Inspired by the Medieval Tavern Image Prompt that appeared quite a while ago now. There was some absolutely justified criticism on my Prompt Inspired Post, and I have not changed anything in light of this criticism to preserve its integrity.
The door swung wildly on its hinges as we tumbled into the tavern, already merrily drunk and laughing raucously. Moving from the cold stormy streets into that warm room was like crossing the threshold of another world, and I shook myself to cast away the both its physical and mental reminders.
A fire crackled merrily away to itself in the corner, chasing away the cold that had resided permanently in my bones for the past year, and small candles on almost every available surface gave off a soft and welcoming glow. As my companions and I stripped off our drenched travel cloaks, still laughing at some joke that we probably couldn’t really remember, I felt more content than I had in years.
Our grand entrance had earned us a frown from the barkeeper, but when his eyes found my face they lit up in recognition and the frown was soon replaced by his familiar smile. I sauntered up to the bar, attempting to cover my intoxicated wobbling with a cocky swagger, whilst my band of lovable miscreants piled into a booth and began shouting for an ale boy. I could feel the ale from the previous inn sloshing around in my empty stomach, and it put me in mind of the sea that we had just traveled. Perhaps the solitary hunk of bread that I had consumed that day was our boat, struggling against the waves. I stifled a giggle as I imagined tiny little butter sailors climbing the doughy rigging, and realised that it was definitely time I got some more food inside me to soak up some of the alcohol. Only so I could begin drinking again without fear of sickness, you understand.
I placed my hands on the bar and pushed my torso up and over it to plant a sloppy kiss firmly on the barkeeper’s lips. He sighed in mock annoyance, but even after all these years I could tell that my Uncle still loved the affection. Behind his bushy beard I saw his big grin widen further, and he responded to my kiss by wrapping his huge arms around me in a suffocating bear hug. My Uncle and Aunt had struggled to conceive, and when she died he gave up hope of ever raising a child. One day he got what his heart desired but at a high cost, as his brother’s daughter became an orphan. I was uprooted from my home and forced to travel for months to get to this new city – this rough, tough city – to live with a stranger. We both had no-one, then suddenly we both had each other. He feared having that taken from him, and it seemed like every time he wrapped his arms around me his embrace was a little tighter, his willingness to let go ever reduced.
When he released me I noticed an ale boy of no more than 14 crouched on the floor cleaning a spill, staring up at my cleavage where it was visible as I leant over the bar. I stared pointedly back at him, waggling my eyebrows suggestively. He met my eyes, realised he had been spotted, and turned a fantastic shade of crimson as he returned to his scrubbing with renewed vigour. I tried to stifle the giggles but they slipped out regardless, sending him scurrying away in embarrassment. My Uncle frowned at me and I looked guiltily back at him, promising to apologise in the morning.
A burst of laughter erupted from the corner that my guildmates had commandeered, and I turned in time to see Rhys doing his best impression of foppish Lord Olka. He pranced about with his nose in the air, powdering his face and hair daintily with a napkin powder-puff covered in the leftover flour from a bread plate. I grinned to myself; Rhys’ impressions were a sure-fire hit after a few ales, despite being so highly caricatured that they were almost unrecognisable to anyone not familiar with his repertoire. I ordered a cauldron of stew for our table, grabbed a huge bottle of my favourite honeywine from where it waited for me on the bar, then made my way to their table to join the merriment.
I clambered over the bench behind them to squash myself between Cydney and Brielle, spilling a fair amount of the honeywine along the way. Sliding down the fur-backed bench to sink my arse into it’s fur-covered seat was heaven, and at that moment I did not even slightly miss the hard life of the road. Walking on rocks, eating on rocks, sleeping on rocks; even the meager softness of scrubby brown grass was a luxury in the places we’d been. As I sipped the honeywine I felt its warmth spread down to my belly, and I sighed in contentment. This was some damn good stuff.
In time the stew arrived and we attacked it ravenously, scooping out great lumps of steaming meat and vegetables with chunks of crusty bread and stuffing them into our mouths. Another round of ales was ordered, and I watched the group guzzle it down greedily. We really were not a graceful lot. Well, not when we ate, anyway. Those who saw us in battle would definitely argue otherwise.
The silence that fell upon us whilst we satisfied our hunger gave me time to surreptitiously check out the tavern’s other occupants. Normally this would be the first thing I did upon entering a room but, what can I say? I was back in our city, and sometimes you just gotta throw caution to the wind and enjoy life. My gruff, muscled Uncle was protection enough anyway.
