Bace was the first to finish his coffee. He knew that by midday the bar would start filling with people as they finally woke from their Sunday slumber. He stood and slapped an extra tip on the counter. The master, who knew tips were rare and he should never leave money in plain sight in a bar, quickly snatched it away and winked. Bace turned and leaned back against the counter, resting his elbows on the high counter behind him. Kale thought he saw his head cock slightly as he glanced around the room. He pushed himself off a minute later and started walking across the room, stopping to talk quietly to a table of humble farmers. He straightened after the table starting roaring with laughter.
As Bace continued around the room he seemed to grow twice his size. He scanned the crowd confidently and then slowly made his way to the door. Kale noticed and whacked Stephen on the shoulder as he stood. Stephen quickly followed and they walked out the door after Bace.
“How do you do that?” Kale asked when they met outside.
“What?” Bace asked.
“Look all submissive one second and then intimidating the next.” Stephen answered. Bace looked at each of them.
“I don’t know.” Bace answered as he tightened the cinch on Stephen’s saddle. “People expect us to look intimidating. They want us to look like we have everything under control. It makes them feel better.”
“Like they’re more protected.” Stephen seemed to understand. Bace nodded down as he gathered the reins to mount.
“If you keep that in mind people seem to catch on to your vibe.” Stephen quickly mounted and Kale followed but Bace suddenly stopped.
“What are doing?” Kale asked, sensing something was wrong.
“You guys go on ahead. I’m gonna stick around here for a while.” Bace was already settling his horse back onto the fence but Kale noticed him watching someone closely as they entered the bar.
“We can help.” Kale said, watching his friend closely. Bace finally came back to them. He shook his head and suddenly pulled the reins free and mounted. He stood in the stirrups and searched the crowd. His gaze finally locked and he raised his fingers to his mouth. He whistled loudly and a fellow student in his final year spun in his saddle. He caught sight of Bace and picked his way through the crowd towards them. Bace took a few steps towards the man who leaned down from the saddle. Kale could just hear them over noise of the crowd but they were speaking in another language.
“Is that Old Dyritican?” Kale asked Stephen.
“Yup, my Grandpa used to speak it.” Stephen replied.
“I didn’t know he could-” Kale looked down at Stephen and stopped. Stephen lowered his chin and raised an eyebrow. “What?” Kale asked.
“I don’t think we know as much about Bace as you think.” Kale looked away and then back at Stephen. He nodded in agreement. Kale kicked his mount away.
“Where are you going?” Stephen called but kicked his mount after him.
“We’re going to keep an eye on Bace.” He said when Stephen caught up.
“But Bace said-”
“I know what he said, Stephen. This is what we’re trained for, right? We don’t have to walk away.” Stephen looked up at him.
“I’ve been training for seven weeks!” He suddenly threw up a hand in exasperation.
“You’re better than you think Stephen Alexander.” Kale replied sternly. Stephen grew quiet and felt the compliment raise his spirits. He straightened his jacket and then stuck out his chest. Kale grinned as he caught the motion in the corner of his eye and then turned his horse into an alley. They quickly slipped on their leather and then crept down the alley to the back entrance into the bar. They snuck around to the side but Stephen suddenly grabbed Kale’s arm.
“Whoa, whoa.” He whispered and pointed at the window. “They’ll see you.” Kale shrugged and then flinched as a commotion started loudly from inside. A vase flew through the window suddenly and smashed against the side of the building across the alley. Kale and Stephen yelped and threw themselves to the ground and felt the glass shatter over top of them. A loud whistle sounded through the air.
Bace walked into the bar again. The Drinkmaster noticed his re-entry and watched him closely as he sauntered over to a table and sat down. The young soldier scratched his neck and glanced back at the corner where his target slouched in his chair. The master quickly brought him another mug of coffee and, in turn, Bace quietly reassured him that he would take care of the shadow in the corner. Bace recognized the man for the scar that ran down his cheek bone. He was a pirate of sorts; roaming open waters and commandeering anything he could get his hands on. As long as he returned to Port Gail he was on free grounds. Gail didn’t have the rights to take the man in as a prisoner because an act against a Dainer, pirate or not, could lead to a war between the two countries that had signed a peace treaty not ten years ago. If he returned to his home country in Daine he was a wanted man for so many treacherous things it was hard for even a man like Bace to understand.
