Anladet tugged her hood down around her head more and wondered, not for the first time in her life, whether the price of one day of absolute happiness was worth all the misery she’d felt since then.
She walked the streets of Hanala, hoping to find a place to stay for the night. The overcast sky that poured rain on the city caused a premature end for the day. Sunny or gray, she had waited too long to find shelter. Anla’s normal place was a good hour and a half walk across the city and would require she take it in the cold rain. After three days of barely making ends meet and three nights of shivering herself to sleep, she surrendered and tried desperate measures.
The gas lamps lit the cobblestones path, the puddles reflecting the light in a way that would be breathtaking if her mood were better. Anladet walked towards Criard Street, one of the main roads of Cherryfire. It wasn’t a ritzy neighborhood, but she didn’t belong in one of those anyway. It wasn’t a slum, either, which saved Anla the hassle of dealing with anyone looking to make trouble . It was a neighborhood that had quite a few taverns, bars, shops, and other businesses that gave the area a reputation of being a good place for the lesser gentry, the merchant class, and people with the prestige of an upstanding bourgeoisie.
There were a few places she could go. If she caught Quent before his father closed his patisserie, she might have at least a floor to sleep on tonight. Old Mavy hadn’t said anything before when she had caught Anladet sleeping in her doorway the few times she had in the last six months. Tiorn, Isky and Petrue, the workers at the pasta restaurant on Mask and Fortnight streets, were all possibilities as well, though she’d rather not risk being alone with Tiorn again.
There was, however, one place in the area that was a higher gamble, but with greater rewards: Onlard’s tavern. Anladet bit her lip. It all depended on several factors. His mood, if his wife was around the bar, whether business was waning or waxing, and who was sitting in the tavern. She reached into her pocket, inside the pouch there, and withdrew a tile. Eweh. Growth or change. It seemed like a good omen, though she only half-believed its substance.
She crossed the street and stood outside the broad, many paned window and tried to get a feel for the crowd. Quiet and steady, a nice crowd for a rainy Wednesday. The room was almost full, a few tables with men drinking by themselves and reading. A man leaned against the mantle of the fireplace, gesturing with his ale glass. A few laughed and slapped their knees, returning to the conversation they were holding at their table. There were no fights, no one standing abruptly with indignation or even a drop spilled in aggression. Anladet wasn’t surprised; Onlard’s had that sort of reputation.
She stood in the doorway, the rain dripping off the hem of her cloak. Onlard was behind the bar, leaning over to say something to a customer. He twisted his head to hear the man, then straightened himself, slapping the bar as he laughed. His gaze swept the room, landing finally on Anladet in the doorway. The broad grin that was almost as wide as he was melted away as he walked brusquely to the doorway.
“Girl, you can’t keep comin’ round here. I tol’ ya t’at afore,” he said, placing both his hands on her shoulders. “Iffen I give ya a night fer free, I gotta give ’em all a night fer free.”
“It’s not free if I work. I’ll wash all your dishes again, clean the room. I won’t stay unless I work. I’ll work hard.”
Onlard thought about it for a moment, then poked her chest. “Ugh, ya know I had a scrapper come by t’ree nights ago. Ya dinnet send ‘im here, did ya?”
“No, I wouldn’t do that, Onlard. I don’t say anything to anyone about your past kindness, nor would I if you let me stay tonight.”
He wiped his hand down his face, then back across his bald head. “Girl, I can’t be given ya t’is ‘rangement all t’e time. T’e misses don’t like strange girls sleepin’ un t’e floors.”
She remembered the fight. Onlard’s wife was a jealous and suspicious woman. Not in a cruel way, but as one who understands the way things work most of the time. Anla would have acted the same way in her shoes. “I know, Onlard” she said softly. “I won’t be back again.”
“Ugh, ye saiden t’at t’e last time ye were here.”
She shook out her cloak and dropped her hood. “It’s the rain, Onlard. It’s been brutal outside this week, raw, even. If I don’t sleep under a roof tonight I might not wake up tomorrow. ”
“Kabidon be fightin’ wit’ his sister agin. It be happenin’ offentimes, girl. You live here, you be knowin’ t’at. T’oh I will be sayin’ t’is is a mighty storm, even for ussen.”
Anladet tried a little charm, widening her eyes just a little. “It’s not just the rain, Onlard. I feel safe here, too. You’re a good man with a good wife. You run an honest business, the best tavern in Cherryfire, if not Hanala. This place makes me feel like I’m home.”
