Past the half-empty fruit stalls plagued by rot and fruit flies, merchants who’d opened their poorly supplied carts, a handful of people skittering about their faces heavy with brood and toil, urchins plotting after an apple or two, beggars urging the passers-by for a wee bit of clinking compassion, was a shabby-looking tavern with a half-hinged sign hanging above the door. ‘The Belching Boar’.
“The names keep gettin’ more cloddish,” he remarked pushing the door open as a pungent smell flared up his nostrils. The smell was worse inside – the ‘boar’ did more than just belch. He spied a young boy mopping the corner floor covered in vomit. The interior of the tavern was a single large room with fires burning on either end, the floors hardwood and the walls covered in white plaster. In the middle of the wall farthest from the door was the bar tended by a lone woman, aged and brooding like the rest of the townsfolk but with a stern look and a furrowed forehead. There weren’t many patrons around, a group of men skulking in the corner drinking away whatever sorrows plagued them.
Arhan placed himself at the bar reluctantly having been given the stink eye by the barmaid as soon as she spotted him. She still, however, asked after what he wanted to drink.
“Whatever’s the crappiest,” he shot at it, grinning. As she was pouring him their stinkiest, warmest ale, she was kind enough to point out that the inn next door wasn’t providing overnight lodging for travelers, signaling all too well that he wasn’t wanted. He told her he wasn’t planning on sticking around, but she was hardly convinced. When he told her he was there to help, she burst out laughing.
“What could a washed up brat like ye do fer us?” She said, arching her hip aggressively as she placed her fist on it. He told her he was a snake-charmer, a travelling jester, an ale-tester. She laughed harder at each attempt, less and less derisively. “There ain’t no savin’ this town.” She remarked once the laughter had subsided. She spoke of poverty, apathy, how their latest problem, the thief, was just that… the latest, but when he tried to pry open that topic, she simply poured him some more ale and focused on rearranging the shelves.
Meanwhile, the group of men in the corner had grown livelier once they’d liquored up. They were playing some card game Arhan was unfamiliar with but having expressed genuine interest, hoping the ale hadn’t made them violent just yet, only chatty, they offered to show him the ropes. They were ordinary folk. One said he was a miller, others were farmers, and one said he was a fisherman. One of them, however, said he was nothing. The look in his eyes said the same thing. Arhan noticed some scarred skin below his neck, running down his right arm. He was burned, he concluded, recalling that one of the three women he’d seen in the mansion had looked similar, but it was her face that had been scarred.
When Arhan asked him what was keeping his spirits down, the man merely grumbled but the lot around them laughed and told him to cheer up. They mentioned a fire that had burnt down the old town square and marketplace, how the man had barely been pulled out of it having been crazy enough to jump in to save his goods. The man’s scowl deepened and he chugged down on the last of his drink and left their company. Arhan thought he was disapproving of the story but when he wanted to sneak away and ask him himself, he was pulled into another round of the confusing card game, losing three times but earning some complementary ale just for participating. They had told him of the fire, how no one knew how it had started, and that at some point the Knights had strolled into town to investigate, called upon by the Lord, but soon enough, all talk had stopped and people were discouraged from wondering what it could have been. Most of them then agreed that it had to have been accidental. But when Arhan asked if anything else as strange had happened, they went back to beating his ass at cards.
He wanted to continue the fun, but he knew if he had any more, he wouldn’t be able to pass the next day headache-free. So, feeling woozy and definitely a few steps away from wasted, he left the tavern noticing only then that midday had already long passed. Night would come soon.
As the street vendors and shop owners were preparing to close down for the day, Arhan nonchalantly picked after what wasn’t in their line of sight. He’d got some fresh and dried fruits, dried macarel, some stale bread, and a bottle of something questionable he intended to share with his companion and headed for the shed where Cantrill would surely think Arhan had been idling at the tavern all day judging by the smell of alcohol that was wafting after him.
When he entered the shed, he almost tripped over his own feet, but he smiled it away.
"Monster-slayer, ye in?" he exclaimed, "I come bearin' gifts!"