The orc stared silently across the room, death threatening in its eyes.
“How did you kill that one then?” asked a man, pointing up to the trophy above the bar. The tavern keeper, Radagan his name was, smiled. His teeth weren’t bad, thought the newcomer, watching silently behind his tankard.
“Halberd” Radagan said, as he bent down to lift another barrel onto the bar. The newcomer swallowed his ale, listening. Interesting, he thought, last night it was a sword. He could have sworn three years ago the crafty Radagan had even once claimed he had done it with his bare hands. Still, the newcomer thought, these days, even saying “halberd” could be taken to mean something. “He’s a republican then”, they would mutter, when they got back to their tables. And so a long, heated and hopefully non-violent debate would ensure.
The newcomer hated violence. Not in the aesthetic sense; he loved to watch the toing and froing of a fight, much like a dance. Some players were more adept than others, some sneaky, some fast, all different attributes. It was the faces he didn’t like. Or more specifically, the intent, the nastiness, which of course was written on the face. Actually, for some, it wasn’t. They were the real dangerous ones.
He had seen many in this tavern over the last three years. Of course, he wasn’t really a newcomer. But this evening he was; this evening, he was Luxor Thingleson, only son of a Saxa pirate. Naturally, that was a secret (a secret within a secret). He would say his father “had been a sailor”, then look away nervously, waiting for a particularly sharp listener to pick out the fact that he had used the past perfect tense, and not “was” or “is”. Was, of course, would imply his father was deceased, but had worked as a sailor till that death. Is, that he still plied that trade. But had been, well in that was something else; it conveyed another occupation after. And what did a sailor’s pride often fall prey to…a pirate’s greed. Easy. Even these louts could figure it out, start asking questions, and he could slot into his chosen role.
His real name was Nathaniel app Gwenn. And he was fat.
Yes, fat. Saying it to himself hurt, and he liked the pain. If he were to even whisper his name in here, everybody would stop dead. Nathaniel app Gwenn! Here! In Hero’s Gate! The greatest stage actor in the city!
Only, there was the need for had been again. None of these reprobates, this far from the palace theatre would know it, because they probably hadn’t seen a play for a long time, since the tax went up on it, but Nathaniel app Gwenn hadn’t played a role for 3 whole years. They would know him as Lux the Avenger, but that had been back in 497. First, he had noticed a lack of lead roles offered to him. Then, slowly, no supporting parts came in either. Finally, not even a slot as an extra; though of course his fragile pride would never allow him to even consider it. A disaster. An actor without acting, would soon go rusty. For sure, he had to find out why no one was offering parts; I mean, it had just gone, cold turkey. But also, he had known he couldn’t let his skills lose their edge. So, he had started frequenting outside of the palace centre, for the first time since he was a child. At first, just some of the local taverns, closest to the palace as possible, pretending, disguising himself, being a new person each time. Then, as he grew bolder, and slightly more addicted to the deception, he had gone further afield. Once, he had been discovered, but by that point he hadn’t been on the stage for so long that he doubted anyone who mattered in the acting business would even care.
He had come to understand a lot about the city, its heartbeat, the feelings within it. He was pretty good at noticing things also. Even now, he was picking people out, just like he used to look for the people who mattered in the crowd in his early shows.
Over there, a big man, well muscled. Good shoulders, methodical movements, precise. There was a slight limp though, an old injury, that hindered his potential. Shame. And yet, it had allowed him to open his horizons, to develop other skills that could have lain dormant otherwise. Interesting man, Nathaniel thought.
Another large man was nearby, but not talking to anyone, just leaning against the bar, staring. He made no attempt to answer the inquisitive looks of the people within the tavern. He reminded Nathaniel of a wolf; no air of anxiousness about him. Not for this man the concern of others, his size and strength were a gift, but something within gnawed at him. His eyes did not look worried; but his brow gave him away. A well-trained man then, and so his thoughts must be troubled indeed if he couldn’t quite mask it entirely.
A third man, a corrupted mix of the previous two. There was the eagerness in him, a pushing drive to succeed that the first man exuded, yet it was darker, it was…a craving, beyond anything else. Whereas the first man possessed chains of responsibility he could keep his ambition in check with, or on the right path, this fellow was wild, hungry. He was haughty that was for sure, and a well performed façade it was, but deep down there was an animal. And not of the kind of the second man; he feigned indifference, yet his eyes darted across the room at every possible occasion, resting on as many people as possible, reading, weighing up friends…threats.
Finally, Nathaniel noticed a little, unassuming old man, smoking a pipe. There was a tall object resting against the wall, wrapped in silk. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what that was. But that was not what truly drew Nathaniel’s attention. The wizard was stooped; indeed he was old but that wasn’t what held him so low. Incredible guilt crippled the man. Nathaniel could see it, just as he had performed the emotion himself in several plays. But this was real. What’s more, it was a long, old guilt. Not fresh with confusion, but ancient with knowing; crumbling. Nathaniel instantly felt for the old man.
Someone next to him, wild-eyed, bowled into the bar, drunk, muttering about pigeons. Apparently, it was pigeons that had taken his coin, stolen his secrets, tricked him. He was obviously mad. Nathaniel wandered over to the window. Tonight was a strange night to be abroad. According to rumour, the captain of Knights reach was bogged down in work; he had called in the whole of the Eastern Quarter’s city guard, something about a spate of suicides. As such, guard presence was high this evening, but terribly preoccupied. Stupid thieves would be arrested in droves tonight, simply by clumsiness, but a clever thief…it was on eves like this that they could make a killing. Even as Nathaniel had the thought, he noticed a gruff looking man, could just about see his face from the light of the tavern. He had grizzled old vet written all over him. He wasn’t huge, but he had it. The scars, the way he held himself like he was used to being obeyed; a knowledge in his eye wrought from hard experience. This man was nothing short of an old Bull, staring into the abyss of forthcoming frailty. But he wasn’t there yet. By the Gods, he was ready to fight it out till the end.
He was talking to a figure Nathaniel couldn’t quite make out, but whoever it was, they were small. The Old Bull handed the lad a coin or something similar, for lad it must be, perhaps even a boy, and the child gave him something also, wrapped in linen. He then swiftly scarpered. The man made to head past the tavern, obviously in a rush by the set of his oxen shoulders. Then he stopped. For a moment Nathaniel thought the man was debating to himself about the merits of “stopping in for an ale” but although such thoughts may have been present somewhere within the man’s mind, there was something else. He was…sniffing. Come to think of it. What was that smell?
Nathaniel looked behind him for a moment, trying to gauge whether the odour he sought was within the tavern or without. By the time he looked back out the window, the man was gone, only to reappear a flicker of a candle later, in the door of the tavern.
“FIRE!” he shouted, pointing at the first man that Nathaniel had noticed earlier.
“What are you talking about Bovert? Theo’s been here all evening” Radagan smirked.
“NO!” said the man, Nathaniel now knew went by the name of Bovert, and also probably had been at least half-musing over an ale, by the look of his nose.
“HIM! HIS GYM! IT’S ON FIRE!”
The man, Theo, so the tavern keeper had called him, immediately stood alert, spilling ale across the bar. There goes that injury thought Nathaniel.
Surprisingly fast, just to contradict Nathaniel’s previous judgement with sheer stubbornness, Theo swept up a spear and shield from the Tavern wall and burst out the tavern, almost knocking the Old Bull over in the process, an impressive feat.
For a moment, Nathaniel considered not going outside, and taking a little seat, next to the old man perhaps.
But only for a moment, as even the old man seemed to moving in response to this news. This should be interesting, he thought.