Kesswell-2: Grand Opening

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Arron's View
In the alternate world of Kesswell, Nam-Gal has become a bar owner. After months of preparation he is ready to open. Problem is some do not want to see the bar open and are willing to go to extremes to prevent it. Nam-Gal must not only to open his bar, but to keep himself in one piece during the process.

Submitted: September 23, 2015

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Submitted: September 23, 2015

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Grand Opening

By

Wilber Arron

 

The building was finally completed. It had taken four months to build it, and months more to furnish it, and a few months beyond that to get the beer and liquor brewed, but now it was ready. I could still smell the odor of pine sap coming from the wooden floor that less than a year ago was growing in the nearby Atlas Forest; a two day ride north from the City State of Kesswell.

“Everything is ready to go, boss,” Druallen told me.

“Good,” I said. “It should be a fine Grand Opening.” It was a day long coming. It felt good to finally have a home. The first home I ever had since the irregularities of N-Dimensional space-time flung me to Terra Nova and the City-State of Kesswell.

Druallen, my Mountain Troll bartender and brewer, came in behind me. The steps and porch protested more loudly as his five hundred pounds of muscle walked up. The three feet wide and eight foot tall doorway barely accommodated his green bulk.  He looked back behind us when he walked in then leaned over and tried to whisper, “Boss, the usual guys are standing in front of the butcher shop.”

“Yes I know,” I said quietly. “It’s the same two that have been watching on and off since we finished building. Now that we are ready to open I am expecting an unfriendly visit from the Innkeepers Guild.”

I pushed aside the swinging doors. The new wood floor creaked just like the steps did as I walked into my bar. The inside was a large open rectangular room. To the right as you walked in was a bar made of the finest stained oak arranged in a U shape around the entrance to the kitchen. From there I smelled the fresh apple and cinnamon scent of Maria’s apple porridge being made for breakfast. It made my empty stomach growl louder.

Besides the bar, there were twenty tables with four chairs around each also made out of oak located against the right wall and front half of the building, and two dozen oak bar stools surrounding the bar. In the center of the room was a heavy wooden staircase that went upstairs to the second floor that housed the future bordello and my own personal room. To the left of the staircase was nothing but bare wooden floor. I had special plans for that part of my bar; plans I couldn’t let people know about yet. Next to the staircase, there was one special table made of almost black mahogany. One padded chair with its back to the massive staircase was evident. That was my chair where I would sit, do my account books in peace, and take care of my many businesses. There were two other chairs at the table for any so-called guests. The back of the chair was against the staircase so miscellaneous pointy objects could not easily find their way into my back.

So much for the Grand Tour; I now had a new business to run. I went over to examine the bar and the various beers, ales, and liquors arranged in neat order just the way Druallen wanted it. I set down on one of the bar stools. As soon as I did, Maria brought in a steaming bowl of her apple porridge and placed it in front of me. As if all my problems could be solved so easily. Druallen took his place behind the bar. I didn’t expect much business this early in the morning but I think he was as anxious to start as I was. He was proud of the alcoholic beverages he made, and he should be. They were strong, tasty, and left you with a warm feeling in your gut.

I had managed to swallow two spoons of thick oatmeal before the swinging doors opened and in walked the two men from across the street. They came over and stood on either side of me. I continued to eat my breakfast pretending not to notice the intrusion.

“Nam-Gal, we want to talk to you about your new bar,” the taller one said. He was wearing a full length gray coat under which I could see the bulge of a short sword on his left side. The shorter one was trying to be more threatening wearing a brown flaxen doublet and trousers and carrying his long sword openly and rigged for a fast draw. I could tell neither man put much stock in personal hygiene from the dank, smelly odor that followed them in.

“So, talk,” I told them without turning around.

“You did not ask the Guild’s permission to open this bar,” the shorter one spat out looking toward Druallen. “You also did not ask their permission to operate a bordello, and you certainly did not ask permission to employ this thing as your brew master.” 

It took Druallen a few seconds to digest his words. Trolls are mentally a bit slower than humans. Then the skin above his eyes turned a darker green. That was a sure sign that the first official activity of the morning was going to be a bloodbath.

I held up my right hand to motion Druallen to back-off for a moment before turning in my seat slowly as not to raise alarm with my two guests. I then stood up and faced the shorter man.

“I did not ask permission from anyone to build or open my bar and bordello, nor do I care if the Innkeeper’s Guild likes it or not,” I said coldly. Then I added, “As for whoever works for me, that is nobody’s business but mine. You two should go now.”

The taller one motioned toward the front of my bar. Out in the street were four men dressed in cloth armor carrying short swords and bucklers. They were using the small shields to push people back that were getting close to my porch. From their heavily tanned faces and sandy colored dress, I could guess they were not from around here. No doubt they were unemployed guards from one of the many caravans that cross the Southern Desert trade routes to get to Kesswell. All four hired to put me out of business. I wasn’t going to allow that. I turned back to Druallen and told him, “Do what you want.”

I walked toward the front door. As I swung the doors open, I heard a couple of muffled screams and loud popping noises as I casually walked onto the street. I strolled up to the nearest figure that turned to face me and went into a guard position with sword out and buckler up to block any attack I made.

“Leave now,” I said politely keeping my hands away from my swords.

The man looked confused. He was expecting my attack, not a conversation. His three friends were also starting to close. I decided to try again.

“I can tell you are not from Kesswell,” I said louder so all four could hear me. “I am Nam-Gal, former Troop Captain and Redum of Duke Arnascio’s army. I am also a newcomer to Terra Nova. You know what that means?”

The moment I said newcomer, the figure in front stopped moving and started to back up. His three friends also stopped dead in their tracks.

“Yes, you do know,” I said with a broad smile. “You know my reflexes are much faster than yours. You know my agility is much better than yours, but did you also know before I came to this world I trained for five years in Kenjutsu, and Inshin-ryu karate? You don’t know what these words mean so I will explain. I studied sword fighting and unarmed combat with the best teachers back where I lived. I was very good which is why I have remained alive and thrive here. You four have a choice. You can stay here and die, or go back to whoever paid you to keep people out of my bar and live. Now what’s it going to be?”

I stepped back and turned so I could now see all four of them. Don’t get me wrong fighting four people at once is pushing it even for my skill level, but these guys were uncoordinated. I could see they had poor fighting stance and sloppy technique. They were no experts and they certainly hadn’t fought together before. I caught a nod by the one closest to me that was acknowledged by the other three. Like the two inside, they didn’t get the message. The closest one charged toward me.

Obviously he never saw anyone who practiced the fast draw technique called Iajutsu. I side-stepped the charge at the last second and drew my katana in one swift blinding motion; the mage hardened blade cut through the unprotected neck before he even knew I drew. The head went rolling down the street like a kicked soccer ball. The headless torso carried forward under its own momentum gushing blood from the still beating heart before collapsing like a pile of rags into the dirt. I then pulled back quickly to face the other three who were getting ready to charge themselves.

“Anyone else?” I yelled out.

I saw the other three rent-a-thugs look at each other for a few seconds before realizing discretion is the better part of valor in this case. They slowly backed down the street keeping their fronts firmly fixed toward me. I felt the cold stares of about fifty shopkeepers, shoppers, citizens, and vagabonds fixed squarely on me. I now had the attention of everyone on the street. I was planning on announcing my bar’s opening with a formal announcement, not a street brawl. No sense wasting the opportunity however. I cleared my throat and spoke loudly.

“I wish to announce my bar is now open for business. Besides drinks, I also serve food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Shortly I will open a bordello. All services will be first rate, all services will be priced fairly, and all services will be paid for by coin up front. You are all welcomed to visit my bar to see for yourselves. The second thing I wish to say is that anyone who tries to stop my customers from entering my bar will end up like that dead asshole in the street. Thank you for your attention.”

Hearing no questions or objections, I walked back into the bar as if nothing happened. As I came through the swinging doors, I saw Druallen coming through the back door that leads outside to the flush privies I had built. I saw no sign of my two former guests. I chalked it all up as a necessary business expense and went over to the bar to finish my apple porridge.

The funny thing was we actually got two customers for breakfast and five customers for lunch. That is not great business, but it is a start. All agreed the food was great and a few of the more serious drinkers tried Druallen’s ales and beers. They said they were some of the best in town. I was happy; Druallen was ecstatic. I knew it would take months to get a good steady clientele going, but you have to start somewhere. I had more than enough money from my other businesses to cover me that long.

No one else tried to interfere with my business for the rest of the day and things passed quietly. We had about a dozen people for dinner and a few for drinks. It was the middle of the week so only the die-hard drinkers or people with money floated in. I was sitting in my chair playing solitaire when I saw two members of the watch come in carrying long swords, shields and wearing whole body chainmail.  They came inside, looked around and then stepped back. Behind them walked in a short portly man wearing a white shirt, red jacket, and black trousers; around his thick neck hung a golden medallion and around his protruding waste the red sash of a Guildmaster. I had been expecting him.

“Master Enricci,” I called. “Please come over and sit at my table.”

The portly man waddled over and sat down directly across from me. “May I interest the Master of the Innkeeper’s Guild in some of my ales?” I asked.

“I’d like a pint of your dark brown ale,” he said in a high pitched voice.

I called over to Druallen to bring a pint. I observed proper etiquette with a Guildmaster. You didn’t discuss business until refreshments were served. Although I wasn’t afraid of Enricci or the two guardsmen he hired for security, I wasn’t going to insult him either. Like most Guildmasters, Enricci didn’t get where he was by saying please and thank you. He had string of bodies in his background like most successful businessmen do in Kesswell. Druallen brought over the pewter stein of ale and placed it gently on a folded napkin in front of Enricci who didn’t seem to care he was being served by something that resembled the Incredible Hulk from my old comic books back home. I waited until he spoke up after his second swallow.

“Quite good, Nam-Gal,” he said. “I suppose you wouldn’t think of selling the Troll.”

“He isn’t mine to sell,” I said. “He is free like the other thirty Trolls that are now at the farms by the Alos River crossing. They are supplying me with beer and liquors, and I pay them well in gold. However, please feel free to make him an offer if you like.”

Enricci smiled slightly, “No, I already know of your special relationship with the Trolls; although why they trust you is beyond me. They trust no human.”

“Maybe because I saved the first twelve of them from being sent to the mines as slaves,” I reminded him. “I set them up on farmland no one else wanted, I buy their beer and spirits at a fair price, and most importantly, I don’t treat them like mindless barbarians. Loyalty is a nice thing, you should try it sometimes.”

That last comment rolled right off Enricci’s back. The only loyalty he understood was counted in his purse. He then stood up and learned over the table and spoke in a low tone as not to be overheard. “Nam-Gal, I am Master of my Guild. As Master, I must enforce discipline among my members. As a military man and former Captain of the Guard, surely you understand this. Theold and Baldwin were members of my household staff. I just can’t allow you to kill my associates.”

I got up and likewise, leaned across the table, and spoke in a similar hushed tone. “Then you should have told them I don’t take threats well. I would have also told them it is a poor idea to insult a Troll.”

Enricci closed his eyes and let out a deep breath. “Those were not my instructions. I told them to tell you your business operates against the orders of my Guild.”

“Didn’t come out that way,” I told him. “Now if you have a proposal to make, I am willing to hear it.”

“Very simple proposal, join the Innkeepers Guild,” he said sitting back down in his chair and rubbing his back. “I wish we could talk someplace private; bending over makes my back sore.”

It was the exact proposal I expected and I had my answer already.  “I am not going to join any guild for three reasons,” I told him. “First off, I call no one Master, not you, not the Chancellor and not even the Duke. Second, if I join your guild, or any other guild, then I also have to adopt your friends and your enemies as my own. Frankly, I do not like some of your friends, and I do not hate some of your enemies. I reserve the right to pick and choose my own. Finally, if I do side with you, then my bar becomes off limits to your enemies. That hurts business. No, I am going to remain neutral, stay out of your disputes, and keep my bar open to everyone. It makes more sense economically not to preselect your customers. Anyone with coin can come in here and drink safely, because if anyone starts trouble, I will end it.”

Enricci looked at me impassively for several moments. He didn’t say a word only drummed his fingers loudly along the top of the hard wooden table. He took a large swig of ale then said in a normal voice. “Most of us band together in guilds to protect ourselves from larger problems. Neutrality is a luxury only the rich or powerful can afford and I am not sure you have the strength, money, or power to do it.”

“That may be,” I replied. “My mind is made up however. I intend to remain neutral and independent. No disrespect intended.” I let it go at that. 

“So be it,” Enricci said and got up. “Thank you for the ale, Nam-Gal.”

“Master Enricci,” I said as he turned to walk away. “I do not wish conflict with you or anyone else in Kesswell, but if my hand is forced, it will get messy for everyone.”

“Indeed it will,” Enricci answered and then motioned to his guards to follow him out the door.

That was plain enough for both of us and not exactly unexpected. I went over to the bar and motioned Druallen to come over.

“Trouble boss?” he said in his booming voice. Never ask a Troll to whisper, waste of time.

“Yes and soon I think. I am going to go upstairs and get ready. Send the kitchen staff home, and have Andrew ride out to the farms and tell the others there may be trouble. Also, fill all the sand buckets and bring them in here. If I was going to attack this place, I would use fire and oil. I assume that is what Master Enricci will do.”

I quickly climbed the wide wooden stairs to the second story. I took out a large iron key and opened the door to my room. Inside, at the ready, were my personal equipment including the toys I brought back from my temporary visit back to Earth two years ago. It took me about fifteen minutes to get dressed in my ceramic reinforced Kevlar padded chainmail, picked up my compound hunting bow and two dozen razor blade sharp hunting arrows in a quiver, then I put a few more toys up my sleeves and in hidden pockets for insurance. With my katana (long sword), wakizashi (short sword), and tanto (dagger), I was ready for battle. When I came downstairs, the sight of me in full battle gear was enough to get the attention of the more sober patrons. They took off in a hurry.

I put the bow and quiver down on the bar and waited. A few seconds later Druallen walked in from the kitchen carrying his seventy pound war club and his crossbow. The half inch diameter quarrel tip was made out of crude iron, but with at least 500 pounds of tension behind it, it would go through a horse and rider. “He may not come tonight,” he bellowed out.

“True,” I agreed, “But Master Enricci has a reputation for doing things quickly, quietly and efficiently. He’s not going to start anything in person; that would be too hard to deny later. It will take him about ten minutes to walk home, another half an hour to gather his forces, and about ten minutes for them to get back here. We have about ten minutes to wait.”

“Andrew is already gone,” Druallen said. “I told Roberto to guard the stables, and I put Martin outside to keep watch. I told him to stay out of sight, but run in if something happens.”

The last item was a good idea that I missed. “Then that is about all we can do. Next move is Enricci’s.”

The waiting for trouble to start is actually worse than the trouble itself. You try to imagine everything your opponent can do, and then figure your countermove. I went through a lot of scenarios in my head ranging from tossing a bottle of lamp oil on the side of the building to a coordinated attack on multiple sides of my bar like an assault on a fortress. When it came it was actually quite simple. The first I heard was Martin shouting from outside, “Nam-Gal! men with torches and bows.”