As well as the general public there were members of other guilds dotted around the room. I could see the tattoos of all but one, and I knew them all. As it should be. Whilst I trusted Markas to take care of my own guild while I was on the road, I could not prevent my departure from allowing people to become daring and create new ones. When someone embarked upon a mission such as mine they were generally not expected to return, and people often used their departure as a chance to take liberties. I was pleased to see that Markas had kept them scared, and that my trust in him had not been misplaced. He was a good man and a strong fighter, well worthy of being my right hand, and he would be in for a suitable reward. Probably something from the gilded chest I had hidden beneath the floorboards of my personal hideout.
All this was well and good, but I was still bothered by those whose tattoos I could not see. I feigned a stretch to lean back – I know, it’s oldest move in the book, but in my defense I was drunk – and craned my neck to get a better look. A face and tattoo became visible as my perspective changed, and I jerked my head back into the group so fast that I felt my neck crack. Brielle looked at me and raised a thick blonde eyebrow, and I gave her a tight shake of my head. Don’t react, it said. She gave a sharp nod in return and returned to gazing into her flagon, but I could see every muscle was taught, waiting to act in an instant. She was not the kind of person to ignore any perceived threat.
He knew we were here – there’s no way he could have missed our entrance. I cursed myself for letting my guard down and thinking I was untouchable. How did he get here before us, and what the fuck was that tattoo? I took a deep breath and tried to think. My contemplations were interrupted by a crash, and I looked up to see Rhys convulsing on the floor amid the contents of the overturned cauldron.
As one, my siblings and I leapt to our feet in the suddenly silent room. I looked around with murder in my eyes, trying to spy the cause of Rhys’ fall. Nobody moved, nobody made a sound. A strangled cry preceded the thud of Cydney’s body slumping back down onto the bench, and this seemed to break the spell. The tavern began to rapidly empty of normal customers who knew better than to be around at a time like this, and the thumps of another two bodies hitting the floor pushed the other guilds into running too. Wise cowards, I thought to myself bitterly.
The only people left in the room other than the ale boy from earlier, rooted to the spot in fear, and my Uncle, were the three people whose tattoos were hidden from me at first. I spared a moment to mentally kick myself again for being so complacent, then I vaulted over the bench and was at their table in an instant, knife at the ready. A second passed before I realised that my siblings were not with me. I knew how I would find them, if I was foolish enough to turn and look behind; each one of the nine would be collapsed, dead, dying, out cold, whatever, it didn’t matter. Fear suddenly clogged my throat, and I desperately tried to swallow it down.
He was smirking. The bastard was smirking behind his steepled fingers, still sitting casually at his table, making it clear that it was his work. As if it wasn’t clear enough already. The ale. It was the only thing my siblings had consumed here that I had not. With a jolt I realised that the ale boy had not been looking at my breasts but at the guild symbol displayed on my neck, clear as fucking daylight. He was definitely the one who brought their refills. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I backed away, and was surprised when the men let me. Risking a look sideways, I saw that my Uncle was no longer behind the bar. I did not think I nor anyone else would be seeing him again. I felt faint. I had been so arrogant, so foolish. The warm fire suddenly felt stifling. I could feel the sweat drip down my forehead, along my spine, and off my nose.
I wavered, then stumbled down to one knee as his smile grew. He extended his finger with a languid flourish, pointing behind me. As my legs weakened and I slumped sideways to sit on the floor, I knew exactly what he was pointing at: my favourite honeywine that had been sitting on the bar, unstoppered, just begging to be taken.
He stood and ambled slowly towards me as I tried to scramble to the door. When I found I could not properly control my legs, I tried to push myself to the door with my left arm whilst my right swiped and slashed at him weakly with my blade. To this day I don’t know why I bothered – I knew there was no escape. I suppose every cornered animal has some instinct that it must obey when it is dying. My instinct was to kill, maim, hurt. My instinct was to make the bastard pay.
As I lost all strength and my body hit the floor, limbs too weak to support it, he sunk down onto his heels to take up my entire field of vision. That self-satisfied smile seemed to fill my whole mind with its betrayal.
“Goodnight, darling” Markas purred, and I fell into blackness.
The criticism of this, for those who did not follow the link to the reddit post, was that there was not enough description of the tavern and its atmosphere. I totally agree with this, and it’s pretty poor work on my part considering the original prompt was the room itself.
Having said that, the idea of the prompt is to go with the flow. My flow went in the direction of a story, and eventually got so long that I didn’t feel I could go back and add much description in.
Once again I’ll put this in the “gaining experience” category and hope to do better next time.