World's End Tavern

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

When three friends are tasked with paying for their night of drinks in advance, they must decide whose turn it is to buy, before they are kicked out forever.

Submitted: November 28, 2017

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Submitted: November 28, 2017




World’s End Tavern

The World’s End Tavern, at the edge of the world, grew louder as the sun began to set. Patrons crowded every corner, the barmaids waded through them as best they could, and each group of revelers was trying to outshout the others; the loudest of all, however, consisted of only three men – three regulars, who sat around a round table made of three different kinds of wood.

“Ye dun understand,” the red-bearded man in the middle said, “I’d never even met the damn cow!” He scratched his beard, shifting his gaze between his companions who sat to his left and right. “What was ah to do? Bah – forget it. Oi, lass,” he waved to a serving girl, “what’s takin’ so long? If ah wait any longer ah might get sober for tha’ first time in mah life. I don’t want tae experience that.” The girl gave him a confused look and walked off. The man frowned, “What was tha’?”

“Maybe she didn’t understand you,” the grizzled man to his right said calmly. Unlike the other patrons, who sported light and loose-fitting attire, his consisted of old leather gloves, dirt-caked boots, and a piece of rusted chainmail underneath a torn tabard with a coat-of-arms worn out to the point of being unrecognizable.

“Could be,” the third man said, picking at the strings of his lute. He leaned in, “Or could be that she doesn’t actually work here.” With a smirk, he motioned towards a table in the back where the girl was sitting and drinking. “Drink’s gone to your head, and you haven’t even sipped it yet, Harrow.”

“Good. Now there’s something other than air up there,” the ironclad man said.

Harrow leaned back in his chair with a frown. “Fuck the both of ya.”

The discussion was interrupted by the owner of the tavern, carrying a giant wooden tray full of mugs. The mugs were unevenly filled, and a couple of them spilled half of their contents on the way over, but no one seemed to care.

“Evening, gents. Good to see you, as always.” The tavern owner was a slim, dark-haired man who – despite being in his 40’s, looked no older than 25.

“There it is, tha second half. Now we can begin drinkin’ rightly!” Harrow grabbed a mug and raised it up, then brought it to his mouth. Before he could drink, the tavern owner interrupted once again.

“Ah, just a moment. Before you begin the merrymaking I’ll need you to pay up front.” He crossed his hands, eyeing the trio.

Harrow sat the mug back down on the table. “Wha’s this now? Pay before we drink? Ya dun trust us?” He exchanged looks with his companions. “We’re not thieves. And after the drinks, we couldn’t run even if we wanted to.”

“I-I believe you, I really do. But the tavern’s come down with some tough times. Nothing against you, really, but after the ruckus you lot caused last time I’d just like to know my coins won’t get misplaced… Or that I won’t have to retrieve them from unsavory areas.”

Harrow shrugged. “Alrigh’. Makes no difference t’ us.” He patted his shirt for his coin purse and then suddenly halted. “Wait,” he looked at his companions. “Whose turn is it to pay?” His gaze went to the man on his right. “It’s yer turn, Dussel, innit?”

The grizzled man twirled his mustache for a few moments, staring off into nothing. “No… No, I paid last time,” he waved them off. He took notice that the other men were staring at him and his eyes rejoined the group. “I think.”

“Talis?” Harrow turned his head towards the man quietly playing the lute.

“Nah, can’t be me. While I don’t remember everything, I do recall leaving with my pockets empty. Must’ve been me who paid.”

“Yer always leavin’ with yer pockets empty, ya jobless hack!”

“I do have a job,” Talis struck the strings of his instrument. “It just doesn’t pay very much – or very often.”

The tavern owner wiped the sweat off his brow. “Ummm…”

“We’re gonna need’a minute ‘ere, Eric. We can’t rightly remember what happened to us last time. Ya wouldn’t happen to remember which one of us paid last time, would ya?” Harrow scratched his beard in thought.

“No, but I do recall the damage you caused. Shall I recount it –“

“Nah, tha’s not important. Well, lads, seems we got wee bit of a problem. Eric, apologies, mate, but we’re gonna need some time to think. Can’t promise we won’t help ourselves to some of yer fine ale in the process, though.” He swiped the mug off the table coyly and sipped it. “But you’ve mah promise. You’ll get yer coin ‘fore we leave.”

Eric let out a sweaty sigh. “Alright,” he shook his head. “Alright, fine. But – I’m leaving in a few moments. Just leave the coin with my son, Eric,” he pointed to a bored kid in the corner who was picking away at his sleeve.

“You named your son after yourself?” Dussel spoke up.

