T/W: non-graphic SA mentioned
entire body burned with exertion, from her arm down to her abdomen. Her chest
screamed for air, too focused on her task to remember to breathe. She glanced
down at her hand as she felt her arm trembling, not sure if it was her or the
man that she was arm wrestling that was the one shaking. She glanced across the
table at him.
was at least three times her size. His pale face was flushed red and beaded
with sweat, coarse brown mustache crinkling with effort. His bushy eyebrows
were furrowed and drawn over dark eyes that glowered at her now. He grunted
with effort, baring his teeth at her.
grunted, too; lungs burning. She’d already beaten a dozen or so men who now
stood in a ring around them jeering. Perhaps she shouldn’t have decided to end
with the biggest brute in this tavern. She was already tired. And his
arms were the size of her legs.
a voice rose above the ruckus. Jerica didn’t have to look to know who it was.
Akeno Haider, General of the Archers. He was nearby on her right side and
started the chant in her favor. It caught on within moments. “Ains-ley!
took a deep breath, tapping into the last of her strength reserves. Then, with
a loud grunt, forced her opponent’s hand to the table with a loud thwack
that echoed over the chanting. A roar rose from around them and multiple hands
slapped her back in congratulations.
laughed in relief and sat back onto her bench heavily, pulling her hand away.
The man across from her buried his face in his hands. Jerica panted for breath,
chest heaving from exertion, and dragged the back of her forearm across her
forehead to clear the sweat.
Akeno’s hand landed on her back in a congratulatory pat, and he slid a mug of
ale towards her.
glanced over at him with a grin, taking the mug. His dark monolid eyes were
warm as he looked at her with a proud smirk. Jerica took a drink, standing up
and pushing the bench backward in the same motion as she looked back at her
opponent. “Woo! Who’s your papa?”
man dragged his hands down his face and cast her an irritable look.
up.” She crooked her finger at him.
muttered something under his breath that she couldn’t catch over the noise
around them but shoved a coin across the table towards her. She grabbed it and
flipped it in the air, then opened the pouch tied to her belt and held it open,
letting the coin fall in with a dramatic flourish. Then she weighed the pouch
in her hand. That felt like enough for –
looked around until she caught the bartender’s eye, then gestured in a circular
motion. “A round!”
cheer went up. More pats on the back. Jerica grinned, taking a long draught of
her own mug. Her head was buzzing pleasantly and there was a nice warmth spread
throughout her whole body. It’d been a good night.
she’s a jolly good fellow!” The tune caught around behind her and soon the
chorus rang across the whole room. By the second line, the twang of a
lute carried the tune. Jerica glanced up and quickly spotted her cousin, Rek,
in the corner strumming the instrument. He met her eye with a grin. She
grinned, too, glancing around as the men continued singing. “For she’s a jolly
good fellowwwwww – which nobody can deny!”
chuckled and took a bow, even though that wasn’t true at all. She was the
fearsome King’s Assassin – loads of people could and did deny that there
was even a single redeemable quality in her. But this bar was filled mostly
with fellow soldiers and familiar drinking buddies, and she’d just bought
everyone – even the strangers – a round. So, she supposed it was fair she was
in relatively good graces for now. Especially since they were all drunk, which
no doubt made it easier to forget who she was. What she was.
notes from the lute rang out, sharp and clear.
gasped, grinning and perking up as she recognized the intro of her favorite
song. She happened to catch Akeno’s eye. “I like this song!”
know.” He smirked. “…and so does he.”
Jerica smiled sheepishly, taking another drink of her ale. She started swaying
along to the music, humming the tune to herself. It was hard to resist singing
along when she was buzzed, especially when Rek played her favorite song.
long, she was singing the lyrics, first to herself – then to everyone else as
well, her boldness growing with each line and each draught she took from her
mug. She got an overwhelming impulse to dance and pushed away from the table
before she remembered that this room was entirely too crowded to make for a
looked around with a discontented sigh.
a thought struck her.
part of a thought. The part of the thought that realized that the table in
front of her was long and flat and dance-on-able. Her brain decided to ignore
all the logistical issues, such as the various plates and cups on the table.
Those would get taken care of, she was sure. Probably. Maybe.
planted a foot on her chair and hefted herself onto it, wobbling precariously. Maybe
I’m drunker than I thought… She put her other foot on the chair to steady
herself, took a deep breath, then stepped onto the table. Another cheer went up
and the sea of men shifted around her, both giving her more space as well as
clearing their dishes from the table.
started singing and dancing on the table as the people on the ground around her
stomped and clapped to the tune, joining in the chorus. Her singing was off-key
and her dancing was even worse, but she was having a wonderful time and if
anyone took issue with her behavior, she didn’t notice it.
threw her head back and gulped down the last of her ale, then turned her heavy
wooden mug upside-down to demonstrate its emptiness. A chuckle went up around
her. She swallowed hard and staggered to the side, off-balance from how far
back she’d tipped her head to finish off her drink. She hesitated, squinting
towards the corner as she tried to focus her eyes. Something was happening, and
she wasn’t sure what.
saw the big man she’d beat arm wrestling in the corner, behind a stack of
crates. What was he doing back there? He was facing the wall… and there was
someone else with him… she thought. She wasn’t sure. She blinked hard, trying
to clear her vision, and took a few hesitant steps down the table in his
direction, trying to see what was going on.
caught a glimpse of long, blonde hair in front of him. A woman? Were they
just--? She hesitated. It felt weird that they’d be doing that in a
public space like this – the least they could do was get a room or something –
but, then, she supposed they were in the corner out of the way not hurting
anyone. She started to turn away –
woman – girl, really, she looked like she couldn’t be much older than sixteen –
tried to sprint past the man. The man grabbed her by the hair and threw her
back into the wall, his meaty hand snaking under her blouse.
flooded through Jerica, burning hot and sheer ice at the same time. She stormed
down the length of the table without a second thought and leaped towards the
man. She plowed into him unceremoniously, losing her balance, but recovering
before he did. He staggered to the side, then turned back towards her,
expression contorting into a scowl. “You—”
didn’t give him a chance to finish; there wasn’t anything he could possibly
have to say that she wanted to hear in that moment. Instead, she swung her
fist, hard, aiming for an imaginary point behind his head as she did her
best to swung her punch straight through his skull.