The Innkeeper’s Daughter

This one starts out as just about the most generic fantasy opening imaginable; that’s deliberate. I like to think it goes somewhere a lot less predictable, though.

Marga dodged the outstretched foot deftly; the tray balanced on her hand did not wobble. Once upon a time she had wondered why so many customers tried to trip her – was it really that funny to see her spill ale all over someone? Now she didn’t even think about it; avoidance was completely automatic.

She glanced over at the two soldiers in the corner. You’d think that with two of Lord Gorzoth’s killers here the regulars would behave themselves better, but apparently habit and beer were capable of partially overcoming common sense.

Only partially, though – the three tables nearest the soldiers were all empty, and nobody was looking at the pair, or calling to them. Marga hoped there wouldn’t be any trouble. She knew the soldiers probably weren’t going to pay for anything, and she was resigned to that, but she did not want to be cleaning up blood or bodies, or having to tell anyone’s family that he’d been stupid enough to anger one of Lord Gorzoth’s men.

The door to the street opened as Marga set two foaming mugs on the table where the weaver’s twins waited; she looked up to see a figure looming in the doorway, one she did not immediately recognize. She glanced quickly over at the soldiers, but they were involved in their own conversation, paying no attention to the new arrival.

The newcomer stepped down into the tavern, and Marga could see two more strangers behind him; the first man had completely hidden them.

That first man was big, bigger than Vromir Smith, who was the biggest man in town; Marga didn’t think she had ever seen anyone as tall, or as broad in the shoulder, as this fellow. He was wrapped head to toe in a brown woolen cloak, a hood pulled forward to hide his face, but as she watched he reached up both hands – hands clad in heavy leather gloves – and pulled the hood down to reveal a strong, handsome face. His golden hair and beard were clean and brushed, but had not been trimmed for awhile. He scanned the room, looking for an empty table.

There were only three – the three nearest Lord Gorzoth’s men. The big man stood for a moment, gazing at the two soldiers. Then he shrugged, and headed for the nearest of the unoccupied tables.

His two companions trailed behind him. They were of far more ordinary dimensions than their leader, their heads scarcely topping his shoulders; one was lean and dark, and had apparently been clean-shaven several days ago, while the other had a broad face framed by brown curls, sporting a shaggy mustache and a goatee.

As Marga watched, the trio marched straight to their chosen table and sat down, with only the barest glance at the soldiers. She hesitated only an instant, then told the twins, “Let me know if you need anything else,” tucked her now-empty tray under her arm, and hurried over to the newcomers.

“Can I get something for you gentlemen?” she asked.

“Something to eat,” said the brown-haired one.

“And ale,” the dark one added.

“The commons tonight is roast pork and carrots, half a crown each,” Marga said. “The ale’s two slivers a pint.”

The big man thumped a purse on the table, thumbed open the drawstring, and fished out a heavy coin. “Will this feed us all?” he asked, in a deep, warm rumble of a voice that stirred something in Marga’s belly.

Marga picked up the coin and studied it. She had never seen one like it. It had the color and shine and heft of gold, but she knew those could all be feigned in one fashion or another. The emblem on one side was of the sun rising above a hill; the other showed an open hand encircled by an inscription in an unfamiliar alphabet. Something about it tugged at an old memory, and she stared at it, trying to dredge up that faint recollection.

Then she realized that not only were the three newcomers watching her, but so were Lord Gorzoth’s men, and a few of the locals. It suddenly seemed more important to avoid trouble than to perhaps accept a counterfeit – and really, what counterfeiter would have come up with something like this, instead of a more ordinary coin? The thing was almost certainly a genuine coin from somewhere, and probably more than enough to cover the cost of a meal. “Been awhile since I’ve seen one of these,” she said. “It should do fine. I’ll fetch your supper right away.” Then she tucked the strange coin in her apron pocket and headed for the kitchen.

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