Tinder stood at the vegetable stand and stacked onions. They were nice ones, firm and large, and they would fetch a good price. She had bought the stand from the old biddy who used to own it with the coin that the dwarf had given her. That, and the price she got for her room in the tavern, had allowed her to take two rooms in the building behind the stand. She knew that the owner of that building would like to sell in the future. She wondered if she could make an offer and move her wares inside. Perhaps offer something beside vegetables. So many of the buildings in the harbor had been destroyed the sailors had nowhere to buy their supplies. A general store might do very well.
In the middle of making these plans she stopped. With a start, she realized that she was planning a future, a future that lay well beyond a bottle of wine in the corner of a tavern. Indeed, she had not been in a tavern, not had a drink, since the day of the kraken attack almost a month ago. Sdid not even want one.
And she felt something else. Something so foreign, so long forgotten, that she had troubled put a word to it. But there it was. She was happy. For the first time in as long as she could remember, she was happy.
Ruyle came out from behind the stand carrying carrots in her apron.
“Can I stack these ones?” she asked.
“Of course you can,” said Tinder. “But after that it’s time for your bath.”
“Do I have to?” she asked with a pout.
“Yes you do,” said the stonemason from the doorway of building.
Harry Bandle looked around his tavern. At least half the town was there and they were talking to each other in ways they hadn’t in years. They were laughing and arguing, discussing local issues and bragging about accomplishments. It was a scene that Harry thought he would never see again, but here it was.
The change had started about a month ago. There had been no visits from the Lord Baltrog or any of his minions in a month before that time. No new monster of a sheriff had been appointed to the town. For weeks the townspeople took this to be the lull before the storm and had braced themselves for some new horror, some new tax or punishment. But when it didn’t come, people cautiously began to resume a life they thought they had lost forever. Children began to play outside again. Members of the old village council reformed and an election was held. Tom Irontone was appointed sheriff (he hadn’t had one of his spells in two months). It wasn’t perfect – there were arguments and petty disputes about land and titles – but it was real life lived without fear. It was a community again.
The door of the tavern swung open and a dwarf stepped in followed by a half-elf. The room fell silent. Harry recognized the man. It was Grimm, the dwarf who had brought so much of Baltrog’s wrath on the village, the one who said he would protect Harry and kill the lord. He was back, and that could only mean more trouble. And the ranger, the woman who had shot the rope that was hanging the dwarf. She was back too.
The dwarf and half-elf crossed to the bar and climbed onto stools. Every face in the room was turned towards them, some with looks of resentment but most with fear. The dwarf looked back at them, one by one, making eye contact then moving on to the next. Finally he turned to face Harry Bandle.
“Baltrog is dead,” he said. “And I would like a drink.”
No one moved; no one breathed.
Finally Harry spoke. “Dead?”
“Dead,” said Voltag. “Drowned like a herring.”
Still unsure of what he had heard, Harry turned to Yolanthe. “Dead?” he asked.
“Baltrog is dead,” she said.
Still no one moved. Then, at the back of the tavern, Tom Irontone stood up. The other tavern patrons turned in his direction when they heard his chair scrape back. Irontone raised his mighty hands and began clapping. The fellows at his table stood and began clapping too. In a few second the entire room was standing and applauding. Some began to whistle, others began to hoot. A few took off their caps and threw them in the air. Glasses were raised in the traveller’s direction. A few young men ran out of the building to spread the news to the town.
“About that drink,” said Voltag to Harry.
“You may drink here the rest of your days and not pay a coin,” said the barkeep.
“Aye, but I’ve got a special thirst,” said Voltag. He rummaged around in his pack and came up with a dusty bottle of green liquor.
Harry recognized it immediately. It was Yollithian wine, the same as the bottle that he had poured for Baltrog, the same that he had hoped to save until the day his brother returned.
“Where did you find this?” Harry asked.
“Ask me no questions,” said Voltag tapping the side of his nose. “Now, who should we share this with?” He looked around the tavern at the revelers. “They all seem a bit busy.”
Voltag gave a wink to Yolanthe who put two fingers in her mouth and blew a piercing whistle. The tavern patrons fell silent at the sound and turned expectantly towards the travellers, hoping for some other piece of good news. Instead, the tavern door opened. Standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the dying light of the day, was a tall man. With a hesitant step, he entered the tavern. When he moved into the candlelight of the tavern, a few patrons gasped at his appearance. He was dressed in passable, but ill-fitting clothes, and he walked with difficulty, but what shocked the patrons were the circular scars on his face and the strange fleshiness of his neck. He wore an eyepatch. He approached the bar and looked at Harry Bandle.
The two men stared at each other. The stranger seemed afraid of Harry, as though he didn’t know what the barkeep might do at his appearance. Harry stared at the man with total bewilderment, a bewilderment that slowly turned to recognition, then to disbelief, and finally to wonder.
“John?” asked Harry.
“Harry,” said Captain Bandle.
At some point during the party the dwarf and half-elf slipped out of tavern. A child kept awake by the noise from of the tavern was later to say that she had seen the two talk for a while in the town square. She said they had exchanged a clumsy embrace. Then the half-elf had turned and run straight into the woods, up the slope of the mountain. The dwarf watched her go, then straightened his pack on his back and took the road leading to the great plains, stopping once to look back at the forest into which the ranger had disappeared.
But who can trust the word of a sleepy child?