on the table. “I was watching from the wall. After the handful of guards, you should have run, not waited to kill the second garrison that arrived. Dispatching fifteen Guards in armed combat in daylight? That was just . . . gratuitous? Arrogant? I don’t know. Handle things better, Malus, we need to be able to get out of this clean. Our usefulness is at an end the moment every garrison in Haarkedamia has our description.” Gabriel leaned back again in exasperation, peering into the dregs of his second pint glass.
“Sorry,” Malus muttered, breaking eye contact and resuming his visual appraisal of the crowd. “Not all of us had a high mage father to teach us their tricks to avoiding a fight.”
“You’re absolutely right, Malus,” Garenol replied sarcastically. “Your father was a crazed, violent paladin of the god of hating elves. He spent most of his time hanging out with a dangerous Daarkian barbarian and abusing other races for fun, if memory serves.”
“Crynus, you warned me of speaking of your father. Please extend to me the same courtesy,” Malus said quietly as his right hand slid off the table to his belt, where it did not find what it sought.
“Fine.” Garenol replied. “You going to drink that?” he gestured to the untouched ales in front of Malus.
“You know damn well I’m not going to,” Malus replied quickly.
“More for me, then,” Garenol replied, pushing his two empty glasses in front of Malus and sliding the two full pints closer to himself. “Wonder where the pig is? I’m hungry.”
“Me, too,” Malus said. “You didn’t tell Dorick anything, did you?”
“Oh, so you remember him?” Gabriel asked. “I didn’t figure you to care enough to remember a barkeep.”
“You forced me to pay to rebuild that hovel we found him in, Garenol. You and that righteous cock, Tacit,” Malus said in an irritated tone, pushing aside one of the empty pint glasses.
“That hovel was the only tavern and inn for fifty miles, Malus. We needed a base of operations that wasn’t on a saddled horse in the middle of a swamp. Clearing out that crypt was going to take weeks. I ended up sleeping on the ground for fifteen nights because you decided to get offended by some blacksmith’s apprentice.” Garenol’s speech got louder as it progressed, coloring his cheeks.
“Boy was eyein’ me,” Malus replied quietly, refusing to make eye contact with Garenol.
“Eyein’ you? Eyein you? You stabbed him in the throat in front of a tavern full of country folk and set fire to the bar, Malus,” Garenol threw his hands up in frustration. “We can’t even go back to Cthria. You’re damned lucky we found the Hammer of Earth quickly after that. It’s no fun trying to clear a crypt of god knows what kind of infestation of monsters, much less trying to do so while wondering if a magistrate and his gang of burly Guards are going to come upon you in your sleep!”
“Kid shouldn’t have been eyein’ me,” Malus said with a sense of finality. “Food’s here,” Malus gestured over Garenol’s left shoulder.
The barmaid who had brought the round of ales gathered the four empty pint glasses as two cooks carefully slid the Big Pig into the middle of the table. A young boy put down a number of clean plates, along with napkin-wrapped silver and a basket of thick slices of dark bread, to the side of the pig. Garenol flipped him a silver as the barmaid moved back to his side.
“Another round?” she asked cheerfully to Garenol, avoiding looking at Malus.
“Please,” Garenol replied, smiling. He placed a silver piece in the girl’s hand. “And could you ask Dorick if he still has any of my wine cellared?”
“Your wine, sir?” the girl replied, still smiling, but with a hint of confusion.
“Sorry to confuse you, lass. Just tell him Garenol would like some wine. He’ll know,” Garenol looked at her with as friendly a look as he could muster. Malus rolled his eyes as he cut into the pig’s back, digging into a steaming tenderloin with his fork.
“Well, um. . . very good, sir. Just a moment,” the girl hurried off.
“Homesick, Garenol?” Malus inquired, shoving a large piece of pork into his mouth.
“Kindly shut up,” Garenol said, watching the waitress walk off. “Dorick’s cellar is always amazing, and gods know when I’ll get another chance to enjoy it.”
“True statement, that,” Malus replied. “We won’t exactly be enjoying a state dinner tomorrow night.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Garenol with a sign of resignation, “So kindly refrain from mentioning unpleasant tasks ahead, and allow me the enjoyment of spirit this eve.”
“Your speech gets annoyingly florid when you are drinking, Garenol,” Malus said, grinning around another mouthful of steaming pork.
“Maybe a number of drinks would help your attitude.” Garenol said to himself, unwrapping the roll of silverware in front of him. “Definitely couldn’t make it any worse.”
The two began to eat in earnest, Malus ignoring the vegetables and most rules of table manners. Garenol ate a bite every few minutes, for the sake of form, while finishing off the second round of ale himself. His eyes were starting to twinkle, and a flush of pink had now come to his cheeks and the tips of his ears that wasn’t going away.
The barmaid returned to the table, carrying two very nice crystal goblets and a dusty green bottle. “Sir, the wine Dorick got for you from the cellar.”
“Ah, wonderful. May I see the bottle?” Garenol’s eyes gleamed when he saw the bottle. He reached for it carefully.