I started to head toward the front door, and then thought that was stupid. I stopped and was glad I did for a second later someone ran up the porch stairs and tossed a bucket of oil on the wooded floor. A few seconds later another came in and threw a torch on it, setting the floor alight. The guy with the oil bucket got away clean, the guy with the torch got my first arrow through his chest. He fell on the lit oil and became a human torch.

“Sand,” I called out knowing not to put water on an oil fire. Druallen handed me three buckets of dry sand that I threw on the floor putting most of the fire out except for the arsonist. He continued to burn like a match stick but didn’t move or scream so I guess my arrow killed him outright. The only bad thing was the odor of burnt meat mixed with a sweet pungent smell coming from the corpse flambé, made my stomach turn. If you ever smelled burnt human flesh, you will never forget it. A bucket of water on the flaming corpse ended that part of the attack.

“Stay here and kill anyone with a torch that comes through that door,” I told Druallen who was only happy to comply. Combat to Mountain Trolls is like raw steak to hungry Pit Bulls; just don’t get in their way.

Since the obvious move would be to charge out the front door, where I am sure at least two or three bowmen waited for me to do something that stupid, I instead, ducked out the back kitchen door that leads to the underground ice house. That door is partly hidden from view by the privies. I peeked out the door and saw no one outside. I dove through the doorway outside, rolled once, and came up beside the refreshing smell of the privies. No arrows went whistling pass my head. Nothing was happening in the back of my bar.

I slowly made my way toward the side of my building. As I poked my head around, I could see half a dozen wooden arrows stuck in the wall near the second story. One was right under the window for my room. Each arrow held a small ball of burning material; I assumed it was tar pitch. The fires were not catching. That is because the attackers forgot newly cut wood does not burn well. Nor does it burn quickly when the outside is covered in two layers of thick whitewash mixed with potter’s clay. For now I ignored the arrows. I looked into the packed dirt street and saw only people leaving the area, no one with bows or swords. I got down low and moved around the side of the building below the height of the windows. As I approached the front I saw a body on the ground. An arrow was sticking out of the back of his head. I got close enough to see in the reflected torch light from the street, it was Martin.

I was certain he was dead. I felt the temper rising in my blood. My plan hadn’t included any of my staff getting killed. I was now pissed. I notched an arrow and stepped from behind the building to the side of my front porch. I saw two men with bows talking to a large guy holding a long sword. Bowmen first, I knew. I drew back and fired. The first arrow went through the chest of the nearer bowman hitting with a sickening squishing noise. I heard a grunt before the force of the arrow flung him back like a thrown rag doll. I quickly notched a second arrow, by now both men were turning to face me. I took an extra second to steady myself and insure my aim. The arrow went straight into the chest of the other bowman who had just noticed me. He must have been wearing some kind of armor because I head a distinct metallic clang when the arrow hit and it did not go all the way through. That bowman managed to stagger about six steps before he too collapsed. By then I had a third arrow notched and took aim at the now fleeing swordsman. I aimed low this time. I wanted a prisoner and he seemed to be in charge. I aimed at the right leg and let the arrow fly hitting him in the back of the left knee. I cursed myself for getting too excited and missing my mark. I heard a huge growl from the man who fell to the ground holding his leg.

“Druallen, outside!” I yelled at the top of my lungs and ran over to the stricken swordsman. He saw me coming and made a feeble attempt to raise his long sword. I used my bow to knock it aside then put a front snap kick squarely in his face. He went flat on his back like he was clubbed. 

I did a quick look around and saw no one else. I knew there had to have been others, but none of them hung around. I grabbed the swordsman by the collar. He was heavy. I managed to get him about three yards before a huge green hand came over my head and picked the man up like a twig.

First thing I did was extinguish any remaining lit fire arrows from my building. A pail of water took care of that. I then recovered my arrows out from the victims. They came from Earth and it was a real pain to get replacements. By the time I got back inside Druallen had put the swordsman on a table in the kitchen and then got a roaring fire going. I put the storm doors up on the front door and got some flat irons and knives glowing cherry red. I then put a rag in the swordsman’s mouth so his screams wouldn’t be heard, and he couldn’t bite off his tongue. As the man said in the movies, I was going to go medieval on this guy. I knew Enricci had sent these goons to burn my place, but did he act alone? I wanted to be sure. Also I was just pissed off they killed one of my employees and wanted payback.