Bace sat contentedly with his drink to his mouth. The pirate seemed to have noticed him and now sat playing with the vase placed at the center of the table. Bace didn’t appear as much to him. The man figured he could take him easily, striking first at a bystander to rile him up and then use the young man’s desperate grope for control against him. The pirate had been low on funds recently and, now with the raiding season being over, he was desperate to steal enough to get him to the next season. The young soldier set his coffee down suddenly and set his shoulders back. He braced himself against his knees and stood. He turned slowly to meet the pirates gaze. The Dainer grinned and leaned back, crossing his legs as he set his feet to rest on the table. The room grew silent as a sinister chuckle spread across the room. The Drinkmaster dried a mug from behind the counter. Bace paced slowly towards the man who seemed to be content with settling further into his chair. He grabbed his mug and slowly walked it over to counter. He set it down but kept his gaze trained on the pirate, still grinning. A few closest to the door managed to leave quietly.
Bace stopped and snarled a wolfish grin as he sent a chuckle back and looked around the room, encouraging others to laugh along. None joined. Bace turned back and picked up his mug again, twirling the contents floating at the bottom. He watched them spinning and then looked back at the man who suddenly stood. The room seemed to grow quieter yet. Bace paced slowly to the center of the room as the pirate began walking the opposite way along the wall. The Dainer stopped in front of the window with his murderous frame silhouetted against the light coming through. Bace felt a chill pass through him as a motion started from behind and he quickly ducked. He felt a vase splinter across his back and then another suddenly flew overhead and across the room.
“Duck!” A voice suddenly said. Bace turned with murder in his eyes to see an apologizing man with another vase in hand. His glare softened but he turned in time to watch the pirate duck as the vase sailed over head and crashed outside. There was a yelp from outside the window but Bace quickly drew his fingers to his lips and sent a shrill whistle through the air. The room cleared in an instant leaving Bace with just his prey and the Drinkmaster. The pirate flicked his wrist before Bace could recover but he managed to deflect a long dagger with his coffee mug. The mug flew from his grasp and he quickly lunged as Gene tore into the room. Bace was across the room with the pirate on the ground before Gene had time to let his eyes adjust to the low lighting.
Kale and Stephen bolted after Gene and ran into the room the moment Bace threw a man’s head against a table and watched his body fall to the floor. Bace looked up and glanced at each man still in the room. He rubbed his shoulder but then glanced again at Kale and Stephen.
“I thought I told both of you to leave.” He said as he knelt down and dragged the limp man to his feet. The pirate mumbled something as Bace dragged him to the door.
“We’re not just going to leave you.” Kale argued.
“Yes you are. Because I told you to.” Bace grunted and tossed the man outside.
“But-” Kale started again.
“Don’t you argue with me. Go outside and wait for me there.” He said but then turned outside as the pirate stumbled to his feet. “Now you stay out, hear me? You put your back to this city.” He yelled and booted the man’s behind. He turned back in and pointed to his students. “Now.” He growled. Kale shut his mouth and pulled Stephen out.
“You do know how to clear a room, Bace. I’ve got to hand it to you.” The Drinkmaster chuckled. Bace apologized and started picking up the tables and chairs overturned by the crowd. He scratched his head and looked guiltily at the master. Bace waved Gene away and then returned to the counter. He crossed his arms and leaned on the tall table, hanging his head and breathing in deeply.
“You’ll fill up again by supper. Now you’ll have a story to tell.” Bace said as he bent down and swiped the dagger from the floor.
“You stay out of trouble, Bace.” The master called as Bace headed for the door.
“You know I will.” He called back without turning. He was still examining the knife when he found Kale and Stephen by their horses outside. They both watched his approach; Stephen fiddled with his saddled guiltily as Kale crossed his arms and challenged his teacher’s approach. Bace glanced up and surrendered the dagger to his saddle bag.
“When I tell you to stay out of something I expect you to do as I say.” Bace peered dangerously at both.
“Why won’t you let us help you?” Kale argued.
“Do you not understand how dangerous it is to mess with a Dainer?” Bace warned, taking a step towards Kale. He wasn’t in the mood but Kale held his ground.
“Yes, and one day it will be my job as much as yours to look after our country.”
“No, do you understand what I’ve just done?” Bace fired back. Kale stopped, realizing he might be missing something. “When we mess with a Dainer and Daine hears about it they start sharpening their blades. Thankfully he was a pirate which pardons us to at least reprimand without starting a war if trouble should arise. I’ll be lucky to still have my head by the end of the day if the Headmaster hears about this.” Bace hissed.
