The crackling of the wood fire and the loud conversation of everyone else in the inn seemed to be drowned out rather suddenly by the tiefling's words. A small amount of panic rose within Eomer's chest, and he could even feel his heart beating much faster in his chest. In a mild attempt to quell his newfound nerves, he reached, somewhat clumsily, for the drink in front of him and took a few deep draughts in a weak attempt to steady himself. Even he knew that such a small amount of such a weak drink would do barely anything to help, but even this was better than nothing.
"'Was a bounty hunter'?" He asked somewhat shakily, if nothing else just to reassure himself. "As in no longer a bounty hunter? Not even for guild jobs?" As he asked this, he made a mental checklist of all his personal equipment, eyes darting around towards each location just to double check they lay where he left them. Svärdstav by the door, knife on his belt along with his coin pouch and diary, and his carry sack sat alone by the fire with some nonessentials strewn beside it to dry. He didn't care she knew the area better than him, a little hope was better than no hope.
"Nah, not anymore," Nem replied with a rueful grin, mistakenly attributing the smallest hints of panic in Eomer and his sudden clumsiness to the ale. It wasn't very strong, but after a day of marching, even a weak ale could feel stronger than it normally would. "I'm retired, at least that's what I promised my father. He wanted me to do something else, something a bit less dangerous, so I took up being a bodyguard. But watching leading members of society as they wiled away their days safe in their castles wasn't really my thing, so here I am, off seeking the next great adventure."
Rubbing a hand lightly against one of her horns, as if thinking, she smiled even more broadly in Eomer's direction, "However, if it was a guild job...then sure, I'd do it. I'd go chasing some fool bounty down the entire length of the Swamp Road again. A job is a job after all, and orders are orders."
"Yeah, guild job" muttered the Badlander somewhat incoherently, his heart beginning to slow down now, not back to normal yet but slowly getting there. Even the panic began to slowly ebb away, as he looked at her. Somehow Nem's words managed to being some relief to Eomer, that or the alcohol was beginning to enter his system, either way, maybe even both, but he was far more at ease than he had been before. Finishing the last of his first tankard, he hesitated momentarily before lowering the container to the table with an unimpressed thud. No more alcohol, he told himself resolutely, no more alcohol or there is a chance I'll say something I'll regret.
A smirk crossed his face before he rekindled the conversation. "I just can't imagine you being a body guard for some uppity fool. I mean, the way they behave, they almost asking for someone to stab them". A small chuckle escaped his lips; as startled as he was, even with the unknowing reassurance the tiefling had provided, morbid jokes still held their humour. If nothing else, it was a poor attempt to hide his discomfort, just pretending it was as normal.
"Still though, I can't imagine someone wanting to approach one of them with you around, no offense. As pretty as you are, I can just imagine how intimidating some folks'd find you". Another laugh permeated the air as Eomer forgot about his steadfast "no more alcohol" decision. Whether it was her words or the booze that calmed him down, it worked. Catching the attention of a barmaid who removed his initial tankard from the table, along with Nem's first one, the barmaid took orders for more. "Another one, Nem?" He asked quietly. As long as she stays drunker than I it's fine, Eomer reasoned with himself.
"Sure, another drink it is," Nem replied with a grin as she tossed a coin to serving girl. Eomer had bought the first round so it was only right that she buy the second.
Grabbing a hold of her new, freshly filled tankard, Nem nodded wisely, "Yes, it wasn't exactly my favorite sort of job. But it paid the bills. And what steward doesn't want his own pet demon to keep the peasants in line?"
Although she hid it well, there was a spark of anger in her eyes as she uttered the familiar insult that had been hurled in her direction so many times.
"Enough about me and the souls I've drunk," Nem continued making it clear she was joking. "You sound and look like a man of the North. How did you end up so far South and in this humble company of adventurers?"
"Pet demon? That's something I'd almost pay to see. Two days and I cant think of anyone who'd have a chance to tame you a little" Eomer laughed, muttering a quiet 'thank you' to the barmaid who brought them a fresh round. The Badlander again drunk deep, this time however using it as an excuse to mull over her question. She won't trust me again if I tell her truthfully, he thought to himself, I mean, who'd rightfully trust a bandit?. No, I won't say that...