“Aye. Just like my father named me after himself, and his father before him,” he puffed up his chest with his hands on his hips.

Talis raised a brow. “That’s a lot of Erics.”

“I’ll have you know it’s a pretty popular name.”

“Clearly,” Talis shifted his eyes left to right, turning his head to avoid Eric’s gaze.

“Anyway, I’ll leave you now. Enjoy your drinks and please, for the love of the gods, behave yourselves.” With that, he left them.

“Right, lads. Drink up. Figure we’ve got ‘round three hours to drink ‘fore he comes back to check on us – and tha’s not includin’ piss breaks.”

“No,” Dussel shook his head slightly before picking up a mug and sipping from it neatly. “We’re gonna pay the man. You’ve sipped his ale, I won’t break guest rights.”

“Guests? We’re payin’ customers! And if given tha chance, I’d like t’ go without the former in mah title.” Dussel didn’t respond. The group downed a couple of mugs in silence before Harrow spoke up again, belching to announce his return. “Alrigh’. But how tha hell do we decide?”

“A singing competition?” Talis smirked, his lute never leaving his breast.

Harrow slowly turned his head to face his companion and gave him a blank look before speaking slowly. “Put et away… Or ah’ll turn it into a stool.” As soon as he was done speaking he shot up from his chair. “I’ve got it!” Ignoring his comrades’ confusion and pleas for silence he scanned the room, humming. “Ye, lass!” He pointed to a young woman who had entered the tavern not long before and was bundled up in furs; the snows were a ways off, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from her garb. “Yes, ye. Come,” he waved her over. The woman hesitated, but seeing their table was the least crowded she maneuvered her way through the others as if she were trying to leave a maze. When she finally arrived the three men eyed her up and down, but only Harrow spoke. “Sit,” he grinned and handed her a mug of ale. “What’re ye called?”

The woman wrinkled her nose as she peered at the men. “Freya,” she said, adding many more e’s than she had in her name. “This one’s only half full,” she said. “Can I have another?” Before anyone got a chance to reply she snatched another half-filled mug and topped off her drink, guzzling it down. “It’s not bad,” she answered the unasked question, wiping her mouth. “Still tastes like piss-water, but fancy piss-water.”

Harrow broke his confusion slowly, and for the first time that night he spoke in a level tone. “Righ’… Well, knowin’ Eric… Tha’s probably his secret ingredient.” He shook his head, almost as if to shake off a spell. “What was ah sayin?”

“Care to share with us why you’ve invited a stranger to our table?” Dussel chimed in, glancing at the woman out of the corner of his eye.

Freya leaned in, sticking her neck out to leer at Dussel. “Why you so shy? Or are you paranoid?” She lowered her eyebrows and grinned widely.

“This ‘ere’s Dussel. He’s evading and avoiding currently, so t’ speak.” Harrow chuckled and patted his friend on the shoulder. Dussel didn’t share in their amusement. “And this here’s Caspian Lucius Pelagius Natalis,” he extended his hand towards Talis, who gave Freya a gentle smile and a small wave.

“Why’s one man got so many names?” Freya asked with a confused look and her mouth agape.

“Cos he’s a prick,” Harrow snickered. Talis shot him a sideways glance but didn’t answer. Harrow continued, “I’m kiddin’. Aye, he won’t tell us, but I’m convinced he’s the son o’ some lord, or maybe the king of some faraway land.”

Freya blinked quickly a couple of times as if she were wiping away some distant memory or a distracting thought. She turned her gaze to Harrow. “And you’re Redbeard, right?” Talis chuckled, observing the two.

“Ah might be,” he licked his teeth. “Dun really matter what ya call me. Pretty soon ah won’t be able to remember mah name anyway.” Laughing, he scooped up another full mug and emptied it. She raised hers in salute and emptied it as well. “This, lads,” he pointed at her with his mug, “is our solution.” Talis gave him an intrigued look, but Dussel’s was sharp – so he bought his temporary silence with another mug. “Drink up. We’ll all need t’ be a wee bit tipsy fer the next part. See, ah propose a challenge; each of us tells a story – ‘bout anythin’, and whoever has the most piss-poor tale loses and pays fer tha drinks!” He hiccupped.

“And this girl,” Talis contributed, “she’s meant to be the judge?”

Harrow nodded. “Aye,” he leaned on the table towards Freya, “but don’t ye go pickin’ Talis just ‘cause he’s tha prettiest.” Freya glanced at the young lute-player.

