--Chapter Twenty-six: A Friend Returning
A few fortnights later when spring arrived, on the day before The Windmill Road would expect the traders and merchants to hold their first meeting of the year, a middle-aged man stopped by for the dinner hour. This would not have been anything unusual in and of itself, so when Isa went to serve him at the bar, at first she did not think anything of it.
“Hello, and welcome to the Windmill Tavern. What can I get for you this evening?”
“Hi, Isa. Ale and some meat, whatever’s your best today.”
So the man knew her name. Well, that was not so uncommon; many of the more frequent travelers were much better at remembering names than was Isa... but usually, Isa could at least remember faces if they stopped by so often, and Isa could not tell if she had seen this man or served him before. He had dark hair and a neatly groomed beard, and he looked to be in his early thirties—Isa could use the exact same description for thirty percent of the tavern’s male customers, though, so still she could not place him. Oh well...
She went and gave the dinner order to Harro, who was working the kitchen. Then Isa poured the ale into a glass (if the man wanted a pint, he would have to ask for it) and said, “Here you go,” as she handed it to him.
“Ah, thank you,” said he. “I don’t suppose you remember me.”
And I don’t, Isa thought.
“I recognized you by your dress. I made that dress years ago.”
Isa was wearing her informal blue dress, the one she purchased almost six years ago from... Oh, she could but vaguely remember. It was on the tip of her tongue, though.
“My name is Garroner,” the man volunteered at last as he smiled. “Glad to see you’ve been able to get some use out of the clothes, by the way.”
“I’m sorry,” Isa said. “I’m trying to remember... You sold me the dresses because you were going away somewhere, right?”
He nodded. “I went west. There were four tailors on the trade route that year, and I was the unfortunate odd man out, so I set off for Pril.”
“That’s right,” said Isa. “Now I know who you are. So how did that go?”
“Pril?” Oh, better than I had hoped, that’s for sure.”
“Did you sell a lot of clothes?”
“Not of the ones I had originally brought, no. But when I got there, it was the weirdest thing: I found out that several of the ship crews out there needed a tailor, and in all of Pril, there was only one master of that trade—and he died of old age the previous winter! So for a full season, I used fabric from the clothes my family and I made, plus my stitching tools (which I never leave home without), and I fixed up all these seafarers’ uniforms. Made some very good money at it, too. I had to get back home before autumn so my family would not worry more than they had to, and as soon as I told them about the opportunity in Pril, they practically jumped at the news, and we moved to the great mysterious city of the West. Sure the people there were not the nicest in the world, but they paid well and kept to themselves, mostly. We’ve lived there ever since.
“This year, my eldest daughter is trying to run the trade route, just as I did in the old days. I think it will be a good experience for her, so long as she uses her common sense and caution on the trip. You will probably see her here tomorrow. I’m traveling ahead of her so I can make sure she stays safe; one never knows what could happen, what with the war going on and all.”
Isa’s eyes opened wider. “The war?”
“Yes, you know... Out in the East. I had to maneuver many times around towns facing siege and such. I don’t want my daughter to get caught up in any of that violence.”
Isa laughed and said, “Oh, you won’t have to worry about that.”
“Have you seriously not heard?”
“Heard what?” Garroner looked very confused.
“The war ended five years ago. Incria won.”
“Oh...” He took a sip of his drink and then said, “Well, I should still probably go with her. I mean, there could be robbers on the road or something. You never know.”
“That’s true, fair enough,” said she. “I can’t believe it, though. How do you not hear about the biggest event in Aren Country’s history for five full years after it happened?”
“Got me there,” said Garroner as he took a bigger gulp this time. “I’d have to say that Pril is really that isolated, though. Who would travel that far west and then, knowing they were in Pril, actually talk about world matters enough to mention the war ending?”
“Wow... I knew that city was something else, but... I had no idea, did I?”
“Out of curiosity, and on a different subject, I don’t suppose you would be able to tell me if my daughter is wasting her time with this trip to the traders’ meeting. Are there still four tailors, including her?”
“I couldn’t say,” Isa answered. “But I do know that two springs ago, there was a man whose name started with a... ‘B,’ I think? He was the only one then. My mom got a very warm sweater from him.”
“That’s likely it.”
“Oh yes. He’s a good friend. Glad to hear he’s still doing well. With any luck, I’ll be able to catch up on things with him, too.” After a pause, he added, “There must be so much I’ve missed out on, if even the end of the war has not gotten through to Pril.”
Again he changed the subject. “How have you been, by the way?”
“Oh, I can’t really complain.” She yawned. “Except for the long days lately, plus that I wanted to get married, but I can never find the time to get away for that, plus all the usual work... Overall, I’ve done fine, though. I just wish I could get a break—even a little one.”
Garroner nodded. “We all have those times. Don’t worry; I’m sure that day will come. Meantime, though, best wishes, if I may say so.
Isa smiled. “Thank you,” she said.
The tailor continued, “It’s funny what life throws at you sometimes, you know? The unexpected high points and low points... they happen for everyone, too. It’s so odd when it happens that some people think of it as fate. But then you look back on it years later, and you realize how much of it was not merely what happened to you, but also how you affected the lives of others as well as yourself...
“You may have had some trouble remembering me, Isa, but I remembered you right away. And how could I not? You singlehandedly kept me in business one day, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Thank you.”
Isa did her best not to blush; she was not altogether successful. “The dresses have been very nice,” she said.
Harro called from the kitchen to say that the requested meal was ready. Isa brought it out and handed the plate and some utensils to Garroner. More customers cam in at that instant, so Isa went to serve them. She noted that Till was late for his shift tonight. This left her as the only server for the dinner crowd... She was still very busy by the time Garroner left for the night to go to his hotel room.
