A New Voice


“Most cities become famous for their wares. Some cities produce cheese – while others deal in fine garments and luxury goods. Gerona is somewhat unique in that capacity, for it offers human lives – paid for by gold and ready to fight the wars of foreigners… Such is the way of the mercenary!”

– extract from the famous play The Merchant of Gerona.


Mathias stepped into the dingy tavern and away from the pounding rain – Gerona had been overtaken by odd, grayish rainfall over the past few days, which made the tense political climate even more dismal as a result. The Spiteful Widow is no ordinary drinking hole – the denizens of the city know that well – being the favored establishment of Gerona’s many mercenary companies and of their potential patrons. In this place, deals are made, and professional armies are raised to wage wars in foreign lands and kingdoms, fueled only by gold and precariously signed contracts.

Today was an unusually busy day; Mathias could very well see that, though he was hardly surprised. The last few weeks had been mightily turbulent, even for Gerona’s standards, pushing many of the great mercenary captains of the region to seek new employment and choose a side in the upcoming conflict; though the scale of the hostilities on the horizon had yet to be decided. Half-lost in his own thoughts, Mathias swam through the sea of bodies that occupied the tavern’s insides, taking no heed of the countless glimmering sword hilts and other such sheathed weaponry that floated throughout the room like lily-pads across a bog’s murky surface; in the mind of a professional killer, a man with no visible weapon is more dangerous than an armed one – for he is carrying a concealed blade instead.

Finally, Mathias stopped before a solitary table at the tavern’s dimly lit end, drowning out the cacophony of chatter that washed over him and staring at the man that occupied it. The man looked up at Mathias and blinked, taking a sip from a grimy ale mug before addressing him. “You look lost, friend. I believe the nearest stable is out from the tavern’s entrance and to your right. You should be able to find an animal there that suits your liking…” he paused, taking in another gulp of sour ale and burping. “You do look like the sort that fancies farm-stock – if you don’t mind me saying.”

Mathias reached down and grabbed the man by the collar, pulling him up and yanking him close to his face. “The only thing I’d fancy is to splay your inbred guts all over this fine establishment, you pox-pricked bastard…” The two men stared at each other for a stretched-out moment, not uttering another word until they both burst out laughing. In an instant, Mathias let go of the man’s tunic and went in for a wide hug, embracing him and squeezing tight with both arms. “Heavens! How long has it been, you arse?”

“Not long enough for you to take a proper bath!” responded Filippo with a cackle, embracing the man in return and smiling warmly. “Come! Take a seat. I’ll get us some ale; we have a lot of catching up to do.”

The two friends talked for a good long while, reminiscing about the childhood memories they both shared, their joined adventures as veteran mercenaries, and opening up about their lives since the last time they had met. “How’s that son of yours?” spoke Mathias after a hefty swig of ale. “Last time I saw him, he was the size of a barn-cat and kept wanting to play with my beard!”

“Har!” exclaimed Filippo. “He’s almost as tall as you now ­– almost a proper man! He keeps asking to join me with mercenary work, but someone needs to watch over the farm while I’m away under contract…”

Mathias narrowed his eyes, dragging his stool closer to the table and lowering his voice almost down to a whisper. “So, your band got signed, eh? Go on – tell me. Who hired you lot? The city has been flooded by potential buyers as of late…”

Filippo matched his friend’s tone of voice, leaning in closer before speaking. “We got snatched up by that foreigner down south. Some exotic lord named Jahrod the Illuminator – or something like that. Our captain says he pays well, and that’s all I care about; I might get to retire after this!” Filippo paused and dragged his gaze across the crowded room, scanning his surroundings with an air of secrecy before returning to the conversation at hand. “How about yourself? Your company is one of the best around; someone must have hired you already!”

“Aye, Tauria bid on our services for a full season and won! Though our captain is none too happy about this; you know how he feels about them City States lot. Nobody wants to work under the olive munchers, but the pay is good – real good…”

Yet another stretch of thoughtful silence took hold of the two men, with Filippo being the first to break it. “You know,” said the man in a sobering fashion, “our employers seem to be at odds. This might come to blows sooner than later…”

Mathias leaned in closer, nodding in agreement and exhaling deeply. “It seems like war looms on the horizon, friend. Though I still believe there is hope to salvage this situation – before everything devolves into bloodshed…”

“Ever the diplomat at heart, Mathias. Unfortunately for you, they pay us to fight, not to think. Though I prefer your rosy outlook above all others!” With a groan, Filippo patted his thighs and got up from his chair, reaching for his friend’s arm and clasping his fingers around the man’s forearm. “Keep your head low out there, you ugly bastard! I wouldn’t want you to get impaled by one of my bolts…”

Mathias got up as well, squeezing back Filippo’s arm. “Oh, you’re funny; I’ll give you that. We both know you can’t hit the broad side of a castle – let alone my striking visage!”

Both men laughed one last time, speaking in near unison before parting ways. “Give ‘em hell!”

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