Here it is finally. This legal theft piece should have gone up on Thursday September 12, but, my friends, you’ve all been kind and patient. It is the companion piece to “The Bobbing Spoon” (also “Part II”) by Gwen of Apprentice, Never Master. I stole her first line.
Thursday morning I told myself that legal theft would be a Tiranvof piece because I have been spending way too little time with my protagonists of late. Gwen obliged my unspoken desire with this first line, to which Aidan quickly responded that he could get in a bar fight; he wouldn’t mind–so thank you, Gwen.
My piece also carries with it a strong PG-13 rating for violence and adult concepts. It may also have the potential to be a trigger. I am sorry.
“How long has it been since we had a good bar fight?” Before she could answer him, the tattooed sailor shoved the barmaid aside with enough force and brutality that she crashed onto the floor. The rest of the common room went quiet and still around them, looking at them—the sailor, Aidan, and Darryn—waiting. No one made to help the barmaid. The sailor, turning back to Aidan and Darryn, cracked his knuckles. His lip curled back to reveal yellowed teeth.
Darryn shrank back but Aidan tilted his head back to look with narrowed eyes into the sailor’s leer.
“I don’t think fighting for her is going to win you any of her favor,” Aidan warned the sailor. His own hands had fisted by his sides. Aidan was no match for the sailor, but Aidan didn’t seem to notice the man’s muscled arms or the head’s height and twice-breadth that he had over Aidan, who was tall himself, having more than a head’s height above Darryn. “And unless you can win her favor, I really think you ought to just let her do her job.”
“Oh but I am letting her do her job,” the sailor countered and, sneering, threw the question to the barmaid, “aren’t I, sweetheart?”
The girl pushed herself up into a seated position but didn’t look up at any of them.
“Aidan, don’t fight him,” Darryn begged by his elbow. “I don’t want—”
“He can’t treat her like that,” Aidan snapped. “I won’t let him.”
“Not your call to stop me, boy. Whore!” the sailor called, and he pointed a rod of a finger at the floor before him, signaling her as one might signal a dog. Down, the gesture said. Darryn grimaced as, cringing, the barmaid crawled forward, not bothering to get off of her knees. No one should be condemned to a slave’s life of fear.
“Don’t,” he moaned, walking over to intercept the girl. He knelt in front of her. She didn’t raise her head, even when he took her gently by the shoulders. “Don’t let him treat you like—”
White-hot sparks played against a curtain of nighttime black as Darryn fell and sat up, spinning, blinking. His head reverberated with hammer strokes where the fist had struck, but the hand that Darryn raised to the ache came away clean without any blood.
Aidan was on the man before Darryn could shout a warning. Their thuds and grunts and swearing as they pummeled and wrestled one another was backed by a riot of men’s hollers as the common room erupted from its suspended animation, and the tavern’s mistress called, “Please. Not here. Take it outside, but not—”
Aidan was below the man before long, victim of the worst of the sailor’s blows and thrust into the defensive.
Landing another blow against Aidan’s head, the man spat, “Have you had enough yet, boy? Do I have to rip out your tongue to keep you silent?”
“Get,” Aidan said, catching the sailor’s fist against his outthrust hand, “her out of here, Darryn.”
The sailor growled, and kicking Aidan in the chest as he stood, lunged for the girl as Darryn scrambled toward her too. The sailor caught Darryn’s foot, and Darryn, seeing the hardwood coming to meet him, let out a squeal as he wrapped himself tightly in his arms, and twisted to avoid falling on his face. The sailor stomped past him, and he grabbed the girl by the arm, yanking her to her feet as Darryn was turning over and scrambling back upright. She let out a groan, but his arm went to her throat, and he pressed her against him, back to front.
Darryn took a step forward, and the man tightened his hold, forcing the girl’s head up. “Pretty, isn’t she?” he said, and he forced his tongue between her teeth. “You should see her with her clothes off,” he said. Keeping her pinned by the throat, he tugged with his other hand at the lacing of her bodice.
Another one of those unnatural stillnesses had taken the tavern, or maybe Darryn only had become deaf to the noise.
“Let her go,” Darryn said into the stillness.
“I don’t want to,” the man grunted. He had gotten the tie loose and was now wedging his fingers down beneath the lacing, working it free from the top eyelets, and unnecessarily groping the girl while he did so.
Darryn glanced back at Aidan, who was pushing himself to his feet. He had a hand at his chest. The other had gone to the handle of a knife that he had been unable to reach during the fight. He didn’t draw it. One of those blows seemed to have gotten the peril of their situation through his skull. They were outnumbered by older, more experienced, more heavily armed men in a town that neither of them knew. And yet—
Darryn looked back at the sailor. He had gotten the girl’s bodice free now. His hand was beneath her shirt, too obviously clenched around the girl’s breast. Her face twisted as his hand did.
“Let her go,” Darryn said again.
He looked back, and Aidan nodded grimly.
Darryn took a breath, reaching inside of himself to stir into fire the embers that burned in his chest. The fire raced down his veins, pooling in his hands readily. He opened his eyes, but didn’t look to see if anyone in the tavern recognized the tang in the air that Aidan promised he could.
Darryn lashed out with the pooled fire, aiming carefully. The man and girl both shouted, and Darryn withdrew quickly, but Aidan was already charging forward. The knife in his hand flashed as he tugged the man’s head back by a fistful of hair and placed the blade at his neck. “Listen to him,” Aidan warned. His voice was low, but it carried across the still tavern.
The man let the girl go. She stumbled away from him, clutching her breasts. Darryn went to her, catching her before she could fall to the floor. “Where?” he asked, still not daring to look around the tavern. “Where do you want to go? We’ll take you,” he promised, “take you with us.”
She shook her head, pushed him away, and stood on her own strength.
This left Darryn alone in the midst the room. He swallowed as he noticed the weight of the eyes upon him. If any of them recognized or guessed what he had done, he and Aidan would be driven from the tavern. They might be driven from the town. The consequences might be worse than that even. “We should go,” he said to Aidan. Best not to wait for the patrons to regain their audacity.
“Not yet.” Aidan pushed the knife against the man’s throat. “You’re going to protect that girl tonight, any night that you are here. If any man tries to touch her without her consent, you’re going to remember my knife and you’re going to remember that fire in your chest, yeah? Don’t think we can’t find you. Don’t think we won’t know if that girl gets hurt.”
Aidan lifted the knife and shoved the man forward then Aidan came around from behind him, turning his back boldly on the man. He grabbed Darryn by the elbow and tugged him out of the tavern and onto the street.
“I won’t know,” Darryn reminded Aidan as they hurried away into the darkness.
“They won’t know that. Now come on.”