The Slaughtered Calf

The Slaughtered Calf had traditionally been the drinking establishment of choice of which ever nation occupied the border town of Graffe. Originally, a wooden sign of a calf painted gold had adorned the front of the building. During one of the many shifts of national control over the city, the calf lost its head. The Gilt Calf turned into the Slaughtered Calf. This suited the soldiers just fine. Over time, multiple soldiers deep in their cups found themselves dispatched by men from the other nation who took the city in the night. A visitor to Graffe could always tell which nation held it by the regimental banner hanging outside the door.

On the armistice day, both the blue banner of the Empire and the gold banner of the Republic fluttered in the midsummer breeze. Garl sat at the bar, seven tankards in. Three of his squad mates threw dice at a nearby table.They luxuriated in their first chance to visit the Slaughtered Calf in months. Garl waited patiently for the barkeep to haul up a fresh cask of Ogre Spit. His squad’s laughter died as the door to the bar banged open flooding the room with afternoon light. The barkeep, pony keg securely ensconced in his arms, entered the room and immediately dropped the precious liquid on the floor. The crack of wood and sloshing of liquid filled the silence that accompanied the new arrivals. The barkeep cursed. Garl spared a glance over his shoulder to see who had delayed the enjoyment of his favorite beverage.

A squad of blue cloaks stood glowering at the occupants of the room. A tall man with a shaved head and a puckered scar running from his temple to just past his ear pushed past his comrades to enter. Garl whistled low and to himself with appreciation. The thorn in the side of the 6th Company of the Grand Republic had just walked through the door. Garl wanted to kill Corin more than he wanted to taste Ogre Spit again. He savored the satisfaction of his daydream before the reality of the inevitably resultant court marshal quashed his thoughts.

“A round of your finest ale for my men, Horace. And one for our new, peaceful neighbors from the east. And a flagon of Ogre Spit for myself.” Corin called out as he made his way to the bar, taking a seat two away from Garl. The rest of the blue cloaks shuffled in and set up around the dart board, well apart from Garl’s friends. Horace muttered something indistinct to himself in the surliest manner before barking out, “Don’t break anything!” He then called into the kitchen, “Martha, six ales. I got to get another cask of Ogre Spit.” The barkeep then disappeared down into the cellar.

Before tensions rose up between the dice players and the dart throwers, the barkeep’s wife came out with six tankards with too much foam on the head and hastily served them to the men before returning to the recesses of the kitchen. Garl grunted with displeasure and began spinning an Imperial Talent on the bar.

“Queer. Isn’t it.” Corin spoke to him. Garl grunted without conviction. Corin sidled over to the seat next to him.

“It’s Garl, not Kweer.” Garl said. He slapped the coin down revealing the face of the Empress. He spun it again and it wobbled until it landed on the face of the Emperor. Corin, not dissuaded by Garl’s less than plesant demeanor, smiled and pulled out one of the blue paper notes of the Republic.

“I know you Garl. Those soldiers at the darts have cursed your name more often than not. I just mean it’s strange. This peace.” The imperial held the paper note in between his hands. It bore the marks of multiple transactions. The corners appeared frayed and the ink indicating it as a single note rubbed off to the point of near illegibility. Garl grunted again. Corin continued, “I mean, if this were yesterday, we’d all be trying to kill each other. But here we are, we’ve each got money that’s really only valuable in this town and the other’s nation. We’ve both got reputations and-”

“And we’re both waiting for our fuckin’ Ogre Spit,” Garl interrupted. As if summoned, the barkeep thumped back into the room, another keg of the liquor in his possession. His eyebrows raised in surprise that no one had killed anyone else. Settling the keg behind the bar, he tapped it and filled two tankards with a more than generous proportion of the viscous fluid before placing them in front of Garl and Corin.

Both men took a deep draught of the strong alcohol. They exchanged looks out of the corner of their eyes. Garl began to gulp his down in larger swallows. Corin followed suit. Both Garl and Corin slammed their empty mugs down on the bar top and gasped for air at the same time. Their men looked up from their respective pursuits; one or two of them placed a hand on their weapons. Any concern of a struggle vanished at once when both of the haggard veterans began to laugh.

“Aye, it’s queer, Corin, drinking with a man you called enemy, but I’ll be thrice-damned if I don’t respect a man who can down Ogre Spit like that,” Garl said. A grin split his face and he offered his hand out to the opposing sergeant. A small smirk played at the corner of Corin’s mouth and reached out. The men shook hands, and Garl turned back to the barkeep, “Horace, another Ogre Spit for me and me friend here!”


Apropos of: This Prompt

-Crouse

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