Paks watched from her seat in the market-place. The trained soldiers on duty stood silently, their eyes flickering as they watched the passers-by. The other recruits worked their way through the rolls of yesterday’s bread, the thin soup and the stale cheese that the publican had unwillingly handed over.
She saw Sergeant Stammel make a brief note on his wax-pad. She hoped it was a reminder for the Duke’s troops on future visits to either avoid this cheap and nasty excuse for an inn or to remind the owner of his responsibilities.
She remembered a story that Jornoth had told her. His troop had come in really dirty after rescuing a pair of children from the marsh. They had been excited and eager to work their way through a goodly quantity of beer and food. Then the publican had shouted “Ye’re all filthy, I don’t care what you’ve been a’doing of. Ye’re making too much noise and I wants you out. I’m not having noisy, filthy louts in my inn. Ye’re spoilin’ it all for everyone. And I want you to understand I don’t want the likes of you in here – all filthy and noisy.”
The whole troop went in the next night, clean, best uniforms – they had spoken with their sergeant beforehand so as to take care of any arguments. They went in, ordered a big quantity of drink and food – then as the drinks started to arrive one of them said, “Hey boys, isn’t this the pub you got told to leave.”
The senior corporal turned to the publican and said, ever so respectfully, “I’m sorry, sir, but I wasn’t here last night, I didn’t realise this was the pub my men got told to leave. I’ll take them away at once. I do hope you can sell their beers to someone – but I can’t take the risk. As you told them to leave, we’ll be off immediately.” And with that, he called on the whole troop to assemble outside and march off.
The publican was left looking at the row of mugs on the counter – all filled up with nobody to pay for them. And before he’d collected his wits, the troop was out of sight and away.
Some time later, the sergeant arrived and said, “Seems there’s been a bit of a misunderstanding here. I heard that you’re upset with the Duke’s troops and threatening them with some unspeakable nastiness. Can I take a pint with you and suggest that you slow down and listen to an alternative suggestion. My troops are camped only yards away from here and your’s is the closest inn – and they tell me you do actually serve a clean pint.
The publican was barely in a mood to listen – but money is money. “I didn’t realize it was that lot. They were filthy and noisy – it was too much. I run a good, decent hostelry here. I didn’t need it.”
“Did you think of asking why they were on the bounce like that? Didn’t you recognise anyone?”
“Well, they was all so filthy and all amuck.”
“Now, come on, landlord, perhaps you’re not up to date on recent events – they’d been out all afternoon and on the way back heard shouts from the southern marsh, it was those two missing kids. All eight of them had to go in to their waists and even deeper some of them to be able to reach those kids. Are you actually surprised they were so dirty having done that? Do you want only clean soldiers in your pub who ignore nearly-dead children? No – I didn’t think so. Any chance you might think a little more before you get all upset about a bit of mud? Didn’t you think from the noise and general excitement that they were in the mood to spend well? Just a suggestion, mind you.”
“I was fed up – the previous nights have been too much noise and not enough takings – I thought it was more of the same. P’raps I was a bit hasty. But what about all tonight’s wasted beer?”
“I’ll do you a deal – I’ll bring my troop in, and we’ll take the lot at half-price – and if it’s as good as it often is – then we’ll drink some more. And if it’s off, then I’ll get my corporal, whose wife runs a pub, to show you how to keep your beer better. I’d like to have a good inn within walking distance of our camp.”
She’d learnt a trick from Jornoth about giving advice. He’d told her never to say, ‘here’s some advice’, never to say ‘wouldn’t this be a good idea’. He told her – say, ‘my cousin had a situation a bit like that, and it got sorted like this’. And that’s what she said to Sergeant Stammel as they strolled back to camp.
It was more than a year later that he told her, ‘my uncle, mother's brother, Jerd told me the same story about thirty years ago. Apparently his troop saved a group of fifteen girls from quicksand …. But your version did sound more reasonable. Jerd would probably have added a tornado and alligators too. And now we do get good service at that inn now. Strangely, the innkeeper says he now has more trade and people congratulate him on his food and beer. I’d never have guessed it would work out like that.”
And they both smirked – like old soldiers do after a successful skirmish.