“Bertoline,” The lanky man replied excitedly. “Bert, c’mon mate you have got to remember.”
Toeryn smiled and laughed, hugging him as best he could with me on his back. “It’d be hard to forget, old friend!”
Bertoline looked between Toeryn and me, his expression curious. He then looked around for something or someone. “Where’s the Missus?” He asked softly, not wanting to offend.
“There isn’t one, Bert,” Toeryn started to explain. “Lyssa is my kid sister. Our parents died a while back and I finally decided it was time to move her away from the family lands.”
“Toeryn!” I exclaimed, appalled that he openly lied about Mother being dead. “That’s not–”
“Lyssa,” Toeryn said firmly. “I know you don’t want to believe the truth, but you must accept it.”
I fell silent, stewing on how the anger I held. Tears well up in my eyes and once more I hide my face in Toeryn’s shoulder. Bertoline must have portrayed it as me accepting the so called reality, when really I was upset with Toeryn lying.
“Say, Bert,” Toeryn said. “Do you know where I might be able to find some work?”
“Hmm,” Bertoline said. I peeked up to look at him; he was thoughtfully stroking his chin. “I think I might know a few people. But you’ll have to come alone. Can you get rid of her?”
“Well I can’t get rid of her, but I can make sure she is in bed for the night.” Toeryn said. I seriously considered biting Toeryn at that point, but rolled my eyes and rested my head on my shoulders. “Lyssa is a big girl; she’s able to take care of herself, for just a few hours. Can’t you, Lyssa?”
“Yes, I can,” I said smartly. “I’ve been on my own before.”
Bertoline laughed softly, mussing my hair. “She’s got fire, in them eyes of her.”
I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, but Toeryn seemed to understand. “That she does. Listen would you like to join her and me for supper at The Empty Barrel?”
“That would be splendid, my good friend,” Bertoline said with a sly smile. “And as a show of good faith, I’ll buy a round of drinks. What would you like miss Lyssa?”
I glared at him and said nothing; there was something about him that made me feel ill. Perhaps it was just my imagination working overtime, but I knew he couldn’t be trusted. Everything about Bertoline screamed caution, and Toeryn seemed to be blind to this.
“I’ll tell you what, Toeryn,” Bertoline began, “You and miss Lyssa go ahead, I have to pick something up and I will meet you at the inn.”
“Alright then, see you in a few.” Toeryn agreed with an equally sly smile. Bertoline moved along the streets, blending into the crowd. Toeryn and I continued our way down the street and to the inn before he set me down.
“Lyssa,” he said taking my hand and leading me up the steps. “You must be on your best behavior, no smart comments, nothing that gives our story away.”
I woke the next morning to find Toeryn passed out in the bed next to mine. I hadn’t heard him come in. The room at all. Sliding from the bed, I shivered slightly as my feet touched the cold wooden floor. I made my bed and dressed quickly in the still too big clothes. Toeryn had left his clothes on the floor, I picked them up and folded them neatly. My eyes spotted a red stain on his shirt, shaking it out to examine it better. The rusty brown color told me immediately what it was.
“Toeryn?” I said shaking him awake. He didn’t respond immediately, so I shook him more violently, my voice filling with panic. “Toeryn!”
It took several attempts to wake him, but he finally did.
“What Ana?” He mumbled. “What’s wrong?”
“There’s blood on your shirt,” I cried “Are you hurt? What happened last night?”
“Nothing happened,” He lied, rolling over. “I’m not hurt, I had a job moving some meat is all.”
I eyed him suspiciously, I could tell he was lying to me. “Oh, okay.” I said unconvincingly.
We lived in the inn for several months, Toeryn always paying for the room weeks in advance. I badgered him about getting a place of our own, but all for nothing. Toeryn left every night and didn’t return until I was well off in my reverie. Every time I approached him about what he did he would tell me it was menial jobs that required hard labor and not something for a girl to do.
“It’s not fair Toeryn!” I shouted at him one evening. “I want to help too! I’m sick of being stuck in the inn all day long.”
“Then go out.” he told me flatly.
And I would just that. The next morning I dressed quickly, tucking my hair underneath a newsboy cap. Toeryn eyed me curiously for a moment.
“I’m going to need some money,” I said softly.
“What for?” He asked.
“Food, some clothing that fits.” I said in return.
“Alright then,” he said pulling out a medium-sized pouch.
Toeryn counted out five gold coin. My eyes widened at the amount, noting my expression he just smiled and placed them into a small brown pouch.
“Don’t lose it,” he told me firmly, handing the pouch to me. “Get what you need and don’t spend it all, Ana. Promise.”
“No,” I replied. “I can’t promise that I won’t spend it all. But I will see about a way for me to earn my own.”
