Excerpts are from my first draft and subject to change. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks!
Marabella had been to Sellwood several times over the seasons, riding with Wesley or Henry to trade for goods and supplies. It had been several moon cycles since her last visit. She pulled the old mare to a stop at the Roadhouse. She knew it to be a rough place, frequented by travelers. But, it was owned by a friend of Henry's so Marabella felt reasonably sure she would find lodging for the night in one of his four tidy little rooms upstairs. She tied the mare by the cistern for horses and let her take a long drink. “I really should give you a name.” She spoke in low tones as she brushed some of the mud from the mare's flank. The horse raised her head and looked right at Marabella, swishing her muddy tail. “How about Nipsy!” The mare stared blankly at her. “Clementine?” Still, no response. “What do you think of Bessamae? I’ll call you Bess.” The mare blinked her big, soft eyes and nuzzled Marabella’s hand. Marabella chuckled and patted her firmly. “Bess it is.”
In the failing light Belle saw several broken chairs on the porch. Once inside, she immediately noticed that the Roadhouse was empty except for one table of four men. Orsino, the proprietor stood behind the bar. “Hello, my friend.” Belle greeted him. The usually friendly man said nothing. He looked to the table of men with a slight nod and motioned for Belle to come to the bar. Two of the men sat facing the door. She could feel their eyes on her. One leaned to the side to get a better view, looked her up and down, taking in her muddy clothes, dirty face and tangled hair. He glanced to the other men and shrugged, settling back in his chair. “What was that all about?” Belle questioned the barman quietly.
Orsino set a mug of ale in front of her and leaned close. “These men have been here for several days. They're followers of that scholar in Drosia named Koros. Every time a Demalion, or someone they suspect is Demalion comes in, they start trouble. Half my tables and chairs have been destroyed in the fights just this week. They've each taken one of the four rooms I have upstairs so any travelers have to go someplace else.”
“Isn't there a Constable's Crew here in Sellwood?” Belle asked.
“One of them is on the Constable's Crew. Another is his brother. I tried complaining to the Magistrate but he thinks they are just rough boys out for a bit of fun. He claims as long as they pay their bill, I should have nothing to complain about.” Suddenly, Orsino cocked his head to the side and looked to the door. “Where is Henry? You aren't alone are you?”
Belle dropped her saddlebag on the barstool beside her and sighed. “I'm afraid so. I was hoping to get a room for the night, but I suppose I'll have to head back out to the woods and look for a campsite.”
“Well, that won't do. The wife would never let me hear the end of it and she'd tell Ma Nan and well I just don't need that kind of trouble.” He smiled at Belle. “You can take the loft in the stables. There's clean straw and I have some extra blankets. I am sorry...” Orsino let out a long sigh.
“That sounds great!” Belle smiled brightly. The idea of a soft bed of straw really did sound good to her. Her body ached from the long ride and she was not fully recovered from the savage beating Malick had given her just a day ago. Belle reached to her pocket for her coin pouch. “How much for me and my horse?”
“Put your money away girl. I am glad to have you. You just mind your lantern up in that loft."
“I will. Thank you Orsino. Oh, and by the way, there’s a couple of fellows a ways back, blocking the road and setting a trap for travelers.”
“I’ll put the word out about them. And mind you pull that ladder up after you. Later in the night, when these fellows get in their drink, they sometimes go looking for trouble.” He shot a glance at the table and frowned. The men paid no notice of Belle as she exited.
Bess sighed as Belle removed her saddle. The stables had plenty of fresh straw and a curry comb and rags for the animals. Though her muscles ached and she was tired, she used the comb and rags to give the mare a proper clean up. When she was finished, she drew a large bucket of water from the well outside to give herself a cleanup as well. Slipping to the back of the stall where Bess munched on the oats Halsta had provided, Belle stripped off her mud spattered shirt and used the fragrant soap from her pack to bathe. She used her bathwater to wash out her muddy clothes. Up in the loft she hung her clothes on the rafters to dry and finally stretched out on the soft bed of straw and blankets. She had just begun to doze off when she remembered the ladder. She heard the sounds of a row in the Roadhouse as she pulled the ladder up and flopped back down exhausted.