“T’oh,” he said, his eyes trailing away from her. “Ye be bewitchin’ me, girl.” He scrunched up his face, blew out his breath, and shrugged. “Fine, dishes, sweepin’, washin’ t’e floor, ye ge’ some o’ t’e stew after closin’, and t’e floor in t’e kitchen in front o’ t’e fireplace. Be gone when t’e sun risen.”
In the five or six times she had wormed her way into a temporary solution to her vagrancy, Anladet had wanted to hug the man as hard as she could. He was the sort of man people called “uncle” or “papa”, even though they weren’t blood related. He was affectionate with everyone, and Anla knew that, but she also knew how his wife felt. Instead, she grabbed his bear paw of a hand with both of hers and thanked him gratefully. He flapped his stained bar rag at her, as he always did, and went back to tending the brews.
There was a reason Anladet had chosen Onlard’s bar over any of the others she had passed along the way. Besides having a standing relationship with the owner, the tavern was genuinely comfortable to her. It was quieter than most, hosting regulars who preferred lighter conversation than many of the others Anladet had worked. She’d never seen a brawl break out in Onlard’s, not even a few shoves back and forth that she’d heard the locals called a “Walpin match”. It was a bar where people went for good company, drinks that were only moderately watered down, and some peace for a few hours.
She put her cloak in the kitchen to dry and tucked away her bag of belongings. As Anladet collected mugs from the tables, she was able to speak to the patrons, even smile at them, without fear of being propositioned. No man there had before and she doubted they would. She suspected it was due to Onlard and his wife’s presence and would have put easy money on that bet. Anladet hadn’t been sweetening him up too much when she said he was a good man. That was his bar and he demanded absolute respect for everyone in it, even those who didn’t deserve it.
Onlard was picky about a few things involving reputation. He was fair and just, but had little tolerance for violence, lawlessness, cursing, and preying on the weak. Those sort of things did not happen in the sanctuary of his tavern without a swift kick to a man’s aft side as he was booted from the pub. Anladet had caught on early, taking cues from the patrons’ behavior. She had behaved properly and it was why she had been allowed back in the tavern for another night.
It was also why she didn’t try to ply her normal trade in the bar. Onlard frowned upon piscarin activities, as most people did, so she didn’t pull her runes out for his customers. She might make several silver that night, but she’d risk the favor of Onlard. That would be a mistake. It could cost her not just him and his tavern, but potentially the neighborhood.
The last customer waved as he made his way to his room upstairs, Anladet began wiping down the tables and pulling the chairs off the floor. Onlard stood behind the bar with his back to her, wiping down the bottles of liquor. He cleared his throat. “I, eh, wanted ta be’en askin’ ya somethin’, girl,” he said.
“Would ye liken ta be makin’ t’is a regular t’ing? I asked ma wife t’night and she saiden she maybe changed ‘er mind, since ye are a sweet girl who don’t be doin’ any wrong doin’ in t’a tavern.”
She paused, wondering how she was going to phrase it politely. “That’s incredibly generous of you and your wife. I would love to. Your place is so wonderful. I can’t, though.”
He turned to look at her. “No? Issit ta men? T’ey be makin’ ya feel bad?”
“No, Onlard. The men are very nice. I just…can’t do anything permanent. I need to move around.”
He said nothing as he went back into the kitchen. He returned with a creamy stew of ham, peas, potatoes, and carrots for the both of them. She sat and ate with him, hoping he wouldn’t ask her what she was sure he was going to ask her.
“So, um, whyen issit t’at ye need ta be movin’ around? Ye in ta some troubles?” He placed a hand over her arm in a concerned gesture.
“It’s not like that, Onlard. I’m just looking for some people.”
“An’ whoen ya be lookin’ fer?”
She sighed internally. She had almost made it through the whole day. “Wwhoo I’m looking for is not anything you’re interested iinn.”
“Not t’at it’s any offen ma business,” he said, abruptly standing with the bowl of stew in his hands. “I’m hopen ya find ’em.”
He walked back into the kitchen, then upstairs to the one room he didn’t let out, the one he shared with his wife. He ignored her and didn’t say good night to her. Anladet didn’t take it personally, since she understood the source of his disregard. She just sighed sadly and finished the stew.
She swept out the ash from the fireplace before finishing the rest of the room, then mopped. When Anla was finished, she retired to the kitchen and made a bed with the bags of flour in front of the oven. As she did every night, she held her hand above her head and slowly closed her fingers one by one. Instead of completing her fist, she wiggled her thumb, sighed, and turned on her side.