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Fantasy Fiction

“So, what’s your plague?” 

“What?” Reine looked up from her drink. The bartender was in his forties with surprisingly thick, blond hair, a bulbous nose, and kind eyes. His skin was a bit red from sunburn and his tunic was stained with beer. 

“A person drinks like that?” the bartender rested his elbows on the long, oak counter and wiped up some liquor from the countertop. “They only drink for three reasons: an ex-lover, bad news, or a terrible loss. The very unlucky ones get all three, but it can always be boiled down to one of those three. So, which is it?”

Reine pushed some of her wavy, black hair back behind her long, pointed ears and looked at the human bartender. Her skin was light brown and she had dark brown eyes with full, round lips. Unlike the bartender, her skin was unmarred by the sun and her eyes were sadder.

She’d chosen this tavern for it’s out of the way, run-down look. It had taken Reine all day to slip the men assigned to watch her and she wanted nothing more than to drink alone in the dingy tavern. The curtains were torn and faded, the tables were mismatched and didn’t have any table cloths, and the elven wine was a terrible vintage. No one would think to find her here and she was hoping for some peace and quiet. She was disappointed. 

“I’d rather not talk about it,” Reine said. “I’d rather drink.” 

“Well,” the bartender frowned and put the towel over his shoulder, “that’s a shame. Now, I’m gonna have to guess and no one wants that.” 

“No one does,” Reine growled turning back to her drink. 

“Well, you don’t strike me as the type to get upset over a loss. Elves—in my experience—don’t get too bent up over their loved ones dying. It’s not that you don’t miss them or don’t feel anything. Elves believe that their loved ones are returning to the earth from which they were born if my recollections of elven religion are correct.” 

“‘Renewed in the light of the After’ is what the old texts say,” Reine scowled. “We believe we return to the earth after renewing ourselves in the light of the sun.” 

“Right,” the bartender said. “My apologies…I flunked out of the monastery when I tried to be a cleric. Just as well. The clerics can take confession like pulling teeth, but alcohol makes people confess, too.” 

“Certain elves notwithstanding,” Reine said, swirling her elven wine before taking a sip. 

“Fine,” the bartender said. For a blissful moment, Reine thought the bartender was going to leave, but fortune had never favored her. “An ex-lover then? Nah…you’ve been patient while I’ve been bugging you all night. It takes a lot to get under your skin, so I don’t see you as someone to get upset over someone else.” 

“I’m good at hiding it,” Reine glared. “Fifty-six years of living makes you good at hiding your emotions.” 

“Only fifty-six?” The bartender grinned. “I suppose I could learn a thing or two from you then. Not an ex-lover then?” 

“No,” Reine scowled. “And if you want a free lesson from your elders, it’s to not bother someone while—“

“Ah! Bad news then,” the bartender snapped his fingers. “I should have guessed that first.”

“It would have covered the other two.” 

“Unless it was the death of an ex-lover!” The bartender smiled. “It may be a human thing, but I’ve met a handful of lovely women who would love to see their former loves in the dirt. And you don’t seem to be drinking in celebration.” 

“No,” Reine said. “I’m not.” 

“Alright,” the bartender said. “Now, we’re getting to the core of it.”

“Is this going to take much longer?” Reine asked. “I’m just trying to drink.” 

“Well, that depends on you,” the bartender said. “I may not be a cleric, but I do give good advice.” 

Reine exhaled, irritated, and took another sip of her wine. “I’m doomed to wed.” 

“Ah,” the bartender said. “Not a fan of your husband? Or wife?” 

“No, he’s a fine man,” Reine said. “Handsome, strong, kind…a noble to boot.” 

“And yet?” 

Reine downed the last of the wine and pushed the cup across to the bartender. Eagerly, the bartender paid Reine’s toll and refilled her drink. She took a sip and licked her lips. After a moment, Reine took a breath. “Have you ever fallen in love?” 

“One of the reasons clergy didn’t work out for me,” the bartender said. “She’s my wife now and we have three children.” 

