Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Tale of Hubris, Part II

This particular inn’s ale is not the best I’ve had, but I ordered another. Alcohol and the stench of stale beer reminded me of home – of nan, if I’m honest. And it never paid to be too sober in the days leading up to an adventure, when you never knew when the next inn or ale or dry bit of ground to sleep on was going to come. Look at the almanac and then at any adventure’s itinerary, and you’re guaranteed to see rain outside the season of rain, deluge in rain’s season, and, more often than not, rains of fish or poisonous frogs or anything else unpleasant you could imagine. Because the frogs you couldn’t eat and the fish, after a week, you’d rather starve than choke another one of them down.

So to sit in this dark corner of this dark inn, sipping ale, quite pleasant.

The company, however, had me down.

Thin of mein, a bit unshaven, gloomy in the cloak and hood that buried his eyes in darkness.

“They’re over there,” he said gloomily, twitching a finger toward the bright fire. There, surrounded by the inn’s typical denizens right down to the fat forgetful innkeeper, his party. A gaggle of about half a dozen stubby, stout fellows quaffing ale and singing loud, cheerful songs.

“Quiet as a fart in church.”


He grunted and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

“Don’t even have to tell you what’s waiting outside, do I?”

No. You always knew.

Shapes and shadows. Minions and scarecrows whose heads twisted round their bodies to watch as you went past. The louder the songs, the more indulgent the quaffing, the deadlier the enemies espying through the windows were.

There was a shout and bang and a scrabbling from the table near the fire, while five or so of the stout fellows accompanied by a few of the seedier creatures poked under tables and lifted up the corners of drapes, apparently looking for something.

My companion winced. “That’ll help. That ALWAYS helps. Every drift and shadow within twenty miles of here knows it’s here now. Well – “ he sprung silently from his seat, flashing for a moment a sword held in a crusted leather scabbard at his belt “I’m for it now. Best go set up the decoys and sell the horses. We’ll be hoofing it within three hours. Watch me.” He left and I sat there, uneasily sipping the last of my ale as the missing fellow at the table by the bright fire reappeared, making a show of buttoning his fly as if he’d merely stepped out to relieve himself.

Daft, they get. Captured and skinned within two days, I’ll warrant.

Sometimes, I admit, they surprise you. The rare one or two have veins of inner strength even the most rugged would wonder at, given how soft and unspoiled they look. They don’t go out seeking adventure, but Adventure – with the capital A – finds them, binds them, and uses them to the rare good end. I hoped my friend had one of those in the group of fellows now stupidly stumbling out of the bar and up the stairs, making more noise shushing each other than the minions made stumbling out of the inn into the rain to alert their masters.

Adventures like that last longer, mind you. But a success under the belt, even once, makes up for all the bloody, truncated ends one usually gets in the trade. Although the shapes and shadows and minions are a lot harder to live with, after that. One success and any camaraderie you managed to build over the years is gone like a belch in the wind.

A wailing form outside sent a shiver down my spine and froze the countenances of everyone in the bar. “Oh, they’ve had it,” I thought. I gulped down the rest of my ale then stole out to the stables where I’d arranged to sleep for the night, before I headed two towns over to find my own unlikely conglomerate of embarrassing charges.

No comments: