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  • Writer's pictureK.C. Roy

The Inn

Updated: Apr 9

Jarad watched the main floor from his place behind the bar. It was going to be a busy night. The sun was hanging just over the horizon and already the main room was more than half full. On top of this, he only had five rooms left. He’d be surprised if those weren’t gone before the sun was down.

“Bell!” He shouted through the swinging doors that led to the kitchen.

“Yeah?”

“Get the boy to run down to the Morfet house, see if Salet and her sister can work. We’re in for it tonight. Tell him to run or I’ll tan his hide.”

“Barret!”

Jarad moved away from the kitchen doors knowing they’d have Barret out the door and running for the Morfet house like he was on fire. Truth be told, the inn would probably be okay without the extra help, but he liked to be sure. The Traveler’s Inn, while not the most originally named, was run like no other inn around. His father had founded the inn before the trade route had been established and kept it running based on two simple rules. Service with a smile and the rules applied to everyone.

After trade was established using the town as a stopping point, the inn prospered greatly. Jarad’s father paid his help well and went out of his way to find good cooks for the kitchens. The inn became a mainstay of the town and saw year-round success. The larger trade routes that opened along the coast and the sea routes barely made a dent in the business. The land route was three or four days shorter and if the party wasn’t too large, then the shorter route was preferred.

Jarad placed his hands on the worn wood of the bar and felt a swell of pride for what his father started. After his father’s passing, Jarad returned from the border fighting and took over the business. He had no clue what he was doing but thankfully his father had paid good people and built a solid group of friends and business partners. Where Jarad had expected to be taken advantage of, he’d been supported and nurtured so he could continue in his father’s footsteps. A lot of the people he had working for him now were second generation, just as he was. The traveler’s Inn was very much a family business.

Luckily, Jarad inherited his father’s sense for people. He was an excellent judge of character and body language. Some of this was innate and some of it was from his time fighting in the border wars. Constant fighting with the empire, that had been going on for as long as anyone could remember.

Right now, his judge of character told him that the three idiots by the fireplace were going to cause trouble tonight. The three he watched were led by the mayor’s son. Just now turning twenty-three and used to getting his way, the boy was a terror. Jarad had had problems with him in the past, but they’d always been handled amicably with the mayor. The inn was one of the few places where the boy couldn’t throw his weight around and Jarad could tell it bothered the spoiled little shit.

“Gods. Mell!” He motioned with his hand when Mell looked at him from across the main room. Mell was one of his second-generation tavern maids and she was good at it. He’d assigned her as head of the floor and put her in charge of training any new help that came in.

“Sir?”

Jarad made a face. He hated she called him sir. “Keep a handle on that ass tonight. It’s going to be busy. I don’t need trouble.” Mell nodded and moved away. He didn’t need to explain who he meant. She knew all too well. The door banged open as the wind caught it, blowing it out of the new customer’s hand. It was unseasonably windy this time of year. A storm perhaps? Jarad stopped short when he saw who stood in the door.

They were wearing a cloak with the hood up to hide their face, but the size and shape was definitely female. He’d served in the army long enough to recognize military gear when he saw it. The boots made him pause. They were Imperial make and army issue. He moved his eyes back up to the wearer and watched as they surveyed the room. They moved along the outside edge to a seat close to one of the windows. The woman moved easily telling Jarad he wasn’t mistaken. This was a fighter. He couldn’t help but watch the newcomer.

The empire didn’t let their women fight or do much of anything for that matter. Had the woman stolen the gear? Jarad shook his head as he pondered to himself. No, she was maybe five foot seven and her foot size was small compared to the average man’s. The boots had to have been made for her. They looked like they fit well. He’d fought on the border for nearly ten years and never once encountered a woman on the other end of his blade.

He scratched his head in confusion while he continued to watch the newcomer. One of the maids approached with the usual smile and greeting that got most guest to smile back. Jarad saw the smile melt from her face. The maid gave a hasty nod and rushed away from the table.

