This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
The smell struck Masolon first when he stepped inside. The smell of the sweaty men cramming the tavern. The smell of mutton served to their creaking tables. The smell of burnt incense battling the other two smells. The incense was losing the battle, Masolon had no doubt, yet those sweaty men were still devouring and gulping and jabbering. Amazing thing what those men could do with their mouths at the same time.
“Any help, stranger?” The stout tavern keeper glared at him. And Masolon had thought that no one had noticed his arrival. Was it that obvious he didn’t belong to this place?
“I am looking for Kuslov.” Masolon leaned to the wooden counter she was standing behind.
“I was told he might need my services.”
“Is that so?” She arched an eyebrow. “Anyway, he hasn’t shown up tonight yet.”
“I can wait.” Masolon shrugged.
She looked him up and down. The ripped tunic he was clad in must have impressed her. “You’re not going to make trouble with that sword on your belt, huh?”
Unless I have to, Masolon thought. “I will be as still as the chair I am sitting on,”
“We shall see. Ah, and one more thing, darlin’; we don’t offer drinks for free here.”
Goranian coin was something he lacked in his first day in the great city of Kahora. And by all means, he wasn’t going to trade his shield nor his horse for a tankard of ale. She might be interested in my tunic, though. Well, he would drink from the fountain outside if he must.
Masolon found a vacant chair at the corner and threw himself on it, every muscle in his body crying for sleep after his journey in the Great desert. ‘Exhausting’ didn’t do justice to describe his passage through the prohibited lands of demons. ‘Deathly’ might be the word. He was still not sure if he had died already and this was the afterlife. At a certain moment, he had felt as if every small part of his soul—if a soul was made of small parts or even big—had abandoned his body. At that certain moment, he had turned into a dead man, or perhaps one of the demons of the Great Desert. Only when his hollow stomach growled, he realized that Masolon still existed. Because demons would never get hungry. And even if they did, they didn’t have growling stomachs. But who would ever know anyway?
With the back of his hand, Masolon wiped the beads of sweat popped on his forehead. Midnight was coming soon, and not even a hint of a gentle breeze entered that damned tavern through that damned window next to his seat. But he should be grateful, though. That smelly tavern was paradise if compared to the Great Desert. The Goranians called it the Great Desert and his clansmen called it Si’oli; ‘Hell’ in his home tongue.
Masolon had no plans after surviving Hell. Or even before. He had just mounted his horse and headed to the end of his world. But now he had a plan, and that plan was Kuslov. With Kuslov, there would be coin. And with coin, there would be mead and bread—no one had mentioned the odorous mutton. And more; a chamber in a tavern. And the more the coin you got, the warmer your chamber would be. Anyway, a chamber was the least of Masolon’s concerns, as it should be for any of the Ogono warriors.
His grandfather’s lengthy tongue lessons were paying off so far. Though the Murasens’ accents sounded different from what Masolon used to hear in his sessions, he could follow the boisterous debate at the next table about the sweetest voice in the Murasen realm. The only two meaningless words in their blabber were Abla and Mehra. They were names of two women, Masolon guessed. And soon his guess became a certainty when the debate turned into a boyish rant about anything in those two women other than their voices. If Masolon’s father was here, he would shorten their tongues with his own blade.
People started to leave the tavern and Masolon was still waiting, his eyelids heavy. “Hey you! It’s only a couple of hours before dawn!” Still behind her counter, the tavern keeper addressed him. “I must shut the place now.”
Masolon realized he had dozed for a while, and now he was the only one in the tavern. “Perhaps I should try my luck another—”
Masolon listened. His stallion tied outside the tavern was whinnying. A quiet stallion it was, but not at this moment. Something, or probably somebody must have enraged it; Masolon could hear the footsteps. Not more than three men. What could be the odds that those fellows were just passersby at this late hour, and they just thought of bothering his horse for no specific reason?
Masolon drew his sword and hurried to the door. “What are you doing?” the stout tavern keeper asked, her eyes widened in alarm. Masolon was already outside in the Fountain Plaza when she finished her question.
The place was abandoned except for three men, two of them armed with falchions, one armed with a sword. The latter held Masolon’s untied horse by its bridle.
“Drop the bloody sword!” The three thugs pointed their blades at Masolon.
Three weeks, and not a soul he had reaped. Fighting three robbers should be enough to stimulate his idle muscles. In each ugly face, Masolon could see the cowards who had burned his mother and his sisters alive. Was it strange they always looked ugly those brigands?
“Leave the bloody horse first.” Talking to them was useless. Yet he wanted to make sure they were eager to die tonight. “My horse.”
“Not anymore!” snarled one of the thugs. “Do you have a problem with that?”
They were leaving Masolon no other option. “You are three.” He sighed. “This is not going to be a fair fight.”
“Life is unfair, you fool.” The same thug smirked.
“For you.” Masolon lunged at him, swinging his sword. The robber tried to block Masolon’s strike with his falchion, howling in agony when his hand took the strike instead. With a backhanded swing, Masolon slashed the abdomen of the second robber. Stepping sideways, Masolon evaded the sword of the third robber, who had left the horse to aid his fellows.
But Masolon’s move wasn’t fast enough to prevent the thug’s blade from scratching his arm.
The scratch angered Masolon more than it hurt him. With one swing, he severed the robber’s head from his body. “To me!” Masolon turned to face the remaining robber who had lost his hand. “I will help you get rid of your pain!” Masolon gnashed his teeth as the thug sprinted away before his very eyes. He hadn’t been there when the cowards had burned his mother’s shack and fled. But not today. Not tomorrow. Not any day else. Masolon had nothing for the likes of those scum but death, whether it was quick or slow.
“No need for this! You’re wounded!” the stout woman yelled at Masolon from behind him. She looked right and left, as if she was making sure the way was clear. Slowly, she approached him and checked his arm.
“Merciful Lord!” She looked alarmed. Too religious for a tavern keeper. “We must find Bumar to stop the bleeding! Come with me!”
At last, her voice wasn’t harsh anymore. He should have been wounded earlier to earn her pity. A glance at the fountain of the plaza made him realize how thirsty he was. Usually, after the blood work, Masolon felt as if he wanted to drink a whole river, but this time a river of water wasn’t what he wanted.
“Before I go anywhere.” He tiredly grinned. “Can I have a drink first?”
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