153/366 – The Man in the Inn

Day 11 of 100 Word Prompts: Name

The trip from the family cabin to Paskikwar had taken Gwendolyn two days. Though accustomed to sleeping on the road, her nights were filled with fits and dreams filled with forced smiles of her grandparents as they succumbed to their illness. As such, she trudged her way through the eastern gate of the city, not entirely sure where she was supposed to go, or what she was supposed to do now that she was alone.

“Look at those horns!” Gwendolyn heard from a group of passing girls as they giggled and pointed.

“And that skin! What is that thing?” another called after Gwendolyn as she pushed on.

Gwendolyn’s hands flexed into tight fists and relaxed a few times as she kept her temper under control.

Ahead, at the edge of the market, Gwendolyn saw the familiar stall of cured meats and jarred preserves. Kellin, the son of the stall owner, spotted her almost instantly and attempted to wave her over, but she was already ducking down an alley, unwilling to confront them.

“Gwendolyn Meadowheart, you’re better than this. You came here. You should at least tell them something,” Gwendolyn muttered to herself as she paced behind a building. “Maybe I should warn them. Perhaps they sold more of that meat to other people. Wouldn’t it be a good thing to tell them of my grandparents’ passing from the poor product they sold us?”

Gwendolyn paced a few more moments, weighing out the best course of action. She hadn’t planned on seeing them in the market today.

“What are you doing?” Kellin asked, peeking around a corner. Gwendolyn jumped and backed away.

“Nothing! I’m not doing anything,” she blurted.

“You and I both know that’s a lie.” Kellin crossed his arms and looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “You’re up to something. Why didn’t you come to say hi when I waved to you?”

“I-I don’t want to talk right now,” Gwendolyn replied, lifting her chin.

“Alright, tiefling-girl, I get it. You’re off to talk to your devilish parents, aren’t you?” he asked.

Gwendolyn’s cheeks grew hot as she looked away from him. “It’s not like that. I don’t have a devilish parent.”

“Doesn’t much matter to me. How’d your folks like the things you brought home a span ago?” he asked.

“They-” Gwendolyn faltered and shook her head as tears brimmed in her eyes.

“What happened?” Kellin asked, taking a step closer. “I was just kidding about the devil stuff. I know you’re a good person.”

“It’s not that,” Gwendolyn sniffled. “My grandparents got sick after they ate the venison. I don’t know why I didn’t, but they-they-they died!”

Gwendolyn had thought she had cried every tear she ever would before she had started her trip, but nonetheless, the tears ran down her cheeks, evaporating before they could reach her chin.

“They died!?” Kellin repeated. “We should tell my father! There could be more sick people out there!”

“I don’t know-” Gwendolyn started.

“Don’t say you don’t know. Why didn’t you come sooner?” Kellin said, grabbing her hand as he tried to pull her toward the road.

“No, I don’t want to,” Gwendolyn said. “It’s my fault. It’s all my fault.”

“How is it your fault? You didn’t know the meat was bad,” Kellin said. “Come on, please.”

“No, I ate the venison too, and I’m fine. They died because I’m cursed. You should just stay away from me,” Gwendolyn said, pulling her hand from his grip.

Gwendolyn watched as the boy fell over and slammed into a crate, breaking it open and flinching back from the splintered wood. A large splinter had embedded itself deep into Kellin’s arm.

“See! I’m cursed!” she screamed. “Get away from me!”

“What’s going on back-” A guard paused as he rounded the corner and saw the small red tiefling girl and the bleeding boy. He pointed his finger at Gwendolyn, “You! You’re under arrest!”

“I didn’t do anything,” Gwendolyn protested as the guard produced a set of manacles.

“She didn’t, sir. I was trying to pull her out of here when my grip slipped-”

“That’s enough. She’s coming with me to see the jailer for attacking a prominent merchant’s son. An example will be made of her,” the guard said as he reached out for her.

“Get off me!” Gwendolyn yelled as she pushed herself backward out of his reach and ran down the other end of the alley.

Gwendolyn ran until her lungs burned, and her legs shook. Without looking back, she hoped that the guard hadn’t followed her as she came upon the door of a small desiccated building next to Tumbolt Park in the inner-north district of the city and fell through it.

“Whoa, there girly!” a man said, catching her. “You okay? You look like you just had a zombie chasing you.”

“I’m fine,” Gwendolyn replied, straightening the lute on her back and adjusting her backpack.

“I’ve seen many a day running from guards, my dear,” the man said with a bright beaming smile. His thick black beard and hair were short and peppered with gray. His arms made her legs look small as he took up an entire side of the table at which he sat. His green eyes looked at her in a way reminiscent of her grandfather. “My name’s Germain, what’s yours?”

Gwendolyn shook her head.

“It’s okay. I’m not going to turn you in or get you in trouble. Just seeing as we got a little close there for a moment, I figured I should introduce myself,” Germain said, winking at her.

“I can take care of myself. I’ll be fine,” Gwendolyn said in a matter-of-fact tone.

“I have no doubt,” Germain replied with a chuckle. “Though I feel like you may be a little young to be wandering the Empire on your own. Where are your parents?”

Gwendolyn’s lips tightened.

“I see,” Germain said. “I’ll tell you what. Rather than traveling the Empire, potentially dying on the road from bandits, or some other nefarious creature, or trying to scrape by in the city taking your chances with the gangs or guards. Why don’t you stay here in my little inn?” Germain opened his arms, motioning to the space around him. The four tables in the room barely fit with the three people staring at her. A pretty woman stood behind the bar, wiping out glasses.

“This is an inn?” Gwendolyn said.

“It sure is! I just picked it up for a well-played hand of cards,” Germain cheered, raising his glass enthusiastically. No one else joined him. “It needs a bit of work, but I assume that that instrument on your back isn’t just for show.”

“I’ve always been told that I play like an angel,” Gwendolyn said with a curt nod.

“Well, you look more like a devil,” one of the patrons said from across the room as he threw a glass.

Germain’s smile vanished in an instant as he reached out and snatched the glass from the air, setting it gingerly on the table. He seemed to grow in size as he rose from his seat and turned to look at the man.

“You should learn some manners,” Germain said as his voice took on a new timbre. It was bass-filled and melodic as he spoke the next sentence, “You uncouth swine of a man.”

Gwen watched in awe as the patron’s nose began to bleed, and the man fell over holding his head.

“H-How did you do that?” Gwendolyn asked.

“Would you like to know?” Germain asked, the smile returning to his face.

Gwendolyn nodded.

“You play me a melody, and I’ll teach you as much as I learned in my travels,” Germain said, “and I assume your name is Joy?”

“My name’s Gwendolyn,” she replied, cracking a faint smile for the first time in days.

“Well, Gwendolyn, you’re story is your own, but I’ll have you know, I’m good at prying them out of people, but I’ll make an exception with you. You can stay here as long as you can play two sets a night, four days a week. I’ll make sure you’re always fed, and that people leave you alone,” Germain said, extending his hand. “Sound like a deal?”

“And teach me magic?” Gwendolyn said without moving.

“And teach you what I know about it, at the very least,” Germain chuckled as she grabbed his hand.

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