Monday, June 8, 2009

Berserker Part 9

Among the cool intermittent plains and forests which dotted the mainland lies a small town. Named Halfway by some joker from times past, probably due to the fact that it’s one of the bordertowns which dot the countryside, between two different regions. It was a common thing to trick tax collectors by saying that they paid taxes to the other region’s ruler, no country was on well enough terms to question another about such matters, which neatly allowed the inhabitants to ignore the entire subject and continue making a modest living.

Halfway was exactly between the heavily forested, trading region of Bretolia and the near endless farming plains of Gath, which provided business for a little of the former and much of the latter. The town itself was surrounded by small walls on all four sides and most men were expected to attend militia drills and keep up archery practice whenever the fields allowed. In many cases this had saved the little town from roving bands of things passing through the Bretolian forests.

At this time of night, anyone who wasn’t in bed was at the Sign of The Castaway, the proprietor family had settled there after working on trading ships for so long the sight of blue made them sick. So they pulled up stakes, taking their newborn daughter with them, and moved inland, where they established a nice little inn, one of just a few two story buildings in town. The inn was a marvel of Hargram the owner’s craftsmanship, with not a single splinter or rough spot in the place. Made of the richest mahogany through and through, with beautiful trellised walls and frosted windows. It was more than sixteen years old, but the old wood structure still shone like new due to Silva’s, Hargram’s wife, constant scrutiny and care.

It’s large common room was full of bulky, heavily built farmers who’ve come to talk with friends, exchange gossip, and relax from the day’s work. Old men huddled around the fire, smoking and complaining about how nothing , not even fire was as good as they had in the old days. A pretty little girl, almost out of her teens, walked through the crowd, delivering mugs of beer and plates of food. She had creamy white skin, and stood a little over five feet. The most striking thing about her was her hair, black as a raven’s wing. She looked nothing like her parents. Her father, Hargram, who was busy filling glasses, was a man of average height with a look of wiry strength about his extremely dark, grizzled features, his only concession was his glittering blue eyes set deep into his skull, giving him a hooded, knowing sense. Her mother, Silva, was likewise short and heavily tanned with more normal blonde hair. They had both come from some island far off from the mainland and the inn had been made most famous by the secret of distilling rum which Hargram had brought with him.

As the girl passed a table on her way back to the kitchen, she was grabbed by the waist and pulled down face-to-face with someone she never saw before. He was dressed in stained and tattered, poorly stitched clothes, obviously some lowlife passing through and looking for a fight.

“Hi, there”, he said. The smell of alcohol nearly blew her over and she could see his eyes were clouded from too much of Hargram’s Finest. “Give us a kiss”.

She tried to pull away but wasn’t strong enough. Another man came up from behind the stranger and tapped him on the shoulder.

“Could you let Selenne go about her work?”, he asked calmly. His eyes were two chips of ice around a face that radiated disapproval.

“What’s she tyoo?” the man slurred, oblivious to the man’s anger.

“She’s my daughter, now get out or I’ll make you”, came a reply with snake speed.

“You’ll make me what?” the befuddled stranger said while still holding on to Selenne.

Most of the room had quieted down, Hargram was not a normally violent man, but he was extremely touchy when it came to his daughter. The silence buzzed with the single thought; this should be good.

“Leave”, Hargram said steadily, trying to help along the man’s slow witted brain. he had seen this man’s kind before. Cruel, small-minded men who were down on their luck and decide to spread the misery around.

“Why should I leave when I have done nothing wrong?!”, he screamed, tossing Selenne away and drawing a long knife, brandishing the cheap blade in the air.

Half the room backed up and the rest closed in, some wanting to help Hargram and the rest anxiously awaiting the ensuing climax.

The man lunged forward sloppily, giving Hargram plenty of time to sidestep the man. As the drunk regained his balance, Hargram pulled a cosh from his belt and smacked the leather bound length of iron against the back of the man’s head, dropping him with little more than a moan. This was drowned out by the groans of the spectators. They were disappointed for two simple reasons. While they expected a larger fight, it was a rule of Hargram’s that the minute a fight broke out within his establishment, it would close immediately for the rest of the night.

As Hargram walked over to help up Selenne, the drinkers and talkers took turns kicking the unconscious stranger on their way to the door, muttering about foreigners ruining things for the rest of them and complaining about having to go home to their families earlier than necessary.

Selenne said she would be fine, but her assailant wouldn’t. Almost every male in town resided in that inn, at one kick per person, the stranger would be mighty bruised by morning. Hargram was a smart enough man that he didn’t need to be violent.

The three worked in silence with a precision born of years of routine, locking the heavy oak door, taking up dirty glasses, cleaning tables, stopping up the beer kegs, and sweeping the floor before they blew out all the lamps and went upstairs to their rooms.

As Selenne dozed off, she reflected on her life and its direction. It wasn’t that difficult of a job and that day had been the one day in a long time when she had been assailed. Even strangers got word that to mess around with Selenne would mean to be black and blue for a month. Basically it was a peaceful life, basically.

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