"Good day," said the brown-haired girl. "How are you feeling?" Her voice was cheery enough, but her eyes looked tired from working well past midnight in the tavern.
Sunlight was streaming through the window and Valeria sat up blinking. Her jaw still ached and felt a little swollen, but otherwise, she felt fine. She tried to say so, but found that she still had no voice.
"Still can't talk?" asked the girl sympathetically. "I'm so sorry. I've brought you a pot of Mrs. Ogden's spicy berry tea. Perhaps that will help." She poured a cup for Valeria.
Valeria accepted the tea gratefully.
"We were never introduced," said the girl, pouring a cup of tea for herself and sitting by the bed. "I'm Gillian."
Valeria swallowed a gulp of hot tea. "I'm Val...." she squeaked. There was no way she was going to get all the way through "Valeria Desdemona Sapphire Stars-in-the-Heavens-over-Riparia of the House of Halla."
Gillian smiled brightly. "Well, I'm pleased to meet you, Val."
Valeria shook her head furiously and tried in vain to speak. She did not want to be called "Val."
Gillian misunderstood her. "I'm afraid your clothes are a mess," she agreed, looking over at where Valeria's mud-caked clothes hung by the fireplace. "The river water is filthy this time of year. Most of the town water comes from wells and springs. I couldn't find you any clean clothes, so I brought you one of my own outfits."
Valeria looked around the room. There was no sign of the two heavy trunks that she'd brought with her on the barge from Riparia. Gillian got up and fetched a basket by the door. She pulled out a brown-and-blue dress and a pair of shoes.
"I'm a bit taller than you," said Gillian. "But this shouldn't fit you too badly until you can get your own clothes cleaned. If you don't care to do them yourself, the Tristram laundress does excellent work and her prices are quite reasonable. She's such a sweet old woman. I'm good friends with her niece."
Valeria eyed the dress critically. She hadn't worn a dress since she was nine. She sighed and got out of bed and put the dress on. It was either that or run around town in a sheet. The hem brushed the floor unless she stood on her toes, and the top had considerably more room than she needed. The shoes weren't a bad fit.
"Here," offered Gillian, "let me help you with that." She knelt at Valeria's feet and began pinning up the hem.
"Pepin says that you're on your way to train with the Sisters of the Sightless Eye," commented Gillian. "My mother was a Sister. She wanted me to follow in her footsteps, but I just never quite had the aptitude. I guess I've always been sort of a homebody at heart." She looked in her basket for more pins.
Valeria was torn. Though grateful that Gillian was going so far out of her way to help a total stranger, she really didn't need to hear the story of her life. If she'd been able to talk, she probably would have graced the girl with some clever put-down to quiet her. But then, if she'd done that, she'd be stuck in the room with a pile of muddy clothes.
"My mother was so brave," Gillian continued. "Not a day goes by when I don't miss her." She sighed. "But your mother must be quite proud of you."
Valeria just shook her head and Gillian caught the meaning in her eyes. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know."
Valeria just shrugged. It had been a long time ago.
Gillian finished pinning up the dress and Valeria took a few steps. She froze. Her bow had been laid on the floor in front of the fire to dry which had been exactly the wrong thing to do with it. Valeria shoved past Gillian and rushed to the fireplace. She picked up her bow and held it up for Gillian to see.
|"I don't care about your stupid mother, you pointless bumpkin! Look at this bow! It's ruined! My God, were you people born idiots, or do you practice a little each day?!" Valeria wanted to say.|
Even though Valeria's outraged tirade came out as a series of ludicrously scratchy squeaks, the fury on her face was unmistakable.
"Oh dear, I'm so sorry," said Gillian, examining the warped bow. "I'm afraid Pepin is much better at caring for people than for fine weaponry. My mother would have skinned him and hung his hide from a flag pole if he'd been so careless when she was alive."
"I don't care about your stupid mother, you pointless bumpkin! Look at this bow! It's ruined! My God, were you people born idiots, or do you practice a little each day?!" Valeria wanted to say. Fortunately, the insults came out as squeaks and gasps that sounded comical even to her. The more she tried to talk, the funnier she sounded. It was infuriating.
Gillian had the grace not to laugh. "We'll take it over to Griswold. He's the finest weaponsmith in all Khanduras. He'll have that bow as right as rain in no time," she promised. "Come on."
Gillian gathered Valeria's clothes in her basket and led her downstairs into the tavern. The chairs were all up on the tables and all the windows and doors had been opened to air the place out. The morning sun streamed into the room, dispelling the previous night's excesses as if by magic. It would take more than magic, however, to banish, or even subdue, the smells of stale smoke and spilled beer. A plump little woman with a mop and a bucket of gray water was seeing to that.
"Greetings, good lady," she said to Valeria. "I trust you're feeling better."
"Yeah, whatever," came out as "Squeak, gasp." Despite the promise that her bow would be repaired, Valeria's mood was still grim.
The woman looked at her disapprovingly, understanding Valeria's tone, if not her words.
"She still can't speak," explained Gillian, who was either ignoring or oblivious to Valeria's bad attitude. "Mrs. Ogden, this is Val. Val, this is Mrs. Ogden." Gillian was going to introduce her to everyone as "Val." Valeria shut her eyes for a moment. If only she had a piece of paper, she could write her proper name down. But if she could have asked for a piece of paper and a pen, then she wouldn't have needed it. Mrs. Ogden gave her a curt nod.
"We're going to get her clothes cleaned and have Griswold repair her bow," said Gillian. "After that, I need to check on my grandmother and make sure she ate all her breakfast. She can be so stubborn sometimes."
Mrs. Ogden nodded and smiled knowingly at the barmaid. "Enjoy the morning, Gillian. Mr. Ogden was up late last night as you well know, but so was everyone else. I should be able to manage here until lunchtime."
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