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Excerpt from To Save a Soul by Nona King

ONE

“I said I wanted a drink!”

Para Sedi raised her emerald gaze from her mug to the rowdy group in the east corner of the tavern. “Trouble there, Mun.”

The warrior inclined his head, his eyes not shifting from their regard of his ale. Instead, he adjusted his position to better reach the sheathed claymore on his back.

For the past week Para and Mun had traveled the nation of Rommel seeking work. Unfortunately, a swordsman and ranger weren’t in high demand, even considering her knack for sleight of hand.

In all her twenty-some years she hadn’t had such a challenge finding the next earned wage. She needed a different line of work. But considering her wages thus far included bartending, bouncing and even merchant’s guard or caravan cook, line of work wasn’t the issue. This particular season no one needed an extra hand—at least not in Rommel.

“We should go before trouble blows this way.” Para chucked a silver coin onto the table. “Shall we take a turn to see what’s about town?”

Mun glanced toward those mercenaries and ruffians the tavern master attempted to soothe.

“It isn’t our squabble.” She swiped her felt cap from her short-cut red hair and slapped her friend’s shoulder. “Come on. Up and out. The inn down the street a pace beckons, and it promises me a mug.”

The tavern master rushed to their table. “Is the drink not to your liking?” He darted a look to the quieted rabble-rousers.

“The drink was fine, milord barkeep, what I had—”

Another fracas ensued in the far corner. The tavern master stepped into their line of sight. “Please, friends, stay. There is a private room beyond that hall where you may take your meal.”

“That’s right kind, but we need to take a turn around town to see where we can put our names in for a wage-hire.” Para noticed Mun’s continued focus on the tussling men in the corner.

“Let me inquire for you, friends. You’re travel weary. You should take a meal and rest yourselves.”

“A private room, you say?” She tapped a corner of her cap against her lips.

The tavern master signaled the barmaid to prepare the room.

“We’ll take you up on that then.” Para smacked Mun’s shoulder to gather his attention. It shifted, just. “Come along, Milord Meek. We’re in the private suite today.”

He gestured toward the corner table. The tussling had quieted again. “I can escort these men outside,” he said to the tavern master.

“Leave it, I said. It isn’t our squabble.” She marveled again at her friend’s one flaw: a compulsive need to be helpful at no charge.

“No, no, sir,” the tavern master told the warrior. “Please don’t trouble yourself.”

As she feared, once Mun decided to take an action that ended any preceding line of thought.

Para blocked his path, a hand on the chest of his braided leather armor. “Consider. You’re on your own in this one. You hear me? I’m tired, and I want my ale. Until I get that, you’re treading alone.”

The warrior responded with a simple smile.

Para shrugged. “I’ve had my say. Now I’m off to my private room to eat, drink and be merry. Mayhap I’ll be in a better mood to lend a hand after I’m refreshed.”

“Fair enough.”

He stepped past, adjusting the sheath on his back with a simple shrug. Mun was among the best swordsmen she knew, that being the main reason she joined up with him. But wise in choosing his battles he was not. His habit was to help without regard to arranging a hefty wage beforehand for the deed.

Para frowned as the five ruffians surrounded the warrior. The tavern master did his best to soothe the situation, but it was clearly beyond that point. This seemed a common situation for Mun, and he never felt the least bit concerned. Of course, standing well over six foot and weighing more than two hundred pounds may have contributed to that attitude. Such a fact didn’t matter because she hadn’t yet finished a complete mug, and likely wouldn’t until this crew was dealt with. Taverns were for the weary, and the weary didn’t  appreciate being disturbed in the middle of a pint… or three.

She cast the private room a longing glance. Unfortunately, the stench from the rough crew of mercenaries overpowered any delight at the prospect of a bowl of warm stew. The ruffians were dressed in the usual gear of trail-worn leather and dilapidated chain mail. Their aroma of old ale and horse dung was pungeant, even across the common room, and a dark mood of trouble hung over the group just as dank. It was the type of ruffian she preferred to contend with, if she had anything to do with them in the first place, because there was no great risk to her person—especially when Mun was determined to be of use.