Belle opened her eyes. In the darkness she could see a shadowy figure standing over her. She reached for her knife but it was not at her side. The figure took a step toward her and she saw Malick brandishing her knife. She tried to back away but there was nowhere to go. Another step closer revealed Malick's yellow teeth in a grim smile. His gut hung with gore where she had plunged in her blade. Belle saw his bloody hands raise her knife. She awoke with a start. Early morning light was streaming into the stable. Her knife was in her hand. She rubbed at her eyes to shake off the nightmare.
Belle readied her pack and walked Bess out of the stable to graze on the sweet vetch growing at the edge of the woods. She walked up to the roadhouse to give Orsino her thanks for his hospitality. Belle was intent upon getting back on her journey. Mounting the steps she took notice of a large wagon and team of horses tied up at the front. She walked through the open door to find the Roadhouse in shambles. Orsino was behind the bar slicing bread and cheese. Standing shoulder to shoulder at the bar were two very large men. She recognized them immediately. “Does Posey know you’re in the Roadhouse at this time of morning?” She called rather loudly. The large men turned.
“Belle!” Jak shouted.
“Tell me you didn’t do this.” Belle scolded.
“We had quite the party last night, and you missed it.” Jak elbowed his brother Bubby and they both laughed heartily. Belle glanced around the room at the overturned tables and broken pottery. She noticed a fresh bruise above Orsino’s eye.
“Your guests again?” She looked at the barman and gestured to the destruction. Orsino shrugged and winced a bit as he nodded. Jak lumbered over and hugged her.“I didn’t expect to see you here. Aren’t you headed for Blackwytch?” Bubby asked, stuffing a fistful of bread in his mouth.
Belle cocked her head to the side. “I see you’ve heard.”
“We didn’t think we’d catch up to ya so soon. We took Miss Ruth to the stone cottage but Wesley weren’t around so I figured he might a come with ya. He here?” Bubby winked.
Marabella blushed. “No. This is a journey I need to make alone.”
Bubby turned to his brother and whispered loudly. “Bet your hat Wesley ain’t happy about that.” Jak shushed him, shooting a wide eyed look in Marabella’s direction.
A low moan from the corner caught their attention. “Our friends are up.” Jak grinned widely.
In the corner of the room Marabella saw two of the men from the day before. They were crumpled in a pile of overturned tables and smashed chairs. Jak grabbed a pitcher of ale from the bar and strode toward the men. “Wait, wait brother!” Bubby exclaimed, retrieving the pitcher from him. “That’s no way to wake a man. What’s the matter with you?” He reached behind the bar. Handing a large bucket to Jak, he laughed. “No sense in wasting good ale, when water’ll do just fine.” Jak doused the men who coughed and sputtered to life as the brothers laughed uproariously.
“I’m on the Constable’s Crew.” One of the men mumbled. “You can’t…ow.” He winced in pain as he struggled to get to his feet. “You broke my shoulder. I’ll have you…ow…arrested.”
Bubby strode across the room. “Oh, now don’t get all upset. We was powerful careful not to break anybody.” He roughly helped the man to his feet.
The man’s shoulder sagged. He was obviously injured. Bubby grabbed him by the shoulder with one huge hand, pinning him to the wall. With a tight grip on his arm, Bubby pulled down and twisted. Everyone heard a loud crunch. The man let out a girl-like scream, then spoke timidly. “Oh, well that does feel much better.”
Bubby put a long muscular arm around his shoulders. “Happens all the time. It was just dislocated. Easy fix. You just chew on this a while, git some breakfast in you and you’ll be fine in a day or so and ready to rough house again.” He handed the man a sizable piece of willow bark from his pocket. “I keep that handy all the time. Whenever my big brother Mel gits a holt a me, I usually need it.”
