Sarah was glad when they finally reached town. A drink and a good nights sleep was all she asked, throw in a bath and she’d be in heaven. As they hit the first square, Jason and Mathew peeled off with the prisoner. The other men stopped and looked at each other, occasionally glancing at Sarah.
‘What?’ she asked, ‘you’re not going to alter your habits, just because I’m here?’ The men looked at the ground. ‘So the five of you couldn’t guarantee my safety at the place you normally go?’ she asked slyly. She watched their expressions change as they looked at one another and smiled. ‘Lead on boys,’ she exclaimed. They headed off to a seedier part of town.
The Drunken Horse was the name of the place. The tavern sign showed a horse with a mug of ale in his hoof, well it appeared to be a horse. The Troop found a table in the corner and set Sarah between them, her back to the wall. It wasn’t long before one of the bar maids came around with six mugs of beer.
‘Got a new one eh? Don’t tell me he’s replacing Matt,’ she said as she placed the beers on the table. The woman was called away before anyone could answer, but Sarah had to smile. She began to reach for the last mug left in the center when she stopped. She leaned over to Brad, who was sitting next to her.
‘I don’t have any money to pay for this,’ she whispered. Brad looked at her with some surprise and set his mug down.
‘No one’s expecting you to pay,’ he said as Mike pushed the beer in front of her.
‘You aren’t going to deny our hospitality are you?’ Mike asked with a gleam in his eye.
‘Of course not,’ Sarah said and she almost took a swig, but something stopped her. She’d sampled a few varieties of beer in her life, some good, some bad. This one reeked of bad. Sarah pondered it, then looked over at Allen’s mug and then at Brad’s. Still holding the mug up as if to drink she looked at their faces. Kevin’s gave everything away and she set the mug down. ‘But what is it your hospitality offers?’ she asked, looking directly at Mike. The others burst out laughing and Jess took the mug away and called for a new one.
The bar maid exchanged mugs and looked into the one she picked up. 'Didn't take one swig he didn't.' Sarah couldn't help but giggle slighltly at being called he, which made the woman do a double take. 'He's female?'
‘Long story,’ Jess said, placing the new mug in front of Sarah. Sarah ginned and took a swig from it. The Bar Maid leaned over the table as if to say something more, but another patron smacked her rump and she turned round with a ‘Why you…’
The men seemed more relaxed than they had been since the fight. She also sensed a slight change in their attitude towards her. The beer wasn’t half bad either. They’d just finished the first round when Jason and Matthew appeared. Mathew caught the Bar Maid as they approached the table.
‘We bought a drink for the new recruit?’ he asked. Jason turned to the Bar Maid, mouth open to say something, but she answered before he could speak.
‘You can’t save ‘em from it Phoenix,’ she told him as she picked up the empty mugs, ‘Sides they already tried it.’ The woman shook her head with an expression of curiousness and incomprehension.
‘She didn’t even take one sip,’ Mike said disappointed.
‘In that case, a round of the best, for us all,’ Jason ordered as he and Mathew sat down.
‘And some food,’ Matt added, ‘I am starving.’ The Bar Maid nodded and headed off.
‘We received a nice bonus for bringing one in alive,’ Jason told them after the Bar Maid had left.
‘And since no good deed goes unpunished,’ Matt said, more cynically, ‘they’ve added another month to our service time.’ The men groaned.
‘Yes, but there will be another bonus at the end and an additional month of leave once we are done,” Jason amended.
‘Which is exactly how long it will take us to spend the extra money,’ was Mike’s response. The men chuckled, and raised their mugs in a toast. Sarah got the impression that it was a standing joke. They went through two more rounds after that before Jason called it a night.
Sarah definitely felt buzzed as she stood up. She had no doubt the alcohol content of this beer was higher than what she was used to. Managing to keep her balance she followed the rest of them up to their rooms. Sarah made sure to drink a mug of water before going to sleep. That ended up being a good idea because Jason got her up just before the sun rose.
He led her quietly through the waking town, stopping at a large building. It looked dark, but they made their way down an alley to the back. At the back door, Jason rapped out some sort of code. Someone opened the peephole and looked at them. There was a grunt as the peephole closed and the door was opened. Sarah followed Jason into the dimly lit hall. They ended up in an armory where Sarah was fitted with some leather armor. Next they went to the weapons and she was given a sword and knife. As they left Jason shook hands with the man and Sarah saw a pouch pass between them. As they walked back to the tavern Sarah looked at Jason sideways.
‘You didn’t bribe him for this stuff, did you?’ she asked quietly.
Jason shook his head. ‘I only paid for it. Armor is taken regularly but the sword will have to be replaced.’
‘Jay,’ she said after another moment. Jason glanced at her. ‘I’m not used to,’ she paused, then tried again, ‘I mean, I feel as though I should contribute more.’
Jason smiled, ‘You saved my life.’
‘Which makes us even, because you’ve already saved mine,’ she reminded him.
Jason held up his hand. ‘And you obtained a prisoner. The bonus we are getting from that is contribution enough. Besides, you are spoiling us with your cooking.’ Jason looked sideways at her and smiled. Sarah gave him a half smile, still feeling like an odd wheel. They continued back to the men to start traveling again.