Talis tilted his head and rested his arms on his instrument. “My face is prettier. My voice is prettier. Sight or sound, you’d lose regardless. And, I’m pretty sure I could come up with something – anything more interesting, than one of your drunken tales.”

“Agreed,” said Dussel. “If you’re so intent on losing you might as well just fork up the coin now and avoid this charade.”

“Dussel… Yer soundin’ smart again. Not enough ale in yer system. Drink up…,” Harrow’s face melted into a strange expression. “Righ’, tha’s settled then.” Harrow downed a couple more drinks. “Mine’sh a short and schweet one.” He fiddled with his jerkin for a bit then continued with his tale. “A while back mah mates an’ ah were stayin’ at an’ ol’ woman’s bakery to wait out a storm. She fed us good, gave us warm beds – she didn’ e’en charge us. Everythin’ was great ‘till mah mates started disappearin’. Turns out, stuffin’ ‘er pastries with cheese an’ chocolates wasn’ good fer ‘er, so she wanted t’ try a differen’ flavor.” The group couldn’t decipher the last part of the tale; something to do with wrestling a witch and taking a sharpened spoon to the knee. Harrow didn’t seem to notice. First he finished his story, then his drink, and then he sat back in his chair, grinning proudly.

Freya made no response, so Talis cleared his throat. “Right. Well, I’ll gladly follow that wreck of a story.”

“None o’ yer fancy ballads!” Harrow said, half asleep.

Talis ignored him. “Mine is a simple story, cold and grievous,” he clenched his fist and brought it to his chest. He had a performer’s face and voice to match, and his movements exhibited that vividly. “My harrowing journey – it was one of survival. Many moons ago, I – hard to believe as it may be – was down on my luck. I had no companions to keep me company, no bed to keep me warm. I was denied all charity; innkeepers barred their doors, bakers and cooks gave their leftovers to cripples and bastards, and it never. Stopped. Raining.” Talis, whose head was down and eyes closed, opened one eye to peek at his audience and realized he’d drawn the attention of several other tables and patrons. He flashed a smile before starting up once again. “I turned to the only thing I could… My lute! And together, we made sweet, tender love… To the ears of everyone we played to. I caught the eye of many, but only one caught mine. She was a woman of considerable age difference, way past her prime – but I didn’t care; I was in love with what I saw. She was elegant and graceful, littered with gems and gold-lined silk. She approached me and told me that she was recently widowed; that the only thing she could find solace in was my music. After my grand performance she invited me to her manor and – nay, t’is not what you think. My intentions were not as impure as your minds. We danced, and I sang, and I played, and she danced. I kept her company throughout the night, and when morning came she didn’t kick me out. I was in love with my surroundings – and I began to picture myself within these walls, with the intent of moving from being a stranger to a native dweller. My gracious host didn’t seem to object and I became hopeful. Alas, that all crumbled and disintegrated upon her husband’s return. For you see, dear friends – her husband was not dead, he was away at work.”

No one gasped, so Talis did it himself. As wayward eyes looked around, he pressed on. “Aye, this fake widow was simply bored, perhaps displeased with her husband, and thus took advantage of my kind and generous nature. She lured me into her home and enticed me with fortune. I would have given up my youth for her – for her! But in the end, there was no fortune, no gold, and no manor. I fled through a window and ran down the rainy street, losing a shoe in the process. Thus, I left with fewer things than I came in with. I still think of them now; those scarlet rubies, those shining emeralds, the cold sapphires. Oh, and the gold! I’ll never see their likes again.” Talis brought his hand down from the top of his face to the bottom and regained his composure. Freya chewed something and stared at him, smiling and with drinks in both hands. Several of the eavesdroppers applauded and cheered, others swore, Harrow picked his teeth dryly, and Dussel stared expressionless.

The young bard fixed the hair that had fallen over his face during his performance and looked at his party, smiling as if waiting for approval. When no one budged, he broke the silence. “Right, Dussel. Now you try,” he grinned. “End us off with something nice and soothing, something that’ll put us to sleep.”

The older man didn’t give in to the young man’s taunt. He silently continued his drinking and only stopped when all eyes were on him. “Hhmph.” He placed the mug down and dried his ale-soaked mustache with leathery fingers. “Pass.”

Talis replied with a resounding ‘what’ and Harrow with an unintelligible grunt. “Dussel,” Talis straightened his posture, “all jokes aside this is a good chance for all of us to get to know you better. Come now, share something from your life; give us an insight into who you really are, ‘cause we sure as hell won’t get that from peering into your blank face and stone eyes.”

“I thought your story was done, Talis,” replied Dussel.

“It is?”

