Locke followed Yoshk downstairs and saw the beautiful woman at the counter again. She leaned against the counter, settling a bill. It afforded him the perfect to gaze down her fair cleavage. Her serious expression as she counted her coins bewitched him so much he almost missed a step and tumbled down the stairs.
Twilight had come and brought with it an orange sky. The last rays of daylight tanned the world gold. Few soldiers remained in the tavern. His own squad, still waiting for him, aside, there were only a couple others.
"It's almost dinnertime, boys. Watch your drink! I'll return ahead of you," Yoshk said to his men.
They nodded, and Yoshk turned to Locke to bid him goodbye.
Locke saw him to the tavern entrance, then rejoined his men. Most were either about his age or younger; none of them had held back on the drink. Apart from Hans and Caen, both of whom appeared somewhat sober, Ade, Ferr, and the rest were flushed and mumbling as they lay flat on the table. There were two or three empty cups in front of each, about a bottle's worth of ale. The ale they'd had, however, was of a far lower quality than what the two jarls had enjoyed in their private sitting. Locke was only paying for their first drink, however, the rest was on them.
"I don't know why you drink so much even though you obviously can't take it. Are you trying to cause trouble for me?" Locke chided as he neared.
They usually only drank a cup or two but Locke had taken his time with his platoon jarl, and the men had decided another round or two was in order. The men now only paid him slight heed. They grunted unscrupulously and shuffled around the table. Caen and Hans were about to force Locke into a seat for two more rounds.
"How can you not drink with us when you're treating us? Sit down and have a cup or two," Caen said.
"Come on, the guys definitely can't take any more. How are we supposed to get back to camp? Wake them quickly and let's get going or you'll miss dinner!" Locke shot back, waving his hands, "My talk took longer than I'd thought it would. I'll treat you again next time."
The men gave up after his concession and started stumbling to their feet. Most were still relatively firm on their feet and Caen and Hans took care of those who weren't. The sky's colour was quickly fading into darkness, and it was even reaching down to the streets.
A group of sixteen burly men dressed in ragged clothing stepped into the tavern. They appeared to be the surviving townsfolk. Locke clocked them without a change in expression. Their leader noticed him just as his mouth opened to shout something, and his words caught in his throat as his lips tightened into an all-too-thin grimace. He kept a surreptitious eye on them as he and his men continued into the tavern, quietly now.
The men didn't concern Locke, so he simply turned back to his men after sparing the newcomers a glance and waved his men to continue their departure as he made for the counter to settle the bill. The ten servings of his men's first round cost him ten coppers. The two bottles he and Yoshk had finished during their talk was another ten coppers. He withdrew his pouch and counted out the twenty coppers before putting them on the counter.
A gulp reached his ears from behind, apparently from one of the newcomers. He felt their gaze on him; more specifically, on the coppers he'd just deposited on the countertop. Twenty coppers, especially in a single hand, was no small sum for a town as small as this one. While the tavern's business seemed to be booming, most of the customers it saw were squatters. They spent more time gossiping than drinking, and usually left with only a single drink to show for it, and the other serf and lower-rate soldiers weren't so lucky as to have a superior as gracious as Locke.
The tavern made an average of 30 coppers a day. On worse days, it might only make 20. Locke's payment was thus the equal of an entire day's earnings. Suzanne looked fearfully at the group of middle-locke nodded curtly, then turned and followed his men.
The men's voices filled the tavern with their heavy Shalorian accent the moment the door closed behind Locke, and he could hear the woman sniffling. He opened the door again, but found four of what he had now decided were vagabonds blocking his view. He stared at them sourly. They'd not taken any action against him, but just standing in his way was enough to piss him off, especially since they were the same kind of people he'd spend his entire military career thus far fighting. He stared daggers at them for several seconds before their courage deserted them and they stepped aside.
He saw a burly one of their number grabbing a bag from Suzanne. The girl was crying and trying to tell him something, but it was lost in her hair, which fell over her lowered face, covering it. The man didn't even hear her. Locke also saw several of the younger vagabonds counting out the coins with which he'd just paid his bill.
"What are you lot doing?!" Locke yelled.
Silence once again fell on the hall. Locke's men heard his growl and appeared next to him, suddenly much soberer. They all knew this atmosphere all too well, even if they had yet to see what was its cause, and several of them were rubbing their hands together in anticipation of the brawl that was undoubtedly going to start any second.
The tavern owner stopped mumbling and turned to the Faustian officer. She knew he was a soldier with a modest, but firm backing. Unlike her other patrons, he seemed to be an upstanding man. He carried himself well, which was why he had left such a deep impression on her.
"Sir, this is a matter between us Giza townsfolk. Do you need anything?" the leader couldn't help but ask.
Locke shot him a cold glance, but didn't stop advancing. His men followed on his heels. Caen and Hans kicked the four who'd been blocking Locke's view just a moment earlier aside. Locke loomed over the malnourished Shalorian vagabond inches shorter than him. The man still held Suzanne's arm. His hand let go without his permission and the young woman yanked her arm back, the bag still in her hand. Copper coins spilt and scattered across the floor, around 30 in all. A few articles of underwear also fell out.
The slap was clear and loud and the man who'd tried to grab the bag staggered back several stepps, his eyes wide. Locke turned to the rest of the man's possy.
The sound interrupted the man's words. Despite the obvious power Locke had put into the slap, the man didn't lose his footing as his mate had. He still spat blood however, and felt a few teeth moving in ways they shouldn't be. Locke's men took the signal and were upon the vagabonds closest to them before the men knew what was happening. Ade tripped one of the youths who had decided to pick up the scattered coins; Hans lifted two men by their necks and slammed their heads together; Caen followed his jarl's lead and dealt out slaps left, right, and centre; even young Ferr got the better of one.