Taverns, the greatest congregation point for every jack-nobody and roughneck. A breeding ground for dispensable litters of mercenaries and racketeer victims. “Deep Valley” was one such place, a dwarf-run establishment for merchants and their questionable hired-hands on the way in (or out of) Caerynok, and probably named for the ample supply of amply-costing alewives.

Amongst them once again was one “Ersewell”, a simple human sellsword by trade, who was having a rather intense staring contest with a tankard of watered ale. Normally he would be one of the lively rabble, making merry with other patrons and sharing in every bawdy joke with a worldly grin, but tonight was one of ‘those’ nights. The thick, soapy head that bobbed lightly atop the full mug completely obscured his reflection, yet he could see it in his minds eye with crystal clarity. The vivid silvery platinum-blonde shag of shoulder-length hair. The chiselled, hard-jawed face and its long, narrow full-goatee. Tanned skin thick enough to choke an owlbear and a thousand near-invisible scars that he knew looked like he had tried… and those deceptive green eyes and their ever-wizening crowmarks. The portrait of a fool if ever he could frame one. His nemesis, however, was holding firm. As fate would have it, mugs can’t blink.

The enrapt barkeep, after a whole half-hour of anticipatingly polishing what he hoped would be the next mug of Ersewell’s famous whole-barrel depressive drinking binges, decided it might swing things in his favour if he sacrificed a small offering of jerky to him… and slid a plate of heavily treated drybeef to him with poker-like tense silence. Maybe it might stop him chewwing on his fist at least…

This was a common ritual for him, struggling against a familiar downwards spiral and the urge to just chug the warmed nectar and cheat the duel. The obscured surface of his drink was his personal obsidian mirror, a master diviner hidden amongst the wall-to-wall breast-jokes and acid reflux. That tankdard held an ocean that rocked in his mind like the war sloops he was pressed to work on as a mere child. Why did they keep him alive? Those sneers. They wanted him dead
but… well, maybe scrubbing the ship was too much elbow-grease for those pansy dark elf bastards…

A bitter scoff sounded as he held his gaze, listening to the alcohols’ sadistic monologue. Nobody paid him any heed. The regulars were used to it. Life of the party one day, but a sulking grouch the next. Staying on friendly terms with him was a mere matter of knowing when to leave him alone. Those just passing by were more concerned with the heavy weaponised manacle-weight he kept hanging from a chain around his shoulder. Either way worked. This bastard beverage wasn’t going to battle itself. Still it taunted him, little flickers of his scattered past rising to the surface as the foam began to finally dissipate. A thief. A thug. An animal. A brute. All he was good for was killing and throwing his weight around, but what was he supposed to do? All he knew how to do was run ships and snuff the sacred spark from other brutes. He couldn’t even remember his own age… or his name. Er-something. Ernest. Eridan. Errofei. What does it matter? So long as he had something for his contractors to call upon, it was all the same. He only picked “Ersewell” after that damn mage-friend of his got the word “Erstwhile” stuck in his head for a solid week. Second names be damned!

Uncrossing his fingers from under his chin, he reached towards the handle slowly, the battle coming to its premature end as the staccatto of rain outside slowed down to a mere drizzle. It was about time.

The bartender sighed sympathetically after Ersewells’ vanishing silhouette as it became indistinguishable from the woodside trail, his mug still full… this time.


Caeles Gratia Contemplar