the tale so far:
She sat in the corner of the ale house, diffidently listening to their gurgling, drunken speeches. Her fingertips played with the filigree aragon brooch that held together her road-weary cloak. But for that adornment, she might be taken for someone’s servant, lollygagging upon some errand.
She kept her face hidden deep within her cloak’s hood. She might guise herself as man or woman; but her eyes would always betray her, no matter how long her fringe of bangs. Mismatched in shape and size, one icy winter sky blue flecked with silver, the other springtime lilac, speckled with gold. Having spent the better part of a twelvemonth wandering tween the wilding and border lands, she did not wish to risk being caught now.
She sat, letting the weak conversations wash over her. Listening to how people spoke; words used; localities of phrase. At basic communal tables, sided by benches, is how most of the alehouse folks sat. Only she, and another patron across the room, shied from convivial companionship.
He appeared incurious of her; staring thoughtfully down into his cup of ale. He was a scruff; hair and beard ne’er seen a blade; his clothes being rough cut and even more worn than hers. The edge of his upper lip, as could be seen amongst the grizzled hair, was twisted, perhaps pulled by a scar. It was the minutiae of such things as shape of mouth, measured patterns of speech, and sociability which proved the infinite possibilities of observation. Keeping her alive until tomorrow, despite attempts to have it otherwise. But, in truth, the scruff had observed her to the letter; she need not sing aloud about herself.
[and the tale continues . . .]
The alehouse door blew open with an icy blast. The barkeep smiled at the woman who entered. She shook snow off her cloak, and hung it dry on one of the wall pegs.
“Been snow caroling again?” he asked. Grumbling she replied, “I should start storm lilting, singing upward a noel. Perhaps the clouds will toss me ducats. No winter market crowds today.”
When market or long fair was on, she shared one of the “fixed” wooden stalls with several other women, each offering up a different fare. Her artistry was sweetmeats and roasted nuts. But the early arrival of the wintering and bad weather needs changes her planning. She was left to find buyers for her wares among the patrons of town’s inns, alehouses, and shops.
Unless fixated upon the scruff and the cloaked woman, easy to miss the subtle movement each made as the newcomer’s eyes swept the room. The woman drew her face deeper into the hood of her cloak; the scruff settled farther back into the shadows, as if each held an expectation that this gaze, this glance might bring recognition.
“Well, I won’t do fair good with this lot,” she pronounced, turning her attention back to the barkeep. “None here have any taste – elsewise, they’d be elsewhere than in this establishment.”
The barkeep feigned mock distress: “And, to think I was to stand you a fair full cup of the fine westerly wine I have just oped.” “Fine westerly?” she asked teasingly, “Well, now, considering the place, a sure surprise!”
They back and forthed a bit more as she placed her basket on the floor, and shook melting snow off the covering cloth. The barkeep relented, as she knew he would, producing a battered chalice’s worth of wine. She sniffed at it as if expecting a sour smell, and sipped cautiously as if it might contain poison.
“Mattersond,” she declared, raising her chalice, “you have outprouded yourself. Not half-bad. To your health, happiness, and hope,” she toasted. Adding, “And to mine!”
As she stood by the bar, jesting with Mattersond, young men, at varied times, lurched forward, approaching her as if it were another sort of sweetmeat she proffered. Each soon returned to their seats, hopes dashed. And, to the roars and hoots of their companions and neighbours, plopped bags of roasted nuts down upon the table.
Not surprising she would draw such attention here or anywhere. Mistress Sweetmeat had goldish hair, swept back into a loose bun at the base of her neck, with tendrils spilling down her back. She dressed modestly in a beige plain spun smock and full apron. But there were hints of the fine figure beneath. Her brown eyes snapped, her full lips smiled easily. The fine lines around her eyes and mouth could easily be forgiven.
Pensitvity101 TTC word list: mistress, expectation, anywhere; planning; sing; bad; change; dashed; teasing
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