Nari kept her eyes hooded, and thus harder to read, but was all too aware of how ineffective that can be, as she glanced back and forth between the "wyvern hunters" whose table she was clearing.
"Brigid's place up in Chelorden should be open until the freeze." A spreading flush of warmth in the centaur's cheeks as he started the sentence bespoke his affection for "Brigid", but the heat shift toward the ending suggested that "freeze" was a code phrase, something he expected his compatriot to recognize, and not simply a reference to the impending winter.
The hulder-man spared no heat in hearing this; doubtless either he'd heard it before, or there were more code phrases in there. "Didn't Chelorden break up?" And yet, "break up" was marked with a similar shift, another code phrase. In this case, possibly just a euphemism; in the summer, Chelorden had been torn apart by raids, and then conquered by some warlord.
The centaur did react to this, but the wave of heat was quite simple, likely just hearing it as a challenge of sorts. He played it off with a shrug, which would've easily fooled anyone who couldn't see the heat. "It's back together again." Completely dispassionate. As if conquest were simply the restoration of public order.
The hulder-man's reaction was more like Nari's, and the accompanying paling of his cheeks was visible even in color. "Mm. But is Brigid's place back together?" His cheeks were cool upon mentioning Brigid's name, but the complex shift at "back together" — as if he were introducing a new code phrase — suggested he meant something rather different.
The centaur laughed, honest mirth warming his cheeks. "That place is like a fortress. Close the doors and a wildfire would pass it by." The phrase "like a fortress" put a curious warmth across his cheeks; Nari was confident that this meant the place was a fortress true. "Wildfire" was another code phrase, likely just a euphemism for the rape/pillage/burn triathlon.
"Well, if she's got it together, then it may be good for a few nights's sleep, at least until the freeze. Hey, who was left on her doorstep at Samhain?" This was thick with code phrases. "Got it together" referred to something new, possibly fodder for war. "Freeze" was the same code phrase as earlier; by now Nari guessed it meant an attack, possibly by some wyvern with cold breath, possibly by some warlord. She was still entertaining the idea that they were just soldiers, and the wyverns were just cover for their choice in weapons. The last sentence was the most interesting, though; Samhain was literal, the doorstep wasn't, but between his voice and the pattern of warmth in his cheeks, this sounded more like the hulder-man meant Brigid exacting some toll from the townsfolk.
The centaur didn't move a muscle, but heat spread across his cheeks and down his neck. So "who" was probably literal as well. "Just some raccoon. Didn't last long." Nari probably could've picked out "raccoon" as a code phrase even without the ability to see heat; doubtless referring to a name-giver thief. The last sentence was chillingly literal.
"Too bad. She could use a tyke after that summer." The only code phrase here was "tyke", and it was enough for Nari to guess the identity of "Brigid": The pass near Chelorden was all but unusable, due to a sphinx who took over the tower of some warlord past. It was possible to get through, so desperate people tried, but most of them failed. Most of the year, the tower itself was guarded by hawks, which got slain regularly, but somehow more would always come, without there being a population of hawks anywhere else in those mountains. This suggested the two were something closer to wyvern hunters than she'd thought — they were discussing an attack on that sphinx, and the "freeze" was an attack by warlord's viceroy. This was an end-run of what little law existed in Chelorden, and the sphinx was a sorceror, far superior to Nari's own dabblings.
With all the dishes stacked in hand Nari had run out of excuses to stay there, and she turned to leave, but apparently too slowly, for the hulder-man glanced suspiciously at her. She put a swish in her step, as if she were still fishing for tips, but as she left her pointed ears picked up the two discussing something in more hushed tones. She delivered the dishes to the kitchen, and glanced over the sculls there, but the cook was out on some errand. She'd have to deal with this herself. She paused before leaving the kitchen, just a moment to lay a half-formed elfbolt on the back of each hand.
Once back in the common room, she scanned for other tables in need of waiting, but the dinner rush was long past. The hulder-man waved her over, his expression jocular, but his blood pumping.
Nari put on a fake smile and swished over. This was it. This table in the common room had become the metaphorical lion's den, with two warriors who not only were confident in their ability to defeat a sorcerous sphinx, but placed their concern on whether they could beat an army to it. "Something more I can bring you?"
The centaur seemed resigned to whatever was about to happen. The hulder-man returned her smile, but his eyes were on her nose ring, and his voice was nigh on a whisper. "You have dwarven blood, don't you?"
Nari leaned in miserably to whisper, since he clearly didn't have elven ears. "Oh aye, sir..." She then had to suppress a wince, as dwarven eyes were exactly the matter at hand. He moved suddenly, but just to toss her a coin; she jumped back, but he'd anticipated that, and she caught the coin without trouble. Gold by its color, and good purity by its weight.
"Mum's the word on Chelorden, right?" Definitely a whisper this time, as if to signal that her elven ears were visible to everyone in the room.
She nodded vigorously. "Mum indeed, sir, bought and paid for!" A weak smile, and she held up her hands to slip the coin into her sleeve in plain sight. She didn't even have anyone to tell, watching and listening just for her own boundless curiosity.
"Smashing. Also, two beers…" He looked over to his companion, who hadn't yet reacted. "…good dark ones." At this the centaur grinned, mollified.
"Coming right up!" Nari whirled, hard enough for her woolen dress to rise halfway up her calves and for her black hair to whip at her face, and she made her way straight for the bar. With the dinner rush over, Perry had made himself scarce, and she'd be doing the pours. But she kept the elfbolts ready on the backs of her hands.
Just in case.