Of course, he was always single-minded in that regard.

“Bah.” She squashed her cap upon her head and stepped toward the group. Whether she regretted the action or not was beside the point. These men had put her in this mood, so why shouldn’t they feel the punishment as a direct result?

The tension over the group swelled as she approached, and she could read the tautness of action in their stance. Mun would find a fist thrown his direction very soon. This would start a brawl, of course, and the whole fracas wouldn’t end without at least one cold bit of steel being pressed into someone’s space.

Their life was nothing if not exciting!

The fist thrown caught the tavern master in the side of the head, to his misfortune. The blow sent him staggering backward into a table, which overturned and sent the man reeling heels-over-head over the other side. The offending ruffian received a headbutt from Mun in return, the result of which collapsed the man’s nose and sent blood spattering over the entire group. To Para’s surprise, the mess caused a complete shutdown of action. In fact, the mercenaries stared at Mun in shocked horror before looking to the blood-speckled faces and clothes of their comrades.

Mun shoved the ruffian with the now-broken nose sprawling into the group. “Another?” It never ceased to amaze her how intimidating Mun could be when he spoke in single-word sentences. Who needed eloquence when his expression and stance spoke volumes?

“We’ve but come for a drink,” one of the group complained. “Why you be roughin’ us up as if we’re criminals? I’ll call the lord’s guard on you!”

“Aye, that so, milord?” Para came to stand at Mun’s side and swept the group with a jovial gaze. “It seems to me that you and yours have caused a bit of a ruckus for nigh on one hour. In fact, wasn’t it your comrade here that sent the good barkeep over his now-broken table?”

“That couldn’t be helped! Your man ducked!”

“Ah. That puts it all to rights, of course.”

The man growled and lunged, tripping over one of his fellow’s boots to stagger into Mun’s fist. Dazed, the man didn’t cry out when the warrior grabbed a fistful of shirt and tossed him into a heap near the tavern master’s inert body.

Once again, Mun focused on the dwindled group and asked, “Another?”

Para rested a leather-gloved hand on her friend’s shoulder. “Now, Mun, let’s give the men a chance to—”

A chance they decided to squander on a full onslaught. Much like a cornered animal, panic grabbed their body and thrust them into a situation that wouldn’t end well. They made an admirable showing, but there wasn’t much to do against a warrior of Mun’s caliber.

He grabbed a fistful of hair and ears and knocked their heads together like so many melons. They yowled and folded, leaving Para room to dodge a jab-hook combination. She swiped the man’s feet out from under him and he tumbled backwards to sprawl into the chair behind him. He dove forward again. But in one graceful motion Para drew her rapier, side-stepped, and clubbed him over the head with the pommel.

He moaned and fell.

She sheathed her weapon, grumbling under her breath about the lack of common sense as she helped the tavern master to his feet. “Are you well, milord barkeep?” He shook his head to fend off the fuzz. “That was quite the clock-and-tumble they gave you.”

“Y-yes….”

Para sent a quick glance to the shocked barmaid standing in the hallway. “Miss, a hand?”

The maid scurried forward and helped the tavern master to his quarters at the back.

“Bah. As I said, no excitement here, and I need my ale!”

The warrior gathered two of the ruffians by their belts and lugged them out the front door and into the dusty streets. “See to your refreshment, Par. I’ll put these away.”

“Thank you, I think I will. If they’ve even kept it in their head to give me a pour.”

Peeking down the hall, Para caught sight of a pint and pitcher on the table and sounded a shout of jubilation. Hurrying to the room, she just kept from tipping the pint in her excitement of snatching it to her mouth. She chugged it in its entirety and then slammed it down with a burst of “Ah!” followed by a less than feminine belch.

# # #

Nona King is dedicated to writing true-to-life characters, be they villain or hero, so readers can experience life and its many passions. Follow her blog at Word Obsession. She is also the author of  To Save a Soul (The Soul Cycle), paranormal fantasy.

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This entry was posted on May 2, 2012 by in Book Excerpts and tagged , .

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