and join the ongoing celebration. The smiling faces he encountered were a step back into something he was
more accustomed. Young men his age danced together and created an unmistakable contrast from his experience at the tournament grounds. The wafting smell of the roasted boar he passed earlier brought him back.
He now longed for something familiar and the comforting thought of ale was the first thing that came to mind.
Why not? He thought, I haven't seen Alasdair in weeks anyway.
On the outside, the Loose Plug Inn was run down and even a bit dirty. He opened the door and was
reminded that the inside was no better off. Alasdair, the proprietor, greeted him. Originally born in Tholand,
Alasdair abandoned his birthplace and settled here in this village. Gonath was curious to know the reasons why, but Alasdair was always able to avoid the subject and let the curiosity pass once the ale began to flow.
"Gonath! Yours be the last face I thought I would see this day!" Alasdair belted out.
It was apparent the Thol had been "sampling" his ale again for his accent was heavier now than when sober, and his volume was to the point of irritation.
"I couldn't just come all the way into town and ignore the hospitality and ale of the Loose Plug Inn could I?" Gonath
"That be good to hear Gonath. I'd begin to think they'd make a monk of you yet."
Alasdair grabbed an oversized wooden cup from a shelf beneath the saturated barrels of ale stacked against a nearby wall. He filled the cup with the warm brew to the point of overflowing and passed it to his young customer.
Gonath held the cup for a moment and watched the thick block of foam at the surface dissolve into a dark heavy solution. Once the ale's head disappeared, he raised the cup and half of its contents vanished. He raised the cup again and drained what was left. The taste of the ale and how it warmed him from inside out reminded him
of the first time he was introduced to the drink usually reserved for the older men in the village. Gonath
remembered the bitter aftertaste, the quick intoxicating effect, and the consequences of partaking too much of the potent drink. Alasdair told him it was his rite of passage. The monks made him do the wash.
The large Thol slammed another cup down in front of Gonath and filled it as he did with the one before. The noise abruptly ended his thoughts and brought him back to the dark hall and Alasdair's silly Tholish grin. Gonath took his time and nursed the drink.
"The way you finished off the last, it would seem you either have a terrible thirst or the Tournament has withered our nerves. Which would it be?" asked the Thol.
Gonath smiled, "A little of both. But honestly, I only missed the company of a friend and his terrible ale."
What did happen back there? Gonath thought. Am I really that much of a coward?
Alasdair sensed Gonath's distraction and removed the cup sitting between them.
"Terrible or not, too much ale is no good with the curious folk wandering our streets. Stay, but no more drink for you. We can fill our cups again in good spirit when the town clears."
They looked at one another and Alasdair saw the concern in Gonath's gaze. He was about to question his troubled friend when a heavy hand grasped Gonath's shoulder and twisted him around. Gonath reached for the dagger attached to his belt and regretted to find an empty sheath. He left hurried this morning and left his knife behind.
An image of Ilbert and Lludd flashed through his mind to suggest his stupidity.