“Right. Then you can drop the performer act. I came here to drink, and I’m gonna drink.”

Talis tapped his chin. “But, that would mean you’d lose, right? I mean, Harrow’s story was brutish, on par with a fart more than a story – but it was a story nonetheless.”

“Ya think they sell sticks o’ fish ‘ere?” the red man said, squinting at a random spot in the wall somewhere in the back of the room.

“Surely it beats no story at all?”

Dussel waved his hand in front of his face to rid himself of wandering fruit flies. “That’s for the lady to decide.”

“C’mon! Tell us a war story. About heroes, fierce enemies, blood and –“

Dussel slammed his fist on the table. “You want blood?!” His eyes were bulging and he bared his teeth, only the bottom row being visible due to his mustache. Intentionally or otherwise, his face remained frozen that way for several moments, and Talis tried hard to stifle a laugh – to no avail. Dussel retreated back into himself and his head dropped down slightly. “You want a war story? Alright.”

Talis composed himself once again and folded his arms, and Harrow joined him in listening to his companion. “Three years ago, 22nd Numeridian Battalion… We marched for two and a half weeks in the mud, dirt, and manure across the Hussarian Hills. We heard them before we saw them – their drums. They’re made from leather you can’t find here, makes ‘em sound louder. That’s the point… They want to drown out yours. I was in the 7th rank, couldn’t see much, aside from their black flags. The front line never routs. Took a while for them to plan it all out, the weather was shit, and I was half sure we’d all be frozen by the time they’d decide to start. I gripped my shield, held it close and then we heard the clashing of metal… Knew it started.” Dussel flexed his right hand, looking down at it.

Harrow was about to make a remark, but Talis kept him silent.

“In war, the front line never routs – never the first. Most people think it’s the disposables that they stick up front, with spears in their hands. No… The front line’s not just for fighting. You want to intimidate your enemy, make him shit himself and trip over it as he retreats; so you look for the biggest, meanest, ugliest bastards you can find and you stick ‘em right up front. You don’t wash ‘em, and you don’t clean their weapons. Buggers I was with would even cut themselves, show you they liked it. They wanted you to know that if they caught you in the field, they’d make you like it too. So it doesn’t break, it fights, it fights and it either wins or it doesn’t.” Dussel too drew a crowd, though his was small in comparison and comprised of mainly drunks who had no notion of anything around them.

He sipped his drink, cleared his throat, and sipped it again. “Now, behind them you’ve got the high hopes – the second-chancers. If the front man falls they step into their place, continue where they left off. You hope that your front man did better than theirs, got through further, means you’ve got a better chance. Plus, if you win you can brag it was you who pushed their lines. The third rank… The third rank wants to rout, but it can’t. Too many bodies in front to step over, and too many bodies behind them pushing them forward – hyping them up. So they either brave it and fight, or cower and die the same. It’s the middle ranks – the ones that desert. They’re too far removed from the battle, can’t see what’s happening. So they imagine the worst possible scenario, and usually they aren’t far off from what’s really happening, but they can edge back ‘cause the soldiers behind them are green boys, and they can’t see what’s happening either. If nudging doesn’t work you convince them that it’s a lost cause. Commander can’t stop ‘em all once they decide to kick wind.

Talis interrupted him playfully. “What do they call ‘em… Tactical retreats?”

Dussel shook his head slowly, wiping his nose. “Just retreats. Tactical retreats are called in by the commanders; they’re precise, mostly efficient – and they do it with the intent to preserve their numbers. When cravens retreat it’s never a good time, never efficient – rarely successful in large bulks. That’s where you lose most of your men. They want to get away, so they drop their weapons and they go, and they think they can get away, but that’s why the cavalry’s kept in the back, away from the fighting unless you’ve got nothing else. They’re eager, their horses are rested, and they catch you… They always catch you.”

“That how you got all bruised and broken?” Talis eyed him. “Your battalion rout? Did the riders catch you?”

Dussel’s eyes reached Talis’ and he sat back in his chair. “No. I was in the bushes, taking a shit. Missed the whole battle. Got attacked by a bear on my way over here; whoresons got sick of forest paths, started using roads.

The young bard and the grizzled veteran stared at each other, then burst into laughter. Harrow mumbled some things and joined them as well. “A damn good story, eh?” Dussel smirked.

“It’s passable.” Talis returned the smirk.

“So,” they said, turning to Freya, “who won?” Their faces lost their smiles when they turned to find the rest of their mugs of ale empty, stacked in piles around the now sleeping woman. 

© Copyright 2018 Opheleus. All rights reserved.

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