The night was late, but summer had just begun, and a warm breeze swept through the street. Most of the Kerrytown neighborhood customers and residents had gone home for the night.
Those left were mostly in the taverns and pubs that lined both sides of the cobblestone street. Muffled voices of laughter and conversation could be heard from their doors.
If it had been earlier and the street busier, I doubted that Mideon would have agreed to such a public dispute with Elsa.
He was the son of the ward’s superintendent, which would let him get away with harassing the barmaid of a relatively newly opened tavern, assuming he didn’t make a villain out of himself in front of a street full of witnesses.
But at the moment, it was only the Tipsy Pelican’s customers and Mideon’s two men standing on the street. The witnesses would be the same had he confronted Elsa in the tavern, and other than Herwin, they were mostly comprised of builders and dock workers and handymen—not the type of people who had much standing in the eyes of the nobility.
However, Herwin had finally woken up, which I was glad to see.
Someone had pulled up a seat for the broad-shouldered young man that Elsa had split a table with and handed him a mug of Honeydew Lager for good measure. He was sipping it with a dazed look as he watched the confrontation. The white templar stood at his side, her expression unreadable behind her veil.
“This is your last chance to come with me voluntarily,” Mideon said. “You assaulted me last time. It’s the least you could do.”
I wasn’t sure how the idiot figured any of the others would allow Mideon to take Elsa away if he did succeed in immobilizing her, but the guy clearly wasn’t very bright.
Then I noticed the aura I had sensed earlier growing rapidly from one of his men. So maybe he wasn’t as dumb as I thought. Still dumb as a brick. But maybe not as dumb as a rock.
The man with the aura was a caster if not a full-blown mage. Depending on his ability, he could easily put down a tavern full of people. Well… assuming no one in the tavern knew magic. And there was at least one person who did—the templar, I mean.
“Enough of your dribble, you pointy-nosed bastard,” Elsa snapped. “Are you going to fight, or are you going to keep whining?”
That was the thing about Elsa, when she was angry, her tongue was sharper than a spear point. It was clear from Mideon’s expression that he was self-conscious about his strangely-shaped nose.
“You bitch!” Mideon and his two men leaped forward at once, with Mideon leading the charge.
And Mideon fell first.
That was expected for anyone watching.
The balance of his body was all wrong. Head and arms forward, fingers spread, torso and legs behind him.
He rushed face-first right into Elsa’s closed fist and landed on the ground with a thud.
Next, his two men raced toward her. They seemed to fare slightly better.
The first man pulled his fist back for a punch upon seeing Mideon fall. The plan to capture the woman had turned into a fistfight.
The second man, the mage, was right beside him, he had his hand raised. It was unclear what he was going to do until his hand began to glow with red aura. He was casting a spell.
Things were looking bad until the unbelievable happened.
The first man with the balled fist tripped on a raised cobblestone in the road.
Or perhaps it was his knee that buckled.
It wasn’t clear from the angle of the spectators, but his left leg twisted suddenly just as he began to launch his fist forward.
The result was that he pivoted sideways on the leg that could no longer hold his weight. Instead of hitting Elsa, his fist smacked into the cheek of the unsuspecting mage who had all his attention on the beauty.
Elsa blinked as both of them toppled over, a whole two paces away from her.
The mage was knocked out cold, but the first guy stood again, hopping on one leg while clutching the other. Something indeed had happened to his left knee.
But as he was groping his knee, Elsa slammed her fist into his jaw.
The motion was smooth and swift and graceful as a royal dancer. He flew back, his jaw leading the flight, and landed neatly on the cobblestone road between his two sleeping friends.
There was a long moment of silence. Then someone began to clap. Then everyone from the tavern was whooping, jumping up and down.
Elsa glanced at them with a radiant smile as she rubbed her shoulder. “Time to celebrate!” she said, raising her fist victoriously in the air to enthusiastic cheering.
Celebrate? What were we celebrating? Mideon and his idiots would undoubtedly return another night with even more men after being embarrassed so badly.
“First rounds on the house!” Elsa exclaimed as she led the pack back into the tavern like a prophet among her loyal followers.
“On the house!?” I said. She didn’t hear me. There was nothing to be done about it now. Everyone was too caught up in the moment.
The good news was there would undoubtedly be more purchases after a fight and a free round of drinks.
Which was exactly what happened.
Which was why the rest of the night was a complete disaster.
Bran bought the second round and Herwin the third and fourth and fifth.
Before I knew it, every person in the tavern was buying a round of drinks, and a dozen people meant a dozen rounds.
I knew most of them couldn’t afford such expenditures, so I only charged them half price.
The price decrease was discovered as one of them settled their bill, which led to a furor of more drinks bought.
By the time the sun rose, Herwin was hunched over in a corner, puking into a bucket, and Bran was dancing with the templar.
She, for the first time since she’d been coming to the tavern, had drunk a second glass of wine, which was apparently enough to put her on an even footing with Bran, who by then was on his tenth round.
And all of this was still manageable… right up until Elsa shoved into my hands the unfinished half of the good brandy she opened and drank earlier in the night.
“What?” I said dumbly.
“You’re not drinking,” she said.
“Someone’s got to be the adult.”
“Not tonight. We’re celebrating!” she said. Then she wrapped her arm into mine and took the first pull from the bottle. She handed it over to me. I sighed and took a gulp.
Then the whole tavern cheered. I guess they didn’t see me drinking much. One drink led to two and that led to three. And before I knew it, I’d finished the second half of the bottle of brandy.
I don’t know how things ended.
I awoke on some chairs that had been lined up against a wall. I looked around and saw the tavern empty of the guests.
Elsa was sprawled out on the bar, her feet resting over spilled mugs and bottles.
For a moment I thought she had finally died from alcohol poisoning, but then I saw her chest moving up and down as she breathed.
I stared a few moments longer than were necessary before I pulled my eyes away.
“Damn nineteen-year-old body,” I muttered as I sat up.
“You’re awake. I’ve been waiting for you.”
I jumped as I saw the templar sitting a few chairs away.
“Oh, it’s you,” I said. “Nearly scared me half to death.”
She had taken off the head mantle of her robes, and I could now see her face. She was younger than I had expected. Perhaps my apparent age or a little older. Twenty-two or twenty-one. Her hair was long and dark blonde and her eyes were bright blue and piercing. They were staring into me as if taking an account of my soul.
“I doubt that to be possible, Master Archibold,” the templar said.
“Uh… it’s Arch. Just Arch. Not short for anything.” A cold sweat was forming on my back.
“I have come a long way to speak with you.”
“With me?” I took a furtive glance at Elsa. She was still passed out on the bar.
“I am a Templar of the Order of the White Church.”
“That’s quite the mouthful.”
“I have come to ask for your assistance in a grave matter.”
“Of course. You are Archibold Stormblood, the Greatest Hero of Our Time.”