“Just lay your head down, lassy. Those horns must be heavy.”
“Shuddup, Harold. They’ve been there forever and I ain’t needed to put them anywhere yet.”
“But you do now.”
“And how’dya figure that?”
“Aw, look at yourself lassy. Five mugs in isn’t a good look for—”
“I dontgiveashit how you think I look.”
“… fine. How about this: you need to stop drinking, because you’ll feel like trash in the morning.”
“I always do, you nitwit.”
“That’s my point. What the Hell are you doing? This life can’t possibly be as fun as you seem to think it is.”
“Whaddya mean? I get out. I set things on fire. Professnally. Then I come back, and I reap the rewards.”
She thrust her mug skyward as she stumbled through the word “rewards.” Harold rolled his eyes.
“Your rewards, eh? You called your friend there slime…”
“He’s not my friend.”
“… and you tried to talk down on your other friend by using ‘elf’ as a slur. You know, the one who was either too forgiving or too tolerant of you to notice it? You think she deserved that?”
Tynfi didn’t have anything to say to that.
“Right. Your rewards. I’m cutting you off.”
“I don’t need your fucking moralizing. You’re my fucking barkeep, not my priest…”
“In the capacity as your, ahem, fucking barkeep, I’m cutting you off. And I know what you think of priests, so stuff it. I’m just here to help you out, lassy.”
“Quit calling me lassy.”
Someone was calling Harold away for something in the storeroom. He smirked as he departed.
“Just sit tight then, lass.”
When he was gone, she laid her head down on the bartop.
The streets were choked with dust. Three days without rain and constant foot traffic from the recent surge of military activity had kicked up every last loose particle of dirt into the air and hadn’t given it a chance to settle.
Tynfi arrived back at the Brave Warrior that morning coated in that dirt.
Her throbbing head protested against nearly everything, but it failed to protest against her legs as they took her to the nearest seat at the bar.
The barmaid this morning was Dora, Harold’s sister… or wife? Cousin? Tynfi had never really paid attention. What was important was that Harold apparently hadn’t told her to keep Tynfi cut off. Dora ambled off to the taps.
Tynfi told herself that she was doing this to spite Harold. The thought gave her some comfort. But Harold had turned up the stone, and now she had seen underneath, and she couldn’t shake the thought: what was she doing? Every day she would pick pockets or chase down odd jobs with her misfit companions, a way of life but also, necessarily, a temporary arrangement—a life of crime tends to be fast and short. Every night she crawled into an uncomfortable tavern bed or camp cot. How could she keep doing that without even hope that someday it would change? There had to be something different, a future out there somewhere, be it near or far. But here she was, waiting for her ale, getting no closer to anything.
The barmaid was taking too long. Tynfi slid off her stool and stepped outside, just to be off of the stool, really.
A column of soldiers was marching down the street, visually punctuated by the rhythmic, angry silver glint of their armor as it reflected sunlight through the billowing dust. Tynfi watched as they passed, expecting a nasty side-eye or at least a suspicious glance from the lieutenant at the head. But she saw nothing so lively in any of their faces as they trudged along.
The dust made it hard to see much else. A bird passed overhead. A farmer drew a creaking wagon full of… something… along the road, disappearing into the dust as quickly as he appeared. A wealthy woman in a purple coat passed in the opposite direction, made visible through the dust by the bold pigments of her clothes until she turned the corner. A dwarf with what sounded like a bag full of scrap iron rattling over her shoulder. A portly child nibbling on a green apple. A balding man with a limp and a tantalizingly low-hanging coin purse.
All coming from nowhere and going to nowhere as they passed through the dusty veil.
Tynfi returned inside to her seat, anxious for her drink. Standing on street corners was a surprisingly risky activity for someone like her, and it made her nervous not to be doing something. And drinking was the something she knew how to do.
Dora slid the mug toward her, finally, offering a lazy conversation-starter. “Outside people-watching, hm?”
“It’s so dusty out today. Wonder that people can go about their business in it!”
“Doesn’t seem like much business goes on in this part of town.”
“Oh, I think plenty does. It’s just hard to see it cooped up in here, that’s all. And through all that dirt, of course.”
Tynfi, rapidly tiring of this exchange, offered only an “mmhm” in response.
Her ale was waiting for her.