The tavern was as its name, the front covered in barbed climbing roses. White washed walls peeked through thick canes green with new growth and pink buds. A wooden porch wrapped around the building. Tall open windows leaked smoke and voices. The Thorny Rose, known for its food, company, and music, gathered a varied and frequent crowd. The beer was strong, the wine sweet, and the owner no nonsense. Person and parcel were safe in his rooms at night. Several men who had seen the rough end of Beyl stood guard in the house and yard ready to make a quick end of trouble. If Ben remembered right, the owners first wife had been named Rose, also thorny, to hear Mari talk about her.
Inside the Rose, tables and chairs covered the floor. People crowded at the bar and filled the booths lining the walls. A raised stage on the other side of the tavern stood empty. They found a place to sit along a wall. Ben settled back in his chair and nodded to the townsfolk he recognized. A good half of the patrons were local, the rest where travelers, and still others here for Revel.
Ben raised a hand at a girl in a green apron. “Hey, Mari. Busy crowd tonight.” A loud group of men dressed in strange finery sat at a trestle table. From the look and sound of it, they had been drinking for quite a while. He watched as one of the men grabbed a passing serving girl. She wiggled away, a look of annoyance on her face.
Mari frowned, “Just because it’s Revel doesn’t give anyone reason to be rude and that lot thinks they can do anything. Grabbing everybody and such". She rubbed a bruise on her arm.
“Who are they?” Ben asked.
She shook her head, “Fancy merchants from Basillica City in Pria. They paid the old man plenty for most of the rooms upstairs so the house guard gives them more liberty. I’ll see what we have in the kitchen for you.”
One man drank alone next to a low fire close to the merchants, the remains of his supper still on the table. He was dressed in worn black leather loosely covered by a dark, knee length coat. His face was weathered and lean, full of sharp angles. A thong tied his black hair into a tail low on his neck. Something in his posture made Ben think he was very aware of the room and everyone in it; close attention was paid to anyone approaching the group of finely dressed drunkards.
The man leaned back and stretched out his legs shifting his coat to revel a long sword in a scuffed up scabbard. Hanging from his earlobe, a dark jewel glinted.
Ben’s attention focused on the man. “Look at that man by the fire. No, don’t turn around. That’s too obvious.” Ren and the girls shuffled in their seats and rearranged themselves until they had a better view of the room.
“What, Ben? He’s a soldier,” said Reia.
“Look at his ear, at the earring. I think he’s a Red Brother,” Ben whispered.
“I don’t think you have to whisper. He probably can’t hear you over all this noise,” Rendy said.
“They’re supposed to have really good hearing, Ren,” Claire said. “He might be able too. I’ve never seen a Red Brother before.” A pause, “Do you think he’s mad?”
“What does it matter?” said Ben. “They’re all animals. Rabid ones at that. You never know when the blood rage will hit them. I don’t see how anyone uses them for troops and guards. How do you trust your back to someone that might turn on you?” He said disgusted.
The others nodded in agreement.
The group stared at the man. He turned and frowned at them.
Ben gasped and hunched down at the table. The others closed in around him. “He saw us. Now what do we do?”
“Maybe we should leave,” Claire said.
“But we haven’t eaten.”
Everyone turned and stared at Rendy. “Never mind.”