Ersa sat at a back table half in shadow, sipping a tankard of watered ale. His back was set against a wall, and he was facing the door, just how he liked it.
No one could stab him in the back, and he could assess each newcomer as a potential threat.
A grimy-faced boy approached with a large pitcher. "More ale, sir?"
"No, thank you." Ersa replied, speaking quietly. He spoke quietly most of the time, his voice naturally low and rich.
The boy shrugged and returned to the counter, handing in the pitcher, then went outside. From the way he kept shifting, Ersa knew it was probably to relieve himself.
He'd barely been gone a moment when he came dashing back in. "Warriors are coming!"
Half the tavern emptied instantly, Commons streaming out the back door. Those who stayed were either too drunk to understand the boy's warning or didn't hear him.
The tavern keeper put his head in his hands and moaned. "No, no! I've already paid all the taxes, but still they want more! I'm finished!"
The boy darted behind the counter just before the front door slammed open. Four men in rich clothes walked in.
They were wearing new cloaks of dark red wool, the color of Warriors, and a shining sword hung uselessly at each of their sides. Their faces were young and inexperienced, their hands soft.
But even Warriors these days had standards, and Ersa knew that despite their shameful appearance, they had at least moderate skill with a blade.
The insigia sewn onto the left breast of their tunics made them known as this Dom's Warriors. Each Dom had its own symbol that every Warrior who trained in and was bound to it wore.
These Warriors must have come from the castle.
The four looked around, making their movements obviously arrogant. One of them, who seemed to be the leader, paused as he gazed at Ersa.
The stranger looked odd to be a simple Common, but is cloak was worn and his slight swaying suggested heavy drunkenness.
The leader took a step towards Ersa, trying to peer past his cowl, but the Warrior pretended to hunker around his drink.
"Mine," he slurred, speaking in an unrefined accent like that of the Commons.
The Warrior laughed. "Yours indeed! Well, try drinking this!" He swung his hand forward, knocking the tankard of ale from the table and onto the floor.
Ersa slumped forward, pretending to have passed out, as the leader returned to his friends at the counter. "Four tankards, barkeeper!"
The man filled for mugs with strong ale and handed it to them, then shrank back. Ersa frowned.
Normally the customer was required to pay before he recieved the drink, but this barkeeper seemed too afraid to ask. Apparently this Dom was one of the less fair ones.
Ersa stumbled to his feet and staggered forward to the counter, laying two coppers on the rough wood. "One...ale."
The tavern keeper quickly filled another tankard at set it before Ersa, then made to pick up the copper. But the leader reached over and snatched it. "Look at this, boys.
This drunken fool thinks he can just travel through our Dom without paying traveler taxes."
Traveler taxes indeed. There's no such thing. Ersa slurred, "What...taxes?"
"Traveler taxes, you fool. You have to pay six coppers to pass through here." the leader grinned at his friends, who chorused agreement. The leader's eyes lighted on Ersa, gleaming nastily.
Ersa reached for his tankard, but the leader knocked it to the ground. "I said pay!"
"Already...did." Ersa replied. "One copper...for the ale."
The leader's brows drew together. "Insolent fool!" He struck out at the stranger, planning to teach this incompetant drunkard who was in charge.
But suddenly, the stranger swept up his forearm in a block to the roundhouse punch.
The leader stared, open-mouthed, as the stranger slowly straightened, revealing his height and broad shoulders. "How dare you!" screamed the leader. "How dare you stop me?"
"Arrogant young pup." snarled the stranger. The leader was shocked into speechlessness, but his companions leaped forward.
Ersa smiled at their overextended moves and terrible balance. He moved on the balls of his feet, lightly and with ease, while they stumbled and staggered as they got in each other's way.
Ersa felled one with a chop to the back of the neck with the edge of his hand, then spun around and threw a foot out.
The tip of his boot slammed into one of the Warriors, knocking him into his companion and sending them both to the floor.
The leader now jumped into action, reaching for his sword, but Ersa's blade was out of its sheath before he could blink.
The stranger's blade whistled through the air in a powerful sidehand strike, stopping an inch from the leader's throat. "Hands off the sword, boy.
" The voice was quiet and menacing, nothing like that of a terrified Common.
Slowly, the leader took his hand off the hilt. His face was pale and his eyes were filled with fear, but the arrogance hadn't diminished at all. "You will pay for this, stranger! I'll kill you!"
"Then you should have gone for the knife." growled the stranger, his blade still as stone. There was absolutely no fear in the stranger's voice. "Be glad you're still alive, boy.
I don't normally spare cowards. Now take your friends and get out." The stranger withdrew his blade an sheathed it in one fluid motion.
He did it with the ease of a trained fighter, and the leader had no doubt that the stranger could've killed them all.
He backed away, furious, and ran from the inn, leaving the other two to drag their unconscious friend from the inn.
His vengful scream echoed into the night. "You'll pay for this, stranger! I swear it! You'll hang!"
"Indeed," muttered Ersa, taking a seat at the bar. He picked up his copper from where the leader had dropped it and handed it to the tavern keeper.
He glanced to where the three Warriors nearly had their friend out the door.
Ersa strode over and pulled the money purse from the unconscious one's belt, then returned and dropped it on the counter. "Here. For all the ale they never payed for."
The man stared at him, shaking. "T-thank you, m'lord."
"Call me Stranger." Ersa nodded in farewell and left, closing the door behind him. He sighed as he headed towards the inn.
The foolish young Warriors would spread word of him, and so would the tavern keeper. He would have to leave tomorrow, if they didn't try to stop him.