The men were celebrating. Ale sloshed to the floor in waves as they raised their glasses- to what had to be the seventeenth toast that night. A big cheer rang out and then there was a moment that vaguely resembled silence as the men's mouths were busy draining their cups. Immediately after, the bar was filled with raucous laughter and shouts once again. Their hide out was an old pub that leaked when it rained and had creaky floorboards. There weren't enough tables for chairs, the dining ware didn’t match, and the some of the curtains had tears in them. Despite all this, tonight, with everyone singing, dancing, and drinking, it seemed like a palace to *****.
They had just got back from what they thought was going to be a small heist up in the mountains. Some had heard about a merchant train headed toward the capital a few days ago and figured it would be an easy score. They all had needed the money as their last heist had been a disaster due to bad intel.
The small merchant train ended up being their biggest score in years. Gold. Jewels. Expensive cloth. The merchant train had been carrying enough to buy an army.
Or feed one, ***** thought with a smile, looking around the room from her usual spot in the corner. She sat, perched on a barstool and watched as her own little army feasted and got increasingly rowdy. These twenty or so men were the inner circle of her gang, the ones who had been with her for years now. The other men in the group were out drinking at one pub or another somewhere in town. Their score had put a good amount of coin in all of theirs pockets.
She shifted, stretching out her legs which weren't long, but not short either. They were somewhere in the middle, ordinary, just like everything else about her. Her hair was brown, along with her eyes and skin. She could've passed as many different races as she didn’t look like any one in particular. Her black tunic and leggings allowed her to blend in just about anywhere, and, whether it was during a fight or a party like this one, that’s just how she liked it. Her men were rambunctiously reaping their reward and for tonight, she'd let them but she would not join in.
"Seems like quite the shindig going on up here" came a voice from beside her. Lazily, ***** glanced over at the small boy smiling slyly up at her, thinking he had caught her off guard. In actuality, she had seen him sneak up the stairs at the back of the pub, circle around the bar, and slink over to her side all while going unnoticed by everyone except her. Realizing this by the lack of expression on her face, the boy frowned.
"How do you always do that," he demanded, "no one else ever sees me when I don’t want them to- except you."
"Maybe you're not as sneaky as you think," she replied with a playful smirk. In reality, he was just as sneaky as he thought. It was taking ***** longer and longer to spot him when he faded into the shadows. "Why are you up here? You know you're supposed to be down stairs, asleep, or playing with the other kids, Benjie." Had it been any of the other children downstairs, ***** would've sent them sent them downstairs, no questions asked and made them do extra chores for a week. Kids were not allowed in the main room when the adults were drinking like this. She ran a tight ship and disobedience wasn’t tolerated, not by adults or kids.
Benjie was a special case, however. He was the most promising of the bunch that the gang had taken off the street. He had quite a bit of magic in him for someone his age and used his power to eavesdrop on many of the gang's conversations. ***** had caught him more times than not but he always heard more than he was supposed to. He was constantly sneaking in the shadows and there was a small soft spot in her heart for him.
"I'm not a kid, *****, I'll be sixteen in three days, meaning I'll be able to go out with all of you soon. I don’t get why you won't let me come with you already, I could have helped with today's score. Probably because you know once I start going out with you all, I'm going to be a better thief than all of these guys," he said gesturing to the room, "and you too. Don’t forget it." He ended his declaration with a self-satisfied nod.
***** was just about to tell him how he better not forget the extra chores he'd being doing, soft spot be damned, when a cheer rang out and a glass went flying at the wall a few feet from her and Benjie's heads. They both whipped their heads around to watch the glass fall to the floor and the ale slowly drip down to join it.
Livid, she hopped off the barstool, "Alright, alright," she bellowed. The pub went quiet almost instantly. "I was letting you have your fun because we did bring in a pretty penny tonight but once y'all start disrespecting this place, that's it! Clean everything up. I want this place spotless by tomorrow morning and I want to know who threw that glass now." She glared at the men. When no one spoke up, she slowly stalked through the crowded tables, meeting each of their eyes until she found the one she was looking for. He was sweating, from more than just the heat it seemed, as his eyes kept meeting hers and glancing away every few seconds.
"Snyder," she seethed, "is there something you'd like to tell me?"
Snyder started shaking, his hands clasping each other so tight the tips of his fingers were white. "I'm sorry, *****. We was just toastin'...somethin'...an' me glass flew outta me hands when I...er... raised it. I may've raised it too fast but I swear I didn’t mean to throw it," he slurred, struggling to speak clearly through his drunken haze. ***** saw how obviously drunk and afraid he was and sighed.
"Okay, Snyder I believe you," he looked relieved but she held up her hand. "However, as your punishment you will be cleaning the pub by yourself. Everyone else get to bed and out of his way, he's got a long night ahead of him!" She clasped Snyder's shoulder and gave him a friendly shake before returning to her seat. The men walked off laughing and patting Snyder on the back, as he started picking up the plates and trash with a big blush across his face. There was also a small smile of relief because, as everyone knew, disrespecting the pub usually had some pretty big consequences.
***** looked back down to see Benjie staring up at her with an odd expression on his face.
"What," she asked, curiously.
"Most people would have kicked him out, drunk or not"
"Yeah, well, I'm not most people and he's a good guy who made a mistake. If I were to kick out everyone in the gang who made a mistake, we wouldn’t have anyone to fight with."
He was silent for a few minutes more before he nodded and started walking to the door leading downstairs. "You're a good leader, *****...even if you are a girl." She rolled her eyes, picked up a forgotten shoe that the owner would be missing in the morning, and tossed it at his head. Benjie laughed and dodged it before disappearing downstairs.
***** smiled a bit before giving a quick wave to Snyder on her way toward a door in the back. She opened it and walked up to her private rooms located above her pub. She walked down the hall to gather some cloths and through the connecting door, into her bathroom. After bathing, brushing her teeth, and putting up her long hair, that still reached the middle of her back even while in a ponytail, she sat down on the side of her bed. Carefully, she opened the small, dark brown leather pouch that always hung around her neck and pulled out a black gem. It shined and sparkled in the moonlight that snuck through the crack in her curtains.
"Don't worry, I'll get everything back. I promise." She brushed her lips lightly against the stone before putting it back in the pouch. That night she dreamed the same dream she has had since she was young- rebellion.