Chapter 6: The Coffee of Macho

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“No. No, no and no,” Ailbhe said. “We are not keeping it.”

The healer sat across the table with hellspawn curled up in her lap. “Aw, but she’s so adorable. Why not?”

“You wouldn’t say that if you could see what I see,” the paladin said.

Ciardhe glared at her. “She’s also an orphan with nowhere to go.”

Ailbhe grunted and turned her attention to Iain. “Coffee should be here soon. What do you want to eat once you’ve had your caffeine fix?”

As she was talking, Ciardhe got up and took the hellspawn to another table, presumably so the paladin would stop being so offensive.

The berserker stared at her for a moment and seemed to be trying to process her words. “Meat?” he said finally.

She sighed. “Hamburger it is. Well, if they serve them.”

They were at another inn, though this one was slightly more expensive than the last one at which they’d stayed. There weren’t stains on the walls and someone was more likely to spontaneously recite poetry than they were to start a bar fight. Ciardhe insisted on the place “For the sake of the child.” In fact she’d insisted on two rooms. She didn’t want hellspawn to spend the night with two guys, and Ailbhe refused to make Iain and Seamus sleep outside. So despite the fact that they’d just gotten paid, they wouldn’t be able to stay for more than two nights.

One of the waiters approached their table. “Mademoiselle Paladin,” he said. “I am so sorry, but we have run out of coffee. Quite literally, I am afraid. We made it to your instruction and just as it was starting to become ‘thick enough to put on toast’,” he said, using air quotes, “The kitchen boy in charge of it was called away. When he returned, it was gone! Only little coffee footprints showed what had happened.”

Ailbhe groaned. “I told you not to use anything fancy.”

Beside her Iain glared at him, a low growl just audible above the ambient noise.

“But Madam Zinn’s Gourmand Coffee is plain, very plain. It is also the only thing we have,” the poor man said. He paled as he watched the berserker. Iain’s muscles tensed as if getting ready to lunge; had there not been a table between the two of them, the waiter might have wet himself.

Without glancing at him, Ailbhe patted her friend’s head. “I suppose there’s no help for it then.” She reached down and plucked from her belt a dirty brown bag. “Here, use some of this and make coffee before the poor berserker loses it again. And bring some hamburgers. He’s hungry.”

The man looked at the bag, horrified. “You want me to take that disgusting thing into my kitchen and-”

Iain’s growl grew louder.

The man grabbed the bag. “It will be just a few moments, ma’am. Please have patience.” He skittered away with the bag before Iain could pounce.

The berserker made to follow him, but Ailbhe grabbed his arm and pulled him down. “He’ll be back soon if he knows what’s good for him,” she said.

Iain made a displeased sound, but didn’t follow, choosing instead to snuggle up to the bard.

The coffee came out about fifteen minutes later, along with the rest of the beans. The bag looked just as full now as it had before.

“Very strong beans. Just two nearly melted steel,” their waiter said. He set down a steaming pot and three enormous hamburgers.

The paladin’s lip curled. “Just two beans? I’ll bet even Seamus could handle that,” she said as she poured coffee into two cups and a bowl. Two of the burgers went to Iain. The third she cut in half for the bard and herself.

“Look, just because I thought someone poisoned me that one time I tried Iain’s coffee,” Seamus said. He took the cup offered to him.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean it to sound that way,” Ailbhe said as she handed Iain a bowl full of coffee.

The berserker sniffed at the brew, took a sip, then drained the whole bowl. He started in on the burger while Seamus refilled his bowl. The bard seemed to have only taken a few sips of his coffee.

Beside him Ailbhe drank hers with deep gulps. About halfway through the burger (and on her second cup), she stopped, blinking a little. Impulsively she leaned over and kissed Iain. The berserker paused in eating and turned to look at her. After staring with a puzzled look on his face, something seemed to dawn on him. He pounced on Seamus, kissing him quite thoroughly despite the other man’s resistance.

When the bard’s movements changed from struggles to wild flailing, Ailbhe grabbed Iain and dragged him off.

“That’s quite enough of that,” she said, handing him his second burger. “I suppose it’s my fault, giving you ideas while you’re recovering. Interesting choice with Seamus, I didn’t expect-”

The bard kissed her cheek.

She blinked. “I didn’t expect that either,” she said.

Seamus sat there, looking unsure whether he wanted to blush or do it again. Another swig of coffee and he leaned toward her. Unfortunately much to Seamus’s dismay, Ian took the moment to intercept him.

The paladin hauled him off again. “That’s it, no more coffee for anyone. Grab your food, we’re going back to the room.”

As if on cue, hellspawn started throwing a tantrum because the menu didn’t have macaroni and cheese.

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