The Amulet Saga
Volume Two: The Traveler
Other stories in this series:
Rose brushed a strand of sweat-soaked hair from her face.
Myrta brushed past her, carrying a tray of tankards. “You’d best get back in the kitchen. If Mistress sees you resting, she’ll take a piece of your hide.”
Rose nodded and hurried back to the kitchen. She’d never worked so hard in her life. Her once-soft hands were callused and dry, her elegant fingernails chipped and dirty. Her gold hair hung in greasy strands rather than soft, clean waves. Fine clothes and jewels had done much to disguise her plain features, but now, wearing a plain dress and covered in grime, she was acutely aware of how homely she really was. Myrta, with her full bosom and dimpled smile, drew eyes and coins from patrons in the common room, while Rose was relegated to the basin to wash dishes more often than not.
Mistress Lambkin bustled into the kitchen.
Rose straightened quickly and thrust her hands into the dishwater.
“The rain is bringing folks in by droves. Hurry up there, we need clean cups and bowls.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Rose mumbled. She scrubbed the dishes more vigorously.
Nearly a fortnight since she and Myrta had begged for employment at the inn, and still Rose’s father’s soldiers hadn’t caught up. Or, perhaps they’d passed this little town entirely. At any rate, Rose knew she couldn’t stay here much longer. She was ill-equipped to spend all day on her feet, running back and forth and scalding her skin. It was high time she and Myrta moved on from this place.
That night, after the patrons had drunk their last and meandered home, and she and Myrta lay on their hard pallets in the back store room, Rose rolled over to face Myrta.
“We should continue our journey soon. It seems as though my father’s soldiers aren’t coming for us. We’ve saved enough wages to get us to the city where there will be more opportunity for both of us.”
She didn’t say it aloud, but she considered that from there it would be easier to get a message to her father asking for rescue. Washing dishes and being spat upon by drunks was not the adventure she’d pictured when she left home.
“Very well, m’lady. I suggest we wait until after the holy day. We’re likely to make more money, as people are more generous when they believe their goddess is watching, and we can use that time to prepare. I expect we’ll need a clearer picture of where we’re going before we set off again into unknown territory.”
Rose nodded. “You’re right, of course. I will be patient, but I confess, I’m eager to leave this place.”
Having a plan gave Rose new energy, and she spent the next week smiling harder as she served the patrons who came to the inn and collecting more coins for her trouble. She tucked away every coin she didn’t spend on food, stashing it until she and Myrta had what seemed to be a small fortune.
The day after the holy day, the citizens of the little town slept late, their libations of the night before still lingering, but Myrta had found a tradesman who planned on leaving early for the city. For a price—more than Myrta said it was worth—he agreed to let the two of them ride in his wagon.
Rose noted the slight scowl wrinkling Myrta’s brow as she counted out the coins.
“I know it’s a lot, but it’s better than walking that far. We’d spend that much in food because it would take us three times as long,” Rose said.
Myrta smiled at her. “Of course.” She climbed into the wagon and reached down to help Rose up.
The countryside grew more lush with every passing mile, and the villages grew closer together. The heat, too, increased, until sweat beaded on Rose’s forehead even sitting in the shade of the wagon. The air took on a heavy feel and a strange, tangy scent filled Rose’s nose.
“Comin’ out of the high country,” the merchant said. “Smell that sea air? Won’t be long, now.”
Rose inhaled deeply, her sense of adventure returning.
The city. She’d never seen one. The Four Villages in Legerdemain were only slightly larger than the village where she and Myrta had spent the last month, and the nearness of their destination filled her with a renewed excitement. She reached out and grabbed Myrta’s hand.
“We’re almost there. Our new lives—our real lives—are about to begin.
Myrta smiled and squeezed back.
By late afternoon, the road had widened and carts and wagons bounced along, narrowly missing one another as they hurried to and from the city.
At long last, the city gates came into view. Rose stared in awe. More than twice as high as the wall that surrounded her palace, the wall that surrounded Nynthavin seemed impenetrable.
