The Roadhouse, part one

8 0 0

Late in the evening Arthur and Harbend finally made their way to the gates. From a distance it looked like a small fortress on a low hill, but now the walls loomed over them like a dark giant.

A cold wind had been tearing into them since darkness fell and it was only thanks to their warm clothing they weren't chilled through.

The stone walls seemed impregnable and impossibly high. Climbing the winding road Arthur realized it was far steeper than he first imagined. No trees or cliffs to hide behind and anyone on the walls would be able to spot travelers long before they were close to the gate. Arthur guessed anyone on the walls would be able to do much more than that.

Like pointing something sharp at me. And I'd never even know what happened.

"There at last," Harbend muttered. He turned to his companion and smiled. "During wartime they would have hailed us a long time ago." Accent still peculiar, but his grasp of English far better than Arthur's fledgling attempts at De Vhatic. "We are a bit later than I would have liked," Harbend continued, smiling. Arthur groaned silently at the understatement. "Let us hope they still have rooms for us. Otherwise I guess we shall have to make do with the stables. Well, first we need to find out if they will even open the gate at such a late hour."

This time Arthur groaned loudly. His legs ached from the long ascent and he was ravenously hungry. Horses tired as well — he'd been more or less forced to pull his disobedient animal the last kilometer. He gave Harbend a sour look and was met by a teasing grin.

Harbend knocked on the gates, still smiling, and within moments they swung open soundlessly, revealing a narrow courtyard and two armed men. They quickly waved the weary travelers through and into the walled space where yet another gate beckoned. They passed the second gate and were inside the walls.

Arthur sighed with relief and noted how much he'd missed being in a town where he didn't have to rely on moonlight or a travelers lamp. A man arrived and Arthur listened to a smattering of words exchanged between Harbend and the groom. After that a few coins changed hands and their horses were led away.

"What about the wagon?" Arthur asked.

"Will be taken care of," Harbend answered. "Now we should concentrate on a hot bath, an evening meal and a warm bed. Enjoy yourself. You have traveled better than I dared hope, so you are entitled to a good time now."

Arthur knew embarrassment then. He was being praised for doing something Harbend probably saw as just another unavoidable part of life as a traveling merchant.

"No, I mean it," Harbend said as if guessing Arthur's thoughts. "Most people from Verd would not be able to handle themselves during a long journey. You told me you live in a city in your world so I expected you to behave like one city born. I am happy to say that you are a fast learner."

"Thank you, I guess," Arthur stammered, uncertain of what to say. He still felt uncomfortable, but something in him very much enjoyed Harbend's acceptance and in the end he just smiled gratefully.

For a while he just stood there, silent, remembering the journey and taking in his surroundings. Stables nearby, to their left, and men talking while grooming their horses. At least he assumed it was their horses. The pungent smell of manure almost welcoming, a reminder they were no longer forced to sleep with the sky as their ceiling. To his right a closed store, its wooden shutters telling him it was very late and that he ought to find a place indoors. Stomach loudly agreeing he caused Harbend to give him an amused look before leading him towards the houses further away.

Most small one and two stories buildings. Having expected a fortress Arthur was not prepared for the mass of wooden houses, some even with thatched roofs. A few of the buildings they passed were erected by simply laying layers of logs on top of each other and sealed with what Arthur thought was moss, but most the work of a proper carpenter, some even displaying large, glassed windows. He noted lamps of the same kind as those used in Verd, only much smaller, and it was all too clear that this was not the bustling city he'd spent his first few weeks in. Neither noise nor smell those of a large city and the narrow streets almost deserted. He slowly understood that the nightlife making Verd strangely familiar to him also made it very unique in this world.

They rounded a corner. Arthur almost knocked over a couple of empty barrels left for the night and Harbend stepped under an archway leading to a closed door. Without knocking he pushed it open and entered. Arthur followed him into a corridor ending in a large room with several rough tables and chairs along three of the walls. The smell of spicy food was strong here and Arthur's mouth watered as his stomach once again loudly complained about dinner being far too late.

The ceiling was awkwardly low and forced him to bend to avoid banging his head on the beams as they made their way further into the room. Less than half the tables occupied. Apparently most of the diners had already finished and gone to sleep. A few heads rose to see the newcomers but no one seemed to recognize him.

Arthur sat down at a table, waiting for Harbend to place their orders.

Even before Harbend was finished talking with the bearded man in the kitchen a serving girl came up to the table with a jug and two glasses. Pretty, with a slightly exotic face Arthur couldn't place, wearing a brown, woolen jacket and a heavy, striped skirt from under which a pair of no nonsense boots protruded. He smiled at her.

"Many great thanks... your services to me welcome," he said to her and shrugged apologetically when she didn't seem to understand. Watching her depart he slowly became aware of the room being far warmer than the night outdoors and he pulled off his heavy coat. He'd just placed it on an empty chair when Harbend returned to the table.

"They have rooms for the night. One for us each, and there is a bath house just behind the kitchen. If you want we can get clean before we eat." Harbend was still pointing at the door next to the kitchen.

Arthur, even though famished, began to realize how dirty he was, tiredly left his chair, grabbed his bag, slung the coat over his shoulders and staggered away in the suggested direction. The stone floor felt very hard to feet almost adjusted to the thought of resting and his hips ached from a long day spent riding and walking.

The bath was heaven.

The TaleweaverRead this story for FREE!