No review today. I’m behind on my reading. So instead, I’m tossing out a bit of my fiction, a tale of a few adventurers finding something unexpected…
We’ve all heard the story of the cursed tavern where if you kill someone who works there, the curse forces you to take on their job. The tale’s twisted logic led to the eventuality of a powerful mage tending bar, a high priest in the kitchen, great champions mucking out the stable, and so on. Mostly, of course, this is just a story we tell to fill time on the road. Then one day my friends and I actually found this tavern, or so we thought.
The map called the town Sirdol. The signpost called it Albistor. As usual, we were hoping to not find out what the sheriff called it. The hellhole of Verig’s “abandoned” keep was two days behind us, and except for Willa’s limp we were all past our various scrapes. It was time to relax, rest up, maybe do a bit of shopping, but most of all, it was time to hit the tavern.
This one had a moose head out front, but the faded lettering said something about Gryphons. It had the usual mix: mostly locals, a few merchants, and a small party of our ilk, “adventurers”. Adventurers… yeah, more like armed scavengers, but some days it paid well, and this was one of those days. Willa, Regis, and I settled in at a back table while Farsil set up a tab for us at the bar. He came back with four mugs and a pitcher of ale.
I slammed down my first draught and only afterwards realized just how good it had been. Thinking quicker than I had back in the tombs, I finished off the pitcher to top off my mug. Willa and Regis were taking theirs more slowly, savoring it, but Farsil had barely touched his.
“Drink up, boy,” I told him. “This is the best I’ve had since we left Gallashot, maybe even better.”
He did take a sip. “Yes, it is good. It’s just that…” he trailed off, looking into his ale.
“What?” Willa prompted.
“Well, that bartender… don’t look-” we all did “- but he looks an awful lot like Jakob of Chaipax.”
“Jakob the Great?” Regis asked.
“Jakob, alchemist to Lord Anton?” Willa continued.
“Yes,” Farsil replied. “Jakob, creator of the only stable potion of fire breathing.”
I leaned left to take another look. “I thought he was supposed to have a beard.”
Farsil rolled his eyes. “Look at the mustache, Dep, and extrapolate, ok?”
I looked again, taking another gulp of my ale. “Maybe, but… could be a cousin.”
Farsil leaned forward, beckoning us closer with those conspiratorial eyes. “It’s not just that. There’s that big guy sitting by the door for starters.”
“He looked like a bouncer to me,” Willa offered.
Farsil raised an eyebrow. “With jewels in his sword hilt?”
“Yeah, I noticed that when we came in,” Regis replied. He shrugged. “Sorry, professional habit.”
“So?” I came back at them. “It’s just a rich bouncer. I’d be rich too if my boss was serving ale this good.” I lifted the empty pitcher and waved the barmaid over.
We paused while she came with a full pitcher and took our empty one away.
Willa refilled hers and took a sip. “You think he’s Sir Waston of the Wolf, don’t you?”
Farsil only smiled.
Regis gave a nod. “With that jewel pattern, it could be Falcon’s Claw in that sheath of his, and Waston was known to do favors for Lord Anton back when Jakob was still working for him.”
“Oh, for the love of magic, you’re not really telling me that two of the greatest legends this side of the Serpent Sea are working in a tavern.”
Farsil shrugged. “You know the tale as well as I do.”
I laughed. “But that’s a bullshit story, boy. Something we old-timers tell the new guy on the way back to town. I suppose next you’re going to tell me that Bishop Escallia is in the kitchen working on the stew or that the fucking barmaid is Light-fingered Lexy.”
Willa glared at me. “Not so loud, Dep. This is probably the worst place in the world to start a brawl.”
I slammed back the rest of my ale. “I’m putting a stop to this right now.” Carrying my empty mug, I swaggered over the bar.
The barkeep set down his washrag and came over. “What can I get for ya?”
“Another ale,” I replied. “This is surely the best ale I’ve had in over a year. Is it your own?”
He filled it from the barrel beneath the bar. “It is. I make all the drinks here.”
I took a sip, even smoother than from the pitcher. A man could lose himself in this stuff. “My friends over there say you look like Jakob the great fire walker or breather or some such.”
He gave a lopsided grin. “Yeah, I get that all the time. Less since I shaved the beard, but still.”
Another sip. “So you did have a beard before.” This close, I got a good look at his nose, the same crooked line as the statue in the capital.
