Prompt #15 – "costume" (Family)

Smoke hung in the air of the bar's back wing, drifting over the laughing, arguing, and conversing travelers, while the main dining area enjoyed relatively clear air (plus the occasional smells of spilled beer and roast meat). The aproned waitresses weaved serpentine paths all around the tables, smiling warmly, scooping up empty dishes and setting down full ones with hands even surer than their steps.

Even so, none could quite match the pace of the woman with one blond braid down the back of her clean white sleeveless top. She slipped with perfect timing around busboy carts and drunken staggering men alike, her own tray of drinks level and calm. Each patron got the right order, with plates and mugs tucked snugly into place no matter how crowded the table. And she noticed every joke and comment (and, truth be told, poke or pinch), grinning brightly or laughing heartily as fit each one.

The door swung open, wafting in a brief chill of fog. "Evening, dearie!"

"Good to see you back on your feet, Brezock! A mauled leg and you're up already?"

"You almost sound surprised. Wouldn't miss your Friday night special!"

Pausing in her walk, she laid a hand on the table he approached, the one with the very low-slung tablecloth. "Sorry, honey – this one's reserved tonight."

"Eh, what? No space for your favorite fighter?"

She winked at him. "You'll see soon. Let me get you a got-well-soon drink, on me."

He grinned and took off his helmet. "Oh, twist an old campaigner's arm, why don't you?"

There was still plenty of room to lean on the bar and swap stories with the other lingering drinkers. They weren't much for people-watching, but they couldn't help noticing when a little hand reached up from behind the bar and set a lit candle in a dish up on top. They turned to see more candles appear one by one down to the end, giving a moderate field of light.

A waitress approaching the kitchen door with half-empty salad bowls stumbled in mid-step as something crossed her path at high speed. Her squeal of surprise got covered by the clatter of crashing wood, but in the next moment, a rosy-cheeked blond boy in green tunic and shorts leapt atop the empty table.

He called out, "Ladies and gennelmen!"

Folks turned to hear the piping voice, and a few smiled to see him toting a miniature stringed instrument.

He went on, "Welcome one and all!" Taking up his instrument, he plucked one string and sang with quavery notes. "We're glad that you're here at our bar." He froze, glanced down to find the second string, and plucked. "We hope you're happy as we are." One string per line, he strutted around the table. "If you are hungry, thirsty too, we'll serve good food and drinks to you!" He swung his arms wide and bowed, to the sound of scattered and light applause.

Now settled on a stool, Brezock chuckled. "Elan's giving his big day-byoo, is he?"

The managing waitress blinked at the wetness in her eyes, having taken up station behind the bar to watch her son. "Yes..." Then she gasped in shock.

The blond boy had leapt into the air, flipping head over feet, and he hit the floor with an "oomph," knees bent all the way but still on his feet. Then he smiled and straightened up to much greater applause. He looked towards the bar in time to see his mommy covering her relieved expression with a napkin, though still watching him intently. He grinned, then called to the crowd. "No matter who you are or where you come from, we welcome you! Sit here, and hear the stories of brave guys – and girls – from everywhere!" He turned and dove beneath the tablecloth.

A few people in the back got up to look, but only the nearest heard the clanks of metal and thumps of wood before the cloth lifted up and Elan crawled back out.

He stood up, holding a barbeque fork and wearing a flat helmet that fell just over his eyes, red feathers stuck around the rim. He bellowed out, "You may meet me, Boris, the innivinsable Crimson Knight!" He flexed his skinny arms and strutted around the tables. "I have slain a hundred dragons and chased a hundred girls! All in one month!"

At the farthest round table, half a dozen knights guffawed, and one of them pounded the back of the man who grinned and hoisted his mug at the figure diving away again.

This time, he emerged wearing a tan sash frantically knotted around his waist plus an orange one around his forehead, wielding half a broomstick. He sighted along it at the nearest hulking brute. "Watch your hands when you drink with me, Meiling the mountain monk! I can punch through walls and break armor with my lightning fists!"

The woman in the tan-with-orange-trim robes at the end of the bar observed this portrayal without a flicker in her face.

Elan still looked to his immediate audience. He hopped around, thwacking his stick on chair legs (plus surprisingly few human legs) left and right. "No one knows more about working a staff than I do! I can chop down trees and flatten men and—" The sash slipped over his face, and he skidded to a stop, then quickly stood up straight. "And I can do it all blindfolded!" He spun himself and his weapon around, though he kept in a very tight circle.

The woman's mouth turned up, and she inclined her own glass as she flicked a couple of copper pieces into the tip jar across the room.

Elan (lifting the sash first) retreated just a bit longer, before he reappeared with a shaggy brown towel draped around his shoulders and a circle of woven grass on his head. He smiled shyly, "And you could meet me, Daine, the smartest and prettiest druid ever!"

From her quiet corner, the old woman in brown robes lifted her frizzled grey head at the glances turning in her direction.

Elan strode with measured steps. "I have flown on the backs of eagles and run races with wolves. I have shared stories with them." He dropped his voice to a hoarse growl. "And I can tell you stories from the bears—" a flute-like trill "or the robins—" a lip-sputtering snort "or the horses!"

The regulars all raised their drinks to her and cheered, and her corncob-toothed smile glinted as she sniffled a bit and waved back to the stately boy in his towel.

He grinned, ducked away, then sprang out the table's back side, climbing up onto Brezock before hopping onto the bar. Clad in his little apron, he gave the crowd a brilliant smile, opened his hands wide to them, and declared, "Welcome, one and all, and thank you for joining us at the best inn ever!" He leaned back and kissed his mommy on the cheek.

The applause and table-pounding filled the tavern, half-covering Elan's replies of, "Thank you, I'm here all week!" and "Try the beef stew!"

His mother kissed him on his own cheek, then murmured in his ear, "Bravo, Elan. Two thumbs up." She whisked him off of the bar, and for the rest of the night, she had an extra pair of hands racing after her with a modestly-laden tray.

The hours blurred past, and Elan even got to stay up long enough to walk one droopy-eyed farmer to the door.

His mother swept him up in a hug. "You did great, honey."

"Thanks, mommy." He nuzzled his face into her hair. "Although..."

"Hmm?"

"Maybe I couldn't have fit all twenty-three costumes under that table, but I bet I could've fit at least another four or five."

His mother simply squeezed him extra hard, then set him down. "But this way left plenty of room for you, and what do you always say about stories?"

He beamed up. "Great stories need great players."

"Right you are." She kissed his forehead. "And now it's curtain time."

"Good night, mommy." He hugged her and scampered off to bed.