They left the ship via a gangplank and onto the docks where they stepped onto a wide, wooden pier. Here he could get a half decent view of the town.
                Popping was quite a busy place. It was never the active hive of Dawnrose or Ascocen, but it was a stopping point between the two, therefore perfect for those who travelled via ship, meaning the port was often busy and so the many taverns lining the seafront were often filled with raucous laughter and singing.
                From the seafront, Popping looked quite pleasant. As well as salt water and fish, the aroma was suffused with all manner of spices and scents being sold for a quick few coins before continuing to greater cities in the prospects of a tidy fortune. The buildings from here were mostly white stucco with visible thick pine supports and grey slated roofs and all of varying sizes. The taverns and stalls stretched for quite a while in both directions, but straight ahead, the stone path moved uphill towards a more residential setting of fine looking houses. At its highest point, a large white watchtower rose elegantly. Simeon had forgotten what home looked like.
                This stranger guided him past a fish stall that reeked of rot, passed the Happy Sailor and Ol’ Maggie’s whorehouse until he reached a much quieter establishment. It looked good on the outside, one of the few brick buildings on the waterfront, and it even held a potted poppy on the windowsill, the town’s namesake.
                Inside, the floor was a smooth sandstone. A bar stood at the opposite end of the room and seating was set into alcoves to allow patrons a little more privacy. The place was draughty, and the stench of vomit and stale food was minimal in here, which probably made it the most to-do place in this town.
                The stranger nodded towards the lass behind the bar before taking a seat at a place at the furthest corner from the entrance. Simeon immediately didn’t like that. He’d dealt with enough characters in his time to know when he was being drawn into potential danger.
                “Don’t worry about our little friends, they’ll be telling no tales,” he winked as the barmaid planted two drinks on the table before them. The stranger grabbed his immediately and took a swig. Simeon’s hand went nowhere near it. The stranger took the tankard from his mouth and frowned for a second. “Oh, and don’t worry about paying, I’ve got this.” Simeon still didn’t touch it. But it looked good and frothy and very tempting. He hadn’t touched a drop of anything ale-like since his last stop in Highwater about a week ago. Far too long.
                “Sorry but I don’t even know you.” Simeon leant back on his chair, hand right next to the mug. But he kept his eyes on this man. He was somewhat tall, a wave of black hair fell to his shoulders and down his face, nearly hiding his squinting grey eyes. He wore fanciful clothes too, a long, blood-red tunic with black lace and a black, hooded cloak. Simeon hated people with hooded cloaks. They always looked ready to stab you in the back with some hidden weapon. Alas he saw no sign of a blade anywhere.
                The man sighed and blew the hair from his face. It fell right back on the left side of his nose. “A shame you do not recognise me,” this time Simeon frowned, eyeing him up once more. There were no distinguishable features, and he’d met too many people to remember everyone. Then the man pulled back one curtain of hair and revealed a long scar that began from the hairline near his temple to base of his jaw.
                “No...” Simeon’s mouth opened in an O. Amazing what a few years and long hair could do to a man. Last time they’d met, he had been youthful and loved to slice his hair short with his own dirk. But it couldn’t be. Last time they’d worked together... “No!” he repeated. He couldn’t think it, let alone say it. He went to get up but the man clamped a hand on Simeon’s arm near his tankard which fell, spilling the amber fluid across the table and onto the floor.

The End

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