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A runaway dandy learns the hard way that there is no place like home. View table of contents...


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Submitted:Jul 31, 2012    Reads: 3    Comments: 1    Likes: 0   


Abel's Tale, page 1

By James Nickerson

Prologue

Dismal. My clothes still sodden from a cloud burst, that caught me as I arrived in this village at this the end of the known world, which dampened both my belongings and my spirits . An omen? I did not believe in such things then, although my outlook hence has brought about serious doubts on the matter. Superstition was for the poor and uneducated and I was neither. Though as my purse lightened, I might soon be the former. Cheer up; it would be filling again soon, if this place had an appreciation for the finer things. Doubtful, since this village so small that it didn't even have a name, just a handful of houses, a tavern, and a small, decrepit dock where the locals kept their fishing boats moored. Salted fish hung on racks to dry in the sun. I lifted my favorite, cherry red, silk scarf to my nose to help defused the stench. The air smelt of the sea, heavy and tangy, and I could feel it embedding itself in my clothes and skin as I made my way slowly towards the center of the town. No gate to pass through, no bored guards watched over the safety of this forlorn hamlet. What was there to protect? Though this place lay on the far border of the king's lands, it was bordered by only a vast ocean that even the bravest explorers had failed to navigate to its ends. Perhaps it had no end, and the unfortunate adventurers that failed to return had simply fallen off the edge or maybe found a place so wonderful that they never wanted to return. Or maybe, ah, but what was the sense of idle wonder since I had no plans or urge to find out the truth .Even the sky supported my mood; the clouds still gray threatening another blast of cold, sea born rain, though they held themselves in check for the moment. I had better make haste for shelter less they decide to torment me anew.

Looking out to the horizon, I could see small, tipsy crafts earning their livelihood. Too small it seemed to me, yet the men aboard them seemed to have no worries as they busied themselves with the days catch. They would haul nets from dawn till dusk, every day of their backbreaking lives. Only to, some day, sit on the docks, their bodies bent from years of mindless toil, sharing tales of their narrow lives. If the gods were kind they would have a son to carry on their legacy, supporting them in their old age. Carrying on their legacy? Well, it was a legacy to them, though such high ideals were more the fancy of those with the wealth to leave their descendants more than a rotting, barnacle besmirched boat and a handful of ancient nets. I looked around more as I slowly, reluctantly made my way into the midst of this wretched place. The only occupants of the town that I encountered, other than the fishermen, were a handful of shoeless, mud covered children, who abandoned their mud pie making to stare at me with a mixture of awe and fear and they quickly disappeared into a nearby, garbage riddled alleyway. Just as well, for I feared they might have wanted to inspect me closer with their muddied paws, poking, prodding and pulling at me as they berated me with limitless questions and observations, something new to break up their forlorn routine. I disliked children enough and didn't need an audience with those mischievous miscreants. All children were. Had I been such? No, my childhood was short and sweet, thrown into adult hood whether I liked it or not. What use were a child's whimsy and whines in the world, my father had grunted on more than one occasion. Of course I had my revenge on his merciless upbringing and he still had nightmares, I'm sure, at my choice in careers.

Now, where was that inn that I had been told of by that fragrant, unfriendly, dirty fellow who I had hailed from his barren field. What was the name of it again? Oh, yes there it was, Günter's. For its place in the world, it was actually a remarkable establishment. The only two story building in the tiny hamlet, it could be seen from quite a distance up the pitted, neglected road leading in. Gunter's stood at the heart of this sullen community. I had assumed it was a town hall or whatever the locals called the place where its local government official ruled. Course with the size of the place, it probably had none, which was just as well under my circumstances. Though it looked in about the same shape as its neighbors, dull gray from the constant winds and spray from the sea, its sides warped from the dampness in places. Its windows appeared to have never been cleaned and I was unable to get a peek at what was in store for me inside. That was the only word I could use to describe Gunter's Inn; here on the fringe of the glorious kingdom of Kabala, but being a gentleman I refrained myself form using it. As good a place as any to begin one's career, I supposed, and better than spending another night trying to coax a decent, night sleep upon the cold ground. How I longed for a hot bath and a comfortable bed and hoped that I could at least get that in this wretched place. Though, if the children I had seen were any indication baths might be taboo in this backward part of the world. A pallet of hay and a wash basin would bring tears of joy to my eyes at this point, so arduous had been my long trip from the center of the known world. Not that I had any say in the matter, but hopefully no one would come looking for me here. No one would believe that one such as I would lower myself to dwell in such a place.

