Mideon looked at me with wide uncertain eyes. He glanced at me then glanced at Galston, then at Herwin, then at Cassia. A moment passed as he tried to wrestle thoughts in his mind. I could guess what they were.
“Ahem,” I said. “The pressing matter?”
Mideon returned his eyes to me. There was still anger in them, but now the outrage was veiled and hidden. “No pressing matter, I mean–I was just saying…” He frowned. He couldn’t find the words and downed his brandy in a gulp and stood. “How much do I owe you for the drinks?”
“Ah, let me see. You did order the finest brandy in the house. That’s six shimmers each and with eight men, that’ll be forty-eight shims.”
He looked at me in shock. Forty-eight silver shimmers were equivalent to a season’s salary for a city guard and more than a full gold brilliance.
I gave him my most oblivious and friendly tavern keeper smile.
He looked again at Galston and Herwin’s table, then dug into his pocket and counted the coins. Then he made his men each dig out a shim to cover the cost. He handed me the collected coins and gave one final glance at Elsa before leaving.
Elsa came to my side at the door, and we watched Mideon and his men head down the road and around the turn. They first had to peel Gerlanda off the pavement. The next two largest of the thugs each grabbed Gerlanda by an arm and hauled him away.
“I think I have a new appreciation for you, Heru,” Elsa said.
“No need for that,” I said. “Just appreciate my furniture.”
Elsa smiled. “Will do.” Then in a smaller voice, she said, “Thank you.”
I shrugged. “No need for that either.”
I looked back at the tavern. It was still half full and not even past midnight. Galston had some color in his face now and he was speaking animatedly with Cassia, Amberly, and Bran. Dalian had fallen asleep in his chair and was snoring loudly. I chuckled to myself. Then I noticed that Elsa was still turned toward the door beside me. Her head was tilted downward slightly, and her eyes were hidden in her hair. I guessed she still had something on her mind, so I waited.
“I-I don’t know how you put up with me,” Elsa said, her voice still quiet. “I’m always breaking your tables and drinking your good booze. And this time, I nearly got the tavern shut down because I couldn’t handle a little attention from a noble.”
I shrugged again. “It was more than a little attention. In any case, I wouldn’t worry about it. Come on, I’m buying Herwin and myself a fancy drink. You can have one too.”
I walked over to Galston’s table and pulled up a chair next to Herwin, who was sitting across from Galston and Cassia and chatting with the builders. I clasped him on the shoulder. “Master Herwin! What are you drinking?”
“Oh, Master Arch,” Herwin said, a little surprised by my presence. He raised his mug. “The Honeydew Lager, of course.”
“That’s no drink for the hero of the night!”
Bran smiled. “You came at the perfect time tonight, Herwin. Master Arch was in a tight pickle.”
“You were?” Herwin said.
“Oh yes, Mideon was here. You saw him, didn’t you?”
“Yes, I of course, but he didn’t seem-“
“That’s because you showed up with Galston,” Amberly said. “They were going to wreck the place. I was readying for a brawl.”
“Good gracious…” Herwin said.
I saw Elsa come to our side now. If she’d been crying, it was impossible to tell. She looked as beautiful as ever, her smile tinged with the usual measure of playfulness and sarcasm. Only then did I begin to wonder if it was a role that she played to mask something else.
“We nearly didn’t make it,” Herwin said. “But I knew everyone was eager to meet Galston.”
“That’s why I owe you a favor,” I said to Herwin. “But you can call that in at another time. Tonight, we’ll drink some fine brandy to celebrate our good fortunes. Elsa, bring over the bottle of Gilhanna.”
That wiped the smile off of her face.
“Uh… Heru, we finished the Gilhanna last night.”
“What?” I said, looking at her. “That’s what we were drinking? That was our best Elvish brandy!”
But that was indeed the bottle we had drank after Elsa had knocked Mideon flat on the street.
She turned a little pink. “It seemed like a worthy occasion at the time.”
