Ale & A Request | Sylmae Tales
Under the waning moon, Kiliran trudged through the muddy paths of Belkeep toward the Drunken Troll with his steed. His cloak was stained with rainwater, mud and dead leaves.
“Evenin’, sir.” The stable boy approached him.
Kiliran handed the boy his reigns. “Thank you. I won’t be too long.” Kiliran then strolled into the inn.
A waft of ale and hot soup filled Kiliran’s nose. He smiled as he felt the warmth of the fireplace, heard the familiar voice of the bard and saw the round table of local men playing a round of cards. Kiliran pulled off his hood and sat at the bar.
“Any ale left?” He asked with a smirk.
“I doubt we’d even be open if we didn’t have any ale left,” the blond wench said as she grabbed a mug. When she finally looked up, she gasped, “Kiliran. Been a long time since I’ve seen you around here.”
Kiliran chuckled, “It’s nice to see you, Ezabell.” Kiliran chucked a few coins onto the table and took a generous swig of his drink.
“Might I say, I’m terribly sorry for your loss. We all are, here at the inn,” Ezabell said avoiding his eye contact.
Kiliran nodded, his smile fading. He looked away for a moment. Soon, the slurred speech and bubbly eyes of the tavern’s regulars brought the joy back into his lips. “Is he here?”
“Is he ever not here?” Ezabell said as she pointed at a scrawny man with red-hair at the center round table.
“Ha!” The big-bellied farmer threw down his cards. His crooked smile showed brown teeth as he leaned back in his chair.
“That’s a sight, ain’t it, boys?” the red-head said as he rubbed his beardless chin pensively. The others mumbled in agreement. Kiliran looked up a bit just in time to see the red-head switch out two cards with a naked hand peeking out from a black leather glove still holding onto the cards. Forcing himself to his smile as to not affect the sly trick, Kiliran took another sip of his drink.
“Beautiful play you got there, Raff” the red-head said with a soothing voice.
Raff scoffed, “Sod off. You know there’s only one hand that can beat this and chances are, you ain’t got it.” The rest of the men snickered as they hovered over the two.
The red-head raised his eyebrow. “You think that, do ya? How ‘bout a wager?”
Raff rolled his eyes. “You can’t win them all, Elarec,” he said shaking his head.
Elarec let the tiniest smile crack from his composed face. “I’d say this is the most exciting game we’ve had all night. It’d be a shame to just let it end without a bit more coin.”
“Ah, all right! If it’ll shut you up…” Raff reached into his trouser pockets, pulled out ten more silver coins, and added it to the overflowing pile. Elarec nodded, reached into his back pocket, and pulled out ten silver coins himself.
The silence was maddening. Even the music had stopped, and the bard was done with the night. Elarec stared at his cards, his face expressionless.
Then, with a smug smile, he looked up at the old man, “Sure hope the horses don’t shit all over your crops this year, Raff.” With a dramatic flick of the wrist, he let his cards drop, revealing the perfect play. The crowd roared in shock and laughter as Raff merely stared, dumbfounded.
Elarec stood, grabbing all the coins on the table and putting them in his pockets. He tipped an imaginary hat and said, “Evening, gentlemen!” With the crowd applauding lazily at his performance, he turned around only to find his best friend sitting at the bar watching.
“Never lose a game, do ya, Elarec?”
After a second of shock, Elarec immediately pulled Kiliran into a hug. They separated, hands still holding onto each others’ shoulder. They gawked at how the fifteen years apart had changed them so.
“Gone so long, I’d almost forgotten what you looked like, old boy,” Elarec laughed as he grabbed onto Kiliran’s goatee playfully, “What’s this, eh? Spent so much time with your books, you forgot how to shave?”
Kiliran laughed as he pushed Elarec’s hand away. The two walked over to an empty table beside the fireplace.
Kiliran still had a giddy grin as he placed their tankards on the table. “Tell me. How are things here?”
“Just as you left it,” Elarec replied as he leaned back into his small, wooden chair. “Not much changes around small towns like ours.”
Kiliran nodded. “I hear Kryo is stationed down south right now. I’m surprised they haven’t done anything with Belkeep or Redrose.”
“Those bandits don’t waste time with the poor.” Elarec shook his head. “We don’t have what they’re after.”
The two were silent for a moment, sipping away at their drinks without a word. The awkwardness was heavy, as if the years apart left a physical dent in their friendship. Kiliran, with a troubled look, glanced around to check for wandering eyes and then whispered, “Did you do what I asked of you?”
Elarec leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table. “Your mother’s fine. She can take care of herself. Your brother on the other hand…” Elarec shook his head.
Kiliran raised his eyebrows, “Arian?”
“Did ya get my last letter?”
“I must’ve left before it had a chance to reach me in Irongate.”