I wearily made my way towards the front of the inn, putting the past where it belonged. I hesitated once more, as I was reluctant to duck beneath the modest, wooden sign which hung precariously from one rusty ring from an even rustier iron rod which was bolted above the unassuming door. It swung sneakily, seeming to squeak a challenge at any to enter lest it fall and end their dreams of drunkenness. The fish with a grain of wheat clamped in its mouth seemed to smirk at me, from green tinged eyes. Well, I had come this far and after all that I had already endured, was not going to be dissuaded by an impish, eroded trout so worn that by the next year it would have completely yielded to the wind and rain. I hoped the door wasn't locked as I ducked and charged it.

All heads turned as I slammed the door behind me and gasped to catch my breath. Not the entrance I would have wished for, but it was too late now. I composed myself and slowly turned. It was not bad. The room was a good size and seemed clean. Well, anything seemed better compared to the mud ridden outside world. There was a long bar to my right, in front of a wall covered not with bottles of various, bottles of tempting liquor but a huge mural of a mermaid sitting contentedly on a rock, though, it was hard too tell since the colors had faded with age or from the fumes of whatever passed for liquor here. It couldn't be all that bad. Even at mid day there were a few patrons who sat and seemed to be enjoying a break from whatever mindless, backbreaking chores filled the rest of their day. A handful of locals to share my misery with me, though they seemed to be in fine enough cheer. Spending the last of their dwindling coppers from last year's harvest, they would soon be breaking their backs toiling in the fields again. Or were they fishermen, I mused. They did not smell like fisherman and there were women among them and it was a rare sight indeed to see a woman on a boat hauling in a catch. Bad luck and all that, though, the only bad luck bringing ones wife aboard would be the missed chance to perhaps visit ones mistress across the bay. Probably not, since the cod catching louts were lucky to catch one woman to call their own, let alone two. Ah, no need to take my misfortune out on these simple folks. They seemed honest enough, hardworking, and loyal to their families. God knows, I was neither. I had never sullied my fair, smooth hands with even an hour of hard labor. Wealth did bring its privilege, though that was gone now. What had I been thinking?

It was a joyous sight to my road weary eyes. A place to shirk off the hardships of the day, I nodded courteously to them as I made my way to a distant table, not wanting to interrupt their celebration and avoid their musky air that seemed to envelope them like a cloud. I took a seat near the dwindling heat of the fireplace its embers flickering, dying in its ash ridden depths. There sat no firewood to rekindle it and I wondered was it from simple neglect, laziness on part of the staff or perhaps they were used to this early spring chill that still lingered even though the day was well started. Oh well, make due I suppose. I could always ask the serving wench to see to it. Hopefully, hospitality could be found even in this backward land. I removed my sullied cape and stared at it, road stained and probably ruined. Course there had to be a washer woman among the locals seeing to the needs of those bachelors who couldn't or wouldn't do such chores on their own accord or I could find one of the local women who simply wanted to earn a few coins. No matter, I thought, as I removed my belt and scabbard, setting them on the bench beside me, I wasn't at court and appearances didn't seem to be all that important to the locals. It was hard to shrug ones upbringing and I longed for my bursting bureaus and closets of fine, silk garments that were all the rage in the capital. Gone now, but for the few things I managed to squeeze in my traveling pack.

