Since I've mentioned the story over the past four weeks, here is an excerpt of The Elf's Prisoner, after the break.
Inn at the Crossroads, outside the Sylvan Forest
Nyssa watched as the barkeep dragged the fight's loser out of the circle. The crowd tonight was in a mood; Nyssa wasn't sure if she and the elves were the cause or just lucky to be staying on the wrong night. She entertained the idea that whoever was trying to get Count Tathan to wage war on the dwarves was also trying to create conflict between others. Nyssa couldn't figure out a reason; a full-out war between all the realms would lay waste to a number of lands.
The other problem Nyssa faced had youthful faces. Both Leomund and Wren were fascinated by the fighting. Nyssa thanked the Gods Above and Below that Kazimier was a voice for reason, keeping the youths seated. For all her repulsion earlier, Wren seemed to enjoy what she saw. At least with Leomund, Nyssa could understand why he watched; he was going to be a warrior, a knight, someday, and fighting was in his future.
"Let's hope that was the end of the night's entertainment," Nyssa said. "It's going to be a long day tomorrow if we can't get to sleep tonight."
Wren looked crestfallen at the idea. Leomund showed that he taking Nyssa's lesson to heart by saying, "Agreed, ma'am. I'd like to hear the minstrel sing. He may have heard some news we need."
Nyssa nodded with approval. "Excellent idea, Leo."
"Would the minstrel perform for us?" Kazimier asked. "I'm sure we can encourage him to come over." He slid a small pouch to Nyssa.
"I can ask." Nyssa palmed the pouch, hiding it from the sight of the crowd. She stood and walked over to the bar. Along the way, she spied two cloaked figures at the end away from the minstrel. One was fully clad with the hood of the cloak up, much like Kazimier's dark elf. Nyssa stepped up to the middle of the bar. "Barkeep, is that your minstrel?"
The barkeep glanced down the bar at the singer. "He's passing through. Paid me to let him sing, so I let him sing."
"How much attention do you pay to people passing through?"
"Why?" The barkeep leaned on the bar. "Should I?"
"Probably not. So many people come through here, it'd be hard to remember faces." Nyssa dropped Kazimier's pouch in front of the barkeep. "Unless you had some reason to remember."
The pouch disappeared into the barkeep's hand. "Is there someone you want me to remember?"
Nyssa gave a sideways nod towards the two men at the far end of the bar. "Either of them pass through before?"
After eyeing the pair, the barkeep answered, "That there is Theo. The other guy, all covered up? No idea. Reminds me of your friend, though."
"Thanks, friend." Nyssa handed over two gold coins. "I trust that this is enough to forget me and mine were ever here tonight?"
"No idea who you are, stranger."
Nyssa took a step back from the bar, keeping the pair at the end in sight from the corner of her eye. She bumped into someone, bouncing away before she could recover her balance. The knight turned to face whoever she ran into, already trying to look apologetic. "Sorry, friend--" was as far as she got.
A burly man, red in the face from drink, poked Nyssa in the chest. "That was my ale!"
"And I will get--"
The man poked her again. "You owe me!"
"I was about to say--"
Again, he poked Nyssa. "What are you going to do about it?"
The alcohol on the man's breath nearly knocked Nyssa down. She remained on her feet, and returned the poke, harder than the three she received. "Poke me one more time and we're going into the circle."
The drunk man stared at her, bleary-eyed, then gave her a fourth poke, this time in the shoulder. "What'cha gonna do now?"
The barkeep rushed out from behind the bar. "We have another challenge!" He took both Nyssa and the drunk into the circle, separating them. As the crowd roared, the barkeep pulled the combatants in closer. "You know the rules. No weapons. First one down loses. Leaving the circle means losing. Losing means you forfeit what you've paid for tonight and sleep in the barn. Understand?"
Nyssa nodded, then stepped back to the circle's edge. She took off her sheathed knife off her belt and tossed it to Kazimier. Her drunk opponent stared at the barkeep before nodding. The barkeep darted out of the circle to ring the bell at the bar. The drunk man lurched towards Nyssa. The knight took a moment to size up her opponent; he had height and weight on her, but drink had him unsteady and slow.
With four quick strides, Nyssa met the drunk in the middle of the circle. Her opponent swung, a high roundhouse trying to connect with her jaw. Nyssa ducked under the drunk's arm. Her right arm lashed out. Her fist connected with the drunk's gut with a dull thud. The drunk only laughed. Nyssa ducked out from underneath, backpedaling as her opponent tried to smash her from above.
The crowd grew restless. Nyssa ignored the din. Her opponent was the drunk, not the crowd. She circled the drunk man, looking for an opening. The drunk lumbered in. He swung again, this time lower, catching Nyssa on her shoulder. The knight stumbled sideways. She caught herself before she reached the circle's edge. Nyssa whirled around in time to see the drunk charging at her. She danced out of his way, punching his side just to remind him that she wasn't going down easy. The drunk tried to backhand the knight, but she was out of his reach already.
Nyssa slipped back in towards the drunk. She punched him once, twice over his kidneys. The drunk grunted; his leg wobbled. Nyssa followed up, kicking the weakened leg. The grunt turned into an inarticulate yell. He fell to one knee but got back up. The crowd cheered. Nyssa kept the pressure on the drunk, driving him back with a series of punches, no blow landing in the same place on him.
The drunk teetered at the edge of the circle. He wrapped his arms around Nyssa, trapping hers, picking her up. As Nyssa struggled, the drunk hauled her to the centre of the circle, squeezing her with every step he took. Nyssa fought to breathe, The various smells from the drunk - his sweat, the booze on his breath, his unwashed clothes - assaulted her nose. She heard an elf voice encouraging her. The knight felt her ribs being crushed. Nyssa kicked at the drunk. She wasn't sure which of her kicks was the one that hit the drunk's groin. His grip loosened. Nyssa gulped down air. Still trapped in the drunk's arms, Nyssa didn't bother to try to escape. Instead, she smashed her head up into the drunk's jaw.
The blow staggered the drunk. He dropped Nyssa as he flailed backwards. Nyssa landed on her knees. Panting, she got to her feet. She ran at the drunk, bringing her hands together. Nyssa swung, hitting the drunk hard across the stomach. The drunk fell to one knee. The knight brought her arms up over her head. Nyssa struck, hard. The drunk fell to the floor.
Nyssa stepped away, breathing hard. Her legs shook, making it difficult to walk out of the circle. Two men retrieved the unconscious drunk, dragging him out of the circle and out of the inn. Nyssa returned to her table and collapsed in her chair.
"Ma'am, are you hurt?" Leomund asked.
"Just sore, Leo." Nyssa rubbed her side. "The bigger they are, the harder they hit." She pointed at Wren. "You are getting to enjoy the fights."
Wren blushed. "Sorry."
Kazimier chuckled. "It's a whole new world, isn't it, Little Wren?"
"It's different out here," Wren agreed.
"We should go to our room," Nyssa said. "We leave after breakfast."