158/366 – Small Victories

Day 16 of 100 Word Prompts: Punch

The fire in the hearth crackled merrily as Byron sat in the common room of The Free Pig, a tiny, decrepit inn on the poor side of Newbig. The minstrel on the dilapidated stage tried his best to play his lyre, but couldn’t be heard over the general murmuring of the patrons sitting around the room.

“Why the hell is it so busy here?” Dakis asked as he sidled past another table and sat roughly in one of the chairs at Byron’s table, two mugs of ale in his hands.

Byron leaned his chair back so it rested on two legs as he put his feet up on the table. “Best guess? Those flyers Nicholas posted caught more attention than he planned,” Byron replied, lifting his mug and taking a swig.

“The flyer? You really think so?” Dakis asked.

“In this town, based on all the rumors, there’s a lot of people out of work. Things haven’t been going great for Breya as of late,” Byron replied.

“How do you know? We just got here,” Dakis replied, taking a drink, “I’ve barely been away from you since we arrived.”

“I hear things,” Byron replied, opening his arms wide with a bow of his head. “As a bard, you’d be surprised what you hear.”

“You played poker again last night after I went to bed, didn’t you?” Dakis asked, pulling his coin pouch onto the table in a hurry, “You’d better not have touched my coin.”

“Me? I wouldn’t do that,” Byron said as Dakis finished counting the few coins he had and returned the pouch with a look of satisfaction. “I’m a swindler, not a thief, remember?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Dakis replied as the front door to the inn slammed open.

Nicholas walked inside, his eyes growing wide as he looked around the small packed room. He ran his hands through his messy red hair in a vain attempt to flatten it as he walked toward the minstrel’s stage. He said something to the minstrel and swapped places with the man.

“Gentlemen and-” Nicholas paused as he scanned the audience for the women that weren’t present, “Gentlemen. I assume you’ve come in direct response to the posters I put up around the city.”

There was a murmur of agreement through the crowd as Byron rolled his eyes.

“You are looking at an entrepreneur of near-legendary status. I have built empires and dismantled them in my boredom. Today is your lucky day, for I have another lucrative idea that requires at least two dozen willing and able-bodied individuals such as yourselves,” Nicholas said, sweeping his arms through the air as Byron shook his head and took another swig. “First, and foremost, I need men and women with skill and natural talent. Those of you with impeccable balance, or incredible strength, please step to the right side of the room.”

The room milled a bit as people muttered either their discontent or their self-satisfaction.

“Outstanding,” Nicholas said, nodding in approval. “Now, any of you with odd talents, please join the men on the right. The odder, the better. If you do not fall into these three categories, I’m sorry, but you’ll have to wait outside until I can discuss possible uses for untalented, weak, and ordinary men.”

The people in the room milled once again, nearly half the men stepping out the door in a general grumble of discontent.

“If you look to my associates, Byron and Dakis in the back of the room,” Nicholas said, pointing over the crowd toward the table. “It is a two copper fee for the application, but I assure you, you will make gold pieces for your labor, and the application is easy.”

“What’re we doing?” one man yelled, “We don’t have the money to spend. That’s why we came looking for work. I’m not giving you a single coin if I don’t even know what I am applying for.”

“Understandable, my good sir,” Nicholas said. “We are starting a venture in the entertainment of the masses. We will travel from one side of the world to the other, gathering talents and acts, gaining fame and wealth as we move. You will be free to stay with us or leave as you wish, once your contract had been fulfilled.”

“A fucking carnival?” another man said.

“Astute observation, my friend,” Nicholas said as half the men grumbled and walked toward the door. “Wait, gentlemen, I implore you. Let me show you something.”

Nicholas produced a small pouch and turned it out into his hand. Dozens of gold coins fell into his waiting palm. Every man in the room stopped and stared at the flash of the coins.

“You see, I’m not fooling you. I’m not some swindler or trickster. I want invested individuals that seek to make hundreds of gold a year to start. You apply, and if we hire you, you receive an even share of the profits. That’s all I have to say,” Nicholas said, returning the coin to the pouch and securing it back to his belt.

Two hours later, and several mugs of ale, Nicholas, Dakis, and Byron sat alone at the table, looking at a small pile of copper. The innkeeper had stepped into the back to ‘do some tidying’ at the suggestion of Nicholas.