Jarad saw Mell cut her off and talk with her. A glance from Mell after the short conversation did something that rarely happened. It pulled Jarad from behind the bar. The girl looked scared and refused to look in the newcomer’s direction.

“I’m not doing it Mell, I’m sorry.”

“’Bathra, you knew when you took this job, you’d have to serve people you didn’t want to sometimes. This is just another…”

“No! I won’t serve that…that… monster. She can get her water from the horse trough.”

“What’s the problem, Mell?” Jarad already guessed but wanted to be sure. Most of Bathra’s family had been killed during one of the frequent empire raids. The poor girl hadn’t been as lucky. She’d been raped, stabbed and left for dead. He couldn’t blame her for the reaction.

“Says she’s imperial. Spoke empire. She’s refusing to serve. I’ll send her…”

“No…don’t. Bathra, it’s okay. Go help in the kitchen tonight, tell Bell I said so.” The young woman didn’t answer before dashing for the kitchens. He caught a brief glimpse of the tears on her cheeks. I glance in the imperial woman’s direction told him she’d taken an interest in their conversation. He noticed a lot of others were watching as well. “Mell, get the attention of our guest. I’ll take care of her.” He approached the imperial woman without waiting for Mell to respond.

“Hello! What can I get for you? Food, drink, or a room? The first two are free with the last.” Jarad wore his best smile. He’d been told having a bear smile at you before it ate you was more welcoming. He was a big man with a lot of hair and he’d lost several teeth during his service. He was not a pretty man. If he visage was scary in any way the woman…no, the girl, didn’t seem to think so.

Gods, she’s young! She can’t be more than eighteen. What is going on here?

The eyes caught his attention first. They were a bright amber, almost orange in color, and they glowed underneath the shadow of the hood. Once he was closer and she had to turn her head up to see him, the light hit her face. He was staring into the face of a child. The features were almost delicate, with high cheek bones and a button nose framed by hair the color of honey with the sun behind it. The face would be perfect if not for the pale white scar that ran across her left cheek to the bridge of her nose. Barely an inch below her eye, that was a near sword cut if he’d ever seen one. The realization brought his eyes quickly to the hands that rested on the table. Rough with calluses and scars to match years of weapon training. The skin color was another puzzle piece. Her skin was light complected except for the slight tan she had. Imperials had a darker, naturally tan skin color with black or dark hair. He’d never seen anyone with eyes her color before.

What the hell am I looking at?

“I just want water and a bowl of stew.” The comment came in the Imperial language.

Jarad almost didn’t register that she had spoken. “Ah, do you speak the common language?” The girl glared up at him but didn’t respond. She was keeping her voice low so anyone past him wouldn’t be able to hear. She wasn’t stupid. Even with the cloak hiding a good portion of her, he could see the tension in her body. She was coiled like a spring. Was she expecting an attack? “Look, be at ease. The inn has rules everyone must follow. We’re all friends here. Jarad reached forward to give her a small pat on the arm. The reaction was instant and violent.

Before her chair finished falling to the floor, she was on her feet with a dagger pointed at his throat. She was smart and maintained enough distance that he’d have to reach if he wanted to grab her. She was definitely a trained fighter and a good one. He quickly put his hands up and took a small step back. “Apologies, I intended no harm. I’ll get you stew and throw in an ale on the house for the trouble.” Jarad’s transition to the Imperial was easy enough. Her eyes widened in surprise, making her appear even younger. The girl hesitated as if she was unsure. For the briefest instant, he saw doubt in the young eyes.

The knife was involuntary. What happened to the kid?

The violent reaction to almost being touched gave him a few ideas. Perhaps Bathra and this imperial girl had more in common than they realized? “Look, I don’t allow drawn weapons here. I’ll ask you once to put it away, then I’ll ask you to leave. Understood?” The girl slowly put the knife away before retrieving her chair from the floor. “Do you speak common? It would be best if you did. Imperials don’t get much love here.”

“Only water. No ale.” She stuttered over the common words and her pronunciation was horrible.

