Smoke hung heavily in the crowded room. In one corner, men threw knives at a target stuffed with straw. A shout rose in another corner as a rotund man won an arm wrestling match against a somewhat slighter opponent. The loser groaned and money changed hands as the winners of bets collected. Beside the large fireplace a minstrel wailed a ballad, badly off-key. About half the patrons of the tavern wore rain-soaked clothes and water ran in tiny rivulets down their faces. The sound of the rain was more muted here than in the rooms above.
Kaila led Kreg and Shillond to the only unoccupied table in the room. The crowd swirled around them but always left a gap before them, more, Kreg suspected, in deference to the way Kreg and Kaila towered over them than from any notion of courtesy.
"These places always like this?" Kreg sidestepped a stumbling drunk and sat.
"Aye." Kaila said then looked over her shoulder. "'Twould please me mightily an' yon bard be silent. I am near of a mind to clout him aside the head an' he continue."
Shillond sighed as he sat. “The people carouse, I think, to forget that their city is dying.”
A barmaid dodged a groping hand and arrived at their table. "May I help you, Lords and Lady?"
"Roast venison and a tankard of ale!" Kaila slapped her palm on the table, causing its legs to bounce off the floor.
"Whatever is by the board and a flask of wine," Shillond said.
"Aye, Lord." She turned to Kreg. "And you, my lord?"
"Uh." Kreg hesitated for a moment, uncertain what to say, and then decided to follow Kaila's lead in choice of food. He did not know what Shillond’s “by the board” meant. "Roast venison, I guess. Uh, what do you have to drink?"
He looked at his companions for assistance. Kaila bit back a laugh. Shillond raised his eyebrows, the twinkle in his eyes brightening, but he offered no advice.
"Why, sir." The barmaid sounded as confused as Kreg felt. "We are as well stocked as any tavern in the city."
Kreg groaned. He sighed and tried again. "I am a stranger here. Could you be more specific?"
The barmaid's face lit with understanding. "Oh? Does the Lord wish companionship? For three rabeni, and one for the innkeep, I could...."
Kreg raised his hands in warding. "No, no. That's fine."
Kaila could no longer restrain her laughter although she tried. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she half-choked with the effort.
"Well, my Lord." The barmaid frowned for a moment. "I am sure you would find me more pleasant than this boy thing." A flip of her hand dismissed Kaila. "Send her, it, on its way and let me be your companion instead."
Kaila's laughter vanished.
Shillond broke in. "My friend will have wine."
A fresh look of understanding crossed the barmaid's face. "Oh? Is that the way of it? My pardon, Lord, if I intruded. I shall see to your food and drinks."
As the barmaid scurried away, Kaila started to rise. Shillond laid the tip of a finger on the back of one of her hands. "Kaila, no."
Kaila sighed and sat. "Aye, father. She is what this foul city has made her. The insult from such a one is not worth the back of my hand, let alone the staining of my blade."
Kreg looked from Kaila to Shillond then back again. Something had happened that he had missed. "How much did I just spend?" he asked to change the subject.
"About a raben," Kaila said.
"The pouch from the briganti?" Kaila held out her hand.
"Yes." He produced the item and handed it to her.
"This--" She held up a silver coin about the size of the dimes he knew, "--be a raben." She shorted. "Yon wench's price was high. She asked for rabeni where ve'ib would suffice. One raben be equal to five less than a score of copper ve'ib and eight rabeni be equal to a gold norben. Understand you this?"
Kreg considered for a moment.
"Fifteen ve'ib to the raben. Eight rabeni to the norben." He nodded. "Got it but...."
Shillond leaned forward, resting his chin on his folded hands. "I think you had best remain with us until you learn how to fend for yourself."
Kreg agreed wholeheartedly, more than happy to remain with anyone who could help him learn his way around. With every passing moment, he regretted more leaving the nomads. Would living the rest of his life as a desert nomad have been so bad?
"We will remain in Trevanta just a few more days before we return to Aerioch." Shillond's face took on a thoughtful expression for a moment. "I have a feeling there is more to you than anyone may guess. You have an aura that...." He shook his head. ”Well, no matter. We will discuss this later. We have more immediate concerns."
"Aye," Kaila said. "'Tis needful to instruct you in some manner of weapon's work. Your skill unarmed was good enough against unskilled bravos such as the briganti. Nor like I the sword you took. Such a light weapon would be all but useless against a good broadsword, or a mace, or an axe, or....
"I'm sure he understands, Kaila." With a sigh, Shillond waved her to silence. "You may go tomorrow to buy a good weapon and I can leave his training in that to your capable hands."
Shillond looked at Kreg then cast his eyes upward. Kreg was beginning to get the picture. Kaila seemed to think that a strong sword arm was the answer to any problem. She reminded him of Billy, the man who watched the shop where Kreg had worked--good-natured, but blunt. Billy had seemed to think that the answer to most problems was to pound on them until they stopped being problems and Kreg suspected that Kaila felt much the same way.
"Look," he said. "Teaching me to fight is all well and good, but there is more to living than that. You saw how helpless I was in so simple an act as ordering a meal." He scowled at Kaila, attempting to look fierce, but Kaila's impish grin told him that he had not succeeded. "Things you learned as children, I have never experienced. For instance, if magic works here--and thanks to your demonstration, Shillond, I have to accept that it does--well, it doesn't back home."
"Absurd!" Kaila burst out. "Such things are of minor consequence. A good sword arm will see you through all matters of import."
Shillond pretended that she had not spoken. "Perhaps we should see about finding a way to return you to your own world as quick as may be. Your background may cause you problems here."
Kreg shook his head. "I wouldn't even know where to begin," he said. "Would you?"
Shillond sighed and shook his head.
Kreg sighed. "Then I guess I'm stuck here...for a while anyway."
"Our food comes," Kaila said.