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Chapter 2 - At the Crooked Tail

Wherein Rose works for coin, and Bosra is annoyed.

Bosra pushed Rose into the common room in front of her. 

Bosra didn't know if the pupper had been to the Crooked Tail before. With how shy the girl was as she was pushed into the common room, Bosra reckoned she hadn't. 

"Come. We get a room. We can share. Saves you coin." She'd been where Rose was now, a young adventurer, with no coin to spare, nor a change of clothes. "In Splendor you play and pay me back." 

Rose felt there was nothing she could do but accept. It felt good, having the older, more experienced woman for company. She’d not sensed malintent from her Highlander friend.

Looking around, she thought it quiet for the time of day. In Pinnacle the alehouse would be teeming with life as field workers came in. Here, there were several small stages, all empty,  where one could perform. Those stages were a common thing in traveling inns, her father had told her. 

"Come, Pupper. Food first. Bath second." Bosra took two mugs of ale from the publican, bringing them over to a table by the back wall. These tables, out of the way and a tad more in the shadows, happened to be fuller. People making space to accommodate another pair of traveling folk. 

A serving lad followed with a laden tray of foodstuffs. 

Sitting at the table, with a feast before her, Rose took a sip of the ale and promptly spat it out. 

"Bad, right?" Bosra sat chewing on a piece of dried sausage, relishing the flavor after days of road fare.

"Disgusting." Rose pulled a face and set the mug down far away from herself. "Why would anyone drink this?"

"It's cheap. It's beer." Bosra shrugs. "Food's good." And that was far more important than the quality of the drinks.

Singing quietly under breath, Rose used a little home-taught magic trick to make the drink actually drinkable, doing the same for Bosra as the woman shoved her mug Rose's way. Not one for unnecessary words, the Highlander was. 

"Why are you going to Splendor?" 

"Change of paths. Gonna train monsters for rich folk, ‘s the plan." Bosra stuffed a big hunk of soft cheese into her mouth, licking her fingers clean. "Lost my Buddy on the last adventure. Was a good wake-up call."

"I'm sorry about your... " The question she really wanted to ask was only readable on her face.

"Drake." Bosra chewed, swallowed, washing away the last taste of cheese with some improved ale. "Thought to myself... Don't want to die in some Nightsoul-forsaken hole, joining the living dead instead of killing them. Again."

Rose could understand that. Her father told a similar tale about the reason he quit his adventuring ways and settled down with her mother. 

"Why do you want to go to college? To be an adventurer yourself?"

"No. Yes. Maybe… I just want to get better at what I do. Learn to make a living with it," Rose replied. She patted the case at her side. She'd learned all she could where she’d been at. 

"Are you any good?" A bit of soft bun and rotisserie chicken disappeared into Bosra's mouth.

"I think so. People compliment me on my playing."  Whenever she would do so in Pinnacle, during get-togethers, she usually raised the roof.  

"Then get up and play. Crowd's big enough."

Suddenly, insecurities got the better of Rose. What if she was terrible? What if she dropped her bow? What if she forgot her notes?

Stopping her chewing, Bosra looked at the pupper. A little encouragement seemed in order. "I'd pay to listen to something easy and upbeat right now."

That seemed to do the trick. Rose opened the case and quietly tuned her violin. Not bothering with one of the stages she started to play a joyful melody, keeping her gaze on the table. Since no-one was booing her to a stop, she relaxed into the music, though not to the point where she didn’t notice Bosra setting the open case at the far end of the table. The first cheerful tune was followed by another, followed by a cheeky song. 

Her spirits were lifted by surprise and gratitude as people tossed her coins. 

"One more for the road," she called out cheerfully. The familiar notes of an old song her father used to hum often filled the tavern. There was no need to sing. The crowd knew the words by heart. Boisterous and a little off-kilter the rhyme resounded through their section. 

Bosra's smoky voice joining the others, made Rose smile wider.

"You're good," was Bosra's verdict. Steam clouded up the panes of the simple door to the tiled bathroom. Leaning back in her seat she studied the crude suggestive imagery on the bottom border. It wouldn't be out of place in a brothel. 

