Corin swayed in his seat. He glanced at the man who had alternated buying rounds with him for the better part of the day. He thought Garl about as ugly as a man could be without the mother abandoning the baby in the wilderness. He turned around to survey the now bustling common room of the Slaughtered Calf. Townsfolk from Graffe filled in the gaps where a see of blue and dark yellow cloaks now mingled side by side. Only one brawl had broken out all day, and that was between two soldiers from the Republic accusing each other of cheating at cards. He chuckled as he remembered Garl stomping away from the bar to clout to two men and toss them out into the street. He turned to his new friend and asked, “Another round?” Garl drained the remains of his cup and gestured the barkeep in response.
Corin knew why he was getting drunk at the bar today. A lifetime of military service set to end with an honorable discharge. The treaty that had led to the end of conflict with the Republic specified that both nations scale down their standing armies to a mere fraction of what they were. Two of the three soldiers he arrived at the bar with this morning would be returning to work their family farms. The other was overjoyed to be returning to his job as a clerk at the capitol. Corin never picked up a trade other than warfare. He sighed as reality cut through the drunken stupor he attempted to mask it with.
“What do you intend to do, Garl?” he asked. The short, bald man next to him shrugged, nursing the ale that they had switched to after the first cask of Ogre’s Spit. “I’ve got a commendation to look forward to.” Corin continued. “After that…” He waved his hand in the air. He meant to indicate the open possibilities of the future. Garl sighed as if he understood the truth that lay behind the gesture.
“Least you’ll get a shiny medal.” The man said, slurring throughout. “Luckiest I’ll be is playing guard for some merchant scared of all the men like me who are gonna turn to banditry.” He spat to punctuate just what he thought of his luck at such forthcoming opportunities. Corin scratched the stubble on his jaw. Mercenary work sounded much better than begging for a job working as a stable hand to him.
“You ever consider going into business for yourself?” he asked his drinking companion. Garl narrowed his eyes. Corin could see the man’s mind working to encompass this new concept.
“You mean, starting my own crew? Pah, banditry don’t pay near enough.” The man hocked up a glob of phlegm and added it to the floor. Corin rolled his eyes. The wagon had stopped short of its destination.
“No, I mean…stopping bandits. Two men good with a sword and with a firm grasp of both countries could make a fair purse rooting out bandits before they even have a chance to attack merchants.” He said. He hoped Garl could see where he was leading him now.
“What’s the difference between that and signin’ up with a caravan?” Garl asked, looking at him sideways. Corin thought the man seemed more open to his proposition now.
“We wouldn’t have to travel with them for one. I suspect we could charge more for our services as well, once a reputation is built. We wouldn’t even have to limit ourselves to bandits. We could deal with the goblins that spring up in the north of the Empire from time to time. Travel both countries. See things far from this boring little border.” Corin was prepared to go on but Garl had put up a hand to slow Corin’s speech.
“We could still drop in here for Ogre’s Spit when we wanted though, right?” He asked. The look on his face explained that his willingness to join such a venture hinged entirely on this one point.
“That’s what I’m trying to say.” Corin said with a smile. “We’d write our own dispatches. No more officers telling us which part of the land to guard. We’d make our own rules. And do what we do best.” He found himself looking up with pride as he finished his spiel. Turning to gauge Garl’s interest caused his grin to go flat. The soldier of the Republic had fallen asleep right at the bar. He pulled out the sheaf with his final dispatch from the capitol and managed to draw a rudimentary map on it with some charcoal the barkeep loaned him. He settled up the remainder of the tab he and Garl had accrued and left. If he was lucky, the other man would meet him midday tomorrow.
Apropos of: The Slaughtered Calf