The Bad News
"Your father is dead."
Dead. Dead. dead.
Talon was bent over his table, flicking a dead fly across it while he waited for his stomach to settle. After a moment or two of deliberation he looked up. The man who had spoken to him was young and dark eyed. He wore the red cape and eagle seal of a knight. Talon recognized him immediately.
"Marcos," he said. "Join me for a drink."
The tavern had all but emptied out. Talon could see the tavern's owner at the back of the room watching him keenly. It was time to leave, but he hadn't paid off his tab.. he didn't have a coin left to do it with. In the dim light he could see Marcos considering him.
"Did you hear me?" Marcos asked, at last.
"Yeah," Talon snorted. "My father is dead. Let's have a round in his honor, right?"
"You're drunk," the knight said, disapprovingly.
"DING DING DING!" Talon exclaimed in a slurring voice. He spread his arms wide for an imaginary audience and forced a smile. "Get this man a prize! Better yet- a drink! Drinks are on me, Marcos! Have a seat. Tell me how the bastard finally did himself in. A dragon? A hostile encounter with bandits? Did he fight bravely to the end?"
Marcos took a seat at the table at last and shook his head as he sighed.
"His body was found near Shepherds Hill-"
"Where?" asked Talon.
"It's a farming village. He was carrying out the last wishes of Parsimum. He was attacked- we suspect- by Graves' birds."
"By a farming village?" Talon snorted. He shook his head. "That's awfully rural for my father. I'll bet he'd have preferred it in that big collapsed lair- congratulations by the way. I heard about the whole defeating evil saving the world thing. I mean the magic boy got most of the praise but I tell everyone I know that if Sir Marcos was there you can just bet he did all the hard work himself- that's the kind of man you are, Marcos. That's why my father likes- excuse me- why he liked you so much."
Talon hiccuped and leaned forward. As he laid his spinning head on the table he heard Marcos say, "The knights thought you might like to be there when we lay him to rest. I already have a horse ready for you-"
"No.. no no," Talon drawled, lifting his head to shake it slowly. "No. You know how horses and I get along. Besides... I'm not leaving."
"Talon," Marcos had now put on a reasoning tone. "It's no secret that you and your father never got along-"
"Good, I'm glad you understand."
"But," Marcos emphasized the word heavily to out weigh Talon's stubbornness. "..he was your father, and I know you'll regret not coming."
Talon was quiet. He felt like a scolded child. He didn't like feeling like a scolded child. It reminded him of his father. After a moment or two of mutual silence, in which he listened to the methodical rhythm of the barman's rag wearing circles into his counter, Talon said, "I think it's best that I stay here."
He saw the knight bite back a response.
"Ah, there we go," he goaded. Because he was drunk enough to believe that taunting a knight could make this evening better. "A knight is meant to mind his temper and be just. Anger and frustration do not exist to the proper knight-"
"Just come back to Knights Haven with me," Marcos insisted as if he didn't hear. "I came all this way."
"-A sword is an equalizer, it practices only the favoritism of what is good," Talon continued in his best impersonation on his father's stern, quick tongue. "A knight puts others before himself and.. and..."
Talon's speech fizzled to a stop not only because he had forgotten the rest but because the door had opened again. Three men had just walked in, broad shouldered and surly about the faces. The shortest of them was missing a good chunk of his nose and part of an eye brow. His eyes scanned the room and landed in their direction.
"..and never forgets his duty to the people." Marcos finished for him. "Are you alright?"
Talon was trying to cover his face with a mug as the three new comers strode towards them.
"YOU!" the one with the half nose shouted. He didn't seem to be the least bit fooled. "Hey you! I got two fellows here that tells me you're a cheat!"
"There must be some mistake," Talon set down his mug and put on a chipper grin. "I've only just arrived here- I don't gamble anyways. Never have. I just have one of those faces- people always think they know me somehow-"
The big man to the nose man's right stepped forward and swooped Talon up out of his chair with one barrel sized arm by the collar. He had yellowing teeth and putrid breath as he looked Talon straight in the eye.
"Let's have it," the big man's voice was deep like a bear growl. "Before I get bored."
Talon felt the man's grip tighten. Obviously this was no time to let the enormous thug get bored.
"Men, please." Marcos stood out of his chair and seemed to genuinely believe he could talk them down. "There's no need for violence. He's having a bad enough night as it is, poor man just lost his father. How about you set him down and I pay you what he owes instead?"
