The White Peach tavern was the centre of any activity in the village of Greystone. Despite being small and crowded, it was a charming place to go to in summer and a warm haven for the winter nights. There, they would serve good brown ales, strongly spiced wines, dark rums and the bartender’s special brew: a concoction of red rum and ginger ale mixed with pepper, lemon, sage and a spoonful of honey. Iaron, the bartender called it “The Peach’s Juice”, and it was the most potent drink that Theodas had ever tasted. It did wonders to cure throat aches and chills but would cause some severe hangovers for the next morning.
For Theodas, The White Peach was a place to be with his brothers, play a game of chess with Thamior while Laucian would put on a show for his favourite thing in the world: women. Theodas liked the place, the scent of old wood and enjoyable brew, smells of food cooking in the back room, the joyful music that played in the evenings and the conversations with Iaron over a cup of spiced wine.
Upon entering, Laucian deserted his brothers immediately to engage into a conversation with a small redhead girl serving at the bar that could only be Jalya. Thamior sighed heavily and gestured towards the bar before moving there to order drinks. It fell upon Theodas to go and get a table, as close as possible to the fireplace.
It took about a minute for Theodas to find the perfect table. Theodas sat down and looked with open amusement Laucian’s efforts to convince his new sweetheart to dance with him.
Suddenly he heard the sound of a metal coin flipped into the air as well as the laughter of a woman. He turned to look at the origin of the noise and noticed a very beautiful female gnome sitting at a table next to the door. She was wearing a dark brown leather jerkin over a green woollen shirt and breeches. She wore a dagger and a shortsword at her belt and seemed to be an adventurer from the looks of her. But Theodas barely noticed it, he saw a cascade of thick and curly orange hair, as bright as sunset, and eyes shining an emerald green. Her eyes met his for a heartbeat, and it seemed to Theodas that the world has stopped. Time had paused, and there were no days, nor nights anymore. He could see freckles on her pale white skin and the shape of her lips as she was laughing… or was she smiling at him? He did not know, nor did he care.
“Here we are, brother! Cup of lemon wine for you. A brown ale for me and Peach Juice for Laucian.”, said Thamior happily as he brought back the drinks to the table.
The arrival of Thamior had shattered the bubble of happiness that Theodas had created around this woman and him. And the moment was gone… She had turned her eyes back to the man she was speaking to, an old gnome with silver hair tied into a ponytail and a well kept yet bushy beard. The gnome was wearing a worn-out pink traveller’s cloak over studded boiled leather jerkin and mail. His features were sharp, and he had an old scar across the face, just over the left eye to the cheek, which looked like had been slashed by a blade during battle. The gnome would look fearsome but right now he was all smile and jests and only seemed to be a very friendly and charming fellow.
Theodas forced his eyes to remove their gaze from the woman to look towards his brother. He was saying something to him, yet he could not hear it… All sounds were drowned out by the laughter of the woman across the room. The laughter was so sweet that it might be the most beautiful sounds Theodas had ever heard.
Laucian stepped out of the inn, swaying unsteadily on his feet as he sang one of his favourite drinking songs. Theodas and Thamior followed behind, far less troubled by the drinks they shared than their brother.
“Then up spoke the innkeep of this fair city, and a fair jolly maid was she…”, sang Laucian in a low and tired voice. “I care much more for me pots, and me pans than I do for your wish to marry me!”
Thamior grinned and turned to Theodas.
“I dare say, I think our brother might have outdone himself today. Drunk and didn’t manage a kiss with any of the girls in town…”, he said half amused, half annoyed.
Theodas smiled at his brother’s jest, but his mind was elsewhere, in a far away world of emerald and fiery curls that was his alone. Laucian tripped on his feet and fell face down into a pile of hay, bringing Theodas straight back to reality. Before both Thamior and himself could do anything to rescue their drunk brother, a young gnome with ginger curly hair was helping Laucian up to his feet.
Laucian looked at her and seemed to sober up in a second.
“Why, hello there, a fair lady fallen from the skies! I should trip and smash my face into the ground more often if it makes angels appear to the rescue!”, he said managing his most charming smile.
The gnome woman laughed at the compliment.
“You are a bold one, especially considering you’ve just landed with your face right into some goat shit.”, she said, pointing at a brown liquid dripping from Laucian’s hair and beard.
