Lach-Roemar Pt. 2
No Lady Maef—who, by her own emphatic admission, was “No damned lady!”—had run the Gull and Sail for as long as most people could remember and, except for those long-lived few who bothered with the place at all, none could remember when the Gull and Sail had anything to do with the docks, longshoremen or even a lost gull. Why Maef had never changed the name—or more to the point, kept the name despite the lack of any evidence of a nautical relationship—no one knew. Yet when the rare event occurred that a stranger to Lach-Roemar would come in and take a seat, look around, frown at the lack of sailors, sea-wenches, old nets, fishing-spears, rusted anchors or even the tell-tale skeletal rib of a coracle, then ask, the Gull and Sail would usually fall to a deep silence.
Of course, the locals were simply awaiting Maef’s reply, which, by then, they could have recited along with her: “Well sho as I ain’t no lady, that sho ain’t no business o’ yours. Now, what ya want?”
Long ago, the locals would then guffaw and, as one, shout out suggestions from the menu—hock stew, black bread, ‘tatoe cakes, beer, ale, elf cider—until Maef eyed them all to silence. Later, however, they simply chuckled quietly and went back to their business.
Now, though, not even locals came to the Gull and Sail. Maef actually found herself more often than not leaning on the old bar and sipping the local rye that old man Sendis and his sons made in their cellar on the other side of Ferric Green. She would sip and stare at the empty place, at its dusky corners out of reach of the glow of the hearth or any of the glass-shuttered lanterns burning on a few of the tables. She knew she should have the boys clean the soot from the inside of the lantern hoods, lighten up the place, but she never did. The walls needed scrubbing, too, and some of the junk that had found its way to hanging on those walls should probably be sold off down at the second-hand stalls, but that never happened either.
Since the body of that poor girl had been found in the heap of garbage out back—and since the new warden had fingered Marzell for dispatching the poor child—no one came around the Gull and Sail. No one wanted part of that mess—what they saw as a little, nasty war brewing between the mercenary outfits trying to lay claim to parts of Lach-Roemar and that fine-looking Jonath of the Battlefield.
“No way he’d step hisself in hyuh, that’s fo sho.”
“No way who’d step hisself in hyuh, Maef?” Seri asked, walking in from the kitchen carrying a tray of sliced black bread.
“No one, chil’, jes thinkin’ out loud.”
Seri put the tray on the bar and looked around at the empty room. She sighed, somehow world-weary at such a young age—Maef winced at the thought of Seri being no more than a day or two older than the poor child they had pulled out of the midden heap.
“Ya go t’ the hangin’?” Seri asked.
“No, chil’, hangin’s and killin’s were never right for ol’ Maef. Who’d they hang?”
“Marzell, o’course!” Seri stared at Maef in honest disbelief. “Him and three of his soljers!”
Seri just looked shocked at this. “Well, that means biness’ll be back up soon! That new warden sho made hisself right at home, dint he? Copped Marzell ‘n’ his boys right quick!”
“Hush, girl!” Maef spat. “Talk like that like to bring a world o’ trouble! Marzell was only the top o’ the heap—sumun’s bound t’ move up and that warden aint’ none too popler with ’em.”
“Why not? Hangin’ Marzell made room. Next boyo’s got t’ be grateful.”
“Until the warden hangs him too. No, girl, this ain’t fo the likes o’ us. Keeps’ur heads low, we will—or else gets ’em lopped off.”
“Oh, yer jes mean an’ sour!” Seri dodged as Maef made a grab for her.
“Git in the kitchen, girl! Stop talkin’ back!” Seri danced away and Maef plodded after her, cursing youth and ignorance until she vanished through the door.
In the corner farthest from the hearth, wrapped in shadows both natural and unnatural, the thing that been sent to watch the Gull and Sail, a thing that hungered for both Maef and Seri, chuckled to itself. Avoiding the hearthlight, it detached itself from its unseen position and moved towards the kitchen. Halfway across the room, however, a sound from the kitchen caused the thing to stop, its senses pricked forward. A door had opened and the voices of the two humans had ceased in surprise.
Then a new voice sounded. “Good evening, Seri, No Lady Maef. I hope I didn’t startle you.”
“Why no, M’ster Sphinx, we’s not startl’d a-tall!” Seri said brightly.
“None tall,” agreed Maef.
“Good. Forgive my entering through your establishment’s back entrance, but I was just out examining your midden heap.”
“That’d be why you’ve a sour face, init?” Seri laughed.
The thing, growling to itself, its hunger buried beneath its anger and a certain rising fear, ignored the newcomer’s response and silently faded from the room.