She handed him the bottle, wrapped in a cloth napkin to prevent the dust from getting on their hands. The thick glass was translucent, allowing little of the tavern’s dim light to pass through the dark liquid inside. He looked at the ribbon wrapped carefully around the neck. The silver ribbon was embroidered with dark blue thread, reading ‘Crynus Estate Vineyard, Familial Reserve. 3127’
“Hmm, twenty years. That ought to work. Thanks,” he handed the barmaid a handful of gold pieces from his cloak pocket, and grabbing the corkscrew and glasses from her hands. “I can take it from here.”
Garenol continued to stare at the bottle as the barmaid quickly pocketed the enormous sum of money and hurry off. He removed the cloth napkin and used it to wipe off the thick layer of dust on the bottle. He fingered the ribbon around the bottle’s neck, rereading the aging cloth strip slowly. He held the bottle up above his head, tilting it into the scant light available. He frowned as he turned it slowly in the light.
“Can’t tell anything about it in this light,” he said to himself. He lowered the bottle to the table and furrowed his brow looking at it. He held his left hand out near the bottle, leaving a little space between his hand and the bottle itself. He muttered a few words under his breath and a small flame sprung to light in his outstretched hand. The bottle shone warmly in the close flame, the liquid inside shining a clear, deep ruby red. “Perfect,” Garenol smiled as the flame in his hand went out. He picked the bottle up by the neck, unfolding the corkscrew with his other hand.
“Pretty conspicuous way to judge wine,” a voice said behind Garenol as he was slowly removing the cork from the bottle’s neck.
Garenol craned his neck around to see who was behind him. Malus had looked up from his plate to see as well, fork paused halfway between table and mouth. A thin elf, similar in complexion to Garenol, with short cropped brown hair and brown eyes, stood there, hands folded in front of him, holding onto a large parchment envelope. He wore a loose unmarked white tabard, which covered a suit of thin, gray chain armor. Brown cavalry boots, the lower half mud-stained, emerged from the bottom of the tabard. Like everyone else in the tavern, he was unarmed.
“I assume we are waiting on you?” Garenol inquired of the new arrival.
“Yes, you are,” the stranger replied. “My name is . . .”
“Don’t bother,” Malus cut him off. “Is that the list?”
“Please excuse my dining companion,” Garenol said cheerfully, as he gestured to an empty seat to his right. “He was raised by barbarians. Wine?” Garenol pushed the second glass in front of the new arrival, and poured him a small serving. He then proceeded to pour himself the same small serving, which he swirled in his glass absent-mindedly.
“Just give me the list,” Malus leaned over the table and snatched the envelope from the elf. “Is there anything special we need to know before you leave?”
“Not as such,” the elf replied calmly, taking up the glass of wine in front of him. “Do you have an exit strategy?”
“Same as always,” replied Malus gruffly, tearing open the top of the envelope and unfolding the parchment inside. “These are just names and addresses. Anything special about any of them?”
“Four fat old men,” said the elf, leaning over to look at the parchment. “But that last one, he will require a bit of effort.”
At this comment, Garenol quaffed his wine, stood up and peered across the table at the paper Malus now held in both hands. He read down the list until he came to the last name.
“You must be kidding,” Garenol said, looking up from the list at the elf. “Do you know who that is? Where he lives? Just to get to him will be . . .”
“Precisely what you have been paid for, Mr. Crynus,” the elf said, as he stood up from his seat. He reached back to the table, took the glass of wine delicately in his hand, and drank off the small serving hastily. “Lovely,” he said to Garenol, replacing the delicate glass on the table. He then glanced back to Malus, who was ignoring him and still staring at the list. “Well then, good evening gentlemen, and good hunting.” He departed quickly.
“Malus, you do know who that last one is, don’t you?” Garenol eased back into his chair resignedly, pouring his glass full to the brim from the wine bottle.
“Should I?” replied Malus, looking up from the list and handing it to Garenol. “Just someone else we have to deal with.”
“You never pay attention to anything, do you?” asked Garenol as he snatched the list from Malus’ hand, shaking his head as he reread it. He held the paper up towards Malus, and pointed at a final name on the list. “Four older nobles aren’t a big deal, but this one?” He tapped the paper emphatically, “This one right here? Ignatius Polk. Doesn’t ring a bell?”
Malus shrugged noncommittally as he shoved another fork full of meat into his mouth.
“Archbishop Polk, you ox. The archbishop of Lor. Did you notice the address?” Garenol again tapped his finger insistently on the parchment.
“One Lorian Square. So what?” replied Malus in a dull tone.
“It’s the Crystal Cathedral you idiot. We have to break into the damn cathedral of Lor.” Garenol sat back, gulping the glass of wine and rubbing the back of his hand across his mouth.
“Lots of money in the temple.” Malus grunted, looking down at the table to refill his plate.
“Lots of money?” Garenol laughed at the comment, “How about lots of clerics? Not to mention an entire detachment of the Silver Eagles.” Garenol shuddered at the thought of the renowned paladins of Lor, known for their martial discipline, two handed swords, and complete lack of a sense of humor. “This is going to be messy.”
“Always is,” Malus shrugged, hacking off one of the pig’s hind shanks with a table knife. “Always is.”
“True,” replied Garenol, emptying the wine bottle into his glass as he looked around for the barmaid. “Unfortunate, but true.”
7 - Berlin
8 years ago