~ The thirtieth of Sun’s Reign in the year 1045 at ten o’clock in the evening ~
Beth Wymond walked into the Queen’s Arms Inn. I will never get used to this place, no matter how many times I come here. The dockside tavern was an overcrowded, run-down, stinking shit hole. Entropy’s lair. King Rolant could use it as a dungeon if he runs out of room, except all you’d have to do to escape is to push on the walls, then walk out over the rubble.
She spotted her father slouching on his favorite stool, drink in hand, and pushed her way through the crowd toward him. It wasn’t wise to sneak up on Lambert Wymond, unless you were looking to die. People thought he was a lunatic, but she knew better. War changes a man. He wasn’t always this way.
Beth walked behind the bar and smiled at her father. He stunk of whiskey, sweat, and that rancid odor the elderly all reeked of, except that he was only forty-eight. A candle flame carved his scarred, worn face like a river through the mountains. “Beth, my girl! Siddown an’ have a drink!”
“Go home, Dad.”
“Shit on that. How’s your mother? Haven’t seen her in a while. Have a fuckin’ drink, I said!”
Beth sighed. This conversation never changes. “She’s fine. Please, go home.” And wake up tomorrow a sober, cheerful man. She laughed.
“I just remembered something. It’s not important. Let me walk you home. We’ll have a drink there.”
Lambert picked at a knot in the bar with his gleaming, oversized hunting knife. “Ah…fuck it.” He drained his cup and threw it at the landlord. “Hey, Old Dick, gimme another, an’ one for my daughter!”
The landlord picked up the chipped cup, filled it with Dancing Pig Whiskey, and slammed it on the bar in front of him. Beth opened her purse and placed a small coin onto the bar. Dad certainly won’t do it. Dick doesn’t want him here any more than I do. Nobody does.
Lambert drained his cup. “Well, look who it is. Good ol’ Chester! How’s your fuckin’ mule? Still like your cock up her arse?”
Chester, the castle cottar, didn’t rise to the bait. “Evenin’, Beth.”
“Hey! I’m talkin’ to you. Why don’t you go fuck your mule?” Lambert laughed, mimicking the act with his clenched fist.
Chester tensed, but turned and walked away. He’s trying, but will fail, just as I have.
Beth stood back, awaiting the inevitable. Her father glared at Chester, murder in his bloodshot eyes. The throng parted for just a moment, and she noticed a silver-haired woman, dressed in black leathers, sitting in a corner. Their eyes met briefly before a ranting whore blocked her view. The Raven!
Lambert ordered another drink, and Beth once again paid. He downed it in one shot, stood on shaky legs, and approached Chester as he was opening the door to leave. Almost.
He tapped him on the shoulder. Beth couldn’t make out what was said, but she didn’t need to. A fight was brewing, like a cup of the piss that passed for ale at the Queen’s Arms. Just walk through that door, Chester. Turn the latch, walk into the street, and keep on walking until this place is miles behind you.
Chester didn’t leave, but Beth wasn’t surprised. Every fucking problem I try to solve blows up in my face. That’s wrong. It’s just Dad. He’s everybody’s worst problem, down here by the docks.
Beth’s father was King Rolant’s most skilled tracker. He put up with Lambert’s shit because he’d done a lot of dark work for him in the war. And no man can hide from Dad if Rolant wants him dead. He’d once snuck into a camp and knifed fifteen of King Alexandru’s soldiers. The man was a fucking ghost. And not the friendly sort you hope to meet and ask all about death. I was an infant when he went to war. Twenty years of this shit! Fuck, why do I do this? Why can’t I just let him be?
She ducked a flying bottle, and it pierced the wall behind her. It tries to escape, but will surely perish in the attempt. The cobbles will break it, like this tavern does to all who enter. Dick cursed under his breath, slumping against one of the barrels supporting the bar. It’s too fucking late for me to leave now.
She watched her father and Chester as they stood arguing pointlessly by the door. Why do I still hold out hope for a peaceful resolution?
Hard words turned to hard blows, as Lambert lashed out with his razor-sharp blade. He missed his target, slicing a big man’s arm instead. The man howled, grabbed at his arm, and tried to stand but failed. He staggered against a round table, knocking a candle into a woman’s drink. The cheap liquor burst into flames, setting the great drunkard ablaze. Yelping again, he bulled his way through the room, knocking people to and fro. Shit. A nice, toasty inferno is just what this place needs, but I’d prefer to be outside cheering with the rest of Ravenswood.
Chester slammed his cudgel into Lambert’s ribs, but he didn’t seem to notice. He laughed, stabbing at his opponent clumsily. He’s a great fighter when he’s not shit-faced.
A couple fucking in a corner were interrupted by the crush of bodies escaping the burning man’s rampage. A man turned, erect cock out, and tripped over his breeches as he tried to run. The person he’d been fucking hunched on the sagging table, legs open, skirt up. Beth cringed. A man dressed as an ugly whore. Lovely. He gave Beth a brown-toothed smile as he daintily stroked his cock. Fuck! I need to be sick.
The inn was a battleground, crammed with poorly-armed soldiers who could hardly stand, let alone fight. Beth couldn’t see her father or Chester. They’re in there somewhere. She downed a cup of something vile, leaning carefully against the wall.
A man stood on a rickety table and climbed into the rafters to avoid the brawl. Beth nodded her appreciation at him when he looked at her. Mom tells me Dad was a good man before the war, but can violence and death even on a grand scale change a man’s very essence? His monster was within him all the time—the war merely unlocked its cell. Nobody, not even I, can ever lock it back in. It’s time I learned that.
