by Joe AuBuchon
The bartender’s short gray hair was an anomaly in this part of the world though he’d never thought about how it showed he was different. Most of his customers this noontime were from Fysal’s caravan, either teamsters or guards. There were few local customers any longer.
Jenn, Manzl’s younger daughter, flashed him a hurried smile as she brought out another tray piled high with bowls of her mother’s meaty stew and fresh-baked dark bread. Burnise, a daughter of one of the town’s alderman, carried a half-dozen tankards of ale to the group of mixed locals and teamsters dicing in the back corner. With a demanding glare she held out her hand to the newest arrival who looked up at her with a quizzical frown.
“Blarr, no weapons at dicing. ‘Tis Konna’s rule. Fysal backs him,” whispered the man who held the bones.
Burnise took Blarr’s offered dagger by the hilt and bestowed a smile on the man as she rose. She swept the inn’s tavern with her eyes to see if anyone else was looking for service and saw a merchant holding up an empty wineglass. Nodding, she took the knife to a shelf behind the bar and exchanged it for a pitcher of red.
For the first time in a long while, Konna felt old. Not physically old, as he was in good health and still able to do a full day’s work at the bar or the forge, but he was world weary. The village had grown into a town, and the town was changing.
It was not, he thought, changing for the better. The new people were bringing new ideas–intolerant ideas. Their new god was not as accommodating as those of old.
He had moved here half a mortal lifetime ago, he and his wife–Asyra of the green eyes and dazzling smile that still called to him across the gulf of years. Together, they had taken over a decaying smithy and transformed it into a thriving one and added a stable and, eventually, an inn.
The next two decades had brought them children, a girl and a boy. The girl had been as pretty and hard working as her mother and married a cousin of Fysal. Her young man lost his life too soon after the birth of their daughter to an avalanche in the mountains.
Losyra and her daughter left the caravan on the far side of those mountains, and she’d taken a job as a live-in housekeeper and foster mother to a widowed provincial governor and his son. A year later she married him. He had adopted her infant daughter, and she had given him another son.
Her letters proclaimed her happiness, though on the anniversary she cried for her lost youth. Still, as Konna read the thoughts between the words and lines, he saw her smile and knew that what she wrote was true.
Konna’s boy had had the wanderlust and so had been apprenticed to a trader at the age of eight. He and his caravan had stopped at the Roost three years previous, a successful trader with a wagon, wife and newborn child of his own. Though disappointed at her passing, he would stop at his mother’s resting place on the road north, tell her his story and introduce his wife and her grandson.
Their smithy and inn, the Dragons’ Roost, had attracted the caravans that crisscrossed this parched land. The town and market had grown around him, and now, it wanted him gone. Yes, it’s time to go, he mused. It’s time to move on.
He had decided Fysal’s caravan would be the last he would service. He would leave with it in the pre-dawn light on the morrow–if Fysal would have him.
“So, my friend,” said Fysal as he sipped his date-sweetened wine, “they wish you gone. The ungrateful fools, it was you and Asyra who built this town around yourselves. The only reasons we, and the others, have been stopping here these many years have been you and the services you offer, those, your hospitality and your honesty.
“Konna, no one here can afford to pay you an honest price for the Roost. What will you do?”
“I will sell the inn for a token and travel with you, Fysal. No, hear me out; I have not lost my mind,” he said.
“I have two good wagons on which to carry the goods I wish to keep, including a portable forge and tools. I have eight dray horses and two good riding ones. I have kegs of beer, barrels of wine, fodder and traveling food and animals with which to purchase my passage.
“Manzl and Corrin and their children have stood with me even as the others have turned against me. I will sell the Roost to them for a single gold taler. They worship the new god and will be able to make a go of the business. I have made sufficient profit over the years to see me through.”
“I’ve seen your cellars, Konna,” said Fysal. “My caravan could neither afford nor carry a third of what you have stocked at this time of the year.”
“Fysal, send your sons and partners around this afternoon to load what they can. I will need help in loading what I want to take and a driver for my second wagon. Tonight, bring your families, and we will feast and dance in farewell.
“It will be the last celebration at the Dragons’ Roost as Manzl will soon be forced to change its name. When we leave in the morning, I will publicly sign over the deed to him and, once again, be free to travel the world.”
to be continued