The noise of shouting, laughing, and gambling assaulted Eruz’s ears as he entered the tavern. The smell of wine, burning aksa-weed, fish, and bodies that had been working in the heat all day was almost overwhelming. Smoke from the lamps and torches fogged the room. He made his way across the crowded room to a spot on a bench along one of the walls. No one took any notice of him in his plain tradesman’s clothes and white salik; he also wasn’t the only person in the room who wasn’t Urdai. A small group of Xaxan men sat in one corner, drinking and gambling. Three Kai-Kalle youths in brightly-striped robes laughed and bragged and harassed the Urdai serving girl. An extremely drunk Sazar man stumbled into the tavern and began arguing with the barman, then slumped to the floor in a stupor.
Eruz ordered beer from a serving boy; though he usually preferred wine, the wine served in a place like this was likely to be sour and watery, while, it was said, it was impossible to make bad beer from Urdaisunian barley. He slowly nursed his drink while he observed the activity around him.
A small group of Urdai came in and went to a low table in a corner that was quieter than the rest of the tavern. A tall, lean Urdai man sat there with a number of other people. He had a quiet, authoritative air, and seemed to listen more than he spoke. Most likely he was the leader of the Nest, or at least high up in the leadership. Seated next to him was–
Eruz blinked to clear his smoke-hazed eyes and looked again. Rashali.
Relief and joy surged through him, along with an odd, sudden twist of dislike for the man sitting next to her. Eruz watched as the group that had come into the tavern spoke to him. They seemed to include Rashali in what they said, and the man frequently turned to her, as though asking her advice or opinion before replying. It was almost as though they were partners in running the Nest.
Fear quickly overshadowed Eruz’s relief. The Nest was in danger, which meant that Rashali was in danger. He hadn’t known how to deliver his warning—it was unlikely that any Scorpion would listen to a Sazar—but she would listen. He hoped. If she didn’t hate him for what he had done at Three Leaping Fish.