Flies and dust. Greasy hair stuck to my face. My Longsword, Clouter, leans against the bar. My sax, Biter, hangs from my sword belt, my sweaty fingers drumming the hilt. Unfriendly eyes glance sly to where I’m seated. Alone. Thirsty. And in a rare ragged mood. Where the …. Is Hagan?

My Partner these last few months. It’s not safe to operate down here alone. Permio: desert realm, outside the Four Kingdoms and as nasty a nest of cutthroat and slime ball as can be imagined. But the merchant pays well. A noise to my right. Big fella, scars and squint do nothing for his looks. Coming my way. Think he wants a chat. I lean back on my stool awarding him my dazzling smile. Don’t think he has a sense of humour.

‘Northerners ain’t welcome in my tavern,’ big lad says producing a long rusty knife and nodding to two beauties at the bar. Soldiers by their look, armed with spears and tulwars. Half drunk, feisty, and ready for a scrap.

‘Listen old fruit,’ my fingers brush Biter’s leather. ‘I’m a bit weary, been out in the sand for over three weeks. Waiting for my mates, there’s ten of them — all big lads and pretty as you.’

‘He’s alone, Rogen, we tailed him here,’ the nearest soldier grinned at me.

‘Thanks for your input, friend, but do we really have to do this? I mean, I need ale and food and maybe a lively lass that won’t slit my throat for a penny.’ I’ve seen a few, some half decent, you never know when your lucks in.

‘Leave, or we gut you open,” Rogen hints to the shabby door spilling heat and afternoon sunlight into the tavern. The soldiers loom close. One levels his spear, the other (big mouth) leans his shaft against the bar alongside Clouter. He reaches for my Longsword.

‘I wouldn’t do that, flower,’ my blue/grey gaze stops him. Sound and motion flees from tavern and a hot breeze ruffles my hair. Spearman lunges, fast and hard. I grab the shaft just behind blade and pull spear and owner hard towards me, twisting my body until I’m behind him and his face impacts with the wall. Rogen’s knife cuts air inches from my face, my left knee having found his balls and sent him sprawling. The third one yells to people outside and then a dozen more heavies join the fun.

Play time over. I stand, kick stool, taking big mouth in the knees. As he falls, Biter slides from scabbard and its steel opens his neck, spraying straw-covered stone with red. Rogen grabs me from behind, I slam an elbow back, cracking his nose and he tumbles. Meanwhile Spearman wrestles his bruised bones back into motion.

Too slow, Biter dances clear of his lunge and slices open his belly. Now the others are circling and hollering like hyena’s on heat. They’re mad and hasty but they don’t know Corin an Fol. Big mistake. I lunge, duck, jump and slice. They jump back surprised (I’m quick – you see!) I reach Clouter and slide her free from scabbard and harness. ‘Come on then, let’s get stuck in!

Hours later the girl smiles as I chat about the afternoon an ale swilling in my jug. Hagan’s been and gone. I left that tavern, the stiffs were stinking and my welcome run dry. Nine dead the rest fled. Don’t underestimate Clouter. Anyhow, I found a better tavern with this here lassie pleased to see me. Hagan’s away talking to the boss. I’ve an hour or so then it’s back to work. Smarturl.it/golt