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Inside Arichdamis's house, I finish my beer, and I think. Mainly, I think I'd like another beer, but I give some consideration to Demelzos's daughter. Why is she in danger? She's been sitting around at home, being a dutiful daughter as far as anyone knows, without an enemy in the world. Suddenly her best friend is killed, and she's in danger. There's no reason for it. My enquiries have failed to come up with so much as a hint that she's involved in anything unusual. No disreputable lover. No secret business interest. No secrets at all, as far as I can learn.
My thoughts turn to her family. I've only briefly encountered her brother. From all accounts he's a decent young man. He's about to marry well. Though perhaps not as well as he imagines, I reflect, remembering the financial difficulties Baron Vosanos finds himself in. This makes me frown. I don't like it that Vosanos is in financial difficulties. Financial difficulties lead to crime. But again, why pick on Merlione? It doesn't make any sense.
I hunt in the cellar for more beer. There's none. Arichdamis is apparently refusing to restock his cellars while I'm still in residence. It's a poor way to treat a guest. I traipse back upstairs, suddenly afflicted by a great wave of melancholy. I should be sitting in the Avenging Axe, drinking beer and swapping war stories with Gurd. I miss Gurd, the old barbarian. I meet Lisutaris in the corridor.
"Thraxas. Why the gloomy face?"
"I miss Gurd. And the Avenging Axe. And drinking beer with my friends."
Lisutaris manages to look more sympathetic than I'd have expected. "Share some wine with me," she suggests.
So acute is the melancholy that I'm unable even to pretend to be enthusiastic.
"Am I that bad a substitute?" asks the Sorcerer.
"You're not a bad substitute, Lisutaris. But I need beer in a tavern. And men to swap war stories with."
The Sorceress laughs, not unkindly. "I miss my old friends too," she says. "You'd be surprised how many hours Tirini and I spent gossiping. But I've been in plenty of battles. So has Makri, come to that. Perhaps we could try swapping some reminiscences?"
A key sounds in the front door. It's Makri. "Lisutaris! General Hemistos tried to kiss me! And he invited me back to his mansion for the night!"
"What? Really? Tell me everything." The Sorceress looks at me apologetically. "It looks like the war stories will have to wait."
"That's all right. It probably wouldn't have been the same anyway."
Lisutaris and Makri go off to talk about the men in their lives. I retire to my room and lie on the bed, staring at the ceiling. I try to think about my investigation, but I keep losing concentration and thinking about Turai instead, and the Avenging Axe, and drinking with Gurd, and playing cards with Captain Rallee. It leads to me sleeping badly and waking early. I dress quickly and head out to the public baths for a long soak to set me up for the day. I have a busy schedule planned. First I intend to visit Baroness Demelzos for more information about her family's finances. After that I'll return to the King's Record House to carry on reading. I'll need to speak to Cetenos too, about the documents for Baron Vosanos's court case that seem to be missing. Later in the afternoon I have to be at the tournament field for Makri's next fight. Makri has been drawn against Parasas the Niojan, who beat her in the qualifying group. For once, she's eager to engage, determined to erase the memory of her humiliating defeat.
On my way to the baths I run into Baron Girimos. He greets me genially. "Thraxas of Turai! You're a man with a decent appetite. Join me for breakfast?"
I'm not going to refuse an offer of breakfast from a Baron, though I'm puzzled as to why the Baron would be wandering around Elath, apparently intending to eat in a tavern. Presumably, as a wealthy Baron, he has his own kitchens. The Baron soon lets me know his reasons. "You wouldn't believe the state of my house at this moment. Relatives everywhere. Wife's relations, mostly. Spongers to a man. Can't stand them myself, but you know what wives are like. Do you know what wives are like?"
I tell the Baron that mine left me a long time ago.
"Splendid news!" he exclaims. "Wish mine would take off, and take her relatives with her. I can't eat properly with these vultures at the table, it puts me off my food. Can't drink properly either, with my daughters tut-tutting every time I reach for a flagon." The Baron comes to a halt, eyeing the establishment ahead of us. "The Jolly Bandit? What's this place like?"
"Serves a good ale," I tell him. "And not a bad beef pie."
"Excellent!" cries the Baron, and heads straight in. The Jolly Bandit might not be frequented by the highest class of customer, but Baron Girimos isn't going to let that stand in his way. At this time in the morning, the tavern is empty save for a woman wiping tables, and a man rolling a barrel of beer into position behind the bar.
"We need food and drink immediately!" cries the Baron.
"I'm sorry, we haven't opened - "
The Baron takes out a purse and slams some gold coins onto the counter. "Two tankards of your famous ale, and as many beef pies as you can fit onto a plate," says the Baron. "And I mean a large plate. Just pile them on a tray if you don't have one big enough."