Till did arrive later and apologized for his tardiness. Isa warned him not to be late tomorrow when the traders came. The tavern would need its full staff for that event, and if even one person could not make it, that would put far too much strain on everyone else. Till knew this and promised not to be late again.
The next day, he proved he was a man of his word. Even Essa showed up after having left the children with her parents for the day. Ewen, who by now felt much better than she had a few fortnights ago, helped Harro in the kitchen, and for one day, the tavern worked with a staff of six, exactly as had happened in years gone by.
More traders arrived than Isa was sure had ever come before, and for the first time in the Windmill Tavern’s history, the place ran out of seats midway through the evening. Some groups, like the wool traders, were content to take their meals back to the hotel and discuss matters there. Others stood outside and only ordered drinks. Others waited for later when seats inside would clear out.
For the staff, this meant constant work. Isa saw Garroner talking with Bryar, and she noticed there were not other traders—Garroner’s daughter, a pretty young brunette, was the only other person at their table—but Isa had no time to talk with them before they left.
The next morning, the whole staff would be back for breakfast—as would the patrons, no doubt. Exhausted but confident she could get through this, Isa awoke early to set up the tavern before the opening at sunrise. Assuming Jinn had done her usual decent job of cleaning the place last night, there would not be too much for Isa to do except start pumping water into clean pots for later use in cooking, make sure the dishes were all ready, start a fire in the fireplace, light the torches on each wall, check the inventory for ingredients so she could determine if any items had to bee crossed off the menu...
She was running through this list in her head when she stepped outside into the cold morning and saw a cart standing in the middle of the road. A man and woman stood beside it and waved for Isa to come over. In the light of the moon and stars, Isa saw that these people were none other than Garroner and his daughter.
“If I do remember correctly,” Garroner said, “Isa here takes the same dress size as you do, dear.”
“Well, that makes this easy,” said his daughter. “I have just the thing, then.”
She reached into the pile of clothes gathered in the cart and pulled out a white dress. Isa could not see its features perfectly given the current light, but the sash and length meant it would have to be a very formal dress, if not a gown...
And then Isa gasped as she figured it out.
“This is a wedding dress,” said the tailor’s daughter as she handed it to Isa. “I know they’re not too common in country weddings, but in the cities, they’re very popular. I made this one myself, except for the lace work; that was Dad’s.”
Isa could barely speak. “How much is it?” She would have to run back inside her house to get money, but whatever this thing cost, she would be willing to pay for it.
“Consider it a gift,” said Garroner. “One act of kindness deserves another, after all.”
“I... I don’t know what to say... Thank you so much...” She hugged them both and said, “I’ll be sure to wear it... Thank you...”
After some warm parting words, Garroner and his daughter left for the East. Isa might have had a hard time remembering Garroner before, but she knew she could not forget him now. Friends, it seemed, acted much like Garroner had described life: they came through in the strangest and most unexpected ways sometimes...
Asmir and the other villagers admired the dress when Isa displayed it for them later that day, after the traders had all left. It really was a beautiful gown; the only flaw was that the sleeves were a bit too long. Isa knew enough about stitching to shorten these herself, though, so it did not make any difference in the long run.
“We can’t possibly hold the wedding off any longer now,” said Ewen. “You’ve got to get married while that dress yet looks good on you!”
“But what about the tavern?” said Isa. “Things are going to get very busy soon.”
“Oh no you don’t,” her mother said. “All of us, you included, have waited far too long for this day to come, and we can’t delay it any more. We’re going to take a trip to Ableridge where they have the big elf cathedral, and you’re going to get married as soon as possible. And I don’t want to hear any of this ‘common sense’ nonsense about how we have to be working the tavern on your big day. All of us are going with, and that’s the end of it.”
Though Ewen’s words were commanding, her voice remained cheerful. Still, Ewen never had been the type of woman to be denied, and she clearly would not be denied now.
Asmir and Isa married two fortnights later. The only reason the wedding did not take place sooner was so that Asmir’s relatives in Peadston could make it for the event. Because the wedding took place in Ableridge, word got out among the elves and gnomes beforehand that a friend of Diamo (now famous throughout the woodland) was getting married. Because of this, the crowd was huge. This amazed Isa greatly; many faces, of all the different races of Aren Country, looked on with the same excited expression as did Isa’s own parents.
Isa did recognize a few faces here and there... Little Gimble the gnome, for example, she recognized immediately. Diamo was there, too. As were some traveling friars, whose faces looked so familiar, Isa could only assume they were the same healers as had been to her town six years ago when Crispo arrived.
All of these people and more bade the newlyweds a fond farewell on their honeymoon, which was to be in Quennebur. As Isa and Asmir sat in their cart, which rolled to the northern end of the Windmill Road, Isa leaned against her husband’s shoulder and sighed.
“Everything alright, dear?” said Asmir.
“I’ve never been this far from my home before.”
“Oh. Well, if it’s any comfort, I’ve never been as far as Quennebur. I wonder what it will be like?”
Isa smiled. “There’ll be a beach and low, rolling waves. There’ll be white buildings and golden sand. The sun won’t be warm this time of year, and the water will be very cold, but it should at least be peaceful.”
Asmir looked at his wife and asked, “If you’ve never been to this place before, then how come you know so much about it?”
“I’ve heard stories,” she said, “from Essa and Till and others who have been there. And everyone who describes the place says the same things... except for the prophets. So I’m pretty certain I know what it’ll be like.”
Asmir laughed, but that was all. Nothing more needed to be said.