The trek had lasted a day longer than either had expected. They stopped every few hours when they encountered tracks left by their pursuers. It was estimated there were at least twenty warriors, the largest Zoar had seen travel together. If they had slaughtered an entire village, they had taken a blood oath to finish their mission; she feared that would be her demise.
When they reached the city it dwarfed the little village they had come from. Easily the largest thing Zoar had seen except for the mountains. There had been a few occasions where the tribe had navigated within sight of a city, but they tended to stay clear of others except when they had a need.
The city’s buildings were several stories tall and formed with wood and bland gray stone. Windows were shut up and few stood in doorways or wandered the streets. The city was unwelcoming.
“We need to get you a change of clothes first, you stand out like a poisonous snake here,” Zoar acknowledged his double meaning.
“How do we do that? Don’t your people barter and trade, we have nothing of use,” she put an edge on her tone.
“I do, you’re people stripped me of everything but my clothes and money,” slight amazement at the tribes priorities.
“All is not lost.”
They travelled through the damp streets, eyes from every alley and door frame watching the unusual pair with a hunger. Zoar kept her spear in hand and ready, were any unusual person to decide to become mortally wounded today.
An old woman careened from an alleyway in front of them, Gilbred could barely place his hand on her shoulder causing her to whip around with a scowl.
“What is it,” she blurted out clearly impatient.
Gilbred was taken aback for a moment, then returned with a softer approach, “We are in need of a warm bed and some food.”
“Ah,” she said eyeing Zoar. “Running off with one of them are yeh?”
Their expressions were identical disgust.
“I am a Judge of the Remnant,” his softness was gone.
“You don’t look like any Judge I’ve seen. Whatever you think you are it makes no difference to me, there be a tavern not too far from here.”
The old woman gave them directions with a scowl and hurried away. The inn was exactly where she had guided them; a murky building but glowing with light and mirth inside, something they had yet to encounter since their arrival.
The two entered unnoticed. The tavern was deceivingly large once inside, it opened up further back than could be seen from outside. It was filled with men and a few women all circled around tables or in booths. The boisterous company, which were the primary bunch, hid those more aloof in their booths tucked away with ale or woman, uninterested in any gambling or storytelling.
Zoar looked around unsure, it was not completely unlike the festivities within her tribe, though those always seemed malicious in nature. If you get enough people together they stop differing so much from one another.
There was a large group of men huddled around table playing some sort of dice game, and a group of misfits at a table mumbling bar songs. Zoar was on guard as they pressed to the back of the tavern towards the bartender. Almost overnight, she was one of countless now she’s the minority.
Gilbred squeeze between two large men to speak with the bartender. Zoar listened hard to catch what was being said.
“I need a place to sleep, possibly a few nights,” Gilbred said.
The bartender gave them a shameless speculative look, “What business do yeh have bringing one of them here?” He motioned.towards her with a thrusting finger.
“Our business is our own, we’re not here for trouble, we just want to put some coin in your pocket and stay out of the way,” he leaned in and whispered something she couldn’t hear.
“She looks to be the one armed,” he smirked.
There was a silent battle going on. Eye’s locked each waiting for a tell from the other. A moment later money won.
“Well, I happen to have an extra room. Not one I fill often, its mostly home to undesirables who need a bed,” a grin that made Zoar’s stomach turn spread on his face.
“How much?” Gilbred asked.
Gilbred resisted the outburst, “That’s not an option, especially not for the runt of the rooms. I’ve got twelve copper burning a hole in my purse, and that’s it,” he reached into the black folds of his shirt and slid his hand across the bar, leaving the copper in front of the bartender.
With a grunt the man took the coins and threw a thumb behind himself, “It’s down the hall on the end. Enjoy.”
They left the bartender without another word heading down the narrow hall. The door swung open popping and clicking and stopping with a start. It opened into a dilapidated room, there were no windows, a sunken creaking floor with missing boards, and a large sack bursting with soiled straw. This room hadn’t seen a cleaner since it was furnished, maybe before.
“I claim the floor,” Zoar said quickly.
“Sendiil protect me from any infirmity or disease,” Gilbred said under his breath.