Elarec sighed. He leaned in closer still, keeping his voice low. “He got booted from his own legion. Got into a nasty scrap with another soldier after he heard he was sayin’ some nasty things about your father. They say it was bound to happen too; Arian’s been nothing but trouble with the legion. A ticking time bomb until finally, they sent him right back here.”
Kiliran’s head hung low in shame and sorrow as he mulled over the news. He thought of his once strong, younger brother who was always in control. He couldn’t bring himself to imagine him any other way. “He was closer to our father than anyone in this world. Dare I say even Ma wasn’t as close to him as Arian was.”
Elarec twirled his finger around the rim of his tankard as he kept his eyes low. “He’s not too happy with ya, old boy. A lot of people aren’t.”
With nervous eyes, Kiliran looked up at his friend, “And you?”
Elarec took a long breath from his nostrils. “You can’t blame them, and you can’t blame Arian. You’re quite lucky your mother’s the type to forgive.”
“I was under direct orders of the Ethesan Army. As a privateer-”
“But you didn’t go north to become a privateer, did ya, Kiliran?” Elarec grew serious as the tavern slowly lost its crowd. “You left to become a scholar, but instead of coming to say goodbye to your father’s ashes like a true man, you stayed and decided to play pirate.”
“It’s been almost ten years now-”
“And what in hell’s circle have you been doin’ all that time? What’s more important than a proper goodbye to your kin, your father at that? You ought to be ashamed. When something tragic happens, the town mourns. When his first born doesn’t come back to say goodbye or console his family, the town is ashamed to say he was a part of it.”
The fire burned intensely, as if suddenly fueled by anger and regret, turning the warmth into an uncomfortable presence in the room.
Kiliran kept his eyes on the fire. Without thinking, he said out loud, “I need your help.”
Elarec crossed his arms against his chest.
Without a response, Kiliran divulged. “The queen has asked of me something too big to do alone.” He sneaked a glance at Elarec.
Elarec shook his head.
“I know. I don’t deserve any forgiveness for what I did. I have no excuse, but please. I cannot lose you now, old friend. Consider this my thank you for taking care of my family when I did not. A payment ten times more than the best night you could have at that gambling table.”
Seeing that he had Elarec’s attention, he continued. “I have to go westward, to the Untouched Lands. War is coming soon. The queen believes there’s a hidden tablet that can help.”
Kiliran leaned into his friend and whispered, “Divination.”
Elarec’s eyes spread wide with shock, “Diviners… back in Ethesa? By Barnaby’s beard…”
“If Agreveth can get Coish to hand over their refugees for war, and we have none to fight back, we’re done for.”
Biting his lip, Elarec nodded in agreement. “You need a crew.”
“I need the best crew.” Kiliran poked Elarec’s chest. “I need you.”
With a second of hesitation, Elarec reached for his drink and finished it. “I still answered your damn letters, didn’t I?” Elarec reached out for his hand. “I’m in.” The two shook hands and at last, the tension had dissipated. Elarec continued. “You’ll need more than just me though.”
“I was thinking I’d bring Arian. If he is as bad as you say, he needs to leave this town.”
“He wouldn’t leave with you, not for all the coin in the world.”
“I’m not exactly giving him a choice.” Kiliran gave him a determined stare that maimed Elarec.
Elarec shrugged. “Even with me and him, you’ll still need a third. You can’t go into the unknown like that with only two trained to fight.”
Kiliran nodded in agreement. “I was thinking Windbarrow.” Elarec nodded along with him.
Kiliran went on, “I also recruited a friend from mine up north. Skilled healer and of the Priesthood.”
“Sounds to me like you’ve got yourself a crew. All you need is a ship.”
“Done. We leave from Lionheart, but -”
Elarec raised his eyebrow questioningly.
Kiliran looked around the empty tavern and leaned very close. He spoke in such a soft whisper that even the fire could not overhear. “We need a diviner.”
“We can’t just go to Coish and hold interviews at the tavern,” Elarec said laughing to himself a bit.
“Not any diviner. One that knows of the west. One that can lead us.”
Elarec shook his head in disbelief. “None of the sort exist.”
“Not according to the queen.” Kiliran nervously looked around once more. “Felora is here.”
Without intention, Elarec burst into laughter. Tears welled up in his eyes. Once his laughter slowed to a chuckle, Elarec said, “Did you fall off your feet, old boy?”
“She’s a fairy tale, Kiliran. She’s what gets the theater its coin and the kids to sleep at night. She’s everything but real.” He laughed a little more, still befuddled.
Kiliran pulled out a rolled-up parchment from his pack and rolled it over to Elarec.
Elarec picked it up, a chuckle still stuck in his throat, until he saw the decree of the queen herself. Her seal in red wax right underneath her signature. Taking a closer look, Elarec’s eyes darted straight to the name Felora. Suddenly, his throat went dry.
Kiliran stood. “We leave in three days.”
Copyright ©️ 2019 Daniela Sylmae. All rights reserved.