The weather grew warmer. The inn did well enough that Hal set plans into motion for getting a chicken coop. I learned he was one of those lucky common folk who had some magic, water magic to be exact, which was how he kept his inn so blessedly free of pests, which was actually its big selling points to travelers. He let me watch as he sprayed a fine mist of water from his open palms, leaving the air with a minty tang. I managed to get a chance to ask Derrick if he could do fire magic, since he was a blacksmith, without Gus around to guilt me about being friendly and got a surly nod.
“Don’t know anyone in my profession who doesn’t have an affinity for fire magic,” he said, giving me a curious look, or as much of one as I could see through his hair. “Blacksmiths do things differently where you’re from?”
Yeah, my story of being sheltered was starting to look a little fragile, so I started mixing in a bit of the truth.
“The only blacksmith I knew didn’t have magic. He had to use natural means to get the fire hot, like a billows and charcoal and such.”
That got Derrick very interested, and I spent the rest of the night trying to carry on a conversation in little blips and beeps between servings and grumpy Gus elbows.
“Fine!” Gus threw his hands into the air at one point. “Get guilted into marrying a sweaty hairball for all I care!”
Fortunately, he had been out of Derrick’s earshot.
“Can’t I have friends?” I snapped, a little frayed. My ‘gentleman’ lessons weren’t going so great.
“Yeah, with girls! They won’t be thinking of ways to get you into bed with everything they do.”
“Yes, because there are so many of those that come through here.”
“You got Milly, don’t you?”
Said Milly popped her head out of the kitchen then.
“Get off her case, brat. Who she talks to is no business of yours.”
Red faced, looking like he was ready to pop with an angry scream, he snapped his cleaning rag in the air and stomped back behind the bar. I heard a loud thunk of something being kicked.
“It’s a good idea not to break things that aren’t yours,” said Hal’s steady rebuke.
I ran my hands down my face till half my world became blinded by stretched lids.
Kids. And I didn’t even get the fun cuddle stage to help immune me for this. I’d even heard the terrible twos helped prepared you for the teenage stage too.
And good thing I had ignored him too, for Derrick came in a few days later absolutely ecstatic.
“I tried some things you told me about,” he said. “My magic was triple fold! The metal came out high grade! I can see myself competing with the royal smiths with just a bit more work, you’ve changed my life!”
Having a man who usually rumbled his words suddenly bouncing and yelling with excitement sort of terrified me.
“That’s so—I wouldn’t say I changed your life.”
But he just scooped up my hands, which had just been released from their bandages, and gave them each a wet, whiskery kiss.
“I owe you, Lillian,” his eyes were all smiley crinkles. “And I know the first thing to pay you back with.”
That first thing came in a block of brown wax paper and satin ribbon. Inside were a dozen blocks of sweet scented, different colored blocks.
Hal whistled low as he took one out.
“That’s some fine noble lady’s soap right there,” he said.
“Specially crafted by alchemists for sensitive skin,” said Derrick. “It’s not laundry soap, but it should help sooth your skin after a long day of work. I know you can’t avoid lye completely.”
And he was right. Even while avoiding laundry, at the end of the day, my hands and forearms were dry and cracked.
Picking up a soap block to test its waxy surface, unlike the hard rock of the soap the inn used, I wondered if this was my long awaited refund from the god who said he’d given me a new and improved body.
“Thank you,” I didn’t have to try to show my gratitude as I smiled at him. “Thank you so much, this—I want to use it right away. And they smell so good! Thank you!”
Even through the furry beard, anyone could see how tickled pink with pleasure Derrick was.
Even Gus was reluctantly happy about my new soap.
“Now your scabby arms wake me up in the night scratching me like sand paper,” he said.
“They weren’t scabby, they were hardly even—you’re the one with sensitive skin. Here, you can have the green one.”
“I am not using your girly soap!”
“Come on, girls love good smelling men. You want to make me grandbabies one day, don’t you?”
“Not girly smelling me—YOU’RE NOT MY MOM!”
“You didn’t have to roar at me like that.”
And because it had hurt a little, I took up all my awesome soap, determined not to let him even touch a whiff, and went back to the kitchens where Milly was getting a bath ready for me. She’d be happy to share some with me, and she was, like a proper girl friend. She even got down to her under garments and washed down with me, and I took the chance to heal some of the scars from a pox she had when she was young.
“Look how nice my skin is now,” she’d said as she cleared away the soft bubbles, her face shiny with joy. “Oh, Lil’, I’ve never felt so pretty. I know what you are now, you’re an angel.”
“We’ll ring you in a fine husband yet!” I crowed, caught up in her high.
We played a bit more with soap, because it didn’t matter what age you were, you could still have a moments to be a girl. Though, granted, Milly wasn’t all that much older than me, if I could say I even had an age anymore, being ‘Methuselah-ized’ and all.
Gus was waiting for me by the door with a brand new women’s nightgown and his darkest pout yet.
“I’m sorry for yelling,” he said.
“Where’d you get that?”
“It was the other thing your love slave brought,” he shoved at me as though dying to be rid of it. “And though I’m sorry for yelling, I meant it. You’re not my mom, adopted or otherwise.”
I took the nightgown, appreciating the softness. I had forgotten what a high quality weave could feel like. No wonder my skin was itching at the end of the day.
I left it at that. I didn’t want us to go to bed upset with each other.
“He’s not my love slave. I helped his business, he was showing his gratitude.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night.”
“Your hair is growing in nicely. When you’re grown up, you’re the one who’s going to have to worry about love slaves.”
“Heh, girl love slaves don’t get you anything. Guys give gifts.”
“Is that how it works?”
“Then I’ll guess we’ll just have to dress you up as a girl.”
“…heeeeeeeh, whatever. Go to sleep.”
And because baiting him was just too much fun, I tied the satin ribbon from my soap present into a pretty bow around his head while he slept.
The best part was, he didn’t even realize it was there until the first patron of the day started cracking up in his face. Milly and Hal are such good sports, keeping their poker faces on like a boss.
Gus shoved the mess of ribbon into my stomach, his entire head red.
“I hate you,” he said. “I really do.”
In answer to that, I pecked a kiss on his forehead.