Episode Ten - A Night at the Inn
We got to the first inn before the moon had risen very far. I helped the brothers with the wagon while Riordan took Minerva in to get a room. By the time I walked into the main hall, I was more ready for a deep mug of ale than I think I had been in my entire life. Warm, cold, watered down and pissed in, I could give a damn. I just wanted to sit and drink and fantasize about how I used to sit and drink. Back when Minerva was just a bar maid and there wasn't any problem I couldn't handle with fifteen foot of chain.
Moving my way up to the bar, I leaned my elbows on it and waited patiently. There was a fair crowd here, humans of mostly the local merchant variety, with a few local tough guys and some foreign travelers mixed in. Wasn't what I'd call exceptionally busy, though. I watched quietly for a few moments until I saw somebody who had already been sitting there get served a second time since I had been waiting, without the bartender looking my way. Being a full foot taller than the average patron and twice as wide, I doubted that my presence had been overlooked. Very well. I was not looking for trouble. Perhaps the misunderstanding was a financial one. I put a silver piece on the counter top in front of me and continued to wait.
That got the bartender's attention. Coming over to where I stood, he took the silver piece, craned his neck up to look me straight in the eye and said, "We don't serve your type here. Now get outta here before I call the guards." Then he walked off with my silver piece.
"That's all right," I smiled with my most educated inflections. "I'm sure my master will not mind being troubled to walk downstairs for his evening drink. And it will give him something to sing about to the rest of the Guild at journey's end. You know how bards are with their ditties." Bards may be useless sons of bitches, but I will say, hang out with one for a couple of years and you'll learn a few things. Like that they are, often by nature and always by choice, the biggest blabbermouths to be born of woman. Piss on a bard's boots and within a week, you'll be hearing a rude but catchy song from one end of the continent to another how small your dick is. Worse than that, you'll find yourself humming it absentmindedly too. Only good thing about having a bard pissed off at you is that they tend to break easy. Provided you can catch em. Everything I know about running like a scared bitch, I also learned from my years with the bard. I found myself kinda wishing Riordan was a bard.
For his part, the bartender was starting to look cranky and glancing around, I assume for the guards. I was already on my way upstairs though, bowing to the barmaid with the gallant little flourish my master had taught me for playing the part of the Brave Hero in our skits. I found the room without too much trouble. Even if they hadn't given me the number before they went upstairs, I could have followed the sound of Riordan's voice.
"What do you mean, 'ward against restless spirits'? What kind of fishwife superstition is that? How do I know you're not making some sigil that says 'bogeys eat here for free' over my bed?" The door flew open at my tapping, and Riordan welcomed me warmly. "Where the hell have you been?"
"Two things," I said with my 'quiet, pleasant voice', holding up two fingers to illustrate. "One, these walls are just wood, man. Voices carry. Two, you raise your voice to the lady or address her in such a manner again, and I'm gonna sock you in the mouth so hard you'll be farting out your teeth for a week. Oh," I smiled, pushing my way past him into the room. "And you're gonna go downstairs and buy me a couple of ales. I ain't allowed to drink at their bar. Hey, Minerva. That's a nice, uh, thing you drew on the bed frame. Looks pretty."
"Thank you, Osgun," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed with her eyes cast down at the piece of chalk in her lap.
"Can I have a word with you, Ozzie? Outside, please?" Riordan pointed impatiently at the door he was still holding.
If it wasn't one damn thing... still, I tried to be patient as I shrugged and stepped out into the hall. And heard the door click shut behind me. I turned to find myself alone in the hall, locked out. Angry, not angry. I thought about this for a moment. I was still thinking about it when the door opened and Riordan slipped out with a guilty grin.
"Sorry, Ozzie, but you don't know how good that was for me."
"I'm glad you liked it. See, people think I can't put two and two together," I could... if I counted it out, "but I'm a lot smarter than that. I knew that if I broke you when you came out, I'd have to send Minerva down to the bar to get my ale, and it's no place for a lady."
His smile froze for a second. "Ozzie. She's a barmaid."
"Yeah, well the Hammered Hand is more of a family type place than this is. Guys down there are kind of rough."
"Rougher than sodomitic old drunks?"
"Nobody told you to play mancala with them, Danny."
"Hey, speaking of nobody telling me anything," Riordan glared at me and poked me in the gut with his finger. "We're partners here, aren't we, Ozzie? I got your back, you got mine? I call you Ozzie, you get all snuggly and call me 'Danny', which I know I did not suggest but have not complained about, am I right?" He jabbed me with his finger a couple more times.
"ï¾&I do not break things with which you poke me," I agreed. "Go on."
"So don't you think you owe it to me to tell me what's going on?"
Hmm. This was a bit of a difficult issue. In theory, yes, he deserved to know what was going on. On the other hand, if Minerva didn't feel comfortable sharing that information with him, I didn't feel comfortable betraying her confidence. I thought about what we had discussed and how much of it he really needed to know. Should I tell him about the spirit thing? Ah, how much did he really need to know that? The demon business? Um. Well, that's not the type of thing you just out and tell someone. And if he wasn't going all the way to Darkdim Crux with Minerva, it wasn't likely to have any direct bearing on his life either. But I could see how that one was probably going to come back and bite me in the ass. "Ummm... Nothing's going on."
