Down to the wire on this project, and I appreciate all the support we’ve been getting here. So, to reward you for helping spread the news and contributing to the project, I’m posting another snippet from For a Few Gold Pieces More, this time from the sixth story, “Pearls of Water”.
As I’ve said, I wanted to introduce people to folktales and fairy tales that were either lesser known ones, or variants from other countries. This story, while set in my own world, takes its genesis from the Swan Maiden, but this particular story is based on a Chinese Legend of a prince who not only marries a swan maiden, but has to travel through fantastic lands to find her when she is driven off by a jealous suitor.
Now, no one’s going to mistake my rogue for a prince, but he too has to help find a wife who’s fled against unjust charges to help keep the peace in this kingdom–albeit much against his better judgement and will.
So, here’s the opening scene to “Pearls of Water”:
The town of Karakuhm was strangely quiet as Yuki and I entered. The lone guard at the main gate waved a bored hand at us as we rode through. It had been a long ride, and we were searching for an inn to spend the night. Eventually, we found something that looked like it wouldn’t collapse in the middle of the night and dismounted. In the distance, we heard the rumble of an angry crowd. It didn’t seem to be moving our direction, so Yuki and I exchanged glances, and I shrugged before entering the inn. An old woman stood behind the bar, wiping the counter with a rag dirtier than the bar was. I resolved to find my meals elsewhere.
“And a good day to you too, ma’am. We’re looking for a room and some information.”
She grinned, showing off all eight of her teeth. “Rooms is five silver pennies a night. Information’s a tad more expensive. You gonna want two rooms or just one?”
For five silver pennies, I could have slept in the best rooms of the Empire, but we weren’t in the Empire any longer. Luckily, we had successfully tracked down a lost treasure hoard in the Kaladhar Mountains, so the price wasn’t the issue. The issue was trying not to look like we could easily afford it. No sense in her alerting her “friends” she had rich travelers staying with her.
I glanced around the inn with a disapproving look. “Five silver pennies. I guess that’s not a bad price for a week.”
“You deaf or something, sonny boy? I said five silver pennies a night.”
I eased a chair out from under a table and gingerly sat on it, praying it wouldn’t collapse. “Madam, I’m afraid you’ve confused us with nobility or something. Where would I come up with that kind of money?”
“T’ain’t no concern of mine. Ther’s enough people in town that’ll take the room if you don’t want it. Towns done full up of visitors.”
Yuki moved forward, putting on her best smile. “I heard a commotion when we arrived. What’s got everyone so excited?”
She fixed her one good eye on Yuki before responding. “You ain’t heerd? Shoot, it’s the prime minister. Claims he got word our army was defeated four days from here. Says the Jakali army will be here any day now. Folks coming from miles around trying to find out if it’s true and what the king’s gonna do about it. The prime minister, he’s claiming that our boys was betrayed and that the prince’s wife is the one that done it. Said she’s a foreigner and she’s got no love for this here kingdom.”
Yuki glanced around as if frightened. “So you’re saying it’s not a good time to be in town if you’re a foreigner?”
The landlady looked Yuki over with a mixture of envy and disdain. “Honey, ain’t no one gonna mistake you for a Jakali, especially with that hair. Your companion smells too good, so he probably ain’t a Jakali either. However, the prince’s wife—probably his widow if he fell with the troops—now, people says she’s from Barhon or points east of there. They’ve always been tight with the Jakali. Prime minister was ag’in the prince marrying her, but the king and queen was always soft on him. Let him do what he wants. Now see what he’s got hisself into.”
I spoke up then, “What do you think?
The landlady looked at me in surprise. “What do I think?”
I leaned forward, a conspiratorial tone in my voice. “You seem to be the type who’d know which way the wind was blowing here in Karakuhm. I wager you know a lot more than those guards we met. Just good business sense to keep your ears open.”
She grinned, obviously enjoying being the center of attention. “You ain’t as dumb as you look, sonny.” She checked to make sure no one was hanging around the doorway before returning to the bar. “Now, t’ain’t neighborly to spread gossip, but I don’t think the princess is guilty. She’d have to be an incredible actress to pretend to be that much in love with the prince and then send him off to go get slaughtered. Nope…” She paused long enough to spit on the bar before wiping it some more. “I think there’s more going on ’round here than normal. But you didn’t hear that from me.”
I swallowed my bile and kept my smile firmly affixed. “Hear what from who?”
“You know, I kinda like you, Bright Eyes. Call it four silver pennies and I’ll even throw in some fresh linen.”
“Done and done. I think we may just see what’s going on once we see the room.”
I think we can safely say, this is no four-star hotel he’s staying at for the night. *grin*
We’re down to the last push. Here’s to bringing this home successfully.