The Gentle Swan was the nicest tavern in Silverhall, with walls and posts of varnished pine that glowed golden in sun or lantern light. The crowd in the early afternoon was convivial and mostly made up of those soldiers who finished first watch and those waiting to go on for third. Armor and blades jingled as armed men and women traded stories and drinks. The castle for which the town was named could be seen out of the large front windows, the banners of House Lebeda flying from several posts.
It was hardly the first tavern Beast had walked into where his towering presence brought a dampening of the chatter, but it struck him all the same. He’d been a regular here for two years, taking a table along the wall opposite the bar and near the center of the room, where his men could easily see and find him. His favorite table was still there, now occupied by a blond-haired man with a full beard that hung down to cover the top of the ring mail he wore. Beast put on his best smile and walked over, and the blonde man rose as he approached. Even the dimmed sound died away into silence as the distance between the two men shrank.
“Edric,” Beast nodded to the blonde warrior.
“Captain.” Edric replied, holding his face carefully neutral.
“Haven’t been that for a while now.”
“Sir Knight, then.”
Beast laughed. “Call me whatever, but let me buy you a drink.”
Edric nodded towards the bar, and the tension seemed to slacken, if not dissipate. Conversations began as the two men sat at the table.
“Watch Sergeant Edric, now?” Beast inclined his head to the amulet that barely poked out from behind the man’s beard.
“Promotions are quicker if you take the jobs no one wants.” Edric paused as large wooden mugs of beer were placed between them. He hoisted his. “What shall we drink to?”
“Let’s make this one absent friends. Get it out of the way now.” The two raised their mugs, but did not touch them, then took deep drinks.
“You’ve already been to the Hall, I take it?” Edric did not make eye contact with Beast.
“I may have been living in the wilds of Ursundova for the last year, but I remember my manners well enough to not insult the Lady.”
“She was always fond of you.”
“She appreciated that I upset the apple cart every now and again.”
“So you talked.”
Edric looked around, “Where’s Finnegal?”
Beast tossed his head back at the door. “Sitting by the exit, fretting like grandma.”
Edric laughed. “Didn’t approve of your plan?”
“When does he ever?” Beast ran his fingers over a set of small holes in the table. “Anyone still do the knife dance?”
“Bailey tried, but hacked his pinky off. Priest put it back on, but everyone kind of lost interest.”
“Shouldn’t shirk something just because it’s dangerous.”
“No money in it.”
“That’s just managing the betting pool.”
“You…so wait, you knew there was betting going on?”
“Of course I did. Easy way to help veterans get their bonuses.”
Edric slumped. “You’re a devious bastard.”
“From time to time.”
The silence between them stretched into minutes.
Beast interrupted him. “Still not your Captain, Edric.”
“Sir,” Edric’s pain was clear on his face. “I want to explain.”
“Nothing to explain. You’ve been given a task. Unless things change, you’ll see to it.”
“It would not be my first choice.”
Beast half-smiled, “I hope not. I’d hate to think I failed to make an impression.”
“Sir? You wouldn’t…Our armies are…”
“Huge, far bigger than anything the frontier kingdoms could cobble together in anything short of another few years.” Beast took another long pull on his beer. “And most of them have never been to any sort of war before. Doesn’t change a thing.”
“I’ll do what I’m paid to do, Sergeant.”
Edric paled slightly.
“Don’t look like that. There was a time you thought you’d test me for the Captaincy.”
“I was an idiot.”
“Yes, but don’t lose your nerve now. Your men are watching.”
Edric blinked. “Still teaching, sir?”
“Good men can always learn more, Edric. And you’re a good man.”
Edric stared at the table for a long moment, then stood and raised his mug high. “A toast!” He shouted, and the crowd turned to face him. “To the Silver Company. I look around and see a score of faces who use to serve under that name. May we never forget where we came from, or who led us to where we are.”
Beast stood and raised his own mug. “Then let me add a note for the men-at-arms of House Lebeda. As I did not too long ago, I take my leave this morning knowing that you are warriors true. Our blood and the blood of our enemies have mixed and mingled over the fields of history. In that we are one, no matter the banner we march under.”
Everyone in the bar stood, and the air grew thick with the unsaid.
Finally, Edric spoke. “May men and women far afield now rest easy in their beds, knowing that we stand ready to do violence in their name.”
Mugs clinked and smaller toasts were muttered. Beast emptied his mug and slammed it to the table. “Good luck, Edric.”
“To you as well, sir.”
The Silver Beast walked from the tavern, every soldier standing as he did so.