“Barkeep! There’s thirsty people out here!”
Rhal’s voice broke the silence of the empty tavern, the sound hanging abruptly in the air. Where normally would be a bustle of back and forth between patron and proprietor was little more than the creak of old boards. Not even the scurry of rats disrupted the silence. Rhal made a beeline toward the bar.
“I guess all taverns do look the same when you’ve been in most of them,” he said, glancing at the well-worn tables and floors.
“Don’t you remember, Rhal?” Ferrus asked quietly in his childlike voice. “This is where we all met. The first time we were all together.”
Petra nodded excitedly, looking to Rhal. “That’s it! I knew this tavern was familiar!” She turned and began pointing out the tables with her finger. “You were standing just off over there, telling a story to the bartender. Eamon was in the corner, brooding, of course. Ferrus was in the courtyard, playing with the butterflies. Shaina was–”
Petra stopped mid-sentence, her eyes fading. “Oh, Shaina,” she said softly. “I’d forgotten she was here too.” There was a second silence now, added to the first, this one even emptier.
With a quick jump that belied his age, Rhal leapt behind the bar. “Seeing as how the bartender isn’t at his station, seems right and proper to serve ourselves,” he said, lifting a bottle and putting it to his lips. “Strawberry wine, anyone?” he winced.
Petra shook her head, though she hid a smile. “Be sure and leave plenty of copper for the innkeeper. Don’t want warrants out for us while we’re on the road.”
“No more warrants, anyway,” Argus muttered under his breath.
Rhal passed a few bottles around, raising one to the air. “To friends here and now, gone and never forgotten. To Shaina of the White Blade, Paladin of the Storm. May her immortal days be full of rain and thunder, just as her life.”
They all drank deeply, all except Ferrus, who merely studied the motion of a spider weaving a web in the corner.
After a moment, Eamon looked around, as if seeing the tavern in new eyes. “Does it strike anyone as passing odd that a tavern in the heart of Rhondisfarne, the capitol of the kingdom, would be entirely empty at midday?” he asked, looking at his companions.
Rhal shrugged nonchalantly, though he did begin marking entrances and exits, the old familiar hairs on the back of his neck standing on end. “Perhaps there’s a holy day and we’re not aware of it yet? You know how the church is with such things.”
Petra raised an eyebrow, choosing to ignore the remark. “No holy days today, I’m afraid. Not till Highsummer and that not for a fortnight at least.”
There was a third silence now, this one of expectation, of tension, the sound of a net being pulled taut.
A voice came from above, high on the balcony. “I was wondering when you’d get here.”
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