CHAPTER FOURTEEN

 

            The sun was just giving signs of rising when Rosemary pulled the wagon to a halt outside the Scots-Arms Inn in Marlborough. Pete had long since grown tired, and without the music that had sustained her, the last hour had seemed to Rosemary like a hundred. Her bones creaking, she leaned over and shook Ariana awake.

The gypsy opened her eyes, scrubbed at her nose with her sleeve, and turned to look at the inn.

“It that where we are to stay?” she asked incredulously. The place looked worse than disreputable. If it had once been painted, it was hard to tell, for the exposed wood bore only a few chips of peeling white paint. The sign with two crossed axes that marked it as an inn was horribly faded, and the lower right-hand corner of it had broken or rotted away. There was no garden or horse trough or any other sign that the ostler within tended to vegetables or animals, or for that matter, to his guests. Perhaps it was simply her fatigue, but the place seemed to Ariana to be unsavory at best.

Reading her friend’s thoughts - for in sooth they were not far from her own - Rosemary said, “I know it looks awful, but ‘tis all we have. I cannot ride a minute more. I am nauseated from the movement and I need a bed, even for a few hours.”

“The beds here likely have fleas.”

 “Then I shall sleep on the floor or e’en drape myself across a rope like a sailor if I must, but look at poor Morley! E’en if I thought I could go on, he surely cannot.”

Ariana looked at the horse, whose head was hanging so low his nose was nearly level with his hoof. Ariana slid out of her seat and went round to the front of the wagon. As she approached, Morley lifted his great head and whuffed a weary sigh at her.

“My poor friend,” Ariana murmured, tucking the horse’s nose under her arm and stroking him between his eyes. “Aye, let us get thee out of this bridle and into a nice, fresh stall.” Looking over her shoulder at the withered building, she added, “Or at least into a field with some grass for thee to munch.”

She carefully unbuckled the straps and gently drew the bit from his teeth as Rosemary hobbled over to the door and banged upon it. The ostler appeared to be hard of hearing, as she had to bang several times before he emerged. He was a thickset, bewhiskered man of a grumpy sort of disposition, and he leaned his gigantic bald head towards her as she made her requests. She had to shout her wishes a couple of times in order to make herself understood, and though he failed to show any enthusiasm for the new arrival, he did inform her that he had three rooms available for hire.

“Have you a stable for our horse?” she bellowed, and the ostler looked over her shoulder at the horse and wagon.

“No stables,” he croaked in a gravelly voice. “But I ‘ave a fenced field he c’n stay in with some grass, and I c’n bring a pail o’ water out.”

Too tired for any more shouting, Rosemary simply nodded, and the ostler shuffled past her to help Ariana unhitch the wagon. She walked back with him, and crawled up through the double doors in the back to rouse Pete. Except for the stubble on his cheeks, he looked about five years old, curled on his side with his fist tucked under his chin. She was too weary to giggle, but a small exhalation of breath escaped her lips at the sight. Gently she shook him.

“Pete?” He stirred, and she shook him a bit harder. “Pete?”

“I am not wicked,” he mumbled sleepily, then his eyes flew open. “Uh? Wha’…where?”

“’Tis Rosemary, Pete. We are at the inn.”

Pete grunted, and slowly sat up.

“I have spoken with the ostler, and he says that he has three rooms available, one on the first floor and two on the second. May I assume you wish to sleep a bit before you travel on?”

Pete sniffed non-commitally. “I ‘ave enough coin for a few nights and a meal or two. Migh’ as well see if there is work to be ‘ad in this town as anyplace else.”

Rosemary nodded. “Which room wilt thou have, then?”

Pete looked about him at the girls’ trunk and instruments. “I will take one of th’ upper rooms. You take th’ lower. I can ‘elp thee carry thy things inside, but that way thou shalt not ‘ave to carry them down th’ stairs when you leave.”

“Gramercy. ‘Tis likely we shall only stay a day at the most; mayhaps we shall even continue on later this afternoon if Morley and Ariana can bear it. We want to get to London as soon as we can…. but I needs must sleep at least a few hours before I can ride again.”

With effort, she rose, and stepped down from the wagon. Pete shook himself awake, and then looked about for something to carry. He picked up Ariana’s guitar that lay by his side, and did not permit himself to think about the fact that it was not his.

As he slung Rosemary’s soft cloth sack over his shoulder and grabbed the handle of her green wicker basket, he thought about these two unusual women he had only just met. Oh, the innkeepers and other vagrants were happy enough to talk to him when he stopped at a tippling house of an evening, but he wished that he did not have to continually say farewell to people. He had been parted from his mother, his sister, even Uncle Tycho - who had decided when Pete was seventeen to build a boat and sail off to explore the New World - and each person he met along the way whilst looking for a place he could call home. He had been forced to bid farewell to all of them, and he was growing weary of it.

He passed Ariana just inside the door of the inn, and she directed him towards the first room on the left, where Rosemary had already flopped onto the bed, having instantly fallen asleep without even unlacing her bodice or removing her shoes. She lay on her back with one arm thrown over her eyes and the other hand resting gently on her belly, rising and falling with the long breaths of one in the depths of sleep. Pete set his burden down as quietly as he could, and then turned as Ariana reappeared with Rosemary’s harp. Together the two retrieved the trunk, and placed it at the foot of the bed. Silently Pete beckoned Ariana to follow him outside the room, where he leaned against the wall and removed the floppy muffin hat he wore.

“Rosemary said thou wert traveling on this afternoon?” he asked.

“Aye, she wishes to continue on towards London as soon as she wakes and has eaten. We have a fair bit of money put aside, but she wants to make sure that we do not spend it all on inns ere we find work. I have gone without coin a day or two before, but she hath not…I think the sooner we reach London, the sooner her mind will be at ease.”

Pete twisted the cap in his hands, and cleared his throat. “Wouldst thou… she is sleeping, and I will not get the chance to say ‘G-d Speed’. Wouldst thou thank ‘er for letting me ride in the wagon, an’ tell ‘er that I said ‘fare ye well’?”

“Aye, I shall.”

“I especially give thee thanks for letting me play thy guitar.”

Ariana smiled. “The pleasure was ours, believe me. You play quite well.”

The two stood in awkward silence for a moment, before Ariana nodded and said, “Well, then. G-d Speed, Pete.”

“G-d Speed.”

Ariana smiled, and turned to go into the room. Pete watched as she quietly shut the door, then trudged upstairs to his own room.