Enrique dipped into the ‘Rusty Sea Lion’ with a group of dock workers relieved of work for the day. The pub was crowded as always, with the barman Rusty still bellowing orders and having a laugh with his patrons.
‘Hey Rusty!’ he yelled above the crowd, the old barman heard him, somehow and waved back, ‘Grog coming up! Your mates are in the corner!’ Enrique waved back in thanks and turned to the table where his friends Javier, Jorge, and Xavier were already drinking.
He walked up to them and noticed they were deep in conversation, and from the looks on their faces it was something serious. ‘What are you lot talking about?’ he asked as he pulled a stool up to the table.
Xavier scowled, the scar on his face making it scarier than he intended, ‘Javier here thinks that we are a bunch of idiots for our beliefs.’
Javier shook his head, ‘No. I think that you are putting too much faith in people and believing they are more than who they really are.’ Enrique looked at him confused, ‘Who or what are you talking about.’
‘Haven’t you heard?’ Jorge asked, ‘The monks of Soncho, Yuki, Chujitsuna and Ai have all declared that the Gods have chosen new paladins to execute their will. They were all chosen during the war.’
Enrique looked at him with a skeptical look, ‘Really?’ The younger man shook his head emphatically, ‘Aye! They have meet them and said they have been touched by the Gods!’
Javier snorted, ‘Touched in the head more like.’ He took a swig of his rum and continued, ‘I’m telling you, they are just trying to score points with the new Queen. She has after all been named one of the paladins.’
‘Let me guess, Ai right?’ Enrique asked sarcastically. ‘No, no. She was named the paladin of Yuki of course with the Sword of Fire and all,’ Jorge answered, the sarcasm going over his head, ‘The paladin of Ai is said to be some Royal Scholar, Iago Reyes I think. He was named to that new commission on peace and friendship.’
‘Reformation,’ Javier corrected him, ‘He’s a smart lad, fell in with the Queen during the war and is now one of her closest advisers.’ Enrique nodded in approval, rumours on Queen Alexandria are that she is doesn’t have a lick of sense and was spoiled by the King. ‘So who did they say are the paladins of Soncho and Chujitsuna?’
‘Uh, an Elf woman named Yuki with a last name far too complicated,’ Jorge answered. ‘Bomei-Kuttsuka,’ Javier filled in. ‘And the Orc Glaucus, from the Royal Guard.’ Enrique was surprised, ‘An Elf? After what they did to us?’ He spat in anger. The war had only ended two years ago, and while most of the scars in their city had been repaired, some would never heal. He looked over to Xavier, the scar on his face would always remind them of the price paid to win their freedom.
‘This Elf is different,’ Jorge said, ‘She fought with us against her people in the war. Got the trust of the Queen and the Royal Council she does.’ Enrique spat again, ‘Noble fools. Elves can’t be trusted.’ Rusty appeared over his shoulder with a tankard for Enrique, and gave him a dirty look, ‘Don’t be dirtying my floors you blasted shit!’ and slammed the drink down on the table.
Enrique gave him a hurt expression, ‘But Rusty! The place is so dark and full of scum that my spit is probably the cleanest thing in this hole!’ The barman laughed, ‘Aye you have me there! Maybe I should be using your spit instead of my own to clean the glasses.’ He walked away laughing as everyone eyed their drinks with hints of disgust.
Xavier brought them back to the conversation, ‘She can be trusted. I’ve seen her in action, she is no friend of those that attacked us.’ Enrique didn’t want to go deeper, Xavier had seen much during the war that he never wanted to know. He nodded in acknowledgment and let it go, ‘So why didn’t the monks of Chie say anything?’
‘They did,’ Javier responded, ‘They said the others were stupid and that no paladins had arrived.’ Enrique took a shot of grog and let it burn his throat before continuing, ‘Why would they say that?’
‘Cause they are in the pocket of Lord Coimbra,’ Javier said, ‘And the paladin of Chie is said to be a Sud huntress named Catarina Sforno.’ Enrique looked puzzled, ‘Sforno? Why is the name familiar?’
‘That is the name of the lad who lead the Sud rebellion! Niccolo, they were cousins!’ Jorge chimed in, ‘I heard she betrayed him during the Siege of Braganza and put an arrow through his eye.’ Enrique scoffed, ‘Ya, and I heard she killed a Gryphon too.’
‘She did,’ Xavier said. And for the first time that night Javier agreed with him. Enrique shook his head, ‘Well fu..’
‘What are you boys talking about?’ asked a woman behind Enrique cutting him off. He turned and saw one of the regulars Salinda. Her blouse was cut low and she had an overbearing amount of makeup on. Must be working tonight Enrique thought.
‘We’re talking about the paladins!’ Jorge said excited. She came and sat on his knee and he turned red. Jorge fancied her and she knew it so she played him like a fiddle. ‘And how its all a load of shit.’ Javier chimed in, causing Xavier to slam his fist on the table.
‘Whoa now!’ Salinda said, taking Jorge’s rum, ‘No need to get violent!’ Xavier ignored her, ‘You can say what you want about those being named paladins. But you can’t deny that Tsuyo-Sa has shown himself.’
And now we get to the heart of it, Enrique thought. Ever since Xavier returned from the war, he was certain that the God Tsuyo-Sa had come into the world. Javier shook his head, ‘The man is an Arautos da Morte! They who rose in rebellion against us. My granddad fought them you know, and he turned into a shell of a man because of it. Drank himself to death in fear they would come to finish him off for fighting them.’
‘Then what of the dragon? Idiana Ryu has returned, and the Arautos is his rider.’ Enrique challenged. Javier waved is hand, ‘The magic of the Elves affected the minds of all involved in the Battle of Cuidad Real. That or they were seeing things. The dragon has not been heard of or seen since the battle.’
‘You calling my experiences a lie?!’ Xavier asked, gripping the table so that his knuckles turned white, ‘I saw it Javier. I saw the dragon. I saw it burn dozens of Elf warriors to ash in a second. I saw it smash open the roof of the Capilla of Tsuyo-Sa and I saw it bring fire and death.’ He shook as everyone at the table and in the surrounding area go quiet. Xavier never said what battles he had fought in, and it seems he was there in Cuidad Real. He pointed to his scar, ‘Where do you think I got this? Not from sitting on my ass and hiding!’
Silence took over as Xavier breathed heavy and his friends hung their heads in shame and discomfort. Salinda, oblivious to what was happening piped in, ‘But the dragon has been seen.’ They looked at her in confusion. She shook her head, ‘Ya. I had a customer from Poder, who said that the dragon and the rider are in the ruins north of Lake Poder. The arena I think he called it. Silly place to be with those queer monks in black there.’
She turned as saw a ship captain enter the pub and she jumped off Jorge’s knee, ‘Sorry boys, but I can’t stay and chat. Girls got to make a living.’ She pulled her blouse down lower and smoothly walked over to the newest patron. Enrique and his friends sat confused.
Xavier downed his drink and stood. ‘Where are you going?’ Jorge asked. ‘North.’ Xavier responded and marched off. They looked at him with despair, ‘Xavier?’ Jorge called to him, but his friend was gone. ‘Bloody fool,’ Javier said and stared at his drink.
Enrique just watched and said nothing. He could think of nothing to say. If the Gods have chosen paladins, and Tsuyo-Sa has really returned to this world, he thought, then something evil is on its way. He hoped he was wrong, but if he was right, he would never see his friend again.