Damn. He was hoping she at least spoke the common language. There weren’t any maids that spoke Imperial and that meant he’d have to serve her. “Would you mind sitting at the bar? I’m the only one here who speaks…ahem.” It would be easier but if she was as nervous as he thought, there was no way she would put her back to an entire room. It took her a fraction of a second to glance at the bar and shake her head.

“Okay. Would you like a…”

“No. Water…stirrup. No more.”

Jarad turned his head to the side slightly as his eyebrows drew down in confusion. It took him a moment to work it out. In common, stew and stirrup were close. A single letter difference. “I think you mean stew. I’ll get it right out to you. If you need anything else wave.” Other than a very slight nod, the girl didn’t respond. Jarad went back to his bar and watched. The main room slowly filled to capacity. The imperial girl received her stew and water from one of the maids and sat in silence while she ate. The other patrons around her gave her a wide berth, as wide as possible in the crowded common room, anyway. As predicted, Jarad rented the last room out before the sun was down.

Over the next couple hours, the girl sat and watched the room. She didn’t speak to anyone, and she could have been a statue for all the movements she made. Jarad didn’t concern himself too much about her. The other patrons stayed away, and she didn’t bother them. He was okay with that. It puzzled him how anyone could sit that long and just watch.

A crash and a few shouts of surprise stopped all conversation in the room. He’d only looked away for a moment and trouble struck. The mayor’s son and his cronies had taken an interest in the Imperial. She stood with her back to the window, one hand raised and the other under her cloak. The boy faced her standing where the table had once been. He’d flipped it over to get it out of the way. His two idiot friends were fanned out to either side to trap the young girl.

“Come on. Just sit with us. Don’t be stuck up.” The mayor's son was probably sure his voice sounded like honey. It was oily and made every woman in the place shiver with disgust. If he weren’t the mayor’s son…

Jarad was honestly surprised she hadn’t drawn her blade again. He needed to do something before she did. This stupid boy had no idea what he was messing with.

“HARL!” The boys head whipped around, the motion making him stumble slightly. “You’ve had too much ale. Time to go home. Start for the door or I’ll start you for it.” Jarad was out from behind the bar and halfway to the group by the time he finished talking. A sneer painted Harl’s face as he turned to his cronies for support.

“You don’t tell me what to do inn keeper. My dad’s…”

“Shut your mouth! You know better than that. Last chance, sit down or get out.” Jarad pointed at the door for emphasis. For the briefest instant, Jarad was sure Harl was going to test his luck. The last time he’d done that, Jarad had put him over his knee and spanked him like a small child. The mayor hadn’t been happy, but he wouldn’t go against Jarad either. The defiance left Harl and he clicked his tongue in distaste.

“Come on guys, she ain’t worth it anyhow.” The three turned and headed back to their own table and Jarad turned his attention back to the girl.

“You okay?” She didn’t answer him as her eyes followed the trio making their way back to their table.

“Leave.”

“Look girl. I don’t mind helping you out but you don’t tell me to leave in my own establishment.” The rest of the room slowly moved back to its own conversations and the noise of regular business returned. The girl looked at him with her eyes narrowed slightly in confusion.

“No…I leave.” She pointed to herself then to the door.

“Ah. Sure, you don’t want room? I’ve space in the stables. It’s dark now. Not safe for travelers on the road at night.”

“Not safe them.” One look at her face, fierce eyes and lips drawn into a tight line of determination, told him she was probably right.

“Safe travels then.” Jarad needed to get back to his bar. He was only two steps in that direction when he heard the feint “Thank you” behind him. He didn’t turn but the genuine gratitude he heard was all he needed. He got back to the bar expecting her to be gone when he turned around but found her helping one of the maids pick up the mess that had been her table. The maid chattered away the entire time and didn’t seem bothered that the girl never gave more than a nod for an answer. He saw disaster coming too late to stop it.

“MELL!” That idiot kid was approaching the imperial from behind. He stumbled every other step clearly well into his cups. He shouted hoping Mell could get there in time to stop Harl but it was already too late.

