First, I've been lousy at posting regularly. Sorry 'bout that. And alas I cannot promise that I will resume posting with semi-regularity anytime soon because life.
BUT. In the meantime, I have a short(ish -- about 3k words) story to share!
A few weeks back, I was working on revisions and realized I needed to know more about my MC's mom. This short story was meant to help me figure her out, and it totally worked. The story is about how my MC's parents met. Like the title of this post says, it is the least romantic way to meet a future spouse EVER. Which just made it all the more fun to write.
So, without further ado, here 'tis! It's a bit rough, but hopefully enjoyable nonetheless.
The last conscious customer walked out, and Milena promptly shut the door behind him. “Any sleepers?” She called.
Ald grunted, limping to the kitchen with a tray of mostly empty flagons. “Just one. Back corner. No friends to carry him out.”
Oh dear. Usually the sleepers had drunk themselves silly in some stupid competition, and therefore had at least one mostly-sane friend to haul them away. But if the sleeper was alone, then she’d have to take care of him.
She locked the door and went to the back corner, where a table had been shoved against one wall with a few chairs looking like they might belong to it. Lots of things happened in the back corner. Men came in and lost fortunes in the back corner. Others made fortunes. Others drank themselves silly. One group of men and women came in once in a while and always sat there. A guild of some sort, Milena guessed, though possibly not one that dealt in legal activity.
But tonight, only one man was there, slumped against the wall, eyes closed, mouth open. A small puddle of drool stained the shoulder of his dark blue suit black. A shame, really. It was probably the best item of clothing that had come in here in the last five years. Was he a noble? The clothing said so, but nobles didn’t come into places like this. At least not nobles who had any sense or money.
Most of the chairs at the table had been dragged away to others, so he hadn’t come in with any friends. Or if he had, they’d left without him.
Milena picked up the glass that had fallen from his hand. Empty, luckily, so no sticky puddle gleamed beneath the table. Milena knocked his foot with hers. “Come on, it’s closing time. You have to leave.”
Milena sighed. She kicked again. “Wake up, mister. Time to go.”
He didn’t move.
Milena gently slapped his face with the back of her hand.
He took a deep breath…
And let it out again, still not moving.
Milena glared at him. “Ald! He won’t wake. What should I do with him?”
The sound of Ald’s wooden leg thumping on the kitchen floor preceded his head coming around the door way. “He have anything says who he is?”
Milena stood there for a minute, staring at the sleeper, then went around the table and sat on a chair next to him.
“Generally easier to find things if you put your hand in his pockets,” Ald said.
“Aye, aye, I know.” There was something about going through a sleeper’s clothes. Something that made Milena’s skin crawl. You never knew where they had been, how dirty they were, what nasty thing you might find in a pocket.
But maybe this noble would be different. This truly was a nice suit. Maybe the sleeper kept it nice.
Still, going through someone’s clothes while they were asleep…it wasn’t quite right.
But it had to be done.
Milena flipped his coat open and stuck a hand in his breast pocket. Nothing. She looked in the other side. There were a few coins, and a small book. Milena picked this out and looked at the inside cover. “Property of Farold Copperstone of Noxumbra,” she read. “Where’s Noxumbra?”
“South. Day’s ride,” Ald said, putting more flagons on a tray. “Small trading village.”
“What are you doing in Plarn, Mr. Copperstone?” Milena asked. He, shockingly, did not respond. “Whatever it is, it can’t involve you spending the night here.”
“Milena,” Ald said from across the room. Milena looked up to see him standing behind the bar, holding up two travelling bags. “Says Copperstone on them.”
Milena looked back at Farold Copperstone. “He came for a stay, then. But why come here before taking his things to an inn?”
Ald grumbled something she didn’t catch. She’d guess that Mr. Copperstone had stopped for a quick drink to wash down the dust of travel, but no one who came in for a quick drink fell asleep. Or smelled as ripe as he did.
“Alley him,” Ald said. “Can’t stay here.”
Milena bit her lip. If this were any other drunk, and a summer’s night, she take him out to the alley next to the tavern. He’d be protected from the wind there, and hidden from sight. But it was the start of autumn, and this year autumn had announced its presence with a sudden drop in temperature and a sudden rise in wind.
