Exile's Road: One
The sound of thunder rumbled off in the distance as a man's voice
muttered, "Hope we don't get more rain."
The woman chuckled to herself quietly, wiping the bar off with a damp
rag. There was a storm coming, she could feel it in her bones. In theory
Midori was just the bouncer of this city tavern, but on relatively slow
nights like this she didn't mind pitching in wherever she could. The
'Drunken Bard' was an older establishment down near the docks, occasionally
home to a rougher sort of customer. So here she was.
Midori adjusted her leather vest, the heavy black wool of the shirt
beneath laying smoothly over her muscles. Beside the tall black haired
woman a heavy oaken staff stood, her primary weapon in the regular bar
fights that broke out here. It had been a brawl that had gotten the
attention of the Master of the bar, an old ex-fighter much like herself,
and he offered her the bouncer job in exchange for room and board.
Moving away from the bar Midori stalked across the roughly built
wooden floor, watching the drinkers at their tables around the room and
sitting in the darker corners of the bar. A few working girls also
lingered, but Midori let them be for now. Occasionally one such girl would
start something between two men, but it was a rare thing and most of the
time they weren't too much trouble.
Over on a small stage the bard played, soft music lingering in the
musty air. There was always a magician at the 'Drunken Bard' by ancient
tradition, one that the Bardic schools helped maintain by sending their
delinquent students as punishment. "Ho, Nat'anel," Midori smiled.
"Nathaniel," he corrected her with a impish smile, "oh outlander
dog." Nathaniel was more delinquent than most, the redheaded young man
having been down here more than a few times. They had developed a teasing
relationship, being friends at a studied distance.
"This from the man who's never left the country," Midori shot back
with a wry smile as she moved off. She was clearly an outlander here, her
skin a paler shade than the people of this southern kingdom. It had been
many years since she had been home but she was marked in her very skin and
bones by her homeland.
"Hey Midori," the bartender smiled as she swung back to the bar. His
gray hair was short, thinning at the top, but his arms still bulged with
muscles. He leaned over, offering a smile as he said, "Looking for
something to do?"
"A quiet night, Garrison," Midori agreed with a sigh, leaning her
staff up beside her. She offered a smile, "Shall I clear some tables or
Garrison barked a laugh, "Just having you here stops fights, Midori.
You don't need to do much more than look menacing."
Midori snickered softly. "It's not like you haven't been in your
share of brawls," she reminded him with a smile.
In fact Garrison had joined in that first brawl that she had been in
here, when a guard has mistaken a waitress for one of the working girls.
The guard had been insulted when she turned him down and decided to force
the issue. His buddies took exception to Midori intervening and Garrison
pitched in to support her. A few wrecked tables later and he was offering
her a job.
Garrison turned away, pulling a beer from one of the good kegs
against the wall. "Here," he pushed it over to her, "go sit down and take a
break." He flashed a sudden smile and added, "Lady Jane was asking about
"Oh?" Midori kept her voice casual.
Garrison snickered, "You can pretend all you want, but I know that
you're interested." He dropped his voice to a whisper, "It's rare for a
noblewoman to come to a dive like this, she must be looking for something.
"You're just looking for some news, you old gossip," Midori smiled,
moving down the bar a bit to have her drink.
Lady Jane was something of a puzzle, honestly, and Midori didn't like
puzzles much. The blonde had appeared at the bar a few weeks ago,
accompanied by a young man who's stance clearly said he was a bodyguard.
They had sat down at a corner table, ordered one of the most expensive
drinks in the house, then left as quietly as they came leaving only the
name Jane. She only seemed to appear on days that Midori was working, and
she often felt the woman's eyes on her.
The doors swung open and Midori looked up, her eyes narrowing
slightly. 'Soldiers,' she thought, finishing off her drink with a smooth
draught. The men in chainmail armor, helms and royal insignia strode
arrogantly towards the bar, made their orders and then moved right to a
table that was occupied by one of the regulars.
"Move aside," the leader of the soldiers barked at the man.
"There's other tables," Midori called out to them, keeping her voice
The leader of the guards look up, brown hair falling into his eyes as
he sneered, "But we want this one, bitch!"
Midori throttled down a flash of anger, looking over to Garrison for
a cue how to react. The master of the bar was clearly angry, but he was
holding his tongue for now. "There's no need for any unpleasantness,"
Midori kept her voice perfectly level even as she grabbed for her oaken
staff, "you can easily take another table, boys."
The leader swayed a bit, one of the other two steadying him and
Midori realized that he had already been drinking before coming into the
bar and probably quite a lot. As were all his fellows, there was little
hope of someone trying to bring the others into line. Midori pushed off
from the bar, quickly striding towards the angry group.
"Move aside, drunkard," the solder grabbed at the frightened man
sitting at the table. moving to toss him away by force. "Oww!" he yelped.
the staff smacking down on the back of his hand, making him release the man
who promptly scurried away.
