The other night I was down at Kayar’s Tavern with my friends Quoon, Ostavon, and Fafafa. We tried to meet once every swing or so, but this was the first time since I had become a Rosolla Guard. Quoon is a gardener; he used to have a roost in the same building as Wande and me. Ostavon, a merchant’s clerk, is an old friend of Quoon’s. And Fafafa had been in the Wallentorp army with me. He now does private soldier work around Crideon.
We had settled on Kayar’s almost a year ago as our favourite place to drink and sing. The beer was good and they had a spellball table, which we sometimes played. And it was about halfway between Ostavon’s roost and ours. Sometimes Wande joined us, and sometimes Ostavon’s wife Geme, and sometimes Quoon’s husband Schrall.
I had just finished telling them about Tharus and his theory of current politics, and they were laughing. “Swans,” Quoon said. “I wish the pisser was right. It might mean more business for me. At most of these lauran manors, they do most of their own gardening. Just walk through the place and the flowers sit up straight and untangle themselves.” I hadn’t told them about what happened to Tharus the next day.
“Old Candur,” Fafafa said, leaning back and sipping. “He’s doing all right?”
“He’s fine. Keeps in training with his swordsmanship. Doesn’t work us too hard. Hasn’t thrown a bucket of paint on anybody yet.”
Fafafa spluttered, and sat up. “I remember that! Gods, that was funny. Hoy, has he brought any other of us Wallentorp blades in?”
“No, just me. Why, do you want to wear the blue and red?”
“No,” he told me seriously. “No, I don’t think that would suit me.”
“Wouldn’t suit me,” Quoon said. “I feel like already spend enough time doing what laurans tell me to do. One way or the other. Nothing against them, of course.”
“Of course,” Fafafa said.
“Understood,” Ostavan said. “Well! I can’t stay too long tonight, my scholars, because Geme hunted out a couple of early snobals today.”
“Ahh, lucky man,” Quoon said. “Schrall and I have a fellow in the market we like to buy from, but he keeps saying, ‘next swing, next swing’.”
“I always wondered,” Fafafa said, “how you two made that work with the snobals.”
Quoon said, “There’s no trick to it. There’s a wife-and-wife couple in the next street that we get together with. They’re good with their knives. And also sometimes we just go to my sister’s family up north. They always have plenty.”
“That sounds nice,” I said, just to say something.
“You and Wande weren’t together last year, right?” Quoon asked. “What did–“
“No, we met right at the start of the winter. Just before you moved out.”
“That’s right, I remember that. Oh, good night, Ostavan.”
Ostavan was standing and pulling on his mantle. “Good night, all three.”
“Remember,” Fafafa said, “don’t eat the rind!” We laughed.
“Listen,” Ostavan answered, “when it comes to snobals, it’s a wonder I don’t have cuts on my tongue from Geme’s knife.”
I grinned, to fit in, and Quoon said, “You know, they’re really not bad if you swallow them whole. Just brush them with the blade…”
Ostavan waved and departed. Fafafa said, “What’s the most you ever ate? I finished four once, and I thought I could see right to the other side.”
“Three and a half, but I always had to share with a lot of other fellows. I saw my nephew eat six small ones once, though. Ybel?”
I had timed a drink of my beer for the end of this question, but they were waiting for my answer. So I swallowed and said, “Ah, I don’t know. Who counts?”
“Oh, big man, doesn’t-even-matter-to-me. Come on. We all count. What is it, three? Two? We won’t think any less of you.”
“Not at all,” Quoon agreed. “We don’t care if you’re a failure as a man. We like you.” Fafafa laughed.
“All right,” I said. “I just didn’t want to embarrass you. Twenty-one.”
Quoon hooted. “Did you store them in someone else’s stomach? You lying piss spigot.”
I drank again, and stood up. “Hoy, if you weren’t ready to believe my answer, I don’t know why you asked the question. Listen, I’m going to to up and sing.” Appropriately, the song written on the penny card I drew was, “That Was a Close One.”