And that suit was too good to ruin by setting it in the dirt of the street.
“My landlady has a spare room,” Milena said. She took the coins out of his pocket. “This’ll pay for it.”
Ald grunted. “You can take him, but you’ll do the hauling by yourself. Don’t forget those.” He nodded to the travelling bags on the bar as he headed back to the kitchen.
Milena sighed. This would be a trick. But she’d do it. Somehow. She cocked her head. “Can I use the wheelbarrow?”
Ald’s eyebrows went up, but he nodded.
After all the flagons had been cleared and washed, and the place had been swept for the night, Milena brought the wheelbarrow used for hauling barrels of ale to the kitchen. She dropped the traveling bags in first, then went to get the sleeper. She stood looking at him for a minute, then she grabbed him under the arms and hauled. His unconscious body lifted off the chair, but when his arms swung forward Milena lost her balance and nearly collapsed. The sleeper bonked his head on the table before she could right herself. “Sorry,” she mumbled. She shifted her grip so her arms were around his chest, and started walking backwards toward the kitchen. Holy Duo keep her from tripping. Once she got to the wheelbarrow, she backed him up to it and let him fall in. “You better be worth all this trouble tomorrow,” she said. “I expect a tip.”
The walk to her boarding house wasn’t long. A few people gave her funny looks as she trundled down the street with an unconscious man. Hopefully no constables would stop her to see if she was trying to kidnap Mr. Copperstone. Chances are they wouldn’t believe the truth.
The door opened as Milena reached the boarding house. Her landlady’s head came out. “What’s that?” She nodded to the wheelbarrow.
“Sleeper from the tavern. He’ll be spending the night in your spare room.”
The landlady raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? Why didn’t you leave him in the alley?”
“The suit was too nice.”
“If it’s on a drunk, who cares? No drunk is too good to spend the night in an alley.” She propped the door open with a rock. “Can he pay for the room?”
Milena held up the handful of coins she’d taken from his pocket. The landlady grabbed them and put them in her own pocket. “I’ll take this side.” Together, the two of them hauled Mr. Copperstone inside and laid him on the empty bed. Thank the Holy Duo his room was on the first floor. Milena put his bags next to the bed and closed the door.
“Thank you,” Milena said to her landlady. Before she could head up the stairs to her own room, the landlady held out one of the coins. “Here.”
Milena looked between her landlady and the coin in her hand. “What’s this for?”
“Because what you did was a good thing and I don’t trust that drunk to repay you for what you’ve done for him.”
Milena flashed a brief smile and took the coin.
The next morning, Milena heard groaning coming from the drunk’s room as she came down the stairs. She knocked on his door and peeked inside. He hadn’t sat up yet, nor were his eyes open, but one hand was pressed to his forehead.
“Morning,” she said.
He jerked up to face her, eyes wide. Then he closed them again, tight, and returned his hand to his head. “What the…” He peeked through his fingers. “Who are you?” He glanced around the room. “Where am I? Have I been kidnapped?”
Milena snorted. “No. You’re in a boarding house. You drunk yourself stupid last night and I brought you here.”
He closed his eyes again. “This boarding house… is it, um, reputable?”
Milena raised an eyebrow. “Perfectly. Nothing unseemly goes on.” At least that she was aware of.
His shoulders relaxed a little. He opened his eyes again and stared at the floor, as if it were hard to focus on it. After a minute, he brought his eyes to meet hers. He was a handsome fellow. Or he would have been, if he didn’t smell like a tavern and look like he’d had the night he’d had. “Who are you again?” he asked.
“My name is Milena. I work at the tavern you passed out in last night.”
He squinted his eyes. “I…I think I remember you.”
“I’m surprised you can remember anything, frankly.”
It was his turn to glare.
“Food!” Her landlady called from the other room.
Milena jerked her head in that direction. “The landlady makes a good breakfast, if you think you can stomach it.” That was assuming he could stand.
He nodded and pushed off the bed. His eyes unfocused and he swayed. Milena walked closer to put a hand on his arm. He jerked away and fell back on the bed.
