Barn sat in the local tavern a few hours later, conscious of the heavy bench creaking beneath his bulk while he ate. The food was decent. It usually was in towns with government offices. Hopeful people would think it was because government offices get government visitors, but Barn had long ago become convinced it was because most bureaucrats considered themselves too important to cook.
He mopped the last of the juice from his third plate and pushed it toward the middle of the table with a sigh, contemplating another order. He’d already had a chicken, two slabs of beef, several local fruits and cheeses, and a helping of a stewed summer cabbage he couldn’t properly name. The young girl who was waiting tables swept the plate onto her tray and eyed the big man with a smile. “Anything else, sir? My mother has a fresh pie cooling on the sill.”
Barn shook his head, belching into his fist. “Not tonight I think. I’ll just have another mug of this…” he shook his nearly empty mug, “whatever it’s called, before I leave.”
“It’s apple milk, sir.” The girl said, slipping toward the bar.
“Are those the things I asked for?” He asked when the girl returned, carrying a small bundle.
“Yes, sir. Three boxed dinners and a bag of scraps.” She said smiling. “Are you heading to see the battle?”
Barn shook his head. “What battle?”
“Oh, everyone knows about it.” She said, wiping the table as she spoke. “Tomorrow the King’s garrison is going to squash Duke Lachorn’s men. It’s a day’s ride west of here. The King’s men came through just a few days ago, letting us know we’ll be safe.” She laughed. “They say they’re going to push the Duke’s men south into the swamps and let the animals have them.”
The big man shook his head. “If it were that easy, little girl, they’d have done it three years ago when the Duke took Pine Ridge. If the Duke’s men are only a few days from here, you’d best take your family and run the other way.” The girl gave him an indignant looked and stepped briskly away, her nose held high.
Barn watched her walk away, drinking deeply and thinking about what she’d said. The Duke of Lachorn had fought through every ambush, trap, and pitched battle thrown his way for nearly seven years and he was still coming. You almost had to admire the man’s tenacity. Barn dropped the empty mug onto the table along with a few extra coins and stood up, hefting his rucksack onto his shoulder and snagging the bundle string with a finger before heading across the street toward the government building.
The headman of the little village sat relaxing in a chair when Barn entered. He waved the big man forward, shuffling through papers on his desk. “Well, my giant friend. I suppose the Kingdom owes you a debt.” He shook his head. “That really is the Spider you brought in, all the marks are there. We don’t have the coin to pay you in cash, but I trust you’ll accept Royal script?” The fat man blinked upward. “You do know what that is, yes?”
Barn grunted his assent and waited while the fat man called in his secretary to witness the signing. When they’d finished writing out the receipt the mayor slid it forward across the desk. “Just make your mark and it will be all legal. Then you can take this to any treasury station and they’ll pay you.”
Barn leaned low and picked up the miniscule pen, studying the document briefly before carving a hard B on the bottom line, faking difficulty. Most of the Kingdom’s common people were illiterate. Sometimes it was best to blend in. The thin lipped secretary witnessed the signing somberly, recording the details in his official record before leaning over to sign the form. “You know.” The mayor mused, watching the secretary. “It seems to me that Spider probably had a lair somewhere. And that you might know where this lair is.”
Barn half-smiled, matching the mayor’s eyes turn toward him. “I might, at that.” He said. “I hear tell there’s an army nearby that probably wants some supplies and things. Too bad I’m not local, they probably wouldn’t trust me.”
The mayor’s face split in a smile and minutes later Barn left the building, slipping the royal script into a hidden pocket and playfully jingling the small pouch of the headman’s personal gold.
Barn smiled to himself as he strode out of town. Spider’s lair wasn’t exactly empty, but it may as well have been. The only things in it had been the loot Spider and his people couldn’t sell right away. Anything of any real value was on the donkey Barn was currently dragging out of town behind him.