“When I was born,” Reine said, “my family paid a fortune to have my future read. The Village Elder came to our home and told them I would marry the son of the elven king. Since then, we were brought together by fate to be joined in marriage.” 

“But not congratulations?” The bartender asked. 

Reine looked up, her big brown eyes a little shiny with sadness. “I never got the chance to fall in love. Or fall out of love. How am I supposed to know if he’s the one I’m meant to marry if I’ve been forced into this from birth?” 

“Ah,” the bartender said. “So you’re unsure if your love is true or if you’re following a pattern that you’ve been forced into?” 

“Yes,” Reine nodded. “I talk with other elves my age and they’ve had dozens of relationships. Some have touched at love, some have fallen deeply into it and many have lost love. My fiancé is wonderful, but I don’t know if it’s love or if it’s a fate I’ve resigned myself to.” 

“Hmmm,” the bartender nodded, considering. “So, you don’t know if you believe your future?” 

“No,” Reine shook her head. She took a sip of her drink as the bartender leaned against the counter, strumming his fingers against the oak wood. 

“Would you like some advice?” 

“I doubt I could stop you as long as you’re here.” 

“What I’ve always found,” the bartender said, “is that fortune tellers are full of shit.” 

“Well, human fortune-tellers maybe, but—“

“No, no, even elves,” the bartender said. “They get involved in people’s lives for a small dragon’s hoard for things that will come true whether they get involved or not. And they often take things too far and influence fate themselves, so they justify their worth.” 

“You don’t believe in prophecy?”

“Of course not!” The bartender scoffed.

“Well, wouldn’t you like to know if you were going to die by…drowning? Wouldn’t you want to avoid deep water?” 

“That’s exactly what I’m talking about,” the bartender grinned. “Say a fortune-teller came to my parents and said I was going to drown. My old mother—rest her soul—would do everything in her power to ensure I wasn’t near deep water. She’d do what she thought was right, but how do you learn to swim?” 

“You do it in water…” 

“Now, let’s say a sixteen-year-old me goes wandering with a pretty girl from the village. While we’re walking, we go up on a bridge and the bridge breaks under us. Without the prophecy, I know how to swim in the deep water, so I save myself and that pretty village girl. Now, we’re married with kids. And all because I knew how to swim. If I am doomed to drown, I won’t let that be because I let it happen. If I live afraid of water, the prophecy is self-fulfilling.” 

“So what? You’re saying I shouldn’t listen to the fortune-teller? Marry someone else? Elven engagements can last decades in some cases.” 

“I’m saying,” the bartender said, refilling her glass, “ignore the prophecy surrounding your fate. This right for example: do you love the man who will become your husband?”

“I think so. We haven’t talked much.” 

“Not even a little?” 

“A few dinners here and there, but he’s still the son of the king, so—“

“Think of it as an opportunity then,” the bartender smiled. “What if your fortune was to get the chance at marrying him? I’m sure—as his future bride—you can make arrangements for an evening alone together.” 

“For what?” 

“A nice meal? Some conversation? I haven’t courted in a few years, but I’ve been told it’s similar to how I used to do it.” 

“So I should spend time with him? And what if I’m not in love with him and the prophecy is wrong?” 

“Prophecies from fortune tellers aren’t wrong,” the bartender said, “but don’t expect to be happy if you’re not putting the work into your future. If I were to drown? It would happen whether I was prepared to swim or not, but I would make sure I was a damn good swimmer to keep it from happening too early. You’ve got an opportunity to marry the future king, yes? Then wouldn’t it be worth it to see if you love him?” 

Reine cracked a small smile and took another sip of her drink. “I thought that I would be giving you advice, as your senior…” 

“Well, experience is one thing,” the bartender grinned, “but don’t mistake youthful optimism for naivety.” 

Reine smiled again as the bartender refilled her cup. She sipped the wine and sighed. “So, what is it that the young people are doing to court these days?”  

October 07, 2020 18:03

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1 comment

Writer Maniac
04:57 Oct 16, 2020

I loved this story! Their conversation was wonderful to read, and it seemed so natural and realistic! Well done!

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