“What would he have done?” Stephen’s quiet voice suddenly interrupted. Bace and Kale both looked away from each other to give Stephen their attention. “I mean, what do men like him do and why did you know he would cause trouble here?” He asked. Bace glanced at Kale and then turned towards Stephen.
“They steal from farmers, Stephen.” Bace grunted as he mounted, favoring his arm again as he fumbled with the reins. Kale motioned for Stephen to mount and they quickly took off after Bace who led them to the outskirts of the city. The crowds grew thinner until there was nobody in sight. Bace suddenly stopped and dismounted.
“Wait here.” He said as he pulled the dagger from his bag. Kale watched him disappear through a dark doorway and then looked down at Stephen.
“I don’t think I want to go in there anyway.” Stephen chirped.
Bace walked in and immediately hit a wall of familiar smells from his childhood. He quickly ducked as he suddenly came face to face with a few dozen frogs hanging by their feet to the ceiling. The room was dark but he could hear a faint singing and the low murmur of boiling water. The room grew colder as he walked further in. Hundreds of unlit candles lay about the room with hardened wax, once running from the heat, now spiraling over chairs, books, pillows, and dozens of little ships like veins sending blood throughout the room.
“Aunt Mede?” Bace called softly. The singing suddenly stopped and an old woman rounded the corner.
“Bazil!” She called out and hobbled towards him. She pulled his face down and smacked her lips on his cheek. Bace wiped away the spit as she focused on the dagger he passed to her. She swiped it away and brought it impossibly close to her piercing eyes. They widened suddenly.
“This is Daini.” She exclaimed.
“Yes, I know. But is there anything else you can tell me about it?” He asked.
“Well, it’s very sharp. Well taken care of.” As she continued mumbling Bace turned and pulled a book free from the wax strapping it to a table.
“Frog Voodoo?” Bace asked as he held up the book. He glanced at the frogs. His Aunt stopped and looked up again.
“Yes- well.” She stopped. Bace set the book down.
“I pulled the dagger from a pirate.” Bace began but his aunt suddenly spun and disappeared into her kitchen. Bace followed quietly and entered just as she tossed the knife into her boiling pot. Bace lunged but stopped with his hand just above the surface of the water. As the room grew suddenly silent they heard the blade hit the bottom.
“Aunt Mede.” Bace scolded.
“Such a thing should be destroyed, Bace.” She said. “It will only bring evil upon this land.” She whispered her life-long superstitions to him.
“Those dead frogs are more likely to bring evil upon this land!” Bace looked around for something to scoop it out but the only thing available was in his Aunt’s hands. As he took a step towards her Aunt Mede felt a familiar childlike playfulness return deep inside of her nephew. It was a feeling both had long forgotten.
“Aunt Mede. The Daini are not evil. One day we will form a trustworthy alliance with them and you’ll have Daini knocking at your door for the secrets to your medicines and herbs.” He threatened her jokingly and chased her around the pot, swiping for the spoon. Finally he stopped. The warm feeling gone, replaced with a hard-driven duty.
“Oh, Bace.” She sighed sadly on the other side of the pot.
“Aunt Mede, I will not play games with you anymore.” She smiled at him and then scooped out the knife. She set it on the table to let it cool and then watched as her nephew fumbled with a bowl of frog eyes after realizing what was inside. The older woman smiled and then picked up the blade again.
“It’s well crafted, not by any Smith-master though. Otherwise it would have a trades-mark on it.” As she peered closer Bace turned his attention back to her; glad to get away from the eyeballs. “It’s been well looked after, no rust or chips in the steel. The leather on the hilt is very fine, well pounded from a fine beast. There are no jewels though. It won’t be valued as much. The metal though. It isn’t Daini at all.”
“What do you mean?” Bace asked.
“Well, it’s been made in much the same fashion as any of your blades would have been made.” Bace pulled the dagger away and looked at it himself.
“So what’s a famous pirate doing with a Daini blade forged with our metals by one of our tradesmen?” He asked.
“Since when did a pirate carry something worthless?” Mede offered her own suspicions.
“Their blades are always the most valuable thing on them so they can bargain their way out when they’re in a pinch.” She watched him with her old eyes spread wide. Bace glanced at her, his chest rising and falling. He sprinted from the room. As he emerged from the doorway Stephen sighed.
“You okay?” Kale asked, noticing the urgency.
“I think we’re under attack.”