“Oh, come on, you’ve given me the cold shoulder for several hours now. Stop sulking. Are all Mukthars this stubborn?” Lee-Lack asked.
“Yes, we are.”
“I’ve apologized, haven’t I?”
“I suppose so.”
“Oh, all right… Aren’t we there yet? Since you promised me a warm meal and a warm bath, I can’t stop thinking about them. And another thing. I noticed we’re moving away from Mirkadesh. Mirkadesh the village, that is. I’d have thought such luxuries would be found in the most important place of the region, but we’re moving in the opposite direction. And another thing—”
“Yeah, okay, okay. Give me a chance to get a word in edgewise and explain things. You’re right. There are a lot of taverns, inns and hostelries the nearer you get to towns, cities or even larger villages. But I happen to live outside the county.”
“Why? You’re a Mirkadeshi, aren’t you?”
“Yes, and my home used to be there. When I became the leader of the Renuvian Plains Robbers I thought it wise to have a more, ah, discreet place to stay as well. Not exactly a secret hide-out, but something more… secluded.”
“Anyway, this place we’re going to is a tavern called the Stone. Its full name is the Stone under the Oak Tree, but only people from outside the region call it that. The owner knows me. It’s a fine place. No Guild Station by any means, but the rooms are clean and the food is decent. The stables are watched day and night. And, of course, there’s the warm baths.”
“When will we be there?”
“Less than half an hour. It’s not far from the border between the county of Mirkadesh and the province of Amiratha.”
It was early evening, but the sun was still shining, casting long shadows, and they decided to take their meal at one of the tables in the back garden.
“Mukthar clothes seem to be all the fashion,” Lee-Lack said. “I hadn’t noticed before, but it must have been going on for a while now.”
“Except they’re not all Mukthar clothes. Don’t look immediately, but do you see the shirt that man at the table to our left is wearing?”
“Yes. What about it.”
“See the fur lining? It’s just a narrow strip, and it doesn’t go around the hem. It’s just sown onto the front for decoration. It’s fake. A cheap imitation.”
“There’s probably not enough of the authentic stuff, or real Mukthar clothes are too expensive.”
“I can’t wait to wear my own clothes again. Real, expensive Mukthar apparel.”
“I think they have women here who’ll do your washing for you,” Lee-Lack remarked casually.
“No way. The fur is delicate and should be treated with care. There are leather parts that need oiling. The toggles are made of the tusks of wild boars and if some wench washes them in water that’s too hot, they might get damaged.”
Lee-Lack laughed out loud.
“I never knew Mukthars were so fastidious.”
“It so happens that my clothes are no cheap fakes. You should treat your gear with respect, and in return it will give you years of good service. And that includes the things you wear.”
A servant maid brought their dinner, consisting of a roasted chicken, gravy, a dish made from cabbages, sweetened with apples, and a generous loaf of dark bread.
Yllyesh discarded the vegetables onto the ground and attacked the chicken as if it were a personal enemy. Lee-Lack smiled seeing the young man eat with such unconcealed gusto.
“It’s good, isn’t it?” he asked. “The landlord’s wife is a great cook.”
“It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten this well. Mind you, we like our meat rare and spicy. And they seem to have removed the innards.” He tore a piece of meat from the carcass with his teeth. “Understandable. They probably make a very exquisite — and very expensive — dish with the best parts of the chicken.”
“As long as you are enjoying your food,” Lee-Lack said.
“Oh, I am,” Yllyesh replied dipping his loaf of bread in the dish with butter.
After he had wiped up the last of the gravy with the last of the bread, the Mukthar rinsed his mouth with undiluted wine. He let out a sigh of utter contentment.
“You still haven’t answered my question why you treated my injury instead of killing me,” Yllyesh said when a servant had emptied the last bucket of warm water into the wooden bathtub. There were three more tubs, but Lee-Lack had paid for all of them so they could have the whole room to themselves for the next two hours.
The Mukthar got out of the clothes he had taken from their assailants, discarding them wherever they happened to fall. He had put his own clothes in a neat stack on a bench.
He climbed into the large tub.
“So, why didn’t you kill me?” Yllyesh repeated his question.
“I’m beginning to think I made a mistake,” Lee-Lack replied as he disrobed. He smiled.
Yllyesh splashed water in his direction.
“Stop it,” Lee-Lack said. “You’re getting my clothes wet.”
“Get out of them, then,” the Mukthar challenged him.
“Look out, I’m coming to drown you.”
Lee-Lack was both embarrassed and flattered when he noticed how Yllyesh was looking at him unabashedly. He was sure he flushed when he saw that the Mukthar obviously liked what he saw.
“You’re still looking good,” the Mukthar said. “You’ve kept in shape.”
“What do you mean, still. I’m not that old.” Lee-Lack climbed over the bathtub rim.
“And I’m not ancient,” Yllyesh said, as he pulled at one of Lee-Lack’s arms, making him lose his balance.
Lee-Lack went under, and the Mukthar was laughing out loud when, suddenly, he felt his legs being pulled from under him in much the same way as he had pulled Lee-Lack’s legs from under him in the basin in the mountains.
Chortling, both young men resurfaced, shaking the water from their hair.
Yllyesh made a playful attempt to wrestle Lee-Lack under again, but gave up when the robber proved too strong.
The contact had been fleeting, but unmistakable. For a brief moment their bodies had touched and Lee-Lack had felt the Mukthar’s hard dick against his thigh.
For some reason, being able to elicit lust in the younger man pleased Lee-Lack enormously.