Where was that waitress? Oh, still chatting with the oaf behind the bar. Be kind, you'll have to talk to that surly gentleman soon enough, I thought, and turn around your ill luck. Perhaps I should wave. Nothing! Humph, was I going to have to get up and pour my own. Perhaps if I stared at her back long enough her ears would burn off her head and she would notice my dilemma. I sniffed the air, loudly, was that me? A hot bath was definitely in order or did I dare. I didn't want to get the shakes. Perhaps, just a quick wash. No, that wouldn't rid me of the grime I had picked up from all of my travels. I would have to chance it, another burden on my already bending back. Oh, to go from such a worry free life to this was just too much to bear sometimes, but chin up and all that. Life wasn't over till the finale was performed, though, comparing my current state of affairs to an operetta was even more sarcasm then I could stand. Was I going to starve before this stupid wench brought me what ever served for lunch in this place? Did I even want it? I still had a day or two of tack left in my pack, although the hard, dry, tasteless chips were losing the small amount of novelty they had first served. No, I would have to wait. Hot food, no matter what the cost, would be a welcome change. What on earth could they be chatting about, was this place doing such a thriving business that it didn't need any of mine. Inconceivable! How I wanted to throttle the wench, as she scratched her buttock for the world to see. I supposed that scratching one's ass was a local pastime and maybe even perhaps a matter of discussion for the locals lacking diversions to brighten their simple lives. Think man, there must me some way to draw her from the great, philosophical debate she was engaged in. Wait, maybe, no just shifted to scratch the other cheek. Ardor's Hammer, her rump was large enough I might have sat there all day. I coughed politely into my silk napkin. Nothing! I hacked up a dust ball. OK, that did it. Here she came. My, the swaying of those rotund hips were almost hypnotic, or nauseating, like being on deck of one of those small ships during a craft smashing gale. I straightened myself and granted her a wench catching smile, though secretly I wanted to smack the dull witch. Not too much of that smile, I didn't want her to get any ideas, though, I figured I could handle her full figured form, I wasn't about to satisfy my manly needs with such as her. Well, maybe after a few bottles of wine, 6 or so, no if I had to imbibe that much grape my sword would be in no shape for the task. So much the better, keep the smile on low and pray she wasn't starved for male companionship.

"And what can I do for you," she said, as she sized me up, her eyes lingering in places of a personal nature a little too long. Wonderful, she was starving and I was going to be the rack of lamb. Or perhaps she was just wondering if I had coin to pay. Better the latter, and though my funds were dwindling, I was sure I could afford their simple fare.

"Ah, yes, I'd like to hear your wine and lunch menus if you please. My bones are weary from my long journey and my stomach growls like a Fandarin bear,"

My wit was lost on her, "We've got no wine."

"No wine?" Surely, I had died and was in hell for my earthly transgresses. Surely, they must have some foul, elixir that passed for the grape.

"Ya daffy, or deaf, I said we've no wine, only beer and the only thing we got for lunch is the usual." Her head tilted, hands on her wide hips she looked like my ancient nanny, who was not old, but long released from my father's employ since he found us coupled together when I was still just growing the first, few hairs on my chest. It seemed that was a subject which my father had not paid her to tutor me in, though it was one of the few lessons I had absorbed with relish. I guessed that's where I got my current taste in women, though, this wench had more padding then even I could love.

"The usual?" it was such as I feared. This place would be the death of at least my palate if not my body.

"Black fish stew. Would that fill your hole," she replied, though she spat the words like even she was hesitant to consume such a culinary delight. Oh well, as my stomach reminded me of the last time I had eaten, how bad could it be. At least it would be hot and fresh since the source was only a stone throw away.

"My pallet awaits your fine inn's delicate edibles with unquenchable anticipation."

She cocked her head with a quizzical look," So you want the stew?"

"Indeed."

"Why didn't you just say so," she murmured to herself as she made her way.

"That would be fine," I called to her ample back, "and a light ale if you'd please."

"Light ale," she laughed as she swaggered back to the bar. She said something to the bartender and they both had a laugh at my request as he filled a mug from the barrel before him at the end of the bar. As he handed it to her, its contents sloshed on her hand and she returned to my table licking her fingers, which where remarkably clean I might add. At least she kept herself well, although her dress had seen better days. Perhaps there was no tailor in this place or she worked from dawn to dusk and had no time for mending. Throwing herself on her bed, rubbed her aching, calloused feet which no doubt had trod grooves in the floor of this simple place. Too quick asleep and much too short a rest before she had to be to work again. How could I romanticize this woman? Perhaps it had been too long and my loins were more desperate than I had thought.

