--Chapter Eighteen: Peadston Tale

No one else came for the rest of the day, so at dinner, only Asmir and the townspeople showed up. This turned out to be a communal and almost formal gathering that hardly fit the tavern setting at all. At first, though, Asmir and Roth (one of the stable workers) carried most of the conversation. Roth was impressed by Asmir’s steed, so these two men had a time of discussing equine various subjects, from breeding to battle performance.

Isa never had thought much of horses; they stank, were difficult to care for (as opposed to cats, her favorite pet by default), and the one time she tried riding on one as a child, she thought it was very uncomfortable. Still, she knew Roth took horses and their breeding very seriously, so if he said this steed impressed him, then it must really have been quite the horse indeed.

The more Isa heard Asmir talk, the more she liked him. The rasp in his voice and his scar, she could now deduce, had come from the same injury: a wild strike of a sword across his face and neck. The weapon had caught him in the cheek and swung down through part of his throat. This injury must have been fairly recent, too, since some signs of infection on the throat meant he had not fully healed yet. A man in that condition probably should not have been so quickly traveling on the road. But if he sill needed time to recover, then why was he in such a hurry to go and see the country? Isa made note of this and later, when they had a moment to themselves, she asked him.

Everyone else had left for the evening to get a good night’s sleep. Isa took upon herself the duty of cleaning up after dinner, and Asmir, to be polite (and because he had nothing better to do), stayed to help her.

They talked casually at first, but eventually Isa brought up the scar and said he should really let that heal before doing much more traveling.

Asmir followed her into the kitchen and set the plates in the sink to be washed. “Oh, it’s just hard to keep me away from the road for long, that’s all.”

“Seems to me almost as if you’re running from something,” said she, dropping the dinner utensils in the sink as well. The water glasses were still on the table; she would get them later.

Asmir sighed. “Yes, I guess it does seem that way, doesn’t it? I’ve been told that before, actually. I don’t really think of it as running away, though.”

“Oh? Then what do you call it?”

“I don’t know...” He leaned against the counter and said, “My village was one of the last Desdon attacked in the war. We lost a few people in the battle—some very close friends of mine, in fact. None in my family were hurt, fortunately, except for me. This was about three fortnights ago.

“There were no friars in our town after the battle, I suppose because by then all the healers were headed south to deal with the aftermath of Incria’s final assault, the one which would go on to end the war. So in Peadston, we were forced to fend for ourselves, more or less, after we won against the invaders. We had one local apothecary caring for over fifty wounded, myself included. We ran out of medicine, which is why my wound has not healed completely as it should.

“As soon as I was at least able to withstand the pain, I stopped accepting any help from the apothecary; there were too many other people who needed assistance more than I did.

“Damaging as the war was, we still managed to get everything in the town back in working order in only a fortnight. Other than the few people lost, who of course we could never replace, everything was back to normal. Some people from other towns were already talking about how in future years, this would on the whole be considered a very minor battle—if that, even—and to anyone but the residents of Peadston, it would have no major significance at all.

“That’s when I decided to leave again. I don’t really know that I was running away from anything in particular; I simply wanted out. I was sick of the war, and I didn’t like thinking about a town I’d fought to save as being ‘insignificant.’ Imagine if someone said that about your village—that just because it had so few people in it, those people were inherently less important than those living elsewhere... That’s what I couldn’t stand.

“Also, my family was getting along fine without me, and I knew I would have to leave again at some point. Better sooner than later.”

Isa walked past him to go back to the main room so she could grab the glasses and thus clear the rest of the long table.

“I see,” she said, knowing he would follow her. “You should still do something about that infection, though. Maybe Roth has some horse liniment to help the healing. You can ask him or whoever is tending the stable in the morning... Might be Jhaddel.”

“Horse liniment?” he said. “Hm, I never would have thought of that. I’ll ask, then. Thank you.”

Isa smiled. “You’re welcome.” She picked up four of the glasses (two in each hand, all held by her fingers pinching the rims), and he took care of the rest.

When they had finished clearing the table and stood in the kitchen, he asked, “Does my face really look that bad?”

In her most neutral tone of voice, Isa answered, “It looks like it will get better with time.”

Asmir nodded. “I hope so,” he said. “Because to me it looks terrible.”

Isa kept silent. She would not touch that one.

“Listen,” said he. “I thought about what you said, that I should get more rest before traveling.”

“You do look better after your afternoon nap,” said she. And it was the truth.

“I think I’ll stay here a few days, then. I have more than enough money for the hotel and meals...”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Isa.

The two parted ways when they left the tavern. Isa walked into her house only to find her mom waiting, sitting on the steps. Isa did not know for sure what was coming, but she could guess...

“So what did you think of him, dear?”

...And as it turned out, she guessed correctly.