Lost in thought, Beth didn’t notice the flying stool until it struck her shoulder and fell clattering to the floor. “Ouch! Fuck!” She picked it up and hurled it into the scrum. A young woman went down, crushed underfoot.
The man in the rafters laughed as she rubbed her shoulder. Arsehole. I shouldn’t have done that. Beth found her father again, embroiled in a fight with a new adversary, desperate to have at Chester.
He’s taught me so much, but much of it’s shit I never wanted to know, like how to slice a man’s throat, or where to stab a man in his leg to get at the big vein. But I’m as good as he is on the stalk now, so I guess I’ll always have some kind of job. I owe him for that at least.
Lambert and Chester found each other. What a touching reunion. Her father’s face was a mass of bruises, and he was bleeding badly from several nasty wounds. He seems to have lost his other fight, but he’s slowing now, so maybe…Chester would let him yield, but he’s too fucking proud, and Chester’s too proud to run. What a pack of arseholes. Get me the fuck away from this place! I could live deep in the forest, away from this rabble…
In a desperate play to score a hit, Lambert swung his knife in a huge arc. At the same time, an unlucky woman hurtled directly into its path. Beth watched, horrified, as blood sprayed and the woman’s head flew through the air.
Fuck! Someone needs to stop this. Frantic, she climbed onto the frail bar and leaped as far as she could into the crowd, headed for the door. She slipped in a puddle—Ale? Blood? —and was driven to the floor by the press of stinking bodies. Crawling under a table, she slashed her hand on something sharp. “Fuck! Shit!”
Beth held her wounded left hand with her right. My situation has not improved. Why don’t the fucking guards come! Why doesn’t someone do something about this place!
The noise, stench, and smoke were overpowering. Her eyes stung, so Beth wiped them on her shoulder. “Ah fuck, it burns!” Whiskey on my sleeve from that puddle I slipped in. She squinted, awaiting her moment. When the crowd parted, she crawled awkwardly from under the table, stood and bolted for the door. She dived to avoid a falling man, and her chance was lost. Fuck it, I give up. She headed back to the shelter of the bar.
The man in the rafters laughed at her, but she paid him no mind. This place doesn’t want me to leave. It needs someone sane to keep it company while its world burns. The landlord looked up from his whittling and handed her a filthy rag. She nodded her thanks, then wrapped her cut hand. There’s got to be a reason he keeps this midden heap open, and it isn’t for the money. Beth thought for a moment. He doesn’t want to be here—he has to be. I always thought Dick owned the place, but why would he? He fucking hates it and everyone in it. He’s trapped in a shitty relationship, just like me.
Beth stood, searching for the Raven, but couldn’t find her, so she watched the melee once again.
The man who had been set afire by his own clumsiness was alive. His shirt was gone, and his skin looked like cracked red leather, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. He took a fist to the face, roared, then lifted his attacker and threw him through a boarded-up window. He’s high on something. Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day for him. Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day for everyone here, including me. I won’t come back tomorrow night! I’ll just let him drink himself to death—that’s what he wants anyway. I’m keeping him alive against his wishes.
The he-she whore with the shit-brown teeth was, inexplicably, dancing nude on a table, his long, limp cock swinging back and forth. Nerus played his fiddle while Lapis Terram burned, or so they say. I guess you need to take whatever joy life hands you, and run with it like a thief caught stealing a diamond.
Beth searched for her father, but couldn’t find him. She laughed as the man in the rafters was pulled into the brawl. There’s no escape—this could go on all night! Beth considered her limited options. The bottle! She pushed into the rotten wattle and daub wall and fell through, landing in the street. The bottle lay beside her, unbroken. You’re a tough old bastard. She picked it up and set it in an out of the way corner. Good luck to you, my friend.
Breathing deeply of the relatively fresh air, Beth looked up at the building across the street. She could just make out a figure sitting on its roof. The Raven. She thought about trying to talk to her, but decided against it. I’m too fucking tired, angry and hurt. But just imagine the fun we’d have! Beth ran to find a guard.
The next morning, she sat on the edge of her father’s piss-stained bed. “Every day, Dad. Every fucking day is exactly the same.” She pulled a stitch tight and clipped it with her knife.
Lambert was sober. “How many times have you stitched me up?”
“Too many. No training today, ok? I’ll finish up, then I’ve got some errands I need to run.”
Beth completed her stitching, then looked at her dad’s skull. She hadn’t seen it happen, but apparently Chester had landed a wicked blow. “He snuck one in, but he’ll pay for it. Yes he fucking will.”
He snuck a thousand in. “If the swelling doesn’t go down—”
“I’ll have it drilled.” He thought for a moment. “I’ve got no coin for the doctor, but I’ve seen it done after a battle plenty of times. Huh. Maybe I could do it myself. Conrad will lend me a—”
“Don’t drill a hole in your head, Dad.” Or maybe he should, and spare himself and others the misery of his life. Fuck, if I’d just gotten drunk with him last night, maybe that woman would still be alive. She thought of the shocked expression on the dead woman’s face, frozen in time, and the arcs of blood as her head spun through the air. When you die, how long does it take to truly die? Was she still alive for a few seconds?
“You killed a woman last night, Dad.”
“Oh, yeah. Guess I did. She was in the way. King won’t do shit about it, so don’t worry none. He’ll pay her family off and yell at me. So fuckin’ what?”
He’s missing the point, as usual.
She kissed him on his bruised, stubbly cheek. “See you tonight, Dad.”
“See you, girl. We’ll have a nice drink together, and talk of old times by the fire.”
“Sure we will.”
Beth walked out the door into the bright, cloudless morning. Everyone sleeps, even Ravens.