The man looked incredulously at the bulky brothers. “You mean there’s a bigger one?”
Bubby threw back his head and laughed long and loud. “I’m the little one.” He clapped the fellow on the shoulder, making him wince. “You see, Pap was a big man; bigger than me. And he met Mam. She was a good half head taller than me too.”
Jak began to giggle. “We don’t know why Bubby turned out so small. Truth is Mam is a bit taller than me too.” Jak was picking up tables and chairs, sorting out the damaged furniture. He pulled the other fellow to his feet. “Wake up, friend. We got to set Orsino’s place to rights before we leave.” The man groaned and allowed himself to be plopped on a chair like a doll. “What did we do with the other two?” Jak asked.
Orsino spooned thick porridge into several bowls on the bar. “There’s one back here.” He laughed. Marabella peered over the bar. The man was curled up like a child. His compatriot sniggered as he poured ale on the man from a cup on the bar. The sleeping fellow started, throwing a few feeble punches at the air as he sat up. Orsino helped him to stand.
He leaned heavily on the bar, yawned and wiped his face on his sleeve. He scanned the room with a scowl. “Where’s Tig?”
“Tig?” Bubby frowned. “Oh, the little one.” He began laughing again. “He had a bit too much drink. We put him in here so he didn’t git hurt.” He walked to the cabinet under the stairs. Opening the door, he revealed Tig, sitting on a shelf amidst the extra pitchers and plates. He was curled into a ball with his knees to his chest and his thumb in his mouth. They all had a hardy laugh.
“Aw, don’t wake him.” Marabella crooned. The two men at the bar and the one still sitting at the table all sniggered when Bubby closed the cabinet as Tig snored.
Marabella moved closer to the man at the bar. He was chewing thoughtfully on the willow bark Bubby had given him. When he turned to her she caught him with her emerald gaze. He was immediately lost in her eyes. “Why do you fellows harass Orsino so?”
“Now you don’t need to go tellin’ our business.” His friend at the end of the bar barked.
But Marabella held him with her stare. He didn’t seem to hear anything going on around him. She continued. “But Demalions are good people. You all had a grand time of it last night. Right? Do they pay you enough to go to all the trouble of staying away from your home and constantly fighting?”
He scratched at the stubble on his chin. “They do not. I don’t have no problems with Demalions. They always got superior goods, knives and such. But, the Constables Crew don’t pay much. Ain’t that many bounties and folks around here pretty much behave. And I do like the coin.”
She leaned in closer. Marabella looked deeply into his bleary, blood shot eyes. “Your clear conscience is worth more than the pittance they offer. You should convince your friends that it’s time to go home and leave poor old Orsino alone. The Demalions don’t really warrant such violence. And don’t you think that Koros fellow must have his own reasons for starting all this strife?”
The man nodded slowly. “True. True you are. Why should we continue as such? None ever has no magics no how. We ain’t yet found anything other than firesticks as for magical items.”
She perked up. “You’ve been instructed to take magical items?”
“Yeah. They pays extra for that stuff. But we ain’t found nothin’ like that. I don’t believe in all that anyway. I know there be firesticks and I even heard of carry all satchels that hold more than they should but such as that is useful and all.”
“Why does he want magical items?”
“Don’t know. Never thought about it, truly. We just was lookin’ out for ‘em. But now I’m a wonderin’ why don’t we just go home. They don’t pay enough for stayin’ here all the time and old Orsino is a pleasant enough fellow.”
Marabella blinked, slowly releasing him from her spell. Then she gave him her sweetest smile. “I think that’s a great idea. You fellows should all go home, right after you help your new friends set the Roadhouse to rights. You can build a few tables, can’t you?”After a quick breakfast, Marabella filled her waterskins and said her goodbyes. She mounted Bess and started down the road. Passing Sellwood, she saw the town coming to life but she only had one thought in her mind. She would push to complete her journey today. Today she would find Geremiah, her father.