Medievia Mudslinger

December 28th, 2002

Old Friends Make Good Enemies: The Aftermath - By Milekan

The Barkeeper started getting upset after watching the man for quite some time.

"Hey, you gonna buy somethin'? Or ya jus' gonna sit there, takin' up space at my bar?" he called as he cleaned the inside of a mug with a dirty and over-used wash rag. A rooster neck dangled from the barkeeper's chin, hanging loosely on the high collar of his baggy green long-sleeved shirt. A blond stubble coated his face, like a sheen of golden-and-white. His gut was visible under his stained brown apron, and his matted and shaggy hair fell down in curls to his pointed, lobeless ears. Usually, Torranus wasn't easily agitated, but something about this new 'customer' upset his nerves.

The 'customer' wore dark steel gauntlets, boots which were thoroughly worn in, and a pair of dark blue, woolen leggings which showed signs of hard travel. Barely covering this was a full length robe, the color of midnight. Thrust through a rope around his waist was a menacing dagger and a small coin pouch. With the hood pulled deeply on his head, his face looked like an abyssal cave. Waiting nervously for the stranger to acknowledge him, Torranus finally let his temper erupt.

"Hey! I'm talkin' ta you, buddy! Either buy somethin' 'er get out!" he shouted, slamming down the mug and throwing his wash rag to the floor as he straightened up his body, eyeing him closely.

The man continued to look at the bottom of his long finished mug of ale, tracing invisible figures into the counter of the bar. After a long pause, Torranus began to move towards the man in hopes of scaring him out, though deep inside he felt a twinge of fear rise to his fluttering belly. He stretched his arms out to grab the man, feeling as if he were moving through water. In a single motion, the man reached into the pouch tied to his waist, flipped a few gold coins into the air, and was headed to the door before Torranus had even realized he had missed. Quickly bending to grab the coins from the ground, Torranus let out a sigh of relief and dropped the money into his apron pocket.

A barmaid wearing a creamy white blouse with a diving front, walked quietly into the tavern. The cuffs of the dress were ruffled, stained in a few places from spilling ale. Her skirt, flat and loose-fitting, was embroidered with thread-of-gold along the sides, the circular hem surrounding her petite ankles. She was wearing a silky blue apron over her dress, a smooth texture to allow any liquid she spilled to simply slide down the material. Her hair was blond and worn in curls, golden locks falling down to her bare shoulders. She possessed a charming smile that went well with the puckish twinkle in her blue-green eyes, and a small but bold nose. Most likely hired for her beautiful appearance to attract outside customers, the barmaid was a stunning woman to look at.

"Hey there, Torri!" she shrieked from behind Torranus. She stopped mid step to look at him jump in terror and juggle a mug in his hand, until it smashed on the floor.

"Oh, I'm sorry! I din't mean ta scare ya!" she said in an apologetic tone, with a hand over her mouth and looking at the shards of pottery.

"Jeez, Sariya. Don' do that!" Torranus screamed as dropped his head, pretending to look at the broken mug. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Letting out a little shiver he hoped that she hadn't noticed, Torranus continued restocking the shelves behind the bar while she began flipping chairs off tables.

"What's got ya so worked up anyway?" Sariya asked, bewildered.

"Oh, nothing Sari. Just... a... uh... customer... that came in... recently...." Torranus said, hoping she wouldn't question his answer.

"A customer? What'd he do ta scare ya so much, hold a knife to yer throat?" she queried, half distracted with her work.

"Oh no! Nothin' like that. It's just that... well... he had this 'feel' about him... that I just didn' like," he replied, feeling a little better about telling someone. Heat spread over his face, betraying his shame.

"Oh Torri, we *all* know ya don' have a sixth sense, like the elves do," she retorted with a chuckle.

After a slight pause in thought, Torranus replied uneasily, "You're right, I'm jus' a lil' paranoid... But enough o' that, I'm too anxious ta see my sons again. They been with my wife's sister fer about two months now."

