Pavo’s hands came to rest on the skin of his drum, his story ended; the metronomic beat that accompanied the final stanzas no longer needed. While his hands quivered slightly with exhaustion, he still made the effort to reach out and take his mug. It leaves behind a small puddle, the condensation having had time to build up and run down the sides of the cool mug to the battered table Pavo sits beside.
The beer, while warmer and flatter than Pavo would have liked, still falls upon his parched throat like rains on a dusty desert plain. The bard puts the mug back down with slightly steadier hands and clears his throat while rolling his shoulders, trying to ease his tiring muscles. Normally by now there’d be a smattering of applause from the audience in Belor’s Beer Hall, the odd clank of a deposited (or thrown) coin or two, and perhaps the odd request.
But not tonight. Pavo looks around for the owner, his friend Titus Scipio, but cannot see him – even with the smaller than normal amount of patrons in the hall. In fact, most of the customers tonight seem to be crowded away from Pavo, back turned. Pavo would feel like the crowd was deliberately shunning or avoiding him, but he knows better. It’s not Pavo they’re unconsciously avoiding.
Licking his lips, Pavo glances at the table where a solitary man sits, lounging almost panther like with his steady gaze upon the wilting bard. A gaze that has been nearly unbroken through the repeated recitals of the one story the man keeps demanding.
It is a good story, great even. The Heroes of Sandpoint. An epic, with plenty of action, violence, risks taken, world ending dangers, love, sacrifice, laughs, terrible evil foes and the valiant men that faced them down. But it is new to Pavo and tonight was his first performance. The bard was one who was capable of critical self-evaluation, and knew that it wouldn’t be his best telling.
And when he wound up the tale the first time for the night, he got what he expected – a few claps and whistles, a few copper coins and a beer. Until he was approached by a stern man dressed in black with haunted eyes. The man deposited several gold coins next to Pavo. “That story. Tell it again.”
Pavo had managed to hide his reaction to seeing so much money well, put a smile on his face and suggested a re-telling after a few different tales. The man leaned forward, “I’m paying. You tell.”
And so Pavo told the story a second time. And a third. The fourth time, Pavo begged off, despite the gold. Before he could blink, there was a dagger at his throat, the razor sharp blade caressing the sweating skin of his neck as delicately as lover. Pavo glanced around in despair, but as far as everyone else in the beer hall went, they didn’t seem to exist. He looked into the man’s cold, sad eyes, and saw no mercy there. So, he told the story a fourth time.
But it was a long story, and the bard had been allowed no rest. He could not tell the story of Sandpoint again tonight. Despite the pile of gold that lie on the table beside his beer.
So it was with trepidation that Pavo watched the strange man approach. This time he did nothing but look at the bard for a while before announcing “It is a good story, and you tell it well.”
“My thanks, milord,” Pavo replies. “I like it also, but, perhaps some stories end better?”
“Perhaps. But it ended better than how it would have been if I had been there,” replies the man as he places several more gold coins next to Pavo, before standing and walking out the door.
The bard stares after the man, his heart strangely racing. After a few moments lost in thought Pavo sighs and returns to the present. He seems slightly bewildered at how the crowd seems to have spread out throughout the beer hall after being huddled away for so long.
“Tell us a story, you lazy bard!” comes a cry, “You haven’t done a damn thing all night!”
Sighing deeply, Pavo goes to speak, but he can only think of one story. “Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you an epic tale of bravery and determination, against the greatest of odds. Let me tell you about some of the greatest heroes of our time. Let me tell you about the Heroes of Sandpoint!”