Zoar removed her large pack, separating her tent from the rest.
“I have pelts if unless you want to wake up with a rash in the morning sleeping on that,” she didn’t need to motion to the makeshift bed.
“That would be fine.”
They set up beds that seemed infinitely more appealing than the disfigured lump in the corner.
Gilbred turned to Zoar, “I’m going to get some food, are you staying here or coming with?”
“I have no money to barter for food,” Zoar said refolding her pack.
He stood there a moment, then said, “Until I can sort out all of this, you’re my responsibility.”
She didn’t want to be someone’s responsibility, she had taken care of herself since her first sign of becoming a woman; as had all of her tribe when they came of age. But, eating was more appealing than fighting for pride’s sake, tonight.
The main hall had died down only slightly. It was less populated, but the group that was the noisiest still remained, throwing things on the table with a clatter then bursting out with noise at the results. Gilbred ordered their meals from the bartender, and they sat in a booth waiting for it to arrive.
Uninterested in conversation, they both watched the game. Zoar noticed every few minutes Gilbred would lean trying to get a better view of the table with little luck. The bartender arrived and deposited two bowls of brown soup and a chunk of bread and returned to his post to grimace generally. Gilbred’s attention was forced to the painful ache in his stomach and began shoveling spoonfuls of food into his mouth. Zoar followed in suite, and had she not been hungry she would’ve acknowledged more so the unusual feeling of eating a meal. The last of their travels had been through muddy country with little to feed off of, and the city was lifeless; all but the unpleasant inhabitants.
Zoar’s stomach stretched and burned. She had never been so ravenous, and eaten so carelessly. Her shrunken stomach rarely saw food, and she had to resist the urge to vomit. There was no way the first sustenance was going to be wasted.
Another cheer burst out. The ringleader corraled them like cattle, captivating and herding them as they played whatever it was they played. He had a wide brimmed hat in one gloved hand and pointed with his other. He wore charisma like his long coat, a charming grin peered from under his lightly bearded face. Though he was probably the same age as Gilbred, probably ten years older than herself, she could see how they could be appealing. There was something to be noticed though, he wore a blade on his belt. A shining silver hilt could be seen when he leaned forward in the slit of his coat.
Gilbred had finished his meal and was watching the man again. Every time he reached for and picked up the skittering pieces his eyes narrowed. Then after another toss, the man retrieved them and held them open handed in victory.
Two stones sat there, a opalescent one and one darker than night; it appeared to capture the light within itself like a void. He cast them across the table again and Gilbred stood from his chair and strode to the table. His hand slapped down on the table around the two stones. The room went silent.
“Where did you get these?” Gilbred demanded.
“Friend, we’re simply having a little bit of sport here. If you would like to join simply say so,” the man smiled and extended his hand for the stones.
“Do you have any understanding of what these are?”
“Sure, cheap entertainment for the guests here. How about this, you can toss the next round.”
Now what? Zoar watched in shock, waiting for Gilbred to make his next move. Surrounded and between drunk men and their fun, for no other reason than to ruin it, it seemed. The group started to grow restless and for a second it seemed Gilbred could be in serious danger.
The gambler stepped over to Gilbred and leaned in to whisper below the growing chatter of the disgruntled company.
“You ought to sit back down, before you do something I can’t fix,” his warning was clear and without misinterpreting.
Gilbred’s hand loosened, clearly realizing the situation he had put himself in. The man retrieved his stones and faced the group.
“This gentleman is unaware of the ways of our humble city, a traveler passing through. Let’s not fault him for his honest ignorance, shall we?” the company’s fervor subsided and redirected to the game at hand.
The man gave him a wink and was back entertaining. Gilbred was clearly flustered. Pent anger showed through his occupied expression as he snatched the remains of bred from next to his bowl and left down the hall. Zoar didn’t linger long, feeling entirely out of place and followed to their room.
Gilbred sat with a single candle lit lighting a scroll in front of his eyes. Tired and uneasy in her stomach, Zoar decided sleep was a more viable option than exploring what just happened. Though, there was fear that he may bring about more danger before their time together was finished.
And hour later sleep started creeping in, and the candle was blown out.