The faint twilight faded on the horizon as Gideon entered the city of Jerus. The young centaur still could not believe it: he had made it that far after fleeing his home and wandering throughout forests and mountains to reach a safe haven - a haven he hoped to find in that glittering city he had heard so much about in his journey. However, Gideon soon felt disappointed. Looking at the old buildings and stepping the rough dirt path reminded him that his chances of surviving - and prosper - were as reassuring as the degraded state of that street. “Perhaps the downtown area will not be as bad,” he thought. Nevertheless, his exhaustion forbade him of venturing into the city’s jolly heart. Every muscle of his longed for rest after weeks of intense traveling. His hoofs could not bear any longer the grievous pain they had been subject to by being on the run throughout nearly all his wandering. Nevertheless, he gathered all his strength, and taking a deep breath, the centaur walked up to an old tavern to his right.
Gideon observed the interior of the decaying inn. Unsurprisingly, it was nearly as bad as the exterior: the wooden floor was dirty and rough; the wooden walls had a plethora of cracks; the wooden tables, the wooden benches, and the wooden barstools looked like they were going to fall apart right where they stood. It was definitely a paltry tavern in every aspect.
“Hello there, stranger,” said the large bartender, breaking the odd silence reigning in that inn. “Welcome to ‘The Wyvern’s Nest’! What’s it goin’ to be? Ale? Wine? Beer, perhaps?”
“May your days be long, sir,” replied the young centaur with a faint smile, “but all I desire now… is to rest here.”
The bartender seemed surprised. “Huh, aren’t ye a polite one? Last time I heard one of ye horsemen speak like that - why, t’was fourteen years ago! He was one o’the last thousands o’ye kind that fled from the Civil War to our city!… Tell me, young man, ye didn’t come all the way from Fortaleza by yesself, did ye?”
“Aye, I did,” said Gideon, putting his sparse luggage aside and lying on the wooden floor. As the young centaur lay, a man entered the fragile inn. The man was dressed in poor peasant clothes, and he seemed to be in great need of a drink - and, perhaps, of a shower as well.
“Niemor!” The poor man’s shout spurred the centaur from his drowsiness. “Give this friend of yours some of that musty ale you’ve stored there for weeks!”
“I’ll give ye the ale if ye give me the coins!” The bartender chuckled as he motioned to the blatant peasant. “Khrul, see this horseman? He came from his kind’s city to here all by hisself!”
“No way…” Khrul looked at the centaur with astonishment. “What’s your name, centaur?”
“My name is Gideon, sir, from the Sable House of Clan Lusitano.”
“He’s got manners,” Khrul commented to Niemor before turning again toward the centaur. “And what brings a skinny centaur like you to the fine city of Jerus, Gideon?”
Gideon stood up and made a slight bow. “I had to run away from Fortaleza after I was accused of treason. During my journey, I heard Jerus was a good place for a fresh start - and here I am.”
“Treason?” The bartender almost spilled the ale on the jug he was handing to Khrul. “What did ye do, young lad? Steal the king’s stew?” The two men burst into laughter.
“Nay, sir. I had been escaping recruitment for the permanent army of Fortaleza… say, for the past seven years. I had been pretending I was handicapped. When my deceit was discovered, I had to escape Fortaleza to avoid being arrested and sent to the barracks.”
Khrul kept a mocking smile on his face. “Oh, I see… Too scared to go to war, huh?”
“Indeed I am, sir. I wish to take no part in that usurper’s dreams of total domination at the cost of centaur blood - especially my blood!”
“No one would,” said the bartender. “So what are ye goin’ to do here on Jerus?”
“I have no clue, sir. Perhaps you could offer me some work?”
The two men chuckled again.
“Really, there must be something I could do here!”
The bartender stopped laughing. He observed Gideon meticulously from head to hoofs: although his black equine frame seemed quite sturdy, his human upper body was one of the scrawniest Niemor had ever seen. It gave him a puny and insecure appearance that was even more intensified by an eerie glow of youth in his face. The long and wavy black ponytail, the tanned skin, the dark brown eyes that lighted up by the torch’s flame, the subtle pointy ears, and the slightly thick chin patch reflected a characteristic rather hard to find, especially among centaurs: humility. Gideon seemed to be someone accustomed to a frugal life, yet he also seemed to like that kind of life. In that centaur’s mind, modesty was far better than a life spent in a garrison, only to end in the middle of the battlefield by a worthless cause - the expansion of Fortaleza, the city-state of the Centaur people - leaded by a wretch, a worm, a regicide who ravaged the city-state in a brutal civil war and established himself as its absolute ruler.
Niemor then looked at Gideon’s luggage. All it comprised was a rhombus-shaped, rusty shield, a long scimitar, a flute, a small lyre, and a curved pan pipe. “Are ye some kind o’scop, horseman?”
"Nay, sir. I've been earning my bread by playing songs in the taverns and cottages I found in my journey-"
“A bard!” Khrul shouted enthusiastically. “That’s what this graveyard for stale drinks needs!”
"Khrul's right!" The pauper costumer's alacrity spread over to Niemor. "Lad, ye just got yesself a gig!"