Lam Berel and the Cobbler
Hours swept by in a blink of an eye. Dust billowed in their wake, blinding, stranding a few merchants they passed along the way. Olivier didn’t notice them, nor the sunset cast over the road and the town looming in the distance, his eyes shut tight. He could only fathom the ride Lana had in store for him if he returned from his journey --when he returned from it. When.
The dark mare didn’t seem to know the word slow, nor give it the time of day, even as foam frothed on her mouth. Her eyes shined, those browns almost red with their gleam, as she pushed herself on, and this was considered gentle. Gentle, as her owner stated.
Olivier squeezed with his legs- arms- anything he could grab the horse with as tight as he could, his eyes clenched tighter. Wind whipped at his tendrils, made his neck ache as it caught his shell, all the while his jacket whipped in the zephyr left in Lana’s wake. It, his heart, her snorts, and her hooves culminated into a beautiful symphony, the beat of adventure.
Lana came to a halt, and the world tumbled around Olivier, crashing into him again and again. He opened his eyes, seeing a cycle of sky and sandstone before he stopped on his back, looking up at those dusky heights. Dust rose around him, coating his arms, his head, as his head throbbed –moreso from the nickering mare beside. He shot Lana a dirty look as she snuffled at him, pushed away as he stood.
“I said I was sorry,” he grumbled. She snorted by his ear and trotted over to the the stable, tucked into the corner of the gateway that was the entrance of Lam Berel. Its keeper, a Terrahn lass, giggled as he dusted himself off, but quickly paid him no mind as she tended to Lana, leaving Olivier to tend to his pride –at least, what was left of it. She wasn’t the only one laughing or watching, after all, and his eyes burned as much as his cheeks as he hurried further into the city.
Most of the outer limits were housing, cottages that were opened, welcoming the warm, spring wind, mingling with the salty cold sea that would keep nights warm as they continued to clash until late summer. There was a long pole set up before the houses, at least enough to take six paces out of the door before running into it, lined with linens and clothes, and, beyond that, wash buckets and ringers set up along a chest-high wall that seemed to simply rise from the foundation.
Then there were the smiths, three, one for weapons, armor, and finer material. Each had a different master, each a different son of Gram Ferin, one from each of his marriages, but none were their own houses, all linked together in blood and masonry. The only one that was separated was the tailors, across the street, manned by his youngest. Each one had a stall set up just outside their windows. Their keepers were already packing up, though, much to the disdain of shoppers still gawking on.
More stalls packed the road beyond, still reeking of produce a bit too aged by the sun. There was no saving that produce; it would be packed up and be burned in the furnace at the shore, even if the poor begged otherwise. There was always a use, but no profit to gain so it wasn’t worth the time of day. Not in that city.
Finally, the path opened for the plaza and the maze that sprawled from it. Tall, stone pillars supported arches that arced over the tavern, the Shelled Aceon. It was the largest tavern in the city, six stories high with a flat roof ready to add another, though the owner would rather not. Star rooms, he called them. Heaven beds. During a clear night like this, they were his windfall. It wasn’t the only tavern, but it was the first one anyone saw coming from the docks, following each and every undulating arch up that set of two-hundred forty steps to the plaza, and the bright blue stone that made up its first three levels always seemed to shine, no matter the weather or time, which made it the conductor of the cacophony and cheer that filled the city, other taverns, and even docks, adding to the chorus.
Though it was only warming up at the moment, people still more than wanting to peruse stands and stalls, Olivier was content with the drone that had rose already. That meant the tavern’s keeper wasn’t bogged down yet, and so he slipped between Aceon and Terrahn, around Cephamorian and Faun, ducked under Natorei and just slunk by Itchyomen, clamoring onto the large deck before the entry. Each of the nine steps thumped under his boots, but it was more welcoming than begrudgingly, as if the good mood and its will had become the building, if not city. He could have sworn he saw a streak or plume of silver, but he simply hoped that was his mind playing tricks as he heaved open the large double doors. Each was as tall as a bull Faun, and just as imposing. The blue stone had continued inside, glistening with soft candlelight. Truly, no room needed more than two, but the fire off to the right, in the sitting room, just before the arch into the dining room, burned nice and hot. There were already people sitting before that fire, occupying, claiming the four long couches stationed there, with the two closest on either side the most filled. Terrahn and Cephamorian manned them, humming, sighing softly as they read books or had light conversations. Another pair, an Aceon and an Itchyoman, were huddled in the tiny nook of the wall that separated the entry and sitting room, playing a game of chess. The Itchyoman was winning, but even then the silver-scaled lass seemed to glower at the Aceon, watching as it moved itself into check.
