Updated: Mar 9, 2021
The dim light in the tavern flickered with the glow of the candles as Michael and I entered. Exhausted from our long and stormy overseas journey, we dropped into two seats at a table, and soon a tall woman stood over us. “How may I serve you today?”
Her stunning emerald eyes shifted from me to Michael as she held a round wooden tray flat against her stomach. Her narrow face attempted to smile at us, but the look didn’t reach her eyes. Why? Was something wrong? Had we done something wrong?
She reminded me of a vision I’d had on the voyage here. The water had been unexpectedly rough as we left the Aegean Sea. The captain, an older fellow, told me that it felt like the gods had sent the massive storm to cast us out of Greece. Michael and I didn’t believe in the old gods, we were still questioning this new one everyone was worshipping and paid him no mind. A storm was just a storm. The only thing that unsettled me about that was that for a single moment, I swore I saw an angel flying through the storm, fighting the winds to get to Greece. For a brief moment, lightning illuminated the sky, and I saw her. Then she vanished amongst the waves and I had to focus on not falling overboard.
Michael ordered our meal with a smirk on his face. As the woman walked away and I watched her and took note of the braid in her dark hair.
Michael clicked his tongue as he began to chide me. “We arrived this morning and it seems that you are already in love, Nicholas.”
“She seems familiar.” It would be impossible for her to be the angel I saw, but I still couldn’t help but wonder.
He laughed. “Gorgeous women are everywhere, and you can do far better than some tavern maid. Why not look for something more exotic?”
I turned back around to face him. “Yes, you’re right, because we are doing so well for ourselves right now. After all, we’ve been here half a day and we aren’t wanted for arrest yet! It’s a new record for us.”
He lurched across the table to shush me while eyeing the room for any eavesdroppers. There weren’t any, the tavern was too small and empty for anyone to be keeping any eyes on us newcomers. That was the benefit of visiting a location on the edge of town.
“You know, maybe if you stopped cheating people out of their money, we wouldn’t have to skip town every few months.”
This was answered with more shushing and his eyes indicated something behind me. A second later, the maid returned with two wooden goblets and our meal on her tray. She set everything on the table and returned to her counter at the back of the room without another word.
I clasped my hands on the table. “Well, if you don’t want to talk about that, what would be a favorable topic for you?” I asked.
As my friend’s smirk returned, I realized my mistake. “How about that tavern maid that you couldn’t keep your eyes off of?”
Should have seen that coming. A glance over my shoulder allowed me to see her working away, the forced smile she wore earlier had vanished. “Does she look happy to you?”
“Yes,” Michael tore into a loaf of bread and stuffed his face. “Did you not see her smile?”
“I did.” Maybe I was imagining things and she really was happy, and besides, why did it matter? I didn’t know her and she didn’t know me. We tore into our meal and our conversation moved on to other topics. However, my mind kept reverting back to the thought that the maid wasn’t happy.
It didn’t take long for Michael to figure out I was distracted. “What’s on your mind?” He knocked his goblet against mine, almost tipping it over. My hand snapped over to catch it before it could cause a mess.
“Just go talk to her.” He pointed to make sure I knew who he meant.
Stalling, I took a sip from my drink. “She’s working, I wouldn’t want to bother her.”
Michael made a show of looking around the room. Apart from us, there was only one other customer and he lay passed out with his head on a table.
“If you don’t, I will.” To prove his point, Michael stood and headed for the bar. I hurried after him, years of friendship having taught me that someone needed to keep an eye on him before he caused any trouble.
My friend strolled up to the bar and leaned an elbow against it. “Hey, little lady.”
“Michael,” I growled under my breath. I didn’t want to cause any trouble here.
The woman hesitated for a moment and her shoulders tensed before she looked up with a polite smile and planted both hands on the wooden surface. “What can I do for you, Sir?”
“My friend was wondering if you could join us for a drink.”
My face tightened as I narrowed my gaze at Michael. She was working! I didn’t want to interrupt her. Unfortunately, my reaction only caused his smile to grow and he winked at me. In his mind, he probably thought he was helping.
The woman took a deep breath before she answered, the fake smile still stuck on her face. “I can’t, the owner won’t allow it.”
“Oh, come on.” he reached out and placed his hand over hers. A frown replaced her smile, but Michael didn’t seem to notice. He just continued on. “I’m sure the owner wouldn’t mind, seeing as we’re really your only customers at the moment.”
I had just enough time to notice her other hand dipping beneath the counter before it whipped back out to stab a knife into the bar just a hair away from his arm. Michael yelped at the sudden appearance and fell back into a table, toppling it. He looked up at her with wide eyes.
Extracting the blade from where she planted it, she pointed the knife at him with a steady arm. “I told you, the owner said no, and don’t ever,” she turned to me, the point of the blade nearly touching my nose. “Ever, touch me again. Understood.”
I’d seen a lot of women threaten Michael in the past, but none of them had been this confident or at ease while holding a knife. A chill ran down my spine as if a cold breeze had blown through, but it was just her piercing eyes. My head barely moved to nod for fear of connecting with the weapon in front of me. Her message was loud and clear for me.
For Michael, not so much. “You didn’t even ask him!”
She smirked. “Who said it was a him?”
Michael picked himself up off the floor and rubbed his hands on his sides. “Well, that explains a lot. Women shouldn’t own property or a business, they’re too emotional.”
The knife pivoted to focus on him again. “Well, I’ve got news for you. I own this tavern. I make the rules, and I’ve got a new one. Runaway criminals are not welcome.”
Michael’s mouth dropped open before he glared at me.
The woman smirked as her gaze bounced between the two of us. “That’s right, I heard you two talking. I don’t know what you did, but I want you out. You are not welcome here.”
