Lana entered the Hart and Horn, throwing back her hood, pushing some of the sodden red locks clinging to her face away. It was raining cats and dogs outside, and she was glad to be inside at last, warm and hopefully soon dry as well. She let her gaze wander through the small taproom, now full of people seeking shelter from the downpour, just like her.
Suddenly her eyes snapped back to a table they had just passed, widened in disbelief. It could not be, could it...? But sure as all nine hells, it was him, sitting at a table, alone, gazing into a mug of ale held in his hand. She stared for a moment, still not believing she would run into him, of all people.
As if he had felt her gaze, he lifted his head, his strange eyes meeting hers.
Damn. He's noticed me.
But his face stayed impassive as ever. No sign of recognition showed.
Still playing mind games, is he?
Well, if he did not want to acknowledge her, all the better. If there was one person on this plane whose company she was not keen on, it was him. And if it was not for the blasted cloudburst outside, she would just turn and leave.
She abruptly turned away to the counter, where a small elderly man tried to cope with the unexpected onslaught of customers on his little inn. She ordered an ale, handed him a few copper coins and went to a table that was miraculously free of patrons. Taking off her sword scabbard, she leaned the greatsword she carried against the wall behind her chair, sighing with relief to be rid of the weight.
She normally did not use weapons, but sometimes they came in handy. And since she was no expert in wielding one, she was not able to impress any foe with her melee skills. So she preferred to carry something that left an impression just by hitting someone, regardless where you actually hit. Hence the greatsword. But sometimes the weight, together with the chain shirt she wore, was a drag.
She took off her sodden cloak and draped it over the scabbard to dry. That was another advantage of a weapon that was nearly as big as her – she could use it as a hallstand.
She let herself plop down on the chair, and pulled a second one to put her feet on. It was bad manners, but what the hell. Her legs were aching. She took a long swig from her ale and closed her eyes, savouring the warmth of the room after the cold rain.
"Excuse me...?", a voice she knew too damn well asked hesitatingly.
She opened her eyes again and looked up at him, annoyed.
And I hoped he'd leave me in peace.
She really had no great desire to talk to him, so she just looked at him, eyebrows drawn up, not saying a word. If he wanted to say something, he'd better get it over with and get back to his own table again.
But he just stood there, looking down at her, holding his mug in both hands, appearing nervous, uncertain.
"Can... can I sit down?", he asked, still in that hesitating tone.
Oh gods, what is he up to this time?
She wordlessly indicated at the chair opposite to hers with her mug, and took another swig of her ale, still not saying a word.
He sat down, putting his tankard on the table, but still clutching it with both hands, as if he needed to hold on to something.
"I'm sorry, but I saw you staring at me, and I thought... I...", he stuttered and fell silent, looking down into his ale again.
She sighed in exasperation. What was it with the drama?
"What do you want, Bishop?", she asked bluntly.
His eyes lifted quickly, searching her face. "So you do know me, then! I hoped so." And after a second, wonder in his voice: "Bishop... is that my name?"
This was getting a bit hard to swallow. She took her feet from the chair, sat up and put her mug back on the table with a thump. Some ale sloshed over the rim, leaving a puddle. He flinched.
"Listen", she said. "I don't know what game you are up to this time, and I could not care less. Just take your ale and get back to your own table like a good little backstabber, will you?"
She put her arms on the table, leaning over and bringing her face closer to his, her eyes narrowed to angry slits. "Which part of "get back to your table" did you not understand?", she asked, very calmly. "I might have let you go, but that does not make us pals, are we clear? Now shove off, I'm not interested in what you've got to say."
There was something like despair on his face, and he reached out, taking hold of one of her hands over the table. "Please, listen to me...", he started.
Lana looked down at his hand, grabbing hers, and then slowly let her gaze travel to his face again, her eyes cold and threatening. He swallowed and quickly retracted his hand.
"Sorry", he mumbled, "but please..."
She threw her hands in the air in frustration. "Gods, what does it take to get rid of you? Will you just leave already?"
He flinched again, but then a stubborn expression settled on his face. "No.", he said.
"What do you mean, no?", she asked, starting to get seriously pissed.