The horrified face that Laucian made at that moment caused Thamior to burst into a great laugh as if it was the best thing that ever happened to him. Theodas for his part could not think or say anything, for he had recognised the beautiful gnome maid he had seen in the tavern.
Laucian, now on his feet, saw his brother laughing at his misfortune. He took some of the goat shit with his hand and threw it towards Thamior who easily avoided it before running after him, screaming and roaring curses at his brother. The goat dung had splashed on the ground near Theodas, spreading over his boots and breeches but he never noticed it.
“Well, you better find new boots. It seems like those won’t be saved from all this mess.”, the young gnome said, pointing at his now shit caked boots.
Theodas looked at his boots and realised she was right. It looked like he had jumped eagerly into a puddle of shit. Shame, these boots were somewhat new, they only had one winter of age.
“Well… I guess my brothers now owe me a pair of boots.”, Theodas answered mildly. “It wouldn’t be the first time…”
She laughed at that. Theodas’ heart beat a little bit faster at that as he realised that he could listen to her laugh for days and never tire of it. A small smile appeared on his face.
“So you do smile!” she said, grinning at him. “Smiling suits you, you should do that more often.”
A flush crept up Theodas face. He didn’t know what was happening to him. He had never been good at talking to girls, but right there he was making a complete fool out of himself.
“My mother used to tell me that I had a face made for smiles too. She thought I was frowning too much at everything.”, Theodas answered, trying to get a hold over himself.
“She is not wrong.” The gnome came forward, and Theodas noticed the smell of her perfume. A mixture of lavender and cinnamon that seem to capture his mind and trap it. She offered her hand to him. “My mother used to tell me that a smile is a good way to start a conversation. I am Ranala Ironhide.”
Theodas took her hand in his. He tried his best not to notice how soft her skin was and how his skin seemed to react to the mere touch of her.
“Theodas Loracaryn.”, he said with a small smile. “The idiot you rescued is my little brother Laucian, and the other one that he chased is my other brother Thamior.”
Ranala smiled at him. She looked even more beautiful up close, but Theodas did his best to ignore that fact and concentrate on her words rather than on the beauty of her eyes.
“Well met Theodas. Next time we see each other at the tavern, you should join my table. I’d love to get to know you more.”, she said before noticing something behind Theodas. “I think your brothers are making quite the scene over there.”
Theodas didn’t want to look elsewhere than towards Ranala, but he forced himself to look behind him. And indeed, she was right. Thamior had managed by an unknown miracle to get himself up into a tree. Laucian was at the base of the tree, piling up chairs and barrels to get to Thamior’s level. The whole structure that his brother was building was very unsteady, and it seemed unlikely to Theodas that he would ever reach the first branch before the entire thing collapsed.
Theodas turned back to Ranala who was still watching the scene with unconcealed amusement.
“I should probably fetch them before they kill each other… or themselves.”, he said apologetically. “Are you staying in town somewhere?”
“With my uncle for a time before we head back home. Our adventure in this place is almost over… We should sail on before the end of the week.”, she answered, turning her gaze into Theodas eyes. “We usually come to the tavern for dinner every evening. Maybe, if you were to be there next time, you could join us?”
A gentle smile appeared on her lips as another flush crept up Theodas’ face.
“I… I would love to, Ranala…”, he said, almost tripping on every word of his sentence.
“Good, I’ll see you tomorrow then.”, She said with a bright smile. A smile as wide and large appeared on Theodas face at that moment.
Suddenly a horrible crash sound of wood breaking snatched Theodas back to reality as he turned behind him to see what had happened.
He had been wrong on the fact that Laucian wouldn’t get to the first branch. He had indeed reached it and was now holding on to it with both his hands in order not to fall as his ladder of chairs and barrels had crashed on the ground beneath him. Thamior had climbed even higher on the tree and was now at the top, and it seemed unlikely that his brothers knew how they could get back down. Even worse, the innkeep who seemed to have owned several of the chairs was furious and was aiming at Laucian with a loaded crossbow while roaring curses.
Theodas ran to his brothers and, after a good ten minutes of pleading, managed to convince the innkeep to lower his weapon and fetch a ladder. It took another ten minutes to get both Laucian and Thamior off the tree and a couple of gold coins to appease the wrath of the innkeep.
But by the time Theodas was done with his rescue mission and looked around him, Ranala was gone.