She dropped the cracked, worn mug of ale in front of me and tottered off again. A chortle escaping her lips as the contents spilled over its edge again. Better on the table then down the hatch, I surmised, but my thirst didn't care. I stare at the mugs black content as it swirled to a rest. It's foam quickly dissipating. So, it was both flat and foul. I sipped my bitter brew, fearing to ponder its contents. It was definitely light, more water than spirit, and I was silently thankful and a clothes pin for my nose would have made it all the more palatable. You never know what to expect this far from the kingdom's capital. What had I been thinking? Coming here on a whim I guessed. You have to start your career somewhere, and the edge of the world seemed as good as any at the time. No competition. Hopefully, this was a crowd eager for a break from their normal, sorry lives. I would not walk away with a fortune from Gunter's but it was a place to hone my craft. Maybe even walk away with a tale or two, Fresh to the ears of crowds closer to the centre of civilization. Ah, who was I kidding? Those were the lies that had been born as I made my escape into a world I neither wanted to explore or had ever even had a moments thought while I lived my spoiled, rich boy's life. How could one imagine such places, even with such a vivid imagination as mine, when you were surrounded by the a world of culture and creation. Who would want to? Sure there was poverty, I guessed, even such a place of wonder as the king's seat, but never in my wildest mental meanderings had I dreamed of all the blatant wretchedness I had encountered in my forced exile. Surely, this was not the fate of one such as me. Was that a hair on my tongue? Better not to think of it. I gulped it down with the rest of the bitter brew and returned my cup to the table.

"Are you ready for another?" Asked a thin wisp of a girl, who had somehow materialized as I was lost in my melancholy. Where had this beauty come from? Not from the coupling of the couple who ran this place. Well, not beautiful, but pretty in a sad way. Her dark, brown eyes looked already weary though her day had only just begun. Merely a slip of a girl she was, really, just on the verge of womanhood. She had a boyish figure that would no doubt blossom in the coming couple of years. Her clean, brown hair cut short, no doubt by her own hand, uneven as it was. Comely, was a better turn of a phrase, but a radiant starlet compared to the rest of the women here. Her tanned skin glistened; as she wiped a hand across her forehead. She plunked a brown, laden bowl in front of me on the pitted table. Stew sloshed to its tarnished surface. At least it did not eat its way through, I thought, as I watched the white mass ooze between the spaces of the well-worn birch boards and settled on the relatively clean floor. To my relief, I did not hear the scurry of furred claws descend upon this lost portion of my noonday meal.

There must be a kitchen hidden somewhere in the back, I mused, and she the cook of the day. Well, if the food was as fine as her then the meal wouldn't be a total loss. I preferred a woman with little meat on her bones, more to love, but not as much as the beer mistress who had served me earlier. Why her breasts were still just nipple and a prayer. She would grow to be a pretty woman if her world did not wear her down. By her wrinkled brow, I thought, it might already be too late. What a shame! Perhaps I should whisk her away when I took my hopefully short leave of this place. Settling already, was I, well it had been weeks since I had known a woman's fancy. Well, days anyway, but I was at my peak in both body and spirit and I couldn't go long without the delights only a willing wench or whore could offer. Even a well bred courtier such as me had to give into his earthly needs now and again. She might be willing if not experienced and so much the better. Perhaps her cherry had yet to be plucked by some locals fumbling advances. Oh, and how sweet that fruit would be. Careful, self, you've only just met this young dove and have already ravished her in your mind's eye.

"Sorry," she whispered as she lifted the bowl and attempted to clean the table with a soiled rag, "I seem to be clumsy today." She replaced my bowl and waited to see my reaction to her offering.

"Quite all right, I assure you my dear, now if I could just have an implement in which to devour this exquisite delicacy, I will do so with great haste."

"A what," She asked. Barbarians do not speak the tongue of the court I had once again forgotten.

"Spoon dear girl, or would you have me slurp it like broth? I have not been that long from the capital that I should revert to the manners of an animal."

"There's no need to be rude, sir," she quipped as she hastily removed a carved wooden spoon from a pocket in her apron, "or is this the way men talk to servers in Kab these days?"

"I frowned," My humblest apologies, dear girl, I fear that I am more tired than I thought. No excuse, though, a gentleman must be aware of his manners at all times. Perhaps this would make up for any slight on my part." I handed her a silver coin, one of my last, and smiled at her. Her eyes grew large at the sight of it. Not much silver was seen in Barbaria, I thought.

She seemed to warm to me, then, "No slight, sir. Truth is told my father makes me nervous. The fault was mine." She palmed the silver and quickly put it in her apron.

"Fine then, all wounds are healed and a spoon and another beverage would be most pleasing," I smiled at her, "and I know what fathers are like since I have an ogre of mine own." My smile up a notch from the one I had given the bovine who had served me earlier. Not quite the smile that would win her heart, but I didn't want to make the poor virgin swoon at our first meeting. Also, my stomach's need seemed greater, at this moment, than my loins. All things in their own time, I mused.

