Fetch's Tavern was nothing but a gutbucket filled with drunken men and serving wenches who devoted more time to serving themselves then they did drinks. Alora approached warily. She anticipated trouble. If she weren't so hungry she'd listen to her better judgement and just go back to the Livery and a dig a piece of fish out of her saddlebag and gnaw on it. The thought of hot food though was irresistable.
Fetch's looked more worn down than she remembered. The broken walkway in front was riddled with holes and the men that leaned against the railing had to do a complicated polka if they decided to move around.
Judging from their glassy eyes and too loud conversation, moving around holes big enough to snap an ankle was a minor inconvenience. Alora figured they must drop like flies near closing time.
The two story building was overflowing with people from upstairs to down but that didn't bother her in the least. One of the few advantages of being The Twiceborn was a path opened up for you in even the most crowded of buildings. She stepped up onto the porch and ignored the ominous groan of wood underfoot.
The effect of her presence was immediate. A large barn door of a man, arms pinwheeling for balance, disappeared off the edge of the walkway. He landed with a loud "whump" but was not missed in the ensuing ruckus of men as they scrabbled from her path.
"Oh,piss up a rope,it's The Twiceborn!" A florid-faced man in half-armor muttered. He fixed her with a baleful eye as he flattened himself against the clapboard. His companion, a bald little drink of water with a ratty kerchief tied around his pate, choked and sprayed ale from his mouth and nose as she walked by.
"How's it going,boys?" She asked as she moved easily through the chaos. She caught an eye here and there and grinned. Being The Twiceborn did have some perks. She knew that, now, because she'd spoken to them they'd feel obligated to go to Church. They'd squirm and sweat ale in the oppressive heat as they waited for a priest to scold them about having been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
She pushed open the tavern doors and went inside. The room was dimly lit by several torches mounted on the walls and covered by flimsy mantles. The air was soupy and blue-hazed. She breathed in a heady mixture of smoke, sweat,and grease that emanated from a tiny kitchen located behind the long oak plank that served as a bar. She wrinkled her nose at the gamy scent. She had just thought it crowded outside. Inside it was wall to wall.
Several men had pushed aside some of the small wooden tables and were busy throwing dice in a game she recognized called "stickers." Alora didn't know a lot about the rules but every time she'd seen it played the end result was usually a fight with everyone accusing the other of cheating. She made a mental note to be in her room before that happened.
The game had drawn keen attention from the tavern patrons, thirty or so men in different types of attire and bristling with weaponry. A few wore bits and pieces of armor and carried broadswords while others were attired in colorful caftans with shorter, oddly curved blades strapped to their sides.
Here and there she spotted the faces of farmers and merchants and, at first, the hodgepodge group confused her. Ahh yes , the auction. Behrin's flesh-peddling. She gave all of them a bright, hard smile.
All of the bustle and noise wound down into an unmoving silence. Thirty pairs of eyes settled on her. She quickly processed the information in each stare. Apprehension was good; fear better. A quick look away and a mumbled prayer better yet. The one thing she searched for and didn't find, much to her relief, was a challenge. To kill someone just to have a bowl of Fetch's watered-down stew would be Gareth's eulogy all over again.
She started resolutely for the bar. The call of the dice would win out over her arrival once she took a seat.
Fetch glanced up from his bottle polishing and had time to wonder which one of Brede's commandments said that he, Fetch Thorson, had to be tested like this. Right now. And by that. He wiped the damp rag across his perspiring face. He'd never been much of a knee-bender. He preferred to keep his doors open on Church day. It was all coming back around now.
"Well,speak of the devil." Jacky Kath said and tittered into his ale. Fetch scowled. Damned tosspot. Had a tab run all the way to back and beyond and no coin in sight.
"Shut-up and drink your ale." Fetch grunted. He watched the girl slide onto a stool at the end of the bar. Here he'd spent days wagoning in extra ale. Putting in more tables. Combing the town for more serving wenches. Basically running around with his dick in the dirt to prepare for the auction and she just sauntered in. And sat down.
By nightfall everyone who hadn't cleared out would be seeing toads in their tankards and goblins that nipped at their heels. He tilted half an ear towards the floor and heard the conversation start up again but it had a forced quality to it. He threw his rag down in disgust. Jacky Kath chortled.
He started the long trek down the bar towards her. Each step dragged like an iron weight. He stopped in fornt of her, arms crossed, and waited. The priests would knock on his door to a fair-thee-well tomorrow and demand an outrageous tithe. All the money he'd saved up to buy a few whores at the auction would be gone. Brede had one hell of a sense of humor.
Alora watched him approach and mentally drummed her fingernails on the planking. As if walking as slow as possible would keep him from finally reaching her. Fetch had always possessed the unique gift of being able to get under her skin.
"Whaddaya want?" His round face was flushed. It reminded Alora of an over ripe tomato about to burst in the sun.
"Food. Whaddaya got?" She replied. Every stiff movement of his face and body spoke of his hatred for her. She glanced around and suddenly felt hollow and defeated beneath his stern gaze.
The faces of Gareth and Sar rolled back on her like waves against a beach, pounding and pounding, and she suddenly didn't want to play the game any more. She wanted to come in, sit down, and be treated like everyone else. (I take it back). She sucked in an unsteady breath.
Fetch chewed on his lower lip. This was a fine how-do-you-do. She wanted food and that meant one bowl, one tankard, and eating utensil that would have to be burned. Shitfire. Why did this have to happen to him? He heard Jacky Kath as he tried to explain The Twiceborn to one of the men who'd come in off the sand flats.
"She's a devil. An imp. Ain't you got those out there in all that yellow dirt?"
"Hell yes, an imp! A demon. A devil's whore."
"Ah! A dybbuk! A shedim!"
"Damn tootin a shit whatever..."
Fetch made a mental note to toss Jacky out. Now the sand pounders would clear out too, thanks to Jacky's eager information. He looked at Alora and realized she'd heard every word.
"I got shaved beef on bread, if you want. And stew. Fresh baked bread. Jana made it this morning. Got a nice crust on it."
Jana could accompany him to Church tomorrow and pay a tithe as well. Misery loves company.