Gin and I hadn’t been to anything even slightly resembling a restaurant, so we were grateful that Dara had ordered for us. The stew was like nothing I had ever tasted before. The broth was a deep brown color and very salty. There were chunks of tender meat that wasn’t like the game I had eaten back in the jungle. It was also loaded with vegetables. There was a pale green, leafy vegetable that I gathered was Cabbage and Ale’s namesake. There were also carrots, potatoes, and fibrous tiny green half-moons. It was delicious or so different from anything I had ever eaten before that my brain processed it as delicious. While we ate, we began discussing our next moves.
“So, what do you guys want to do?” Dara asked.
“I want to play here!” Gin exclaimed. “I bet these Ronan gnomes know how to get down!”
“I meant how do we want to find our first adventure,” Dara clarified.
I glanced around the tavern and didn’t see any jobs posted. I had always heard that adventurers get jobs from a wanted board. I was confused.
“I thought there were supposed to be jobs posted somewhere here,” I expressed.
“That’s more for big cities,” Dara explained. “In small towns like this, everyone basically already knows what’s going on. If someone needs help, they just ask their neighbor.”
“Just like back home, Ruki,” Gin said. “I guess other people aren’t that different.”
“Yeah, very sweet, I guess. But that doesn’t help us now. We want to be adventurers! We have to have something to do for it to count as an adventure,” I complained.
“Maybe somewhere around here knows someone who needs help and would be willing to pay?” Dara suggested.
“I’ve got it!” Gin said, jumping onto his seat. His small goblin legs standing on the chair brought us face-to-face. “I’ll play here tonight, then you guys can ask around with the huge crowd I’ll bring in.”
“I don’t know if we can count on that,” I began.
“That’s right, Ruki! It is a great idea!” Gin agreed with the version of me he had conjured in his head.
“Is he o.k.?” Dara asked.
“Yeah, you’ll get used to it. Sometimes Gin gets an idea, and nothing we say can pull it out of there. He just has to do it. It looks like we’re waiting until nightfall,” I said, accepting our fate.
“That’s fine,” Dara said. “We need to rest anyway. I’ll get us a couple of rooms.”
There was only one room available at the Cabbage and Ale. Apparently, it was some sort of gnomish holiday, and plenty of people were in visiting family. To be honest, I had always thought that when Gin and I made our great escape, I’d never look back. I had spent years accepting that I would never see my tribe again. It was comforting to realize that other cultures left home and came back for visits. That sounded nice.
Our room was gnome-sized, so Dara and I let Gin have the bed. We both curled up on opposite sides of the room.
“Ruki,” I heard the whisper coming from the bed.
“I’m trying to sleep, Gin,” I complained.
“I just wanted to say,” he began, “I’m glad we could do this together. I talk a big game, but I would have never have had the nerve to leave without you. Thanks for sticking by the weird gnome that wanted to play music.”
While he was being very sweet, it was also undeniably sappy. I would usually call him out for it, but I let him have this one.
“Thanks for sticking by the orc that didn’t want to live in the jungle forever. I’m glad you’re here too,” I said.
“Gods Ruki, don’t be such a sap,” Gin teased.
I don’t know how long we slept, but the window outside looked very dark when we began to stir. I was awoken by Gin springing out of bed and forgetting that I was sleeping beside it on the floor. It didn’t hurt; he was so small after all, but he was already bolting for the door before I could say anything.
“Where’s the fire?” I sleepily asked him.
“I don’t want to miss the crowd,” he said quickly. “This is my first time playing in a real tavern. I don’t want to mess it up!”
He ran out the door and closed it behind him. I looked to the other side of the room, and it looked like Dara was in a similar state.
“Was that Gin?” he asked.
“Yeah, he’s chasing his dreams,” I yawned.
“Good for him,” Dara said. “Do we have to get up and go watch him?”
“Have you never had friends before?” I laughed.
“Is that a real question? I’m a dorky wizard. Of course, I didn’t have friends,” he explained.
“Aren’t most wizards dorky?” I asked.
“Much to my surprise, they are not. I hoped I’d find my people at Arcana University, but it was just a different kind of cool kid that excluded me,” he admitted.
“I know we’ve only known you a couple of days, but I’m pretty sure you found your people. Let’s go support Gin,” I instructed.
We took our time getting read and washing up in the water basin in our room. When we opened the door, I heard a completely different atmosphere than we’d initially walked into. There was a cacophony of voices coming out of the dining room. Gin and I walked out and stood out like sore thumbs. The place was packed with gnomes. They all were about waist high on the two of
us. I felt like a giant. I spotted Gin; it wasn’t challenging from way up here. He was frantically talking to the old lady that was the proprietor of this establishment. I tried to walk over to him without literally stepping over the other customers. That felt rude somehow.
“Please! This is the first real tavern I’ve ever been to. I need to play!” Gin said when I caught up to him.
“If you must,” the elderly gnome relented. “But you better be good. Your room will cost you more if you run these folks out.”
“I don’t think you have to worry,” Gin confidently replied, winking at the woman as he walked away. Was he flirting with this old woman? Whatever works, I guess.
Dara had claimed the “tall folk” table that we had sat in earlier. I gladly joined him. I was not about to continue towering over these gnomes. Gin found an open corner on the opposite side of the tavern. He began beating a driving rhythm on his drum. I saw dozens of red-colored heads turn in his direction.
“Hello everyone, my name is Gin,” he shouted over his playing. “Are you all ready to have a good time tonight?”
The crowd erupted in applause. I had never seen my friend happier. Suddenly all of my concerns faded away. This was the right choice.
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!