"Rob. Robber. Bert. Oi. Staircase Man. Litte!"
A voice finally penetrates my concentration, and a slap on the back of the shoulder punctuates my writing with a very messy scrawl of ink across the page. I look up and back from my isolated corner of a table to see--to no surprise--that Elrusyo is standing over me with four clay mugs of something frothy and dark-colored in each of them. He sits down immediately next to me, and I must pull my parchments and papers up out of the way of a slosh of the odorous liquid which falls to greet the worn old wooden surface.
"Are you going to sit there writing about the carnal exploits of other men all night, or are you finally going to do something worth writing about for yourself? Eh?"
One finger thrusts across the room a ways, toward another table which is mostly populated by women- apparently off-duty locals and members of the family, if the garish and historically inaccurate winged helmets and metallic braziers in their possessions are any indication. Several cups have been emptied already, and their giggling at the male patrons seems to have shifted from career-mandated to genuine. I look back to Elrusyo to see if he is being absolutely serious or not. The half-waggle of an eyebrow and the earnest grin tell me that he is in deed being serious- and that he is already drunk, despite our being seated here for less than an hour.
I ask him what he has done with the wards under my protection, which only causes his smile to widen and deepen in jolliness.
"Stitch Boy and Reed-Neck are currently enjoying the finer points of an education in drinking culture. Haven't you been hearing them?"
A few seconds after this, there comes a clinking of drinking vessels louder and more emphatic than the rest from further down the hall, followed by a mangled pronunciation of one of the many Gertish toasts to good health.
Elrusyo smirks in satisfaction. I take in a deep breath and tensely ask where the rest are.
"The big girl didn't take a liking to any of that, so she got up and said she's looking for the brew-mistress to give her a piece of her mind on all of this. I came over here because you just so happen to be in the perfect spot from which to enjoy the show, and dodge any projectiles."
I make the smudge across the bottom of my last parchment even worse with a resulting forehead-thump of defeat. He gives me another pat on the back, less roughly this time.
"Drink up now, or it's going to be a long night. The boys and their horses will be ready an hour after dawn tomorrow. Did you lot really get them driving through the frost at sunrise this morning? Your campus is run by slavers."
Elrusyo slides one mug toward me despite my protests. But before I am able to both sympathize with his observation and point out that I know better than anyone else the reality of the statement, something catches my eye.
Or rather, the complete lack of something.
In lifting up his mug in order to take a swig, Elrusyo's sleeve falls down along his arm somewhat. Across the inside of his wrist I see nothing but smooth, unblemished skin, interrupted only by a few spots where stitches have mostly been forced out entirely by new skin growth. I reach out to seize his arm, spilling more beer and evoking his protests in the process. Even as I question the directness of my own actions, I pull his sleeve down farther.
Sure enough, it is as if he never sustained a wound to the forearm.
He had been nursing a savage injury up until the very moment I had taken my eyes off of him earlier this afternoon. What could he have possibly done in the time between my sitting down and now?
I look up into his eyes in disbelief, looking for answers. Had he faked it? Was it all a ruse?
He plucks the twine from his skin, discards it, and tips his mug back once more. The glint from before remains in his eyes.
"Just drink up, Ber."
I stare down into the dark, foamy surface of my mug. The first sip feels like trying to swallow an entire loaf of seed bread.