Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me.
The rain was pooling on my cloak as I dashed across the courtyard. It had started up around a mile back and had drenched me in moments. It was just one more thing to contend with on a day of hard travel that had already well filled it’s quota of unpleasantness. I swatted at my face as I neared the inn building but my sleeve was so sodden that it made no odds. I caught a fleeting glimpse of a crescent moon in flaking blue paint before ducking beneath the swinging wooden sign and into the brightly lit common room beyond.
I stood there dripping for a moment, trying to stamp mud from my boots. When I realised that I was making a ridiculous squelching noise with each step, I stopped it. It was only then that I became aware of the hush. Reluctantly, I looked up. There was a decent crowd in tonight and every member of it was watching me. Expressions ranged between wary interest, through irritation and right to open hostility. I didn’t so much as flinch. I was well used to it. All the same, the warmth of the fire in the grate didn’t seem quite to reach me as I made my soggy way between the tables and benches.
There was a loud scraping and my hand twitched towards the hilt of my sword. I stopped myself just in time. These people had enough reason to despise the uniform I wore without provoking them. A large man in the apron of a blacksmith had got to his feet. He regarded me, his jaw working as though there was something he’d very much like to say. I waited politely. If he swung a punch, then I’d have to defend myself and the room would erupt like an ants' nest splashed with hot water. He wavered for a second, then shambled off, taking the long way to the door so that he didn’t have to come within a foot of me. I let myself relax ever so slightly. I never liked causing trouble.
I made it to the bar without further incident. Slowly, talk resumed. People who had been watching me now seemed intent on pretending I didn’t exist. It was a mite more comfortable, but no safer.
“What can I get you?” the man behind the bar asked, giving me a broad smile.
Perhaps the cold and wet had caused my mind to stiffen up like my joints but all I could do was blink at him for a moment. “I can warm something up for you, take the chill out of your bones.” He was still smiling.
“Warm would be welcome,” I said, finding my voice a much smaller and halting thing than usual.
“Right you are,” he nodded and bustled off. I stared after him. It might just be good business sense, but the kindness kindled something in my chest. Whatever the reason, it was once in a blue moon that anyone had a friendly word for a royal guard like me.