DargonZine 13, Issue 11

Beloved



With a sigh, Nai reached out to grasp the thick wooden latch. As his large hand closed around it, a smaller, more delicate hand touched his arm. Soft, smooth fingers traced paths through his black hair until a cool, dry palm rested on his skin.

 

Looking to his right, he waited for his companion to speak. Her head was tilted up to look him in the eyes while a mass of wavy black hair danced in the wind. Small freckles along her cheek accented her small, upturned nose and full lips. Some sort of blue dye painted her lips to match her bright blue eyes. Most men found her dazzling and charming. His love only had room for one woman, and she was gone.

“We can always play another song, Nai,” she said.

 

“No,” he replied. “It helps me remember her. I don’t want to forget her.”

 

Looking past Nai at their other traveling companion, she pleaded, “Kal, it’s too sad. We want to get paid and if they’re all crying, who’ll pay us?”

 

Nai looked to his left at Kalanu to see what his opinion was. Kal always had something to say about everything.

 

“Simona’s right, Nai. We need to get paid. And you won’t forget her; she’ll always be part of you.” Taking Nai’s hand, Kal placed it upon Nai’s chest. “She’s right here!”

 

“Straight.” Nai nodded. Turning to Simona, he asked, “Will you play her song before we go to sleep tonight?”

 

“Tonight I’ll play it just for you, Nai.” Simona patted the lyre on her side. “I have one in mind that will do nicely.”

 

Nai pulled the latch, opened the door, and let his companions enter the Shattered Spear ahead of him. The inn was dimly lit; it took his eyes a few moments to adjust.

 

“Close the door!” A voice bellowed from the left side of the room.

 

Nai quickly shut the door then took a look around the room. The inn was nearly full. His trained eye spotted an empty table in the far corner. He pointed it out to Simona and Kal and watched as the two made their way through the crowd. Nai looked around for Jamis, the innkeeper. It took him a few moments to locate the corpulent form among the people, but then he found him standing in front of a barrel, pouring a tankard of ale. Nai worked his way towards Jamis and tapped him on the shoulder.

 

“What do you want?” The innkeeper sounded annoyed at the interruption.

 

“I have an offer to make you,” Nai began.

 

“Why should I be interested?” Jamis put the tankard to his lips and gulped its contents without stopping.

 

Nai waited until the innkeeper finished his ale before he continued. “I can help you make some extra money tonight.” Nai could see the interest in Jamis’ eyes and directed his attention to the table at which Simona and Kal were seated.

 

“Money!” a loud, hard voice echoed behind them. Turning, Nai saw a large woman staring at him. She was just a bit taller than he was, but she seemed to tower over him. A long-sleeved dress covered most of her, except for her hands, neck and head. A worn and dirty apron, which had not caught all the spills that night, covered the front part of her dress.

 

“Jahlena, please,” Jamis said. Although his words were polite, there was a hardness in his eyes. Nai looked back at Jahlena. Her stern face softened a bit and a little smile played on her lips.

 

“I’ll serve the ale,” she huffed, her double chin jiggling slightly. Grabbing mugs, she turned and made her way into the crowded room.

 

“You mentioned money,” Jamis said. His foot tapped the floor impatiently.

 

“Yes,” Nai agreed. “A bard is travelling with me. For a generous twenty percent of our profit, she’ll perform here tonight.”

 

“Straight!” Jamis laughed. “And the king will dance before me naked, too! You think I’m some wharf rat?”

 

“I think you’re an innkeeper with an inn in the worst place in Dargon trying to keep the whole place from burning down around you,” Nai replied, his muscles growing tight in his arms and neck. He hadn’t expected to argue his way to performing tonight and his short patience was being tested. “Do you want a performance or not?”

 

“Twenty-five,” Jamis said, not backing away from Nai. “And quit puffing up like a sea-urlet. I’ve got enough trouble in here and you don’t need to add to it.”

 

“Done,” Nai said, relaxing. He held out his hand and they grasped forearms. Letting go of Jamis’s arm, he turned and made his way back to the table where his two friends sat.

 

A young girl stood in front of Simona but Nai overheard them speaking.

 

“… to attend the Bardic College,” the girl said.

 

“Some day when you’re older, make the trip to Magnus and ask them to let you in,” Simona said. “Practice every chance you get and they won’t turn you away.”

 

“I’m practicing as much as I can, but father won’t allow me to sing here often. He says I’m supposed to make myself useful, clean tables, and serve ale. I doubt he’ll ever let me leave.” The girl sounded disappointed.

 

“Tira!” Jahlena yelled from across the room. “Get over here!”

 

“I better get going,” Tira said. “Can I bring you a tankard of ale and a bowl of stew?”

 

“Straight,” Kal answered her and Simona nodded.

 

“For me, too,” Nai added before Tira could walk away. “Who’s the girl?” Nai inquired when Tira was out of earshot.

 

“She’s the innkeeper’s daughter. Wants to be a bard, but doesn’t think she’ll make it to the Bardic College. She saw my lyre and wanted to know if I was a bard.” Simona smiled as she summarized their conversation. “What did the innkeeper say to your proposal?”

