Ray leaned back in his chair with his boots propped on the table as he steadily drained his sixth flagon. Through the haze of his inebriated vision he saw her, a pretty thing with bouncy blond curls serving ale to this man or that one. Her face was flushed red and her forehead slick with sweat, but that just strengthened the appeal. She worked hard and long for her old man, the barkeep, which made it all the worse considering he did little himself. It was something to admire, someone doing something they felt was right and expecting nothing in return. Compassion and loyalty were what truly made the girl beautiful. Ray loved her in the same way a person loves the sun right as it rises or just as it sets. In Kale you hardly ever saw the sun; she was his. "Another cup, darlin'," he managed through a hiccup. Looking up from the tray she was balancing, the lass gave him a half-smile and set the drink down in front of him. "It's appreciated..." As she turned, he slipped a gold piece into the pocket of her apron without her noticing. Maybe if she didn't think it was just some drunk taking pity on her then she might just start smiling a bit more. It was wishful thinking at best, but the world could use a few more smiles.
The sun had been down for an hour so that meant the tavern was full. Nothing quite justifies hard labor for the men of Kale like a good drink to float yourself in. Hours drifting through the bog and stabbing at every ripple in the water because it might be a fish spelled out life for these men. The other half ran trade barges upriver to bring and sell supplies in the local shops--not that there was much of a selection. It wasn't the most realistic style of living, relying on imports to sustain their small community, but the people here had a queer sense of pride that often went hand-in-hand with small towns like this. They loved where they lived and how they lived regardless of what others might think of them. It was all they had and would ever know, something they've grown comfortable with.
The lean, dark-haired man drained his sixth flagon and motioned the barmaid over for his seventh. "Thank you, darlin'," he muttered, gently bobbing in his chair. The hearth cast the shadows of men across the back corner of the room where Ray was sitting; for the most part he remained unnoticed by a majority of the building's occupants. The wooden planks under his chair creaked as he continued to rock. His dark eyes lazily scanned each face that came within view.
Despite its small size, the town of Kale was not very hard to find. The river from which its inhabitants eked out their existence ran through most of the region, so all you had to do was follow it south until you hit swamps. Once there, one had to either continue by boat or make their way down the narrow path that winded through the trees until, finally, they were at that small cluster of buildings that passed for the town. Finding herself without a boat on hand, Andri was forced to take the path through the woods. Yet, she couldn't help but wonder if it would have been easier to simply swim. On the path, mosquitoes swarmed her, attacking what tanned skin was not covered by her cloak. Every step seemed to sink her even further into the mud, making it more and more difficult to pull her foot free. The air around her was so thick and humid that, at times, she found it difficult to breath. Yet she still persisted.
Much to her disappointment, the town itself was not much better. The only good thing about the whole place was that its small size made it easy to navigate. In just a few minutes she found her way to what would most likely prove to be the best place to begin her search: the tavern. As she approached, her pace slowed. She pulled down her hood, hoping that it would make her look less suspicious. Then, she pulled open the heavy wooden door and walked in. Immediately, she felt eyes on her. A town like this was not used to seeing strangers, especially at this time of night. Having expected this, she did not shrink away from the stares, with their various mixes of curiosity and hostility. She moved towards the lone empty table near the wall, and there she sat.
Those whose gazes were still on her were now at the point of deducing gender, something that took a bit longer than it ought. Her reddish brown hair, trimmed so that it only just grazed her ears, could easily belong to a boy, as could her defiant chin and strong, dark eyes. Still, her petite nose and soft lips had to belong to a woman. She was slim, but with defined muscles, and her figure was concealed by her cloak and a man's leather armor. The sheath that hanged from her right hip further complicated things, for while there were quite a few women in their country who could handle a blade as well as any man, they were generally soldiers or nobility, neither of whom traveled to towns such as these.
A lovely yet clearly exhausted barmaid approached Andri, seeming to care less that she was a stranger, one who seemed a few years away from belonging in a place like this, and more that she was a -potentially- paying customer. "Can I get you anything?" She asked, shifting her weight from foot to foot, as if not used to staying still for even so short of a time.
Just as her lips started to form the word 'water', Andri stopped herself. She felt out of place enough already, without making such an odd drink choice at a tavern. Besides, it was far too likely that any water served here would come straight from the river outside. "Ale," she said simply. The barmaid waited, probably for Andri to say something more. When she didn't, the other woman nodded, gave a somewhat forced looking smile, and left. A glance around revealed that most of the tavern had already gotten over the new arrival, and had now returned to talking about fish and the weather. This made it easier for her to scan the crowd, hoping against hope that she'd see him, recognize him.
This man? No, too old. This one? No, the nose was wrong. For a moment she closed her eyes, trying to bring to the front of her mind that image of the first and only time she ever saw him. He likely wouldn't remember. It had been some ten years ago; she was only a child, then. But his face stuck in her mind. She would surely recognize him the moment her eyes-
There. Across the tavern, sitting alone, leaned back in his seat with his boats propped up on the table in front him. He looked right. At first, anyways. He didn't seem quite as... Heroic as she remembered. He seemed almost weary of everything around him. Of course, he was older, and she'd known that he'd gone into something of a retirement from his earlier adventures, but still. Maybe she was wrong. Maybe this wasn't him, and her eyes were merely playing tricks on her. As she tried to figure this out, she stared at him rather unabashedly, looking away only if he looked up at her. I should just talk to him, she thought, knowing that would confirm his identity for sure. Even if he is different now, he can't have changed too much. Just tell him about what happened, tempt him with adventures and rewards. Surely he will help. She resolved that she would not approach him here. Too public. Rather, she would wait for him to leave, and follow him out. That wouldn't seem too suspicious, would it? Then she could talk to him, and enlist his aid. He would definitely want to come along. He had to.
It was subtlety that gave her a way; it was too forced, too practiced, and she was too far from home to feel comfortable it seemed. Ray had been between flagons when he had noticed her watching him and had made certain to keep one eye on her the whole time. He couldn’t be sure what she wanted and that made the easy lull his mind had been enjoying vanish in the span of a few seconds. Did she look dangerous on her own? No, but there was always the risk of more men. Still…why would she feel the need to disguise herself in a place like this? Women weren’t uncommon in taverns even if she did look a bit young.
Ray let a few coppers clatter onto the table and waved a lazy hand in the barmaid’s direction. “Thanks,” he muttered through hampered breath.
He pushed his chair in and made for the exit. ‘Time to see what mess we can make of things today.’
It was frustrating to think that the world could even find him here, a place he had always seen as a sanctuary against the woes of everything and everyone. Where could he go to escape if not home?
Ray fingered the handle of the rapier hanging from his belt. If he could not find peace, then he would take it. The adventurer started down the road in a half-faked stupor and made for the edge of town.