She giggled and lifted the mug from the table, headed for the bar. That had gone well. Nice save, old boy, your bed might be warmed yet. I watched her fragile form as she waited for the bartender to replenish my mug. Yes, quite a diamond in this rough, though more boy than woman yet. I just hoped she wouldn't take after the rest of the few women who gossiped between chugged brew. Better to bed her now than return when she had filled out. As if I had any desire to return once my needs for this place were met. There had to be some other place in this huge kingdom other than this where I could perform my art. The best plan would be to rest just enough days to regain enough courage to make for some place more civilized.

The maid returned with my bitter beverage and a wooden spoon and left just as quick, ignoring my thankful grin. Her eyes seemed to be someplace else and although I was feeling slightly rejected, I could not blame her for her daydreams. My stomach's rumblings ended the matter and I looked down at my banquet. It looked back at me. Dead, fish eyes bobbed in a milky broth and my first instinct was to push it away. Have strength, I chided myself, for how would it look to my young finch to see me turn my nose up at the culinary delight she had probably prepared with her own fine boned, delicate hands. Eat around the eyes and don't meet there glass eyed stare. And if one should pop into your mouth, that was what napkins were for, though, she had not deemed to bring one with the meal. Well, I still had mine, clutched in my slightly trembling hand, and since it was already soiled a few squished fish eyes wouldn't sully it much further. I picked up my spoon and examined it. Looked clean, but one could not be too careful and I used my handkerchief on it and prepared to eat. I ate slowly and though it looked like ghastly fare it was actually quite filling if not tasty and my stomach seemed to be indifferent, if not happy. I warily glanced at the contents of my bowl and saw that only a half dozen fish eyes and a few drabs of broth were left, so I pushed my bowl away and sipped more of my ale wishing it were a fine chardonnay from some distant land where the grapes were so purple and plump they fell from the vine before they could be picked.

"Would you like more stew?"

How did she keep doing that? Appearing before me like some whimsical specter, did she float and flit from unseen by my keen senses. No, just lost in thought and trying to keep this too harsh reality at bay.

"No, I am quite refreshed from this midday repast and would now like to adjourn to one your comfortable quarters so that I might refresh myself with a quick nap to replenish my weary soul."

"So, you'll be wanting a room?"

"That is what I was referring to yes." I did need a room. I also needed to talk to him of other matters. I hoped he would be obliging. It was a long trip back to the nearest town and my purse was growing rather thin.

She shook he head. Young and uneducated, this was going to be easier than I had planned. Oh yes, my bed would not be empty long this day. I was practically salivating at the ease of securing the pleasures of this tasty wench.

"You'll have to speak with my father," she offered, "and I'll send him over as soon as he's free."

Free? I glanced over at the bartender, who was inspecting a mug, probably deciding whether to clean it or leave it be. He spit on its side and rubbed it on the sleeve of his shirt. Gad, I hoped that wasn't the level of cleanliness of all the earthen ware in this establishment. I eyed my own mug suspiciously and decided to refrain from finishing the last mouthful.

"And if you could coax a little more flame from the dwindling embers," I gestured towards the forgotten fire place, "I would be ever so grateful. I fear I am chilled from my travels."

She curtsied and made her way to the heath. She stirred the pitiful embers and a small flame struggled to life. It seemed indignant at its awakening and licked out at her. I realized I did not even know the young lady's name. If were to be stay for a while, and woo away her womanly prize, that would not be proper. Had my manners already dwindled in this barbarian paradise?

"By Rainer's beard, Sally," swore the large, thick wristed man behind the bar, "How many times have I warned you about the hearth. Haven't you been burnt enough times without me having to watch you like a nervous mother with a newborn?" His words were angry, but I could see the concern in his eyes. Know your audience my teacher had always taught. Watch them even as they watch you.

"Sorry father," she replied, as the flames gave up their futile search for more fuel.

"Go and fetch some more logs for it, if you've a chill," barked Gunter as he wiped the scarred counter before him, Though with less vile than his previous outburst, his voice was deep and husky and I saw the reason as he lit a briar pipe and place it in his mouth. The odor that was emitted from it was such that I was glad that he had not fired it up before I had begun my meal or even my ravenous appetite would have been lost. Nasty habit, that, and although I was not one to speak since I had many of my own it was one of the few I was loath to venture. What was the point really, I could think of better uses for my mouth, especially with, Sally was it, my sweet silly Sally.

