Loot Mule – 02

The metallic fast-paced tunes of the fiddles, the flutes and the lutes took flight within The Drunkard’s Colic, coursing through the air to give the seedy tavern a surge of concentrated energy. It spread like wildfire amongst the merry patrons who gathered to the main floor like a turbulent wave, boisterously dancing and cheering to the three-piece band standing atop of a hastily built wooden platform, which wobbled and bowed under their weight. It looked as if it was only one music fuelled stomp away from collapsing—and if it did, it would only add to the patron’s enjoyment.

All patrons were regulars and all regulars had a regular drink, and they all come to the Drunkard’s Colic from different walks of life. Some were large and stocky, with haggard faces and battle-etched skin, others were more sordid with shifty eyes and itchy fingers. Regardless, each one bellowed to the upbeat chorus while clanging their tankards and tracking in spillages into the already grimy floor. All but one man, that is.

He was a lone figure, sat at a cornered table—secluded and out of sight. Shadows from the nearby hearth clung to him, obscuring his face; and he leaned deep into his chair, puffing sullenly at a long-stemmed pipe while observing the ongoings of the tavern.   

“Your drink, love,” spoke the waitress, Connla. She bent her large frame over the table, obscuring the man’s vision with her log-thick arms as she sat a freshly filled tankard down with a heavy hand.

The man watched on as stray spurts of sloshing brown ale oozed down the side of the tankard, where it pooled atop of the table’s wooden surface and ran along its worn-in cracks. He uttered nothing in response, and instead tossed a handful of copper coins onto the table, which clattered and spun before coming to rest within the foaming puddle of ale.

Connla quickly gathered the coins with her thick, meaty paws—giving the more ale soused coins a wipe here and there against her apron—before slipping them into a small leather pouch tied to her belt. The man reached out from the shadows for his drink, but before he could draw the tankard to his lips, he was interrupted by a dainty cough. He looked up to see Connla looking back at him through her darting green eyes, expectingly, while lingering in silence.

The man let out an exasperated sigh and begrudgingly flicked another copper coin her way.

“Very kind of you,” Connla said, quickly pocketing the coin, “Can I get you anything else?”

“No. I have nothing of need,” he replied, curtly—impatiently holding his drink, while his smoke pipe cindered on the table.

“Alright then, enjoy your ale,” she finished, turning to leave.

The man kept his eyes on her as she weaved her way through the densely packed crowds, lifting empty tankards and glasses with one hand and, with the other, yanking the more diminutive sized folk dancing atop of tables by the scruff of their necks; “They’re for eatin’ an’ drinkin’. Not fer dancin’!” She barked.

He then took a long-awaited sip of his ale, and immediately spat it out in disgust.

“Aye, takes some gettin’ used to,” spoke a squirrely looking fellow, who had just pulled up a chair alongside him. “Burns the throat on the way down—but warms the belly nice and well! Best sauce in Roanoke, if ya ask me.”

Loose strands of hair sprung riotously from his wrinkled dome and his eye’s wobbled in his head purposelessly. A stagnant odour of stale ale and damp mire exuded from his tattered garbs, which were worn-in not from poverty but equal parts overworked and lacking a want to fix.  

“The name’s Lemmy,” he said, “Haven’t seen you around ‘ere before. Where ya from then? If ya don’t mind me askin’.”

The man silently pointed the tip of his long-stemmed pipe out towards a small ocean-facing window, which displayed the drop curtain of night hanging over the city of Roanoke, while rain battered down against the glass, obscuring what little view there is.

“Ah, fresh off the shores of the World Tower then, I see,” Lemmy pulled out a deck of cards from somewhere within his garbs, “You’ll fit in right well with the rest of us then. We’re all pitmen and diggers ‘ere—hard work, decent coin…enough to afford a few of these, eh?” He gave a knowing wink while holding up a tankard of his own, the froth of which dripped down the side and over his dirt-caked fingers.

Lemmy began riffling cards atop the table with surprisingly dextrous fingers, “Say, hows about a game of Fiver Fingers then? Bitta fun to pass the time, yano?” He asked, the ends of his lips curling to reveal a gummy maw.

Silence beckoned, and a puff of smoke billowed towards Lemmy from the shadows.

“A’ight, I can tell when I’m not welcomed,” Lemmy muttered, “I got a sense for these t’ings, yano. I’ll just grab me cards an’—shit!”

As Lemmy reached forward, his elbow knocked his tankard—letting forth a spew of rolling, frothing ale all over the table; and, in a panic, he lunged for his cards.

“Ah, mate. I’m sorry—lemme clean that for you,” he said with a guilt-ridden voice, dapping and sponging the man’s lap with a napkin pulled from within his garbs—which looked to be dirtier than the rest of him.

Not a moment later though, he let out a yelp of pain as his wrist twist backwards and upwards from the iron-wrought grip the man grabbed him with.

“What’re you playin’ at?!” Lemmy cried with eye’s wide with fright, staring down at a dagger that suddenly emerged with a silent slice of the air, and found itself situated between him and the man and wedged deep into the table, held by the hilt by the man cloaked in shadows.

“My purse…” the man said. His voice was low and rough, and his words oozed a baleful grim. He leaned into the firelight to finally reveal his face.

Lemmy was taken aback by the sight of it, and rightfully so; faced with a sight of terribly furrowed and rubbery thick scars that stretched from the man’s scalp and down to his chin. His left eye was non-existent—all that was left was mottled skin that poorly healed, fusing his eyelids shut with a horrible pink lesion.

By contrast, though, he was well-kept and groomed. The man’s hair was preternaturally black and uniformly glossy, and it fell straight down to his jawline—but he kept it pushed back out of his face, as he made no attempt to hide his scars. His beard was thick and wolf-like, and equally as black but speckled with grey. It remained wild and uncontrollable, regardless of the man’s obvious attempts to tame it. If not for his disfigurement, he would have been considered a comely man by many—and maybe to some, even more so now.

“Just a little trick, is all,” Lemmy said with a nervous laugh, “I was gonna give it back, I swear!”

“No need for tricks.”

There was a moment’s hesitation before the man let go of Lemmy’s grasp, who swiftly pulled away out of reach.

“Oi!” Came a shout from across the tavern. They both looked up to see Connla staring back at them. “Unless yer carving me a love-letter—you had better get that knife outta my table!”

Lemmy used the moment’s distraction to quickly slip into the crowd, and out of sight. The man made no attempt to hold track of him; instead, he slipped back into the comforting shadows of the hearth and focused his interest onto other matters—after pulling his knife out of the table, at risk of irking the ire of Connla. By pure muscle memory, he slipped back into a deep reclining position in his chair and relit his pipe, adding to the smoke that collects in greasy pools among the rafters.

He shifted his gaze to the barkeep, Grendel. A stout man with a frothy white beard standing behind the bar, rapidly pouring pints from barrels of ale that lay shelved in the wall behind him, while barking orders at the keg runner, Cooper, who lurked close to the walls as to remain unimpeded by the bashful buzzing of drunkards while hauling an unwieldy keg towards the bar.   

“Mule…” the man muttered under his breath, exhaling a plume of smoke; and he continued on with his tankard—slowly growing accustomed to the metallic taste that ran its way down his throat.