"Aye, is it that obvious?" He answered quietly, buying himself a little more time to think. "You'd've thought the dialect would have faded from my voice a little over the last few years. Maybe it has, but not exactly many people around here to compare it with, no?" A small smirk crossed Eomer's face.
"I used to lead a small militia up north. Mainly men, some women, and a few children" he added. "It's not a good place to raise children, it's too dangerous, and you don't always know who's going to wake up when the sun rises, especially with the amount of bandits in the area. My mother bore and raised me there, so the dangers of the Badlands are something that created me just as much as she did if I am honest."
A pause came as he took another drink before continuing. "The problem is, with leading a group like that, you become a target. Both in the literal sense of people taking hits out on you, which you can see worked so successfully" he laughed, "but also become a scapegoat for the things that go wrong. Not enough food for the winter? My fault. Disease taken loved ones? My fault. I became fed up and bitter with everyone trying to blame their problems on me, and fed up of sleeping with an eye open in the night watching for assassins. One night I just packed up the essentials and left, heading far enough south until my name no longer held any weight, and began to forge myself a new name."
"What else is someone with skills like ours meant to do? Odd jobs, such as guarding trade caravans was what I ended up specialising in. It suited me, moving constantly from place to place, no one knowing who you were; it's safer that way. I found myself in Gallant though, about a year back, trader went bankrupt not long after arriving, and ended up talking to a man in a pub about jobs around the area. You can probably imagine which direction he pointed me in"
"It is hard to lead, that much is true," Nem agreed with a solemn nod as Eomer told the story of his past. She knew well the struggles of guiding others through the wilderness, through lands plagued by bandits, and forgotten places long since consigned to monsters or worse. She had rarely lead more than a couple of other bounty hunters in the pursuit of a fleeing criminal, but on occasion, when the mark was dangerous or powerful enough she had been given command of a small number of sellswords. Many had not made it. The Swamp Road showed little mercy towards the weak. It was why she preferred to work with a few others she could trust. A small unit could be flexible, they could adapt, they could move stealthily, as quietly as the great predators of the Swamp Road, and they could run if things took a turn for the worse.
As Eomer continued to spin his tale, Nem felt an itch, an old familiar feeling gnawing at her bones. She did not believe him. His story was believable enough. Plausible even. But she couldn't shake the feeling that he was lying to her about something. The scent of the lie sent a shiver down her neck and filled her stomach with newfound dread that she carefully buried beneath a smile and softening eyes. A life as a bounty hunter had shaped her, it had molded her, and she had not forgotten the tools of her past. Hunting wanted criminals required an ability to gather information and a talent for spotting a lie.
Hiding her thoughts in another pull from her tankard of ale, Nem reminded herself that Eomer did not owe her the truth of his past. Few men managed to live their lives without some modest regrets. He might have been a coward, perhaps he had run from a battle. He could have been defeated, losing his subordinates. The Badlands were infamous for the criminals that plied their trade far beyond the sharp sword of the law, perhaps Eomer had been a band-.. No, no, he couldn't have been a bandit, Nem quickly thought. Surely, the guild wouldn't allow criminals in their midst. And even so, maybe had been pardoned? Maybe had paid his debt? She wanted to trust him. It was a dangerous hope, but he had been reliable, he had been friendly, and he had stood up for her. She had met few in the Lowlands who were willing to suffer her company in private, much less support her in public.
She would give him a chance Nem decided as she drained the last of her ale. She owed him that much, but only that much. Stretching as she rose Nem feigned a deep yawn and slapped Eomer good-naturedly on the shoulder,"Many thanks for the drink and company Eomer, but given the hour and my weariness, I do believe it is time for me to find my room and bed. We will no doubt have a day full of adventure ahead of us and I don't want to slow us down."
Half disappointed, but also half relieved, Eomer bade her a good night. At the very least it seemed she bought his story, so that definitely put his mind at rest. He stayed in the main bar area for a while longer, sending longing looks towards the entrance. Rain still poured down, unyielding even this night. A sullen sigh escaped his lips. Hope still lingered that one day he could find a way to forgive himself, but until then, he had to live the lie; hoping no one else got hurt along the way.