Alti'yvlé! Renaud cursed, shuffling his cards again. Front to back, back to front. A terrible tell, but he could not help himself. The hand was terrible, and he was losing interest. Across the card and chip strewn table, Gotthard was chugging down another pint of ale. Leroy and Bjarni comparing cheating strategies next to Gottard. Armod explaining to Hovhannes the rules of the game, beside himself. Lulianus sat across the room near the fire, still engrossed in his book. Renaud's companions had settled in well for the evening. But he could not. Night had befallen the tavern, and Sigurd had not yet returned. He worried for their leader, it was not that he distrusted their employer, they had worked for him successfully many times before. Something strange was on the air. A static crispness that was unusual for the warm season. Goosebumps shivered their way up his arms again though no draft came from under the tavern door or through the windows. Something of ill nature was about to happen. And he prayed to the goddess, that whatever it was, was not happening to Sigurd.
“Ay! Ay there wench!” A burly voice cracked through the peaceful atmosphere. Glancing ahead at the end of the room, Renaud found that the voice belonged to one of the boisterous brutes that had barged into the tavern about an hour ago.
"Bring another pint o'er here!” He was tallest of the group, biceps larger than his head. Of course, Renaud mused, maybe he just had a small head. His jaw was hidden by a full, scraggly red beard, yet his head was shaven bald. A strange and grotesque pattern of tattoos wrapped around the back of his leathery skull. A tribesman, from the north, he assumed. Fierce sea-wolves, not too unlike pirates, but far more brutal. Downing the last drop of his pint, droplets falling into his beard, the brute belched with a profound gusto.
“Wench! I said bring meh another pint!!”
A moment later, one of the barmaids stormed across the floor-boards to deliver the drink. The proprietress, in her long skirts, dirty apron and wiry copper hair. She walked right up to the unsavory giant, unwavering despite her short stature, and slammed the mug down onto the man's table, hard. A flood of ale sloshing out, probably leaving very little remaining in the mug. She then stood facing him, both hands shoved into her hips with a fierce power. “Will that be all for ya sir? Or shall I order ya something else?” She quipped in a flat yet agitated tone. The group of men went quiet, and so did the rest of the taverns occupants. All eyes were on the little woman in the apron, and the surly tribesman. Renaud watched the man's face twitch into a dark grin. Uh oh... There was no doubt this woman could hold her own, but something told Renaud that this man didn't have any qualms in harming her. Which struck him even harder, for tribesman considered women sacred, and harming one to be an eternal crime. The man reached for the woman's arm, yanking her into his wide chest harshly. “Ya I've got something you can order meh!” He growled. Renaud found himself on his feet before he could think, his hands up in a peace-warranting gesture. “Pardon me, friend, how about you release the Miss, hmm?”
“Ya, I think that good idea, kinsman.” Gotthard reinforced, stepping up to his side. Being of the northern breed, Gotthard's size closely matched that of the tribesman. Nevertheless, the burly man looked them up and down with an amused grin. Sizing them up, and certainly underestimating them. If it came to a brawl, Gotthard alone could handle all eight of the tribesman with ease. But Renaud hoped that this would end without a fight. This was a nice tavern, after all.
“How about I buy you another pint, yes? And we can share a few laughs over cards?”
The man's face curled up into a sickeningly spiteful snarl. “I no play cards with Western rum-rats!”
Renaud refrained from flinching at the derogatory slur. “Listen friend--”
The brute slung the woman away from his chest, throwing her to the side, nearly into the fireplace. Lulianus quickly helped her up and away. “I no friend with any olive-skin!” the tribesman roared, spitting at his feet. Renaud felt his jaw twitch.
"You made mistake, kinsman.” came Gotthard's voice, low and solemn. “Insulting my friend, hurting nice lady. Very bad moves.”
Taking the threat, the group of tribesman stood, as their leader stepped forward into the open floor. "Now you make bad moves."
The tension built to a physical density. Complete silence took over the room. Each party counting the seconds of silence. Waiting for the other to make the first move. But with a sudden thundering crack, the door to the tavern was thrown open. Everyone froze.
