Renfry didn’t think he’d find anyone in here, but it had been worth the look. More dogs looking for bones to pick over than mercenaries, and certainly not soldiers. The few soldiers he’d found in the last three months had been on furlough or assignment in plain sight. Mercenaries, on the other hand, were more common than fleas in a haystack in high summer.
And that Renfry didn’t need.
Enough was enough. What he did need was a meal before he left.
He scanned the noisy pub as he waited for a bar keep to take his order. The sooner Renfry was out of Roarden North, the better. Out of Rorden North, out of Corstarorden –
“What the bloody hell are you doing here?”
Renfry peered through the smoky haze of The Red Fox to find a familiar face staring down at him. A bar keep held a wooden tray that balanced two pitchers of ale stood before him.
His brown hair had grown out a bit more, tied back with a leather thong behind his neck. Topher wore a stained apron that spoke of many a night serving ale and whatever greasy pottage the pub offered as fare. How had Renfry missed the boy?
“Me? What are you doing in here?”
“I should think that’s obvious. You want a meal or an ale or both?” And Topher smiled, for the phrase was something he’d repeated often.
Renfry, disturbed that he hadn’t seen the boy in this dingy pub after he’d traveled with him for weeks, glared at him and said, “Both. What are you doing, in here, of all places –”
Topher said, “People who don’t want to be found hide in places like these. Know what I mean?” And his brown eyes flicked about briefly as he set down an ale before Renfry.
Renfry scoffed. “This seems eerily familiar.” But he swallowed down a bit of ale nevertheless.
“I’ll be back with your stew.”
Renfry was amazed at the change in Topher. He had acquired something that he had before lacked – confidence. Perhaps serving dirty, sweaty drunks in the worst part of Roarden North did that.
“And what brings you to The Red Fox, my friend?” asked Topher when he returned with a hot bowl of pottage.
Renfry shook his head. “I was searching for someone but I won’t be staying. I’ll have to leave as soon as possible.”
“Ah, this is eerily familiar,” Topher smirked. “Avoiding chaos and bloodshed?”
Renfry grimaced and glanced about. Seeing no one of note, he told Topher, “Keep your voice down.” He handed Topher payment for the meal.
Topher shook his head and said, “Keep it. As it happens, I am leaving myself, so consider it on the house.”
“Leaving? What for? Off for the evening?”
Topher rolled his eyes. “For good. Out of the city.” His voice was hushed.
“And why is that?” prompted Renfry. The lad was stubborn – why could he not just out with it!
“Bar keeps stay quiet, keep their eyes and ears open and their mouths shut if they want to keep their jobs. And me, I don’t want to keep my job anymore. There’s – well, people like you – coming through town, a lot more of them, let’s say. In organized units. Very soon. I’d just as soon not be here when they do. I’m leaving tonight. You might want to join up with one of those units,” commented Topher. “I hear it’s very lucrative.” He tossed his towel over his shoulder.
Cheeky little bastard. “What makes you think they’re people like me?”
Topher shook his head and scoffed a bit. “I know a merc when I travel with one, Renfry.” He glanced at where Renfry had belted both his swords beneath his cloak for emphasis.
Renfry took several more swallows and then vowed to lay off, as he had a long night of travel before him. “For your information, bar keep, I am no merc. I am looking for someone of my status, however, which I was doing before I even ran across you.
“As it stands, I am leaving Corstarorden tonight, and I suggest you do the same.”
Topher’s brow furrowed. “Corstarorden. Altogether?”
“Aye.” Renfry threw a glance about the room. Topher ran his towel over Renfry’s table to appear busy, but his face had taken on a concerned expression.
“I leave in twenty minutes. Will that be enough time for you to finish your meal?”
Well, the boy had matured. “What, this greasy shit?” He smiled a bit. Then Renfry said, “I don’t want to be seen out there with you, understand me?” He nodded slightly in the direction of the street.
Topher looked scandalized. “Who would leave town that way? You must be bloody mad. Finish that slop and meet me two back alleyways down. I’ve money saved and a travel bag. I’ll meet you there. I can get us out of Roarden North safely – but you, you get me out of Corstarorden. Do we have a deal?”
In shock, Renfry finally nodded. The new Topher was going take some getting used to.