The man behind the bar, scoops up the gold. "Right away," he says, and begins shouting orders to some unseen figures in the kitchens beyond. I like this Baron a lot more than anyone else I've met in Samsarina. We take a table by a window, a solid piece of furniture designed to carry food and drink for the hungry man, and when the pies start arriving, we get to work. Baron Girimos downs his flagon of ale in one long gulp.
"I hope you're not one of these people who thinks you shouldn't drink in the morning?" he says.
"I've never seen any reason not to."
"That's what I told my daughter only yesterday!" cries the Baron. "But she wouldn't listen. Waiter, more ale. Have you any cold pheasant in the larder? No? Duck? That'll do fine. Send it along."
By this time, several waitresses are scurrying around, pressed into action by the unexpected arrival of a wealthy Baron. Bowls of steaming vegetables appear, along with bread, cheese and cold duck, Girimos having issued instructions to just bring everything as soon as it's ready.
"Haven't eaten properly for a week," he exclaims, tucking into a hefty portion. "Damned relatives all over the place."
I finish a second tankard of ale, take a temporary diversion through a bowl of buttered yams, and then get back to the beef pies.
"That's not a bad pie," says the Baron. "Plenty of beef. Satisfying. Not like these silly little things my wife gets from her fancy chef. Reminds me of the pies the quartermaster used to have when we were campaigning in Grykur. Man needs a good bit of food when there's dragons pouring out of the sky. Ever been in Grykur?"
"I was there in the war," I say. "Led my phalanx all the way over the Dragon-bone hills."
"I was in the Dragon-bone hills too!" says the Baron, enthusiastically. "I was a young officer. Not many Orcs could stand up to my cavalry battalion, I can tell you. But it was tough. I remember we were outnumbered four to one going up Blackwing Rise, and the order came in to retreat. 'What's that?' I said. 'Retreat? The Ninth Battalion of the Samsarinan Cavalry does not retreat!' I told the bugler to blow the advance - waitress, where's our ale? We're thirsty over here!"
A waitress rushes over with two more large tankards. She departs smiling, thanks to the Baron's generous tip. "Keep the ale coming," he calls after her. "Where was I? Ah yes, the bugler. I told him to sound the advance, and right that moment he took an arrow in the throat. Fell off his horse stone dead. So I picked up the bugle myself and sounded the charge. You should have seen us going up that hill! The Orcs fled when they saw us coming."
"I was on Blackwing Rise too!" I say. "On the south side, with the infantry." I pick up the salt and pepper pots, and start manoeuvring them round the table, to illustrate our troop positions. "As I was leading the phalanx up the slope, the Fourth Orcish Regiment suddenly came over the hill, with a dragon behind them!" I pick up a small tumbler, to represent the Orcish forces, and start advancing the pepper pot.
"I was here, with the cavalry," says the Baron, picking up a spoon and placing it beside a fork which represents a group of Western Sorcerers.
"Not that the Sorcerers were much help," says the Baron.
"They never are! All the hard work gets left to the soldiers." I notice my tankard is empty and there seems to be a lack of pies on the table. I open my mouth to roar for more but the kitchen is now fully operational and waitresses are already heading our way. As the morning progresses, the table submerges under a mass of condiments and cutlery, as the Baron and I re-create the campaign in the Dragon-Bone Hills in Grykur, of which the battle of Blackwing Rise was but one of many stirring events, albeit one in which the heroic performance of my phalanx was noted far and wide. At some point in the proceedings the Baron is on his feet with a long loaf of bread in his hands, illustrating the best way to cut down an opponent on horseback, while I pick up a tray and use it as a shield, demonstrating the way I led my men against the elite troops of the Fourth Orcish Regiment. By now it's approaching lunchtime and the tavern has a few more customers, though we're not paying much attention to them.
"What say we open a bottle of klee?" suggests the Baron. "Wash down some of this food before examining the desserts?"
That sounds like an excellent idea. It's a long time since I've had a glass of klee, the strong, fiery spirit distilled all over the West. Quality can vary widely, but the proprietor of the Jolly Bandit brings us a bottle brewed by monks in the hills, and it's not bad at all.
"Good klee!" says the Baron, banging his glass on the table. "Reminds me of a drop I had to drink right after we rode from Blackwing Rise to Sundread Valley. Were you in the valley?"
"Led my phalanx right through it."
"Splendid!" cries the Baron. "Of course, we had to do a lot of fighting to let the infantry through. "The Orcs were here - " The Baron picks up the salt cellar, " - and we were here. And just as we were about to charge, damned if the biggest dragon you ever saw didn't come right down the valley with fire coming out of its mouth and a Sorcerer on board, blasting spells in every direction!"