Zuri ambled into the tavern. She didn’t mind that she could just see over the tables. A hundred and sixteen years gave one a lot of time to get used to it. She was a dwarf after all, and one known for her temper. Not many wanted to suffer her company. The smell of baking pies and spiced ham drifted to her. Her mouth watered. The past two months had driven her close to renouncing jerky and all meat foods. Before she came to her sense, of course. The only thing worse was getting hired to guard a merchant caravan that was mostly destroyed, which meant no pay. Zuri sniffed. Was that turkey? Boar? Duck? More sweats? Fancy indeed! But she expected nothing less from “her human”. She never called Lasym that aloud but it was a pet name. Zuri asked him why he’d explained the term if he didn’t want her to call him that. Lasym had only glowered at her. A serving girl bumping into Zuri interrupted her thoughts. Linen skirts filled her vision. The sounds of breaking plates, heavy thuds as wooden flagons hit the floor made her cringe as she thought food and drink being wasted. Zuri tried pushing them away but only succeeded in getting her hands tangled. She let out a string of curses, mixing with those of the serving girl’s. A new voice joined in.
“Stop struggling! You’re making it worse,” Lasym growled. His baritone voice grew even deeper when he was upset.
Zuri stopped struggling but she continued to complain. Once she was free Zuri gave the girl, who she recognized as Nelladrie (but most people called her Nella), a dazzling smile. Lasym shook his head, his brown hair falling into his eyes. Nella was a good friend that Zuri had known since she first set out wandering. Sometimes they were romantic partners; a secret Zuri shared only with Lasym. As she followed him to a table in the corner she remembered the confused look he’d given her. A few days later he’d bought it out again, but only to ask incredulously if she felt the same about him. Zuri payed close attention to her crew members though. Having seen Lasym show no interest in romantic flings the others liked playing at, she’d guessed he was different and already accepted it. He seemed pleased with the answer and they never bought it up again. Lysem didn’t attempt to help Zuri into her chair. What did a dwarf have if not her pride? Once she was settled she grinned up at Lysem. His normally dour expression broke as a small smile peeked through. He relaxed slightly, studying her a long moment before reaching out to put a hand over hers. It spoke volumes more than if he’d attempted to lift her and swing her about. Dwarves weren’t immovable stones, not that they protested the myth, but Zuri had fists as large as Lasym’s head; it wouldn’t end well for him as she’d sternly warned him the one time he tried. So they agreed to a compromise. No pet names and no swinging. As these thoughts ran through her head, Zuri started at their hands. Hers made his look like a babe. But he was to her, even if he’d gotten a tan and thick calluses from his time on a merchant ship. Zuri wanted to ask how long it’d taken Lasym to get his sea legs but the moment seemed too heavy.
“Yeah.” It was all she could manage to say. Zuri coughed to clear her throat. The garrison the caravan stopped at was attacked by bandits. Nothing out of the ordinary except they poured from the hills like ants. Rihyr and Bhyr, two humans who kept themselves completely covered and trained their voices to be neutral, had been missing when the attack ended. They were fresh from home, Lasym called them “barely weaned” and advised against bringing them, but their potential…. Zuri rolled her shoulders.
“I know, you didn’t come for this. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.” Lasym shifted and withdrew his hand but muttered, “Should’ve come with me.”
Zuri laughed, dark braids that draped over each shoulder bounced, gaining an embarrassed chuckle from Lasym. “Can’t have people thinking we’re lovers can we?”
“Never that.” The adoration in his eyes said otherwise.
Had anyone told her six years ago the solemn twenty-four year old was capable of such a look she would’ve sent him off for getting into the rum. But Zuri hadn’t hired a joker, she was enough for them all, she’d hired a spell-sword. And despite Lasym’s demeanor he was more than willing to bend rules where he felt necessary so they got along well, until he decided to bend her rules; never going too far, just enough to aggravate her. Zuri almost traded his contract for another witch’s at an outpost, although he wasn’t as strong. Then the deal went bad. And Lasym helped save her life though he had no obligation to. He said she’d earned his respect, and he had no reason to wish her dead. Little did Zuri know, Lasym may as well have spouted the most sugary poetry for her. And that was only the first year they’d traveled together.
“A copper for your thoughts.” Lasym took a sip from his flagon.
“Just a copper!” Zuri glared at him.
He gave her an exasperated look. “It’s a saying.” He leaned forward, elbows resting on the tabletop. “Besides, why pay more for what I wouldn’t get anyway.”
Zuri pouted and gave him a distrustful look.
“Have I lied to you before?” he asked in a soft voice.
“No.” she sniffed. “And you’d be smart to continue that.”
Lasym raised his flagon. Which reminded her….
“Nella!” Her voice carried even over the racket. Zuri waved at Nella, who smiled despite the grimace she tried keeping on her face. As Nella walked over Zuri caught Lasym’s resigned expression. “I still have some money left.”
“Enough to last until the next job?”
“Yes.” In reality she could buy a meal tonight but she’d need a job by morning. Judging by Lasym’s expression he knew that, but she wouldn’t admit it. He worried enough as it was.
He wanted to protest but they’d already found out just how good the elf’s hearing was. Nella stopped close to Zuri but kept enough of distance she couldn’t reach. Zuri knew it was out of respect for Lasym but she screwed up her face in mock displeasure anyway.
“Can’t expect manners from a dwarf can I?”
“I exude manners!” She stuck out her tounge.
Nella smiled and shook her head. “What will it be?” she asked Lasym.
“Hey! I have money!”
“Like ya did last time?”
“I did.” Zuri gave Lasym a warning look. He put up his hands, keeping his expression carefully neutral.
Nella bit her lip to suppress a laugh. “I’ll just bring the biggest flagon we got. We’ll see just where ya purse is.” Zuri’s eyes lit up. Before leaving she wrapped Zuri in a tight hug. “I’m glad you’re safe, Zuri.” Nella smile was sad.
Zuri waited until she’d gone far enough away and back into her “happy bar maid” role. “You told her,” she hissed.
“It was only right. She worries.”
She sighed, waiting for her drink in silence. Nella returned and Zuri put on a big grin for her. She hadn’t been lying, the flagon was nearly as large as Zuri’s head. When she reached for it Nella squeezed her fingers. Nella placed it in front of Zuri and whispered, “Enjoy.” As if the air was suddenly too weak to hold her words. She slipped away quietly, leaving Zuri and Lasym alone. They toasted each other across the table and took a large gulp; getting lost in their own thoughts.