“Let me help you into the other room,” Milena said. “If it’s the familiarity you’re afraid of, I assure you we were far more familiar last night.”
His eyes widened. Milena had never seen a man look more horrified. “I didn’t… approach you, did I?”
Milena couldn’t help it; she laughed. That look of horror on his face. Poor man. “No. You passed out and I dragged you to a wheelbarrow, at which point I brought you here, where me and my landlady unloaded and dragged you in this room.” She decided to take pity on him. “As far as I am aware, the only disreputable thing you did last night was drink far too much and shed the responsibility of your wellbeing onto a tavern wench.”
He let out a long breath, nodding as if he were reassuring himself. Then he stood again. This time he was more steady. Milena offered her hand, not touching him, but giving him the option of taking her assistance. He shook his head. Until he took the first step, whereupon he wobbled and grasped her hand hard.
“Steady on,” she said. “The dining room isn’t far.”
He swallowed and nodded.
The dining room was along the back of the building, with a long table with mismatched chairs in the middle. The other handful of lodgers were already seated and digging into porridge and cheap bacon.
“Ah, the sleeper awakes,” said the landlady. “I’m surprised you’re up so early. Come, have a seat.” She pulled out one of the chairs, and Milena guided Mr. Copperstone to it. He sagged into it and reached for the mug of hot tea in front of his place. He downed half of it in one gulp.
“If that’s the way you were drinking last night, it’s no wonder you went silly,” the landlady said. A couple of the other lodgers chuckled or nodded.
Mr. Copperstone’s face turned red. Whether from embarrassment or the hot tea, Milena wasn’t sure. “I owe you my gratitude for your hospitality,” he said.
Oh, he was definitely a noble.
He reached into his breast pocket. “How much do I owe you for…” he stopped as he pulled out the small book, eyebrows furrowed. “I had money…”
“We took it,” the landlady said.
Mr. Copperstone’s brow stayed furrowed, but now he looked more betrayed than confused.
The landlady shrugged his look off. “We had to make sure you wouldn’t leave us without paying.” She dropped the handful of coins on the table.
He nodded. “I suppose I can’t blame you for that. I must have appeared such a fool.”
“Not entirely,” Milena said at the same time the landlady said “Yes.”
In truth, she had thought him a fool, lumping him in with all the other foolish sleepers she’d dealt with. The only thing different about him had been the suit, but a suit couldn’t help who wore it. But now the poor man looked so embarrassed and ashamed she had to take pity on him.
“What’s your name, friend?” One of the other lodgers asked.
“Farold,” Mr. Copperstone said.
No last name. Interesting. She’d thought nobles all went by their last names. Mr. This and Lady That and Baron Somethinglongandhardtopronounce.
“What brings you to Plarn, Farold?”
Mr. Copperstone paused with a fork halfway to his mouth. It was just a fraction of a second, but Milena saw it. “Personal reasons.” He chewed with more vehemence than he needed and glared at his bowl of fruit.
Milena raised an eyebrow. There was a story there.
But Milena didn’t have time for it. She took a final sip of tea and finished off her porridge, then stood. “I’m off. I’ve got to get that wheel barrow back the tavern.”
“No more sleepers tonight,” the landlady said, but there was a glimmer of mischief in her eye.
Milena snorted. “Don’t worry, he was the first and the last.”
She nodded to Mr. Copperstone and those who waved at her, grabbed her cloak from the peg by the door, and headed out.
Later on that morning, as Milena was fixing a window shutter broken in a half-drunken dispute the night before, the door to the tavern squealed open.
“Be with you in just a minute,” Milena said around the nail between her teeth. She finished pounding in a nail, spat out the one in her mouth, and turned around.
To face Mr. Copperstone. Milena blinked in surprise. “Hello again.”
“Hello.” He nodded his head, and his hands balled into fists.
“What brings you back here?” Hopefully not an earlier start on the drinking, because she was not wheeling him home again.
He looked her in the eye. “I came to thank you, and to apologize. I wasn’t very civil this morning, and I should have thanked you for not leaving me in the street. That very kind of you and you didn’t have to do it.”
Milena shrugged. “I only did it because of the suit.”
“What in Spryll does my suit have to do with this?” His brow furrowed.