I bolted out of the inn, excited to spend a day in the square. Everywhere the colors were bright and stood out against the thick gray walls. The sun was shining, the cobble shone with wetness from the melted snow. It was cold, but not bitterly so. I weaved my way down the roads looking at all the stands, looking for one in particular. It wasn’t there like it had been when we first arrived. Perhaps he moved on. I continued on through the square, looking at the items that each merchant had, purchasing a few trinkets, then located the tailors. The tailor had clothing sitting out on tables, carefully I looked through them.
Later that evening I returned to the inn with my coin purse containing only a few coppers. I had disposed of the ill-fitting clothes and wore my newer ones back to the inn. Not even stopping to say hello to the innkeeper and Meg, I bounded up the steps two at a time, eager to get into the bedroom and hide my goodies.
A year had passed since we had been there and living in the inn. Several murders of high positioned aristocrats were targeted The city officials couldn’t find who had done it and that’s when the Knights of Stonebridge showed up from Halde to investigate. There had been a series of murder that were all too much alike, and in a small city like this, they were hardly unnoticeable. I had been working with Meg and keeping the inn tidy, her father, paid me two silver and five coppers every other week. Toeryn had told me that he was working with Bertoline down at the docks, unloading ships and cargo. Each night he came home with a full coin purse
“You lied to him and told him our parents were dead!” I said in a loud whisper. “Why did you do that?”
“We have to pretend Mother is dead to protect her,” he told me. “Do you want Grandmother to hurt Mother?”
“No.” I said shaking my head. “But I don’t like lying about it.”
“It will be alright,” Toeryn said comfortingly. “Bert will take care of us, he’ll get me some work and we’ll have a place of our own in no time. I promise.”
I should have realized then that was the start of many broken promises that Toeryn made me. The inn was common at best, tables scattered throughout the common room, and a bar right in the center. Stew and bread as well as ale and other liquors filled the air. Toeryn picked out a table near the bar, as I climbed into the chair; I realized that none of the chairs matched. It added to simplicity of The Empty Barrel. Bertoline returned a quarter of an hour later. In his hands, he carried a small wrapped object, as Bert sat down he placed the small item in front of me.
“A truce, miss Lyssa,” he said to me as I eyed the object suspiciously. His voice, oily as he spoke. “I will do anything to get a little girl to smile.”
I opened the small package and giggled happily. It was a little iced cake in the shape of a fairy. What caught my attention the most was the jeweled charm that was sitting on the top of the cake. It was a tiny crystal in the shape of a blooming rosebud. The light of the candle reflected off the many facets, making it sparkle. Carefully I picked it up and examined it.
“Bert, you shouldn’t have done that,” Toeryn said. “You’ll have her spoiled in no time.”
“It was nothing, I swear,” Bertoline chuckled, as he produced another small package. “Miss Lyssa, in this one is a bracelet in which the charm can go on.”
“Thank you very much,” I said softly as I opened the box, removed the plain silver link bracelet and placed the charm on it. I looked up and made a huge effort to smile at him. I still didn’t trust him.
“Ah, you’re most welcome,” he said with an oily smile that churned my stomach. “Anything for a petite lass like yourself.”
That night after Toeryn left me in the care of the inn keeper’s daughter, Meg. She was a nice lady. Her eyes were slanted upwards slightly and were the clearest blue I had ever seen. Long blond hair fell pass her waist in a waterfall of curls. Meg’s skin was warm, rich, peaches and cream tone. She dressed in a simple brown dress and white waist apron.
“Well miss, what would you like to do tonight?” She asked me, after she finished brush my hair. I had just gotten out of the bath; the cotton night gown was warm against my skin. Meg had helped me with my hair, even getting a pair of scissors to straighten the jagged edges my hair was left in from when I had cut it myself. “There ya go miss, now you don’t look too much like a boy.”
“Can we play Wari?” I asked, looking in a small hand mirror at my hair. It was up to my chin and shortened more in the back. She had taken the front of my hair and cut a fringe. I shrugged a bit; there wasn’t much I could do about my hair, except wait for it to grow back.
Wari was a counting game I used to play with the staff in the kitchen back in Meadow Brook. The object was to take color stones, or baubles and move them, one by one, around a wooden board that had six small cups and two reservoirs. The person to fill their reservoir first won. It was an easy game that kept us occupied for hours on end.
While Meg was out of the room, I moved over to the window and looked out over the main square. Some where in the street there was arguing, a cat screeching, and a few dogs barking. Just below me were a woman and a man. She giggled as the man pressed her against the wall and kissed her bosom. Blushing I moved away from the window, pulling the shutters closed as I did.