“That went better than expected,” Dakis said.

“You doubted me?” Nicholas asked, a coy smile on his face. He pushed a share of the coin to each Byron and Dakis, though Byron’s portion was much smaller, “I told you, they would give us their coin, and we can just keep it.”

Byron swiped it off the table into a hand, counting it quickly. “A tiny portion,” Byron muttered, “there has to be a better way to make some coin here. These guys are going to expect work tomorrow, so we have tonight to make a bit more.”

“Byron,” Dakis said, giving him a sharp look.

“What? I’m not saying anything bad, just that we should be able to make at least a gold piece before we leave,” Byron replied with a shrug.

“We discussed this. You’re not allowed to gamble anymore,” Dakis said.

“Listen, it wasn’t my fault that I lost the wagon. I’m telling you, the guy cheated,” Byron said.

“There are many truths in this world, Byron,” Nicholas said, “and one of them is that you lost fair and square. That’s why you’re not getting a full share. We need a new wagon and horse. Until you pay for one, we get a larger share.”

“Well, as fun as it’s been tonight, gentlemen,” Byron said, pushing his chair away from the table. “I’ve some other business to attend to in anoth-”

“Byron,” Dakis repeated.

“What? I’m going to the brothel. As you said, my friend, I’m not allowed to gamble anymore,” Byron said with a smile.

“Meet under the Oak outside the west gate when you’re done before dawn. We don’t want to be here when those men return for their jobs,” Nicholas said, standing. “I’m going to get some rest before we travel. Good night, gentlemen.”

“I’m going to get some sleep, too,” Dakis said. “No gambling, Byron.”

“Good night,” Byron replied as he stepped out into the amber glow of the setting sun.

Byron closed the door behind him and walked up the street, looking for the sound of revelry. He passed a few establishments, each of which only had a few rabbles in them and decided better of it in each case. Rounding a corner to double back to The Free Pig, he bumped into the chest of a rather large looking half-orc wearing tattered armor. On either side of him were two plain-looking humans.

“Give us your coin,” the half-orc growled, flashing a knife.

“Surely there is a way we can work this out,” Byron said, taking a step back to feel another person catch him.

“Your coin or your life,” the half-orc said, pointing the knife at Byron’s throat.

“Wouldn’t you rather earn your money? Perhaps a card game? Dice? Betting on a fight?” Byron pressed.

“It’s simple,” one of the half-orc’s companions said. “We take your coin, you live. That’s it. No negotiation.”

Byron sighed and frowned. “Very well. Here you are,” he said, pulling his coin purse out. He twisted his fingers as he hummed a quick three-note tune. The half-orc’s eyes glassed over for a moment, and Byron smiled as the human snatched the pouch. “What’s your name?”

“Cil,” the half-ord replied.

“What’re you doing? Don’t tell him your name!” one of the humans said, but Cil ignored him.

“Cil, don’t you think it’s a shame to steal from a friend like me? What are your friends doing? You should be mad about your friends treating me like this,” Byron said.

“What are you going on about?” the other human said as Byron watched Cil’s face contort in rage.

Cil spun, stabbing one of his companions before throwing a punch at the other, flattening him.

“Cil, you’re hurting them!” the man behind Byron yelled as he ran up to him. “Stop. You’re-”

Cil kicked the last one in the face.

“Thank you, Cil,” Byron said. “Can I have my money back?”

“Sorry, sir,” Cil replied, picking up the coin pouch and handing it over.

“I think I should be compensated for my time as well,” Byron said.

“You’re right,” Cil replied, pulling the coin purses off the other three, and reaching for his own.

“Why don’t you keep yours, Cil. After all, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Byron said.

“Yeah, I didn’t do anything wrong,” Cil replied, nodding in agreement.

“I’ll be going now. You have yourself a good night, Cil,” Byron said as he walked away, feeling a decent amount of weight between the three pouches. He rounded a corner and sprinted, zig-zagging through the city until he reached The Free Pig. He flew through the door, slamming it behind him. Pressing his back into the door and breathing heavily, he saw Dakis sitting at a table expectantly.

“How was the brothel?” Dakis asked.

“Not much of a town for women, apparently,” Byron replied, shaking his head. “Ready to go?”

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