Harl grabbed the girl's shoulder and pulled. Everything was over far faster than he would’ve expected. She spun, pulling his arm away and to the side of her. Her other hand brought a knife up and into his arm just behind the elbow. The point exploded through the top. Without pausing, she pushed the knife up toward his shoulder slicing open his arm on both sides from elbow to armpit. Harl fell back over a chair screaming in terror, clutching at his arm to stop the flow of blood. The boy squirmed in a rapidly expanding pool and screamed.

“AAAAA…AAAAA…. AAAAAA”

Jared knew it was already too late. The boy would bleed out before anyone could do anything for him. His screaming and squirming on the floor were already growing weaker by the time Mell got to him. She got to work immediately using her apron strings to try and stop the flow of blood. The two cronies stood in shock watching their friend die.

“You!” He placed his hand on the girl’s shoulder and she whirled swinging the bloody knife at his face. The move was so fast he barely had time to jerk his head back. He snatched the front of her shirt and threw her toward the door. He was used to fighting grown men that weighed more. He’d only intended to propel her toward the door not throw her. She was much lighter than he expected, and he ended up launching her a few feet through the air. He shouldn’t have worried. She went with the throw tucking her body and spinning so she came down feet first in a small slide across the smooth floor. She stopped facing him with a sword drawn.

The blade made him pause. He’d seen that type of blade once before. This one was smaller and shaped a little differently but there was no mistaking the material or the color. It was a Warden’s blade forged from a dark purple crystal. He stood frozen in utter shock. A child could’ve pushed him over, he was so surprised. She couldn’t be a Warden. They never left the empire. The sword told him differently. The blades were bonded to their wielder during the crafting. Only the bonded person could use the blade. It was said that someone not bonded to the blade would die of poison within minutes and there was no cure. This girl did not seem to be about to die. The blade was hers.

“HE’S DEAD!” it was one of Harl’s friends. The shout brought him from his shock.

“You need to leave. Now! That’s the mayor’s son and he’ll have your head.” Jarad spoke in imperial and held his hands out to the side to show he was unarmed. The girl watched him and the group behind him but didn’t answer immediately. “Look, it wasn’t your fault but you need to go. At the back of the inn is a small road that leads to the river. Follow that. Hurry.” A nod was all he got and she was gone. He wished she’d taken her problem with her. Everyone had watched him talk to her and let her get away. There was going to be hell to pay.

The next day he wished the mayor was the worst of his problems.

“Where did she go?” The four men were Imperial. How they had gotten this far past the border without being stopped was anyone’s guess but here they were. They came straight to the inn and started asking about the girl.

“Out the door. What else do you want me to say? I don’t follow people leaving to check the direction they head.” One of the men reached for his sword but was waved off by the one in charge.

“We are being nice. We can ask another way. Witnesses say you spoke Imperial. What did you say?”

“The girl didn’t speak common. I told her she needed to leave. I don’t allow drawn weapons in my inn. Jarad glared for emphasis at the man who’d attempted to draw his blade.”

“She killed a man. Why didn’t you stop her?”

“It was self-defense and catching her is the job of law enforcement, anyway.” Jarad stared the man down. He was sure he could take at least two of them if he had to fight. These were regular imperial army, not Wardens. “If she’s running from you, my guess is she’s headed west down the main road and out of town.” The soldiers lip drew up in a sneer and he spit on the floor in front of Jarad before whirling around and heading for the door.

“If I find out you’ve lied to me, I’ll be back.”

“I’ll have a clean room waiting.” Jarad put extra cheer in his voice for the rebuttal. The door slammed shut behind the last man. He never knew a door shutting could sound angry.

“Is it safe to bait them like that, Jarad?” Mell had waited in the hallway behind the stairs with a small crossbow.

“They are well outside the empire and have no power here. Let them return.”

“Do you think they’ll catch her?”

“I hope not.”

“Why?! She’s wanted by her own country. She’s a killer.” The death of Harl had hit the small town hard but it hadn’t caused him as much trouble as he’d expected. The mayor was upset but he also knew his own kid.

“No… She’s a scared kid with no friends or family and an entire nation after her. She doesn’t stand a chance, but I’ll pray to the gods that they give her one.”


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