In which an adventurer turns Alrey to his side.
He was exhausted, to say the least.
He could not say whether it was the sudden warm weather or the ride all the way south. He nodded to himself, deciding it was the weather.
Frankly, it was not that much hotter than back in his hamlet in the snowy mountainous north. However, he was not used to any warmth around him other than his family's hugs, lost long ago, and the heat of Thunder's body.
Where they were now, after a week long ride, was warm enough for him to remove his jacket, which was over an undershirt, a shirt and a warm sweater. He kept everything on his legs, though. Nevertheless, not having to wear a jacket outside was a miracle to him. It was mostly likely why everyone gave him confused and curious glances as he passed on Thunder; he was grinning like a child in a colourful sweets shop, glowering around himself. He would have thought it was because of the umagon, but all those eyes were up on him, not down on her.
He dismounted and spun around, walking aimlessly through the clean streets of the lively village. There was not much more than ankle-deep snow even around the village, let alone on the often used and cleaned streets. Every now and then someone would shovel piles away, tossing them where no one walked. They also seemed to throw salt around to help the cause.
"I'm starving," he muttered to Thunder as he clung onto her back, taking in the warm smell of bread and broth wafting from the houses around him. He had been eating what Thunder left him from her catch. It was a generous amount, but he would not mind some vegetables and bread. Only eating meat for a week was a bit too much for him.
He wondered if perhaps he could work in a tavern again. The last time he left home, he went further north. There, they welcomed him with open arms and let him help around in exchange for food and a bed. They even encouraged him to tame the chimera whenever he was having second thoughts after dreadful encounters. They even suggested an umagon over the others. He often regretted not having stayed there. Back home, he had found only an empty house and hostile neighbours. He regretted ever returning and staying there.
Thunder stopped in front of an inn as if hearing his thoughts. It was twice the size of the houses surrounding it, having three storeys above the ground one.
The Old Waist Inn. Whatever that meant?
Alrey slid off Thunder's back and walked inside, the umagon circling around the inn and heading wherever she was headed outside the village. Fear and shyness were nowhere to be found inside him as his stomach growled due to the fantastic smells wafting out through the open windows.
The door swung closed behind him as he slowly took one step at a time towards the bar through the loud chatter and singing of the inn's patrons. It was around midday, yet they were already drunk. The majority of them were, at least.
The innkeeper took a swig of beer from his glass as he watched Alrey approach with a frown on his aged face. The boy hesitated before sitting at the empty bar. The patrons occupied all the tables. "Welcome, lad," the innkeeper spoke with a thick accent. It was merely a week ago that he left his home - he could not have come far south enough for such an accent. Or perhaps he knew too little about the world and whatever his mother had told him once was not exactly an undeniable truth. Yes, it must have been the latter.
"Hello," he muttered, dipping his head in greeting, adjusting himself on the tall barstool. The innkeeper curiously tilted his head.
"How old are ya, kid?" he asked, wrapping his long fingers around his glass. It was still half-full.
"I'm seventeen," he replied, looking up into the innkeeper's dark eyes. The older man laughed. He was not really old - he was middle-aged.
"Then why do ya look like ya've never been to a tavern?" he asked.
"Because I haven't?" Alrey did not want it to sound like a question, but his face was taken over by confusion as he frowned slightly. The innkeeper laughed.
"Where ya hail from?" he asked.
"I'm, um, from...," Alrey stumbled over his words as they rolled off his tongue. His hamlet did not have a name. Ever. Cut off from the world, they did not require one. "My home..." he muttered. He shrugged. "It's six houses along a road. Without a name."
"Oh, so ya come from that kinda place?" the innkeeper chuckled and shook his head. "There're many places like yer home. I'm from one." Alrey tilted his head curiously, observing the grinning innkeeper. "Really," he answered the boy's unspoken question. "Anyway, what shall ya have?" He took a sip of his beer.
"I... uh, I don't have any money," Alrey muttered, lowering his eyes onto the bar. The innkeeper raised an eyebrow.
"Lookin' for a job, are ya?" he asked. "'Cause I've got one fer ya," he continued cheerfully, rubbing his hands together with a grin cemented on his face, eyes sparkling. "Actually, I really could use a hand round 'ere. Care to help? I can pay ya an' all. A real job." He drawled the word 'real'. Alrey looked back up at him. "Name?"
"Alrey Vid." The innkeeper nodded.
"I'm Seren Tis," he said, outstretching his hand. Alrey shook it. "Nice to meet ya."
"You, too," he said.
"Are ya hungry?" Seren asked. Alrey nodded sheepishly. The innkeeper nodded back and disappeared through a door behind the bar, appearing soon with a plate of...
