The Tavern Cursed
Part Five – Debts Remain
Bakanon shuffled back in through the shattered door of his tavern, shaking his head, his nerves rattled and heart apounding. The interior had survived remarkably intact from the ferocious buffeting that had resulted upon the detonation of the eldritch manifestation that had plagued the Souk, yet, even so, much had still been upended and the rushes scattered all over.
The trauma and horror of what he had seen weighed heavily upon him and not yet had he recovered. Across his brow, a sheen of cold sweat stood out. He needed a drink, two preferably, to steady his palpitations. At his feet lay a clay mug, tossed about by the blast but unharmed. As he stooped down to pick it up, a thought came to him.
The pair that had unleashed the horror in his tavern, Peregrine and Blade, had not paid for their drinks or meal. It would take more than the mere manifestation of an eldritch abomination to cause him to overlook such a fact. If they were to return, he would have sharp words for them for certain, and a bill for damages.
A figure loomed unexpectedly in the doorway, swaying. Bakanon turned about, empty mug still in hand, thinking perhaps that the pair had returned. Instead he saw outlined a much larger man, an axe resting across his shoulder. He walked in, a little unsteady in his step, yet understandably so, for it was the Kurushu warrior that had so valiantly battled in the Souk, still half torn up form his efforts. Battered and bloodied, his face bruised and swollen and his right eye now fully closed, blood seeping down his face, he made his way across to the bar and leant upon it.
“A mug of your finest,” he ordered, and slapped something down on the rough wooden surface of the bar. For a moment Bakanon could only gape, for what glinted in the grim of the dingy tavern was gold. He had not seen the like of the coin before, as it bore neither the Sultan nor the Flame that marked coins minted in Qaiqala, yet gold was gold, no matter the origin. Perhaps, he assumed, it came up from out of one of the rich southern kingdoms, whence came the warrior, where it was said that the black kings lived in palaces of gold.
“Coming right up,” he promised, his momentary shock overcome by the prospect of gold. He set the mug down on the bar and searched about for something worthwhile to fill it with.
“That pair that helped in the battle,” the warrior started saying, supporting himself against the bar, “I saw them emerge from here.”
Bakanon nodded as he started to fill the mug from a flask he had found; though what it contained he could not say. “They were here, yes, but they have not returned.”
“A pity.” The big man grasped the mug in a bloodied hand and took a long swig from it before setting it back down. “If they return, be sure to tell them that Moduku is looking for them.”
The shocks of the night kept rolling in upon Bakanon and his knees almost gave out beneath him. Before him stood Moduku the Hound, Prince of Tashomba, the man who has slain the Giants of the Red Moors, regarded as perhaps the greatest living hero across all the Swordlands of Kharadas. His mouth flapped open as he sought the words with which to respond.
“I will,” he promised finally. “I wish to speak to them as well.”
From through the broken door came a general murmur of voices from out in the Souk, and to add to Bakanon’s bewilderment, people began to enter, a stream of them flowing in, talking and laughing. Some picked up tables and benches, or relit torches, while others ordered drinks. From somewhere that Bakanon could not see, a tune began to play and soon voices were raised in song to accompany it where once had been only a sombre silence.
As his befuddled senses began to return to some sense of normality, and he busied himself serving his new patrons, the only conclusion that he could reach was that the curse which had lain upon his tavern had been broken. The pair, Peregrine and Blade, had done him a great service after all, and he owed them for that. Still, a bill was a bill, and when they returned, a fact of which he had no doubts, they would have to pay up like anyone else.
The lights of the city shimmered in the night behind Peregrine and Blade, dominated by the torchlight and mage-light that illuminated the Red Mesa that towered over the city, the giant figures of heroes carved along its walls, and by the flame that burned bright from the highest tower of the Red Palace atop the Mesa. They strode along one of the many roads that radiated out from the city, down which flowed the wealth and trade of nations.
Some day they would return to Qaiqala, with all its mysteries and wonders, but for the time the road stretched ahead of them and the world theirs to explore. In the far cold north, dark waters swirled along the shores of Navodia, while upon the tropical islands of the west lurked pirates and monsters and the ruins of civilisation far older, wiser and crueller than man. In the forests and hills beyond Cahadia were monsters barely seen and wilds untouched. From the jungles of southern Metsheput, to the city-states upon the plains with their scheming nobles and priests and scholars, to the deserts of the Hashalite nomads, all that and more awaited them; honour and glory, fame and fortune, love and loss. Yet for the time they walked on, oblivious of the legends they would walk in to.