While the people of the castle retired for the night to reflect upon the great many changes taking place among them, the Winchester pub was lively.
It might be three or four in the morning, but it made no difference to the rowdy crowd. The lower floor was a sea of red faces. Two dozen or so men loitered. They hung off chairs and stools, sampling the latest bit of liquor brought by the tradesman who stood at the door smoking a pipe.
It looked to be a good night for all.
And yet, not all were pleased by the entertainment. One of the regular ladies, a loose woman whose name was of no importance, whined at the pub owner Langdon about the lack of fine young men from the guild.
The men jeered as she pouted. She was a deluded creature, blaming her lack of present employment upon the presence or absence of younger, fresher meat.
“That said, some pretty faces would be nice, Langdon. Ain’t nothing here to interest the younger ones, so they always drift down to the bigger cities. Heard that many a fine lass has taken up in Crossroads with the winter being so rough and all.”
“Like the winter is less rough inside town,” another man leered.
Langdon shook his head as he placed a glass in front of the wailing woman. “You stop your blubbering. Your only company for tonight and the rest of the winter is goin’ to be that glass. You know the lads have been packed off by their guildmaster.”
The woman pushed the glass forward, defeated. “He took ‘em and locked them away in some castle dungeon, for sure.”
“He’s gone soft in the head,” one of the men mused. “First he be wanting to hole up in the guild grounds and now dragging them off to a castle.”
“Twas the stone beasts that made him all chicken-shit for brains. He’s scared.”
“You were scared too, Robert.”
Laughter exploded in the room as ‘Robert’ slouched upon his stool and nursed his drink. There was no kindness in this place, and those who would dare complain of others would receive triple punishment in return.
The man at the door turned his head slightly, his face twitching at their conversation. He had found it uninteresting until the mention of the beasts. He took one more look at the revelry behind him before he took a bit of snuff from the inside of his fine red coat and mused that they must be quite drunk to talk of such nonsense.
He could have joined them at their tables, eating their food and drinking their spirits. After all, he had provided it to them at such a generous price! But he did not want to risk dulling his senses. He anxiously waited for the first sign of sun so he could hurry south. He knew he was late in catching up to the others. They were likely meeting now, discussing what they each had seen of these towns.
He wondered if they, too, thought the entire area a disaster. When the ships arrived, it would be over all too quickly.
He struck the head of a match against the box, enjoying the hissing sound as the flame sparked to life. But once he needed it no longer, he flicked it away into the snow. He heard a small, soft sound as the burnt match fell upon the snow; it was the sound of small insects skittering away.
He paid them no heed, for they were inconsequential. Sooner or later they would be crushed under the heel of other creatures — the true kings and queens of this world.
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