Dance Between Devils Chapter 2 / Strider Series

Dance Between Devils 2.1 – Terrible Wanderer

Illustration by Djamila Knopf

To be alive in the guise of eternal night, where nothing is certain and life is the risk. Where we can fear the unknown or embrace it. That is far more preferable than the natural bindings brought of blood. Fixed destiny, I am dubious of the notion— for it seems the great insult to free will. Despite the luxuries and privileges of one upbringing, the weight may be backbreaking, at times taking away freedoms that many of the common folk seem to take for granted. Yet, there are moments commoners are to be envied, for it is they who may relish in carefree lives.

A soft evening in a slumbering town. One hooded figure halted outside the noisy pub, a figure solidly built: not overly brawn, hardly slender; wrapped in a black cloak, he wears a collared cotton shirt of dark blue. A lift of his cloak or his shirt and he might reveal the riveted steel ringlets covering his neck to the knee. But he was more distinct in his arms, shoulders fully encompassed by plate until his elbow joints, the length of his forearms bound in leather. And he wore a leather girdle with protruding quillons on each side—particularly crafted to mime a man’s knuckles.

Tarrying outside, the hooded stranger paused and peered into the pub, noting its inner light and how distinct it stood from the rest of the dark town. The illumination and loud camaraderie resounding from within made it seem inviting.

“Golden Ale Pub, where wanderers and travelers from every corner of the continent tentatively find themselves. One way or another, they come – The good, the bad, the worse… the worst of the worst… and the foolish, you can say.” He takes a gander over his right shoulder, then in the leftward direction. “Who are you talking to, Neleve?” He starts forward cautiously, beginning entry. Then came a wicked thump, making him strafe left to avoid the tormented man being thrown from the entrance, a hairy individual apparently too dazed or too inebriated—or both—to lift himself.

“And don’t y’ bother askin’ fer another pint ‘fore you have the coin!” growled a dark man by the entrance, presumably the bouncer or the owner.

Neleve quickly and curiously attended to the discarded individual. “Hey, good fellow, you alright?”

The man turned his rugged face from the dirt. “I owe y’ money?” he coughed.

“Nay,” answered Neleve. “Don’t think we’ve met. Face full o’ dirt, I’d remember!”

“Good, cuz there’s not a copper to my name. Now if you’ll excuse me, lad, it’s bedtime.”

“What?” But the sullied man would fell asleep on the dirt road. Neleve stepped closer and inspected the poor man now snoring blissfully loud. A stroke of his chin and a thought later, Neleve reached into his pouch, out of which came a silver coin he then placed inside the man’s ragged tunic. From there, he cautiously proceeded into the pub.Neleve

There’s residue all over the floor, the cracked ceiling appears as if it shall collapse onto the already shriveled furniture. He side-steps towards the vacant table and runs his finger along the wooden edge. After scrutinizing his finger, he shakes his hand with a shudder. Yet everyone seems content, drinking at their tables and recounting their tales, guzzling their ale. There’s rugged fellows laughing together at one table, few gambling at another, and thirsty patrons entertained by the wenches on their laps. Then we have… He caught sight of a man in a brown robe, no hair on his top scalp, beaming him down. As soon as their eyes met, the robed man approached. At their point of meeting, their difference in height became strikingly apparent, the brown-robed man standing significantly smaller in stature.

“Good evening, chap,” said the small man, “you must be new to this establishment, for ne’er have I seen one like yourself in all the days I been here.

“Like myself?” Neleve replied, voice tender and calm.

“Your gait as you walked in mimed a man of status – neither clumsy, nor brutish, nor common-like.”

“You pay such attention to things that don’t matter?”

“It matters, but take it not disparagingly, good chap. A change of characters exercises the mind of the perceiver.”

“What’s that?” inquired Neleve, pointing at the random assortment of colorful sigils secured in glass behind the counter.

“That doesn’t matter,” allayed the small man.

As if he had completely forgotten the case, Neleve switched his focus to a dancing wench by one of the tables. It was a dance uncanny but predictable, as there was no artistic flare, just a tapping of the legs and a swooning of the hips. His eyes shifted to the dust rising from the woodwork, then to the half-filled mugs on the table, then the strange assortment of egging men playing incorrigibly.

“By the way, stranger, y’ have a name? Mine’s Thomas. I’m a Friar.”

“Neleve.”

“Sir Neleve? Baron Neleve? Councilor Neleve?”

“Simply Neleve, Thomas.”

“As you wish, ‘simply Neleve.'” But the Friar focused on Neleve’s eyes, their restlessness and how they failed to rest on him or anything else. “Now that formalities are out of the way, we may be the best of friends. Would you happen to have any coin for the Ecclesia this evening?” And the Friar jovially extended his hand. But Neleve had to ponder for a second.

“Ecclesia, Ecclesia, Ecclesia. I can’t remember what that is.”

“By my faith! Are y’ an absolute foreigner? ‘Tis the Faith, the one true faith. This land’s Faith. Someday, the world. A holy house even resides nearby.”

“Be it that church where the road forks, housing that golden statue of what I presume to be a saint?”

“Eh, well, riches are fleeting and the estate can always use the coin, to be sure.”

He hasn’t mentioned what the church needs coin for, and ‘coin for the Ecclesia’ seems to be a general lyric coercing money out of folk, at least if one is a part of that estate. “Hmmm.” Neleve stared down at the little man for a moment, then reached into the coin purse hanging beneath his belt. “Well, now that you mention it, Friar Thomas.” He pulled out a pristine gold coin and held it up in the room light—”I have something,” then lay it in the friar’s palm.

“Ihirum thanks you.” The eager friar then examined the given currency. It bore a man’s head wearing a crown of laurels. “From what county is this?” He bit the coin, finding no discrepancy.

“Farther west,” Neleve said casually. “Now in what activities can one common man partake, aside from drunken revelry?”

“There’s always players at the tables…”

Neleve peered at the round table indicated by Thomas. “Gambling…”

“Such precarious pursuits suits some, not others. Oft, it hinges on one’s society.”

“Not at all.” Neleve then let his hood down. At last, Thomas could clearly see his sharp facial features: his head of wavy brown hair bearing a thin forefront braid, a freshly kempt complexion of gleaming lightness, and sapphire eyes illuminated by the warm light of the hearth.

At the behest of Friar Thomas, Neleve became acquainted with the shabby patrons dabbling in card play. All the while, the dancing wenches took notice, losing a few steps over their hanging gazes. Neleve would humbly introduce himself, and the card players would receive him with some scrutiny after a quick, up and down inspection of this new player. Grinning, he flashed a few fresh silver coins between his fingers, after which they enthusiastically lent him a seat, caring less for his name than his gait and garb.

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