In fine company

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"It all comes down to family, don't it?" Wide Riley smiled his gap-toothed grin, moustache bristling as his lip curled. He pulled at the broad, patterned collar of his shirt, straightening and flicking it away with his forefinger; an affectation he used frequently when about to launch into a speech. "We here, we're a family." He pointed across the sourcelit main room of the tavern, indicating the men, women and children who lounged on armchairs, cushions and even on the wooden beams overhead. The ceiling was high, with a clear view up to the second floor, which wrapped around in a rectangular balcony. Along one wall was a wide, raised platform, currently empty.

Tarn sat awkwardly in a wide, plush chair. He'd not sat in a chair before and it felt unnatural, as if it was bending his limbs in the wrong directions. He'd much rather have sat on the thick animal fur rug but he'd been directed to this chair and didn't want to upset Wide Riley. Children, much younger than he was, ran back and forth on errands, delivering food and drink, occasionally squealing as an older person chased them or slapped their legs. A cloud of smoke hung in the air, suspended at head height, produced from devices and objects Tarn did not recognise. Some were large and operated with a series of tubes and valves - mechanisms he recognised, though not their purpose - while others were small and handheld, or even light enough to hold in the corner of one's mouth.

"We'll get you some of that in good time, my friend," Wide Riley said, noting Tarns gaze. "But we don't want to be knocking you to sleep right away, do we now?"

"What's it for?"

"It's for making you feel like a thousand happy men."

There was a noise from the gloom at the far end of the room as doors banged open and closed. A new group entered, led by a large man with a huge, ginger beard that drooped down to his belly. He was accompanied by an intimidating gang of accomplices, most with vicious weapons slung on their backs or hung at their sides, though nobody in the tavern seemed concerned at their entrance.

Wide Riley stood and spread his arms out wide. "Well?"

The bearded man glared across the room with a scowl, then his hair-disguised mouth creased into a grin and he roared with gleeful laughter. "It's true!" he shouted, addressing the whole room with his booming voice. "This evening not only brings us great fortune but Wide Riley also tells no lie!"

"Never!" came a wry shout from somewhere up on the balcony.

Jumping onto the arm of a chair, Wide Riley pointed up at the source of the voice and shouted "I'll have you!" He twirled around, balancing on the chair, seemingly trying to point at everyone in the place. "Wide Riley never lets you down, does he? Not when it counts."

Jeers of derision floated up from the smoke haze and the bearded man approached, still laughing. He clapped Wide Riley on the back, sending him sprawling onto the stuffed head of the fur rug. "And you!" the bearded man roared, pointing at Tarn. "You're the one that delivered us from that scoundrel Beautraire."

Tarn didn't know what to say. He didn't understand what the man was saying, or who Beautraire was, or how he was connected to events - he couldn't even tell if the bearded man was pleased or angry.

Having leaped back to his feet, Wide Riley edged around between the other man and where Tarn sat. "I saw it with my own two eyes, Stamper. This boy obliterated Beautraire and all his cronies."

Stamper pursed his lips and huffed, then nodded in Wide Riley's direction. "He do all your talking for you, boy?"

"Not talked much," Tarn said. Words still sounded strange and dangerous coming from his mouth and he expected a clip around the back of the head from a guard as he spoke, but no such punishment came.

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