The details of my treatment to my prisoner are best left unspoken. I have never been squeamish in my life both here and back on Earth. What I did to this guy was nothing unusual in Kesswell, but before you judge this place, it is no worse than 15th Century Florence when it comes to the darker side of the social graces. Nevertheless, I reserve this kind of behavior only for those people that cause me personal harm, and killing one of my hired help falls into that category. Trolls don’t care about these things either, they are past masters at getting the information they want by any means necessary. The result of the exercise was I had all the information I needed within half an hour. It was Enricci alone who paid for the attack and ordered my place burned down. Martin was killed because he was shouting the alarm. That was all I needed to know. The attacker, the former Reynold son of Alkin, joined both Theold and Baldwin on their journey down to the Alos River into the vast uninhabited desert. No great loss felt for any of them.

Once the disposal chore was completed and the mess cleaned up, Druallen went to his house in the back of my property for the night. I put out all the lights then sat alone in the dark with a pint of pale ale and took stock. My plan was mostly going as I anticipated. I felt bad about Martin, but I could easily get another go-for for the bar. The immediate danger was over. Enricci’s people had performed a completely amateur attack and screwed up royally. I wasn’t counting on them doing it again. It was my turn to say thank you to Master Enricci. I needed to do something that will hurt him badly, yet not put him or his family in any physical danger. If I was to kill or hurt him and his family, that would not go down well with the other guilds. My action would also have to be such that it would be perfectly understood by him and the other Guildmasters.  You never show weakness in Kesswell; it is like showing blood to a Great White Shark.

My first stop the next morning was the tar pits outside town. Here tar seeps up from below the surface just like the Labara Tar Pits back in California. I had managed to set up a crude distillation column three years ago that would heat the tar and then condense the vapor given off into a petroleum liquid like kerosene. The crud left over I use as fuel for the tar boiling pots, or to heat the glass furnace, or to sell to the Duke to cover his dusty streets. Muldrin del la Rusa, the manager I hired, lives at the site with about a dozen workers. They produce about 300 gallons of lamp oil a week. I made my first fortune selling it. It was a hell of a lot cleaner, brighter, less smoky, and cheaper than candles. I gave away the lamps that were built much like the kerosene emergency lamps my family had when I was a boy. I took two gallons of lamp oil and some glass globes. Lastly I rode over to the Troll farms and talked to Frodallen, head of the Troll Colony, to explain what I wanted. He thought it was funny.

I put up a sign on my bar the next morning saying it was closed for today. I kept the place boarded up tight. To all casual observers, including those paid to watch my establishment, nothing much appeared amiss. The floor hadn’t burned much so all I had to do was scrape off the char and re-varnish. No one thought anything about what was happening until about an hour before sunset. Then the fun began.

“Trolls,” I heard someone call out from across the street. “The Trolls are coming.”

I got up and removed the storm doors that protected the open front door and waited. One by one a line of fifteen large green mountain Trolls walked down the middle of the street in single file. There were ten male and five female Trolls.  All were carrying war clubs and crossbows. All wore little more than a large loin cloth around the middle. For the females this meant their huge breasts hung down like ripe watermelons. While spectacular to look at, slime green was never my color for romance. The street in front of my bar emptied out like in a Road Runner Cartoon. All fifteen mounds of muscle walked up my front steps which creaked so loudly I thought they break. As soon as the last one was inside, I greeted them as honored guests.

“My friends,” I called out loud enough to be heard outside. “I wanted all of you to come today to see the fruits of your labors. You have been growing grain, malt, hops, and raising cattle for my bar, and I wanted you to see what I do with them. One of your kinsmen has made the best beer, ale and liquor in town and Maria my cook has made roast beef and chicken. Enjoy yourselves, please.”