“Yeah,” he replied, “back when I worked for Lord Anton.” He held out his hand. “But it’s just ‘Jakob’ now.”
My mug hit the floor slightly before my jaw. The ale spilled equally onto my boots as it did the floorboards, and the barmaid knelt down quickly to mop it up in her apron. Facing back to Jakob I took his hand slowly. “My, uh… it’s an honor, sir.” In the bottles behind him, I could make out movement from the bouncer by the door. Three ales earlier, I had left my broadsword under the table.
“No worries, pal,” he answered, getting me a fresh mug of ale. “Like I said, I get that all the time.”
The maid went to change to a new apron just as the bulk of the bouncer leaned down on the bar beside me. “Trouble, Jakob?”
“None at all, Waston,” he replied. “I was just chatting with uh…”
“Dep,” I replied promptly, offering my hand. “Dep of Gallashot.”
Waston took it – that’s right, you bastards, I shook hands with Sir Waston the Wolf – and he did his best not to crush my knuckles. “Gallashot… you know Crowley?”
“Of course. He taught me the broadsword. Best swordsman in the whole region.”
“Yep,” he replied, “I always knew Crowley would go far.” He sat and took a mug for himself. “So what brings you out this way?” he asked.
“I was just, well, my friends and I were exploring Verig’s old place, and well, we’re celebrating a bit, I guess.”
He chuckled. “Verig’s place, out past the marsh?”
“Well good, that’s one less thing on my to-do list.”
My eyes went wide. “Oh, sir, if I had known, sir, we would never presume-“
“Oh, don’t worry. I don’t get out much anymore these days.”
I looked back at my friends who were making a very poor attempt at not watching us. “You know, the other thing my friends said was that, well… there’s this story of a cursed tavern where…”
“Oh, I know that one,” Jakob jumped in. “If you kill someone there, you have to take their job.”
Waston smirked and sipped his ale.
“Just a story, eh?” I asked.
“Oh no,” Jakob replied. “It’s true all right, but that’s about two weeks’ ride northwest of here, out past Tipson’s Point.”
“They don’t get much business, of course, especially not after the cook was eaten by that zombie.”
Even I had to laugh at that. “A zombie for a cook? I can see why no one goes.”
Waston shrugged. “You never know. Maybe the ghouls would like it.”
“Look, Jakob, Waston, my pals there will never forgive me if I don’t ask… just what are you two doing here?”
Jakob looked me up and down. “Well, what are you doing here?”
“Oh, we’re just blowing off steam, you know, celebrating after a crawl through… man, I’m going to need some more sleep before I talk about that one.”
“And isn’t that great, the celebrating?”
“Abso-fucking-lutely,” I said. “Especially when the ale is this good.”
“Yeah,” Waston chimed in. “It’s probably the best part of the whole lifestyle, isn’t it?”
I thought about it. “Well, there’s the excitement, the travel…”
“Yeah, sleeping in the rain, saddle sores…”
“There’s the treasure,” I countered.
“There is that,” Waston replied.
“But it’s only good for spending,” Jakob pointed out. “And what better thing to spend it on than the celebration?”
“Or the comfortable bed,” Waston offered.
“Or the ale,” Jakob continued.
Waston drained his mug. “I almost forgot – the whoring!”
The barmaid returned to the bar with an empty pitcher. “You’d never forget the whoring, dear.”
Slowly it began to sink in. “Yeah, this really is the best part.”
Jakob stepped back and spread his arms. “So you see, when we could finally afford it, we retired. Now we get that best part every day.”
In the warm embrace of the ale, my dreams of castles and followers were all turning to drab routines of upkeep and training and kissing some Baron’s ass while trying to collect his taxes.
“So, Jakob,” the barmaid asked. “You got another convert?”
I nodded. “I think he does.”
“By the way,” she said to me, “It’s Lexy of the light touch, not Light-fingered Lexy.”
I turned and really looked at her for the first time. “Oh my, I… what I meant was…”
“Fear not, love, no offense taken. Besides,” she said, handing me a small piece of leather, “you tip well.” After she left with a fresh pitcher I realized what that leather was: my boot pouch, the stitching neatly cut away. I took another sip of my ale and laughed. It was worth it.
And then, boys and girls, I shit you not, Bishop Escallia himself came out of the kitchen with a great big pot of stew.