Standing next to Gustav’s front door as he locked up, Grace was shocked at how quickly a warm place to sleep had honed the morning cold’s edge. Looking to the sky as she drew up her hood, the starlight she had come to know intimately was now obscured by smoke haze.
Gustav turned his attention to her, holding an arm out. “The high seas await.”
Looping her arm through his, she focused her mind on ignoring the morning chill. Thanks to the many houses, there was no cutting wind, yet the cold was like an almost ethereal wall one had to push through.
The rush of activity that had awoken her had subsided to a more leisurely procession of people. The passers-by nodded their greetings to each other, a refreshing change from the congested and aggressive crush of the night before. Reaching the main street leading to the docks, she saw that the build-up of drunkards and homeless seemed to have thinned, until noticing that groups of up to five had put aside their grievances, bundling together in any sheltered corner to maintain as much body heat as possible.
Grace looked to Gustav, who amiably greeted everyone that he passed. “Is the Dockside Doxie a good place for breakfast?”
His gaze turned to her, a glint of happiness appearing as he did so. “If you are a fan of kippers or other sorts of fish, it would suffice, as they get first pickings from the returning later today. Before then, I would not recommend it. But I do know one place with the best freshly baked bread in all of Trinaze.” As he gave her a knowing smirk, he raised an index finger to his mouth. “Keep it quiet though; it’s a secret.”
As the main street began to open up onto the docks, he guided her into the last side street on the left. The houses seemed of a kind with every other in the town, a sea of felled trees bundled together to provide shelter.
“Is every house in this town a log house?”
Gustav nodded. “Trinaze was originally a private getaway for a noble family. Imagine, one well-to-do family with the whole lake to themselves. There was time of fighting and famine, during which they began to bequeath portions of the lakeside to displaced peoples. The associated woodlands were included in the gifts, and were used to initially build homes, and in time build boats.”
“That was generous of them. I did not notice any quarries while walking into town. Where did you get the stone for your fireplace?”
“If you are patient, you will see.” He held out his free arm to an unremarkable house. “And here we are.”
Grace chuckled. “No chance that I could give away the secret location. It blends in with every other house on the street.”
Gustav gave two quick nods of his head in agreement as he knocked on the door. The door quickly opened, revealing an elderly lady simply garbed in a brown dress of thick wool, an apron covered in white dust, and a scarf on her head.
“Morning, my boy.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him inside. Unable to remove her arm from his, Grace stumbled in alongside him. “The loaves are almost ready. Come sit in your favourite chair while you wait.”
Sliding her arm from his, Grace smiled in bemusement as the relatively stout Gustav was all but dragged by the energetic old lady into the main room. All the furniture in the room was of impressive make, the woods polished as finely as any she had seen in Mergyan’s western cities. In the centre of a sizable meal table sat a fine silver candelabra, its six candles bathing the room in homely light.
The lady’s voice rang out from a room out of Grace’s sight. “You did not tell me you had a lady friend, Gustav. What other secrets have you been keeping from your poor old mother?”
Gustav smiled in amusement at Grace, rolling his eyes as he did so. “I only met her last night. You’ve heard how the town is packed to bursting with travellers, and she arrived late at night. What sort of son did you raise that would leave any lady at the mercy of the elements?”
The lady returned to the room, placing a large platter on the table. So fresh that the steam still rose off it, the smell of herbs upon dough was almost heavenly to Grace. Gustav’s mother moved with deceptive speed, grabbing at Grace’s arm. Her son had inherited her eyes, which took in the new arrival with great interest.
“Do not stand on ceremony, dear. Pick a chair while I get the butter, and then we can eat.”
Sitting opposite Gustav, she watched his mother return with a large block of butter and a pair of knifes. Handing one to each of her guests, she sat at the head of the table and gestured for them to begin.
“All these ruffians and vagabonds have made a right mess of the town in the past weeks. The ruckus from all the fights that have moved on from the Doxie and into the streets has been terrible.”
Gustav nodded as he busied himself adorning his slice of bread with a generous portion of butter. “Sebas did say he wanted the roughest and toughest to apply. He obviously did not think through how it would affect everyone else in town.”
His mother huffed in derision. “The man never does. So insistent on this fool’s quest of his, he would destroy the town if he thought it would help his cause. He almost has.”
Grace looked to him in considered confusion. Mouth full, he reached over to grasp his mother’s hand. Quickly chewing and swallowing his food, he gave her a thin smile. “Mother is prone to exaggeration.”
“Sebas has recruited before? And it’s destroyed the town?”
“Well, his previous attempts at his expedition have left their mark on the town. To say it has destroyed the town is edging towards melodrama.”
His mother narrowed her eyes at him. “You still say that after what happened to you? I thought I raised a boy with some common sense.” Pointedly ignoring him, she turned to Grace. “Well, my dear. You are one of the prettier ladies I have seen in a good while. While you eat, tell me about yourself.”
Grace prepared herself some food, and in between bites gave Gustav’s mother an abridged account of herself. The lady’s interest was piqued with the mention of Sewthorn and Wethosu, Mergyan’s western quarters.
After an hour or so, Gustav stood from the table. “Sorry Mother, but we must move on. Grace has an appointment to keep this morning, and I mean to see her there on time.”
As she stood, Grace graciously bowed. “My thanks for the meal. Gustav was correct when he said it was the best bread in all of town.”
“Thank you dear. All the best with your business in town, and be sure to keep this troublemaker on his best behaviour.”
Grace gave Gustav a mischievous grin, her eyes narrowed to match it. “Rest assured that I will keep him in check.”
Seeing them to the door, the lady waved vigorously as her guests moved onwards to the rest of their day. Grace was quiet for the remainder of the trip, considering the old lady’s ominous words regarding Sebas, and what had happened to Gustav under his charge.
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