I woke up on the floor of the inn and wondered how I’d gotten there.The room was heavy with the scent of cooking stew.. I rolled over on my side and saw a lovely set of bare feet and tender ankles flowing from a dark burgundy, aproned skirt. Blinking, I pushed myself up, hitting my head on a table edge as I did so.
“Who are you?” I asked the girl while I rubbed my head. she stood with her back to me, long red hair flowing down to her knees. She turned with a smirk on her face as she licked some of the stew from a wooden spoon.
“I should ask the same thing,” she quipped. “And who might you be?”
I started to push myself up and felt all my muscles ache. The time spent sleeping on the prison floor, the tension of the trial, and the night’s heavy drinking had left me in poor shape. I remembered escorting Desire home. She had stumbled about in her own inebriated way. I had tucked her into her fur covered bed and had crawled down her stairs, half sitting, half standing. That was my last memory.
“I am Fath…. I stopped and shuddered. Who was I, now that I had no church? I brought myself up to my full height and coughed hard, clearing my lungs of whatever had gathered in there during my night on the floor. .”I am Barnard Saunders,” I said finally, drawing up to my full height. I asked again, “And who are you?”
Her eyes widened a bit as she stood there, the spoon half out of her mouth. “Oh, YOU’RE the one,” she said. The remark was somehow delivered with disdain and I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I knew her from somewhere.
“I’m Brandi. I work here – sort of,” she said, turning back to the stew. “You smell. You need a bath.” The comment was clearly not an offer to help me.
“You’re Desire’s new girl,” I mumbled, falling back into a chair and nearly tipping it over backwards.
She gave me a scowl. “I am NOT her GIRL!” she snapped. “If you wanna eat, I’ll bring ya a bowl.”
I jumped, startled, when she dropped the bowl in front of me hard enough to make it rattle. At first, I was angry, but then I realized that to her I was nothing – just a drunk bum asleep on the inn floor, a criminal who had escaped the law. I was nothing. I had nothing. Only these rags for clothes and not a bed to my name. How low I’d fallen.
“There’s tubs upstairs,” she instructed, then she removed her apron and took off out the door, leaving me sitting there. alone.
I ate, washed up as best I could, and stepped out onto the porch in time to see a startling sight – the old man carrying a limp Desire in his arms and headed towards the inn. I barely had time to react when he brushed past me and set her down on the sofa with an ease that defied his apparent age.
“What happened?” I asked him.
“I found her passed out on the road,” he said. He went looking for a mug as I approached the sofa and saw her stir.
“Desire, are you alright? What happened?”
She looked apologetic – something unusual for her. “Too much rum, not enough food,” she murmured. “I went to deliver goods and passed out in the hot sun.”
“Thank you,” she told Gus.
Gus looked up at me. “You think she could be with child?” he asked.
I suddenly felt the air get sucked out of the room, but before I could answer, Desire yelled, “I’m not pregnant!” She almost threw the bowl at Gus, but her weakened state got the better of her.
“I would hope not,” Gus said, sinking into the chair next to her. “You know how to use the herbs.”
I collapsed into the chair next to him, my head spinning. My world had suddenly become a very confusing place. Not only was i bereft of job and home, but now I had to think about the possibility…. What was I going to do if….?? I looked at Desire who looked like she was about to dice me up and have me for lunch.
“I am NOT,” she repeatedly resoundingly.
“Well, thank God for that,” I said, not sure if that was the right thing to say. “Gus, stay with her, I have something I need to do.”
They both looked at me oddly as I got up and walked out the door.
The midday sun was hot as I hurried to the castle, hoping to catch the Gray Warden about. The guard waved me into the courtyard with its high stone walls and I looked up to see the Warden descending the stairs. He motioned me forward and I approached cautiously and bowed. I owed this man so much, and here I was about to beg for more.
“Your Lordship,” I said, “I wanted first to thank you for sanctuary. I seem to find myself without a church, or work, or a home, for that matter. I wondered if there was some service I could offer you in exchange for staying in this village.”
“I am good with horses, sir,” I said. “Apparently much better than I am with women.” I smiled weakly. “I am educated and well read. I have studied maps and history and the like. And I am apparently not bad with a sword. Of course, I would need to retrieve mine, with your permission.”
His lordship hummed to himself for a bit as he thought. “When Falcon returns, I’ll have her return it to you,” he began.
“Thank you, your lordship,” I said.
“While besting the Northern Warden doesn’t itself impress me, what I need most are guards and bailiffs to keep the ruffians under control, watch the border and maintain the peace.”
I found it odd that he should talk to me about peace, after all the trouble I’d caused.
“I realize I do not come here with the best history of bringing peace, sir. But I am beholding to you and will do my best to serve your will.” I nervously stumbled over the words. “If you require guards or bailiffs, I would be honored to provide my services, such as they are.”
“there is a delicious irony in naming you bailiff, I think, that won’t be lost on the North.”
I grinned to myself, looking down to hide it. When I had regained the solemnity of the moment, I looked back up. I am a man without a place, sir. Without… without something to define me, other than what was, and I can’t live in the past. The belly won’t allow it. Anything you deem appropriate would suit me.”
“Very well, Barnard,” his lordship answered. I name you Bailiff of Tanninhold. For a town of this size, that role means you are tasked with enforcing the Queen’s Law, executing writs, collecting fines and levees. Do you understand and accept this?”
“Yes, Lordship. Thank you,” I said with a bow.
For my work I was to be given a house and a stipend.
I left the Lordship’s presence with renewed hope and returned to the inn. Tonight, I thought, I will not sleep on a wooden floor, but in a real bed. It was a fresh start.