At least there was some bread on the side.
Alrey muttered a thank you as he wolfed his food down, Seren laughing at him quietly, slowly finishing his beer. In the meantime, an older man with tousled brown hair sat beside him and took a whiff of the air, closing his eyes in satisfaction. He himself strongly reeked of alcohol.
"Give me that one," he spoke loudly, nodding to the innkeeper. Alrey curiously glanced up between the two men. Seren sighed and raised an eyebrow, his wide grin gone.
"Ya got the coin to pay?" he asked. The ragged man grinned. He was missing an upper left tooth. Alrey flinched at the sight and returned to his food.
"Naturally," the man replied, still grinning, and slammed a few silvers in front of Seren. "And give me... heck, I don't know. I'm in the mood for rum today. I've had enough of beer." Seren lazily grabbed a bottle and filled a glass with its dark liquid, placing it in front of the ragged man. "Thank you." He took a swig and exhaled with a grin. Seren collected the coins and turned around, disappearing behind the door again. He did not come back immediately.
The ragged man turned to stare at Alrey after downing his drink.
Alrey flinched, poking the last piece of cut up meat on his plate. It was venison.
"You don't look like you're from here," he said.
"Bingo!" The ragged man seemed satisfied with Alrey reply. They remained silent as he finished his last bits of food. "Tell me..." The ragged man paused. It was a long pause, Alrey thought as he waited for the man to finish his sentence. "Tell me...," he repeated. Alrey flinched at the suddenness, his back straightening. "Have you ever wanted to be an adventurer?" Alrey raised his eyebrows.
"Adventurer?" He had not once in his life heard that term.
"Yes," the man said, nodding. "I am one." Alrey eyed him, remembering the missing tooth. That was not really his dream. "I've been one ever since I've come of age, when I was able to earn a coin for doing work all around. I would have started earlier, but they don't pay a mote of dust for anyone under the age of fifteen. Should've lied..." He seemed to lose himself in his thoughts for a longer moment before he shook his head. "Well," he slapped Alrey back, "you look of age." Alrey nodded. "How would you like to become like me?"
"I still don't understand what an adventurer does," he said.
"True, true," the man said, running a hand through his hair. His fingers got stuck, making him painfully untangle a few strands, or rather fiercely pull them apart, grimacing in dissatisfaction. "Well, an adventurer is always on the move. We help out those in need when we come across such. We also go after all those fantastic creatures for bounties, or sometimes to make friends." He laughed. Alrey remained still, listening carefully. It did not seem like what he was going for - being a warrior in the army or a paid hunter, maybe an archer in the army if he could even properly shoot an arrow. "On most days, we socialise, have fun. However, we often go after treasures and to explore the world." He frowned. "Sure, many have already explored it, but we do it again. We go to the uninhabited places, mostly. You know, sunken temples, buried temples, temples in ruins. Many temples..." He laughed again. "Well, we also protect this world together with all those deities. The kings and queens and all those peeps hate it, but who cares? I don't." He grinned, eyes sparkling. "I have actually spoken to a deity once, but hell if I can remember his name... It's been many a year ago." He shrugged, his grin becoming a small smile dancing on his lips.
"Well, do you want to join me? I'm about three times your age, I should teach someone already," he said, stroking the stubble on his cheeks and chin. Alrey fidgeted for a moment.
"Well," he muttered. "I was planning on trying to learn sword fighting and join the army." The adventurer laughed. Seren emerged through the door, handing the plate in his hands over to him, making him stop laughing as he smelled his food. He glanced at Alrey Vid.
"We shall finish our conversation in a moment. Think about it," he said and did not waste a second longer, turning to his food and attacking it like a ravenous beast.
Alrey thought about it as he observed the man next to himself. He would see the world. He had always thought it was not something that interested him, since all he wanted was to get away. However, now that he was far from the hostile glares of his old neighbours, the world tempted him. Besides, he was sure Thunder would find it far more enjoyable. He doubted she would be treated well if he were to join the army. If she were accepted at all by the others, that is.
"Okay," he said, having decided. There was nothing to lose when you had nothing at all but yourself and your animal companion.
The adventurer spared a glance and a grin, continuing his battle with the venison.
"Ya'll pay fer him then, eh, Rasik?" Seren said calmly, a small smirk appearing every now and then as he watched the adventurer click his tongue and shuffle through his pockets for some extra coins. Alrey blushed as the coins hit the wooden bar and the innkeeper's hand covered and took them.
"Don't worry, you'll make up for it," said Rasik, mouth full. "Just enjoy for now while you're in my care."
"Or in other words, don't relax fer a moment, kid," Seren advised, shrugging and folding his arms. "He's unreliable an' needs a caretaker."