 

“He wants twenty-five percent of our profit. I agreed.” Nai replied as he sat down.

 

Simona drew in a deep breath. “Good thing the inn is so full tonight. Let’s hope the crowd is generous, too. We *need* supplies for our journey. I don’t want to delay much longer. I can feel my sister’s in trouble. I need to find her.”

 

“We will have enough,” Kal reassured her. “There are other inns along the way where we can entertain and make some money. We’ll find your sister.”

 

“Straight,” Nai agreed and was about to say more, but Tira arrived with their food and drinks. Hungrily, the three ate.

 

“Father said you can play over there.” Tira pointed to a small table almost in the center of the room.

 

“Thank you, Tira.” Simona said. After she’d finished her stew, she took her lyre, walked to the table, and seated herself.

 

Nai worried if Simona would be able to get the crowd’s attention without intervention from Kal or himself; it was very noisy inside. He knew Simona preferred to get the audience’s attention without anyone’s help and most of the time it worked. For a few moments Nai held his breath as he watched Simona pick up her lyre and sound a few notes from the tune she had played earlier. The noise in the inn subsided and the people, mostly sailors, looked to see who was playing. And then she began to sing. Simona’s voice with its low timbre drew everyone’s attention. Her song told the story of two lovers and a jealous mage who placed the woman under a spell when he realized he couldn’t have her. As she went on with her story, she described how the man sought to break the spell of his beloved and finally succeeded, only to lose her again in a quarrel. Nai realized she was telling the story of her visions. He knew there was more; Simona had told him and Kal the whole story. Simona finished her song and everyone applauded. Nai signaled Kal. Both got up and collected Bits from the audience for the performance. Nai took one look at Jamis and noticed that he was paying close attention to the collection.

 

“Play another song!” an older sailor requested.

 

“What would you like to hear?” Simona looked in the direction of the speaker.

 

“Tell us how Duke Dargon lost his arm!”

 

“Tell us! Tell us!” several others called out.

 

With a smile on her face, Simona began to play again. Nai grinned. He knew they’d make more money if they could keep the crowd happy. It would also make Jamis happy; the sailors drank quite a lot of ale. Nai continued collecting Bits. When Simona told about Dargon’s bravery, commanding a group of ships against the Beinison fleet and fighting his way to the captain of the lead ship, the sailors cheered. When she reached the point where the duke killed the captain and saved the town, some of the sailors stood up and danced.

 

“Quiet down and move!” a handful of sailors yelled. “I can’t hear the rest of the song!” When the dancing men wouldn’t move, a group of sailors got up and stormed toward them in an effort to force them to quit.

 

When knives were drawn, Nai knew things had turned serious. He reached to his side and in a deliberate, smooth motion, drew out his sword. An eerie, greenish glow oozed from the steel blade. With the glow, Nai was forced to remember his wife’s death. Using his other hand, he brushed aside the forming tears. Standing straight, he bellowed, “Enough!”

 

His voice rocked the room and rattled tables. The sailors stopped in their tracks, noticing the greenish glow for the first time and then they turned toward Nai. Sadness radiated outward from Nai and permeated the inn. Men breathed deeply and slunk a little lower where they stood. Sniffles could be heard from within the room.

 

“I was there,” a sailor breathed heavily. Nai noticed that it was one of the sailors that had screamed at the others to stop.

 

“Who is he?” echoed in soft whispers throughout the room.

 

“What happened?” Nai asked. He lowered the sword.

 

“Lord Dargon,” the sailor began, holding back tears, “was aboard the ship next to us. He ordered both into the thick of the Beinison fleet. When his crew jumped to the Beinison ship, our ship was right in line. There we were. All three ships sitting pretty in a row.

 

“Another Beinison ship pulled alongside and started firing her balistas across her sister ship at us. Then something took Dargon’s arm, and our ship was hit. Along with a volley of other rounds, his ship rolled onto ours. The mast of his ship fell on our captain.”

 

“We all lost those dear to us in that war,” Nai said softly. Turning, he looked to his two companions. “Bring the hammer and a mug of water.”

 

“He’s going to sing it,” Kal said, surprised.

 

“Get the hammer. I’ll get the mug,” Simona said. They retrieved the items and made their way toward the fireplace. Nai joined them, still holding the sword. He grabbed a stool and set it beside him, placing the sword on top. The glow bathed them in green while the fire outlined them in red.

 

Taking the hammer from Kal, he set it on the floor with the head turned sideways. He took out his own hammer hanging from his belt and tapped the other hammer. Clang. He nodded to Kal and Kal dipped his hand in the mug. Flinging a drop of water from his finger onto the fire, the inn heard a sharp hiss.

 

“Remember those you love,” Nai said as he tapped the hammer on the floor. Kal stood ready to fling drops of water upon the fire.

 

Clang. Hiss. Clang clang.

Clang. Clang clang.

“Illiena I bless the day you entered my life.”

