Two large bags were slung on each of Norton Lorist’s shoulders, with another large shoulder-width rucksack hanging from his bag. His left arm held a yellowish-green rattan box while his right was wrapped around a bunch of rolled up beast skins which were resting on his shoulders. A red double door with a white wine glass painted on top of it was kicked open by him; he looked like a big, clumsy bear as he toiled and stumbled, struggling to squeeze himself through the doorway which was wide enough to let two bulky men go through at the same time.
It was three in the afternoon. This was the time when the inn was at its quietest. The main hall of the inn only had three people in it. The red-nosed bard old Mike, who’s had a little too much to drink, slept very soundly face down on the table. At the table beside the fireplace sat old Hope the cobbler and the retired postman old Tom, both of whom were previously immersed in a card game, stared wide-eyed at Lorist who had just barged in.
Nodding at Hope and Tom, Lorist laid his luggage on the ground in front of the counter and stacked them up into a pile. He placed his bear fur cap on the table and shed his black leather jacket and subsequently removed two swords of different lengths that were slung on his waist and laid them on the table. He let out a long sigh, knocked on the table and called out. “Old Char? You here? Where is he… Hey, your wine barrel’s being carried away!”
“My god, it’s Locke…” said Tom as he finally recognized Norton Lorist without his jacket.
Hope couldn’t resist anymore and stood straight up. “Hey, Locke. It’s been quite some time now, about… half a year? We thought something happened to you. Did you bring back some star-spotted deerskins that I wanted?”
Pointing towards the beast skins on the floor, Lorist said “I got three of them wrapped up inside. Go check it out yourself.”
A thin and tall old man emerged from the door behind the counter. Seeing Lorist standing at the counter, his glum face lighted up with a hint of a smile. “You’re back!”
This old man was the boss of the Red Grace Inn, Brennan Charlando, whom Lorish referred to as Old Char. Don’t take his limping walk for granted; nobody could even conjecture that this expressionless, quiet old man behind the counter was actually a One Star Gold Swordsman. Most of the patrons of that inn never had a clue.
“Hey, Old Char. Get me some blackcurrant ale. Oh, and ask McDuffin over there to cook me a big meal. For half a year I’ve been having meager rations… I miss the food here so much!” said Lorist without a shred of hesitation.
“I got it.” Charlando served Lorist a large mug of blackcurrant ale. “Drink some of this first. I’ll go wake McDuffin up.”
“Oh, and, could you check the goods out for me? I brought a bunch of things back from this excursion. I wonder if it matches up.” said Lorist as he watched Old Hope fumbling through the beast skins.
Charlando nodded and disappeared behind the door.
“Yawn…” A sleepy-eyed woman subsequently came out from the door. “Who is it? Don’t you see that everyone’s taking a nap? You must have a screw or two loose if you come at this hour for a meal, sheesh.”
That busty woman was dressed in tight clothing which accentuated her curvaceous figure. This was the head serving girl of the inn, Louise.
“Cough…” Lorist choked up and blushed. No matter who it was, there was no way of completely staying calm when faced with the first woman they had a physical relationship with. That was especially the case with Lorist, who was even more nervous in front of Louise. Back then during his twentieth birthday, the drunk Lorist had his virginity taken by Louise, who said that it was her gift for his “passage into adulthood”. Some amount of fear still lingered in Lorist’s heart even after all these years.
“Oh my! Our Locke’s back! I’ve missed you so much over these six months… Come, give your big sis a hug.” Louise’s eyes gleamed as she saw Lorist and all traces of sleepiness vanished from her eyes as she spread her arms and leapt towards him.
Louise hugged Lorist over the counter and forcefully planted two kisses on his cheeks.
“Did you return just recently? Look at you, poor Locke… You’ve gotten so much thinner and tanned during the past six months! All of were worried about you and couldn’t get our minds off you. You didn’t send us any letters for so long. We were really worried something bad happened to you…” Louise started chattering on.
“Come on, aren’t I back here safe and sound? This expedition to the Relic Islands brought me far overseas, there was no way I could contact you. And, don’t you know the ferry to the Relic Islands only operate once every six months? What are you worried about? Don’t you guys have any confidence in my abilities?”
“With your Three Star Iron power level? Haven’t you heard about all the Silver Swordsmen who perished on the Relic Islands… We hear a lot of stories like that in the inn.” said Louise without holding back at all.
“Eh? But I, a Three Star Iron Swordsman, has never lost a match to even one Silver Swordsman…” said Lorist as he scratched his nose, embarrassed.
“Those are just sparring matches in the academy! How could those compare to life and death battles with magical beasts? Your competitors were just going easy on you. I really don’t get what those old bastards at the academy see in you. They could’ve just picked one Silver Swordsman out of so many others… Why did they bring you along as a bodyguard instead?” Louise felt that it was extremely unfair to Lorist for him to be expected to carry out tasks meant for Silver Swordsmen given his rank as an Iron Swordsman.