I have to admit that this was one of my favorite scenes to write. It’s nothing more than a conversation between Darwin and a mysterious stranger. Good amount of humor and it gets the plot pointed in a specific direction. Yet, there’s another reason I like this scene in its entirety. There’s a specific picture that it paints for Windemere and certain figures in its history. Sadly, I can only show part of it.
Quietly tiptoeing into the tavern, Darwin keeps his head down and nervously wrings his fabric swatch. The noise helps to muffle his entrance, but a handful of alert diners watch as he timidly walks down the entry steps. He avoids eye contact while making his way to a table near the wall, which has a pile of cloaks on one of the chairs. A half-finished mug makes him stop, but a slender elf takes it as she passes by and joins her friends elsewhere. Facing the door, he nearly jumps at the barmaid’s touch to his shoulder. She backs away enough to make him feel comfortable before gingerly handing him a menu. The patrons who have been watching him blush and turn away once he begins wiping tears off his ruddy cheeks. Darwin struggles to focus on finding a drink and meal that appeal to him before panicking about how to give his order without yelling. He is on the verge of running out of the tavern and hiding in an alley when the barmaid returns. She smiles as he points to the stew and pineapple juice, her warm expression helping him ward off a meltdown. A gentle pat to his head helps him relax until he slips a hand into his pocket and remembers Arlinger had all of their money. The halfling kicks his legs and grips the seat of his chair, the anxiety and fear rising faster than he can think.
“Who took my drink?” a voice asks from across the table. The pile of cloaks shifts and reveals itself to be a slumbering man whose face had been hidden by a large cowl. “I guess it serves me right for not paying attention. Oh, sorry about startling you. No need to run away since I’m harmless. Don’t have a sword or shield right now. Think I left those in the wagon. Not sure where I parked that either. Been getting forgetful in my old age. Well, I doubt you took my drink . . . Are you okay?”
“I have no money for my food,” Darwin whispers, his fear of not paying overshadowing his caution around strangers. Seeing the brown-haired man push back his cowl, he is fascinated by the gauze over one eye. “I didn’t mean to sit at your table. There wasn’t anywhere else to sit and I thought you were laundry. What happened to your face?”
“A very old injury, which always reminds me of my crazier, younger days,” the man answers with a grin. He knocks on his leg to show it is made of wood, but winces when his knuckles crack. “I really need to take better care of the parts I’ve got left. They don’t always grow back. By the way, my name is Simon Ham . . . Hamsterson. Almost forgot who I was there, which would have been embarrassing. What’s your name and why are you upset?”
“I’m Darwin . . . I don’t know if should talk to you,” the halfling admits while his meal is placed on the table. Remembering his lack of money, he is about to cry when the stranger rolls a diamond sphere to the barmaid. “Thank you. I’m sorry if I caused you any trouble. I’m lost and scared. My . . . Things keep happening to me and I don’t understand why. Now, I can’t find my cousin. He’s the smart and brave one.”
Simon signals for another ale before swinging his fake leg onto a free chair. “That feels better on the muscles. Now, I don’t know your cousin. I’m sure he’s exactly what you say he is and is out there looking for you. Still, I don’t think you should sell yourself short. We just met, but it’s smart of you to come to a tavern. If I was looking for someone, a place like this is where I would start. It’s also very brave since the easier path is to sit still and wait for your cousin to do the work. That sound a little thick? I never got the hang of these speeches even in my mercenary days.”
“It was nice.”
“This old man will take that as a victory.”
“You don’t look old.”
“The wrappings are pretty, but the insides are kind of battered.”
“Are you a present?”
“Guess that joke didn’t work.”
“I can laugh if you want.”
“No. It’s best that I know when I’ve failed.”
Feeling happier, Darwin hungrily eats his warm stew while Simon calmly sips at his fresh ale. The halfling senses that he is being examined, so he freezes and looks up with his spoon sticking out of his mouth. All he sees is the warrior taking a long drink from his mug with his single, ice blue eye closed. By the time the ale is done, the barmaid returns with a fresh mug, which is dripping foam down the sides. Blindly eating his stew, Darwin stares at the yawning man, who starts suffering from hiccups and burps. For a moment, the halfling thinks he sees a light shimmer along Simon’s throat, but he forgets about it as soon as he tastes a carrot. Sifting through his meal, he hunts down more of the tasty vegetables in order to eat all of them before moving on to the juicy meat.
“Do you have a drinking problem, Mr. Hamsterson?” Darwin asks, causing the warrior to cough into his mug.