Someone cleared their throat, making Olivier jump. He turned his attention back to the left, to the bar, and a copper skinned Terrahn was leaning over it. He wore an apron, barely covering his bulky front. Its edges were frayed, front worn down to a musty yellow, yet it seemed to brighten as he gave Olivier a warm smile, spreading to his bright, solid blue eyes.
“Welcome, lad,” he said, his voice booming without even trying, filling the room with its cheer and joy. “Anything I can help you with? I’m afraid to say that I cannot give you a room, unless you are willing to sleep in the cellar.”
He chortled, which Olivier couldn’t help but join in. His eyes were greened, the warmth and merriment truly infectious; his cheeks ached from smiling so much. It’s been a while since he smiled this wide or this long.
“It’s okay. I’m simply looking for someone.” Olivier said, and reached into his jacket, pulling out the notebook. He hoped Strix would have jotted the person’s name down in it –which she did. Now he wasn’t sure whether to be thankful or insulted. “His name is... Ponitius Barolei?”
“Pony Boy? What business could you have with that old cobbler?”
“Oh. He’s ano... a Faun?”
“Nah. That’s just his nickname. Sort of stuck one day. He’s usually down at the dock, manning his stool at the Stay Golden bar. Careful, though; he is usually three mugs in by now, and that’s when he thinks he’s one of the Earth Mothers.”
“He gets mean?”
“In a manner of speaking.”
Olivier thanked him, and turned towards the door. The air got cold real quick as he barked at him to stop, and, slowly, he turned around.
“Y-yes?” Olivier said, the word getting stuck in his throat. All the warmth in that Terrahn’s face was gone. The soft musings in the tavern went still, and Olivier could feel he had every eye on him. And none of them were happy.
“Do you think you’re funny, boy?” the barkeep growled. “Are you trying to be tough or something, wearing those colors?”
Olivier was about to question what he meant when his mind finally caught up and reminded him what was on the back of his jacket. He gulped, and started to take it off. His arms flailed and writhed, trying to get out of the sleeves in haste, and he accidentally grabbed his sword in the process. The Terrahn reached underneath the bar instantly and hoisted onto its smooth, stone top an ugly metal maul. Its handle was a touch rusted, but it was the head of it that suffered the most, caked with it on one side. Even without the flanges, the middle of it was easily the size of Olivier’s shell.
“You don’t want to do that,” the Terrahn whispered, though his voice seemed to command otherwise.
“I.. I didn’t m-”
“Get out. Now.”
Olivier gulped again, and ran out of the tavern, heading for the arch and arches beyond, leading down the stairs. He didn’t stop running, either, until he made it to the bottom, and took three, lumbering steps behind the wall that spanned the entire length of the pier. He leaned against, sliding down it, and clenched his chest, heart racing. He knocked his head against the cool stone, shaking it, whimpering a touch.
I should have taken this jacket off before I came into the city, he thought, and finally managed to get the sleeves off, and the rest followed from there. He balled it up in his arms, made sure the notebook and missive were in reach (while, also, his right arm was nicely hidden under the fabric), and let out a long, exasperated sigh. He let his head fall forward, and gazed at the sea, watching as soft waves rumbled and washed against the dark ships moored. They creaked, making their tethers groan as they fought against the waves lapping at the shore, making way for another black vessel to glide across the smooth, sparkling surface and into port. He simply watched the workers as they climbed and clamored and made such a clangor as they washed and tended to those heaven gliders, while other vessels were being reloaded with crew, getting ready to set off for the night.
He shook his head and remembered why he came down here to begin with. He focused, and scanned that port, at the piers, looking for the bar, until he stopped on a small blemish at the end of one. It was almost directly before him, off to the left, only able to be seen by the tiniest of candles flickering in its tiny window. He rested only another minute, then heaved another sigh before he was forced to stand again, making for that tiny candle. It wasn’t that far a walk, but after his rather... unbecoming encounter with the Terrahn, he was not looking forward to another. It would be his luck he would reach into his jacket for the missive and unfurl the colors before the supposed antagonistic Pony Boy; he shuddered at what would happen then. He was an acquaintance of Strix, after all; considering how she held herself, this could only go bad or worse.