That was a request I didn’t have to make twice. The Trolls started drinking and eating with gleeful abandon. Fortunately, I had stocked up on large quantities of meat and drink for their meal. Maria and her staff had been cooking all day for this event. I sat at my favorite place and observed a growing crowd of spectators and curiosity seekers accumulating across the street. First the town’s people, then the City Watch were all staring though my windows. Most didn’t know if they should be afraid or not. One thing for sure, no one was going to come in to crash the party. That’s what I was waiting for. I got up and walked back into the kitchen. Inside was Roberto, my stable keeper, who was dressed up exactly like me. He went back to take my place while I ducked into a walk-in pantry room, got dressed in my black night work clothes, picked up my equipment, and snuck out the back.

I went over the back fence with some difficulty and moved quietly down the streets until I came to the end of town. All the locals were indoors eating, drinking, or whatever, or they were watching the show outside my bar. The point was they weren’t watching me. There were no city walls in Kesswell except for Old Town and the privileged few who lived there. Once you get away from the streets and torches, it gets really dark because Terra Nova, the planet Kesswell is located on, exists in a lower energy universe than Earth. It has no moon and fewer stars. The only real night light is the small red binary that orbits our orange star maybe half a light year away. It is bright enough to operate the Light Intensifier (LI) goggles I brought back from Earth two years ago.

It was a simple matter to circle around out of sight until I came up north of town. The north of Kesswell is where the stockyards and warehouses are kept. With the prevailing southern dry wind off the desert, it was easy to know when I was near the stockyards with its ‘Ode de manure’ that blanketed the area. I was interested in two particular warehouses in a single complex. It took me about half an hour to find them in the dark even with the LI goggles. The rectangular compound was guarded by only two goons. Each walked a set piece route around two sides of the complex. They were easy to deal with. I was feeling in a good mood, so all I did was knock them cold and then tie them up with pieces of their own clothes. Then I had the place to myself.

Once inside the complex, I quickly move around the structures looking for storage areas of combustible materials like grain, linen, wood and liquors. That’s where I placed the oil filled glass globes to cause the biggest fire possible. I then set rag fuses to give me about five minutes before anyone would notice the pending conflagration. Using flint, steel and some straw I set light to the fuses and then ran like hell. It took me about an hour to retrace my steps back to the rear of my bar. By the time I got back, the party was still going strong. There was also a growing orange glow on the horizon from the north of the city. I dressed back into my party clothes, replaced Roberto in my chair and proceeded to eat and drink with the best of them until just before dawn.

It was going on noon and by now the cleanup was almost done. A good scrubbing of the floors and walls around the bar had gotten rid of most of the remains of last night’s festivities as well as the smell of ammonia. Trolls are not too particular on where they go to relieve themselves. Everyone had a good time, and even I still felt a little buzz in my head. I told my staff we would be closed tonight, but would open tomorrow for Wensintide, when the workers get paid for the week. That is the busiest night for the bar business.

I was checking over my drawing while munching on some of Maria’s left over roast beef when two familiar looking guardsmen knocked at the door. I had been expecting them. After looking around for any others, I opened the doors for them to come in with their charge.

“Master Enricci,” I said with a broad smile, “how nice of you to return. I am afraid all I can offer is some left over roast beef and beer.”

“Not hungry,” he grunted. “I can still smell the left over’s from your guests outside in the street.”

“I’ll get to cleaning that up this afternoon,” I told him. “Now what can I do for you?”

“You can drop dead in the street,” Enricci answered without a hint of sarcasm. “However, I doubt that will happen so a quiet, private, conversation is all I want.”

I motioned him to the other side of the stairs. I picked up two chairs and carried them over for us to sit on.

“I got your message last night,” Enricci stated in the same low voice. “Was it necessary to burn down both my warehouses?”

