Ambitions (Fantasy)

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Rudyard was frowning as he wiped down his bartop. He did that a lot, frowned. If you asked him he would say it was because of the heavy burdens on his shoulders: the stresses of running a bar and an inn, the lack of appreciation from his staff. He would then likely utter a statement regarding heavy was the weight of the crown or some such. According to him, he had almost sat on the throne of a small nation to the west before it had been stolen from him. To this he would typically add, under his breath and with mysterious tones, “traitorous wench”, before returning to his scowling.

What really drove Rudyard to his frowns, and scowls, and sometimes even glares, were his ambitions. He had many of these and they remained perpetually unfulfilled. The causes for this were many, not the least of which were that they continued to grow within his chest. His bar was not big enough, his revenues not high enough, his clientele not rich enough. And so behind his rough, blocky features, and small hard eyes, he schemed.

His most recent plan -- his grandest, and most audacious to date -- remained, like so many plans that had fallen before it, uncompleted. This was not for his lack of trying. He said as much now to the figure seated nearest to him at the bar.

“Three months. Three damn, bloody, wasted months!” Rudyard said harshly.

It was hard to determine if the words affected the person they were directed towards. The thick grey cloak, large hood pulled low, obscured all features save a lone hand that extended to wrap knobby fingers around a pewter mug. Such was the imposing presence of this figure, or perhaps the slightly overripe smell, that the nearest seats to them along the bar remained empty.

“Patience,” came the low voice from within the darkness of the hood.

Rudyard only frowned harder at the words.

“Bah. I have no time for patience, Mezger. Only fools wait.”

The barkeep scooped up a glass and polished it furiously, his mind on all that glittering treasure.

“It’s not like we want them to overthrow a kingdom. We’re only asking them to kill a dragon. How bloody hard can that be?”

So far it had proved vexingly difficult. With his inn’s location on the crossroads of the King’s and Queen’s highways, it should have been a trivial matter to find the stout adventurers required to meet this task. None thus far had proven stout enough.

“I really thought that knight would have done it,” Mezger muttered.

Rudyard snorted. He still didn’t know if ‘Sir Galantese’ was any sort of real knight. In any case he wasn’t much of anything now, unless you counted a pile of over charred bones. That barbarian had talked big, but he’d gotten into an argument with a troll before he even left the bar. They’d both died in that fracas and Rudyard had had to replace an entire wall! After him were the ‘wizard’ and the ‘priest’, useless, both of them. Mezger had wanted to recruit a band of a dozen dwarves and their even smaller travelling companion to go, but Rudyard wasn’t that much a fool.

He snatched up another glass and let his eyes wander the large smoky room. He certainly had enough possibilities this evening; most of his two dozen tables were occupied.

Nearby sat a sinewy jester, his hat of motley discarded before him. The man’s eyes closely followed one of his girls, Beth he thought. His gaze was entirely too longing, besides a jester? A stable boy would have a better chance. Also one of Mezger’s suggestions at one point, and also ridiculous.

Seated across the room was some sort of rich bloke, an advisor perhaps. His eyes were darting around the room, fearful, as if he expected the end of the world or something. According to Mezger’s charts that wasn’t happening this week, and Rudyard wasn’t going to have anything to do with anything near to a politician.

“Ingrateful harpy,” he growled and kept looking.

In the corner... was that a zombie!? A gangly looking woman with sallow skin was swatting and mumbling to herself. He was going to have to have a sharp conversation with Yandry, his doorman.

He was looking around the room for him when something else caught Rudyard’ eye. A tall athletic woman with a curved bow held in one hand suddenly burst through the front doors. Behind her in the night, something swirled and danced. Something smoking and burning at the same time. It struck the doorframe and bounced back, Mezger’s wards along the door posts glowing azure in the oak. Large, crimson eyes flashed then vanished. A daemon if Rudyard had ever seen one, and a big one too.

The doors swung closed and the woman collected herself. Her face was sharp angles, high cheekbones, pointed chin. Her eyes were hard and tight, not afraid, but desperate nonetheless.

Ah desperation, he could use desperation. And an archer. Of course an archer! Why had he never thought of that. With a dragon you needed range. It was so obvious now.

He nudged Mezger and nodded toward the corner table where the woman had seated herself. After a moment’s consideration Mezger’s hood bobbed.

“Potential. Let’s see how much.”

The man slid off his stool and headed across the room, dropping into a hunched shuffle as he went. This would be the one, he was sure of it! Now if only Mezger could seal the deal.

He barely made out the words across the babble of the room, but they were already familiar to him. He’d helped write them.

“Excuse me, mistress, but you appear to be in a bit of predicament, and I am looking for some assistance myself. Perhaps we can help each other?”

After staring back through narrowed eyes, the woman nodded cautiously and Mezger slowly sat.

For the first time in a while, Rudyard smiled.

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