Heimarian Odyssey - Chapter 7

The only ones still standing once the dust settled were Suzanne, Locke, and his men. Locke went to the leader, settle his foot on the man's chest uncomfortably close to his neck, and lowered his head to him.

"Where did this gall come from? With what guts do you steal the Faustian army's money?"

Indeed, it didn't matter whether the money was still in their possession or not, Faustian money was Faustian money, and there was no doubt all the money in Suzanne's bag was Faustian money, they were the only people still patronising the tavern.

"It's my mistake. I won't do it again..." the middle-aged man said humbly.

He was holding his bleeding mouth, his eyes begging for mercy. Locke's irritation lessened somewhat at the man's apparent remorse, and his men calmed some as well.  They couldn't well beat up men who were offering no resistance. The baron was nothing if not a disciplinarian, especially where interactions with civilians were concerned. If they went too far, the hammer of justice would come down on their heads.

"Buzz off!" Locke barked, giving the man a one final kick as he stumbled to his feet and made for the door with all his mates.

The afternoon's chaos vanished as quickly as it had flared up, and the room was empty again. Locke waited for the men to disappear from view beyond the tavern's doorway, and for one of his men to close the door behind them, then turned to the stunned owner, clearing his throat to draw her attention.

"T-thank you... I... I..." she stammered.

Her mind was still trying to process what had happened.  She hadn't yet figured out how the thugs had been beaten up, but she at least already understood the soldiers had stepped in on her behalf, for which they had her gratitude.

"It's fine," Locke said before she found her words, "If you'll excuse us."

The sky's last colour was rapidly dying and the town building's windows were lighting up with flickering candlelight. The smell of dinner hung in the air around the base and Locke knew that would not last long. Locke's squad made for the door, and he followed behind. Before he could close the door behind him, however, he heard Suzanne sniffling again. He spared a glance over his shoulder and saw her wiping away tears as she leaned against the counter. He motioned his men off and turned back. He couldn't well just leave such a beautiful women crying on her own, not after he'd so thoroughly acted the heroic gentleman.

"Come now, there's no need to cry. Feel free to call for me if you need anything."

He intended to make for the door again, but the woman burst into full-blown sobbing. Locke didn't know what to do with her. He knew every which way to put an enemy down, temporarily or permanently, but he didn't know how to handle crying women. They were more frightening than any enemy fighter.

He would have turned to his men for assistance, but they were long gone by now. He suspected they'd made even more haste after they noticed what was happening. No doubt they thought he wanted some time to reap his rewards, so to speak. The realisation made Locke even more uncomfortable. Much as he wanted to up and run, he couldn't leave while she was still crying. He was absolutely terrified someone might walk in on them and think he was the one who'd made her cry. That misunderstanding would be even worse since he was in uniform, and it would blemish the army's already bad reputation with the townsfolk. So he just stood there, fidgeting like a bored schoolboy while he waited for her to calm down.

It took several minutes, but her sobs eventually calmed back into sniffles. Suzanne stole surreptitious glances at the man that had turned into a statue. She had expected him to sweep her into his arms and comfort her, but instead, he'd frozen like a teenager too awkward around girls to breathe properly, and she giggled. The thought made her finally realise just how young the soldier actually was; even younger than her, in fact.

Her sweet giggles unpetrified Locke. He glanced at her and noticed her smile. It wasn't her usual, only half fake, business smile. It was instead an entirely genuine, and absolutely terrifying, playful, devilish smile. The smile of a vixen which had spotted prey. It sent a shiver down his spine but also sent his heart aflutter. The expression lasted only a moment, just long enough for him to notice, then she realised what she was showing and lowered her head shyly, muttering thanks.

"Don't worry about it," he said.

He gave up, then, gave up on making it back in time for dinner, even gave up on the thought of making it for his shift on the watch. He knew his men would cover for him. He didn't know why he knew with such certainty that he was not going to make it back to base tonight, but he knew, sure as the night was dark, that he wasn't, and his mouth twitched into a hunter's smile.

Suzanne caught his smile through her hair, and saw his eyes wander from her. She followed his gaze and saw her undergarments dotting the floor. A squeal escaped her mouth, a most unladylike squeal and she dropped to her knees, frantically clutching at the clothes, stuffing them into the back as quickly as her hands got hold of them.

Locke winced at the sudden shriek and rubbed his years.

"No point in hiding them now, I've had plenty of time to get a good l--"

He stopped mid-sentence when he realised how big the upper pieces were, and the current angle he had made the organs they meant to cover very visible to him, at least the shape beneath her clothes.

"They're huge..."

The words were more breathed than spoken, but Suzanne heard them, more in his voice than in the sounds his voice made, and shrieked. She clutched the bag to her tightly, but her tight hold squeezed the bag open and only showed them to him again. That vixen smile had completely vanished. In the three or four seconds since she'd noticed his gaze, she had turned from the vixen into the rabbit. She took several deep, calming breaths, regained her composure, and relaxed her body intentionally. She closed it and pushed it behind the counter before facing him again, keeping the counter between the two of them.

"I should head back," Locke said, despite his certainty that he wouldn't be returning.

"You haven't had dinner yet, have you? And I doubt you'll make it back in time to get it back at base," she said with a calm that surprised even her, though her voice was also far more sheepish, timid even, than she would have liked, "Would you like to have dinner here?"

She calmed down further when she saw he appeared even more awkward than her, despite his outraged half-spoken words earlier, and a bit of her boldness returned to her. This was a good chance to thank him and get on his good side, she told herself.

"Alright. Thank you in advance," he replied, "but please, don't do too much, I'll be happy with anything you can provide."

The day's service was over, and that meant the kitchen was empty and the fire was cold. It would take all too long to get it going again and start making a new meal, and Locke did not want to make her work that hard. Since he wasn't paying, he also didn't want to make her make something expensive. The town's economy was in tatters because of the recent fighting which had preceded the conquest, and the people were thoroughly impoverished. Locke expected this would be even more so the case for Suzanne since her earnings were clearly being pinched on the regularly by those thugs.

"I won't be long," she said and moved to the front of the tavern to lock up.

The door was shut and she barred it with a heavy crossbar which slotted into two hooks in the door frame, one on either side of the door. She fluttered to the kitchen thereafter.  Locke noticed a slight tinge of pink on her cheeks. She looked like kid caught in the larder and he felt his body stir.

He decided to keep himself busy, to keep his mind off her, while she was in the kitchen and set about finding and picking up the coppers the thugs had spilt when they'd yanked the bag from her. Suzanne had not bothered since it was already too dark to see them, but Locke had good darksight. It would not be a problem for him to spot the coins even in the gloom that covered the hall.

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