The tavern was crowded, noisy; perhaps not the best choice for this meeting but there had been little chance for any negotiations. The pale diminutive blond scanned the busy room disdainfully before finding what he was looking for. The far corner was isolated and dimly lit. He could make out a pitcher and tankard, a shallow bowl for ashes, and an oil lamp with the wick burned so low it took a moment to see the hulking figure sitting with his back to the wall. Indeed he would have missed him completely had the man not puffed at his pipe and illuminated his face in the brief orange glow; the blue gaze challenging through the smoke.
The small blond didn't hesitate. Motioning to the two guards with him, they shoved their way through the drunken throng and approached the man's table. Without waiting for an invitation he pulled out the opposite chair and dropped into it. He idly dug into a pocket of his cloak and freed a square of folded cloth that he held between his fingers. Everything about him was pale, nearly transparent, belying an albino heritage and successfully making him untouchable. The superstition surrounding this rare trait instilled a quiet awe in the common folk. Not so with the big man across from him.
"You are a difficult man to find, I must admit," He offered and found that they had more privacy than he initially thought. The big man smiled without warmth, leaning forward in another cloud of blue-grey pipe smoke and ignoring the dark brown curls that spilled across his forehead, "I am-"
"I know who you are," The man's voice was deep, baritone; rumbling from his broad chest and tainted with the accent that forever pegged him as an outsider, "The wily Banan, the king's Keeper, law enforcer, and loyal mutt."
The two guards, at attention against the wall, started forward and were checked by another motion from Banan. His near white eyes never left the big man's intensely blue and he merely inclined his head.
"Indeed, my name is Banan," He replied, "And it must follow that you know why I am here; why you have been found out, Edgar Dobb, the bowman."
Edgar Dobb, the bowman, sat back in the chair, puffing at his pipe and staring at Banan.
"Aye, I know why you're here, but don't think for a minute that you found me. You know damn well that if I hadn't wanted you to find me, you never would have."
Banan did not like being reminded of his shortcomings. His gaze flickered around the room a moment as the guards settled back against the wall.
"Do you know what is at stake?" He finally asked quietly as he leaned forward across the table, "If ever the world needed her again-"
"Ah, uh-huh," Edgar interrupted and dropped the pipe from his mouth, "No, you don't get to make that argument. The world has always needed her and even after she gave everything, it let her go. And, aye, I bloody well know what's at stake. Your precious Wee King Puss is sending the country down the gutter... again, and you want Maggie's influence put to work to stop him... Rumors are rampant."
Edgar added this last when Banan's brows quirked just slightly and his smile became grim.
"It appears so," The words were spoken softly and then the little albino tipped over the table again and was very earnest, "Then I will venture a guess and say that you have not brought her with you. Or perhaps you yourself do not know where she is now? Which begs the question: why would the stalwart guardian abandon his charge? Especially considering that all of the others have gone their separate ways as well. No, I do not think that is the case and so we can stop playing this game. If you cannot tell me where she is, will you at least tell me the tale?"
Edgar couldn't hide his surprise. He puffed absently at his pipe and leveled his gaze on Banan.
"I'm not the storyteller," He finally said, "And won't you just be using whatever I tell you against us?"
Banan lifted his shoulders.
"The storyteller could not be found which I'm sure you know already, but that's beside the point. And I assure you, bowman, you can trust me."
"Aye, I can trust you about as much as I can a pack of wolves," Edgar's blue eyes glittered with malice, "I happen to know for a fact that you have lined all roads leading from this tavern, and probably most of the trees as well, with those bloody archers the king is so damn proud of. The one thing I can trust to is that you can't make a move in this tavern - safely - and that I wouldn't tell you where to find her if I could."
"And you could," Banan's voice was dry and he motioned to the pitcher, choosing to ignore the implication of Edgar's other comment, "Is this safe to drink?"
"If you like the rat piss round here," The bowman tapped out the useless ash in his pipe as Banan put the square of folded cloth on the table and poured himself a portion of ale, "You know the story, what do you want me to add?"
The albino swirled the ale around the mug before taking an experimental sip and answering.
"The tale the bards tell today is riddled with exaggeration in attempts to make it more thrilling. You were there in the beginning; you know the whole truth. We want to know the details of the events that led to her discovery; the king is sure there was something vital hidden among your companions at the time, or at least in the decisions that were made then. Any insight you have will be helpful to him in... whatever happens."
"The Lynxe twins, a former thief and sometimes smuggler, a pious city guard, an ex-naval officer, a very liberal activist and author, and a renegade merchant?" Edgar tried to clarify, "King Puss really thinks any of them kept something hidden all this time?"
Banan leveled his gaze at the bowman.
"I am not asking you to reveal anything, Dobb," He answered, "We just want to hear the tale. I would have thought that time with the Child of Light would flex even your stiff neck and make you see that any help now will prevent something worse than anything Kearne could come up with."
"And I can't possibly pass up that opportunity," Edgar's voice was biting in its sarcasm.
"Are you saying yes or no?"
The bowman rubbed his chin, feeling the stubble that coarsened his face and neck. He eyed the little albino and considered his words. Magalie's voice was the one that sounded in his head as he did so, telling him in her lilting tones that this was the least he could do for Banan. He cursed inwardly at the way the girl had softened him and sat back once more.
"Well, I guess we have a deal," He said and then motioned to the windows as lightning lit up the rain soaked night, "It's not as though I'm going to escape out into that. But if you think we hid anything you do realize you have to hear the story beginning to what's so far been the end, aye?"
"Certainly," The albino replied, "I've told you that's what I want and I wouldn't be here in this... winning establishment if there was any other way around that. One thing is that I will not have to worry about many embellishments with someone like you telling me the tale. Go on, bowman, I know that you at least will stick more or less to the bare facts."
Edgar sat back and his mouth tipped in a crooked smile that held an amusement that made Banan rather nervous.
"Hate to break it to you, loyal mutt, but the story starts in an establishment rather like this one... Though the smell was maybe a little better, or at least different."