"Thank you." Rose kept the linen cloth tightly tied around herself, unaccustomed to sharing a bath. "I didn't think anyone would care that much, really. I can pay my share of room and bath." 

"Keep your coin. We're not in the city yet." There would be more costs. Travel expenses, a room, college fees. 

"You're really friendly, you know."

"As opposed to...?"

Rose looked at her toes in the sudsy water. "Other Highlanders?" She looked up from under her lashes. 

A deep laugh bounced off the tiles. "Have you met many?"

"No?" Rose felt her cheeks warming up in a way that had little to do with hot water. 

"You're not wrong, Pupper."

Rose relaxed, though it was really a non-answer. 

"Besides, I have a use for you. You pay me back, I lose you."

"Oh?" Rose slipped further into the bath, toes playing with some suds on the surface, sheet clasped a little less tightly.

"I need a pretty face to do the talking. I'm good with monsters, not with people," shrugged Bosra. It was almost like the heaving of oxen shoulders as they're trying to get the plow into motion, Rose pondered. 

"Uhm... I can help you get set up, I think." She'd figured she would need a job to help cover costs anyway. Or at least to not scrape by on hollow copper.

"That's settled then." Bosra picked up the soft soap from the bowl and started rubbing it into her braids without undoing them.

On their way from the baths to the bedroom, Bosra dressed in loose fitting pants and an undertunic that was almost sheer, when a wiry looking fellow halted them. Rose had noticed the gold marking on one of Bosra’s shoulders as they were drying off, but hadn’t known what to make of it. Obviously, this dude did. 

“You have the King’s Favour?” he asked, gaze going from Bosra’s shoulder to her face. 

“Nah. Just did him a good turn.” She moved to continue on her way. 

“I know who you are.” The guy followed them down the lit hallway to where the numbered bedrooms started. 

“You don’t.” 

“I do. You’re Golden Bow. Everyone is talking about how you and your crew slew that necromancer up in the Cotts.” He tagged along, jogging to keep up with her larger step. 

Bosra breathed in deeply, fists balled. With controlled rage she loomed over the dude. “You know nothing. I am not here.”

He stepped back, hands up defensively, yellowing teeth separating chin from nose in a huge grin. “Sure. No. Top secret mission. I got it.” 

Bosra snorted, decided he wasn’t worth the effort and continued on her path. 

“I won’t tell anyone you were here!” the little shit called after her. “Except my own crew,” he added in a lower tone that she could just hear as she turned the corner. 

“What was that?” Rose asked quietly, after shutting their bedroom door behind them. They were sharing, for safety reasons. 


Rose frowned. It hadn’t sounded like nothing. “You sure?” she drawled, Fair Fields accent clearly audible. 

Bosra heaved a sigh. “Look, Pupper, I’m out of that life. Don’t need everyone and his uncle to know where I shat last.”

Rose frowned at the rush-matted floor. “I understand, I think. He seemed friendly enough.”

Bosra snorted again. “Reputation, takes ages to build, then you can’t escape it.” 


Three of Cups series cover
At the Crooked Tail episode cover
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Three of Cups

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Seashell Bear
What if life was an adventure? Rose has always wanted to be a bard. A musician who inspires emotions by infusing her song with just a thread of magic. The course seems clear. Attend Bardic College in Splendor, the biggest city in the Realm, and graduate their four-year course. It seems easy enough. Along the way to Splendor, Rose meets Bosra, a grey-skinned giant-kin woman who is leaving her adventuring days behind her. Most adventurers don't retire. They either die as heroes or become villains. She intends to enjoy the fortune she's made in the most luxurious place she knows, the city of Splendor. Valentina, princess, contemplates whether there is more to life than what she is accustomed to, when Bosra and Rose find respite to the coffee shop she spends her free afternoons at. One conversation leads to another, and before she knows it, she's encouraged to step out of her gilded cage. Until those who built the cage come to drag her back. A cozy fantasy story.
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