“Turn about is fair play,” I quoted from Shakespeare. “Just because your goons don’t know how to start a fire doesn’t mean I don’t. Besides, I told you this would get messy, you didn’t believe me.”

“Well I believe you now,” he said looking around.

“No one about,” I said. “We can talk in private.”

“I only wish I could say that more often,” he mumbled.

I smiled openly and told him, ”As well I know.”

“Look, Nam-Gal, I cannot afford your anger, but at the same time if I back down on making you join the Guild, my position as Guildmaster won’t be worth a copper slug. I am prepared to compromise some, but I am not going to commit economic suicide for you without a bigger fight than we have now.”

I knew what he said was true. Kesswell was full of hyenas ready to pull down the old lion when he couldn’t bite anymore. This is what I had been waiting for. I hoped by now I’ve proven getting into disputes with me was just more trouble than it was worth. Now that we had the stick, it was time for the carrot.

“I understand your position and wish to make a proposal not only to you but the other guilds as well. You have said you don’t have a safe place to meet and discuss business. I have heard this complaint from other Guildmasters in the past. Suppose I could provide the guilds, merchants, and bankers with that service. It would be provided free of charge except for the normal price of food and drinks. In exchange, my bar remains neutral and off limits to the local infighting. As a neutral party, it will be safe for all sides to come here to discuss matters.”

Enricci looked surprised for the first time. He hadn’t expected what I said. Then he said in a normal voice. “I don’t see how you can guarantee your neutrality against the larger guilds like the Bakers, or Butchers.”

“You saw part of that guarantee last night. Unless you are going to get the Duke’s guard to come after me, I have the best army in town.”

I could see the realization hit Enricci. “So that is why you had the party last night. I was wondering, please continue.”

“That was the reason,” I lied.  At that point I rolled out the drawing I had previously prepared for him to see. “Imagine right here I set up a dozen tables with wooden walls on three sides and a ceiling. The entrance to each table will be behind thick wool curtains. Each table will be surrounded by crushed walnut shells for six feet around. The tables are far enough apart so conversations cannot be overhead, and if anyone tries to get close.  .  .”

“The walnut shells will give them away,” Enricci interrupted.

I nodded and went on. “This will be a private area of the bar that will only be open for meetings where you want to discuss business that won’t be overhead.  Each table will have a string you can pull when you want to order food and drinks. In order to overhear, any spy would have to get by me and Druallen. You could even post a guard at the door I will make sure no one comes in that doesn’t belong there. It will be far safer than having meetings in an open tavern where you can be overheard by half of Kesswell. Because it is private, anyone can meet with anyone else. Being neutral, all parties can meet, even enemies. It will be the perfect spot to settle disputes.”

Enricci took the paper and kept studying it closely. “This is an interesting idea, Nam-Gal, wish I would have thought of it.”

“It is an idea I have been working on the last couple of days,” I told him. “I figured it would give you ample cover so you would not lose face when I refused to join the Innkeeper’s Guild. It would also give me an addition source of income. Is it enough for your purposes?”

He thought about it and asked, “Can I borrow this drawing?”

I nodded my head since I knew what he was getting at.

“There is the weekly meeting of the Guildmasters’ Counsel tomorrow night,” he said. “I will present your proposal to them. If they agree, then that will give me enough reason to accept your offer. As a Guildmaster, even I must bow to the will of the Counsel. It is certainly a service all of us could use. The final decision belongs to them however. In any case that is the best I can offer.”

“I’ll take it,” I said without hesitation.

Enricci rolled up the drawing and eyed me closely. “It is remarkable how quickly you had this drawing ready to go.”

“Just an idea I came up with,” I answered. 

“Yes, of course,” he muttered, but didn’t look convinced. “I will send my man over with the drawing after the meeting. Until then I assume we have a truce.”

“Truce,” I repeated. “Now would you like a beer?”

 

That was two months ago. Business has been great.

 

The End


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