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Sunday, May 25, 2014

Who's This? - Ryann's Bane


“Get yer hands off me,” the tall, leggy blonde shouted. She reached down and peeled the man’s hand from her arm.
“Sorry, Lilwen. I wasn’t thinking.”
“You’ll be thinking of seeing a healer if yer do that again,” Lilwen replied. “Just because yer come in here regular, don’t entitle yer to touch me.” Lilwen leaned her head down level with the man’s face. “Do I make myself clear?”
“So, what yer having?”
“A mug of wine,” the man replied.
“A mug of wine, what?”
“That’s better.” Lilwen offered the man a smile. “I’ll be right back.” She smacked him lightly across the back of the head and turned to go. Behind her she heard the others on the table laughing at the man, berating him for daring to touch Princess Lilwen. Lilwen smiled to herself. She liked it when the customers of the Rusty Nail called her that behind her back. As long as they didn’t call it to her face. When they spoke to her, it had to be Lilwen, just Lilwen. Occasionally she let them get away with Princess, but never Princess Lilwen.
Of course, Lilwen wasn’t actually a princess. She just liked to be treated like one. And working in the Rusty Nail, the best fun house in Walthern, afforded her a certain kind of living. Only the richest people in the city came to the Rusty Nail, and then mostly only men. Although there was only one Lord of Walthern, there were several men who thought they deserved the position and tried to give the impression they were as rich and educated as he was. Lilwen wiped an arm across her sweaty face and walked toward the back of the hall. She nodded at the owner, a short, tubby man of indeterminate years, and poured out a mug of watered wine. “For Bob,” she said to a tall man sitting at the end of the table who had a ledger open with a pen poised above it.
“You’d better come straight back,” the tall man said. “You’ve got a visitor out back.”
Lilwen tilted her head in inquiry, but the man made no reply. She turned to walk back across the hall, and delivered the mug of wine to Bob. “And make it last,” she said to him, dipping a finger into the wine, and licking it slowly dry with an outstretched tongue. Several other men on the table whistled at her. “I’ve got to go out for a few minutes, boys. I’ll be right back.”

“What time do yer call this?” Lilwen asked the man standing in the passageway behind the Rusty Nail. “Yer were s’posed to come yesterday.”
“I was busy, my child,” the man replied, rubbing his hands together. “What could possibly be so important?”
“Me money. Where’s me money?”
“My money,” the man corrected. “Not, me money.”
“You had the best education, Lilwen. Surely they taught you how to speak properly, too?”
“It’s this place, ain’t it? Full o’ disrespecting brutes.” She brushed an errant strand of blonde hair away from her face and stared down at the balding man. “Well?”
“You’re seventeen, Lilwen. The allowance has stopped.”
“Who says? I still got commitments to keep. I need the money.” Lilwen held out a hand. “Yer wouldn’t want no stories to start in Walthern, would yer?” She shook her head. “At least yer remembered me birthday. My birthday,” she said, correcting herself. “But it don’t change nothing. I still need the money.”
The balding man dug into a pocket and pulled out a handful of coins. He dropped a couple of gold ones into Lilwen’s hand. “This is the last time, Lilwen. It’s about time you got yourself sorted. Maybe it’s time to get married.” He gestured at the door of the Rusty Nail. “I thought that’s why you chose to work here. So you could find yourself a nice eligible man to marry.”
Lilwen snorted, throwing her head back. “Eligible man? Have you seen ’em in there?” She shook her head. “No, I thought not.” She reached out a hand toward the door. “Shall I show yer?”
The man shook his head, taking a step back. “You know I can’t, Lilwen. Not someone in my position.” He pulled the hood of his cloak down, trying to cover his face a little more. Dropping the remaining coins back into his pocket, he leaned in toward Lilwen and pecked a kiss on her cheek. “Now, try and be a good girl, and find yourself a husband. It’s either here or Martha Creek, and I think you have a better choice here.” He took a step back. “I’ve got a little more business to attend to in the city, and then I’ll be leaving. But just remember, this is the last time. You’re on your own now.” He pointed a finger at Lilwen’s closed hand. “That’s the last you’re getting from me.”
“Thanks,” Lilwen replied, finally allowing a smile to touch her face. “It was good to see yer. Travel safe.” She leaned back against the wall of the Rusty Nail and watched the man disappear into the shadows of the night.

“Who was that?” the tall man asked, when Lilwen returned.
“Just somebody who owes me,” Lilwen replied. She looked across the hall. “Anybody calling out for me?”
“Table five,” the man replied. “The two young men with the hats.”
Lilwen smiled. “Looks like they’re new in the city.” She tugged at her blouse, straightening it a little, and wandered across the room to the two men’s table. Leaning forward, her two hands resting on the edge of the table, she looked directly into one of the men’s eyes. “Yer wanted something?”
The young man’s mouth fell open as he struggled to speak. “My cousin and I have traveled from Martha Creek.” His voice came in murmurs and waves. “We were told this is the best place in Walthern.” He stopped talking and watched Lilwen as she straightened herself up. “We were told to make sure we saw Princess Lilwen.”
Lilwen reached out a hand and slapped the man hard across the face. “My name is Lilwen. Or Princess. It is not Princess Lilwen. Do I make myself clear?”
The young man nodded, lifting a hand to his reddened face. “Yes, Lilwen. Thank you. What do you suggest we have?”
Lilwen turned her attention to the other man who was trying not to laugh at his friend. “Is there something yer find funny?”
The second man shook his head. “Not at all.”
“Good,” Lilwen replied. She turned her attention back to the first man. “It depends on what yer have. In the way of coin.” She watched as the man pulled out a couple of silver coins from his pocket. She turned to face the second man, and he pulled out two silver coins, too. “A mug of wine each, then.” She took a step back from the table.
“Is that all?” the first man asked.
Lilwen laughed, shaking her head. “Like yer already said, this is the best place in Walthern and I’m the finest woman here. A silver coin will buy yer a mug of wine. Five silver coins will buy yer some fun. But I only see two silver coins each. I’d stick to the wine, fellas.” She winked at them. “Maybe you’ll see something yer like at another table. And that’s free watching. I’ll get yer wine.”
It was well past midnight when Lilwen finally slipped out of the back door of the Rusty Nail, headed home. The night had been another complete bust. Five silver coins was all she had to show for her work. And the two gold coins from her father.
She spat on the ground and slipped a balled-up cetel leaf into her mouth, chewing it slowly. Her father. It seemed the free ride had finally come to an end. Despite her threats, she knew she would never reveal his identity to anyone. She knew she would most probably need his help one day, and it was better to stay close to him. But he was right about her. She needed to find someone to marry. It was tiring, working most nights at the Rusty Nail. Sure, the money was good, but she had no life of her own. By the time she crawled into her bed after eating a little supper, it would be almost dawn. And then she would have to try and sleep through the noises of daytime before getting up once more, ready to come back to work. Her life was getting old, even as she remained young. Seventeen. Yesterday was her seventeenth birthday and, unless she did something quickly, she would suddenly be twenty-five and just like the rest of the women at the Rusty Nail. No, she didn’t want to be like them. She wanted to be someone. Someone rich who commanded respect. And for that she needed to find a husband.

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