“Mead for the lady and me, if you please, Jalin.” Keon spoke to the dwarf.
“I thought we were coming here for food,” I said guardedly.
“And,” Keon looked at me in feigned offense as if to accuse me of cutting his words off, “a bowl of stew for each of us, as well.”
I rolled my eyes slightly but didn’t bother scolding him. I could still hear the faint buzz of Sigdan singing to himself under his breath as he picked his limpish body up off the floor.
“And what would be the lady’s name?” Jalin’s voice sounded friendly, but his face remained rather stern as he said it.
“Oliana,” Keon and I chimed in unison. Our eyes met for a brief moment before mine turned away, trying to conceal a slight blush.
“Y’know, Oliana, Keon’s told me of many of ‘is ladies, but you’d be the first I’ve seen ‘im bring here from out of town. From where do ya hail?”
“I came from a little clan settled in a valley probably even less heard of than this city,” my voice choked slightly as I saw a flash of the clansmen’s faces in my mind. I took a draft of mead. “Where did you live before Sekerheim?”
“A large mine-city in the mountains south of here,” Jalin answered. “Ka’hidhron, it’s called. Haven’t seen that place in many years.” I caught a glimpse of what looked like heartache in his eyes.
“You’re actually the first dwarf to whom I’ve been introduced. I’ve only ever read about you in books,” I admitted.
I had been trying to ignore the laggard steps creeping up behind me, but it became impossible when a muffled “Hello” reached my ear, accompanied by the stench of alcohol insulting my nose.
I squirmed but remained silent, resolving not to humor him.
“A round for my fr-friends,” Sigdan’s gruff voice demanded. He slapped a few raeds on the bartop he’d taken from a sack. “And for me,” he belched.
“How’s about you call it a day, Sigdan? You’re stinkin’ up the place in more ways than one,” Jalin suggested, gently pushing the coins away. “I only allow you to get in this state when there’s nobody else ‘round, but you’re disturbin’ my guests now.”
“I’m not… disturbing anybody,” Sigdan insisted, taking his seat clumsily on the other side of me at the bar. He looked me up and down. Just as I began to move away from him, to the stool on the far side of Keon, he rudely grabbed my arm.
“Unhand me, you intoxicated dolt!” I shrieked, a little more startled than I cared to admit. His grip was rather firm and painfully situated over my bandage.
“Where’d you get that ring?” he grunted, his gaze fixed upon the black band on my finger. “... don’t make them like that anymore….”
“Let her go!” Keon broke in.
Sigdan disregarded Keon, his grip increasing in tension. “Twin lions of gold,” the drunk whispered over the ring’s insignia.
“Didn’t you hear me?” Keon left his seat and stepped toward Sigdan. Jalin sighed, then braced himself, clearly anticipating a brawl.
“Wait,” I stopped Keon, calming him with a quietened voice. In the same tone, I spoke to Sigdan, “Alright, you’ve seen it. Now kindly let me go and we will talk about this.”
My gentler approach worked, and the middle-aged man slumped back comfortably into his seat. Keon, hesitating for several moments out of caution, reclaimed his seat on my right side, as well. I touched my arm gingerly, hoping the wound had not been reopened in the struggle.
“What do you know about rings like this?” I asked Sigdan, hoping he would opt to answer me before demanding an explanation for his own inquiry.
“I know that I’ve only ever seen one man wear one like it, and that was over two decades ago,” he spoke slowly. “That was before the Dechi war and its aftermath drove him mad, of course. I fought the Dechi.”
My eyes widened. “You did?”
“I was a general in that war,” he seemed to shiver with the memory of it. “Got discharged and exiled by Gillireth himself. The king, that is. The only other one I ever saw wear such a ring,” his tone grew insistent.
Jalin, who had been passively listening as he passed Keon and I some rabbit stew, now gave our conversation his full attention.
This isn’t good, I thought to myself. The last thing I wanted this city to know was that I was the niece of the man responsible for its citizens’ banishment. Sipping my stew, I tried to think of something else to say, but I had never possessed a penchant for lying on the spot.
“Is that so?” my voice quivered, probably noticeably. “It must be valuable, then,” I spun the jewelry nervously around my finger with my bare hand.
“The king only wears royal rings designed specifically for him,” Sigdan was unrelenting. “Looks very loose on you. And the emblem of Eirethstead no longer features two lions, but one. That’s after he drove his own brother into the wilderness... and you’re from a valley no one’s ever heard of.”
I laughed tensely. “My, you have had a few too many.” I tried to continue eating my stew, but my hand shook so much that simply lifting the spoon to my mouth took concentration.
I glanced at Jalin, whose bearded mouth was slightly agape beneath furrowed brows. Then I looked to Keon, sending forth a message of desperation, which prompted him to pull a handful of raeds from his pocket and slam them on the bartop with a loud clank.
“Right then,” he began. “Oliana’s had enough heckling for one day, especially after completing such a difficult journey just to get here. We’ll be on our way. Obliged, Jalin. And if you must know, I stole that ring some time ago and gave it to Oliana in Stromton."
I sighed in relief and rose from my seat at the bar. He hasn't even lied, technically, I thought. He had just left out the inconvenient detail that he'd in fact stolen the ring from me.
“I don't believe it,” Sigdan slurred in reply. "Let's have the girl tell us herself how she came to possess that ring. I just need to get her lubricated with a few more drinks, first."
I took a moment to wipe the disgust on my face as I followed Keon out the door.
“The word is inebriated!” I cried back before leaving.