3. A Series of Most Unfortunate Events

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Kadav Ersley rolled the dragon scale over his knuckles, his reflection making parodies of himself as it bent across the shiny, ridged surface. He had found it outside the tavern window as if the dragon had left it there in exchange for the heirloom medallion. By his accounting, it would take a lot more than one dragon scale to settle accounts. In one stroke, the infernal beast had stolen his heirloom, demolished his home, wrecked his business, and fatally undermined his authority.

Though the dragon was chief among his antagonists, there was plenty of blame to go around. The serving wenches had abandoned him, the priest reveled in his misfortune, the townspeople shunned him, and the Bursacks—well, they were just the Bursacks. Each fresh mug of ale brought new insights of treachery and betrayal. At the moment, Kadav directed his railings at the townsfolk.

"Two-timing ingrates," he lamented. "That's what this town is. Nothing but a den of back-biting vultures."

Bert glanced up from his mug. "You means a flock?" he asked. "'Cause I ain't never seen a vulture take to no den before. Now wolves and foxes, they like to dig 'em these here holes in the ground. Why do you suppose they calls 'em dens? Just look like dern holes to me."

"You've hit the nail on the head there, Bert. Bloodthirsty wolves, that's what they are."

"Oh, and thieves live in dens," Bert said. "Though I ain't never seen it myself. Now my pa, he once knew a thief that could steal a wooden eye from a blind man's socket without him never seeing nothin'."

"Oh, they'd steal me blind all right, the ungrateful bastards. After all I've done for this town, this is how they repay me." He buried his face in his hands and even thought about sobbing. Like a bitter ale, he was finding that self-pity tasted better the more one indulged.

Bert reached over the bar and placed a hand tenderly on his forearm. "You still got me, Mister Mayor."

Kadav snatched his arm away. He didn't take to touching between men.

"I means that," Bert said with a hint of injured pride. "Now I may have me a drop too much to drink from time to time, but you ain't never gonna find no friend more loyal than ol' Bert, no sir. You bet your bootheels, you can count on me." He pushed his empty mug across the bar.

Kadav filled it from the frothy dregs of the cask. When he slid the mug back over to Bert, it left a glistening trail. He rubbed at the spill with his shirt sleeve, but that only made streaks on the polished black oak. "Ah, burn it all."

Bert's eyes went wide. "You don't really mean that, do you, Mister Mayor?"

"It's just a figure of speech, you blinking fool."

Bert looked deeply injured, but the next draught restored his countenance to its blank-ful state.

Kadav raised his own mug, which had seen almost as much use as Bert's that night, and took a long draught.

As a supplier of spirits, Kadav Ersley was not himself given to excessive drink. He had seen firsthand the effect barley nectar had on the minds and tongues of mortals. Under its seductive influence, pious men declared their most lascivious fantasies, gentle souls turned into brawling bullies, and the fearless cowered like mice. And always tongues would wag, flapping out secrets. Kadav would never dream of betraying those secrets, of course—except when there was profit to be had from their disclosure and the breach of confidence could not be traced back to him. When it came to spilling his own secrets to Bert, he needn't worry there. The town drunk was the perfect confidante, the kind that wouldn't recognize a secret if it poked him in the eye, the kind that no one would believe even if he proclaimed the mayor's every dark deed from the rooftops.

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