"I mean no, I won't leave.", he said, still looking stubborn.
She clenched her jaw. "Fine", she gritted. "Stay. Then I will go." She shoved her chair back and got up.
"I'll follow", he said.
"Pardon me?", she said, not believing her ears.
"I said, I'll follow you", he repeated.
"You'd better think that over!"
He lifted his eyes to her, and she could see grim determination in them. "What are you going to do, attack me because I want to talk to you?", he asked. "Then you'll have to do that – because I will not leave before you speak with me."
She stared at him for a moment, then let herself fall back on her chair in resignation. He was right, she could not really fry him just because he was annoying her, could she?
It was tempting, though.
"Fine then", she groaned. "Say your piece and begone."
He drew a deep breath and looked at her for some moments, obviously at a loss how to start. "It's quite obvious you don't like me much", he said at last.
She nearly laughed. "Well, what else is new?", she said.
"Please, I'm sorry if I did something to anger you, but..."
"Anger me?", she interrupted, not believing her ears. "Are you joking? That hardly covers what you did!"
"Please, tell me", he said softly, putting his arms on the table and leaning over, in a movement that mirrored hers earlier. But instead of anger, there was eagerness on his face.
"What?", she asked, taken aback.
"I don't remember", he said, his voice still low. "That's what I tried to tell you all along."
"Bishop, stop this game right now, or I swear I'll..." She broke off when she looked into his eyes. "You're serious about this, aren't you?", she asked incredulously.
He nodded. "Dead serious."
She searched his face for some moments, trying to gauge the thoughts behind it, tried to find out if he was telling the truth.
Damn it, he was always a good liar, how am I to know?
He seemed to be sincere. But with him, that was not saying much. And this tale he was telling was just a bit tall.
He's probably having a real good laugh at my expense right now.
The thought made her mood turn sour.
As if he read her thoughts, he leaned even closer, pleading with his eyes. "Please, I'm telling you the truth", he said. "It's been like this for some months. I don't remember... anything." He swallowed. "You're the first person I meet who knows me. I can't leave before you tell me what you know about me."
She stared at him over the table, hard. "Believe me, if this is some joke, I'll make you regret it."
He shrugged. "Fair enough. But it's no joke. Please, tell me everything. So... my name is Bishop? What kind of name is that?"
It was her turn to shrug. "It's the name my uncle knew you by."
"So... I know your uncle? Is that how we met?"
She still had the feeling of being led around by her nose. It was not a feeling she appreciated. On the other hand, he did seem serious.
She sighed and decided to play along for now. But if she found out it was one of his mind games, he would find out what the words Brimstone Blast and Chilling Tentacles really meant.
"Yes", she answered. "In his tavern."
"Your uncle has a tavern, then. Would you tell me his name? Maybe that will ring a bell... since my name did not."
"Duncan", she said, her gaze fixed on his face. "Duncan Farlong."
"Duncan... Duncan...", he said, as if testing the name on his tongue. She could detect nothing of the inevitable scowl the mention of the name usually brought up on his face.
He shook his head, disappointed. "No", he said, sounding sad. "Nothing. So, how did we meet there?"
"Well", she said dryly. "I came in, said hello, and you answered that if you wanted a wench, you'd visit the local brothel. But you also advised me to stick around, because after a few more drinks, I might start looking good to you."
He choked on the swig of ale he was taking and coughed hard for some moments. "You're pulling my leg", he croaked when he could talk again.
She just shook her head, beginning to enjoy this game despite herself. "No", she said. "Besides, it was one of the nicer things you said to me in the course of our acquaintance."
He stared at her, his eyes wide. "I think I'm beginning to understand why you don't like me", he said.
"No kidding", she said. "You don't know half of it, wolf boy."
"So, you know about the wolf following me, then?", he asked, surprised.
"Karnwyr? Of course – he's your only friend, I think. That might be because he's the only creature you treat with some respect."
He shook his head slowly. "The picture you give of me is somewhat hard to believe – I can't be that bad now, can I?"
She threw her head back and laughed. "Bad? To be merely bad, you'd have to improve a lot, believe me."
She drew the second chair back and propped up her feet again. Might as well get comfortable, this could take a while.