Stepping inside, was a tall, thin shade like being, cloaked in black. The night trailing behind, as if they were a specter, leaving a long shadow stained on the floor boards. Each footfall captivating the attention of every eye. Stopping mid way into the room, it tilted it's hooded gaze towards the two sides of men, then back the other direction, towards the bartender. Who was shrinking even further into the back wall, under this figure's presence. Whoever, whatever, it was, clearly wanted no part in the brawl that was about to take place. Interesting. Causing Renaud to jump nigh out of his boots, one of the surly tribesman from the group stormed up to his leader. shouting something gruesome sounding and pointing in the direction of the new comer. The tribesman leader's face alighted in an even darker look of craze. “Hchav bfxch!” He shouted to hooded specter, slobber escaping his mouth like a mad dog. Renaud did not need a translation to understand the aggressive familiarity passing between them. The figure however, ignored it, casually accepting a drink from a white-faced bartender. The tribesman now enraged, stomped over to the bar, like a berserker, hungry for blood. Thrusting his arm out he reached for their shoulder –what happened then, happened so quickly Renaud would have to recall it a few times later to fully appreciate the elegance of the take down. The figure had seen the hand coming -perhaps from anticipation, perhaps from a reflection on the metal mug -grabbed it out of the air from behind their shoulder, then simultaneously, pulled his hand down onto the bar top while skirting out from their seat under his arm. Heaving the thug chest first into the bar, his arm stretched out before him. Arching their elbow back, the figure cracked it down hard onto the man's open wrist. A sickening crackling sound was followed up by an agonized growl from the man. Without missing a beat, the hooded being reached over the man and picked up their mug and chucked it up into the air. What are you doing--? Renaud had been so focused on them that he had not realized the enraged group of tribesman rushing the bar, until one knocked him back into the booth. From his awkward position of half falling, half hanging onto the table, he watched as the figure commenced in battling each of the seven tribesman, as if it were a dance. Taking a spin with each dancer, until the sequence of steps required they change partners. The mug, falling precariously at just the perfect moment, right onto one of the thug's heads, where it bounced off and proceeded to dump its contents onto the floor. Causing the footing of the brute attackers to falter on the now slick ground. The more Renaud watched the shaded being fight, the more an uncanny feeling of familiarity irked his conscious. He'd seen these moves before...the quick reflexive captures, side steps and retaliation. Each step was divisive. Precision attacks varied in time-length but not severity. Arms kept tight to the torso, hands open and fast, dealing out staggering retribution at critical moments of opportunity. Finding weak points and exploiting them. And if they couldn't find one, they made one with distraction. Dispatching each man within a matter of steps. With the entire pack of his miserable brutes wallowing in ale on the floor, the leader stepped into the fight. His hand hanging at a gruesomely stomach-turning angle. Throwing his opposite fist towards the figure's face he barked a roaring curse like a war cry.
“Acrsh Hchav theong bfxch!!”
The hooded specter failed to even flinch, as the giant rushed towards them full force. At the very last moment, the figure braced for the impact, bending at the knees. When the enormous bulk of tribesman hit them, their stance remained unbroken. Moving with the man's own momentum, slung the brute over their shoulder. The force of the motion, caused the figure's hood to fall much like the man, behind them. And as the man landed on his face, the figure's was revealed.
A burning-bright-orange braid of hair, toppled from the shoulder of a wild eyed, porcelain jawed, young woman.
Renaud felt the balance of the worlds suddenly tip, as if the moon had collided with the sun and he now stood at the foot of an uncertain eternity. Was this an angry goddess, descended from the heavens to deliver bloody consequence unto mortals?
Suddenly the door to the tavern flung open once again, and the woman spun around in reaction. Cocking one elbow back and thrusting the other forward where it stopped short -like she'd punched a wall. Except the wall, was the hand of a short, black haired man, cloaked in green. Who held her fist at bay without effort. The man was none other, than their leader, Sigurd of the Hood.