An excerpt from my short story
Firelight from the hearth warmed the stones and banished the shadows to the rafters of the inn’s common room. Silhouetted against the orange glow, travelers shared a meal. From where she leaned against the wall, partially concealed by the arched doorway, Ria could see her mother moving among the men, setting down tankards of ale with a smile and a friendly comment. Tonight’s group were traders, but not regulars who stopped at the inn for a meal and to share news. They were probably on their way east to Sandahl or north to Smeln or west to Port Doubt. Ria was often allowed to help her mother serve the regulars, but she was hustled out of sight quickly when a strange group arrived.
“Ria? Isn’t it bedtime?” Her father’s voice was soft.
“I’ve never seen them before, Papa. They’ll have new stories of faraway places. . .”
“And none of them fit for fifteen year old ears, I’m sure.”
She grabbed his hand and squeezed, just like she had done ever since she was a little girl. She knew her father could refuse her nothing.
“Watch with me a minute, then.” He stood close, his arm resting on her shoulders.
She smiled as he leaned closer to whisper in her ear. “You see the big man in the corner? Looks dangerous, that one.”
She nodded, imagination taking hold. “Maybe he’s a Raider.”
“See the necklace? Raiders favor bones and feathers. Got a sword at his hip, too. Best to be careful of the likes of him.”
Ria noted the bit of tan, possibly bone, at the man’s neck, partially hidden by his black shirt. The man had set himself apart from the others, sitting coiled like a snake ready to spring. “At Uncle Borin’s, lots of men who looked like that came in.” She added quickly, “But he always sent me to bed early on those nights, really.”
“I hope so. The Crone’s Foot attracts some unsavory characters.”
She grinned at her father’s disapproval. Uncle Borin ran the inn that Grandpa MacAlbin had built in Sandahl. Her father had reluctantly let her live there for four years while she attended school in the city. Her brother had done the same, but Papa was more protective of Ria, his youngest and a girl. Ria wasn’t sure she liked Sandahl as a city, but she loved its vitality. Sandahl was exciting. Of course, she’d been too young to appreciate it when she was there. Now she was fifteen and would be able to go to parties at the castle, if she could manage an invitation.
Loud laughter erupted from the five men seated near the fire. The lone man didn’t laugh, but he watched.
“A female Demonseeker? Are you mad?” a traveler’s voice rose above the laughter.
“She was there, I tell ya, in one of them old mines off the road. She didna see me, since I was stealthy, huntin’ fer me dinner.”
More laughter. “You snuck up on a Demonseeker?”
The storyteller waited for the laughter to subside. “Ya wouldna laugh if ya saw what she done. Conjured a ghoul, she did.”
“A ghoul? And what did you do?”
“I’m no fool. I ran.”
Ria’s mother served another round of ale as the travelers erupted in laughter once again. The lone man listened, drank, but did not laugh. Ria didn’t blame him, shaking her head over a traveler with a story about how cowardly he was. The best stories were of heroes.
“That’s it,” her father whispered. “Bedtime.”
He released her and she shivered at the loss of his warmth. With one more look at the mysterious man, Ria turned and walked down the short hallway past the kitchen to her tiny room. At her door, Ria heard her mother come out of the common room behind her.
“Bryce, there you are! Coming in to greet our guests?”
Ria smiled at her mother’s tone. Mom was always happy to see Dad, even when they’d only been apart a few hours.
“In just a moment, Juetta,” he said. “First, a little time out for tenderness.”
Still smiling, Ria closed her door behind her. She knew her mother would giggle and halfheartedly protest, and her father would wrap her in a hug and kiss her until those protests faded. It never took very long. They loved each other, and they loved her.
Ria took off her dress and, wearing just her shift, slid quickly beneath the blankets of the small bed her father had made for her when she returned home from Sandahl five years ago.
Her mother said that a loving marriage was a blessing, but Ria knew her mother also worked hard. Ria never shirked her work, but longed for excitement. True love should be accompanied by danger, adventure, and mystery, not relegated to the drudgery of a tiny roadside inn.
Snuggling along the edge of her bed, Ria pushed her back against the wall warmed by the kitchen hearth on the other side. Muted sounds from the common room reached her, but the bedroom across the hall was silent. Her brother, Crispin, was away on a hunting trip, leaving an empty hole behind. He was five years older, but still her best friend. It wasn’t fair that he could go off on adventures whenever he wanted to when she was stuck here at the inn. Ria fell asleep, dreaming of palaces, and lords, and ladies in beautiful dresses.