The inn loomed up out of the receding sunlight. The sign hanging over the door had the words “Rosebud Inn” engraved into the pieces of wood that made it was made of. On either side of the door rose bushes were planted, beginning to succumb to the coming chill of the winter months. The building itself was a sturdy brick structure with wooden window covers. The wind was starting to pick up and Nathaniel’s body shook with each cold gust.
Nathaniel tied his horse, Umbra, to the post out front, hoping to get the poor beast into some warmth before the chill got any worse. Patting the horse on his nose, he stomped his feet in hopes of returning some feeling to them and turned toward the door. It was a massive oak masterpiece, roses carved all around the edges, and it opened with a low creak. Warmth escaped from the building and he welcomed the feeling around his chilled body.
He moved inside, the floor creaking with every step. The place wasn’t crowded, just a few farmers seated near the fireplace talking to each other and sharing a pitcher of beer. There was a bar across the room with two grizzled men sitting several seats away from each other, heads downturned and empty glasses next to them. Nathaniel’s brown leather boots were a sharp contrast to the worn wooden floor below him. There were obvious marks in the floor from where chairs and tables had been moved over the years. Rubbing his hands together to force some feeling into the appendages, he made his way toward the bar and the man located behind it.
The portly, grey-haired man was cleaning a glass while keeping his eye on the farmers by the fire. Taking note of Nathaniel’s fine clothing, the man perked up a bit and said, “My name’s Abe and I’m the owner of this here establishment. What can I do for you, fine sir?”
“I need a room for the night Abe. And I’ll require a warm place for my stead.”
“It’ll be five silver coins for the night and that’ll include tea tonight and breakfast tomorrow. My boy will take your horse out back. He’ll give him a good rub down, hay, and some fresh water from our well.”
“That’s sounds fine Abe,” Nathaniel reached into the small, drawstring bag at his waist and grabbed the requested five silver coins. “Here you go Abe. Now I’ve been on the road all day and find myself ready for a warm bed. Where can I find my room?”
“I’ll have the wife take you up there. Rosalie! I have a gentleman here who’s ready to be taken to his room. The blue room if you please, Rosalie.”
Rosalie strode through the door behind the bar, wiping here hands with a dish rag. Her dirty blond hair was pulled up in a simple braid and her clothes, while worn, were spotless. Rosalie had a round, rosy, face with kind blue eyes. “No need to bellow dear. I can hear you just fine through the door.” Turning to Nathaniel she said, “Up to the blue room we go. Did you need anything else, sir?”
“If you would send tea up in a bit, I find myself ill-suited for company tonight. And my horse will be taken care of?”
“Of course, sir. And I’ll send the boy out back as soon as I get you settled. Blasted boy needs to earn his keep.” She led him up the stairs, muttering about the laziness of the boy the whole time. After they reached the top of the stairs, she led him down the hallway to a room with a small plaque on it that said, “Blue Room”, in childish handwriting. When Rosalie saw Nathaniel looking at the plaque, she smiled and said, “My daughter painted that a couple years back. Insisted we had to call this the blue room. That was always her favorite color. She passed away last year. That horrible fever that went around.” Rosalie’s voice got more choked as she went on and her eyes were a bit watery at the end.
“Well I’m sorry to hear that. My condolences.”
“It’s okay. We’ve moved up as best we can. Learned to count our blessings and all. Except for that damn boy. Can’t get him to do anything.”
“Well I think I’ll turn in for the night. Thank you for all your help Rosalie.”
“Of course sir. Have a good night and breakfast is served from seven to ten tomorrow morning.”
He settled into the room, which contained very little. A bed, lumpy but clean, with a small stack of pillows and blankets placed on the end and small table and mirror. The table held a pitcher of water for him to wash his face with. There was a fireplace off to one side of the room along with a pile of firewood. The fire was lite and the room had a warm and cozy feeling. After he ate, Nathaniel stripped to his long johns and fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The morning sunshine flowed through the window beside his bed. Nathaniel wasted no time getting ready for the day, merely splashing some water on his face and slipping back into his clothing. As he didn’t bring much into the inn, there wasn’t much for him to grab on his way out. Making his way downstairs, he was greeted by Rosalie and told to sit wherever he liked for breakfast. The food was a simple but filling breakfast of porridge, eggs, and toast. There were a few other people in the main room with him but they all kept to themselves. When he finished eating, Nathaniel made his way across the creaking floors to Abe, who was standing behind the bar.
“Good morning, sir. Hope you slept well last night and that breakfast was to your liking”
“Everything was wonderful Abe. But I must be heading out. My horse is in the stable?”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll have my boy saddle him up for you and bring him round front.”