A huge archway opened the city up to the road they traveled. Huge, iron gates hung from massive stone pillars. They were open now, but when closed they’d be nearly impossible to break through. The merchant rolled through the archway, his horses seeming to know the end of their journey was near and picking up their pace.
They rode to a long, open area lined with tents and shops. The merchant stopped in front of one tent with the sides battened down, opened one end, and started unloading his cart. “Come morning, when the market opens, you’ll not be able to walk through here for all the folks coming and going,” he said. “You two’ll want to get shelter for the night. You won’t want to be caught out after curfew.”
“Curfew?” Rose asked.
He nodded. “Patrols start after the ten bell. Anyone out after that is a criminal.”
He ignored them, then, as he finished unloading his cart into his little shop tent.
“Where should we go?” Rose asked.
Myrta took her hand. “I saw some inns back near the city gate. We’ll go there.”
They trudged back the way they had come as darkness blanketed the city. From somewhere in the center of the city a bell chimed.
Rose counted nine. “How long until the tenth?”
“I don’t know,” Myrta said, her steps quickening.
At last, they reached the hospitality district, an area lined with inns.
Myrta opened the door of a cozy, pleasant looking building and asked the innkeeper how much for a room for the night.
Rose didn’t understand the currency in this city, but Myrta’s face went white.
“One night will cost us nearly all we have,” Myrta said.
“That can’t be. We’ve saved for weeks,” Rose said.
“Do you have serving that needs to be done or dishes to be washed?” Myrta asked the innkeeper.
“We don’t take no beggars,” the innkeeper snarled. “Try the Thorn and Pony.” He nodded toward the end of the street.
Myrta led the way to the inn he indicated, a dilapidated affair that smelled of urine and vomit.
“We can’t stay here,” Rose said.
The bell started to chime again.
“We don’t have a choice,” Myrta said. She pushed open the door and asked the innkeeper about working for a room.
He nodded. “Go ‘round back. Shyrin will set you up.”
Myrta and Rose followed his grubby, pointed finger around the outside of the inn to a stinking alleyway. Rats crisscrossed in front of them, scurrying over piles of refuse. Rose choked back the bile that threatened to spew out of her.
Ahead, by the back door, someone was talking.
“Please, Shyrin, you know I’m good for the money. I just need to borrow one of your girls for the night,” a man said.
Rose shuddered. This place got worse by the minute.
“It’s market tomorrow. You know how busy we are. I can’t send my girls running off to tend to your needs. What happened to Jyn?”
“I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to tell you.”
“Can’t. You’re on your own. And you’d best hurry. Ten bell is chiming.”
The man groaned and clutched his shoulder. His knees sagged.
In the dim light, Rose saw blood seep from under the man’s hand.
Heedless of the filth, she rushed forward. “You’re hurt.”
The man looked at her through fever-glazed eyes. “You could tell that, could you?”
“Let me take a look.”
Myrta pulled on her hand. “We have to get inside.” She turned to Shyrin who still stood in the doorway. “The innkeeper said we could work for a room.”
“C’mon in. I can always use a pretty face for servin’,” Shyrin said, though she wasn’t looking at Myrta’s face.
“You need a room?” the injured man said. “I have a house not far from here. You can stay with me.”
Rose eyed him. “How much?”
“No money. Just some cooking and helping me. I can barely move.”
“No,” Myrta said. “We don’t know him. He could be a brigand for all we know.”
“Oh, he’s a brigand. Of the worst sort,” Shyrin said.
“That I am. But my house is clean and I have food. I just need…” he groaned again and leaned against the wall. “I just need…”
Rose looked from the injured man to the grimy inn. She tucked her shoulders under the man’s good arm for support. “Which way?”
The man indicated the other side of the alley.
Myrta stood for a moment, as though deciding what to do, then hurried after Rose and the injured man.
Myrta didn’t, but her voice held a note of tenderness when she said, “Well, someone has to keep you safe from your own foolishness.”