Sarie slid her pewter cup of warm wine across the table. Marcus caught it before slipped over the edge of the wooden table, splashing a few drops onto his forearm. He cut his eyes at Sarie, questioning.
“Vile.” She grimaced and sat back in her chair, feeling little need for further explanation.
“I thought I told you these country vintages would be a little rougher on a refined palate such as yours.” Marcus wiped the rogue drops of wine from his arms and took a long drag from Sarie’s cup. He struggled not to make such a face himself.
“I am aware. That won’t stop me from trying to find something tolerable in this miserable wilderness.” She removed a small journal and a pencil from a cloak pocket. “The Bull’s Horn Inn, of Samerton. This is the Awrisian Province, correct?”
“I believe so,” Marcus replied, rolling his brown eyes. “You are still writing in that thing?”
“Red wine; indescribably terrible. Black ale; tolerable in comparison to the red wine,” she continued, ignoring Marcus and scribbling away.
“You are aware that there should be some positive reviews somewhere in that little book, or people might come to think you simply despise alcoholic beverages in general.”
“I am, and I would add such a review, if I could ever find anything in Tel’Aran worth tasting twice.” She shot Marcus a disapproving look as she tucked her journal away. “Besides,I have several glowing reviews documented for taverns in the Tradelands. As a matter of fact, I may recommend complete avoidance of this godforsaken land.”
“That’s a bit harsh.” Marcus considered drinking some more of Sarie’s wine, then shook his head and looked about. “Boy!”
A young boy of no more than twelve approached cautiously. “Yes, mi’lord?”
“Take this wine away and bring us back a couple more pints of the ale. Some more bread, as well. Do you have any fresh spit roasted chicken?”
“Yes,” the boy nodded, taking the cup. Marcus eyed the boy thoughtfully. The boy noticed and hurried off with the cup of wine, spilling a little on the inn’s wood shaving covered floor.
“Well?” Sarie asked, her arms folded across her blue thick-stitched vest.
“That’s one of them,” Marcus sighed. “Hands have been manicured recently, and he’s addressing everyone as if they were lords. He’s trying too hard to be a peasant, as if all peasants slink and stare at the ground all the time.”
Sarie curled her lips. “This is bad business. A bounty on children?”
“Us thieves and mercenaries have to make a living somehow right?” Marcus shrugged.
“The entire underground here stinks of Vau’kir. I can’t wait to get back to the middle of the world where we can just rob rich people and kill bandit lords that have overstepped their bounds.”
“I’d raise a cheer to honest work if the boy would hurry back with that ale,” Marcus complained, looking about. The boy was actually picking up their two pints of ale from the barkeep as he spoke.
The front door of the inn swung open just then. An unsavory looking fellow emerged, being led by an even younger boy. This one was ash blonde, no older than ten, and although he was too far away to tell, Marcus was willing to bet the boy had blue eyes.
“Ban!” The younger boy waved excitedly at their server, who froze with their pints of ale. “I found help!”
The fellow walking with him smiled a wicked smile, baring his yellowed teeth. “Tis your brother here, is it?”
The younger boy nodded eagerly.
“Come along, son. Yer brother’s told me a bit about yer plight, I’d be happy to help.” He beckoned at the serving boy, who had yet to move. “Come now,” he said, his voice rising.
“Many thanks, kind sir,” the serving boy stammered. “Shouldn’t we wait until morning? Seems to be getting a bit late for any serious travel…”
“Nonsense, ‘tis never too late to start a journey home.” The boy made no move to join the man, so he strode over to him, set the pints back on the bar, and grabbed the serving boy by his arm. The barkeep protested meekly as the man escorted his server towards the door, but the man put his free hand threateningly on his sheathed sword, silencing the fat man.
As soon as the door closed behind them, Sarie slapped a couple of coins on the oak table and stood. “Seems someone has beat us to them.”
“Of course,” Marcus complained. “In such a wonderful place as this, who would dare think we were the only ones intending to kill a couple of children for money.”
It was Sarie’s turn to roll her eyes as the headed toward the door.