The Highcup Tavern was generally a quiet spot. One of the oldest places on Heathwood’s main walk, it had a loyal patronage of regulars, most of which were either greybeards who loved swapping war stories, or workers from the sawmill after a long day’s work.
The tavern’s doors swung open, and the murmuring conversation stilled for a moment as each patron turned to look at the visitor.
A stranger ducked into the taproom. He carried himself with the air of a knight, with a quiet dignity and pride. He wore shining steel plate with raised brass motifs worked along the edges. A huge two-handed ax hung from a leather harness across the stranger’s back, which raised a few eyebrows.
But the inhabitants of the Highcup Tavern took note of one thing primarily – the stranger’s rough features and dark green skin. Glances turned to glares and there were some muttered curses.
The stranger didn’t seem to mind the change in atmosphere, and trudged up to the bar. He flashed a quick smile at the bartender.
“A draught of something cold and frothy, if you don’t mind. It’s been a long road.”
“Hmph. I’ll bet.”
The bartender nodded, and in a moment he presented a pint of lager. The orc dropped a couple of coins on the table.
“Keep the change.”
“Much obliged mister…?”
“Warden. And no need for ‘Mister’ or ‘Sir.’ Just ‘Warden’ will do.”
The bartender had owned this business for long enough to feel conflict brewing. It’s a sixth sense that develops in pretty much every bartender worth his salt. And as he polished the tankards at the bar, the air in the taproom was ripe with anger. He leaned closer to Warden, and spoke in low tones.
“You know, stranger, I appreciate your company as much as the next guy, but there are many in this town that don’t feel that way. Stiggs in the corner over there lost his son to some marauding orcs last winter, and there’s been some generally un-friendly feelings towards your kind. No hard feelings from me personally, but I wouldn’t stay here long if I was you.”
Warden’s brow furrowed, and the creases in his face deepened. He took another draught of his lager before responding.
“Actually, I intend to stay here for quite a while, if I can help it. Just got a letter from the Governor himself. Supposed to train up some folks here and help out the Mayor with his militia.”
“That so? Gods – who’d you piss off to get sent out here?”
“Pretty much everybody. It’s an issue I’m working out.” Warden polished off his drink, then dropped a small pouch of more coin on the table. He spoke up loudly.
“Why don’t you fill everyone’s drinks here, eh? See if we can’t bring some light into this town!”
There were some unsteady murmurs in the tavern, a couple of laughs, and still more stares. But free beer is free beer, and after a few rounds, the Highcup Tavern had warmed a bit. Warden would remember this night for many years to come.
Art Credit: Lee Mingi