Torranus dropped the thoughts about the mysterious man, and continued telling Sariya stories of his children. Only half listening, she continued with her work.

After a hard night of work, Torranus was cleaning up the tavern when he was startled by the metal cling of coins dropping slowly atop a table. Swinging around quickly, his fear was confirmed as he looked into the eyes of that same stranger. Frozen in place, Torranus could feel his chest tighten with panic. He hadn't been much of a fighter, one of the reasons why he ran the tavern. The only people he stood a chance against were the drunken locals. Gazing with horror at this monster of a man, he knew the seconds were ticking. Trying to utter some words, Torranus found that his tongue refused to work. Slowly backing towards the bar, his feet felt like lead. He tripped on a lift in the carpet and tumbled into the front of the bar, hitting his head painfully. As he watched the man slowly make his way down the walkway, Torranus put one hand over the lump on his head, as if protecting it from more injury. The other he directly in front of him, a nonverbal command to stop.

The stranger stood only inches from Torranus, and bent down to put his head directly in front of the barkeep's. Slowly, the stranger raised his hand to his face, covering the area over his mouth, shaking his head slowly. Torranus instantly understood that the stranger was mute. Quickly realizing his folly, the barkeep let out a jolly chuckle.

Swiftly jumping to his feet, he put on a large grin, "Sheesh! Ya really scared me, friend. I'm sorry I han' noticed before. What'll it be?" Realizing that he was stumbling over his words, Torranus slurred an apology, and filled a mug with his finest beer.

"So I can tell yer not from around 'ere. Where d' ya hail from?" Torranus asked as he pulled a quill, some ink, and piece of paper from the shelves behind him.

Sliding them to the man, he watched intently as the man just looked at the quill. After a moment of silence, Torranus awkwardly cleared his throat and began taking the paper, ink, and quill back. The man reached out and lightly tapped Torranus' hand. Grabbing the quill, the man slowly penned "Food" in squiggly letters. With a smile and a chuckle, Torranus began preparing a plate of food for his new friend.

The next morning, Torranus heard the door swing open and the floor creak slightly as he was overturning chairs from the top of tables. Without looking, he automatically said, "I'm sorry, but we're closed. Oh, it's you again, m' friend. Well... I guess ya can stay while I clean up in 'ere. Pull up ta th' bar."

As he overturned the chair still in his hand, the stranger made his way toward the bar. Torranus walked behind the counter, then put down what was left of a loaf of bread. The stranger pulled off a small piece and put it towards his mouth. Torranus watched it disappear into the darkness under his hood. Torranus poured a bowl of still-warming soup from a cauldron above the fire and set it in front of the man. Trying not to sound too eager, as he slowly reached for paper, a quill, and ink 'conveniently' set together, Torranus asked, "So ya been 'ere three times now. But ya yet ta tell me yer name...."

He watched anxiously for the man to reach for the paper. He had little expectation of an answer but, to his surprise, the stranger reached for the paper. Torranus peered at the word and read, "None." Thrown off by the odd answer, the barkeep pondered for a moment, "Ya don't have a name?"

The stranger slowly nodded. Pushing the paper and ink closer to the man, Torranus quickly chattered off some more questions.

"Where ya from? Ya got anything with ya? Are ya jus' a traveler? Where's yer family? Ya got a family?"

Again, the man gripped the quill and slowly printed "No family. From nowhere. Wanderer."

His handwriting got progressively worse with each word, until finally he threw the quill into the fire. Confused and a little abashed, Torranus put away the ink and threw the paper into the fire as well. Finishing his meal and having a few mugs of ale, they sat in silence for hours. Torranus continued with his chores until all that was left was the mug in front of the stranger. Finally, Torranus built up the courage to demand an answer from the man. As he looked up, he realized that the man was already gone. Bewildered once more, Torranus picked up the mug and began to clean it, lost in his thoughts.

