26 Mar

“Adelbert!” The large man at the bar flinched visible at the sound of the calling voice.  A few other patrons looked at him and snickered before they turned to look at the figure who threw the door open as he stomped in.

The newcomer was short, and his tanned face was red with anger. “Adelbert, it’s time to go!”  A small fist flew at Adelbert’s side, too weak to harm him any more than a falling apple from a short height.  The minuscule priest in his blue and white garb looked comically childish as he glared up at Adelbert’s back.

Adelbert refused to look at him, and instead concentrated on his drink. “Maybe if I ignore it, it will go away.” he grumbled in his rolling, deep voice.

Another punch smacked into Adelbert’s back.  Again, the larger man ignored the short priest and continued to drink.

Finally, the dark-skinned priest became angry.  He glanced about, then shrugged and grabbed Adelbert’s free hand and sucked a finger.

The huge, pale man choked and slammed his beer down, then threw the priest across the room, into the closed door. “Stop that, you damn pest!  What do you want this time?” He roared in irritation as he shook the saliva from his hand. “Freak!”

A few patrons walked to the priest to help him up, but he rose on his own with little more than a roll of his eyes. “Adelbert, have you forgotten that we are not here to laze?  We have a job, you know.” His voice was like a boy, just on the cusp of adulthood. “I knew I shouldn’t have taken you as a squire!  Sixteen and drinking to avoid me.” He sighed forlornly. “Am I that horrible to serve, Adelbert?  I see to all of your needs, and your chores are light!”

Adelbert groaned as he watched the bartender yank away the now-abandoned drink. “Shut up, Locke.” He stood and glared at the smaller man as he stared up, like an impetuous child who was drowning in the robes of someone far his elder.

“I suppose you’d like the guild master to know about this?  I’ll be certain to let him know about your drinking and  slacking.  He’ll be so proud of you.”  The smaller man smiled brightly, as though he was offering a present, rather than a threat.  He tilted his head to one side and feigned an innocent expression. “You do think so too, don’t you?”

The massive, pale man grunted and rose to his feet. “Just crawl in a hole and die.” His words were as harsh as his tone as he brushed past Locke.

The dark-skinned priest gave a quirky salute to the remainder of the tavern. “Have a nice day!” He waved happily as he followed his large partner. “You know, Adelbert, if you keep shoving your work aside, people will get hurt,” he warned.  His tone was suddenly serious as he stood up straighter– which gave him only one and a half inches of additional height. “People will get hurt, you’ll lose your job, your family will disown you, and worse: you won’t have the privilege of my company any longer.”  After he spoke the last, he rested a hand on his breast and sighed, like an actor with a large crowd at which to emote.

A grunt was his only answer from the pale giant.

“Oh, fine.  Be that way.  As long as we get the job done and get paid, it doesn’t matter if you’re useless or not.  You just have to stand between me and them.”  With a sigh, Locke dashed ahead of Adelbert. “This way.”

The tall, pale man stopped and sneered.  He glanced back at the bar for a few moments before he allowed his long legs to catch up with Locke’s energetic steps.

Today was going to be a long day.  Adelbert was certain of it.

Two days later, Adelbert was certain he had been too right.  They had neither slept, nor eaten since they departed from that tavern back in the capital.

Locke was miserable.  He neither whined, nor cried, but he often stretched his back, or walked strangely.  A hereditary bad back was to blame.  If there was one thing Adelbert admired about Locke, it was his ability to withstand the pain… although sometimes “tolerating the pain” meant enjoying it in Locke’s signature disgusting, sinful manner, usually at the hands of some drunk or an angry guard who needed to be rid of his anger.

Adelbert was tired.  Never before in his life had he felt so utterly worn.  His hands had blisters: some were fresh, some were popped, others throbbed, and some bled inside.  Locke mentioned often that he wanted to see to those blisters, but every time, he was pulled away to see about someone who’s life was at risk.

Their goal was simple: keep the gablines from exiting their breeding tower.  Already, their guild’s forces had lost four good men and a flag bearer.  A wall of rough pikes and a shoddy trench were all that protected the outside world from a flood of millions of the fast-breeding, lizard-like rat-men.

The doors of the tower opened, and Adelbert rushed to the trench and leapt in at a gap.  Behind him, Locke rushed to position and began to prepare a spell of flesh-mending.

Before them, and thirty others, a horde approached that numbered beyond three hundred of the small– but deadly– monsters at Locke’s first estimate.  The small, tanned man took a deep breath, then set his feet as he waited.

The gablines didn’t move.

Adelbert gripped his spear with one hand, and a hatchet in the other, ready to drop one if needed.  He took a deep breath and slowly exhaled through his nose.  Waiting made him nervous.  Why weren’t they charging?  Nervously, he shifted from one foot to the other.  He shot a brief glance back at Locke, who shrugged.  Locke’s eyes never left the horde before them.

Suddenly, the gablines dashed back inside, whooping and cheering as they went.

“Bear-handed Company!” The guild master called. “Withdraw and be at ease!”

Locke nearly collapsed as he began to laugh.  He turned, and when he saw the army on its way, he nearly cried with relief. “Look, Adelbert!  They came!  We can sleep!” His voice caught as Adelbert climbed out of the trench, replaced by five more men.

“I see them.” He closed his eyes. “Let’s set up our tent.”


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