“Good Celeru, I don’t even remember enough from that night to savor the taste of it.”
Elsa looked down guiltily at the floor. “Sorry.”
“No matter,” I said, sighing. “I’ve got a better bottle in my room under the bed. Could you go and fetch it? And bring three glasses.” I looked over the people sitting at the table. “Oh hell, bring seven glasses. If Dalian wakes up, we can fetch another.”
Elsa came back a few minutes later with a tray of glasses and a tall green bottle. There was a look of surprise on her face as she came to my side and whispered in my ear, “Heru…this bottle… it-it’s a Medi Gilhanna!”
“Sure is,” I said, taking the bottle of the tray and scratching at the wrapping.
“It must be worth hundreds of silvers… no, hundreds of golds!” she said. Her voice was still a whisper, but it was filled with energy.
“Uh huh. Good thing I hid it under my bed or it’d probably be gone too, eh?”
Elsa blinked. Then getting my meaning, her cheeks flushed. She said, “I wouldn’t-“
“Oh relax. I’m just teasing you. Grab a seat,” I said and poured the bottle into seven glasses.
Galston caught sight of the bottle mid-sentence with Cassia. His eyes widened. “Gods, is that what I think it is?”
“Might be,” I said, pouring out the last glass.
Herwin perked up at Galston’s tone and looked down at the clear purple liquid as I put the first glass in front of him. “What is it?”
“It is a king’s treasure,” Galston said.
This got looks from all around the table. Amberly licked his lips. Even Bran seemed interested.
“Don’t worry, everyone at the table is getting a glass.”
“We couldn’t,” Galston said. “This… this bottle could buy you a new tavern.”
“I’ve always believed good brandy is for drinking, not selling,” I said. “My friend Herwin here has saved me from a dire plight, the most celebrated warrior in the city is gracing us with his presence, and at this table, we have my most loyal patrons and two lovely ladies. What better occasion is there than this for a good drink, ey?” I leaned over the table and placed a glass before Galston.
“You’re too kind, Master Arch.”
“Just mean’s you’ll have to come by more often, Victus,” Amberly said with a big smile.
Galston nodded as if a deal had been made.
“How’d you come by this sacred drink?” Bran asked, receiving his glass.
“I could tell you, but then I’d have to charge you,” I said.
Bran held up his hands. “Please, keep the information to yourself. I don’t think I could afford it in a lifetime.”
This got some chuckles from the table, Cassia the most. It was a clean, honest laugh. She seemed to be in good spirits, which for some reason, made me happy.
Amberly was shaking Dalian. “Wake up you old fool, you’re going to miss the drink of a lifetime!”
But Dalian continued to snore, slumped in his seat.
“Guess, he’ll have to wait until next time,” I said, and finished serving all the glasses, placing the last one in front of Elsa. Then I raised my own. “To friends, old and new. To the Tipsy Pelican Tavern. And to Herwin for saving the day!”
Herwin smiled and turned bright red at the toast. But everyone else joined in on it.
“To friends, the Tipsy Pelican, and Herwin!” said the others.
We clinked glasses and each took a sip. It was a wonderful taste in my mouth because it was indeed the best brandy money could buy, and because I had good people to share it with.
It was past two o’clock in the morning when the last patron left the tavern. Galston had left by giving Cassia a big hug. Bran and Amberly had left by giving Galston a big hug. Somebody had tried to hug Elsa but got thrown through a table. Then she came to me and apologized profusely, which was a first. Other than that, the night ended on a much quieter note than the one before.
As we cleared the tables and did our cleaning, Cassia approached me and asked, “Arch-don, I was wondering if I could speak to you about my lodging here. The inn I’ve rented is quite far…”
“Ah yes,,” I said, placing dishes on top of one another. “Thanks for helping out today.”
“No, not at all.”
“I was um speaking to Galston tonight…”
“Yes, I saw. He’s taken a liking to you.”