Before Sally left to forage for firewood, she timidly approached her father at the bar. Sally's father glanced over her shoulder at me as she talked to him. She had retrieved the silver from her apron's pouch and showed it to him. His worn hand enclosed hers and he nervously scanned the inn. Ah, an honest girl, at least, if not a sophisticated one. Honesty had its uses, though I did not have much use for it, especially in matters of the heart. If one told a would be lover the truth, his bed would be vacant more often than not.

Günter threw his soiled rag on the bar and poured a pitcher of ale, grumbling.

He lumbered over to me, pitcher in hand, and topped off my mug. Foam ran down its sides. Did no one here know how to serve someone without spilling their order? Perhaps it was a family trait.

"My daughter says you wish to speak with me," he said sternly. The other patrons raised their heads and looked towards us. His eyes went to what was left of my meal. "Is there something wrong with your food? You haven't finished it."

I smiled at him, "Not at all sir; I am sated and could not eat another bite. It was another matter that I wish to talk about, one to our mutual benefit."

"What? I have work to do and have no time for idol chatter. If you be not needing a room than finish your drink and be off," He looked at me suspiciously. Günter moved to turn away back to his chores. I put a hand on his arm to slow him. His eyes turned slowly to my hand and I nervously removed it from his beer stained sleeve. Poor Sally!

"Perhaps if you would care to join me for a round or two, I promise to be brief. His eyes widened at this and I could see him judge me. He seemed to study my dandyish attire with new appreciation. What a sight I must have been to this brown clad man. Beneath my deer skin cloak, which still lay on the bench next to me, I wore a puffy, white, silk shirt embroidered in silver. Well, it had been white when this adventure had started. The only luxury in my wardrobe I had allowed myself on my long journey. Other than that I was sure I looked like any other traveler. Deer skin breeches and boots soiled from the unkempt road's frequent muddied track. My face was still pale, as was the style of court these days, hidden beneath my cloak's hood against the sun and wind. I hoped to one-day return to court and it would not be proper to look sun or wind burnt like the common folk. Appearances were all important in my line of work. Beauty served as well as skill in my profession.

The bench creaked as he sat across from me and placed the pitcher between us. His face showed no trace of his thoughts. I guessed, by his bulbous, red nose, that he was his own best patron. He beckoned for his wife to bring him a mug. She retrieved one and hurried to his side. So, Sally wasn't the only one afraid of this bear of a man. He took the mug and waved her away. She fled back to her end of the bar and made herself look busy. Once again his sullen gaze settled on me. I topped off his pitcher and gleefully did not spill a drop. He looked somehow offended by the gesture. He gulped down the pint in one swallow and banged the mug hard on the table. He wiped the foam off his lips, his gaze never leaving my face. I replenished his mug and got down to the business at hand.

"Allow me to introduce myself before we begin. I am Bolozarius Crimean from the glorious city of splendors itself, Lyst."

"A long way from home, aren't ya?"

"To be sure," I agreed, "A long and arduous journey to this village at the edge of the world."

Günter took another gulp of ale. I noticed his mug was almost empty. He poured himself another and went to top off mine. He frowned at my still full mug and I merely smiled and chugged down the foul liquor. Gad, my throat burned and I wanted to spew it back at the brew master that still sat across from me, watching me in amusement. He seemed to study me with new appreciation. He knew the dangers in this part of the world. Bandits and beasts! A lone traveler took his life upon himself in these parts. Luckily, I had managed to link up with several merchant caravans in my travels. Safety in numbers and all that, but the looks of new found respect in the barkeep's eyes made me think that was not wise to mention.

"I have no time for tales," he frowned, "what was it you wished to speak with me about?"

"A business proposition is what I'm talking about, good sir. You see, I am a minstrel, newly trained, and am looking for employment. For a minuscule fee, I would be glad..."

He shook his head; "I have no need for a bard. Men, here, work hard and drink hard. The only show they need is when I throw one of them out for being too loud or fghtin'. Besides, I don't make the kind of coin for hiring minstrels. Most of the town owe me a king's ransom for their drinking and often can pay only in what they gather from the land. Coin is hard to come by in these parts. I can barely support my family, let alone a stranger." He rose to leave. My heart sank at his words.