Midori felt the men's glares on her even as the other customers all
scampered for cover as fast as they could. "You're welcome to insult me,"
Midori said to the soldiers quite calmly, "but manhandling the customers is
a bit much."
There was a hiss of steel as the leader drew his sword, "We're
Queen's guard, you've got no right to tell us what to do...."
The two other armed men hesitated and Midori seized the moment,
meeting the leader's downward sword stroke easily with her staff. He looked
stunned as the oak stood up to his blade, then his shock shifted to a
pained expression as she kneed him somewhere very delicate. With a squeak
he dropped, Midori pulling the sword away as he went down.
"Next?" Midori dropped her voice to a dangerous purr.
"Ahh!" the man bellowed angrily, swinging with a bit more skill than
his leader. Midori turned the strike aside rather than meet it head long,
using the boy's own motion to create the opening she needed. Off balance
she slammed the staff down onto his helmeted head, ringing the steel like a
bell and sending him crashing to the ground.
From behind her Midori heard the sound of breaking wood. She whirled
around with staff ready, blinking in honest surprise as she saw the
noblewoman holding what was left of one of one of the chairs. At her feet
the third guard lay, the rest of the chair scattered around him.
"My apologies," Lady Jane dropped the chair pieces, her blonde hair
falling around her delicate features, "but he was trying to attack you from
"My thanks," Midori blinked, receiving a graceful nod of the head as
the blonde turned around and walked back to where her bodyguard sat. By the
look on his face he was rather wrathful with his mistress and intended to
let her know.
"Wonder how much trouble these three are going to be?" Garrison
asked, coming around from behind the bar and looking down at the three men.
"Dunno," Midori sighed, pushing her black hair back tiredly. She
frowned, "You think they're really Queen's guards?"
"Wouldn't surprise me," Garrison shrugged, "they've been recruiting a
lot since the King died and his sister took the throne."
Midori made a face, "Damn." She thought a moment, "Better send a
runner over to the barracks, let them know about this."
"Eh?" Garrison looked at her in surprise.
"They're going to find out eventually," Midori shrugged slightly,
"better from our mouths than these three gutter trash." She studied the
unconscious men for a moment, "If they do try to make trouble over this,
blame it on your outlander bouncer."
"If you are calling the guards," Lady Jane's refined voice had a bit
of tension in it as she and her bodyguard made for the door, "I must go."
'Isn't that interesting,' Midori noted. Obviously the lady was
slumming, and more importantly she didn't want anyone to know about it. She
would have liked to think about it some more, but Nathaniel had made his
way towards them.
"If they do cause trouble," Nathaniel was scowling at the soldiers,
"I'll gladly speak in your favor. The word of a bard is very good in
court." He got a thoughtful look on his face, "In fact, I think I feel
inspired for a ballad."
"Oh?" Midori looked dangerous.
"The Ballad of Magnificent Midori," Nathaniel said grandly.
"Try it and die, bard," Midori growled out.
Garrison chuckled softly. "I'll send one of the dishwashers with the
message to the guards," he said as he went to get the boy, "but I won't be
placing the blame on you."
"Man has no sense of self-preservation," Midori shook her head,
"these Queen's guards could make serious trouble for him if he doesn't
"He's loyal to his friends," Nathaniel said dryly, "a quality I
notice you two share." With that the bard went to collect his harp,
wrapping it carefully before settling down to wait.
The runner returned not long after with an officer and several of his
soldiers in tow. Midori looked him over, realizing that this was a real
combat soldier, not just a nobleman in uniform. More importantly he seemed
to tag her as a fighter almost as soon as he entered that bar, meeting her
measuring glance with one of his own.
"My name is Commander Hudson," the older man looked down at the three
out cold soldiers then up with a piercing look, "what happened here?"
"These three tried to harm a customer," Midori said simply, "and drew
steel on me when I stopped them. I decided they'd be better sleeping it
Hudson's lips teased upward in a small smile, "I see."
Nathaniel stood nearby, shaking her head. "The lady has no poetry in
her soul, none at all," he sighed. With that he launched into a blow by
blow account of the incident, also making Midori seem like some kind of
great hero. He even rhymed it in parts like some old ballad.
'Hells, I hope that he wasn't serious about that damn ballad,' Midori
Hudson listened to Nathaniel attentively, his lips pulling up in a
slight smile. When the boy finished he turned to Garrison and half bowed,
"I apologize to you, Master, and to your establishment. This shouldn't have
"Aye, well," Garrison looked uncomfortable.
"And thank you," Hudson turned to Midori, his expression thoughtful,
"for not killing these fools. I suspect you could have, if needed."
"I don't kill," Midori said firmly, "not any more."
"Of course," Hudson nodded. He instructed his men to collect the
unconscious soldiers and they left, the older man tossing Midori a final
glance before he left.
To be continued....