Rosie stood beside the bar in the Ploughman’s Inn, gazing out the window at nothing. She looked out the corner of her eyes, seeing the bard softly playing his pipes.
She thought about the two knights, Galahad and Lancelyn. Despite Lance being married to the sorceress, Morgause, the two men had achieved some sort of domestic bliss. Obviously they would never have children, but seemed happy in their arrangement.
Somehow, she and Leryn, the bard, had become a couple. It was not something she planned. She was fond of him.
Not just fond. Tears welled as Rosie forced herself to admit she loved him.
That was bad.
For her lover’s own good, she should pack her possessions, jump on Brunhilde’s back and hightail it out of town before the rest of the town discovered her secret and ran her out, and did worse to him.
It was the same old problem. In a new town, everything started out well. But once the bigotry began—
She couldn’t bear for Leryn to endure the sort of abuse he would if she stayed and the truth came out, and the town discovered they were lovers.
Maybe she could just sneak out at dawn. Polcock was a good landlord to work for, and she’d worked for many who weren’t. Going out rescuing with Lancelyn had been great fun, but she had to get out of Bleakbourne on Heath before she destroyed the man she loved. Leryn would probably understand and love her anyway, but he was a bard. She had to protect him or folks wouldn’t trust him.
If she got far enough away, maybe she could forget the silly, nagging notion of setting down with him, and having…children. It was bitter indeed, but for Leryn’s sake, she could never have that luxury.
A customer entered, and she turned, dashing away tears.
Leryn had been unsuccessful in his attempts to entice Rosie into staying the full night in his bed, which was odd, but she did have to rise early. Rosie and Lancelyn went out rescuing together nearly every morning, leaving Leryn and Galahad behind.
Galahad never seemed to mind, cheerfully picking up the slack, acting as stableman or barmaid, whichever was needed at the moment.
Under a curse which caused all magic to rebound off him, Lancelyn had sworn on his knightly honor never to accept a task involving magic if Rosie was along. The two were always home and ready to work during the evenings which had become quite busy again now the planting was done and the weather had grown warm.
Rosie had surprised Leryn with her passion that night, but departed for her own bed, saying she couldn’t sleep with him wrapped around her, that his bed was two small for two people.
Her comment made sense. The fact was, his bed was too small. With a little more space and privacy, she might…marry him.
There. He’d said it. Since the day of the dragon, Rosie had occupied his mind and his heart. He fell asleep smiling. He’d ask her to marry him as soon as he saw her the next day.
Leryn woke up to Lancelyn shaking him. “Are you awake? Leryn?”
“What do you want?” Leryn pulled his pillow over his face. “Is it even dawn yet?”
Leryn leapt from his bed, racing down the hall to her room, finding it empty, with no sign she’d ever been there.
Not even a note.
“She snuck Brunhilde out of the stable while I was sleeping.” Lancelyn eyed the bard, seeing shock, disbelief, and finally grief registering. “I had the stable doors bolted, of course, but Rosie has an uncanny way with locks.”
Galahad stood in the doorway behind Lance. “Leryn, are you okay? Leryn?”
“Yes. Thank you, I’m fine.” His face set and grim, Leryn pushed past the two knights. “I’m going for a ride. I’ll saddle Elsinore myself, so no worries, right?”
“So. You scared her off.” Polcock’s angry tones grated like salt in Leryn’s wounds. “She wasn’t the worst barmaid I ever had. She knew the ropes, and the customers liked her, and when things got busy, she was able to keep folks happy.”
“Shut it!” The bard’s flash of rage startled his landlord. “I have no idea what made her leave. Last night she was as warm to me as ever, maybe even warmer. She never said she was unhappy. I…intended to ask her to marry me, but she gave me no chance.”
“Well, she wouldn’t tell you why she was leaving, would she? Her sort are secretive. They have to be.”
“What do you mean, ‘her sort’?”
“You know—half elven.”
Leryn stared. “No. I didn’t know.” He turned away, unable to believe she hadn’t told him. At first he wondered what he’d done to make her think he couldn’t be trusted, but his common sense answered: he was a bard. Bards disseminated information along with the entertainment. She had no way of knowing they were also keepers of many secrets. “She never told me, and it wouldn’t have mattered if she had. If she ever returns this way, I’ll tell her so.”
Polcock shook his head. “I don’t know why you didn’t guess. It was written all over her, especially that daffy giggle. Wild crimson hair, slender as a boy—she looks more elf than human.”
Leryn stared at his tankard. “I’ve never met an elf, so I’ve nothing to go by. And what if I had? Rosie is Rosie, and I love her no matter what other label you give her.” His face was hard as he met Polcock’s gaze. “You thought so too, or you’d never have hired her. This whole town is a mish-mash of dwarves and human, and who knows what else? So why would her being something as mundane as half-elven matter here?”
“Because she’s far older than she looks, she’s possessed of some sort of battle magic or she wouldn’t be as successful a knight as she is, and she’s been run out of plenty of other towns just like Bleakbourne, once it came out.”
“Did she tell you that?”