"Any small allowance would suffice," I offered, "I know a man kind and generous as your self would not see me destitute. Please sir, I beg of you. Let me perform this evening for another meal and a warm bed. If the crowd warms to me, perhaps you will consider otherwise. It is not a fortune I seek, just a modest sum and a place to hone my craft. I assure you that you will profit from my talent tenfold. A man's appetite for drink is greatly enhanced when a smile is upon his face. I have many a tale and tune to help a man forget the burdens of the day. My lively chords shall fill this hall till its seems burst. Never have you seen such sums that will overflow your money box, whisked away with song with nary a care in the world, all this but for a beggar's pittance and a roof over my humble head."

"One night," Gunter finally conceded, "for a roof, but you won't eat or drink for free. If by some miracle of the gods, I make a decent coin tonight I'll think on it some more."

"I will not let you down, kind sir. I assure you that all I have said will come true."

The large innkeeper leaned over me, "If not, I will personally see you on your way. Do we understand each other?"

"Quite."

"Then the deal is done;" he spat into his course hand and held it out to me. Reluctant, but not wanting to spoil the deal, I spat in my own and firmly took his. He pulled me closer.

"No stealing from me or my patrons, bard. And Sally is like your long lost sister, if you get my meanin'. Less you want to be finding employment in a temple's boy's choir."

I eased my hand from his stone grip, "No fear, good sir, I am here only to perform and entertain. You will not regret your decision." I raised my half-filled mug to him in a toast and drank heartily, emptied my mug and reached for the pitcher.

"Bah," Gunter grumbled as he snatched it away, and lumbered back to the bar. Sullen, I looked into my destitute mug and watched as the last bubbles of foam melted away. Just as well, I thought, for some reason I seem to be growing fond of the foul stuff. Oh, I was just parched and drunk, surely. Perhaps it was time for a nap. I wanted to be well rested before tonight's performance. It could have been my last.

I gathered up my things and looked for up the wooden, stairs that led to the rooms.

Günter shook his head, "Where do you think your going?"

"Why, to bed of course," I offered, "my bones ache for a warm mattress and a soft pillow." Though, I had my doubts that either awaited me upstairs.

His head continued to rattle, "Up stairs is for paying guests. My wife will show you to your quarters for the night."

My head drooped and my mind fought for some retort, but it was too road weary and as long as I did not have to sleep with dogs, horses or cattle, I could have cared less where I fell. There would be time to argue with him once I had won over my audience and filled his purse till it burst. Then he would be begging me to take his finest room, fix me fine fare and throw his daughter into my waiting, lustful arms.

His wife gathered herself up and led me through the odorous, small kitchen. She lit a thin, white candle and we made our way down a short hall. At the very end, she removed a key from a pocket in her voluminous shift and unlocked the door. The door creaked in complaint as it opened and I reluctantly peered in. Inside, were barrels of ale and crates of what smelled like rotting vegetables, though, I could not tell there nature.

Günter's wife offered to fetch me a blanket and I thanked her. Her large bulk squeeze past me and I thought I saw a gleam in her eye. I shivered and not from the cold. Her advances I could do without. I appraised my new living quarters with repulsion and tried to choose the most comfortable spot to make my bed. She returned with an old, moth eaten, wool blanket, that no doubt had been in her family for generations. I thanked her and she winked at me or hopefully it was a nervous twitch earned from years of marriage to her villainous husband. She tried to giggle girlishly, failed, and started hacking on my linen shirt. I patted her shoulder and moved into the room, trying to close the door behind me. She wiped her cracked lips on her sleeve, harrumphed and made her way back to the inn proper. Her swaying blubber was almost hypnotic and if I had not feared what lay beneath her pendulous breasts, I… No, it was better not to go there when the fair Sally was still to be had. Was I that weak that any female would awaken my stirring loins? Just weariness and ale talking, I assured myself, and closed the door.

She had made off with the candle and I groped the door for a catch to look it for protection from whatever her simple mind had in store for my boyish frame. No luck! Beaten, I threw her blanket off of me and fiddled at the twine that held my own bedding in place. After I was settled, I stared into the blackness and tried to pick out the odors that were assaulting me. Then I decided not to as there seemed to be some things skittering and I wanted to forget them and the smells and simply get as much rest as the simple accommodations could afford me. It was with those thoughts, I drifted off willing to dream of courtiers and countesses and all that was good in this world.





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