Chapter 3 The Blue Angel
Arran sat in the common room of the Blue Angel, playing a game of stones with one of the girls, a cute brunette with a freckled face.
"I win again," she said with a giggle.
He handed her a copper. "Another game?" he asked, and she nodded eagerly. Few of the girls at the Blue Angel would object to earning an easy copper or two.
The first day he had spent in his room, afraid that being seen would allow the Academy to find him more easily. Caught between fear and boredom, he had spent the day filled with fear and worry, and before long the small room had felt like a prison cell.
Eventually, boredom had won out over fear, and he had headed down to the common room of the inn.
The next few days he had spent playing games of stones and cards with the girls. He lost all but a few of the games, but he welcomed the distraction — not having to think about the danger he was in was easily worth a few handfuls of coppers.
It had been three days since his visit to the Academy, and Master Zhao had still not appeared. Another day, and he would leave.
He still remembered Master Zhao's thoughts on Arran's chances of escaping alone, and the thought of setting off by himself was not a pleasant one. If the man was right, it would mean he was all but doomed.
With a sigh, he forced himself to abandon the thought. Worrying now would do him no good.
"Want another drink?" he asked the brown-haired girl, and she agreed happily.
He walked over to the bar. "Another ale and a plum wine, please." The barmaid gave him a warm smile as he put down some coppers, then handed him the drinks.
With no danger of his coin running out, Arran had been generous these past few days, which had quickly won him the friendship of the girls at the Blue Angel — friendship that would last exactly as long as his money did, he thought.
As he moved to turn around and walk back to his table, he bumped into a large man, half the ale in his mug spilling over the man's shirt.
Looking up, he instantly sensed trouble.
The man was a mercenary he had already seen the previous two nights, a mean drunk who had attempted to start several fights with the other patrons. Had the man not been generous with his coin, Arran suspected the bouncer would have thrown him out long ago.
"Sorry about that," Arran quickly said. "Let me buy you a drink."
"A drink?" The mercenary's square face twisted in a cruel grin. "You think I'll let you off that easy?"
Before Arran could respond, the mercenary's fist swung toward him. It was only through sheer luck that he managed to avoid it. If the man hadn't spent most of the afternoon drinking, there was little doubt in Arran's mind that he would have been hit squarely in the face.
The man stepped forward, and with all his strength, Arran threw a punch at him. He was not much of a fighter, but he would not simply stand there and let the man beat him.
To his surprise, his fist connected with a loud crunch as it smashed into the mercenary's face. Instantly, blood gushed from the man's nose, and he stumbled back several paces.
"You bloodless son of a whore!" the mercenary cried out, left hand reaching for his face. "You broke my damn nose! You're gonna pay for this!"
Arran was shocked to see the mercenary draw his blade, a heavy saber filled with the scars of battle. His own hand immediately shot to the sword at his side, only to find it missing.
Cursing under his breath, Arran remembered that he had left his sword in his room. He stepped back, fear filling him as the mercenary advanced toward him.
As the mercenary raised his blade, a bitter smile formed on Arran's lips. With the Academy hunting him, he would die like this, in a bar fight?
At that moment, a blond man suddenly stepped forward. Arran had not seen him before, and he guessed the man must have entered the inn only moments ago.
"You dare attack my nephew?!"
Before the mercenary could react the blond man's hand shot forward, grabbing the arm in which the mercenary held his saber. Then, he twisted his hand, and with a sickening crack the mercenary's arm snapped like a twig.
As the mercenary's arm fell limply to his side the saber clattered to the ground. He cried out in pain, but the sound was abruptly cut off when the blond man's fist crashed into his head, sending him sprawling across the floor.
In an instant, the inn went quiet, all eyes drawn toward the blond man who had just beaten the mercenary with such ease. Only the mercenary's groans of pain cut through the silence.
The blond man walked toward the bar and slapped a handful of silver on the counter. "Ready your best room for me!"
He turned toward Arran, then spoke loudly, "It's good to see you again, nephew!"
Arran stared blankly at the blond man in front of him. He had never seen him before in his life. Nor did he have any uncles, for that matter.
"Who—" he began.
The man stepped toward Arran. "Give your uncle Derrin a hug!" Before Arran could dodge, the man had grabbed him, pulling him close. "Play along," he hissed into Arran's ear.
Letting go of Arran, he called out to the barmaid, "Bring me two pints of good ale." After a moment's pause, he added, "And two pretty girls, as well!"
With that, he grabbed Arran's shoulder and pulled him toward an empty table in the corner of the common room.
"I take it you've failed to get into the Academy?" he said in a loud voice as they sat down.
Arran was aghast, but he answered anyway, "I did." He thought Master Zhao must have sent the man, so he followed his lead.
"Can you believe this little brat ran off to join those damn mages?" the blond man said loudly to two men who were sitting at the table next to them. They laughed awkwardly in response, clearly unwilling to get involved.
"No more of that magic nonsense for you, lad." The man turned his attention to Arran. "After tonight we'll head back to the caravans. Get you some honest work to do."
The barmaid arrived, carrying two pints of ale. Behind her followed two girls, uncertain looks on their faces.
The blond man handed the barmaid a silver coin, then flipped one to each of the girls as well. Immediately their faces brightened.
"Now then, let's have a drink. We're leaving early in the morning." He pulled one of the girls onto his lap, while the other sat down next to Arran.
What followed were several hours of pure torture for Arran.
Speaking as though he wanted the entire inn to hear, his 'uncle' told story after story, half of them embarrassing tales from Arran's childhood.
That each story was as fake as it was embarrassing did not offer much comfort to Arran, and he felt his face turn red as the two girls laughed at his misfortune.
A steady drip of coin kept the ale flowing and the girls giggling, and as night fell, the ale took its toll on Arran. At last, he felt as if he was about to fall over.
Finally, the blond man announced with a loud voice, "That's it, lad! Time to get some sleep. We're leaving at dawn."
With that, he stood up, handing the girls some more silver before waving them off. They had made more coin that night than they usually earned in a month, and their faces were glowing in delight.
As the man walked out of the common room and up the stairs Arran stumbled behind him, head abuzz with drink.
When the man reached the door to his room he took a quick look around, then pulled Arran in with him.
Once they were inside, the man wordlessly reached forward with his hand and put two fingers against Arran's forehead. Before Arran could react, a jolt of pain ran through his body, and his vision went blurry.
When the pain subsided a few moments later, he suddenly found himself completely sober.
"Sorry about that," the man said, sounding not the least bit sorry. "Best you be sober for what comes next."
"Who the hell are you?!" Arran finally blurted out.