The old cobbled streets of Devonfleet Hollow had a simply wonderful air about them; they crackled excitedly and reflected the sunlight in a very perfect way. The hamlet was known for its homely ambience be you a local or not. It was coming to the end of the national holiday, so people were squeezing in their last goodbyes before heading away from the place that they had once called home. Alcohol was on the cusp of drying everyone out and was readying itself to leave them with nothing.
'I hope tha' don't mean trouble.' rasped a concerned bartender barely parting his lips and pointing to a particularly gruesome looking scar on Jorrah's face. It shined with a majestic splendour as the candlelight danced over its edges.
'This?' 'Well, it came at a price.'
'Yeah? And tha' er— bein'?'
Jorrah leant forward.
'People always ask me whether it means trouble.' He raised an eyebrow, in an attempt to drive a splint of humour into the tension.
The bartender snorted out his disbelief. The splint dissolved.
'Look, stranger. Answer or leave. 'Cos I ain't servin' some wisecrackin' mug.'
Jorrah looked down at his glass, let his mouth curl into a thin-lipped smile and silently chuckled to himself.
'I had a run-in with a wild cat when I was younger, is all.' he confessed under a large sigh, his conviction well-rehearsed as if this tale had been told countless times before. Jorrah pulled something from pocket. Whatever it was, it was wrapped up tight in the finest violet-coloured silk. He peeled back the corners of the silk to reveal a large yellowing claw.
Nearby eyes — safe behind an imbibed window — nervously rose out of their cradled drinks.
'Tha' looks like it come from a pretty biggun.'
'Yeah, they grow bigger where I'm from. Almost twice the size.'
'Yeah?' Jorrah nodded in confirmation. 'Play it by, then.'
There was a slight pause. Being this far from his home, Jorrah often found himself at a loss when coming to dialectic barriers. He didn't understand what the stocky, youth meant by play it by. The young bartender flicked his grimy bar-rag over his shoulder as he became intolerant to the fact that his request didn't seem to bear much weight to the swarthy individual before him.
'Don't leave me guessing, son. How'd it come abaat?'
Picking up on this hint Jorrah entertained the bored proprietors fancies, speaking of a time from almost a decade past; the one where he found himself being unwillingly forced over the threshold of manhood. When he had accidentally found himself between a mother and her young. It had been the first time he had ever had to kill for himself.
While Jorrah told his jarring tale a tall, wiry figure passed silently through the sparsely-lit tavern.
His steps did not suggest much certainly, despite his purpose being pretty clear. He stood next to Jorrah, swaying gently, thoughts a light lather. The fact he did not command the attention of the barkeeper rankled him. He allowed his empty stein to crash heavy onto the bar directly between Jorrah and the captivated barman.
'I'm occupied, bud.' The barman grinded out his words through the stained edges of his teeth. He looked over at the figure now leaning aggressively onto the bar: palms down, fingers inward. The greasy man seemed very eager to be served; his chest muscles tensing visibly under his tight taupe waistcoat.
Jorrah cast an eye over him, too.
His eyes, steel - both in colour and intensity. His bitter gaze gradually flitted between the two of them, while he eagerly awaited to be tended to.
'Think ya may of had enough there, mate.' Said the barman, cool as anything. He was leaning surreptitiously against the back bar; head tilted back slightly, he looked down his nose at the shadowy character, accentuating his strong jawline.
Jorrah took a gentle swig of his resinous ale.
Nice and viscous - just the way he liked it.
After each soft, calculated sip he enjoyed pushing his lips out into a pout and sucking the remnants of flavour through his teeth; running his tongue over his gums and collecting the sweet honey-flavoured residue.
One of the hands resting on the bar closed into a tight fist and, before anything could be done with it, another hand had bore down upon it.
Jorrah sat up slightly. His tongue made the rounds. As delicious as ever.
'No need to leave your head behind, young 'un.' Jorrah put it ever so calmly that the underlying malice could easily have been missed. He turned his head toward the impatient patron. For the first time the patron seemed to noticed the hideous scarring which covering the left side of Jorrah's face. He pulled his hand away sharply and backed away from the bar. The man went pale. He never letting Jorrah leave his eyesight Then he turned on his heels and took flight.
'Don't you leave ya head behind, neither— you 'ear?' warned the barman without a moment's hesitation. Jorrah smiled.
'Never dream of it.'
Their glasses met to a dulcet tone; the splint's putting an end to the tension.
Jorrah slid the claw over the surface of the bar, towards the barman. The velvet made a nice sound as it was whipped from underneath.
'Your name?' Jorrah asked as he carefully replaced his piece of velvet into the inside pocket of his fine jacket.
'Me? Erm— I'm Tylow.'
'Right, Tylow. Listen. I'm going to give you this here claw, alright? Then I want you to put a hole in it. To hang it up somewhere. Never know— it could be a decent, little mantle.' He then added, 'Besides…no purpose in me keeping it.'
Jorrah shrugged. 'I've already gotten a pretty enough trophy from where it fish-hooked me. I don't need to be carrying this around with me anymore. It just gets heavier, you know?' He poured the rest of his drink with a fervorous thirst. Then, naturally, he cleaned his teeth with a hearty suck and gave a wide smile to Tylow.
'Listen. I can't take this withaat givin' ya somefin in return, like. You fancy anova one?'
'Can't say I can. Must be taking legs.' Jorrah groaned as he rose to his tired feet and went about stretching some life into his legs.
'I really can't let you leave withaat takin' nuffin. My ma raised me better than tha'!' He rushed into the backroom and could be heard pottering around. There was barely enough time for Jorrah to put on his overcoat, when he re-emerged. 'Here. I bet you'm hungry, right?'
'Never one to turn down food, me.' He smiled wider still. Two kind eyes met the gesture with graceful appreciation. 'Thank you kindly.'
'Nuffin, mate. It's a part of our way. We are taught young to always return favours.'
'Well, allow me to thank you again.' Jorrah, still smiling, lowered his head in gratitude, and bowed himself out.
The touch of midnight hung heavy, pressing down with a callous chill. Jorrah decided to walk briskly over the cobblestone as if he was trying to outrun it; trying to free himself from such malice.
A sharp whistle brought him to a halt. He turned his head towards where it had sliced through the thick, algid air.
There, waiting for him, barely visible amidst the darkness of the unlit alleyway, was the tall figure.
Jorrah did not hesitate to approach. He spoke first.
'You were right.'
The strange man from the bar seemed to have sobered up in the cold. He lined against the wall holding a cigarette. The cinders added some much-needed colour to the night.
'See! It's a custom here. Can't refuse a gift and can't leave a gift unreturned, they told me.' he said smirking smugly.
'Give me my hat, man.' Jorrah took back his beloved head-piece and dusted it off.
The man took a long draw and, as he spoke, ribbons of smoke escaped from the corner of his gnarled mouth.
'These gensaroots are an absolute goldmine! Can't believe how much they look like massive cat claws.' He removed one from the sac on his back and inspected it in utter adulation.
'Yeah, this was one of your better ideas, man.'
'Trust our look to come across that copse of the stuff, though. By the sky!'
'I know, right?' Jorrah agreed.
'And the spoils?'
'Decent amount of bread and er— by the smell of it, a pretty decent soup, too.'
'By the fucking sky, my brother.'
'You said it, my brother.'
Both marauders smiled over their bounty as they shared bread over and tucked into yet another hard-earned sup.