“If you’d been dressed in rags, I wouldn’t have felt guilty leaving you in the alley. Well, not as guilty, at least. It was chilly last night.”
He half-smiled and huffed a laugh through his nose. He looked down at his suit. He’d cleaned up since breakfast. The suit was still wrinkled, but he’d straightened it out and combed his hair. “I never liked this suit. Who knew it would be the cause of some good fortune?”
“I really do have cause to thank you, no matter the cause of your compassion. I could have been robbed and mugged, and then I’d…” he shook his head. “I don’t know what would do. What little I have with me is all I have left.” He shook his head harder. “But you don’t need to hear my story. I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for posing such a burden on you. It was foolish and stupid of me to drink so last night.”
“Why did you?” Milena asked. “If you don’t mind my asking. You seem like a decent chap, not one to drink so much.”
He closed his eyes. “To forget. You probably hear that a lot. But I’ve already burdened you so much, you don’t need to hear my troubles too. Is there anything I can do to repay you for your kindness?”
Milena studied him. She had two options here: answer him about the payment and send him away, or answer and keep him here.
“Aye.” She nodded at a chair. “Keep me company while I fix this. Tell me the story.”
He blinked. “What?”
“You heard me.” Milena wrapped a foot around the leg of a chair and pushed it toward him. “You can repay me by telling me your story.”
He blinked some more, as if this truly confused him. “Why?”
“Because so far your impression of me has been that of a drunk and a rogue and I’ve done nothing but cause trouble for you, so why in the name of all things green would you want to hear excuses for my horrid behavior?”
She smiled at him. “Because I’m nosey. You don’t have to tell me a thing if you don’t want to.” Whatever had happened, it was still raw. His jaw was tight, his arms iron bars at his side. Milena sobered. “I can see whatever it is upsets you, and I don’t mean to make it worse. But if you want someone to listen to you, I’ll do a much better job than a bottle of ale.”
He stared at her for a minute, then relaxed and shook his head. “I don’t know what to make of you… Gracious, I don’t even know your name. Do I?”
“I told you first thing this morning, but you probably weren’t paying attention. My name is Milena.”
“Milena. It’s lovely to meet you.” He dipped a small bow. Aye, he was definitely a noble. “My name is Farold.” He looked at the chair again and drew in a breath. He held it.
He was stalling.
Then he shook his head. “I thank you for your offer to listen, but I… I can’t…” He closed his eyes, and his body tightened as if in pain.
Milena shook her head and held up a hand. “You don’t have to say anything else.” She forced a smile.
“Thank you.” He forced a smile in return. A small, relieved smile that didn’t make his eyes sparkle, but made them…warmer, less pained. “Good day.” He nodded once and pushed the door open, letting in a cool breeze that stopped as soon as the door had swung closed.
Milena sighed. She didn’t blame him for keeping his past to himself—she truly understood a strong desire to leave the past behind—but still, she would have liked to know what had happened.
As she picked up the hammer again, the door once again swung open, and Mr. Copperstone was back.
“Change your mind?” Milena asked.
“This may sound ridiculous, but do you know where I could find some work? Or maybe somewhere I could rent a room? Not that I could pay for one for long, but…”
“The room you slept in last night is empty, and I know my landlady would like to have a renter in it soon. As for work, they’re always hiring on the ships in harbor.”
His eyes narrowed, not in contempt or anger, but in contemplation. “I think I’d be better at something on land.” His eyes unfocused and he shook his head. “I could work with books…” Half his mouth twitched as if it wanted to smile, but couldn’t quite muster it.
“Books.” Milena cocked her head. “Two streets down there’s a new printing press just starting up. They might be in need of a worker or two.”
Mr. Copperstone looked up. “Printing press. I could do that. Thank you.” In the brief time in which that conversation had taken place, something about him had changed. The way he stood, the look in his eyes. Not pained, not burdened. Not relieved, either, but hopeful. Planning.
There seems to be a random bar here. Please ignore it. It hitched a ride when I copied and pasted the story from my Word Doc. (This is what happens when you copy and paste something with Word comment bubbles in it, apparently. Chances are the font will be screwy when I post this, too.)
And that is all for tonight! A lovely night to you.