Gus and I did our best to go back to normal, and it worked for the most part. There was still a pane of awkwardness between us, like a window we wouldn’t touch for fear our fingers would smear it or we’d break it. But the feelings were still the same. My mission in this world was still the same. It’s amazing what you can get use to if you set your mind to it.
Two weeks passed before I got my first letter from Sir Dostuve. It was written in fine, brilliant white parchment, much finer than the temple’s letter had been, and faintly perfumed with something like lavender or roses. His penmanship was also meticulously straight and beautiful in a way I’d only seen in the book given to me by Nehcor.
It was my first real, hard core test on how well I’d been learning from said book on how to read and write in this language.
I did moderately well. Slow as tar compared to my original reading speed in my own language, but I didn’t get completely lost on any words. Thankfully, it was a relatively short letter apologizing for the delay, inquiring about my well being, and adding that, if I hadn’t figured out what I would like as payment for my services to him, if I’d be okay coming to the duchy for dinner. He asked what my favorite foods were if I did agree to come, but to not feel pressured.
It reflected the clean, polite, and earnest impression I had of the nobleman.
I told Gus about the letter, but it was a while before I had got some decent paper to respond with, as well as some uninterrupted time. We were hitting the last of the busy season as travelers raced to avoid the first snow.
When I finally did get around to my letter, Gus was already waiting for me with his tied up in string since we didn’t have a wax or seal, and it just seemed tacky to try to make one with some candle drippings.
“I’m going to include it in yours,” he said.
“How’d you make it so fast?”
He gave me a bland look. We both knew that our reading and writing comprehension were at roughly the same level, having been fellow students together.
“Are you trying to write him a novel?” he asked.
“No. At least, not yet. Go away, stop distracting me.”
For some reason, having Gus know who I was writing to, and the idea of him reading over my shoulder, flustered me. I couldn’t help but remember the phenomenal handsomeness of the duke’s son’s face.
I kept my letter as concise as I could. I said that a dinner would be marvelous as well as a better opportunity to more clearly talk about the favor I wanted, which was education, in a general term, for both me and Gus—mainly Gus. I was good learning how to grow things and geography, that sort of thing. I didn’t know much about the cuisine from this world, as the fare Milly fed me was basic vegetables, bread, with some meat and fruit, but I was able to tell him I didn’t like spicy foods nor things that were overly sweet, though a little sweet was nice.
The moment I started to feel like I was babbling, I closed the letter, only to add on a post script apologizing for my subpar penmanship. Unlike his straight as lace lines and letters, mine seemed to wiggle all over the place.
Gus slipped his smaller letter into the tube of my own and we handed it off to the messenger man with the appropriate address. He would have been surprised by our daring to address a nobleman if he hadn’t been the one to deliver said nobleman’s letter to us earlier that week.
I liked the messenger. He was one of those fellows that treated me like air, like the tanner. Probably saw all sorts in his line of work.
You’d think the bards would have the same attitude, having for certain seen all sorts of faces. In their defense, some did, though that didn’t say much as when it was warm outside they practiced their craft in the squares, busy streets, and halls of the lords when they could. Not much time to gawk and stare at any pretty or weird passersby.
But with the dropping temperature came an increase in the frequency with which bards visited our joint. Hal and Milly both told me that it was a rare occurrence for a bard to settle at the Red Swallow Inn for more than a night before moving on (the regulars were low-brow folk that appreciated quiet and the accommodations bland), but word of my unorthodox appearance must have gotten around because we got a doozy of a one not long after I sent off mine and Gus’s letter.
He would have been a rather handsome fellow, even to me who had been blinded by Sir Gostuve’s brilliance. He had wavy black locks (black hair was common in this part of the world), olive skin, and dimpled cheeks that appeared whenever he flashed his straight teeth, that all showcased his glittering eyes.
His attraction level ended there, however, because he was all too aware of his own looks, and seemed to think that gave him a destined future with me. He tried to hurry this future along by writing songs about me and singing them from the corner of the common room in his so-so voice.
Derrick relocated his usual seat to the other side of the room and took up the activity of glaring the irritating musician down and giving practice flicks of his fork in his direction when no one was looking.
Gus flinched and scowled the moment he heard the first notes of the bard’s lute and would try to find excuses to dump alcohol wherever he was.
I did everything I could to trade jobs with Milly in the kitchen.
Hal and the regulars, on the other hand, thought it a great hoot.
“Here she comes, the Lilly of ivory countenance.”
“So fair to be kissed on the toes!”
“Oy, Lil’, you got one of your ‘glassy angelic looks’ for me?”
“Shit, he’s right, you still got an ass! I thought all the work in the summer would have eaten it off by now.”
“The grace of the moon has blessed earth far too soon! For to swoon!”
“Her hair like shadowed roses at dusk!”
“The next line had something to do with ‘musk’ I just know it. Oy, Lilly! What was the next line?”
I had done more than enough glares, but that only seemed to amuse them more.
“Please, stop,” I asked the bard, who had been making a general menace of himself, not even leaving the inn for a moment. Gus and I had to hide in the attic just to get away from him.
“These are but my words of love to you,” he said, flashing his debonair smile. He tried to make a swipe for my hand but I hid it behind my butt—and would have stuffed them in my boobs if it would have stopped him.
“Words of love my ass, I don’t like you, I hate seeing you, and you’re making my life hell with your stupid songs. Stop or I’m dumping chicken shit on you while you sleep.”
…Yeah, this world had made me a bit harder than I used to be. Or maybe it was the frequent advances of men that had dulled my sense of sympathy for said ‘feelings.’
The bard’s face fell (I didn’t care to remember his name). But any guilt I would have felt was offset by Gus’s happy hoot from behind the bar.
Yet he didn’t stay down. Rather, the bard’s smile turned rather devilish.
“Does this mean I can expect a nighttime visit?”
I shuddered. “Stop.”
“I assure you, it would be a night you wouldn’t forget, even if you did bring a bucket of chicken feces.”
I wanted to barf. “You actually look like you believe what you said was seductive.”
“Tut, I only see this as the makings of our friendly banter. We’ll be doing this long down the road when we’re old with a passel of grandchildren.”
“Yeah, because a useless bard of skin and bone who can hardly feed himself and likes to sleep around with tavern wenches is just the kind of husband I want.”
That one finally seemed to hit him. At least, enough that he didn’t smile or come up with a comeback and I was able to get away without falling to the temptation of throwing his instrument into the fire.
Gus and I tried to get Hal to kick him out, but Hal was too amused by the whole spectacle. Milly was too entertained by hearing it all to stand up for us, though she tried to act the neutral party.
“He pays well and doesn’t bring dirt in. I don’t see what the problem is. He’ll have to move on soon anyway.”
“Says who?” asked Gus.
Hal just shrugged. “Well, they all have so far. Though I could be wrong and he could settle down here for the winter. Wouldn’t that be nice?”
The looks on our faces made him bellow like an elephant with laughter. He was still going when we came back from cleaning the tables, red in the face and smacking his thigh.
It was in this state of misery that Sir Dostuve’s letter came back with a date for our dinner along with the time that a carriage would arrive to pick us up for it.
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