Before I could begin attempting to mend the situation, Michael grabbed the collar of my tunic and yanked me back. “We should leave.”
Turning on him, panic sparked in his eyes. “I told you to leave her alone.” I faced our host once more. “Please, excuse my insufferable friend. He has a way of making people—”
“Want to stab him.” She snarled. “Repeatedly.”
Michael ducked behind me and swallowed loudly.
“Exactly,” I confirmed. Now that she knew it wasn’t anything personal and that Michael was just a fool with his words, she could forgive us and allow us to stay.
“Good, then you understand why I want you both to leave.” She stepped out from behind the counter and towered over us.
Admittedly, I’d hoped she’d reconsider, but seeing the look in her eyes, I knew we didn’t stand a chance of arguing this. This was not a person to be messed with and I refused to entertain any more ideas of trying to stop her.
With Michael rushing ahead, we were herded to the door. A pit formed in my stomach and it suddenly felt like we were back on the boat that brought us here.
Michael hurried off down the road, but I was slow to follow. Of all the things telling me to leave, my heart told me to stay. Something about this woman grabbed my attention and wouldn’t let go. There was a reason she faked her smile and felt like there was a reason why we’d chosen to come to her tavern for lunch.
As she stood in the door frame glaring at me more harshly than the noonday sun above, I apologized again in an attempt to not add to whatever was already upsetting. “I apologize for the trouble we caused and any insult we delivered.”
She stared me down with her arms crossed and I was just about to walk away when she spoke. “At least you have manners. The people here will appreciate that. A word of advice. The people here are awful. If you give them a reason, they will shun you until the day you die. Even if you are a hardworking person who doesn’t want to settle down and start a family just because it is expected of you.”
I blinked at her and she blinked at me, neither of us saying anything. I doubted she meant to say everything she had. This was confirmed by the shocked expression on her face. Without another word, her eyes searched up and down the road before she disappeared back into the building and slammed the door behind her.
I stood on the road, staring at the door. Had the town shunned her for owning the tavern? Michael had done so, so it wasn’t a stretch to think others had as well.
Speaking of the devil, with the woman gone, he finally had the courage to stand beside me again. “Come on, let’s head into town and find an inn.”
I met his gaze and he smirked at me, so I slapped the back of his head. “When are you going to start listening to me?”
He rubbed his head and had the decency to look guilty. “I’m sorry.”
“You should be! I’m tired of having to clean up after your messes. I’m tired of moving from place to place so that you don’t get your head chopped off. I want to settle down somewhere.”
“This isn’t because of that woman, is it?”
My gaze followed his outstretched arm as he pointed at the building in front of us. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. This had all been bottling up for a while. I knew if we kept living life the way we were, it would eventually lead us to our end. We’d come close enough already. How many more close calls would we survive?
“I don’t know,” I admitted, “Remember how the captain said the storm was pushing us out of Greece? What if it was pushing us here for a reason? We could have a fresh start.” It wouldn’t be easy. We hadn’t been on friendly terms with the law for several years. However, I felt ready to give it an honest shot. With a little luck, I could convince Michael to do the same, but it wouldn’t be easy.
Confirming my suspicions, Michael crossed his arms. “And how do you suggest we do that?” He didn’t sound at all keen on the idea.
“For starters, you could apologize to the woman.”
He snorted. “I’d rather live to see another day, now let’s go find an inn.” He draped his arm over my shoulder and guided me further into town.
A few days later, in dawn’s early light, I headed to the docks for a load of coal for the blacksmith I’d begun working under. When I arrived, I found the tavern owner standing on the docks, staring off into the dark western skies above the sea.
I cleared my throat as I approached her. She spun, a challenge gleaming in her emerald eyes, though it dimmed slightly when she spotted me. “What are you doing in here?”
I gestured to the car I pushed in front of me. “The smith is expecting a shipment of coal this morning.”
“So you found work? Do I need to warn the guards about you?”
My head shook so fast it felt like it would fly off into the ocean, never to be seen again. “I’m trying to turn over a new leaf.”
She looked me up and down, paying careful attention to the filthy condition of my once clean clothes. “That’s good. I wish you luck with your fresh start.” She turned back to the ocean, then continued over her shoulder. “And if you did end up stealing from these people, I’m not entirely sure that I would care.”
The more I spoke with her, the more I understood her attitude. The people in this town didn’t care for her, which made business difficult for her, which made her hate them even more. She hated this place so much that she wanted to leave, which begged the question of why she didn’t.
“You really aren’t happy here, are you?” I asked as I came to stand beside her.
She laughed bitterly. “What gave you that idea?”
I looked over at her. “Then why do you stay?”
She didn’t say anything for a long moment and I figured I’d overstepped my bounds, but then she answered me. “This place is the closest thing I have to a home anymore.”
After years of roaming from place to place, the concept of home was a foreign thought to me. I figured there would only be one reason why she called this place home even if she hated it. “Do you have family in the area?”
Her fists clenched at her sides as she looked out to the ocean and the horizon beyond. When her eyes returned to me, they were dulled by all manner of distressing emotions. “Not everyone has the luxury of family and homes, or the ability to return to them.”
“No home and no family?” I asked. “You and I are more alike than you think.”
She shook her head and turned away.
“If you are ever in need of a family—”
She cut me off. “I’m not.”
“Can I at least know your name?”
She sighed and turned to face me. “Spend more money at my tavern, and I might tell you one day.”
“Does that mean I’m unbanned?”
She didn’t say anything, but for a brief moment, I swore I saw the entire spectrum of the rainbow in her eyes as she actually smiled.