“I still can’t believe you’re really hanging up your adventuring gear,” Asha lamented as she put the finishing touches on the wall mural. Asha was an incredible artist, and she had immortalized one of our more harrowing battles against a trio of storm giants.
“Not all of us have elven blood, Ash,” I replied.
One of the hardest parts of having an elven friend is the age difference. We’d been friends for about three decades. Being a halfling, I was still the same size, but my hair was starting to grey in more than a few places, and I couldn’t walk as far as I used to.
“It’s O.K.,” Asha said, looking nearly as young as the day I’d met her, “I can take it slow. We don’t have to go at the same pace. It’ll still be great!”
“I’ve made up my mind,” I said, a bit irritated she was bringing all this up again, “I have to take a step back. And we both know that there’s no slowing you down. I doubt there’s a man or woman alive that could slow Asha Alistar.”
“I know you’re right,” Asha said, carefully placing her paintbrush onto the drop cloth beneath her.
She walked up to me, crouched down, and gave me a deep hug. I did appreciate her being here.
“I’m just going to miss you so much,” Asha admitted.
“Oh Asha, you know I’m gonna miss you too. But you can swing by anytime. In fact, I expect you to. The Blushing Flail is supposed to be an adventurers’ hang out,” I reminded her.
“It does look great in here,” Asha commented as she stood up and admired our work.
“We have always made a great team,” I said, smiling at her. “You could always take a year or two off and help me out around here.”
“That does sound nice,” she considered. “But I haven’t saved up my treasure like you have. I’ve gotta go back out there.”
“I would pay you, ya’ know,” I laughed.
“Yeah, but real jobs never fit me too well,” Asha said, scrunching her face.
“I know, I know,” I said, “We just have to start building our own lives. Separate from each other.”
I could see the tears starting to form at the base of her beautiful golden eyes. I climbed onto a chair and reached her with a cloth napkin. Instead of taking the napkin, she grasped onto my hand.
“It’s just hard to build a new family all over again,” Asha cried.
She had talked about previous adventuring parties before, at least four or five of them. Watching your friends get older and move on while staying a young woman must be hard. I didn’t know how to comfort her, so I just stood there and let her hang onto me.
“I’m sorry,” Asha finally said, accepting the napkin from my hand and wiping her tears. “This is supposed to be a happy day. You’re starting your own tavern!”
“You can be happy for me and sad for you at the same time,” I said. “But thank you, it does feel good to know just how much you’ll miss me.”
“Do you need any help tonight,” Asha asked.
“Nah, go make some new friends. You’ve got to get a new crew together,” I said, giving her permission to skip out tonight.
“O.K.,” Asha said, “Good luck. With everything.”
“Thanks, Ash,” I said, “And thank you for everything. You’ve been a big help.”
I saw a teardrop begin to roll down her face. She waved at me and walked towards the door.
“I love you,” she said, looking back as the door closed behind her.
“I love you, too,” I said to a big empty room.
The Blushing Flail was set to be Anglachel’s first-ever adventurers’ tavern and potion shop. I know it seems like a weird combination, but I’m an alchemist. Potions are my thing. And running a tavern sounds a lot more fun than running a shop.
After Asha left, everything snapped into focus and felt more real. Everything was clean, but I needed to get everything ready. I needed to get the bread in the oven to bake. There was already stew. Asha had left me her old family recipe and put a big pot on the stove before she left. I had all the ingredients to make two entire shelves of healing potions, but I still had to make them. I ran behind the bar and got to work. As I placed the last potion on the shelf, it was time for the grand opening.
And nobody showed up.
After all that work, not one adventurer came out. It was really discouraging. Since I had a reputation as an adventurer, I thought everyone would want to support me. I guess everyone already has their usual haunts, and I wasn’t one of them.
I climbed up to the window to snuff out the lantern when I heard a bump at the door. I jumped down onto the floor and raced towards the door. I opened it up, and a beautiful red-headed human woman slumped into the tavern. I looked her over and found a deep stab wound in her front, lower torso. The cut seemed pretty fresh.
