Yarrow was not particularly surprised at the reaction her threat provoked. These were Xavier’s patrons, after all, and she had no doubt his fear of her had infected them as well.
That, and she was the Empress’ best bellica, noted for a short-fused, nasty temper, standing there quite angrily, with a vicious-looking sword drawn. She supposed she cut quite a figure – especially with this new sword that was so much better than her old one.
She was quite happy with it. The metalworker had spent extra time on it, adding touches to make it unmistakably hers. The rubies adorning the hilt glinted like blood in the light of the tavern, matching the hue of her hair, and the glow of the light on the shaft of the sword shone almost red and hungry, making the weapon take on a blood-thirsty personality. The pommel had a shape of two dragons curling around to snarl at each other. It was perfectly balanced, not too heavy for her, for all that she was well-muscled and toned. Strong or not, she had a limit. This sword didn’t test it.
She’d not yet taken blood with her sword, the ritual that made each weapon take on a life of its own. She was itching for her opportunity.
“Alright,” she continued, taking a step down from the stairs and gesturing with her sword. A space cleared for her instantly, people shying away from the pissed-off bellica. “Anyone want to tell me why you’re taking such care to wreck the tavern I poured so much gold into?”
Any other time, Yarrow might have joined in on a bar fight, for a celebration of senseless violence did relieve certain stresses that ale and sex didn’t. It usually didn’t involve killing anyone – something she did too often in her job for her to enjoy it much. Pummelling someone did have its satisfactions. There was honour to be had in a good old-fashioned fistfight.
But she didn’t start bar fights. Drunk males did that easily and often enough. And especially not at the bar she helped to get on its feet. She didn’t want her investment destroyed.
No one answered her. No one met her gaze, either. Suddenly everyone seemed very interested in the floor of the room. “Majors!” she shouted for Aro and Caelum, hoping the officers could give her some answers.
The crowd parted as the two tall men made their way over to her. The came forward sheepishly, Aro with a bloody nose and Caelum sporting a freshly-formed black eye.
She frowned at them disapprovingly. “Report, officers.”
The two men shrugged and exchanged glances, looking like naughty boys caught with their fingers in the pie. “We were drinking and talking in the corner,” began Caelum, pointing to a table that was now on its side. “And people started swinging.”
“We tried to stay out of it, Bellica,” Aro chimed in, desperate to save face for the both of them. “But then someone gave Caelum that shiner, and, well….” he trailed off and shrugged, looking at the floor again.
Yarrow shook her head and clucked her tongue. “Really, Caelum, you know better.” He looked away, guilt covering his features. He knew it had been Yarrow who’d paid for that huge party in ’14, and saved Xavier’s bar from bankruptcy. He should have known better.
She turned to the bar, which appeared to be devoid of human life. Knowing otherwise, she sheathed her sword, for she had complete control of the situation now, and strode to the counter. Reaching over, she grabbed Xavier by the collar and raised him to his feet. “Bellica!” he gasped. “Hello there.”
“Hello, Xavier. Still a coward, I see.”
He shrugged and wiped the counter nervously. “Strong sense of self-preservation, Bellica.”
“Yeah. I’m sure. Who started the fight, Xavier?”
No doubt seeing a chance to shift the focus point of Yarrow’s ire from him to someone else, he immediately pointed to a corner table around the side of the bar. “She did, Bellica.”
Yarrow moved over and crouched down, looking underneath the table. The pale face of Ghia peeked out at her, and Yarrow saw Jules lying unconscious beside the figure of the healer.
The bellica smirked and straightened, looking back at Xavier incredulously. “You mean the girl cowering under the table? She started the fight?” Yarrow could not imagine Ghia throwing punches at random strangers. Despite the girl’s fire and spirit.
Xavier coughed and looked anywhere but Yarrow’s face. “Well. It was about her,” he said, qualifying his statement, and Yarrow needed no more explanation. Ghia was attractive, drunk people did stupid things, and Jules had always been very quick to defend someone’s honour. That equation was a surefire formula for a successful brawl.
She turned to the crowd of patrons, some of whom were edging surreptitiously towards the door, and the rest of whom were still looking anywhere but her face. “Right, you lot, I want all of you – except the officers, whom I’ll deal with myself,” she added, pinning Aro and Caelum with a glare, “all of you get to setting this place to rights. I want it looking better than new when you’re done. Now!” she added, when no one moved, and a general scramble ensued, some patrons shooting sympathetic looks at the majors.
Aro and Caelum edged towards her slowly, trying to put off their punishment, but Yarrow ignored them. She turned back to the healer and held her hand out to help the girl up. Ghia put her softer palm into the bellica’s callused one tentatively and scooted out from under the table. The healer seemed pretty shaken up, and Yarrow gave her a kind smile. “You okay, kid?” she asked.
Ghia nodded, smoothing her peplos and clearing her throat nervously. “You’re not going to punish Jules, are you? It’s not his fault the fight started, he was only – ”
“Save it, girl,” Yarrow cut her off. “I know Jules well enough to be able to guess what happened. I’m not particularly concerned with that right now.” She gave a brisk jerk of the head to the majors, who now stood beside her. “Get the medic to your room, will you? And stay up there,” she added to Caelum’s nod.
The two men dragged the medic’s limp body out from under the table and carefully lifted him, carrying him up the stairs. When they were out of earshot, Yarrow turned to Ghia and gave her a conspiratorial smile. “Men, eh? There’s a reason we run things.”
Ghia’s eyes widened and then she let out a hesitant giggle.
Yarrow was glad she’d been able to make Ghia laugh. That meant the girl was feeling better. “Did Jules sustain anything worse than the concussion he no doubt has?” she asked abruptly, serious again.
A look of sudden remembrance crossed Ghia’s face. “Oh, Goddess! Yes, a cut to the arm,” she gasped, looking longingly up the stairs.
Yarrow recognised the light in the girl’s eyes. It was the same light she saw in Jules when a soldier was injured and he was already rushing to help, regardless of any danger to himself. Healers, she thought, unable to understand what drove people to such a career. Selflessness, she supposed, which was why it had never appealed to her. She did respect them for what they did but she thought they were crazy.
She nodded in the direction of the stairs. “Go. I’ll have a bowl of hot water and some rags sent up. Do you need anything else?”
Ghia was already halfway up the stairs. She turned with a thoughtful look on her face. “Something cold, for their black eyes. Everything else I have,” she added, and was gone, a blur of healing frenzy.
Yarrow shook her head and ordered the supplies up to the boys’ room. This trip was becoming more and more interesting.