The nose man nodded to the big one and Talon felt his feet return to the floor beneath him. But the big man did not let him go. This was business and they weren't about to get sloppy.
"That's better," Marcos smiled genially and pulled out a pouch. "Now how much was it?"
All three men burst into sudden, and not altogether pleased laughter at the pouch.
"That?" demanded the third man, a bald one with half an ear. "You couldn't even fit fifty coins into that, I'll bet!"
The knight's eyes wandered from the brutes to Talon.
"He's gotten away with a thousand!" the nose man supplied. "The evening before last in another tavern! We tracked him this whole way and we want our money back!"
"We aint leavin til we get it!" The big man was lifting Talon off of his feet again with a malicious sneer.
Talon could see Marcos' fingers twitching over his sword's hilt. The knight was clearly thinking through their options.
"Well Talon," he said. "A thousand in gold? You can't have spent it-"
"And what if I did?"
"WHAT?" bellowed the big man. Spit flecked off on his stained teeth and onto Talon's face. "All of it?"
Talon could feel his heart racing. Sure, a moment ago he had been scared. But- as it inevitably always happened- he was also beginning to feel angry as well. He took one deep breath and wham! He slammed his forehead into the big man's ugly, yellow toothed face. He saw black for a second and then came to as the floor hit him. The big man had dropped him. Even better there was a second wham and a rumble as the big man himself went tumbling back into the wooden floorboards. Talon stumbled to his feet and took a step towards the two shocked men that remained. They stepped back. This was good.
"Any one else want a go?" Talon demanded gruffly as he rolled up his sleeves and swayed under the spell of the liquor. "Maybe I did spend it. The way I see it is that money was stolen already! I've got at least as much right to it as you do- and I outsmarted you oafs fair and square to do it!"
"WHY YOU!" the shorter man with the nose ran at him, head bent low as if he was going to use himself as a battering ram. But before he could complete his intended plan Marcos' sword whipped from its sheath and nicked him in the hand. The small cut was enough to startle the man into a headlong crash at Talon's feet. Marcos already had a sword at the last man's throat. The last man was holding a bottle in his hand poised for striking and had frozen in that ridiculous position.
Not even the flies moved. The man's Adams apple bobbed down and up again as he tried to stare cross eyed at the blade.
"Think about what you mean to do," Marcos instructed in a patient, nearly teacher like tone. "And then think better of it."
The bottle dropped from the man's trembling fingers to the floor with a crash.
Talon kicked at the nose man who was dizzily trying to lift his head. Then he stepped over him and staggered to the door. It seemed as good a time as any to leave. His head was aching from its collision and the tavern's keeper was distracted.
"Well, It's been nice seeing you Marcos," he said. Shouldering his small bag. "Give the knights my regards."
"TALON!" Marcos growled. He was still busy holding the last thug at the end of his sword. "We still need to talk!"
Talon slipped through the door just as the tavern keeper realized that he was leaving. He dashed into a brisk, autumn evening. There was frost on the grass making each of his uneven footsteps sound like crumpling paper. He pulled the collar of his worn jacket closer and sighed out a cloud of steam as he distanced himself from the yells of 'need to pay' and 'need to talk'.
As he meandered towards the road he heard the tavern door swing open. He could hear several feet run off in the other direction with small whimpers and mutterings. Those would belong to the thugs, then. There was no screeching for money behind him, which meant the tavern's keeper had been paid. So the patient, steady tread following him could only belong to the knight. Some how Talon wasn't surprised.
"I'm not going!" Talon announced into the night air. "That's the end of it. I didn't make you come all this way so just leave me alone."
"The last time I spoke to your father he said he was worried about you," Marcos said. "Now I see he had every reason to be-"
"I'll just bet he was," Talon snorted as he quickened his stride. "Give it up Marcos.. there's nothing in this world that could make me go back to that place. You can go ahead and let everybody know that you gave it your noblest shot and -"
"But what about your inheritance?" asked Marcos.
Talon stopped in his tracks.
"He was a wealthy man, Talon," Marcos continued. If he was mistaken Talon could hear a little smugness in his tone. "...and if nothing else you could do with the money."
With recent events taken into account Talon couldn't very well argue. He sank his shoulders and turned to face Marcos, resentfully.
With a heavy sigh he grumbled, "Where's the damned horse?"
a/n: Thanks for reading! I'm sure after a summer of not writing I'll need loads of advice so please don't be shy with criticism. By the way... if you can think of a good synonym for 'tavern owner' I would love to know it. My fantasy terminology needs a little work.