The other side of the coin

125 16 0

Given any other circumstances, it would be funny. The old man was quite mad, and clearly believed everything he was saying, despite his tales being formed from a scrambled understanding of history and an over-active imagination. Tranton had listened to Silt recount his wondrous story, equal parts amused and disturbed: this was the man he'd that day opted to ally himself with, and there he was reciting myths and fairy tales as if he'd memorised them from a religious text. As Tranton descended the steps in the inn, it occurred to him that Silt probably had got it from a religious tome - he'd mentioned that much of it had come from his parents, who must have done a sterling job convincing little Fenris of his greater destiny.

The more he considered it, the funnier it became, circumstances be damned.

The room was dark and smoke-filled, plumes rolling off the rafters, while the surface of the bar was slick with spilt beer and unidentifiable detritus. Tranton signalled to the bartender.

"You sell food?"

The bartender nodded, saying nothing but staring quizzically at Tranton's clothing and face mask, as if he were trying to gaze through the fabric.

"Get me whatever this will buy me," Tranton said, dropping a handful of coins onto the wet wood.

Frowning heavily, the bartender shrugged and retreated into a backroom to prepare whatever scraps he had left. Tranton leaned on the bar and took in his surroundings: the inn had a low bubble of conversation but was hardly busy. Most of those that were there looked of the type that came to this particular establishment every evening. They blended in with the furniture.

Fenris had weaved an elaborate and flowery legend of warring gods: Kraisa from the south, Aera from...somewhere else. Tranton had always found that belief tended to come accompanied by a certain lack of hard facts. The war had been terrible, the fighting over who would claim the valley, and only Aera's arrival and intervention had turned the tide. Parts of the story matched up with Tranton's knowledge of distant history: it was clearly referencing the real war between the Headland and the north, the lessons of which were taught to every young Headlander. It had been the war to end all wars, with the Headland eschewing weapons to find power through trade.

The war had been real and he'd even heard the name Kraisa before - but in reference to a military general of the time, rather than anything more supernatural.

That was before the old man had got to the part about the mountains rising up to destroy Kraisa's army, and Aera creating the perfect society in the valley before being banished by her own people to exile in the north. As tended to be his experience with the valley-dwellers, Fenris was filled with adoration for his country and the valley itself, without ever being able to explain why others would fight over it. Certainly the mining and processing of source was not a factor five hundred years ago.

The bartender returned with a plate of sliced meat and cheeses. It almost looked appetising. "You even cut the mold off for me," Tranton said.

Keeping his head low, the bartender leaned across. "Listen, you're the fight from the arena, aren't you? The Outsider."

That was the problem with wearing a permanent disguise: it stops being a disguise and becomes how people recognise you.

"I made a lot of coin betting the right way on you," the bartender said in hushed tones. "So have this on me. There are others here with bad intent towards you. In the alcove. Don't look until I'm gone. There's a door in the rear, it'll take you to the street."

After placing rudimentary cutlery in front of Tranton, the bartender slung a towel over his shoulder and turned around, disappearing back into the kitchen.

The Mechanical Crown (complete novel!)Where stories live. Discover now