This is a scene towards the end of the book, after Carl has been deposed from the throne of Ser. He is on his way to wreak vengeance on Trav.
Carl sat at the inn table on the hard wooden bench, his muscles sore after another unaccustomed day in the saddle, damp from the intermittent showers that had been falling on and off since dawn. He’d have liked a seat by the fire so he could get dry, but they were all taken. He lacked a change of clothes and, used to clean linen, felt crumpled and grubby. The forest was confusing, and today he had got badly lost. He had taken the wrong path, blundering about for hours before getting back on track. One lot of wet trees looked very much like any other. Without a map he had to rely on rare signposts or directions from surly labourers.
He hated the way he lived now, homeless, comfortless, having to do everything for himself, and he had no idea of what would happen when his money ran out. He could not work, he did not know how, and he had no desire to learn. Still, time enough to think about that when he had done what he meant to do…he would be able to think better once his task was accomplished. It would clear his mind.
‘Here you are,’ the slatternly serving girl said, dumping a plate and tankard in front of him containing a primitive meal of beef, bread and beer. He was hungry, and just the sight of the food made his mouth water, but he called the girl back and pointed to the crusted mustard pot.
‘I’d like a clean one of these.’
‘What’s wrong with it?’
‘It’s got dried mustard all round the top.’
‘No one’s ever complained.’
‘Well, I’m complaining now. I want another one.’
The girl picked the pot up, put it on the table next door, picked up that table’s mustard pot and banged it down in front of Carl.
She walked away. The new mustard pot was hardly cleaner than the first. Carl began to eat. What a wretched inn this was, but it was the only one he could find in the small town and it was a black night. Too dark for him to want to ride on to the next place, and besides he was exhausted. The low-ceilinged room was packed, and the noise of a dozen conversations oppressively loud. Everyone seemed to know each other, and newcomers crossing the threshold were greeted with roars from the drinkers and diners.
‘D’you mind if we sit here?’
Two burly men of uncouth appearance stood by Carl. He looked them over. Their clothes were coarse and they reeked of horses, sweat and ale.
‘Yes, I do mind. I prefer to be alone.’
The larger of the two men raised his eyebrows. ‘Do you now? Then it’s not your lucky day, sonny.’
He settled himself beside Carl, forcing him to shift along, and his friend joined him opposite. They resumed their conversation.
‘The grey gelding Mel was asking five hundred for, did you see its legs? Bog spavined and sand cracks too, he’s got a nerve, and he sold it as well. There’s a fool born every minute. That mare in foal at the end of the line, she was a bargain for anyone with eyes to see it…’
Carl seethed quietly for several minutes, then interrupted.
‘What was the point of asking if you weren’t going to take any notice?’
The big man broke off and turned to Carl as if he had forgotten he was there.
‘Manners,’ he said briefly. ‘Myself I’d have gone for the bay with the blaze, nice looking animal, mark you with that temperament it could break your neck…what is it now?’
‘That’s what you call manners, is it? A perfunctory query then barging in where you’re not wanted? Still, I guess in this company it passes for refinement. I suppose it’s only what I might have expected from a filthy peasant who was probably dragged up in a stable.’
Carl had the man’s full attention now. ‘What did you just say?’
All at once the miseries, discomforts and frustrations of the day came to a head and Carl let some of his anger out. ‘I said you could have been reared in a pigsty, going by your smell, and you’ve got the manners to go with it.’
The man put his tankard down slowly on the table and stood up, exuding such menace that the room hushed round him.
Carl did not like the turn events were taking. ‘No, why should I? Do you know who I am?’
‘I don’t know who you are, and I don’t care. I know what you are, you’re an arrogant little stuck-up git who thinks the world belongs to him and wants teaching a lesson. Well, you’ve just met the man to give it to you. Get up.’
Carl was relieved to see the innkeeper coming over. He addressed the big man before Carl could make a complaint.
‘What’s going on, Winch? Is this fellow causing trouble? I don’t want a fight.’
‘It’s all right, Pirie, I won’t hit him in here, he’s coming outside with me.’
‘Leave him, I’d rather not have a fight outside my inn either.’ He eyed Carl. ‘You, you can clear off, you’re not welcome here.’
‘But that’s outrageous. I haven’t finished my meal. I’ve paid for my room. You can’t turn me out.’
The innkeeper felt in the leather bag on his belt, and counted coins on to the table. ‘I’m doing you a favour. There, take that and don’t come back.’
‘But where am I supposed to sleep tonight? This is the only inn.’
‘That’s your problem.’
Under the unfriendly eyes of the whole room, Carl picked up the money and his jacket and walked out into the black rainy night to get his horse.