by Nathaniel Lee
The door creaked open, spilling smoke and sullen firelight out into the darkness. The slender
youth, blondish and pock-marked, slipped inside. After a moment, the flow of conversation
resumed, a constant undercurrent of sound. This inn - the Sheps Hedde - was a popular stop
along the King's Highway, standing at the conflux of three major roads and supporting side
businesses and a half-dozen cottages with the steady flow of custom.
Handel, the barman, tucked a pair of half-pennies into the pouch at his waist and turned to regard
the boy as he approached. The young man had the look of a servant of some kind, though he
wore no livery or sigil. Clean and healthy, at least, if a bit old for squiring or apprenticeship.
"Yuh?" Handel said by way of greeting.
The boy blinked pale green eyes at him, the color of mown grass. "My master, Sir Timor,
requires lodging for the night. He begs a small room and four stalls in the barn." With a clink,
the boy set down a golden sovereign on the bar. Handel tried not to choke; the coin was enough
to rent every room in the ramshackle two-story building.
"He has a fair . . . a fair few horses, eh?" Handel's voice was unsteady, but his hands made the
coin disappear with barely a whisper of motion.
The boy shrugged. "Don't get too excited. You'll probably need the extra coin for the repairs."
He headed for the door again. "I'll get him settled, and then I'll come back for his meal. Get
some vegetables in it; I'm sick to death of meat."
"Wait!" Handel had accommodated a few Knights and would-be Lords in his day, and this was
not going according to the pattern. "He's staying in the barn?"
"It's an oath. Very important." The boy met Handel's gaze with a painstakingly guileless
expression. "He doesn't like to be disturbed. There's another full sovereign in the morning if
you can find us a spare sheep. A good plump one, for preference." The boy blinked. "Burnt
offerings to the Lord, you know."
Handel coughed. "I think something can be arranged," he said in a strangled voice. "Er . . . who
should the boy ask for when he comes out?"
"Call me Draco," the youth said and departed back into the night.