(Part I of this piece was posted yesterday and can be read here. Please enjoy Part II:)
Terius waited a moment before he put the spoon down. Leaning back, he watched Zain pick up his next bite. Zain watched him too, holding a guilty, cheerful smile. Terius took a drink and glanced around the room.
Brance and his men had moved away from the door, winding their way to the bar. The other customers seemed unaware of them, handing out the kind of passing greeting that happy people could accidentally deliver to a wall support if it got in their way. A few of them were surprised into a laugh at Brance’s responses, and he watched the taproom like he’d just discovered a new game court to roll dice in. Terius shifted his mug in his hands. It wasn’t a look he liked.
Over the crowd, Terius caught Jaera looking at the back of Brance’s dark head curiously. She turned toward Terius after too long, tilted her head in a silent question.
Terius gave a small shake of his head.
Jaera straightened up, her expression dropping some of its levity. She tilted her head the other way, and the simple change twisted her question into a more serious tone: Trouble?
Terius looked at Brance, ordering drinks with a fat coin. He gave a one-shouldered shrug to Jaera.
Nodding, Jaera leaned forward and laid her hand flat on Galen’s arm. He turned to her slowly, still half listening to the story one of the mate’s was telling. Then he followed to her eye line to Brance. One long look, he twisted in his seat, and nodded to Terius as well.
Terius relaxed, a little.
For half an hour, the evening rolled forward easily. Zain ordered a round of drinks, and traded compliments for the full mugs when the girl delivered them. The three of them slipped back into their rambling conversation, half business and half jokes, as they drank. It was easy talk, and they all slipped in and out of it from time to time. Lainan kept an eye on the crew. Zain laughed at something from the next table over. Terius watched Brance prowl around the room, as if he was looking for the best game.
Then he pulled up a chair and sat, arms crossed over the back as he held his mug. The crewman beside him shifted as soon as he saw the gold lines on his wristband, lit up in the yellow lantern light. He looked around the table, then sideways at Brance again.
Terius twisted until he could mark the three men Brance had entered with. They were scattered through the room, almost one to a corner. Terius put his mug down. Zain looked up, questioning.
Smiling, Brance said something to the crewman. The man froze. Another low sentence from Brance. The man swung at him.
Galen was on his feet first, dashing between the tables. Terius was one step behind, closing in from the other side, and Zain was just behind him. Galen still reached them first. He hauled the crewman back, slammed him into the the pillar beside the table and held him there with one arm and a firm look.
“I’m sorry, my lord,” Galen was saying as Terius came to a stop at the table.
Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, Brance paused, eyebrows raised.
Lainan was somewhere behind Terius, keeping the rest of the men away from the table. Jaera was tucked behind Galen, out of sight, but she could have moved into the thick of things in two steps, and her hands were down at her sides, palms tilted forward. Terius nodded to her to stay where she was.
“Sorry?” the crewman spat back, incredulous. “Did you hear him?”
“No,” Galen answered, so flat his meaning smothered the next sentence on the man’s tongue. It didn’t matter.
“I said his sister was pretty,” Brance told Galen. He smirked. “With a little clever implication that he probably didn’t even catch the full force of. Do you have a sister?”
Galen looked at him, and said nothing.
Brance’s smile widened.
“You won’t get a fight here, my lord,” Terius said, tone perfectly level. Beside him, Zain murmured his counter-offer, and Terius ignored him.
Brance laughed at Zain, cocked his head to give an answer, then stopped, catching the silver on Zain’s wristband. His expression dropped into something like surprise. He looked at Terius’ wristband and met his eyes. “Terius Visade?”
Terius nodded, deep enough that it could bordered on turning into a bow. “My lord.”
Brance’s smile returned.
“We don’t mind sharing space for an evening,” Terius told him. “But you won’t get a fight.”
“Really?” Brance sounded like he didn’t believe him. He took an easy step toward him, like he hadn’t even intended to move, just needed to get a better look at Galen and the crewman. “So, I can say whatever I want, and you’ll just tell your ape here to protect me?” He looked like he expected some snapping response from Galen, then laughed when he received more silence. “I like him. You have him well-trained.”
“Oh, balleis karakas,” Zain murmured.
Brance glanced at him. “Balles,” he corrected.
Brance’s smile deepened at the corners. He took another easy step closer to Terius. “And you’re just going to let me do this all night long?” he asked. “You’re going to let me say anything I want and tell your men to roll over and take it?” He looked up, measuring the few inches Terius had on him. “I’d heard that was what you were like, but I thought a man as tall as you couldn’t walk upright with so little spine.”
“I get by,” Terius told him.
Brance nodded. Terius watched him lean back, as if he was preparing for the next push. Brance opened his mouth and Terius punched him hard in the stomach, just below the last rib. Brance bent forward over his arm, gasping. The impact felt good, but Terius felt it fall away as Brance’s hand locked around his arm and twisted him down to his knees. Then something cracked behind him. Galen swept in, barreling someone else to the floor – one of Brance’s men probably. Terius’ crewman shouted and came away from the pillar. Terius kicked at Brance, driving him back just in time to see the fight spread around the table. Zain drove in behind Brance, tried to lock an arm around his neck, but Brance pulled him forward and pinned him against the floor. Then Brance had to turn to intercept another man swinging a chair at his back.
Terius grabbed Zain’s shoulder and pulled him quickly out the way.
Zain grabbed at anything on the floor, probably looking for a shield or a weapon, but he came up with a spoon.
Grinning, he sat up and pointed it at him. “You are twenty-three years old,” he said. “You’re a Captain now. You can resist punching arrogant, trouble-seeking dandies in the gut.”
Terius glared at him, stood to catch one of Brance’s men before he hit Zain in the back of the head. “Apparently, not,” he said.
Zain laughed and scrambled back to his feet as well. Shoulder to shoulder, they set back into the fight.
My friend, Kathryn is a thief! She stole the first line of this piece (back in Part I) for a story on her blog. You can read it here.