I sprinted across the room and snatched a potion from the shelf. Most adventurers just drink potions when they’re injured, and as it flows through their system, it will eventually make its way to their injury. That does work, but it doesn’t work fast. This woman needed help quickly. I wrapped my hand in my apron and held her wound open. I bit the cork off the potion and poured it directly into the wound with my free hand. This isn’t always safe. If the healing magic of the potion hit an orifice that didn’t need to heal over, like pores on skin or the inside of a blood vessel, it would heal over and cause more problems in the long run. That’s why you don’t want to rub traditional healing potion on your face for acne. Lucky for this woman, this wasn’t my first rodeo. Once the wound started to close, I quickly snapped the bottle to stop the potion from flowing out. I dragged the woman fully into the bar and shut the door. I took my cardigan, rolled it up, and placed it under her head. I knew she would wake up soon, so I filled up my first bowl of soup and put it on a table near her with a hearty chunk of bread. I headed back behind the bar to pour two mugs of beer.
As I walked back to the table, I could hear her beginning to stir.
“You’ve got a fresh bowl of soup on the table. When you feel up for it, grab a seat at the table and help yourself,” I said.
“Uh, where am I?” She mumbled.
“You’re at the Blushing Flail, a new tavern in the docks district,” I said.
“You run a tavern in the docks? This is a really dangerous part of town. Are you even from here?” She asked as she began to push herself up.
“Of course, I’m an Anglachel native. I can take care of myself,” I said. “You, on the other hand . . . .”
“Right, I was stabbed. How long have I been knocked out?” She said, starting to stand.
“Not long, maybe five minutes. I helped you,” I informed.
“Five minutes? Are you a healer?” She inquired.
“Of a sort,” I replied. “I’m an alchemist and a newly retired adventurer. I know my way around a healing potion.”
She rubbed her hand over her stomach, where her stab wound was. It was fully healed, but the skin was still fresh. She winced.
“Be careful,” I warned. “The healing is still fresh. It’ll still be a little raw.”
“That’s incredible,” she said. “I thought I was going to die.”
“Yeah, you would’ve been,” I confirmed. “What kind of trouble am I getting mixed up in?”
“No, it’s fine. I won’t let anyone know that you helped me.” She reassured.
“I never asked for that. Just tell me what happened,” I said.
“It was my man. He was mad at me,” She said sheepishly.
“That looks pretty harsh for a lover’s spat,” I said.
“He’s not my lover. I guess you could call him my employer,” she said.
“Oh, it’s like that,” I said.
“You probably think I’m disgusting, don’t you,” she said.
“Not at all. We all need to make a living,” I said.
“Well, whenever I don’t bring in enough money, he gets rough with us. I guess I didn’t bring in enough too many times. I can’t go back to him,” she exclaimed.
“Then don’t,” I advised.
“It’s not that simple. Girls like me can’t work by themselves. Then I’ll just get killed again,” she said.
“Work here,” I offered.
“I think you know I’m not a waitress,” she said.
“Do whatever you do,” I said. “This tavern’s an inn too. You can use the rooms upstairs if you need to.”
“And you’ll be expecting a cut, I presume,” she suggested.
“No, that’s your money. If you can bring in a clientele that I can feed, you can do whatever you want to with them,” I told her.
“Really?” She said in disbelief. “That will bring you trouble.”
“I told you I’m a retired adventurer,” I said. “I can take care of myself and my friends.”
“You’d do that for me,” she asked.
“Sure, we can help each other,” I said. “And if you have any friends that want to work here too, they’re more than welcome.”
“That would be incredible,” she said and reached her hand out to me. “You’re going to shake up the streets. My name’s Vera.”
“I’m Lisel,” I said, shaking her hand. “Nice to meet you.”
These stories serve as inspiration for the upcoming short story collection, Tyranny of the Fey. The collection will be released in Fall 2023. You can get a $1 preview now!