“What’s goin’ on, Fatso?” asked Treben Holkas as he slid onto a grimy bar stool in a different grimy bar. His question was directed at the bartender, a large, one-eyed bald man with a sour expression on his face. Kyla held her breath as the bartender gave Treben a look like he was going to smash a beer glass over his head. Treben just grinned goofily back at him, and then, to Kyla’s surprise, the bartender’s weathered face broke out into a huge grin.
“Treben Holkas, you are a sight for sore eyes,” the bartender said with a hearty laugh, “Or sore eye, anyway. Where’ve have you been hiding yourself? I haven’t seen you in nearly five years!”
“Oh, I’ve been here and there,” Holkas said with a wink, “You might recall that the ISS put a bounty on my head. I was trying to keep a low profile out in the colonies, and then the war broke out, and, well, business has been booming.”
“Well, I’m glad those bastards never got you,” the bartender said, shaking his head and smiling, “I daresay they have bigger problems to worry about now than a small-time smuggler.”
“Hey, now,” Holkas said, faking indignation, “I’ll have you know that I was the biggest smuggler in this sector until the ISS busted me. Maybe even the biggest smuggler in the outer provinces!” The bartender just chuckled.
“So who’s this lovely lady?” he said, bowing his head slightly in Kyla’s direction.
“Kyla Vertrane,” she said, sticking her hand out for him to shake. Instead of shaking it though, he took it and kissed it gently, a gesture that Kyla was not used to, and certainly was not expecting from a one-eyed bartender in a dirty bar. She blushed slightly, and said, “And you are?”
“Oh, this is Fatso,” Treben said, popping some nuts in his mouth and crunching loudly. The bartender scowled at Treben and turned back to Kyla.
“Ignore this lout,” he said, “Some people find it amusing to make fun of my girth with a rude nickname, but you can call me Garvin Lotora.” Kyla smiled brightly at him, and Treben grinned mischieviously.
“Oh, Fatso,” he said, “Don’t take it so hard. Nobody’s making fun of you. It’s a term of endearment!”
“Oh really?” Garvin said with an arched eyebrow.
“Yeah!” Treben said, “We only call you Fatso cause you’re fat!” Kyla failed to stifle a snort of laughter, and Garvin frowned at her.
“I see how you are,” Garvin said in a wounded voice, although he ruined it by smiling slightly, “I show you manners and you repay me by laughing at my weight problem? And here I thought you would be better than that.”
“Well, now you know the truth,” Kyla responded with a grin, “I’m just as much an uncultured lout as Treben here.” Treben and Garvin both chuckled at this.
“As much as I’ve missed horsing around with you, Fatso, we do have some work we need to do,” Treben said, his demeanor growing more serious.
“Of course, of course, old friend,” Garvin said. He poured a beer for each of them and put them down on the bar. Kyla took a suspicious sip, and was surprised to discover that it was some of the best beer she’d ever had. Treben took a long swig of his and sighed contentedly.
“Ah, I’ve missed you, Fatso,” he said, “Okay, first of all, what can you tell me about the Kingdom of Midigal?”
“Worst kept secret in the city,” Garvin said with a snort, “The Merchants’ Council thinks they’re being clever and hiding it from us plebes, but we all know that they’re about to announce their secession from the Empire.”
“I knew that much,” Treben said, “Do you know any details? Especially timing?”
“I’ve heard all kinds of things, but nothing really concrete,” Garvin said, grimacing, “The Council is doing a much better job of locking down the details.”
“How about guesses?” Treben asked.
“If I had to guess, I’d say that the announcement is most likely going to happen in about two weeks,” Garvin said with a shrug.
“Two weeks…,” Treben said, stroking his chin. He glanced over at Kyla, who raised her eyebrows slightly. “What do you know about Haasadis Ventelin?”
“I know a lot of things about Ventelin,” Garvin said with a sneer, “He’s Midigal’s most famous son, isn’t he?” He spit on the floor to show what he thought of that.
“Anything specific?” Treben asked.
“Well, I’ve heard a lot of reports that he’s been staying in the Council Hall for the last few months. Don’t know anything more than that,” Garvin said.
“Hmmm,” Treben mused, “Well that certainly matches up with other things I’ve heard.”
“Oh?” Garvin asked, “What do you mean?”
“I mean that the rumor is that Ventelin is going to be crowned King of Midigal in two weeks,” Treben said.
“Ugh,” Garvin said with a sneer, “I’ve no love for the Empire, but I think I’d rather stick with them than have that buffoon as a king.”
“Well, I don’t know that you have much to worry about there,” Treben said, taking a swig of his beer. Garvin squinted at him.
“Are you… What are you up to, Treben?” he asked suspiciously. Treben just replied with a wink and a grin. Garvin shook his head with a sigh. “I see how it is. Well, let me give you a friendly word of warning, on the off chance that you try to bust into the Council Hall. Vor Shen is here on Midigal.”
“What did you say!” Treben exclaimed, slamming his mug down on the bar. All trace of mirth was gone from his face. Garvin just gazed back at him evenly. Kyla looked back and forth at the two of them, utterly baffled at what had just happened. After a few moments, Treben leaned back, his face completely blank except for a slight twitch in one eye.
“That’s okay,” he said, but the tone of his voice made it clear that it was anything but. “It doesn’t matter.” Garvin gave him a skeptical look, but kept quiet. Kyla just looked more baffled than ever. “Thanks for your help, and for the drinks, my friend,” Treben said, “Come on, Kyla. We need to go.”
To be continued…