Saturday, July 18, 2009

Berserker Part 34

The quartet languidly traveled through the wide streets of Halfway, enjoying the unfamiliar feel of the cobbles under their feet and closely spaced buildings around them. All the respectable citizens of the town were sitting down to dinner at home, leaving the streets near deserted. But occaisonally someone would pass them and not even bat an eye at the sight of four armed men from different parts of the world. Either they were sure they could defend themselves should anything occur or such display of weapons was common. In either case they were much too trusting for their own good.

As they turned down the street the stableboy had pointed at, they saw a large two-story building from which came the only sound besides the too-loud noises of their own footsteps, a sound which was so very precious in this world. Laughter, and lots of it. With their goal in sight, those loud footsteps increased to a staccato tapping, bringing them to the great door of the inn. Not a word was said among the group, they just stood their, as a groom might stand at the entrance to his wedding chamber.

Their blissful excitement was interupted by the call of nature, specifically calling to the militiaman who clumsily opened the door and staggered out into the night in search of relief. They were dazed by the cheery atmosphere of the place, compared to the desolation of the street. The entire room was filled with a warm light provided by chandeliers and fireplaces. It was not quite filled with men of all ages, talking, drinking, playing cards, etc. The room’s hustle and bustle momentarily faltered as the occupants turned to see the newcomers. Some went right on with their own business, most tried surreptitiously to point the group out to friends, adding to whatever rumors might be flying around about the strange caravan coming in the night with blasphemous creatures in tow.

Jarn, head held high, daring anyone to challenge his right to be there, led the way to a table beside one of the large frosted windows on the front of the Inn. Seated in unexpectedly comfortable chairs they surveyed the room. Everyone was careful to keep their eyes averted from the travelers, politely talking amongst each other and enjoying the troubadours’ rendition of “Top of The World, Hope I Don’t Fall”, a lighthearted little ditty that Kyle recognized.

As for the men present, they appeared to be militia for their bragging about how well they had fared in training and on the archery range. This was conducive to the well-fed look of farmers or merchants that they exhibited. Their garb was also what one would expect of a laborer; clothe shirt and leggings, hard worn boot, and overalls. But scattered among them were a few harder men, wearing tougher wearing leathers instead of cloth, eyes sunken in their sockets darting back and forth to any particularly loud noise or fast movement. They must’ve been chaperones for the more boisterous farmers for they only took small sips of their drafts, just enough to wet the throat but not to inebriate.

Kyle was gracious enough to order the first round of drinks for the evening. He waved a hand at the barmaid who arrived promptly and with a tired smile.

“What will you gentlemen be wanting this fine evening?” Karnar, Jarn and Kyle promptly chose beer, but Lars wasn’t so quick in his selection. There was something charming about the young lady that distracted him. He couldn’t place it. She wore a subdued blue dress with white apron over it, her hair flowing in dark locks down her back.

“Could you choose for me?”, he asked shyly after much hemming and hawing. Seeing the dumbstruck look on his face, the others tried very hard to keep from laughing at his expense. But, as luck would have it, she was gone and away with only an undignified snort from Jarn to dampen the mood, not that they would’ve noticed with him watching her every movement and her smiling coyly.

They sat there in the sweet smelling pipe smoke, amid the quick piping notes of the troubadours’ instruments, grinning like maniacs at their smitten aqauntance. Even Karnar, who would normally have difficulty facing such a subject, felt a nastalgic chuckle welling up inside of him.

“So”, Jarn said carefully, giddy with amusement. “She looks like a nice enough girl”.

“Aye, she is”, he replied distractedly, not taking his eyes off her as she worked the taps behind the bar.

“Care to pull your tongue off the floor before she steps on it?”, Kyle asked causing laughter all around. Which they hushed quickly as she returned with their beer in large ceramic mugs.

Taking his graciously and with a charming smile, Jarn decided to see how much he could coax out of Kyle’s purse. “I thank you most dearly miss, would you be so good as to tell us what that heveanly smell is coming from the kitchen?”. The barmaid blushed red as an apple upon hearing his affectionate praise of her, apparrently the drunken grunts of aknowledgment from the usual clientele did not suit her conversational tastes.

“We’ve got fresh bread, beef stew, and roast venison with spiced potatoes”, she replied, speaking mainly to Jarn. That was it! Jarn knew what was drawing his attention, she had a genuine smile, one that reached all the way to her gray-green eyes. That smile held nothing back, no secrets, no remorse, no guilt, she was absolutely delighted by their presence. This made her all the more attractive, but unlike Lars, he tried very hard to keep from staring.

With all the hormones in the air, Karnar decided to fill the ear burning silence. “The stew and bread sounds good”, he said. “If there are no objections then we shall all have some”. Seeing none from any of the travelers she threaded her way through the crowd to the kitchen.

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