It would appear that I erred in my earlier assessment. In my defense, I was absorbed by dread and utterly convinced that I was to die tonight. But instead of charging and lancing me through like a gutted fish, the stranger dismounted and pulled back his worn hood. And when that young face was revealed to me, I almost succumbed to weeping with joy. Instead of a scurvy cutthroat or surly highwayman, it was young Daniel who stared back at me. I had seen him a few times before, though we never spoke much. My father paid him to be a man-at-arms, not to talk the day away. Not even with me.
Despite the dreadful rain, he shot me a cheery smile. “Fine weather this night, is it not?” The audacity! I recovered from my initial surprise and retorted with a suitable aristocratic scowl. Within the span of but a few heartbeats, the man had dropped his smile and adopted a more deferential stance. Seeing him suitably cowed, I then proceeded to shake some information out of him. He started rattling off some story on how he had seen the commotion and decided to track me down. It appeared that my father did not send him after me. I could care less truth be told. My interest only extended as far as the loaded sacks, dangling from his saddle. Just the thought of some food made my stomach growl.
I declared that I had no intention of returning to the manor and that he would be a fool to try and convince me otherwise. The oaf gave me a quizzical look. Blessed with powerful muscles, not with a powerful brain. Overpowering me wouldn’t even make him break a sweat, should he chose to pursue that course of action. But I was counting on his sense of loyalty and duty to refrain from acting against his social better. It worked. Hesitantly he told that he knew of a coaching inn not too far up the road. I leapt at the chance to be out of the drizzle and get some warm food in my gullet. The fact that it was in the other direction of the Boreas estate only served to sweeten the deal. Before long, I was back in the saddle, racing towards this haven.
When we arrived, I naturally assumed that the young man was trying to pull off some sort of cruel joke. The inn, if one can call such a ramshackle excuse of a building an inn, seemed like something out of a nightmare. The worn roof was pockmarked with holes and most (if not all!) windows were either cracked or broken. Even the lanterns swayed droopingly in the wind, as if in a state of extreme melancholy. On the whole, it seemed as if the building wanted to collapse in on itself but lacked the energy to actual accomplish it. Displeased, I raised this issue with my squire, who could only shrug his shoulders apologetically. Cursing him and all his kind under my breath, I stomped off and nearly kicked down the rotten front door.
The innkeeper and the guests stared at me as I blundered in. I had only encountered these dregs of humanity once when I was forced to pass the night in a commoner establishment. One look and I felt history repeating itself once more. The smell did not help either. A mixture of stale sweat, unwashed bodies and the acrid odor of fresh rain mingled together to assault my nostrils with incredible force. I was forced to hold my wet handkerchief to my nose lest I faint on the spot.
I called for the bartender to tend to our horses and then serve us with a hot meal and fine ale. To my surprise, he refused! The nerve of the man! It is that rebellious streak that divides the commoners from the nobility. If only we could get rid of the whole lot … Perhaps this new plague that I have been hearing about just might do it … But, back to the innkeeper.
The man refused, citing ill-health and the demonic downpour. I yelled at him, venting my outrage with almost religious fervor. The piggish man with his bulbous red nose simply snorted in reply and pointed out that this was his inn and thus, his castle. We were free to leave if we did not approve of the situation. I was about to explode with outrage when suddenly my young companion stepped forward and volunteered to tend to the horses himself. In one fluid motion, he reached in a small sack hanging from his belt and threw two gold coins at the innkeeper. The old fart grinned at the small fortune, nodded and then disappeared in what I would assume was the kitchen. Still fuming, I sat myself on a chair nearest to the door. I felt eyes reaching out from across the room and I searched them out. One slender men, half concealed by shadow. Two coachmen, one stuffing himself with some sort of sausage, the other snoring on folded arms. Three souls, all in all. I kept my neck on a swivel. One cannot trust ruffians.
We didn’t talk much as we wolfed down our food. The meat was abysmal and the ale barely fit for the gutter, but it would make me get through the night. Discreet as he was, the young man-at-arms refrained from inquiring too much about my recent … falling-out with my father. He did, once we had settled down, inquire as to what my plans were though. I had not given much thought on what to do next. I assumed I could ride south and meet an old friend. Without supplies or coin though … I read that a man can survive up to a week without food, but I am not to sure whether that applies to a steed as well.
Mistaking my brooding silence for a sign, the young one piped up. Prattling on and on on how my father would forgive me and that all would be well, he did. My mind was weary from the past events and in order to escape his naivety, I declared that I was tired and that I would retire for the night. The boy just nodded and sent for the innkeeper to show me our quarters. Now I sit here, on a flea-ridden bed, already scratching at my skin. The proprietor had claimed that this was his finest room, but considering his leer and common uprising, I am quite convinced that this was just his way of exacting revenge. I am restless and cannot wait to speed away from here. I will not be returning to my father’s estate, that much is certain. The best way to accomplish that is by going through with my original plan. I will go to Sven Marksson at Umber and spend some time with a more sympathetic and, more importantly, intelligent spirit. And then … who knows?
I will have to move quickly though. If the boy finds out, he will be on my tail and I can do without his incessant nagging. When the sun comes creaking through the dusty glass, I shall make my way downstairs and head off with both horses. Stonebridge is not too far from here and I am sure that one of the peasants will be happy to buy one of the horses off me. Should fetch me enough supplies to reach Umber, I believe. The lad will have to walk back home, but he is used to that. He is a commoner, after all.