Author’s Note: Here’s a short story that I submitted to the Writers’ Circle this past weekend. It was pretty well received and I liked it enough to revise it and share for your reading enjoyment. This short is based in the same world as a novel I currently have on the backburner to work on when I don’t feel like tinkering with Blood of Midnight. Got to keep those writing muscles in shape and a change is as good as a rest! Hope you like it.
“We don’t serve his kind in here,” the barkeep said, jabbing a stubby finger in Arkan’s direction.
Kierendros looked at his travelling companion and frowned. Ordinarily, he’d have exercised his right as prince of Endar to put the man in his place but their mission required secrecy. Without his crown and sigil, his word held no power, especially not here in Eastern Gar. Alder-Venian outposts littered the coast like clots of seaweed after a storm.
The dark elf blinked slowly, making no move aside from white lashes falling over cerulean eyes, but the inn quieted as though he’d drawn blades. The patrons nearby shifted their chairs away from him. Arkan stepped close to him and whispered in his ear.
“My Lord, all is well. I can wait outside.”
His frown deepened and he shook his head.
“My General is to stay at my side,” he murmured back. “Follow my lead.” He rested a hand on the back of the elf’s neck and gave a subtle push. Arkan obligingly folded his legs and knelt on the sticky floor.
“My slave does not require your service,” Kierendros said to the proprietor. “Nor does he need a seat. He will be contented at my heel and you will be contented with my coin.”
The barkeep chewed the stem of his pipe and squinted at them, dark eyes lingering on Arkan. The elf kept his eyes on the floor but under his hood his ears twitched, mapping out the room, placing each body in his mind.
“I don’t want no black-assed Domas in my bar,” he growled.
Kierendros rested his hand on the pommel of his sword and the keep’s eyes followed the motion. Someone set down their tankard and the sound of steel on wood was as loud as cannon fire in the silence.
“You have a problem with my choice of bondservant?” he asked, feeling the muscle along his temple start to ache. He made himself unclench his jaw.
“It’s not …” The man stopped, gaze flicking between them. The bead of sweat rolling down his nose made Kierendros want to smile. “Alder-Venian law …”
“Does not protect Domahara,” Kierendros finished for him. “I am surprised at how joyously you embrace the edicts of your conquerors. You are a supporter of Alder-Ven? A king’s man?” He crossed his arms, not bothering with his sword anymore. The accusation he had just uttered was as good as a blade at the barkeep’s throat. Indeed, his patrons had begun to mutter and the ruddiness faded from the man’s portly cheeks.
“I’m not,” he snapped.
Kierendros felt Arkan’s shoulder brush his leg as the elf glanced to the side. He gave the back of his neck a gentle squeeze. His General had also noticed the shift ambient mood. If the barkeep wanted to salvage his reputation, he was going to have to think fast.
“Sorry for the trouble, milord,” he said, putting up his palms. “It just startled me is all.” He gestured at the elf. Arkan did not so much as tense at being called ‘it’. “Had a sodding Doma blow the back off my tavern once. I got a business to run. You know how it is.”
The Endarian prince smiled though the expression did not touch his eyes, as grey and cold as the winter sky. They remained locked on the stuttering man’s face.
“I uh … what say I offer you a room to dine in, milord? No charge. Just …” He cast a furtive glance back at the bar. The men on the stools there had turned fully around and were glaring at him. “I don’t want the other folks disturbed.” Again his hand jerked at the dark elf.
“No pets in the tavern?” Kierendros said, giving the man a little mercy. Someone laughed and a look of relief washed over the barkeep’s face.
“Just so, milord,” he mumbled, his mouth twitching as though he wanted to smile but couldn’t quite manage it. “It ain’t a magic-user is it?”
The prince pinched the tip of his tongue between his teeth to stop himself from snickering. The lock of hair that had fallen forward when Arkan knelt was bleached white from arcane burn but fortunately this man was an idiot and could not recognize an enchanter when he saw one.
“Of course not. Who would keep something like that?” He rolled his eyes. “Show me to my room, then. I am meeting some one here. Send him up when he arrives.”
The keep nodded and trotted to the stairs off to the side of the bar, floorboards groaning in protest with every step. Kierendros followed and Arkan padded along in his wake, a silent shadow.
The room in question was a small one, clearly meant for private dining rather than sleeping. There was a sad-looking rattan couch in the corner but no bed. The table was large, though and had many chairs around it.
“I’ll bring food and drink ’round in just a minute, milord,” the keep said, bowing himself out as he closed the door.
Kierendros seated himself and leaned an elbow on the table. “Well done, Arkan,” he said and indicated the place beside him.
“I should remain on the floor, I think, Sire,” he said, pushing back his hood. “The ruse may be compromised otherwise.” The elf settled down beside his foot.
“The ruse should not have been necessary in the first place.” Kierendros scowled. “Menwin told us to meet him here. Said it was his favourite tavern. He knew they would give us grief about your presence. He could easily have chosen a more sympathetic establishment.”
“You think he meant for them to harass us?” Arkan tilted his head, lips pursed in contemplation.
“That, and perhaps more.”
The elf flattened his ears back. If this was a setup, the General was sure to make his death a slow one. “You think the innkeeper might be late with our dinner?”
Kierendros smirked. “Very.”
Arkan returned the expression and peeled off his gloves, placing his hands on the floorboards. He began to hum to himself, a melody of discordant notes. For a time, all was quiet save the murmur and clink of the bar underneath. The elf’s eyes unfocused as tiny sparks began to dance over his dark fingers.
Then came the tinkling of breaking glass. Kierendros settled back against the chair, putting his feet up on the seat of the one beside him.
“The fuck did you say to me?” came a muffled voice from below. There was a thump and a serving wench screamed.
“Stop it, both of you!”
Whatever the response was, it got lost in the clatter and shouting that erupted. A shuddering thud against the support beam under their room made Kierendros’ smile widen. The sound and vibration came again, and again. The wench wailed.
“Leave off! Sweet goddess he’s dead already! What’s gotten into you man? Stop!”
“Fucking king’s man!”
“You son of a whore! C’mere and I’ll…”
There was another crash and the woman shrieked. Arkan remained still, a smirk curving his lips as he continued the song. The din rose in pitch until a cry cut through it.
“Halt! City guard!”
Arkan cleared his throat and placed his hands in his lap, his enchantment petering to a halt as the soldiers tried to sort out what had happened. “If the Alder-Venian watchmen stay, Menwin will not come,” he said quietly.
“That is just as well,” Kierendros said, rising from his seat. “I dislike this neighbourhood. Too violent. Let us be gone.”
The elf nodded and moved over to the window. He pushed it open and perched on the sill. “All clear,” he murmured and dropped to the paving stones below. The prince followed him. Both of the men pulled up their hoods as they threaded their way through the alley behind the inn. They stepped over a body with the back of its skull smashed in, glass littering the ground all around it. The barkeep had also exited the tavern via a window, it seemed. Sadly, it hadn’t been opened first.
“Too bad about his favourite bar,” Kierendros mused. He caught a quiet huff of laughter from the enchanter. “Next time, I choose the establishment.”