The first time I paid for dinner with money I’d earned was an experience I could never forget.
— Horgoek Ladow, Never Stop Falling, Never Stop Playing
The public house closed before midnight. After playing for four hours, Linsan was more exhausted than ever. There was a big difference between playing for herself and the stamina needed to keep the music going hour after hour.
She also felt more alive than ever before. She had never played for strangers before. Her first night was an unqualified success. Over two dozen people came in, most of them after sunset, but they listened to her music. Many applauded in all the right places and two older folk dropped money into her violin case. Admittedly, it was only three crowns between the two of them but it was more money than she had ever earned before with using her skills.
Her hands trembled as she nestled he violin back into the case. The strings were still warm from playing and she could almost feel energy pulsating inside the wood. With a smile, she ran her fingers along the edge. “Good night,” she whispered.
It only took a short period to get the rest of her supplies packed up.
“You are play good for a girl.”
She smiled at the inn keeper. It didn’t matter than only three people came in before nightfall, the buzz of playing and seeing the nodded heads and tapping fingers was payment enough for her.
When the inn keeper looked at her expectantly, she thanked him.
He cleared his throat and looked away. “Mind helping me clean up the last stuff?”
With nothing else to do, Linsan helped. It only took twenty minutes to wipe down the tables and put way the food. The innkeeper had done much of the world in the last hour when there was only three people inside the public house.
She had just finished flipping chairs when she saw a pile of crowns stacked up on the back table next to her violin. There was also a wooden key and a small card. Confused, she padded over and looked at it.
The innkeeper was at the table next to her, gathering up some dishes. “Giving you twenty back for the entertainment. The key is to room one. It’s the nice one. No one came in tonight so you can use it. Just don’t make a mess and fold the blankets when you leave tomorrow. Good?”
Linsan stared at the money in confusion. She hadn’t earned it. “T-Thank you.”
“You may not have brought anyone in early, but they stayed longer and dropped a few more crowns than normal. As I see it, you gave us a few more stories, brought back some memories, and we had a good night. That’s worth a room for me, I just need to pay for food.”
He rubbed the top of his head before picking up his tray. “Good job, Girl.”
Linsan picked up the card. It had a hand-drawn picture of the inn with a blocked symbol underneath it.
“You’re new to busking, aren’t you?”
At her nod, the innkeeper gestured to the card. “That’s a reference. It’s only good for about thirty or forty miles, but most of the inn, public houses, and venues have met me. This basically says you were good and others should hire you.”
Linsan look up at him. “Thank you.”
“Don’t see many girls out on the road these days, even less with your talent. Though, you are wasted in small houses like this. You need to head somewhere bigger, like Malcom City or even Moon Waters.”
She sighed and finished putting the money into her wallet. “I’m heading to Stone Over Moon Waters actually. I told…” Her voice trailed off as she realized she had never asked innkeeper about the murders. “I was wondering, have you seen three guys come through the village in the last day or so? One has a guitar, kind of like a violin but wider body. They had floor-length coats.”
He frowned. “No… can’t say it rings any bells. Except for you, almost everyone is just driving or riding by. Were they heading toward Moon Waters?”
She shrugged. “I hope so. I’m not really sure. No one has seen them since I headed.”
“Think you are going the wrong direction?”
She looked at him and gave a weak shrug.
He chuckled. “I’ve seen that look before. Don’t worry, you’ll find them sooner or later. It’s a big world but you’re going to find its much smaller than you think.”
He hefted his tray and headed into the kitchen. “Best of luck, Girl. There is a water closet in the back. You got about a half hour before I’m done and need it.”
“Thank you again.”
He smiled but said nothing.
Linsan gathered her things and headed back to get cleaned up.
Less than a half hour later, Linsan was lying in an empty bed and staring at the ceiling. So much had happened and yet she felt like she was further away from her goal than ever.
Despite her setbacks, or more accurately the lack of anything, she had succeeded in her fantasies. She was on the road, earning her keep, and surviving.
Linsan smiled to herself. She was on an adventure. With her heart pounding with excitement, she wondered if she could even fall asleep in the excitement.