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  • Mina Skogsaas

Tavern of Crows

The gentle chime of a wooden door as it slammed against the wet frame could be heard faintly as the cloaked individual stepped into the tavern. She looked around, surveying the crowd of talking people of different shapes and sizes who seemed to mind their own business. Virya kept the hood of her cape draped over her forehead, eyes scrutinising the walls that were engraved with delicate woodwork. Her eyes further searched the rugged chairs that were enveloped with fine animal pelts, presumably wolf and deer skin. By each table sat people of many different ethnicities, squabbling about recent fortuitous events. Music played loudly in the background, skilled musicians. Flutes, violins and fiddles were the instruments she could discern.  


Virya turned her head towards the front bar, monitoring the tavern keeper. He was preparing some drinks with flitty hands, it was apparent that he had done this for quite some time. The tavern-keeper had ruffled brown hair, perhaps left unattended for weeks, and a beard that looked far more groomed and delicately twined with wooden and silver pearls. Virya was amused by the stark contrast, as he approached the smoothened wooden tabletop. She removed the hood and neatened up the furls of fabric that poured past her neck, making eye contact with the tavern keeper. The man approached, placing his hands on the table, looking at her with a practised smile. 


‘’Hello lass, how may I help you today?’’ The tavern-keeper’s voice was creaky, coarse with many years of conversations.. The tavern had the warm smell of bread and boiling soup and the distinct reek of mead. Virya responded after a few seconds of contemplation, forcing a coy simper.  


‘’I would love some freshly baked bread… assuming you have any left-over.’’ Virya responded in a soft tone, reaching her hand down for her leather pouch. She felt around, finding five silver coins. Placing the coins on the table for the tavern keeper’s careful consideration and examination, he nodded and slid them into his own satchel.  


‘’Right away miss.’’ The tavern keeper promised, rushing over to his newly washed plates to prepare some bread and butter. Virya watched him disappear behind a corner. Turning to the side, she noticed a man she had not noticed before watching a poster intently. The dark-haired man placed his chin against the palm of his hand, taking notes in a small, leather-bound book. Virya switched seats to sit closer to the stranger, getting a better view of the poster in question. It depicted a large, dark skinned creature with beady eyes and large, bat-like ears. Wings extended from the animal’s shoulder blades and curved with elastic skin attached to long, bony fingers. Upon the creature’s back sat a cloaked human wight, considerably smaller than the undoubtedly tamed beast. Her eyes returned to the strange man to see what he was writing, however upon looking at him she perceived that he had conceivably been gawking at her for a considerable amount of time. Virya jerked, embarrassed that she was caught looking. The man only smiled, looking back to the poster which she now recognized as a wanted poster before returning his gaze to her.  


‘’Terrifying, is it not? The kingdom has been hunting it for months now.’’ The man remarked, smirking, as he admired the artist’s interpretations of the creature and the rider. Virya frowned, not sure if terrifying was the correct appellation. She scanned the drawing once more, shrugging her shoulders, her dark hair falling over her chest. The creature fit the description of a dragon. 


‘’I am not quite sure if I believe in the conspiracies, dragons are rare, and so are the people who encounter them. What makes you believe that a person could domesticate one?’’ Virya inquired coolly, wanting to keep the situation tranquil. She watched him raise a brow, and then his grin widened. It was strangely sheepish.  


‘’Have you not seen how paranoid the town guards have gotten? They practically patrol every chance they get. Something has happened, and this person has something to do with it.’’ The man grasped the poster, ripping it from the pillar it had been strategically placed upon and vigorously tapping his finger on the person on top of the dragon. Virya glowered, leaning in closer to look at the drawing once more. She wondered how many people believed what this poster showed.  


‘’Or maybe it is to keep people from resorting to thievery or such like.’’ She spoke in a low tone, noticing that they were slowly attracting attention. However, as she was speaking, the tavern keeper advanced towards them with her bread and butter, placing it by her hands. Virya diverted her attention from the stranger and smiled up at the welcoming man serving her.  


‘’Thank you.’’ She said, carefully scooping butter on a dull knife and spreading it across the steaming hot surface of the bread. Both men watched her for a second before the tavern-keeper left their company, undoubtedly to serve the next customer. Virya took a bite from the soft bread, enjoying the subtle taste of wheat. The stranger followed the tavern-keeper with his gaze before responding to her previous statement. 

‘’Dragons are starting to appear more and more, rumours state that ocean-dwelling beasts have breached the surface to sink ships, it is unlike them.’’ He stated nonchalantly, yet she could see his eyes glimmer. Virya sighed, shrugging and keeping her melancholy expression while peering at him again.  


‘’The number of dragon sightings each season fluctuates all the time…’’ She remained calm; yet this news sparked an interest in her. Dragons were starting to appear more after many years of hiding. Virya pondered upon this for a few seconds. Dragons were normally timid, how come they started showing themselves to humans; she thought. The strange man smiled. Locking his fingers together, he placed his hands on the wooden desktop of the front bar. He looked to be in his twenties, maybe older, with thin curls. His initial interest in the subject amused Virya. Tapping her fingers against each other, she watched people leave and enter the tavern. 


