Brandi had to push hard on the heavy wooden door to the old tavern in South March. It creaked and groaned as it opened. The place smelled like old tobacco and stale ale, with the stench of urine mixed in. Dust flew up as she walked in, dancing in the sunlight like tiny butterflies. She sneezed.
Using a wooden chair, she braced the door open. There were no windows in the place and no light to speak of except for a few scattered candles. It was exactly the kind of tavern outlaws would use.
Above her, cobwebs hung in the corners of the ceiling. In front of her, the tables and chairs were laden with dust, as was the counter and a few stray objects. She walked behind the bar and checked the keg; it was bone dry. She sighed. She knew Captain Wolfe wanted this place all spit and polish, but how was she going to do that without at least one stiff drink?
She had to shake out a rag and use it to wipe the webs and spiders off the broom, then wrapped the rag around the business end of the broom, stood on a chair, and swiped the cobwebs away from the ceiling. When she was done, she shook the rag out and got a bucket from the back. After cleaning out the cobwebs from the bucket – and disposing of one dead mouse – She climbed down the hill to the river and filled the bucket with water. Feeling the ache in her back, she lifted the bucket with two hands and hauled it up the hill, splashing it here and there as she went, getting her skirt and bare feet wet.
Once inside she realized she had to find a way to heat it. That meant starting a fire. She was actually pleased to find there was no fireplace inside the room. It would have been clogged with soot and probably have smoked up the whole place, she reasoned. All the better; one less thing to clean.
So she left the bucket of water on the floor and went out the back door to start a fire. That door opened a bit better, and she wondered if someone had been sneaking in, perhaps to sleep there. She gathered up some wood and carried it to the old fire pit, piling it on the side, then brushed away the leaves and dry grass and other things that had accumulated in the pit before adding the wood. Then she stuffed some old rags, some leaves and some kindling under the wood and went back inside to search for a match. It took nearly 20 minutes of looking, but she finally found a small box in a high shelf with one match in it.
She knelt down by the fire pit and carefully struck the match, cupping her hand around it so the breeze wouldn’t blow it out. She gently laid it on the dry leaves and began to blow on them, making them burn hot and bright. In no time, the fire was going.
She went back inside and found a heavy, cast iron cauldron. Dragging it out to the fire pit, she heaved and huffed as she lifted it onto the hook. She took a moment to wipe the cobwebs from that as well, then poured the water in to warm it up for cleaning. When it was steaming but not boiling, she took a thick rag and lifted up the cauldron, not burning herself, and set it on some rocks. From there she dipped in the bucket and got nice hot water to clean with.
Then she swore to herself. She needed soap. She wanted to sit down on the grass and cry. All that work, and no soap. Pulling herself up, she walked into town and looked around. Not seeing anyone, she sneaked into the bakery and stole herself a nice large chunk of lye soap, stuffed it into her pocket and hurried back to the tavern.
The water had cooled a little, so she added some more warm, then hauled the bucket into the tavern and set it on the bench by the big table. Rubbing a web rag hard into the soap, she went about scrubbing the tables and chairs, tipping the chairs over onto the tables to get underneath, and sliding on her back on the floor to get under the tables. She then did the counters and shelves, and scrubbed the doors down, even the very tippy top.
She pushed herself up, moaning as her muscles were stiff and sore, and carried the bucket of filthy water outside to dump it. She refilled it and went back, this time going over everything again, making sure the soap and dirt residue was cleaned. One more bucket load, and this time it was for the floor.
She walked slowly over to the stable, her legs and arms and back aching, grabbed a large burlap bag and filled it with wood shavings. She had to drag it back to the tavern, trying not to tear it open on the rocks as she went, her bare feet now bruised from the road.
Once back at the tavern, she took some water and soaked the outside of the burlap bag. Then she pulled out the damp sawdust and sprinkled it on the dirt floor. With a broom, she swept up all the dust. She gathered up the now dirty shavings and hauled them outside, piling them into something akin to a compost heap. Then she took the last of the hot water and began to scrub the floor, her hands gripping the rough wooden scrub brush with it’s porcupine like bristles that dug into the cracks between the floor boards. It took the better part of an hour to finish the floor, working from corner to corner, first soaking the wood, then scrubbing it, then mopping up the excess water and dirt, then repeating the process until the floor shone clean – or at least as clean as it could be given its age. When she was done, she leaned down and licked the floor, testing it. Smiling, she wiped the spot clean, stood up and hauled the water outside to dump it.
Ahhhhhhhhhh… She sunk into the grass and lay down, resting her head on her arms, feeling the cool breeze and letting her muscles relax at last.