Thursday, August 10, 2017

Flash Friday # 263 -- Dusty & Friends/8

"Do you do it all yourself usually, ma'am?" Dusty asked during one little break where they both sat on stools and sipped cool water from the well out back.  A dull sound of many voices came from the tavern area, but the man who worked out there -- Gus -- kept everything calm.

"Most days.  My daughter seems to have far more important things to do." Happy gave a weary shrug.  "I keep hoping she'll realize that she wants to learn this job so she can run the place, but I suppose when I'm gone she'll just sell it off."

"But you've worked so hard!"

"Yes, I have. But I suppose once I've left this life, I won't much care what happens to the tavern, will I?"  A whisper of bitterness touched her words, and her eyes narrowed. Then she shook her head.  "Well, never mind.  That's a long ways off.  You have taught me one lesson, though, Dusty."

"I have?" she asked, surprised.

"I need to stop thinking about how Anda should be helping me and hire someone to help out.  I can afford it.  I don't need to do everything by myself."

"Oh yes, ma'am.  That would be good."

Later -- much later -- a woman came into the kitchen. She dressed well, Dusty thought, and felt embarrassed by her newly borrowed clothing.  The woman frowned and looked over at Happy who had just brought back an empty tray.

"Who is she?" the woman demanded with a lift of her chin toward Dusty.

"She's the person I've taken on to do the work you won't do," Happy answered -- and she didn't sound very happy, either.  "If you want some dinner, there's still some rabbit stew left and some bread.  You know how to serve yourself."

"You gave her my job?"

"It would only be your job if you did the work," Happy replied.  She took a deep breath and then let it go.  "It's no matter, Inis.  Dusty will only be here a few days.  I do think I am going to hire someone, though.  Just having this child do the dishes has given me time to sit down and rest sometimes.  I never realized how much a little help would be."

Inis stared at her mother, her face gone red.  Then she turned and rushed back out of the room.  Dusty heard her heading straight up the stairs.

"I'm sorry, ma'am," she said when Happy came to dry a few of the newly washed cups.  "I didn't know what to say."

"Best not to have said anything," Happy said and unexpectedly grinned.  "And don't worry about that confrontation.  I learned years ago that Inis is too much like her late father.  You couldn't tell the man what to do, but sometimes you could embarrass him into the right actions.  Inish also realized that if I hire someone else, I won't be paying her for the few times she decides she wants a few coins."

"Oh."  Dusty could not imagine that kind of relationship, but Happy didn't seem to mind.  She supposed that after so many years, Happy had learned how to handle her own child.

The place got busy again, but after another hour it seemed like things were starting to get quiet again.  Happy took food up to her daughter, and since she didn't bring the tray right back, Dusty thought there must be some understanding between the two.  Finally, with the last of the dishes washed and everything put away, Happy brought her a blanket.

"I can't give you a room, I'm afraid.  Booked up tonight.  I'll make sure the doors are all locked.  We have a couple people in the common room, but they shouldn't bother you.  If they do, you just yell out.  I sleep in the room under the stairs.  I'll hear you.  Unless you want to sleep on the floor in there--"

"No, ma'am.  This is fine."

As much as she didn't like the idea of sleeping alone in such a strange place, she also wanted some time with Blue.  By the time Dusty curled on the hearth to sleep for the night, she thought she'd washed more dishes than they had in the entire castle.  Her hands ached, and she'd cut two of her fingers on the sharper knives.

And she'd never been so tired in her life.

She'd only had a couple chances to look in on Blue.  Once she slipped him a piece of apple that had fallen on the floor, but Happy came back soon afterward so they couldn't say much.  Happy worked very hard over the hot stove and Dusty thought she had the easier of the jobs -- but it had been hard work.

Dusty pulled the little bag closer to her and laid her head down on the crook of her arm.  They had light enough from the banked fire, and she thought the blanket might make a better pillow since she was so warm.

"Blue?" she whispered.

The little dragon darted to the edge of the opening and peeked out, his head turning nervously to the left and right.  "Safe?" he asked.

"Safe for the moment, but be ready to rush back in if anyone comes close.  Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes," he agreed.  He even sounded happy.  "Much better than the orc's wagon.  It bounced so much all the time that I could barely sleep.  I rested all day.  And the food was better, too!"

"Are you still hungry?"

"No," he said.  He put his little long-nailed hands on her arm.  "You worked very hard.  I could see through part of the cloth where it had worn thin.  You should sleep."

"You stay hidden.  We'll have a chance to leave soon," Dusty said.  She yawned and closed her eyes....

She thought of nothing until she awoke again to the building rumbling and shouts.  And earthquake!  She looked around, frantic --

No, not an earthquake. The yelling was not from humans.

The orcs had returned!

997 words

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