Nobody in the tavern moved. There was real fear in the hearts of my patrons. I could tell many were ready to bolt for the door, but the doorway was blocked by a massive bear of a man, who had to duck when he had stepped through the tavern doors.
But I also saw that many of my patrons were clutching their stools and chairs, readying for a fight.
Bran, Amberly, and Dalian each had their hands on the backs of their chairs, ready to throw them forward at a moment’s notice and come to my aid.
Bless their hearts, but couldn’t they pick something other than my furniture as weapons?
“Where’s the owner?” spat Proctor Remis, his turkey neck shaking with the sound of his ugly voice.
He moved his way from the back, coming beside Mideon at the center of the room. The rest of their minions were behind the two of them, each wearing stone-cold faces as they held their clubs.
Mideon’s men were battle-scarred with cuts across their faces and arms. These weren’t some day laborers Mideon had gathered for some roughhousing or even trained guardsmen borrowed from his nobleman uncle.
These were gang members. Rough men that spent their lives fighting with tooth and nail and blade in the back alleys of the city.
It spoke volumes about Mideon’s character to be able to call upon men like these. But it was no surprise. He’d already made his morality quite apparent in the previous interactions I’d had with him.
Forget the fact that they could destroy the tavern, if things really got out of hand, my patrons would get maimed. And nothing kills a business like injured customers.
Elsa’s face turned white at the sight of these men. She was a good fighter, but even she couldn’t deny these odds.
I stepped past the tables and met Mideon and Remis at the middle.
“You,” Mideon said as he saw me. “Yes, I remember you. Gustkin wasn’t it?”
“Please, call me Arch,” I said merrily. “What can I get to drink for you folks?”
“We aren’t here to drink, Gustkin,” Mideon said. “We are here to ensure that girl gets what’s coming to her!”
Some grins cracked on the hard faces of the men. I was weighing my options now. And none were looking any good. Where the hell was Herwin?
I was sure the lordling was going to bring Galston tonight. It was his only chance to win the respect of the three builders, though I still could not tell you why the lordling desired to do so.
“I apologize,” I said. “I had a bit too much to drink last night and my memory is suffering. Which girl was that again?”
Buy time. That’s all I could do at this point.
“Don’t play the fool with me! It’s that bitch right there!” Mideon stabbed a finger in Elsa’s direction.
“Oh, you mean Elsa.” I scratched my head as if still struggling to remember. “But what exactly is it that you want from me?”
“I want you to fire her!” Mideon screamed, his veins bulging at his neck and temples. He glared at Proctor Remis for assistance.
“We had an agreement, boy!” the lawyer said, his own fury rising. “You promised it would be done in front of my client tonight!”
“What? Who are you?”
“We spoke this afternoon!”
“This afternoon? The only person that came by in the afternoon was some old man in his seventies.”
His face turned a pure shade of red before he spoke. “Y-you ingrate!” Remis screamed, the shrill back in his voice. He turned to Mideon. “This man is playing games with us! We must teach him a lesson!”
Two of the men with clubs behind them took a step forwards, awaiting their boss’s orders.
I raised my hands, “I’m just kidding guys, just kidding. I remember everything. You want Elsa fired, right?”
“That’s right,” Mideon hissed.
“Hey, Elsa,” I said.
Elsa looked at me. A pause before she said, “What?”
She blinked. Then she smiled. “Okay.”
“See?” I said. “That wasn’t so hard. Now, what can I get you folks to drink?”
“She’s. Still. In. Your. Tavern,” Mideon said through clenched teeth.
I raised my eyebrows at him as if confused at why he was stating the obvious. “Yes?”
“I want her out!”
“Well… my tavern is open to anyone,” I said, eyeing the men Mideon had brought. “Even former employees. It’s not my place to tell-“
“OUT!” Mideon screamed. “I want her on the streets! She must pay for what she did!” Mideon didn’t finish his words. His whole body was shaking with rage. The guy really didn’t know how to control his emotions. He pointed his quivering finger at me. “Y-you dare to make light of me? I will tear your tavern to the ground!”
Mideon knew he couldn’t drag Elsa out in front of twenty witnesses. Superintendent Daddy or not, the city guard doesn’t sit well with abductions and the beating of civilians. The men he had brought were mainly there for show, despite the realness of their danger.
But now Mideon was losing his temper. And who could say what a foolish man in anger would do? My time had run out. But just at that moment, I sensed some movement through the open door behind Mideon and his men.
“Oh, excuse me, there appear to be more guests trying to enter the tavern. We’ll have to continue this discussion later. Please find a seat!”
I quickly stepped past Mideon and Remis before they could protest. “You’ll have to bunch together a bit,” I said to all of them. “It’s going to be a busy night!”
I passed the rest of his men, ignoring their looks. One of them tried to trip me, and another snatched at my arm, but I expertly weaved through them with minimal movement as if I hadn’t noticed their attempts.
But the bear man blocking the door didn’t budge an inch as I approached. He was almost Amberly’s size in height and width, but this man carried no fat on his body. He was made of pure muscle. He dropped his eyes down at me without lowering his chin as if he was eyeing an insect he was ready to squash.
There wasn’t a lot of intelligence in those eyes, but there was plenty of violence. As if he hoped that I’d resist Mideon just so he could have an excuse to cause pain.
His shoulders spanned the door from one side to the other, and his legs were spread slightly like a shieldsman readied to defend against a barrage of invaders.
His face was as square as a brick, and his muscles protruded against the dark tattoos on his skin. Old scars covered the knuckles of his hands—the kind you only get from years spent fighting with your bare fists.
A cruel smile formed on the bear man’s face as I reached him. He was looking forward to what would happen next.
Outside I could hear the excited voice of Herwin and the deep murmur of another man.
“Excuse me, good sir,” I said, placing a palm above the bear man’s right elbow. My movement was deft. Not too fast, but not slow either. “Don’t be blocking the entrance now, someone might run into you. We wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt now, would we?”
To all external appearances, the bear man moved out of the way as if he was politely guided by my touch, taking two short steps to the side. But his second step fell a little unsteadily as if he had to put down his foot to keep himself from falling.
I doubt anyone in the tavern noticed what had really happened, but the bear man glared at me with unbridled surprise. Then the surprise passed and the realization that he had just been forcibly pushed aside dawned in the mostly hollow space between his ears. He bared his teeth and let out a scream of red hot rage.
As I passed him and stepped through the door, I saw his attack from the corner of my eye.
My senses were more heightened than usual, and the movements happened slowly in my perception.
The bear man turned on me, clenching his big paw into a fist the size of a roast chicken. In a single motion, he swung it forward with all his musculature, pushing all his strength through it like a battering ram, straight into the back of my head.
Or at least it would have landed in the back of my head. But right at that moment, I had stepped to the side to make way for Herwin and his guest, gesturing them into the tavern as any hospitable tavern keeper would.
The bear man’s fist shot through the air, elongating where it had expected to connect, passing where my head had been and making a deafening slam into the stoic face of Galston the Gallant, Champion of the Tournament of Heroes.