HOLD FAST Part 5: A Splash of Crimson
The sound of breaking glass put an end to the quiet conversation.
A bloodied young man – no more than 18 – was on his hands and knees outside of the tavern, bits of glass clinging to his white hair. His nose looked dislodged; his face swollen. He coughed, spattered blood on the wooden planks.
The tavern doors opened and out stepped a figure more dirt than flesh. He showed his stained teeth in a smile that lacked any trace of glee and leaned down to the wounded elf.
“And I said, ‘I don’t take payment in vegetables,’” he hissed.
The man raised his boot and kicked forward, cracking the young man’s jaw.
Imran heard Gem gasp. He expected to see her hand in front of her mouth, or her eyes damp through latticed fingers…but instead he looked over and saw her furious: Her fists were clenched, and her jaw muscles knotted.
He looked back at the scene before them, and he began to stride towards the assaulter.
The dirty man kicked, raising the beaten figure off the wood. The young man coughed again, sending another splash of dark red onto the porch.
“Excuse me friend, but what has this young man done to receive your ire?” Imran said.
“This dirty draul thought it’d be a laugh if he claimed he couldn’t pay his taxes in coin,” the dirty man said, his words kneaded together like a honeycomb, “I ain’t laughin’ now, and he ain’t neither.”
Imran hadn’t heard the word ‘Draul’ spoken aloud in years, and it landed like a smack in the face. “What taxes need payin’? These folks seem to be well out of any purview.”
“Well well well, ain’t you the geographical sort,” he said with a snort.
“Yeah, and it looks to me like you don’t belong here.”
The dirty man touched his jaw with his lumpy right hand, smearing dust with sweat. He stepped away from the prone figure, towards the barrels at the end of the porch. His left hand tapped the handle of a large dagger.
“I’s about to say the same thing to you. Why don’t you get on your lizard and go die in the desert?”
Imran shifted his footing so that he faced the man. His eyes flicked to the group of barrels and he nearly imperceptibly shook his head, but Bouda understood. Still crouching, she slid her sword back into her scabbard.
“Hear my words and believe with conviction, sir: this is a quarrel you ain’t wantin’ a part of.”
The dirty man took another step and sneered. His hand gripped the handle of his dagger and eased it into the sunlight. It was a cruel blade, hooked serrations lining one edge, a curved point at the end.
“Oh, believe you me, you mud-skinned son of a bitch, I want all of this quarrel.”
Imran’s eyes narrowed, and he reached behind his back.