The Bowdancer Saga continues in The Wayfarer’s Road. Healer Jan-nell, now a woman traveling alone with her precocious young daughter on the Wayfarer’s Road, meets a handsome wandering bard. But he is carrying his own secrets along with the priceless chance at hope for her and her child to belong.
She clicked her tongue at him. “Did not your mother teach you manners?”
“Obviously, yours did not,” he answered.
The woman stepped back, freeing the sweating man. “My mother had little to do with my education.”
With the staff no longer the focus of his attention, Razlo’s eyes now were level with those of the curly-headed child that clung tightly to the woman. But those eyes were not the eyes of a fearful waif. They were knowing, aware, and held him in contempt. “Have a care raising that one,” the innkeeper mumbled.
The woman switched her staff to her left hand and caressed the little girl’s dark curls, causing the child to look up. The woman smiled down at her, then raised her green eyes to the innkeeper again. “A blanket for the straw, sir. Mira-nell will need protection from the damp.”
Razlo grunted as he struggled to stand, hauling the tray of pie scraps from the floor. Waddling into the kitchen, he muttered, “Unnatural” and “Bold, brazen whore.”
The woman picked up the cloak she had dropped in her encounter with Razlo and shook it into folds, drawing it again about her shoulders. The child pushed away from her slightly and protested. “You promised a bed this time.”
The woman stroked the child’s serious face. “It could not be helped. These civilized folk are more barbaric than the mountain farmers.”
“But it is not fair. To them, women are just―”
“I know,” the woman spoke sharply, and then softened her tone. “It could not be helped.”
“You could have made them change.”
The woman laughed. “Now how could I have done that, wee one? Do you expect me to battle the entire countryside? It is their custom. We do not live here. We are only staying the night.”
“You have not only courage, but good sense,” a man’s voice said at her ear. She turned her head to find a wiry man beside her, dressed in a full-sleeved muslin shirt, a green homespun tunic, matching leggings, and knee-length laced suede boots. An elaborately embroidered strap crossed his chest. From it hung a lute; its rich wood glowed like warm honey.
“And you, friend, must be well-loved here to antagonize the citizenry.”
The man’s thin mustache angled upward in twin arcs as he smiled impishly. “Songsmiths are tolerated. I am considered an addled idler.”
The woman laughed again. “We are well met, friend. I am called Jan-nell. Would that I were not so travel-weary, I would trade a verse or two with you. Perhaps tomorrow.”
Cocking his head to one side and causing his brown, wavy hair to cascade over his shoulder, the singer glanced over her petite body. “Perhaps later,” he suggested with a raised eyebrow.
“Perhaps tomorrow,” she said firmly, but with a wry smile. “There is a ban on whores in this hostelry, have you not heard?”
He laughed. “I am known as Khrin.”
Razlo panted up to them with one holey blanket and a lantern. He frowned at Khrin, but said to Jan-nell, “This way, woman.”
Drawing her cloak about Mira-nell once more, she followed the innkeeper out into the rain toward a small shelter in back of the inn. It hardly looked big enough to house a couple of milk cows much less travelers’ horses if the inn was full.
Inside, Jan-nell paced around the four animals tethered on a single rail against one wall. She examined the roof, which seemed solid enough, and the state of the straw, which was dry and not too soiled, though there was precious little of it. She found a place in the back of the barn where the wooden pitchfork and water pails were kept. The child could sleep on one small pile of straw there, but Jan-nell would be hard pressed to find ample room to stretch out her whole body near her. She had spent many a night against the bole of a tree, however, and would probably spend many more. This was at least dry, and the warm, animal smell of the horses was comforting. She dropped her cloak on the straw and turned to the innkeeper while Mira-nell moved into a corner far away from the horses.
“Be gone at first light, woman. I be not having my establishment sullied because of my generosity to a child,” he said.
Jan-nell arched an eyebrow. Before she could form a suitable reply, Mira-nell spoke. “The straw has been well paid for, sir. Generosity did not enter into it.”
“Be still, child!” Jan-nell chided.
Razlo’s eyes widened at the cherubic face that had spoken to him in such a manner. He turned to Jan-nell. “You have worked your will—or your witchery—on that one.”
“Not me I am afraid,” Jan-nell said, gripping her staff as if in anticipation of further using it. “She is burdened by her father’s knowledge.”
Nodding at the child, he warned. “You keep that abomination hidden among civilized folk. It be unnatural.”
“So I have been told,” she muttered and took a step toward the door, trying to herd Razlo out of the barn. “We will not outstay your generosity,” Jan-nell said, stressing the word while looking back at the child. She walked a few steps farther, drawing Razlo with her, away from Mira-nell. “We are grateful.”
Razlo grunted. When he reached the barn door, he handed her the blanket and added, “I be not leaving the light. That one might take great pleasure in burning down my whole livelihood.”
“Indeed, you deserve—” Mira-nell began.
“Hush!” Jan-nell snapped, turning her head slightly but not looking at the child. When she returned to Razlo, he was shaking his head as he closed the stable door.