‘’If I may ask… what sparks your interest in this so much?’’ Virya inquired and beckoned at the poster. The man smiled at this question, nodding briefly as if he agreed with a statement only he could hear. He grabbed the parchment of the mysterious person and dragon, studying the two.  


‘’You cannot blame someone for being curious, one does not just tame a dragon. Perhaps there are certain opportunities for the future that we yet do not see.’’ He smiled, holding the parchment carefully so as to not ruin it. Virya frowned at his answer. The stranger took notice of her uncertainty and cleared his throat. 


‘’Apologies for my rash words, you do not even know my name. Galdor, pleasure to meet you.’’ He introduced himself in a rather elegant manner, bowing his head courtly. His ruffled hair fell limply over his face. 


‘’You may call me Virya, it is nice to meet you Galdor.’’ Virya parted her lips, baring her teeth in a soft grin. It had been a while since she had made a friendly acquaintance with someone. Galdor perked up once he learned her name, smiling kindly in return. He struck her as a formal person, at least in the way he acted and spoke. His rugged face was lit up by the orange candle lights that flickered from the metal containers that were placed all around the main tavern. He had mellow, brown eyes.  


Virya was about to speak once more when she heard the small, wooden gate of the tavern open with a loud thump. She turned around abruptly, tensing her arm as she reached for her dagger. Upon catching sight of what caused the commotion, she paused, calculating the mass of the stranger. It was a large man with leather bindings wrapping his hands; undoubtedly for protection when clashing with someone. He appeared to have no sleeves over his arms despite the cold weather. Long, dangling trophy necklaces hung from his veiny neck, clicking against his sweaty chest. Upon his countenance he wore a grimace, clearly displeased with something. The rest of the individuals in the tavern turned to face him, uncertain of his intentions. The large man disdained the ogling eyes, walking confidently towards the front bar. The tavern keeper shuffled over to speak to him, asking his customer what he would like to order. The man snorted, dragging a damp hand over his nose before replying. 

 

‘’I would like a tankard of mead.’’ The hulking man rasped, placing some silver coins on the wooden desktop before finding one of the more isolated tables to sit by. People kept watching him for a few moments more before returning to their previous conversations. Virya watched him suspiciously, slowly removing her hand from the hilt of her dagger. Galdor followed her gaze, sniffling heavily before looking away, adrift. 


‘’Per usual, arrogant drunk.’’ He sat himself down, clearly uncomfortable with the presence of the larger and more physically capable man who was seated on the opposite side of the tavern. Virya opened her mouth and tasted the air with her tongue, noting that Galdor was in fact correct. She could smell the foul reek of alcohol seeping from the new-comer’s clothes, even from the considerable distance between them.  


Her focus was about to shift when one of the barmaids approached the man with his drink, but before she could reach his table she tripped and dropped the tankard of mead. The foam and liquid spread across the floorboards, oozing between the cracks and dripping onto the ground beneath. The massive man got up, frustration seeping from his stance alone.  


‘’What is wrong with you!’’ He bellowed, looming over the woman who was trying to clean up the mess. She shrunk into herself, trying to make herself look smaller, like a terrified insect. The man insulted the woman in a language Virya did not quite understand herself, however, observing the faces on the people around her told her enough to understand that the statements were unkind. Virya got up as she saw the man raise a hand, walking swiftly towards the commotion and standing between the two. Galdor tried to stop her but retracted upon seeing her confidence. She sensed that he was watching with strained curiosity.  


The large man stopped once he saw her approach, raising a brow at her boldness. Crossing his arms over his chest, he studied her with great interest, trying to see if there was a part of her hidden from view. Virya scoffed, wanting to thwack him across the face for the arrogance alone.  


‘’What do you want? Do you not see that I am dealing with something here?’’ He huffed, loosening his arms while staring blankly at her. Virya flexed her fingers, hearing her joints crack while clenching her hand. This act seemed to amuse the man even more.  

‘’It was an accident, leave her be,” she said. “I am sure that you will get a new drink in just a minute.’’ She suspected that this man could not be reasoned with easily. Intoxication was written all over his face as he took a few steps towards her, making sure to breathe the stench into her face. 


‘’It’s none of your business’’ The man said again, reaching out to push Virya to the side. Instead of being pushed, she slid to the side, propping her foot in front of his so that he tripped and fell on one of the tables. The wooden boards creaked as he fell against them, knocking over the table with his weight, causing drinks to spill all over him. Deep orange liquid seeped into his clothing, soaking his shirt and messing up his hair. Virya jumped back, placing her hand by her meticulously placed dagger sheath. Her deep eyes surveyed his movements as he groaned, stabilising himself onto his legs once more. A deep cut ran diagonally over his palm, most likely caused by the sharp corners of the table. Turning his hand around, he calculated the damage before pulling his hand back, causing crimson droplets to splat against the floor. He turned to face Virya, eyes narrowed with cautious curiosity. A cold shiver trickled down her spine.  


