Three days. Alieahsha stared at the unchanging countryside around them. Three days was a long time to sit cooped up in a cart that was not so much speeding past the countryside as trotting slowly into it.
She sighed. This was going to be a long journey. She wasn’t used to it, either: she usually had servants and maids to dress her and tidy up her bed, fire-place lighters to light the fire in the fire grate, and cooks to make her meals and see to her general well-being and health. Here, there was no-one. In fact, she hadn’t even changed clothes that whole day, which disgusted her.
Seeing her long face, Inbus tried to cheer her up. “Come on, it’s only three days. We only have two and a half days to go now.”
“Two and a half? You just said it was three!”
“Oh yes, during night-time it’s half a day.”
Alieahsha shrugged. Whatever the country-bumpkins believed.
The cart finally came to a stop by another inn. This time, it was a smaller inn, called a B&B. Or so it proudly proclaimed on its tattered sign.
“Ah,” Nifty smacked his lips. “Long time since I’ve had a draught.” He walked in, leaving the other two outside again, as always.
“Do we go in?” Alieahsha asked nervously.
“It should be safe enuff.” Inbus pushed the door open and Alieahsha, assuming he was opening it for her, started to walk in, just as Inbus let go of the door and went into the place himself. The door made a hearty ‘smack’-ing sound on Alieahsha’s face. She blinked once, slowly. That couldn’t have happened. Gentlemen held open doors for ladies. Gentlemen kept the doors open for ladies, not let them go and walk in themselves.
Angrily, she walked into the inn, only to be confronted by the sight of Inbus laughing and pointing at her. Shaking her head menacingly, she was about to grab Inbus when he was replaced by a tall, burly man of the same build as Big Rob. Oh great, another fight. Alieahsha prepared to run, holding her jewelry with clenched fists, so he couldn’t steal them.
But instead of grabbing her, the man held out a meaty fist for her to shake. Confused, Alieahsha reached out a tentative hand to shake it, but still clutched her jewelry fiercely with the other.
Seeing her fear and confusion, the meaty man laughed. “I’m the innkeeper. I’m no trouble-maker! Ye won’t see many o’ them round ‘ere!”
Alieahsha shook his hand, still confused. Her first question was answered: he was the innkeeper, not someone like Big Rob, but her second question was still left unanswered. Why was he shaking her hand like she was a gentleman?
“She’s a city girl,” said Inbus helpfully, and the innkeeper immediately brought his hand away.
“A city ‘un?” he said doubtfully. Then he laughed. “That explains all th’ confusion!” He laughed again, longer this time. “I’m sure you have lots’a booty to pay with, then. Here, let me show ye to ye room.” He started walking towards the staircase, and, before Alieahsha could explain her current financial predicament, he yelled over his shoulder to someone at the counter. “Book Room 12 as occupied, will ye?”
There was a scurrying, then an answering call. Nodding happily, the innkeeper walked up the steps, passing floor after floor, until they were finally in Room 12. At least, it seemed like a lot of floors to Alieahsha.
“How are there so many floors when the outside of the inn suggests that there are only three?” Alieahsha asked, confused.
“Magic,” the man tapped the side of his nose knowingly.
At that word Alieahsha froze. Her father had taught her never, under all circumstances, to meddle with magic. In fact, it was forbidden, but that didn’t stop it from happening.
“What’s up, lady?” the innkeeper asked upon seeing her shock.
Shaking her head, Alieahsha continued walking stiffly. Inbus looked worriedly at her, but kept walking. They finally reached their destination, at the topmost floor of the B&B.
“This ‘ere is our finest room. Room 12. The best this ol’ inn can offer.” The innkeeper grinned proudly. He flung open the door to show them what was supposed to be glamour. Inbus was totally enraptured by it, though for Alieahsha this was nothing compared to what she was used to.
“Are ye sure ye can pay?” Inbus asked Alieahsha. She was about to reply when the innkeeper cut in.
“Of course she can, can’t ye? Ye is a city ‘un, an’ they can pay fer anythin’! Or so me mates tell me...”
“‘Tis surely all fables and folklore, though?”Inbus said doubtfully.
“Nay, me friends ‘ave known me fer years! They know what I’d do ter them if they lied to me. Me! Unheard of!”
“Well, my friends seem to have no problem aboot lyin’ ta me,” Inbus said, shaking his head thoughtfully. “If only I had a rep-oo-ta-shun...”
Alieahsha cleared her throat lightly to remind them that she was here. The innkeeper jumped at the sudden noise. “Oh, yes, m’lady! Let me show you to yer room!” He walked in and started fluffing up the pillows and dusting off the curtains.
“Pillows!” Inbus breathed. “Real, pillows!”
The innkeeper grinned. “This is what a full purse can buy ye, young lad.”
“So this is what being rich feels like,” Inbus said wonderingly. “It feels absolutely wonderful!”
“Yes, well, let us rest, shall we? It has been a rather long day.” Alieahsha cut in.
“Yes, of course...” the innkeeper shuffled out the room and shut the door silently.
As soon as he was gone, Inbus flopped on the bed and squealed. Alieahsha fixed him with a rather disapproving look. “Sorry, just the excitement of the situation,” he apologized.
“What excitement? Really, Inbus, get a grip on yourself. The situation is we are in an inn. Seriously, Inbus.”
“I know, right? I’ve never been in an inn before! Not a real one, anywhoo. It’s always been out in the stables fer me, or sometimes, if I’m lucky, I get ta sleep in a tavern’s dingy back corner, but never up in a room. She never cares for us enough to pay fer our loj-in’s. Nort that we even go out much, anyway.”
“Poor servants,” Alieahsha said, shaking her head sadly. “I’ll get to worrying about them some other time. With my busy schedule, I’d never usually even fit in thinking about servants.”
“Well, yer sure nort busy now! All ye have ta do is wait fer poor Nifty an’ I ta drive ye to her house.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake! Just say ‘her’ name already! It’s not as if she’s evil or anything! Saying her name won’t damn you forever!”
“It might well will, ye never know,” Inbus retorted. “An’ fer yer city brain’s information, she is quite evil. She kills people!”
“So does my father,” Alieahsha said quite calmly. “He hangs those who wrong.”
Inbus gasped, and recoiled from her. “Ye are evil too!”
“Don’t be silly, Inbus. My father only kills those who steal, lie or cheat. And you definitely don’t do any of those. Except for steal, of course ...”
“I don’t wanna die!” Inbus started wailing, then quietened down. “Will anyone hear me if I wail?”
“Yes, they will. So shush.” Alieahsha wondered how Tildon ever put up with Inbus. Maybe that was why she punished him so, and never paid him anything. “Why does Tildon punish you?” she wondered out aloud. Inbus glanced around the room nervously upon hearing the name, but no-one came.
“I don’t know. Maybe that’s how she puts up with me. I’m Bound to her, anyway, so I can’t resist her or fight her.”
“Oh,” Alieahsha said. “Don’t you ever mess with magic like your master.”
Inbus flinched at the word ‘master’. “I won’t. I’m nort even sure if I can do magic, anyways. Magic is only fer the higher class.”
“Good,” Alieahsha said. “Shall we eat?”
They went downstairs, wolfed down their meal of bread and cheese and warm soup, and went to bed, content and happy. And for the first time in her whole trip, Alieahsha stopped worrying about Tildon and instead was quite happy just to lie there.