He reached it, and gave the plank door the smallest of pushes, flying in on shrieking hinges. For being rather small, at least compared to the ships, it came off more cozy than cramped. Maybe if it had more than three people, including the barkeep, it would have been the latter, but the air of the place was welcoming all the same. It was permeated with the scent of strong liquor and stronger food, enticing Olivier into the bar even more. He had not eaten a single thing all day aside a bit of potato in the morning.
Sadly, he would have to go hungry a bit longer.
There, at the bar, far to the left and against the wall, was a Terrahn. His coat, pants, and even shoes, though finely made, were ragged, disheveled on the slim gentlemen in it. His skin was a rather pale green, his eyes two pearls, starting to turn a touch red, matching his cheeks with each swig from his mug. He slammed the bar with it as he groaned, ruffling his long, messy, hazelnut hair.
“Rough day, Pony Boy?” The barkeep asked him, not taking his eyes off Olivier as he slowly approached. Olivier felt uncomfortable underneath that Itchyoman’s gaze, his red scale making his six, blue eyes burn. He had a long, black fin along his back, folded back for the moment. It seemed to attach to the two fins on the top of his head, forming a V.
“You could say that,” Ponitius said, and took another drink. “Bloody Tallor Ferin is trying to run me out of business. Did you know he has a child down at the port advertising, and advertising that he does embroidery on boots, no less? Why! It’s simply not practical at sea to have pretty boots... but wouldn’t you know, sailors are eating it up. They are loving his sub-par craftsmanship.” He practically flung the mug back as he finished it off, and the Itchyoman waited for him to put it down. He grabbed it and filled it instantly, placing it back in the Terrahn’s hand, continuing to rant. “He even has another child smearing that my boots were downright ugly. ‘As shoddy as they are ugly-’ Lies! They may not be the prettiest, but to say they are shoddy.” He scoffed and once more consulted his mug. He did not stop until it was empty, and slammed it on the bar again. “He’s lucky he runs fast. Otherwise I would have made him into a pair of boots. Bloody fishman... No offense.”
“None taken,” he said, and nodded Olivier’s way. “If it’s any consolation, seems your customers are following you wherever you go.”
“Huh?” Ponitius finally noticed Olivier. He was still a few stools down, still out of arm’s reach of both gents, but that didn’t stop him from freezing as the Terrahn cocked his head. “Who the bloody hell are you? Even if I was sober, I would remember something like you being in my store or even at this bar.”
“I... I’m Olivier. MayorStrix of Narvaalsentme,” Oliver said, though not without hesitation... and rushing it. He gulped, the hardest one yet, and the moment of truth. He fished through his coat. His hand shook terribly, teeth rattling a touch, but he managed to get the missive out and handed it to the Terrahn. He hoped he didn’t notice his purple arm underneath the red fabric, hoped he didn’t see his hand pulse a little, racing with his heartbeat, but jumped. dreading a little as Ponitius broke the seal loudly on the missive. The Terrahn grumbled as he pulled out a pair of glasses, and continued to do so as he read through it.
He looked up from the missive at Olivier, back down at it, and back up to him three times over before he folded the missive back up and put it in his jacket. He stood, though had to hold onto the bar lest it dashed from under him, and offered his hand to Olivier.
“Ponitius Barolei. Cobbler. Once privateer. At your service,” he said, and fished into his jacket again, rolling his eyes as he threw a dark sack onto the bar, jingling merrily. “There you go, Durnst. My tab should be completely covered.”
“What’s the occasion?” Durnst said.
“It’ll probably be a while before I return, and have to keep my wits about me. The Falchion needs to be made sea-ready a... again. Hoo boy!”
The barkeep jumped over the bar, fin spanning, while Ponitius fell back onto his stool, chuckling.
“Are you serious? You are going back out on the sea, and you thought you could leave without me?”
“Of course not! I was just having a bit of fun with you. You see, our lady friend has a lead on something big, and this fine fellow with a mother that had a fun night with tentacles is going to lead us there.”
“Wait. Us?” Olivier said. “I was only told to get in contact with you.”
“Relax. Durnst, Strix, and I go way back,” Ponitius said, cackling, but silenced, looking at the one other person in the bar, an Itchyoman perched and sitting pretty in a booth before the candle. “We shouldn’t discuss it here. Follow me.”
He tried to stand, but was pushed down by a tricky wisp of air that wafted through the tavern with almost silent grace, leaving Durnst to shake his head.
“I’ll deal with it,” he said, and Olivier wasn’t sure if he should be relieved to have found his mark, to have been accepted so eagerly, or to watch his back more. Drunks and their keepers aren’t often trusted, least of all together.