Chapter 9.5

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Tristan was getting impatient. If The Laughing Bear had been full, The Twelve Peers inn was absolutely jam-packed. Even the foyer was crowded with people, and he had to shove and elbow his way to the front desk. A harried woman in too much make-up stood behind the counter, thumbing through the guest book.

“Excuse me, Mistress…” Tristan started.

“Rosamund,” she supplied, not looking up from her papers. “What can I do fer you?”

“I need three rooms, please. For me and the lads,” Tristan said, nodding towards Sam and Braeden, who’d finally managed to reach him.

Rosamund guffawed. “Three rooms? ‘Ave you seen the place? You'll be lucky if you don't 'ave to sleep in the stables.”

Tristan clutched her hand and pressed a light kiss to her knuckles. “My lady, isn’t there anything you can do?” He lowered his voice. “For a Paladin and his trainees?”

Mistress Rosamund finally looked up, a blush staining her cheeks. “Well now, let me see 'ere,” she murmured. “Per’aps the three of you would be willin’ to share a room?” She lowered her eyes, then peeked at Tristan through her spidery lashes. “Though I would be 'appy to share me chambers wiv you, lovey.”

“Ah, madam, you are too kind, but I think the three of us will have to share a room. We’ve an early start to the morning, and I’ve a feeling if I stayed with you, we wouldn’t be doing much sleeping,” Tristan said with a wink. Behind him, Sam made a gagging noise.

Mistress Rosamund cackled delightedly. “Too bad. Meg!” she barked. A young maid scurried to the front desk and bobbed a curtsy. “Meg, I need you to show the misters ‘ere to their room. Room 317, it’ll be.” She leaned against the counter, showing her ample cleavage to its best advantage. “An’ if you change your mind, lovey, you just let me know.”

The room Mistress Rosamund had rented out to them was a tight squeeze, but it would do. Meg promised to have a footman bring up extra pallets, so they wouldn’t have to share a bed. Tristan knew well that they wouldn’t always be so lucky; he’d spent most of the past six years on the road, and he took his comforts where he could.

“I’m going to grab a drink or two downstairs,” he announced. “Either of you care to join me?”

 “I’ll pass,” said Braeden.

“Sam?” Tristan asked.

Sam shrugged. “Why not?”

Evenings at The Twelve Peers were a raucous affair, and Tristan couldn’t help but laugh at the shocked expression on Sam’s face. The boy’s eyes grew wider and wider as he witnessed the inn's patrons push the boundaries of propriety to their limits and beyond. Men and women whirled around the floor in a mockery of a waltz, their bodies pressed so close together that not even an inch separated them. Several fillies sat perched on the knees of their misters, tittering and whispering sweet nothings into their lovers’ ears. Tristan thought Sam might faint when a roguish fellow planted a kiss right on his lady’s lips, to the cheers of well-sauced onlookers.

“I didn’t know you were such an innocent,” Tristan teased.

“It’s improper,” Sam hissed. “Don’t these people have any decency?”

Tristan clapped his trainee on the shoulder. “Welcome to city life, lad.” He steered the boy towards the sole empty table. “Let’s get you a drink.”

Tristan beckoned the nearest serving wench with the crook of his finger, and watched appreciatively as she sashayed her way over to their table. “What can I get fer you?” she asked.

“Your finest red wine will do. And there’s an extra gold coin in it for you if you care to join us,” Tristan said, waggling his eyebrows in an exaggerated fashion.

The serving wench grinned, displaying crooked white teeth that somehow made her all the more appealing. “I’ll be back with wine in a shake.”

Tristan let out a low whistle as she walked away.  “That’s a fine looking woman.”

“If you say so,” Sam said dubiously.

Ironically, when the serving wench--Alice, she told them--returned with three tankards and a pitcher of wine, the lass only had eyes for Sam. She slid her chair as close to the trainee as was possible and touched his arm at frequent intervals. Sam, oblivious to her overtures, chatted animatedly with her as though they were bosom friends.  Tristan was unused to getting passed over for another, but he supposed Sam was attractive in his own way, if a woman liked her man to be pretty.

Feeling like a voyeur on a private conversation, Tristan excused himself from their table. Might as well rout out the local gossip to see if he could substantiate Master Collop’s reported rumors.

After an hour of flirting and flattering, Tristan came away with a name--Telmo Abbott. Telmo was a holy man, a priest of the Cissonius Order. Like his order’s namesake, the priest traded in information.  If anyone in Cordoba knew of the situation out west, it would be Telmo.  Tristan was quite pleased with himself; he’d even managed to ferret out the priest’s location, and it only cost him a silver penny.

When he returned his attention to where he left Sam, he had to fight back a groan. The fool boy was stewed to the gills. Sam swayed back and forth on his stool, and it seemed only Alice’s firm grip on his forearm kept him from tipping over. It was no wonder how he’d gotten himself in such a state; with her free hand, Alice discreetly poured the last of the wine into Sam’s tankard.

Tristan briefly considered letting Alice have her way with his drunk imbecile of a trainee, as that was clearly her intention, but decided to take pity on the boy. “Come on, lad,” he said, gripping Sam by the elbow. “I’ll take you up to bed.” He dipped his head in apology to Alice, who pouted good-naturedly as he dragged Sam away.

They had just made it to the stairs when Tristan felt Sam’s full weight slump against him. “Sam?” he said tentatively.

The boy said nothing, continuing to lean against him.

“Sam?” he said again, a good deal louder. Sam stayed silent. Tristan gripped him by the shoulders and shook. “Sam!” he shouted. No response.

Tristan would have been concerned if he didn’t see the rise and fall of Sam’s chest. Evidently he wasn’t dead; his idiot trainee had passed out from overindulgence. “Why me?” he asked the gods, though of course they didn’t answer. Cursing under his breath, he scooped Sam into his arms and began trudging up the stairs. Sam, still asleep, sighed softly and wrapped his hands around Tristan’s neck.

“You need to eat more,” Tristan told his sleeping bundle. In response, Sam snored lightly and nuzzled his nose against Tristan’s sternum. “You stop that!” he snapped.

The climb up the stairs seemed inordinately long. Though Sam was hardly a heavy burden, Tristan was hot and out of breath by the time they reached their room. Shifting Sam against him so he could hold him with one arm, he rummaged around in his belt pouch for the room key and pushed the door open with a foot.

Braeden looked up from the book he was reading, arching a silver brow. “All right, then?” he said.

Tristan dumped Sam unceremoniously on the empty bed pallet. The boy snorted loudly, grabbed at a nearby pillow, and curled his body around it.

“He had too much to drink,” Tristan explained.

Braeden smirked. “I can see that.” Sam let out an earth shattering snore.

“He’s going to hate himself in the morning,” Tristan remarked, studying Sam’s corpselike form.  

“Aye.”

“Unfortunate, really, that we have to wake up early.”

“Indeed.”

Tristan met Braeden’s eyes, which crinkled at the corners. He felt his lips twitch once, twice, before the two of them doubled over with laughter.

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