"Ozzie!" he growled and rabbit punched me in the gut a couple times. It was kind of cute.
"C'mon, Riordan. Look, maybe if you were nicer to her, she'd open up a little more to you. She doesn't worship dead people or anything."
"So she says! What makes you so sure you can trust her?"
Well, he had me there. At one point I would have said that when a person brings you ale almost every night for three years running and spills their guts to you to while away the wee hours of the morning, you get to know them, but as it turned out, I hardly knew Minerva at all. So... I trusted her because she had nice breasts? Or maybe because I'd rather eat bullshit dished out by Minerva than steak from anyone else.
"'Cause I'm a big sap, that's why. Now, go and get me my ale like a good critter and when you come back, ask Minerva real nice about what you're curious about. Maybe if she thinks you're not gonna make fun of her, she'll tell you. Okay? And if you really are being nice and she's still being shy about it, I'll tip you in tomorrow on the road."
"You're right, Ozzie. You must be the biggest sap I've ever seen."
I sighed patiently down at the little man. "But am I about to be the biggest happily buzzed sap you've ever seen, or am I gonna have to get whiny about it? As a prelude to violent?"
"I will get you your damned ale."
"You are an ace, Danny. Get me three."
Heading back into the room, Minerva was brushing out her dark hair. It shimmered in the light of the fireplace like some sort of rare silk. She stopped when she saw me and folded her hands in her lap. "Where will you be sleeping, Osgun?"
Yeah, you might guess what first came to mind there, but you would be wrong. I glanced around the little room with the two cots and the fireplace and then pointed to the floor by the door. "Right here." Riordan would probably fit in the bed better anyway. I did yank the blankets off his cot for my own use, though.
Laying one of the blankets down, I plopped myself down and pulled the rest of the blankets over me to get comfortable until my ale got here. I had just realized that a chain girdle and a wood floor don't mix and had sat up to loosen it when Minerva astonished me by coming over to kneel beside my makeshift pallet. Yeah, all right, smartass, you guessed right about what crossed my mind at that point. I'd had I don't know how many fantasies that started that way. However she took her piece of chalk and made that strange symbol on the floor at the head of my mat and then moved down to make another at the foot, a process which did not figure in any of my dreams. "Rest well."
I watched her move all the way back to her bed before I had the presence of mind to say, "Uh," and it took a moment or two after that for me to remember to say, "You too."
A kicking at the door and a muffled, "A little help here," heralded the return of my ale, and incidentally Riordan. Once my ale was safely inside, I was able to settle in and start drinking. The first one fast to prime the pump, the next one at a leisurely pace, the third one to savor.
Riordan walked over to his bed and gave me a bit of a dirty look over the blanket situation, then went to where his pack was resting at the foot of the bed to get his own blanket. "What were you into my pack for, Osgun?"
"Huh?" That grunt wasn't an affectation. I had ditched the plan and chugged the second mug, too, and had been deep in ungentlemanly thought when he spoke.
"You left my hand mirror out. I had it in a side pouch on my pack and now it's sitting there on top of my pack."
This was nowhere near as interesting a train of thought as what I had been thinking about. "Iunno."
"Seriously. What were you doing in my pack."
He turned to Minerva, who shook her head apologetically.
"Riordan," I sighed, "why would I need to get in your pack? I got everything I need in my paï¾&pack. My own pack." I had been about to say 'pants', in reference to my half of the money, but thankfully some god somewhere was looking out for me and I was actually thinking a few syllables ahead of my mouth.
"I see then," Riordan said a bit coldly and huffed himself down on the bed. He glanced at the headboard and then began rubbing angrily. I saw that Minerva had put a sigil on his headboard and footboard anyway. Using his pack as a pillow, he turned his back on us and tugged his travel blanket over himself to sleep. Minerva looked a bit troubled, but was silent as she saw one last time to the fireplace and settled in to sleep. With a sigh, I drained my last ale and lay back to feel warm and fuzzy. And continue with all those thoughts I had been not allowing my mind to wander along before.
I woke up to Riordan stoking the fire. It couldn't have been that much later, because the coals were still quite hot, but he was adding another log. "You okay?" I mumbled blearily.
"Yeah, just cold in here. Like there's a draft."
"Gimme one of the damn blankets. What were you doing in my pack, Ozzie? What do you think I had that you couldn't ask for? A mirror?"
I flung him one of the blankets. "Kid, for the last time we didn't get in your pack. I didn't. I didn't see her do it."
"It had to have been while we were in the hall then."
"Well, maybe she needed to uh, fix her hair."
"You listen to me, Ozzie," he whispered, "there's something going on here. I got a bad feeling."Next week: Episode Eleven - I got yer 'fishwife superstitions' right here...