Hitherto known as the Red Stranger, a known Mercenary and Warmage of some experience.
The two men sat in the corner of the tavern, in one of the few shadowed spots. Two tankards sat in front of them, untouched. It was a large room, and full on this night. All four stone hearths were alight, and three solid oak bars were full, as were most of the half-hundred tables scattered around. A lutist was playing near one of the hearths, and a score of men were singing along to his bawdy songs. The fat man peered out from the darkness, distrusting, but his thin companion paid the other patrons no mind. Laughter and curses rose from them all around, and lithe serving girls wove their way in and out among the tables, avoiding benches and the grasping hands of drunken men alike. Most of the customers had the mercenary look, although blessedly all were more intent on their fellows rather than fighting each other. Tonight at least.
“I thought you said the Red Stranger was in here”, grumbled the fat man. The thin man smiled.
“He is. He’s the short, dark haired one sitting against the wall next to the hearth over there.” The thin man pointed across the common room, and the fat man followed his direction. When the fat man clearly did not see him, the thin man clarified.
“He’s the one dandling that girl on his knee.” The fat man saw him now, sitting behind the comely girl with a sardonic smile on his face. The Red Stranger was certainly handsome, with smooth dark features, curly black hair, and eyes that were a shade of brown so deep that they seemed black and danced with the flames of the fire. He wore a brown tunic over dark red leather leggings, as well as a red pleated skirt that marked him as a one-time member of an official army. He was built, but neither large of shoulder nor chest. To the fat man, he looked no different than the dozens of other mountain clan warriors he had come to know and kill. The fat man already did not care for the mercenary. Something about the face said the man knew things that men should not know. He said as much to the thin man, who laughed.
“Aren’t all those imbued with the spell-gift mistrusted by you?”
“And rightly so I would think. Tell me what you know of him then, and let’s be done with this place.” He spat onto the baseboard. “Is that his company there?” The fat man asked, looking skeptically at the men surrounding the Red Stranger. They were a motley lot, lighter of skin and hair than their comrade. A few still wore knives on their belts despite the weapon ban in the Green Griffon, but the fat man suspected that the proprietors were not keen on telling the sellswords to leave them in their rooms. The fat man was armed as well, although one could not tell from looking.
The thin man shook his head. “He’ll be gone from them before the morning comes, much to their dismay I’ll bet. He only pretends to drink. It either stays in his goblet or goes to the girl.” The fat man could see that the wench was in her cups. She was dark haired as well, although fair. She did not look to be dressed like a serving girl; the mercenary must have brought her with him.
“I see he likes his whores. So much for the rumor that he’s a eunuch.”
The thin man chuckled. “That he is not. Whores he likes, aye, or often times a crofter or cobbler’s daughter. He doesn’t always have to pay. Perhaps his goal is to father a bastard in every town from Neuyan to Osturopa. I’ve answered a few of your questions, now answer one of mine: is he meant to be marked?”
The fat man frowned down at this mug. “Not yet. This is purely an informational inquiry. If this lot isn’t his company, who does he ride with? A lone mercenary isn’t much to attract attention.”
The thin man smiled and leaned slightly toward the fat man. “He rides with the fallen prince, and he of the Shining Knee.” The look on the fat man’s face made him smile even wider.
“That is…unexpected. I thought Kalbreth was dead. Tell me all you know of this man then.”
The thin man raised his hand. “Do not mistake me, Ser Kalbreth is dead, but he knighted some big farm boy to replace him when he was on his death bed. Jacen is his former squire, and I believe he is now the Knee.” The thin man took a deep breath. “The Red Stranger was born to some mountain clan the prince’s grandfather subjugated, and like most men who are capable, he was trained in the ways of the warriors of his barbarous people. He does not use a shield or long spear, and instead throws his points away and fights with a massive sword. He also does not ride a horse, preferring to walk. When he reached the age of manhood, he showed signs of the spell-gift, and was drafted into the king’s academy of wizards. That did not sit well with him, I would imagine, and it seems that he was taken unwillingly. The wizards would not let him touch a sword or any other weapons, so he constantly made to escape, with no success. This is when he gained the only true name known to him: Xenantropos.”
“Those wizards like to have the magic close. The gift must have been strong in him to want him back so,” mused the fat man.
The thin man nodded his assent. “That they did, but he caused so much trouble that eventually they were forced to send him away to the warmage academy. No doubt they hoped that his life would end on the battlefield, like so many warmages before him.”
“Their expectancy is short, it’s true,” spat the fat man. “No good soldier wants to see their spear line catch fire and break on account of some snot nosed wizard. More times than not it drives them crazy when the battle blood is upon them.”
“That is true, but clearly not so for him. His training with the clans has served him well, and when the prince’s father lost his throne, the Red Stranger was on the wrong side of the conflict. All of his compatriots died except him, and with nowhere to go, he headed to the other kingdoms to ply his trade in the mercenary fields. He has traveled many places and gained one kind of reputation or another. Many sources say he is rumored to have killed his own fellows for his freedom, and some whisper that he helped bring down that old king. I would not put much stock in the latter. Other stories abound that he smashed slaving caravans and ships, and burned the slavers alive whilst the smallfolk cheered around him. Others place him as an implacable warrior, charging into battle with his red painted bronze armor and greatsword, but the fact that he lives seems to discount that as mere fancy. More reliable sources say he is practical and cautious. He knows tactics and battle. As he has aged, his fighting prowess has peaked, but most agree that his magical talents are expanding rapidly.” The fat man’s face darkened at this, but he said nothing, so the thin man continued.
“He served with Ser Kalbreth for a time, before Jacen was his squire, and knew the prince from afar. When he found that the latter was still alive, he worked his way into the other’s trust, telling him stories of the generals and his father in battle, when the young prince had merely been a child. Jacen found them later, and both knew his predecessor and now they are together often, rooting out whatever evils the knight and the prince deem worthy of their cause. Meanwhile, the Red Stranger whispers in the prince’s ear and tells him of the glory of his house and kingdom.”
The fat man narrowed his eyes. “That makes no sense. This Xenantropos should have no love for that kingdom. What does he hope to gain? Lands? Glory? A title?”
The thin man shrugged and idly grasped his tankard. “I’ve told you all I know for sure, but if I had to guess, I would say none of it. No man knows the mind of the Red Stranger save himself, and he has survived this long. Perhaps he has grand plans for himself. Or perhaps he is content to fight and whore, and leave the world otherwise at peace.”
The fat man stood up, throwing one last glance at the Red stranger, who still had an annoying smile on his face, and one hand up the dark haired girl’s skirt. The thin man raised his tankard.
“A toast to the Red Stranger,” he smiled.
The fat man glowered at him for a moment, then threw a pouch of coins on the table and stormed out of the tavern. The thin man sat back down, still smiling and placed his tankard on the table without drinking. The thin man watched the Red Stranger follow the fat man with his fire-lit eyes, but as soon as the former was out the door he returned his attention to the girl, his smile never changing.