Deliciously warm underneath a bearskin blanket, Grace stirred at the sounds of people passing by.
Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, she groggily sat up and sought the source of the noise. The room was dimly lit by the dying embers of the low fire in the hearth. Not a single ray of light entered from the window, yet the regular flash of figures darker than the night made the rush of human activity unmistakable.
“Good morning, Grace.”
Turning to look over the back of the solid wood couch, her cloak and vest draped across the back of it, a man entered. The candlelight coming from the lamp guiding him lit up the room. Many wooden panels composing the walls, the roughly hewn stone blocks that made up the fireplace, the many pieces of wooden furniture arranged between the fur rugs on the floor. Wiggling her toes and not feeling her boots, she hastily looked to the floor, where they were lying sideways on the floorboards.
“Good morning, Gustav. What time is it?”
“Likely we are four hours into the new day. The town heads out to fish this time every day, making the town run more accurately than clockwork. Saves time on winding, a money on maintenance.”
A smile curled the corners of her lips. “The shadows have hardly stopped passing the windows. So many people go out to fish, and always this early?”
“Of course. The fish do not wait for the laggards.”
Gustav walked around the couch and up to the fireplace. Considering it for a time, he reached into the shadowed area beside the hearth, picking out a handful of twigs and one modest log. Using the thinner woods to stir the embers, he laid the twigs across them before placing the log on top. The fire immediately began to stir back to life.
“After weeks of camping in the woods, this borders on luxurious. Thank you for letting me stay.”
Gustav smiled. “My pleasure. The inns in the town are filled to bursting with the mercenaries looking to sign up with Sebas. What sort of man would I be to leave a beautiful lady to brave another night in the raw elements, especially with new enemies in her midst?”
She shrugged indifferently. “A month of nights in the wild has not killed me; I doubt a night on town streets would have.” Her hand went beneath the blanket, returning with a dagger deftly spinning between her fingers. “As for enemies, Will would not have been lucky the third time.”
“I did not mean Will. The men you so deftly relieved of coins at the card tables were none too pleased when you decided to leave.”
A harshly melodic laugh escaped her. “They need to learn to play cards better, ad place their bets more carefully.”
“How much did you end up winning? You swiped the coins into your pouch swiftly.”
“Hopefully enough to repay my borrowings, buy a substantial breakfast, and then visit a tailor.” She held out her arms, showing numerous holes and cuts in her shirt sleeves. “My vest needs its trim fixed, and my trusty leathers have been worked hard recently.”
Gustav gave a brief nod, his blue eyes twinkling in the light of the now substantial fire. “That’s a modest enough to do list. The breakfast can be arranged, but it will need to be a quick one. Sebas expects his chosen to be at the piers at first light.”
“And so I shall be. I doubt the tailors would be open this early, and I shall surely see my debtors sometime today.” She spied an iron pot near the fire. “Do you have any tea or coffee?”
His eyes widened. “Coffee? Only the noble families of Mergyan have access to it, not the lowly inhabitants of a fishing town.” His eyes then narrowed. “Where have you come from?”
She defensively drew the blanket back around her shoulders. “Some of the people I have worked for in the past sometimes came from… the higher levels of society, so to speak.”
A sly grin crossed Gustav’s face. “A mysterious, independent woman from the west of Mergyan, who has done some mercenary work for the minor nobility?” The grin grew into a wide smile. “You certainly know how to draw a man’s interest.”
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