“He asked me if there was anything I needed, and I did mention the dragon.”
“Did he agree to be your hero?”
Cassia pouted and said, “He did offer to help. He said he could ask around to gather a group as there are other awakened in the city, though he does not know their number of gates.”
“There you go. Get a few hundred and you’ll take out that dragon no problem.”
“A-a few hundred?”
“Well… you know. To be on the safe side. But that’s good news, no?”
“Yes. So, um… I thought I’d stay in the city for a while longer to recruit awakened adventurers.”
“And um… well… seeing that I’ll be staying longer now, I was wondering if I could rent the room from you in return for working.”
“Oh sure, no problem. Stay as long as you like.”
“What fee should I-“
“Don’t worry about,” I said. “I have too many rooms anyway. And Charm and Elsa both seem to like you.”
“I couldn’t take your charity.”
I raised an eyebrow at her. She quickly caught my meaning. It was the same as the night before when she said she couldn’t trouble me. She had asked me to risk my life to fight a dragon. Borrowing a room was nothing.
“Perhaps,” Cassia said quickly. “Perhaps I could help around the tavern when I am not recruiting with Galston?”
“That’ll be great,” I said, smiling. Then I called to the kitchen. “Elsa, Charm, come over here.”
Both girls poked their heads out.
“What is it, Heru?”
“Just come out, will you?”
Elsa and Charm came over, their hands and arms still wet from cleaning.
“Cassia is going to be staying with us for a while,” I said.
But there were no surprises on their faces. They just looked at Cassia with encouraging smiles, and I knew right away that Cassia had spoken to them first about it.
I ran a hand through my hair. “I see that I am the last person to learn about things as usual.”
“That’s what happens when you’re the heru,” Elsa said.
Charm wiped her hands on her apron. “Those who make maidens undress cannot be easily trusted. It is necessary to first seek advice from others.”
“Huh? Who made who undress?” Elsa asked.
“OKAY, moving on,” I said hurriedly. “Let’s all welcome Cassia to the Tipsy Pelican Tavern!”
“Welcome!” Elsa said and gave Cassia a hug.
“Welcome,” Charm said, giving Cassia a small bow.
“Welcome!” I said, grinning. I really was in an unusually good mood.
“Thank you.” Cassia looked as if she was genuinely warmed by the greeting.
Sometime later, I climbed the stairs to the second floor with the half-finished bottle of Medi Gilhanna and two glasses. I stopped before Charm’s door and knocked lightly.
“Come in,” she said.
Charm was sitting on her bed, reading a book against lantern light. “What is it, Master?”
“Brought you a drink,” I said, placing the two glasses on her nightstand. “Figured you wouldn’t have wanted to partake earlier with the crowd.”
“I do not need any now either, Master.”
“Oh come on, this is good stuff, even by your standards.” I poured two fingers into her glass and one into mine.
I thought she was going to sulk again and turn down the drink, but to my surprise, she raised the glass to her nose and sniffed it. Then she took a small sip.
“This is quite alright,” she said.
“Hey, don’t be rude, we need to cheers first.”
I raised my glass, and considered a toast, then thought better of it and said nothing. She clinked my glass with hers, and we both took a sip.
Charm nodded. “How did Master come by it?”
“A gift from Emdark’s daughter.”
Charm nodded again and did not say anything to this, but she did take another sip.
After a moment, she said, “My body feels warm like I am beside a fire and a musician is playing a song I like.”
I smiled. “Told you it was good stuff.”
After we were done, we sat in silence for a little while. Then Charm said, “I wish to sleep now.”
I nodded and stood and took the glasses and the bottle back to my room. I considered having another glass by myself, but then pushed the thought away. There would be another occasion to drink the Medi Ghilanna again, I told myself. So I made sure the cork was tightened and stowed it back underneath my bed.
I lied down under my covers and reminded myself of the good things that had happened. Many pitfalls had been avoided. That was a win on any day.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.