Rhaury O’Neill trudged along the dusty city street suffering beneath the relentless rays of the world’s twin suns. There had not been a cloud in the sky for weeks, but there was wind, and heat, and parched ground, so that the sky was tainted with a haze of yellow. His mail was almost a part of him, he’d worn it so long, and with the heat of the suns it threatened to burn itself into his skin despite the meager protection of a tabard emblazoned with a red hand and a tattered cloak.
The wars had gone badly for his sides. So many battles, so many places, so many names. This desert gem was called Shinnaflanouthanighool, or something even less pronounceable, so on the long trudge the men had shortened the name of their destination. Even the offal is turned to dust, he thought, covering his face with his cloak against yet another dust-devil swirling around him and on down the bleak yellow thoroughfare.
This is no land for man or beast, he thought, looking about him at desolation beyond his imagination, what has come of it all, what has come of me? Rhaury trudged on toward an appointment with a man recommended to him by a fellow soldier. Once there had been stewards and smiths and servants and folk when he’d been a lord, but now all he knew were soldiers. He had little enough hope for the meeting, but then he was at the point where hope was in short enough supply that even this unlikely meeting was almost all of it he had.
Angus had told him to call at the Green Door tavern at mid-day, and that’s all he knew. Of Angus he’d seen no more since he’d passed the word that a man there was looking for men of experience. That I have aplenty, he mused, but the wars have left little more than the clothes on my back. Gone are my wealth, my family, our lands, my future, and any hope at all, carried away like the wind driven yellow dust of this cursed place.
Perhaps Angus was, even now, enlisted in some mercenary troop, perhaps he was already chained in to the bench of some galley, shanghaied to pull an oar until he died, or he might already be dead and, what little he had left, taken by his murderers. Perhaps a destiny like that awaited him behind the shadowed portal of the Green Door tavern.
Rhaury stared at the door, a couple of steps down and there the first green thing I’ve seen in months. He sighed, loosened his dagger and his sword in their sheathes and stepped down one step, and two, and then he paused, his hand against the roughness of the cracked and peeling green doorway. What madness a man will seize on for hope however slight, he thought. Rhaury pushed his way into the dark interior of the Green Door tavern.
It was more than shadowed dark inside, and close, a few candles struggled to beat back inky blackness. The dark might have offered a reprieve from the suns’ heat, but it didn’t, the room was over warm, and it was foul with sour wine the more sour for rising with a man’s gorge and there were worse smells best left to the imagination. Rhaury would have turned back to the heat of the day, but after a moment, having let the door close behind him, he made sense of the weak constellation of guttering candles that marked out the bar and in the corner, a barkeep lit by the weakly flickering light.
Rhaury felt his way down the last of the steps and crossed to the barkeep, “Do you have anything cool?”
The man laughed, “not if you want a drink.”
“…anything descent?” The man stared at him without even that much humor. “Fine, something that comes in a cup?”
“water, ale, wine,” said the barkeep and he placed a rough tankard on the bar top.
“A bit of the first and the last.” Rhaury said, the man simply stared. Rhaury cleared his throat. “Ummm, wine with water.”
“I heard ya, but ain’t noth’n free. Two coppers for a cup of whatever’s your pleasure.”
Rhaury dug out the required pennies and laid them on the sticky bar top. “Fine then, wine and water if you please. . .” The man poured from a stone jar and then, fumbling around beneath the counter, drew out a pitcher and splashed some of it’s contents into the tankard. The barkeep shoved the vessel in front of Rhaury and paused, eyeing him. Rhaury cleared his throat, ” . . .and I was told there would be a man seeking men of experience. . .”
“ain’t noth’n free. . .”
Rhaury blinked, a bit put off by the man’s glare, and not exactly understanding, “I beg your pardon. . .”
“You asked me ’bout a man, was he here? Well, man’s got’ta make a live’n, see? Ain’t noth’n free tat the Green Door, see?”
Rhaury shrugged and fumbled loose another two copper coins which he tossed onto the bar, “Same rate for a question as for a drink?”
“Close enough,” said the barkeep, he thrust his chin at a place over Rhaury’s shoulder, “There’s a man in that corner might be who you’re look’n fer.”
Rhaury looked around and saw a man huddled in the corner, apparently scribbling in a large ledger book. He writes, Rhaury thought, a man of learning. Perhaps a good sign, or a bad one. At least I’ll likely have a more interesting conversation than of late. Rhaury O’Neill carefully walked over to where the man sat at a table piled with parchment, and ink, quills and his tome. The man smiled as he approached and waved him to be seated in the only other chair next to that particular table. Rhaury watched as the man finished up the writing he was doing. Setting his pen aside he blotted the document he held and tossed it on the pile.