Allegro 35: Negotiations

To brighten their lives and enjoy the game, thousands will travel travel all day to spend the night at a nearby inn, share a wagon ride to the game, and then come back for drinks and celebration, all before heading home.

— Podalis Krum-Tercier, A World Without Vehicles

When Linsan saw the crowd gathered around the inn, she groaned.

Calibo let out a laugh. “They take games seriously around here. If I wasn’t needed for doing deliveries tomorrow morning, I would have stayed here.”

“You mean, if it wasn’t for Poladio snoring, you would be sharing a room and sleeping off another hangover.”

Calibo gave his cousin a pointed look. Then he said something in their language. The cadence sounded wrong as did the words but Linsan picked out a few of the rhythms.

Miska responded mockingly but she still smiled at the end.

Calibo glanced as Linsan and Brook before shaking his head. “At least I do is give them a little privacy.”

“They made you sleep on the floor again.”

Another look.

“You know you could have come to my place,” Miska said while leaning back. “You are family.”

“And you had company.”

Miska shrugged. “No one I wouldn’t have kicked out of my bed for you.”

“You know what they say about cold masago.”

Rolling her head to give her cousin a sardonic look, Miska said, “If Gab made it, finish the bowl at the latrine?”

Calibo laughed. “She isn’t that bad of a cook. We all survived her meals for years. Besides, she puts all of her sweetness in her deserts. Oh,” he said with a groan, “I could use a bowl of onigi right now.”

Linsan listened while she sat next to Brook. They were both in the space between the front of the ruined buggy. Brook’s hand rested in her palm but neither of them were inclined to let them release. It was a comfort with an increasing strange day.

She wondered if Calibo and Miska were speaking Lorban for her benefit. Half of the words didn’t make sense. She guessed Calibo had taken an effort not to speak whatever language they shared because Miska frequently answered with no regard for Linsan’s eavesdropping.

Miska sat up. “Just bring the wagon up in front of the smithy and help me shove it off. I’ll start tonight and see what I can do.”

“Need my help?”

She shook her head. “See if the—” the rest of the words were in the other language. While the words weren’t clear, the tone was and Linsan bristled at the insult.

Calibo pointed at his cousin sharply.

In response, Miska hopped off and hurried ahead to open up the doors. She reached in and grabbed the underclothes that Linsan had seen earlier and tossed them aside. “Come on, get the front in here.”

Calibo stopped the wagon. When he stood up, he gestured for Linsan and Brook to leave before he started unhitching the horses.

Exhausted and aching, the two women backed away as the cousins maneuvered the wagon in place.

“What do we do?” asked Linsan.

“Let’s get rooms for the night. Then come back and see if we can help.”

“Good idea,” Brook said. The defeated tone in her voice was heartbreaking. Her hands shook as she opened up the boot of her car and fumbled through the cases before pulling out a mid-sized one. She reached for another one but then shook her head.

“Are you sure?” asked Linsan as she gathered her relatively smaller bag from the seat of the car. She took more time to pull out the violin case and cradled it in her arm instead of slinging it over her shoulder.

“You won’t be able to do much at first,” Miska called out. “Get some sleep, if you can, and find me in the morning.”

“Are rooms okay?”

“Yes, but you should consider getting one for Bobo too since it will be too dark to make it home with a large pit on the road.”

Calibo shook his head. “No, I’ll sleep in the wagon. Don’t worry about me, the inn is going to be packed with the game. It sounds like Saint Gaveil won so they are going to be drinking well past midnight. I’m still being held in the firepit for last night, so I’d also rather not risk being banned for life.”

Linsan frowned. “I’m sure—”

He gestured to the inn just as a cheer rose up inside. “There is no chance I’ll find a bed in there. I have doubts you will either. But try. If you can’t, I have room in the wagon.”

Brook looked sharply at Linsan. “Hopefully two. Come on, let’s find out.”

Walking into the inn felt like walking into a windstorm. Everyone was chatting and cheering and drinking. Lagers and stouts splashed everywhere as people talked about their favorite plays.

Linsan cringed as they worked their way to the bar.

Har’s eyes opened wide at the sight of them. “What happened?” he bellowed to be heard over the din.

“Fireball!” Linsan responded just as loudly. “Any chance of a room and a bath?”

Har’s pained look didn’t need to be told. “We’re completely ful.”

Brook leaned over. “Can I ask for one?”

Har frowned and then pointed to a large group that was slightly less enthusiastic than the others. “That’s my biggest group today but they lost. If you have cuks, they might be willing but I doubt it.”

“Thank you!” Brook said. She grabbed Linsan’s hand and dragged her toward the group. Reaching them, she screamed out for attention. “Oi!”

A half-drunk man looked up. “What you want, Dresses?”

Brook seemed to ignore the insult. “How much for a room?”

They laughed.

Linsan looked around. There was no chance she could busk with this crowd. They were more interesting the game they had returned from, not anything she could play.

“Two hundred crowns for two rooms!”

Linsan froze and then stared at Brook. That was easily four times what any of them had paid.

A different look crossed his face, then he grinned. “There are twelve of us. We aren’t going to sleep on top of each other for less than a thousand.”

Brook’s face darkened. “Three hundred.”

The leader leaned forward. “How about four hundred for one, Dresses?”

Brook’s grip on Linsan’s hand tightened. “Two for one.”

“Three—”

Someone kicked him. He glared at them and then back. “Fine, two-fifty.”

“Deal!”

“Cash, Dresses, right—”

Brook slapped a pile of currency cards on the table. “Key, now,” she snapped.

He started for the money.

“Key!” Her voice carried over the din. “I’m tired, I hurt, and I want hot water!”

There was a brief moment of quiet.

Linsan cringed at being the center of attention, or at lest next to Brook.

The other man dug into his pocket and pulled out a key. He started to hand it over, but then changed his mind. He snapped his fingers at one of his companions who fished out their own key and handed it over.

Brook took it, looked at the symbol engraved into the side, and then lifted her hand away from the cukdins.

By the time she turned around, the money had been pocketed. “Come on, Lin, let’s see about hot water. I need a bath.”

“That was a lot of money,” Linsan said worridly.

“Worth it,” grumbled Brook.

At the counter, she held up the key.

Har shrugged. “That was a lot of money,” he said quietly, repeating Linsan’s words.

The muscles in Brook’s jaw tightened. “A bath?”

He tensed.

Brook looked like she was about to burst into tears.

Har’s face softened. “That room is barely large enough for the bed. But, if I can trust you, I’ll give you a key to another but you have to be out by midnight. Just a bath and don’t go snooping.”

Brook sighed and dug into a small pocket in her dress. She pulled out a few green cards and set them on the table. “Bless the Couple.”

Har swept the bar and pocketed the money. Then he dug into his own trousers to pull out a well-worn key. “You’re in seven, I’m in one. I’ll bring over some hot food, once I get a chance, and leave it by the door. You know where to draw water?”

When they both nodded, he smiled grimly. “Don’t tarry, that’s my room and I better not find you when I go in there.”

Cover

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