Part 15:

Isn’t that Neat

The four miscreants entered another drinking establishment, this one quite a ways from Jethin’s direct influence. Although the previous bar had clearly been foreign in construction, this one was quite standard for Uruda, with low walls and a roof that was almost flat. Inside, however, was another story. The drinking area was heavily decorated, with spiraling chains and livery of all sorts hanging from the walls. The tables and chairs were different as well, ornately carved from a lumber not native to the region, and the cushions were embroidered. The sight caused Tekole to stop in his tracks, and Kajulan backtracked to rejoin him.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, tilting her head slightly.

“It’s just,” began Tekole, trying to find a phrasing that didn’t sound ridiculous to him. “This place kind of reminds me of where my parents lived, before, you know.”

“Yeah,” replied Kajulan, nodding. She put an arm around him, not really knowing any other appropriate way to respond.

Although most of the seats were available, Ladu made straight for a table in the back. He sat, and the other three followed in turn. A young man came over, wearing a long, stained apron that looked older than he was.

“And what will you sirs and ma’am be having?” he asked. Although he was not fearful like others that day had been, his voice still betrayed caution.

“A beer,” the large tajkyn said plainly.

“One for me as well,” said Ladu. “But make sure it’s a corn beer. Nothing else tastes right here.”

Kajulan began to speak, but Ladu continued, cutting her off. “She’ll have a ginger ale.” He turned to look at her. “You’re not old enough to drink.”

Kajulan slunk back in her seat, scowling but not saying anything. She didn’t want to get in trouble again.

“And get us something to eat too,” said Ladu. “Whatever the cook has simmering.”

The boy left as the four continued to sit there, now in awkward silence.

“So,” began Ladu. “Tekole. Where are you from originally? Here, or down South?”

“I’m from the orphanage,” replied Tekole.

Ladu sighed, not really knowing how to continue from that. Reluctantly, he turned his attention to Kajulan. “And what about you?”

“Born and raised,” replied Kajulan, leaning back and putting her hands behind her head. “Oh, and also from the orphanage too, I guess.” She smiled and slugged Tekole in the arm. “That’s actually how we know each other! Isn’t that neat?”

Ladu nodded. “Sure.” He looked back and forth between them. “So, I take it neither of you have ever left the city, right?”

Kajulan and Tekole both looked at each other, before replying in the vague affirmative. Ladu nodded, before waiting for them to ask where he was from. He waited awhile.

“Well, I’m from a town East of here, past the lake. Although it’s more of a village, I suppose. Nowhere near as bustling as the city.” He looked around the establishment, so barren that one could hear the wind whistling from inside. “Well, maybe it’s kind of a close call in this particular city.”

Ladu looked across the table, hoping to see the reactions of the two new recruits, but rather only witnessing their lack thereof. He sighed. That was what he got for trying to be conversational, he guessed.

The young man from before returned with drink and food, and Ladu decided he was at least going to finish what he was saying. He raised his hands. “Anyways, grew up there, but I spent most of my adulthood in the South, first in Duryilgar and then Tajlyn. That’s where I fell in with Jethin’s gang, obviously.”

Tekole pointed at the large man sitting beside Ladu. “And what about him?”

Said man was busy inhaling his drink, so Ladu spoke for him. “Him? He was born into it. Nobility.”

The big man put down his mug and scoffed. “Nobility? Hah! I have about as much noble blood as the Satrap does. So none.”

Ladu smirked. It was actually unsettling, both to Tekole but especially to Kajulan. He leaned forward. “Said “noble status” matters a lot more to some than it does to others. You can probably guess who.” Ladu’s face suddenly turned deathly grim. “But none of that is to be said to or around Jethin, do you understand?” Kajulan and Tekole nodded. “Good.”

A moment went by, and sensing that conversation had passed, Kajulan began stuffing her face. Immediately Tekole started speaking, causing Kajulan to shoot him a grievous side-eye.

“So what do we do now?” he asked.

Ladu leaned back, and tilted his hat so as to block out the sunlight that did not exist inside the building. “Now, we keep killing time. Don’t want to report back to Jethin too early.”