I

Arthur was at a run-down, humble watering hole. The red lauan plank floor was creaky. Its walls were peeling off. The upright piano had seen better days. Its player was uninspiring. Same old tunes, no matter the crowd. It made next to no difference, though. Beer mugs were clinking. Money was being lost at poker games. Waitresses were flirting for that extra tip. The alcohol never seemed to stop pouring out of the beer kegs. Business as usual, in other words. Though well past its prime and rickety, the bar was popular.

All this ruckus played against Arthur. It was hard for him to offer his bounty hunting services. The roar of boisterous laughter drowned out any conversation or music. It was difficult to pay attention to chatter.

What is bounty hunting, you ask? A fancy way to say that he’s a worker for hire. He knew the risks of his profession. Yet every contract has been menial so far. No dashing thievery of a precious artefact. He never took part in a plot of intrigue and deceit.

Yet, it was better than his former life. A farmhand as a youth. The work was arduous, yet the pay was next to nothing. Not to mention the utter boredom. One day, he got sick of the isolation and left. To the city, of course. The place where everyone can make something for himself. Or so the dream goes. He wanted to leave his previous life behind, so he let his ambition guide him.

His demeanour didn’t do him any favours. Furtive glances at the hosts. Mumbling to himself. Fidgeting in his seat. He gave off an aura of discomfort. It was obvious that he was out of his element.

His appearance sabotaged him further. A ragged, worn tunic. A faded muffler, riddled with holes. Well-worn and stained trousers. It seemed as if his boots’ soles were going to peel off at any second. Topping it off with an old, patch-worked overcoat. He exuded a vibe resembling a thief or a thug. His roguish looks complicated matters.

Yet he couldn’t leave. Not until he made a contract. It has been too long since he had a job offer. He could not afford to waste another day. He was out of money. He relied on his friend’s charity to survive. Everyone has their limits, though. And their pride. He wanted to wean off his parasitic ways. Thus, he waited. He perked his ears. He heard no juicy gossip. No interesting exchanges. No profitable rumours floated around. Only carousing and merrymaking. Still, he had a hunch. He had to wait. He must wait. And wouldn’t you know? It was worth waiting.

A short, stocky man made an exuberant entrance. The distinguished guest was prim and proper. His clothes immaculate. You could realise at a glance that he was part of the upper crust. His entry left quite the impression on everyone. The festive ambience ceased at once. A deafening silence permeated the bar. It is rare for people like him to be in a place like this. He had a veritable reason to be where he was. He unwrapped a sheet of paper. Everyone’s eyes fixated on him. Was he going to read a royal proclamation? Let’s hear him out.

“As you may be well aware, the health of our esteemed liege, Queen Circe, is in decline. A widower with no heir. As such, she devised a plan. A way to adopt a successor. She is going to organise a celebration on the front courtyard of the castle. She will explain the procedure to every guest present. Those interested are welcome to assist. There are no prerequisites whatsoever.”

After he finished delivering the proclamation, he left the premises with utmost speed. And for a good reason.

Everyone’s mood shifted in a blink of an eye. Euphoric, excited shouting filled the pub. The prospect of becoming the inheritor of the crown proved to be too much for, well, everyone. Sanity flew right out of the window.

Arthur took the hint and headed towards the exit. It was no easy task, by any means. People were already improvising coronation speeches in front of their fellow drunkards. This caused a blockade towards his escape route. A crowd of overexcited barflies pushed each other, and him too. He wasn’t pick-pocketed along the way, despite the many chances of it happening. He couldn’t take advantage of the general ruckus, either. No easy pocket money for him today. Finally, he reached the door. The sheer force of the crowd blasted him outside.

He decided to assist the Queen’s event. There’d be important, wealthy people, after all. That means better job prospects, at least in his mind.

“At least I won’t go hungry today”, murmured to himself.

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