 

“Strong arms bring a heavy hammer down upon glowing red metal,” Simona sang, trying to paint a picture of what Nai had looked like when he had forged the sword.

 

Clang clang. Clang.

Clang. Hiss. Clang clang.

“While I forged blades, you stood beside me and tempered with love.”

 

“A tear journeys down a rugged, twice-broken nose to fall upon glowing red metal.”

 

Hiss. Clang. Clang clang.

Clang. Hiss. Hiss. Clang hiss clang.

“I bless the days you held me tight and I thank Illiena for the time you were with me.”

 

“Large hands deftly turn the long rectangular block of metal.”

 

Clang. Hiss. Clang hiss clang.

Hiss. Clang. Hiss. Clang clang.

“But I miss you every day I rise and I miss you every night I fall.”

 

“A muscular, barrel-chest rises and falls sharply with great gasps of breath.”

 

Hiss. Clang. Hiss. Clang clang.

Clang. Hiss. Clang clang. Hiss.

“Oh Illiena, I bless every moment your memories carry me along.”

 

“The long block gives under pressure to form hard, sharp edges.”

 

Clang. Hiss. Hiss. Clang clang.

Hiss. Clang. Clang hiss hiss clang.

“You were the link that bound my armor together and I’m a stronger man for the love you gave me.”

 

“Tears group together along small streams and run quickly over grit and grime.”

 

Hiss hiss. Clang. Clang hiss clang.

Hiss. Clang. Hiss. Clang clang hiss.

“And I’d give up my life for just another bell of your time.”

 

“Cords of muscles bunch and flex in short powerful legs.”

 

Clang. Hiss hiss hi-clang clang hiss.

Hiss hiss clang. Hiss. Clang hiss clang-ss.

“With your soft arms wrapped around me, you healed wounds that magic could not cure.”

 

“Knees tremble, hands shake, and eyes brim with tears.”

 

Hisssss clang. Hisssss-clang clang-ssss.

Clang. Hisssss. Hiss. Hisssss. Clang hiss-clang-hiss.

“Beinison took you from me in a stroke of war and forever left me torn.”

 

“Metal flashes under blows of love and pain.”

 

Hisssss hiss clang. Hisssss-clang hi-clang-ssss.

Clang. Hisssss. Hisssss. Hisssss-clang hiss-clang-hiss.

“I bless the days you held me tight and I thank Illiena for the time you were with me.”

 

“Rivers of tears drown dark eyes and cool fiery metal.”

 

Hisssss hisssss hiss hisssss clang. Hisssss. Clang hisssss clang.

Hisssss. Hiss clang. Hisssss. Hissss hissss clang hisssss hiss-clang-ss.

“But I miss you every day I rise and I miss you every night I fall.”

 

“Head bows, hammer falls, and body drops upon a forged sword,” Simona softly sang and ended her part.

 

“And I’d give up my life for just another bell of your time,” Nai finished singing, bowing his head.

 

***

 

Nai returned the hammer to his belt and wiped the tears from his eyes. Looking up, he noticed several sailors wiping their faces. No one spoke. He made another round through the inn to collect for the performance, but he only received a couple of Bits. Nai watched as the sailors left the inn in small groups. Within menes only a few people were sitting at the tables. Half of them were asleep or too drunk to get up. Nai had a bad feeling when he saw Jamis’ expression.

 

“You!” he bellowed, closing the distance between them quickly. “You were supposed to entertain tonight, not clear out my inn! This will cost you half of your earnings tonight to cover my losses.”

 

“I broke up a fight that could have ruined your inn,” Nai argued. “I will pay the twenty-five percent we agreed on.”

 

“She caused the fight with her song about the duke.” Jamis pointed his finger at Simona. “You will pay half and then get out of here!”

 

Nai was about to take a stand when Jahlena posted herself next to Jamis. He felt the light touch of a hand on his shoulder. Turning, he looked into Simona’s face. He knew what she was going to say before she opened her mouth.

 

“Pay him and let’s leave,” she said quietly. Nai took out his purse, counted out half their earnings, and handed the money over to Jamis.

 

“Get out,” Jamis pointed to the door. Furious, Nai followed his companions outside into the darkness of the night.

 

“Half the money lost! And no place to sleep tonight,” he muttered more to himself than attempting to talk to Kal or Simona. Kal must have heard him because he let out a short laugh.

 

“You gave him half of the money you had, straight?” Kal said, sounding amused.

 

“Straight,” Nai grumbled.

 

“I guess Jamis wasn’t paying close enough attention or he would have demanded half of what I collected as well.” Kal grinned. “And I think I collected more than you did.”

 

Nai let out a short laugh and his mood improved considerably. “Let’s put some distance between us and this inn and find a place to sleep.”

 

“What about Spirit’s Haven?” Simona spoke up.

 

“It’s clear across town!” Kal replied in a tone indicating he wasn’t in the mood to walk that far.

 

“I know that. But I have a feeling I will find some of the answers I am seeking there.”

 

“Then let’s go there,” Nai decided and led the way.

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