THE RETRIEVER—CHAPTER 9
The sign above the door read, "Iron Eel Inn." The place was a large two-story building set between two other clumsily leaning establishments in the square. Gold lamplight came through the downstairs windows, casting beams of color onto the side street. Strewn about the outside walls, half-eaten apple cores, chicken bones and shreds of lettuce were attacked by the rats from the alley. Yet despite the garbage about the place, patrons crowded the entrance to get inside. A raucous of fiddle play and men belting out cleverly poetic lyrics came out the door. To The Knight, the people looked rather seedy, their faces hardened from a life of drudgery or resentment. As he watched from across the way, he could also see that many of them, even the women, looked like they had just come out of the fields. If he was going to need a guide to take along with him, this looked like the place to find one.
He tied his horse to a birch then picked his way to the inn. The chains in his boots clinked, so when he approached the door, a few faces turned in his direction. He saw them gawking at him, looking at the gold in his gloves and boots and embedded in his chest plate. His height, uniform and the ax in its carrier must have given them the impression that he was someone important. He noticed one woman tapped her friend on the shoulder, whispered something, then moved aside as he reached the first of two crumbling steps. The folks surrounding the door created enough space for him to slide through and enter.
Inside was a collection of long tables topped with large, white candles, arranged among four circular wooden columns. Each column had a different carving, coiling from the floor to the ceiling: a dragon, a snake, a fish, and an eel. Two chandeliers made out of cartwheels hung from the ceiling, trimmed with ivy and grapes, its lit candles flickering in glass. The people at the tables and those standing about held mugs but were not drinking from them. Instead, their focus was either on a fiddler and the singing around him, or a dagger throwing contest near the back of the room. A large cross section of a tree trunk sat against the wall and served as a target for the men in the contest. There was a roar when one of the men hit the bull's eye. The placed smelled of fruit, sweat and ale.
The Knight walked over to the bar counter at the far right of the room. The bartender, a short barrel-chested man with thinning red hair, greeted him. He wore an apron and a shirt loosely fitted about his frame.
"Hand it over, sir," the bartender said, pointing at him, just above the shoulder.
The Knight looked behind to where the man's finger was directed. After a pause, he turned his head back to the man and just stared at him.
"Your weapon," the man said. "We don't allow them in here. So, hand it over."
"No one takes my ax."
"Look, sir, rules are rules," the man said. "We run a decent place, and if there's going to be any fights breaking out in here, it's going to be fought fair."
"They're throwing knives over there."