Polcock shook his head. “No. But I know how things go, because my mother’s grandfather is half-elven.”
“Is? Your great-grandfather is still alive?” Nothing regarding Polcock should have surprised Leryn.
“Yes, although he’s beginning to look his age.” Polcock’s expression was inscrutable.
Leryn sighed as many things he should have figured out long ago fell into place. “Noman.” At Polcock’s curt nod he said, “Now I know why this town and you are so different, and it isn’t just the fact we’re situated on the crossroads between heaven and hell.” Falling silent, the bard went back to his usual corner and began working on his manuscript, but his heart wasn’t in it.
The merchants who made up the usual lunch crowd had begun to trickle in. Polcock bustled around, with Galahad stepping in and serving as needed. Suddenly, the perfect solution for Polcock’s shortage of barmaids occurred to Leryn, although it was a solution he didn’t like, as it meant acknowledging that his wild, wonderful, amazing Rosie was gone for good.
He had to believe she loved him—why she left without leaving him a note he would never know, but he believed in her basic goodness, and believed she had a reason. But he needed to talk to Merlin, who was still posing as the beggar called Noman. He would likely have some idea of how to resolve Polcock’s barmaid problem, and perhaps help Leryn regarding Rosie.
He picked up his things and took them upstairs to his room. Returning to the tap-room, he bought a hand-pie to take with him as a gift, telling Polcock he was going down to the docks.
Polcock looked up from cleaning the floor as Leryn entered, accompanied by a dark-haired, middle-aged woman who carried a valise.
“Polcock, meet Widow Martin. She’s looking for work and lodging, if you’re still hiring,” Leryn said. “Noman tells me she worked her husband’s pub in Londown for many years, before the great fire. He said to tell you this: ‘she is reliable and understands.’”
The harried expression fell away, and Polcock smiled at the comely widow. “If Noman vouches for you, that’s good enough for me. What do you want the customers to call you?”
“Hannah is fine,” she said, a smile crinkling the corners of her merry eyes. “Widow Martin is too formal for the tap-room. I came this way with the bargemen, and this is the fifth town I’ve stopped in. There’s little work to be had along the river right now, but I suspected as much, the way things are in Londown right now.”
Leryn asked, “What would you have done if you’d been unsuccessful finding work here?”
Hannah laughed. “Oh, I can make do. I’m not without means, but I’m unused to a life of ease.” A fleeting look of sadness darkened her eyes. “I’ve no children, and none to call family now Mr. Martin is gone, good soul that he was. I need to be needed, to be a part of something even if it’s not my own.”
“I understand. Mrs. Polcock passed away many years ago, and my daughter married and moved away a few months ago.” Polcock turned to Leryn, a light in his eyes and a wide smile brightening his gloomy features. “Will you get Hannah settled in the vacant room?”
He turned back to Hannah. “When you come back down, we’ll get set up for the evening crowd.”
The tap-room was crowded. Song and laughter drifted on the night air out to where Galahad and Lancelyn stood in the near-empty stable. The two men were having a difficult, awkward conversation.
Unable to completely absorb his lover’s words, Lance’s normally vacuous, impossibly handsome face displayed incredulity. “Brunhilde’s carrying a foal? You mean, you…and she….”
“I wasn’t myself, exactly.” Galahad’s green eyes were wary. The conversation was going worse than he’d anticipated. “You may remember I was in an equine state at the time? I was bound by the normal urges a male war-horse is subject to.”
“I know, but…what does this mean for us?”
“If you have to ask, then it means trouble for us, just as your wife intended when she cursed you in such a terrible way. Otherwise, nothing has changed.”
“But what if it’s half…!” Lance refrained from pulling his hair out. “What then?”
“We’re unlikely to find out anytime soon. We’ll deal with that when we have to. I think it will be a normal foal, because I was a horse at the time.”
The golden-haired knight scrubbed at his eyes. “Rosie will be back, because you were the only stallion around when her mare was in season, and she’ll be worried too.” He tried not to sound as bitter as he felt.
“What are you going to do now that you know?”
Cold rage tinged Lance’s voice, “I’m going to situate myself in such a way that Morgause will reap the reward of her own curse.” His blue eyes were cold and deadly when he looked up. “I never asked to be tied to her. She wanted me and worked her magic to bend my parents to her will.” His face took on a crafty expression. “I’m her lawful husband, and as such I should be at her side, every minute of every day, don’t you agree?”
Reluctantly, Galahad nodded. “I see where you’re going with this.”
Lancelyn embraced Galahad. “I love you. You must remain here and wait for Rosie to realize she can’t live without the bard.” He grinned mirthlessly. “I’ll be back by Yule, if you’re willing to wait for me. Morgause has many enemies blessed with the gift of magic and I intend to be by her side whenever she battles them. With any luck, I’ll have an ill-tempered poodle or a pig in my care when I return!”
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Bleakbourne on Heath © 2015 – 2017 Connie J. Jasperson, All Rights Reserved
Connie J. Jasperson is an author and blogger, and a regular contributing member of the Edgewise Words Inn staff.