"So when do I get ta meet this new 'friend' o' yers that ya told me all about?" Sariya asked inquisitively as she served a table with two regular customers, both concentrating on their round of cards.

"I dunno. He comes an' goes as he pleases. He's been here three times, but he never tells me anythin' specific about himself." said Torranus as he served drinks at the bar. "An I'll tell ya another thing, he never pulls off his hood... it's sorta eerie, but it never bothered me." Torranus stated boldly.

"Sure it didn', Torri." Sariya said as she shot him a sly glance.

After long hours of anxious anticipation, Torranus finally assumed the man would not be returning tonight. He and Sariya, though both disappointed, continued with their nightly chores of cleaning, cooking, and serving. After the evening's excitement began to die down, the door swung open. Glancing at the door for only a second, Torranus quickly looked back to see the mysterious stranger. Unable to control a large grin on his face, he signaled to Sariya across the room. She quickly made her way to the bar, and leaned closely in to Torranus.

"There's th' man a th' hour now." Torranus said happily as he pointed to a seat at the end of the bar and began preparing a plate of food for his mysterious customer. Sariya quickly served her last rounds for the night and speedily began cleaning up.

When she finally finished, Sariya pulled a stool up next to the man, peering intently at the darkness where his face should have been. After long moments without acknowledgment, she thrust out her hand and said cheerfully, "Hi! My name's Sariya. Torranus told me about ya. It's nice to finally meet ya."

The stranger continued to sit there, drinking his ale and seeming to peer into his empty plate.

"It must be hard bein' mute, but ya seem to get along fine! He also tol' me ya were an orphan, that musta been hard, I can't imagine," she said hoping to get some sort of response out of him. "Oh! I'm so sorry! I wasn' thinkin'! Hold on a second!" she cried as she went bolting around the counter to retrieve the paper, ink and new quill.

Placing it in front of him, she waited intently for him to pick it up. After no response, she sighed and looked up at Torranus, taking a step back from the counter. He shrugged apologetically and finished cleaning a mug for his friend. Filling it again with his best ale, he set it in front of the man and reached for the paper and quill. The stranger grabbed Torranus' wrist. Picking up the mug with his other hand, he chugged down the contents. Setting it down, he reached for the quill and drew Torranus' hand back towards him. Torranus placed the paper in front of the man and released the quill, watching the paper intently.

To the barkeep's surprise, the man leaned inward and began to scribble something on the paper very quickly. Torranus watched as he dipped the quill into the ink, wrote rapidly, and dipped again. Looking under the stranger's hand, Torranus and Sariya tried to make out the writing, but the man's forearm too fast over the paper to read easily. They waited until the man was finished. After a slight pause in his writing, the stranger dipped one final time into the ink and signed the paper.

Torranus watched as the man sprung to his feet and rapidly walked out the door. Turning his attention back to the paper, the barkeep slowly picked it up. As he read speedily, Sariya tried peeking over his shoulder. Torranus moved so that she couldn't see so she muttered under her breath, sat in the strangers seat, and impatiently waited for Torranus to finish. Slowly lowering the paper from eye level, she looked up to see tears trickling down his face. She slowly reached for the paper and began to read...

"This is the most difficult and regrettable thing I have had to do. I have delved on this over the last week that I have come to your tavern. Unfortunately for me, this will not be the last time I must do this.

"I am not a stranger as you had called me, nor am I mute. The burden on my heart is too great, so I could not bear telling you this in person. I am truly sorry.

"I am actually a messenger from Karlisna. I cannot tell many specifics, but Shadowclaw's army has attacked our beloved City. He attacked with wanton savagery. The few that fled the city have hidden in the nearby forests to regroup. After his troops ransacked the city, they withdrew to an unknown location. We few survivors went back to clean the wreckage and repair the damage. Among the dead, we found your wife and two sons, as well as your sister- and brother-in-law. The were given a proper burial. Again, I am truly sorry.

"Rador."

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