And here is my final piece. It belongs to my Hawk series.
Conversation at Dinner
It was a busy inn, with both travelers and local patrons filling the common room, the innkeeper and his three daughters weaving in and out of the benches as they brought drink and food to their guests.
In one corner of the inn, a bit away from the worst of the noise, three men sat at a table. One was a young man, dressed in gaudy green and blue, with black, shoulder-length curls and a rakish cap set on his head. His cloak, once a fine garment in green with an embroidered hem, but now slightly threadbare and stained with mud and blood and wine, was thrown back a bit to reveal a scabbard. Next to him, a solemn-faced man, older, with bright red hair and penetrating green eyes sat, wrapped in a cloak of dark grey, but the sleeve of his shirt had cuffs of fine linen. The third man of the company was the odd figure, neither a fighter nor a merchant, but instead had the shaved tonsure and brown robe of a friar, the oldest of the three. He seemed to be rather amused by everything going on around him. They made an odd trio.
Gwinny, the innkeeper’s youngest daughter, brought a tray of food and tankards of ale to the table, deftly placing stew and bread and tankards on the table, avoiding the roving hands of the youngest of the company. Blowing her a kiss, the black-haired young man watched her retreat with a smile.
“I think she loves me,” Muirnin said, picking up his spoon.
Hawk shook his head. “One day,” said the redhead, “Master Tobias is going to kick you out of this inn,” said the redhead.
“Not while I still have silver,” he said. “And then, who would amuse you when you ate?”
“Is he always this lively?” the friar asked Hawk.
“I’m afraid so, Brother Bartholomew,” Hawk said, breaking a piece of bread in two. “You need to say a lot of prayers for him, to keep him out of the way of angry fathers until he gets some wisdom.”
“I shall, indeed,” Bartholomew said. His eyes twinkled. “But also for you, my friend, trying to keep him safe while he’s learning.”
“A never-ending task, it seems,” the redhead replied.
Muirnin made it a point to ignore them, digging into his dinner.
For a time they ate in silence.
After finishing his stew, the younger man pushed his bowl out of the way and picked up his beer. “Someone told me,” he said.
“Someone tells you lots of things,” Hawk commented. “But that doesn’t mean you listen.”
“True,” said the younger man, grinning. “But this is different. I heard of this drinking horn. They say one of the old gods or faes made it. Whoever has it can have all the food or drink he and his table wishes for.”
“I’ve heard of that,” Hawk said. “Vran’s Horn they called it.”
“Is it for real?” Muirnin asked.
“The legends put it in a castle in the northern mountains,” said Brother Bartholomew.
“How come you know about old pagan things like that?” Muirnin asked, surprised. “I didn’t think friars were supposed to know about things like that.”
“You could say, people tell me things,” said the old friar. “I’ve known a few who’ve tried to find it.” He drank, and got a thoughtful look in his eyes. “None of them found it, but they had interesting stories.”
“I bet,” Hawk said. “So, Muirnin, my friend, what did you hear about this horn?”
“I was told that it is guarded by a maiden,” Muirnin said. “A beautiful maiden.”
Brother Bartholomew stirred what was left of his stew. “I heard she is given to wander the countryside, beautiful sometimes or as the most loathsome of hags, where she judges the true intentions of men’s hearts.” He lifted a spoonful of the stew up. “Four warriors travel with her as her bodyguard. Men with evil intentions are punished swiftly.” He swallowed the stew. “Most men don’t pass her inspection.”
“And that the castle is guarded by a giant,” Hawk added, leaning back in his seat. He lifted his tankard and drank. “He carries a club called Bone-breaker. I hear there’s quite a pile of bones on the road into the castle.”
“The castle is also defended with magic,” Bartholomew continued. “It sits in a valley and shines like it is made of glass. The door is warded. It will only open on Midsummer’s Eve, or if you have the answer to the doorkeeper’s question. And if you don’t answer the question, the giant will attack you with his club.”
Muirnin drained his tankard. “Let’s go there. I want to see if it’s real.”
“You like impossible tasks, I see, my young friend,” said the friar.
“Almost as much as beautiful women,” the young man replied.
“Ain’t that the truth,” Hawk muttered, and finished his ale.