Keep an eye out for the inn,” Rosemary said, gently shaking Ariana awake. Ariana stretched her arms and looked about her, surprised to see how far the sun had dropped while she slept. There was only the barest crescent of orange-yellow glow in the field behind her, and the sky ahead of them was already abandoning its mottled pastel stripes for a cloak of deepening blue.

“’Tis meant to be within a mile of that grain mill to our left, so we ought to be passing it sometime soon,” Rosemary was saying, her eagle eyes scanning the fields and thatch-roofed homes to the right and left.

“What be the name again?” Ariana yawned.

“The Dog and Duck.”

They rode in silence for a minute, their pace noticeably slower than it had been the beginning of their journey, and Ariana could see that Morley was ready for a rest. She leaned forward to peer at a building up ahead, seeing a sign dangling over the door, and squinted to make out the image upon it.

“’Tis just there!” she cried, pointing at the sign, which as they rode closer revealed the likeness of a spotted English Spaniel with a hunter-green mallard dangling limply in its jaws.

Beside her, Rosemary sighed in relief and pulled the wagon alongside the door. Morley whuffed and shifted his weight from foot to foot, clearly glad to have stopped at last.

“If thou wouldst stay here with Morley, I shall go in and enquire about a room,” Rosemary said, and handed Ariana the reigns as she hopped down from the wagon seat. Her left knee buckled from lack of use, and her whole body suddenly complained all at once, her neck doing its best to out-shout her bum, her shoulders arguing over which of the two were the stiffer. Rosemary moaned as she arched her back, stretching to each side and rolling her head back and forth. Still stretching her arms, Rosemary walked into the inn, and Ariana watched her go. Again she yawned, then hopped down from the footman’s seat, sent a silent message to her own tired neck to cease its complaining, and went to scratch Morley’s nose.

“Gramercy, friend,” she said, as Morley leaned the heavy weight of his head into her palm. “Thou hast put in a full day, hm? Well, we shall soon get thee a trough of water and a nice bagful of oats for thy supper, shan’t we?”

Morley blew his hot breath into her palm and closed his eyes wearily.

               “All right,” Rosemary said, returning. “The ostler bid me pull the wagon just a few more feet forward, and said he shall send a boy out to care for Morley and to help us carry our trunk up to the room.”

“What about our instruments?” Ariana asked as Rosemary climbed back into the seat and pulled the wagon closer to the stables. Rosemary answered as she gave her shoulders a final roll and walked back to Ariana.

“The ostler said they would be safe. Marry, he said that it was about as likely that they would be disturbed as it was that the sky should fall, and recommended that we simply leave them in the wagon.”

“Sooth? In the wagon, though?”

“Aye, he seemed quite certain. When I pressed him, he waved his hand and offered us a week’s stay for naught if we should find even one string disturbed!” Rosemary shrugged, and waited as Ariana cocked her head.

“Well, I suppose if he be certain, then there is no need to carry them all the way upstairs only to carry them down again.” She bit her lip thoughtfully. “Hast thou anything in the trunk thou needst?”

“Mayhaps only my hairbrush,” Rosemary answered. “For one night’s stay only, I shall probably sleep in my chemise, and not bother with the night rail. Wert thou thinking to leave the trunk in the wagon, too?”

“If it be truly safe, then it should make our leaving swifter upon the morrow, to not have to move it,” Ariana posed, and Rosemary clapped her hands decisively.

“Done!” she said, and climbed into the wagon just long enough to retrieve her coin purse and hairbrush. After re-locking the trunk, she stepped carefully down and closed the wagon doors. When they entered the inn, the ostler asked if they should like to dine before retiring, but Ariana looked at Rosemary’s weary face and replied,

“Nay, we thank thee. Just the room, an’ thou please.”

The ostler nodded, and they followed his candlelight to a room upstairs, where without delay, they bid him goodnight, disrobed, and fell immediately into dream-filled rest.





              “Get thee gone, I say!”

The ostler was dragging Pete by the collar of his jerkin, leading him most firmly out of the inn. The ale in Pete’s old tin cup sloshed dramatically, and Pete gave a grunt of outrage. He was well accustomed to innkeepers “helping” him out the door; not that it happened terribly often, but there was the odd occasion when he had not had time to become sufficiently sober as to walk on his own before the innkeeper was ready for bed. In sooth, he took no offense at being escorted outside, as he knew that the ostler would be just as happy to continue taking his coin come the morning. But to spill a man’s ale! Now that was a true injustice, and Pete looked sadly down at his cup even as his legs propelled him forward under the ostler’s firm guidance.

The ostler carried Pete to a tree in the courtyard, and roughly thrust him against it. Pete gave another beery grunt, then turned and slid slowly down its trunk, landing with his back braced against the thick bark and his legs splayed before him. He took a swig of the last few sips that remained in his cup, and glared resentfully – albeit unsteadily – at the innkeeper’s angry face.

“Thou shouldst be ashamed, aye, thou shouldst!” The innkeeper was grumbling, wagging a finger (at least, Pete was fairly certain it was only one) at him.

“Tis wicked thou art for keeping a man from his slumber! Wicked indeed!”

Pete sighed, and rolled his head to the side.

That word, again.

He had been “Wicked Pete” ever since his youth, and though he rarely introduced himself as such, the word had followed him wheresoe’er he went, like a shadow prancing mischievously behind him.

Pete watched with bleary eyes as the innkeeper stomped huffily away, grimacing as the doors slammed, and he heard the cross-bolt drop. He let loose a resounding belch, and shivered. Even in his inebriated state, he knew that although the air was reasonably mild at present, the temperature would drop quite sharply over the night. He had hoped to beg a room at the inn, citing his generous purchase of ale as sufficient reason to be given a reduced price for the lodging. But already well into his cups, it had taken him such a long time to mentally formulate what he believed to be a coherent argument that when he finally approached the ostler, he was informed that two women had already rented out the last room – and paid full price. Which left the stables as the only option as his defense against the cold.

Pressing his back against the tree trunk and using his legs for force, he slowly maneuvered himself into an upright position and staggered towards the stable. Fumbling with the door, he pried it open, and recoiled from the stench. All the horses had been fed at roughly the same time, the consequence of which was a fairly simultaneous deposit in each of the stalls, which the stable boy would not come to clean until the morning.

With a sigh of resignation, Pete entered and looked for an empty stall. But after going back to the door and making the rounds a second time, he was forced to accept that there were no empty stalls. Those who occupied all the rooms at the inn had also filled the stable with their horses, and it was clear that Wicked Pete’s lucky star had also gone to bed for the night. As he slumped against the doorframe, trying to collect his thoughts, he suddenly remembered the wagon he had seen stationed outside the stable doors.

Crossing himself for luck, Pete closed the stable doors and staggered to the back of the wagon. He peered closely at the doors that made up the rear of the wagon. No lock! Mayhaps his lucky star had not deserted him after all.

Pete looked around, but he was the only soul stirring. Quietly, he climbed into the wagon, and closed the doors behind him. Just a few hours, he told himself as he pushed a trunk out of his way and curled himself into a ball on the wagon floor. I shall be gone before sunrise, and no one will ever know.