“How long has it been since we had a good bar fight?” Zain asked.
Terius put his mug down on the table immediately to give Zain his attention. Zain’s brother, Lainan, flicked a glance over his shoulder at him, then decided to ignore Zain and turned back to the rest of the room. The taproom was comfortably crowded, with small knots of people gathered around almost every table, and the owner doing easy business from the corner. The servers hadn’t rested on their heels since Terius and his men came in an hour ago. Jaera and Galen were seated across the room, along with half of Galen’s watch squad. They were almost done with their dinner plates, even though they’d been laughing and joking and gambling their way through. One of the men on the end was ordering up the first round of real drinks, and the rest of the men around the room were rounding the same idea. The room’s regular buzz of conversation continued, as if Zain had not just suggested a wild interruption to the room’s amiable evening hours.
Terius considered his answer carefully. “Two years,” he said. “I got the best black eye of my life. You broke your thumb, cracked two ribs and confused a very muscular bald man by swearing at him in Ancient Kretic.”
Zain looked curious, then broke into a smile as he remembered. “Took me about a week to memorize that.”
“You pronounced it wrong,” Lainan said flatly.
“I swear just fine, thank you,” Zain told him.
Lainan turned away to hide his smile.
“Is it time to have another one?” Zain asked Terius.
Terius considered the reasonably-toned question long enough to earn a concerned look from Lainan, then had to bite down on a laugh. “I don’t think so,” he said.
Zain shrugged. “Then you’ll want to look to the trouble that just walked in.” He nodded behind him to the front door.
Slowly, Terius turned in his seat. The crowd was thick enough to hide the four men lingering by the door for a moment or two. All four wore clean sailor’s uniforms, two with officer’s stripes. They were tall, thick across the chest the way that men who worked the ocean tended to be, and any of them could have made trouble in a fist fight. Still, Terius couldn’t read any inspiration for violence in the way they scanned the room.
Then he saw the curving glint coming off the metal on their wristbands: a two-headed snake, coiled and ready. The fourth man stepped into view, dark-haired, and only a year or two older than Terius.
“Is that Brance?” Lainan asked.
“Well, I’ve never met him,” Zain said, still eying the men. “But that looks like the gambling, bar-crawling, fist-fighting son of a Clan Lord. We should leave.”
Lainan started to gather himself to stand.
Terius grabbed a spoon off the table. Flipping it in his hand, he hit Zain in the forehead. Zain flinched, and stared, and started to object, then stopped when he saw the spoon still pointed at his nose.
“You are twenty-two years old,” Terius said. He shook the spoon for emphasis. “You are a lieutenant now. You can resist the urge to punch arrogant, trouble-seeking dandies in the nose.”
Zain stared at the bobbing spoon, cross-eyed and surprised. “Aye, aye.”
…(To be continued tomorrow, after the author’s headache disappears. Thank you for your patience.)