Virya crouched, taking up a defensive stance as she noticed the glistening handle of a broadsword beneath his cape. It looked older than other swords, they were extremely rare. It was engraved with leaf patterns, much like the design of a town she could not quite remember. Her contemplation was interrupted by the sound of thumping footsteps. The large stranger was approaching her rapidly, sliding his weapon from its scabbard. Virya feinted to the side, causing him to trip, turning far too slowly to be practical. She bounded back, unsheathing her dagger, holding it up just in time to brace against the swinging broadsword. The larger blade slipped into place within the gaps of her dagger, crafted in such a way that it would help her counter attacks just like these instead of using a far too heavy sword. She knew that this would not hold; her arm shaking while the man was barely breaking a sweat. Virya noticed a bright light in the corner of her eye, realising what it was. Her hand reached out for it instinctively, closing around a metal candelabrum with burning wax still oozing from it. She smacked it across his face before he had time to react, splattering the liquified wax across his skin. The man yowled in pain, stumbling back so that she was able to relax her arm. He swung wildly with the broadsword, trying to slash her. Virya noticed that his swordsmanship was sloppy and untrained, perhaps he had not been taught appropriately in the art. This made her confidence grow, urging her to get low once more to counter another attack. 


Her opponent was finally able to get the burning sensation to stop, practically hissing at her as he made his move. Virya thought she could predict his movements; however, she miscalculated her steps and got a knuckled fist raking across her face. She gasped for air, flinging herself onto the hard, wooden floor as the man stepped on her, putting pressure on her lungs momentarily. His weight pressed down, making it impossible for her to regain her breath. The man started twisting his foot, making her gag. The world went quiet for a second as she only now noticed all the people in the tavern watching the commotion with wide eyes. Some were already standing, yet it seemed that they were all too scared to confront this man. Virya turned briefly, spitting out some blood. She was about to give in when she noticed that Galdor got up and approached. New strength surged through her body, she was not willing to allow another person to harm themselves for her, not again. 


 She looked up, and time moved slowly. Her gaze landed on the broadsword’s handle once more, finally recognizing the design on the handle. It came from Gillamoor, her hometown, yet she did not know this man. Virya groaned, tightening the grip around her dagger and quickly severed the man’s Achilles tendon, making a sickening wet sound before a snap, as it ruptured and was torn apart. Her opponent released a blood curdling screech, falling back and hitting his head on the wall. Galdor  immediately stopped, watching the man with shock.  

Virya gasped for air, finally able to breathe properly. Placing her hand on her stomach, she used the other to wipe blood from her lips. Turning around, she noticed that the individuals scattered around the tavern were now watching her intently, eyes filled with either terror or wonder. She ignored the crowd, watching Galdor for a long second, her fierce expression betraying her real feelings, relief and surprise that he had tried to save a stranger. Someone approached the unconscious man, making sure that he was alive. It was a shame that he had passed out, she would be unable to interrogate him now. Virya blinked towards Galdor once more before turning around completely, removing the broadsword and its scabbard from the man’s grip. He did not deserve to own this, no matter what he had done to earn it. It was not her town’s tradition to give away their weapons to strangers. She would have to investigate this further. Her thoughts were shaken once she heard loud steps outside. A big crowd was approaching. Virya froze, realising that someone might have slipped out to alert the guards. She staggered to her feet, turning towards Galdor and the others. Galdor noticed the thundering footsteps as well, snapping his head around to look for another exit. She followed his gaze, eyes locking on the back door he had been searching for. Virya nodded her head in respect, tightening the leather belt around her waist that now held the broadsword before sprinting to the other side of the tavern. The crowd split up as the tavern-keeper came out from the kitchen, asking about what had happened and why there was a befuddled person on his floor. Virya reached the door, dragging the hood over her face and taking a last look over the tavern before darting out just as the guards barged in.  



Galdor followed Virya quietly, making sure that the city guards who were carrying the unconscious man out of the tavern did not see him. He slipped out into the dark streets, rain pelted down onto his dark hair intermittently, causing a dark stain to form on his cloak. Petrichor tickled his nostrils as he looked around vigilantly, noticing that Virya was nowhere to be found. Had she really been able to get away this quickly? He pondered for a moment, eyes now attracted to the dim lanterns that highlighted orange sultry from the rows of houses and inns. The sound of rummaging could be heard from the darker part of the alley. He approached the sounds of low whispering and multiple feet brushing against the wet soil. Galdor’s eyes began adjusting to the darkness, but just then he could hear bone rattling thuds against the ground, he almost thought it to be an earthquake until they stopped. A large, black shadow hung over him, large wings curved in then stretched out once it reached the open air. Water splattered across his face as it dripped from the entity’s massive frame, momentarily blinding him. Galdor forced his eyes open, taken aback by the sudden approach and disappearance. He wiped his eyes, mouth falling agape as the dim lantern lights paired with the moonlight glistened across the gigantic, scaled creature that was now airborne. It had long arms with even longer clawed fingers, webs of ebony skin tying them together into majestic black wings. Galdor gripped his shirt as he fell to his knees. It was only when the dragon was nearly out of his sight that he noticed something else. Upon its back sat a hooded, dark figure, with a faint shadow of a broadsword scabbard visible beneath their cape. 

 


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