. Not much to say about this section. It was really good; great even. I'd say we only need more knowledge regarding Melu and her species, as well as other mystical beings - as I explain below. It would take away the only contradictory fragment in the whole section. Still nice job!
The inn was stuffed with light, as though the night was a thing to be fought and defeated. Each small table burned with a lamp that would have lit a good sized barracks. The wide bar at the back of the room had four along the wall.
The whole place was built from rough trimmed planks, from the boarded tabletops, to the wide stairway in the furthest corner, to the cladding on the bar itself. Even the men who sat in pairs and threes were sun-blushed enough to seem wooden.
Hard stares greeted them and the conversational hum dropped, but did not stop. That was good. He hoped. Perhaps they were versed enough with travellers to only afford them the usual distrust: no small town ever truly trusted strangers.
Makki walked to the bar, feeling eyes not on him, but on Melu snuffling as she slept in his arms. In the exaggerated light her skin glowed like polished marble. By Blessed Therusamora, let no one see her as a bounty, but as an Etherling. A danger not a prize.
“I’ve hungry men and an empty purse, Agreth. Send the boy to get the salt from the barn and stop bothering me with each trivial problem you have.” A drape hung over the doorway behind the bar did little to block out the shrill, male voice. The barkeeper backed through it, cowering despite his angry words. He wore a neat black jacket over a white tunic, apron clutched in both hands before him like a shield. “And try and be frugal with the peppers in the stew this time. Last night I had more men ordering water than ale and....oh!” (Very nice detail!)
The barkeeper turned and stopped, jaw half open, eyes transfixed on Melu as Makki rested her on the counter. He was middle aged, wiry, with a preposterous moustache that cascaded thick over his lip and curved up to meet his sideburns. Each and every hair on his head was the brightest orange, as though he’d been dipped in a sunrise.
“We’re after rooms, Sir, preferably t...” Makki began.
“We offer no board to that!” The barman snapped, stabbing a finger and retreating a pace. Makki felt his anger arc through his chest. He grinned, a slow, evil thing. (Hmm I wonder why does he reject them like that? Are Dragons really that well known? I somehow had the idea they were somewhat scarce.)
“I could go outside and wake her up if you’d prefer.” Right on cue Melu yawned. Her slightly snouted jaw hinged wider than any human’s and lips peeled back to show a row of pointed teeth. The Barman blanched and clutched his apron shield. “But she tends to get rather unpleasant if she is woken before she is ready. You know how Dragons can get...” (So they require heavy sleep?)
Chair legs raked across the wooden floors, drawing a line under nearby conversation. Makki counted, by the sound of footsteps, three men scurry outside. The barman’s jaw worked, chewing on the words of an apology and the warm flush of Makki’s anger subsided beneath an icy wave of panic. (He’s scared now, but didn’t seem so a couple of lines before. Did he confuse Melu for some other being then? Otherwise his attitude it’s a bit confusing and contradictory)
Oh Makki, you cursed idiot!
“What...What I meant, good Sir, is...is...” The barman choked and Makki wrestled himself out of inaction. Stupidity is like milk: once it’s spilled there’s no putting it back. All you can do is claim it’s ideal for cleaning the flagstones.
“...Is you don’t offering stabling for her type,” Makki finished. “And so she’ll be afforded the same courtesy as the three of us.” He made a quick signal and Sommir unloaded his packs onto the bar; a heavy purse tucked in one of the saddlebags jangled suggestively. “We are not here for anything more than a bed, and a meal.”
“And ale.” Sommir added, folding his arms on the bar. “Plus of course if this town has a pretty wench or...”
“Ignore him. Being in the sun all day and has addled what little brain he possesses. A bed, a meal and ale. We may stay for breakfast, but probably no longer.” He adjusted the saddlebag. Coins rattled.
The barman looked to the purse, to Melu, to Makki and back to the purse. His forced smile accentuated the ripple in his ridiculous moustache.
“Of course, Sir, of course. You will be requiring how many rooms?”
“Three.” Makki said. “Adjoining if possible.”
“Do we have to,” Sommir said. “You snore loud enough to annoy the dead.” The barman, as per Makki’s request, ignored him.
“Three rooms. Certainly. If you’d follow me.” With a final glance at the saddlebags he scuttled from behind the bar and headed to the stairs at the rear of the common room. Makki fetched Melu back into his arms and followed, the Princess shadowing him
“Fine. I’ll carry all this again.” Sommir said, gathering up their possessions.
The inn’s second floor was small and, seemingly, unoccupied. More lamps burned along the landing and all of the six doors Makki could see stood open, the rooms beyond dark. The barman lit a taper from the lamp outside the furthest door and darted inside.
It was a deep room with two slim beds, a simple dresser and a small trunk. A battered and chipped washbasin rested on a shelf beneath a sliver of mirror, dusted with grime from its last, unsuccessful, cleaning. The patter of the patrons below was muffled to a faint hum, like some fat insect trapped beneath the wooden floor.
“I’ll prepare the other two, Sir. Please call me when you would like to eat. My name is Karu: At your service.” He sketched a rough bow and scurried out with a final glance at Melu.
Rhiharu held a finger to her lips and crept to the door. Makki looked at Sommir, who raised his eyebrows in approval and tapped his temple three times. A few minutes, a glance into the hall, and the Princess eased the door closed.
“He’s gone.” She said.
“And the packhorse needs his rest.” Sommir said, unslinging their packs and dropping them on the trunk. “See how I played the hired muscle perfectly? Why I reckon I could join one of those troupes who travel from Kingdom to Kingdom performing the epics.” Makki moved to the nearest bed and eased Melu onto it. She rolled over, curling into a comfortable ball, looking for all the world as though she’d been sleeping there since last week.
“Why for a moment you had me believing that was exactly what you were. A brainless, uncivilised moron who thinks with his muscles. A simpleton who’s only worth is in what he can pull, or lift, or...”
“Is that the voice of jealousy I hear?” Sommir cupped a hand to his ear, as though trying to hear a whisper on the wind, then burst out laughing. Makki couldn’t help but grin. “Admit it. That Karu would be amazed to learn I can write.” Sommir undid his sword belt, placed it carefully beside the rest of their belongings, and began wrestling himself out of his armour.
“You can’t write. Your fingers are too thick to hold a...” A whisper of metal being drawn cut him off. Sommir froze with his banded tunic half over his head and Makki spun round, reaching for the dagger at his hip. Princess Rhiharu stood, feet apart, balanced like a swordsman. The slim blade of her sword pointed at his chest, the tip only a swift lunge away. (I can just say: Whoa!)