“That won’t be necessary, I don’t mind stabling the horse myself. The stables just round back?”
“If you insist, sir. I know the boy could do it. He doesn’t do much well but he can saddle a horse. But you were going to do it yourself. The stable is round back. Head out the front door and make your way out back. You can’t miss it.”
Nathaniel made his way to the stable with ease. It was a good sized structure with large wooden doors, opened to the sunlight. Rosalie was in front of it, standing with a boy who couldn’t be more than fifteen years old. As he got closer, Nathaniel saw that her kind face was bright red and the boy had a tinge of fear in his eyes. As he walked closer he was able to hear what she was saying to the boy.
“You stupid boy, thinking you can steal from me. We feed you, we clothe you, we keep you safe and warm and this is how you repay us? I should throw you out on the streets for your disrespect!” Her voice rose as she went on and the sound of her hand hitting the boy’s face echoed across the yard. Although her slap was forceful, the boy didn’t not move an inch more than he had to. Her arm reared up for another blow but the boy still stood strong.
Nathaniel quickened his steps to reach them. “Rosalie. What’s going on?”
“This blasted boy stole from me. I caught him red handed with one of the meat pastries I made for lunch in his hand. I feed the stupid child well but he never thinks it’s enough. This is the third time I’ve caught him stealing in as many weeks.”
“I can take care of him for you if you’d like. No need for you to waste your time on him. I know you have better things to do.”
“Well if you don’t mind, sir. I did leave some stew on the stove that I need to stir.”
“Well go take care of your stew, Rosalie. I’ll take care of the boy.”
With one last threatening glare at the boy, Rosalie gave Nathaniel a grateful curtsy and made her way back inside. Nathaniel got his first good look at the boy and his eyes were drawn to the bright red handprint on his left cheek. Nathaniel’s eyes slid across the boy’s face to his eyes. The boy’s eyes were a deep brown, framed by long black lashes. Freckles dotted his nose and curly auburn hair fell wildly around his face. His body was long and gangly, like he still had some growing left but he stood with a self-assurance that was strange for a boy his age.
“What’s your name boy?”
“My name’s Jared.”
“Why did you steal from Rosalie? Does she not feed you enough?”
“I didn’t steal no meat pie from that old witch. There were some scraps on the counter and I wanted to give up to me dog. He’s a mangy old thing but he’s all I got in this world. Don’t know what I’d do without the stupid thing. Doesn’t matter to me if I go hungry but I hate to see the old beast starve.”
“Does she always discipline you like that?”
“No sir. That was a tame one, that was. Usually she calls the old man out here, gets him to belt me real good.”
“Are you related to them?”
“No sir I’m not. They took me in when me mom died a couple months back. Told me I had to work for me keep. Try to do a good job for them but they’re never satisfied with my work.”
Nathaniel looked at the boy for a few moments. Taking a deep breath, he said, “I’m on a quest to rescue a princess named Isabella. The journey will be long and hard and there is no guarantee of anything but…. You are welcome to join me if you’d like. I can promise you now I will not lay a hand on you. No one deserves that kind of discipline.”
Jared looked at Nathaniel, his eyes bright and his posture strong. He clenched his fists several times before he spoke. “Well sir, I don’t think nothing could be worse than this. I mean I know I could be alone on the street but as far as living goes this ain’t very good. I’ll guess I’ll come with you. Give me a story to tell the grandkids someday.”
“Do you need to bring anything? My start has already been delayed and we must be on our way.”
Jared stood up even taller at the words we must be on our way. “I just have a few things to grab sir. And would it be alright if I bring my dog along? He’s my best friend in the world and I’d hate to leave him here with these people.”
“If the dog can’t keep up, we’ll have to leave him.”
Jared nodded at his words and ran toward the house. He disappeared inside in a hurry to leave. Nathaniel shook his head, wondering what the hell he’d just done. Deciding that this would just be a story to tell his grandkids, Nathaniel entered the barn to find his horse. The sunlight was flowing through the open doors and he found his stead with ease.
Umbra let out a whinny when he reached the stall door. He had to smile because his horse knew him so well. He ran his hand down Umbra’s neck, paying special attention to the spot right above his back that always made the horse ecstatic. He found Umbra’s saddle and halter hung up neatly on the wall behind him.
“I took special care of that one. Looks real well made and all. Thought it belonged to someone special,” Jared’s voice rang out across the stable.
“Well you did a fine job Jared. I appreciate your hard work. Do you have all that you needed?”
“Yes sir.” The boy hefted a small rucksack over his shoulder. “I’ve got everything but me dog. He should be out behind the barn. That’s where he usually waits for me.”
“Well Umbra is ready. Let’s go get your dog and be on our way.”