“They weren’t kidding,” Arius muttered, hissing between the fence of his teeth, as he passed through the onion-shaped doorway and past a pair of blue-and-black attired halberdiers, armored head to toe in scales of several varieties, whose gaze never seemed to sway even as they surveyed gravely the contents within. The chamber was monstrous, a feasting hall fit for a military legion, lined upon its mortared stone cobbles with the natural chaff refuse that would pick up the detritus and be discarded therewith within the course of not even a week. The guardians, stone-faced, bore without the scars of convection wonderfully-constructed oil lamps etched predominantly in glowing brass, though the chamber was largely lit with the fires of a wrought-iron chandelier announced with painted candles detailing the passing of hours, invisible now to the occupants thereunder. A single great bench—in reality several oaken benches tied in a great long team lined the entirety of the eerily silent chamber, otherwise vacuous and absent the rollicking spirit of wholehearted revelry.
The women were already present, seated and occupied broadly in idle conversation that barely raised above a murmur, dressed as they were in immaculate satins and luxurious silks decorated with gaudy and variegated golds, silvers, and gems that would give pirates and bandits fits alike, but for all this, besides the standing guards, there was not a single man present, not a single man to be seen, none at all but for the armored foreigner presenting himself, according to the direction of his bodyguard, in the fashion of a just recently restive soldier arriving triumphant from the field, pauldrons cast away but cuirass still gleaming.
He didn’t have quite the effect of his expectation—that he would hush the crowd and that all eyes would wander to his bulging biceps and throbbing thighs evident nevertheless under so much white linens; no, only a single woman had eyes for him, whose retinas tracked his progress while she commenced to speak buffoonery and nonsense to her conversation companion who seemed utterly unconcerned and glad more potential to speak on her own behalf.
“Matron Barsica,” he boomed with the practiced hyperbole of an oppositional herald, permitting himself the ablution of the salute, “Sir Arius son of Amellitus has arrived within your dining hall at your request.”
She acknowledged him merely, drawn with some irritation from a conversation with a scaled woman he did not recognize, and beckoned him with open palm seat himself opposite her beaming daughter. In a several step motion, he did precisely that, clinking profusely as he sat himself upon this meager throne while he began to wonder the purpose of his presence in some detail. Rina, eyes glowing like the imagination of a child, never blinked, nearly heaving to be in the presence of her fond hero.
Remembering his role, recalling his responsibilities, he asked her simply, “How was your day, my dear—enjoyable? I must apologize for the profusion of sanguine cast before your sight. It was never my intention.”
“Oh?” she replied, leaning back and adjoining the soles of her scaly feet with the site of his quivering genitalia, which involuntarily perked up at the sudden and unwanted physical attention, which brought an unexpected grin to the curl of her lips. “If I had to say so, Sir Arius, I’d say you enjoyed it, something like the glee of an exhibitionist.”
“Heh,” he muffled, squirming about in vain to avoid the tracking of her taloned toes which became increasingly obvious to her neighbors. “Anyways, where’s the rest of the men? I was told the men and women eat opposite, not that the man and the women eat opposite.”
“Gul Ladal must have been playing with you,” she replied with a coy smile. “I can count on both my hands the men that have eaten at this table. You’ve been selected as something special, precisely what I’d expect from the man to be my husband.”
But this was too much to bear from the Ga Zakazra Barsica’s companion who, without introducing herself interrupted rudely, “You! You there! You’re the creature that killed my men this afternoon, slew them in broad daylight in a matter of moments and left there bodies there to rot.”
“Ahh, so you must be—.”
“Ga Zakazra of House Tyletus, and you couldn’t even wait long enough for us to retrieve the corpses. As it were, they were picked clean by beggars and degenerates, and we could retrieve virtually nothing. Do you have any idea how expensive was their equipment?”
“As dear as their lives?” he replied with a lash to his tongue.
“Heavens no. You have no idea.”
“So have you come seeking recompense from the Matron Barsica or,” he licked his lips, “have you come seeking satisfaction from my hide?”
“He sits at the women’s table; he speaks his mind; he’s a murderer; and soon he’s to be a father in your house! Can you even imagine it, a father? Perish the thought. No-one else will tolerate it, Barsica; I guarantee you!”
“And you speak with the forked tongue of a cruel old woman,” he replied with a sneer. “You have insulted me as thoroughly as you have insulted my bride to be and the house that warms me! Send me your best, and I shall send him down to hell, and then you can spend the next years chewing on your own miserable contempt as the product of my loins stains your city red with the blood of cowards and the impious!”