The night is winding down, people leaving the small, smokey building in groups or pairs. Most of them drunk. Only a few stragglers are left, sitting in the corners of your tavern and finishing off their drinks.
And to finish off your night, like many nights before, a certain “customer” comes trudging in the door: a sleepy-looking elf with long, messy hair, and a longbow and arrows on his back. He plops down in a stool at the bar — and lets his head smack down onto the counter with a heavy thump. Giving a long-suffering sigh, you walk over to him, your dripping-wet cleaning rag in hand.
You rhetorically (and grumpily) ask, “Long night, Aired?”
He gives a muffled, “You have no idea” in response anyway, sighs, and lifts his head up with a groan.
Huh. For once, he actually seems genuinely exhausted. Normally, he’d start joking with you the second you walked over, trying to win a free drink with some laughs. Concerned, you ask, “You… wanna talk about it?”
“No, just…” He brings a hand up and ruffles his hair. The long strands tangle further, making him look like he just climbed out of bed. “Just… One ale, please.”
Suddenly, he’s wide awake and staring at you, wide-eyed in alarm. “HUH?! Why not?!”
You put the hand holding the rag to your hip — and send him a serious glare. You just barely manage to growl out, “Be. Cause. You still haven’t payed off the last…” You take a moment to double-check your count. The rag drips an entire puddle of dirty water on the floor when, trying to rein in your anger, you squeeze it tight. Exhausted or not, there was no getting around a tab like his. “FIFTY ales this month. And that isn’t counting last month. OR the month before THAT-!”
“-I-I-… I just haven’t found a good job yet, that’s all!”
“And you’re still refusing to work off your debt, I take it?”
Aired glares back at you. “N-no way! I told you before, I’m FAR too skilled to be seen working in a tavern — let alone as a waiter of all things!”
You cross your arms, tapping your thumb and staring him down. He starts sweating.
There’s only one reason you’d allowed him to rack up such a tab: Elves were always good for business. Whether it was because they always seemed to have money to spare — or because whatever they lacked in money, they made up for by drawing extra business in the door just by being inside. You’d had a few other elves who had gone through similar dry spells, in fact.
But never as long as Aired.
And to make matters worse, the elf always came by when business was practically dead! If he just came earlier (or accepted the job offer, already!), he might be worth the trouble.
And yet, in this case, he might still be of some use. Because there was one other way elves were good for business: their skills.
You stop tapping. “… Well, if it’s a job you’re looking for, I might have one.”
Aired sits up straighter at your words. His voice comes out choked, “O-Oh…?” He clears his throat. “What is it?”
“A group of clients came in earlier today. They were complaining about not having a good enough archer to help them take down…” Your mouth thins as you try to remember. “I think they said it was a worm? Eh, it was that or a wyrmling. Either way…”
You reach into the pocket of your apron, pulling out a pen and notepad. You scratch something down, rip the page out, and set it down on the counter in front of Aired. “Here’s their address. Come back with some money, and I’ll consider serving you drinks again. Depends how much you bring in.”
“Oh, um… Thanks?” He picks it up and inspects the note. He’s holding it as if it might bite him.
Swallowing, he tucks it into the pouch on his hip. You’ve gone back to cleaning, trying to dry up the puddle, only to hear him dare to ask from above you, “So… I don’t suppose I could get one more ale-?”
You growl, “Get out of my tavern. Now.” and hear him scurry out the door.
You don’t hear from him the next day. But what you do hear, about halfway through the day after that, is your door SLAM open as you’re serving a new customer the best-tasting meal on the menu.
A burly man with an axe on his belt — the one who had opened the door ever-so-gently — storms up to you and yells, “Are you the one who sent us that archer?!”
You set down the customer’s meal with a polite, “One moment please.”
Turning from the customer, you tuck the tray you’d carried the food on under your arm. “What archer?”
You lead the Angry Axe-Man over to the counter (where you at least a have weapon hidden). The man follows you, at least, but he’s still screaming. “That sorry excuse for an elf! ‘Airhead Doorbell’ or whatever!”
Before you set it down in the sink, the tray hangs in the air for just a second. Hesitating, you ask, “… Aired Dorbella?”
“Yeah! Him!” Axe-Man slams his hands on the counter. “Was it you who sent him?!”
Trying not to chuckle, and as straight-faced as you can manage, you turn and ask, “Why? Did he do something?”
“He missed the first shot!”
You pause. “… He what?”
“HE! MISSED! The VERY FIRST! SHOT!”
Finally, Axe-Man’s teammates join you and a guy dressed all in back adds, “Not just that. He freaking RAN AWAY!”
You’re still frozen, but you manage to squeeze out, “That… Doesn’t sound right.”
“You’re telling us!” Axe-Man yells.
Recovering, you admit, foolishly, that it WAS you who gave him their address- but they interrupt your explanation with an even more confusing bit of info.
A female mage in the back of the small huddle asks- err, accuses you, “Why the hell d’you send us that young of an elf, huh?!”
“Wait. Young?” You stand on your toes to try and meet the woman’s eyes. “What does that have to do with it?”
She elbows her way to the front, Axe-Man reluctantly shuffling to the side. “It’s only the really freakin’ old ones that are any good at ANYTHING!”
A dwarf on your right adds, “Yeah, and Airhead couldn’t have been more than twenty! So why d’you-?!”
You wave your hands and try to salvage the situation, saying, “I swear, I had no idea — about his age OR why it mattered! I only gave him your address for the job ‘cause he owes me a ton of money!”
“Yeah, well, you’re not the only one!” Axe-Man screams, “He demanded we pay him upfront to be our archer, and then he just VANISHED!”
Another teammate you can’t see yells from further back, “We should hunt HIM instead of the wyrmling!”
The rest of the group gives out a raucous cheer of agreement.
And a light-bulb turns on in your head. You might be able to get something out of this after all! Aired may not be good for money — or to recommend for clients’ jobs. But if he really isn’t “any good at ANYTHING” like the woman said… Well, now you know why he can’t seem to get any “good” jobs.
Which means, with the debt he owes you — he can’t refuse yours!
Smirking, you make yourself heard over the excitement.
And a couple days later, you’re examining the beautiful new bounty hanging on your wall:
“This young elf owes a large debt to the local tavern. 300 Gold will be rewarded to anyone who can bring him in ALIVE. Poses minimal threat.”
There’s a portrait of Aired above the text, with his name printed directly between.
The people who made it must have misheard the name, though. Because the bounty is for someone called “Airhead Doorbell.”