The inn’s food was excellent, the room’s door locked, and the women smelled nice. The latter treated the knight very well from the moment he walked in the door, starting to flirt so openly and competitively that it was even obvious to a comparatively inexperience young man like Jispin, whom they ignored when they didn’t sneer at his obvious low-born status, youth, comparatively poor clothes, and northern barbarian blood. He contented himself to sit in the corner and watch.
He noted that the wenches paying the most attention Hávarðr were older than the two fawning over Sit Andronikos, nearly old enough to be his mother. When he asked why that was when the women were away, the knight laughed.
“They seek to get at our purse through our pants. The most attractive target the wealthiest, and the rest try to guess who is mostly likely to get us drunk or be big spenders. Working women have to earn a living as best they can.”
“So it is not that the older ones don’t think Hávarðr more handsome?”
“Not at all. It’s like any battle – you target your opponent’s weakness with your strengths, and do what you can elsewhere. Here.” he handed one gold and one silver coin from his purse to the younger barbarian. “Let us experiment. Hide these well until you are asked to pay for a service. A silver should be enough. We can take them from your purse later. Most things here are priced in coppers or bronze. Observe well the change. An expensive lesson, perhaps, but one well worth learning when young for a few coins, rather than older with a broken heart.”
The coins disappeared in to Jispin’s jacket.
A few minutes later one of the knight’s “attendants” came over to see if he needed any more wine. She ignored the Kurgen boy.
“No more wine for me, but my hired man here-”
“He’s naught but a boy! A filthy one at that. Why do you keep him?” Her lip didn’t quite curl, but it was clear she didn’t think much of him, either as a person or a profitable investment.
“My thoughts exactly, Miss Amabilis. He’s in desperate need of a bath and laundering of clothing. See that he’s taken care of.”
The woman snorted. “Wash him? Launder for a Kurgen? Not bloody likely, even if he’s more handsome than most of their kind.”
“He might make it worth your while.”
“Some things are worth more than a copper or two he’s likely to have.”
“Suit yourself,” the knight replied, then waved over one of the other wenches. “Kate, doing anything for the rest of the night?”
“What do you got in mind?” she asked, looking very interested.
“Our hired man, here…” he prompted. Her face fell. Jispin produced the silver coin and flipped it significantly, making her expression light back up “-needs a bath drawn and some laundering done. If you’d see him taken care of, at least as well as he’s taken care of our animals, then none of us will have to smell him.” To be fair, nobody in that room smelled of naught but spring roses, but some were more noticeably in touch with the earth more than soap.
It was an easy decision for Kate – bath and laundry for a healthy young man for a silver was the best deal that had come her way in a month or more, even if he was a mere savage. Clearly he was feeling his oats from a recent profit – a half-silver would have sufficed. “Surely, mi’lord, it would be my pleasure to take care of him.” She promptly made the coin Jispin tossed her disappear into her cleavage. “It’ll take me a minute to get it hot for you. Be right back, handsome.”
The change in attitude and language that Kate displayed seemed improbably huge to Jispin. The grinned grinned at the knowledge revealed to and learned by Jispin, wench Amabilis frowned, and Jispin laughed out loud. Being caught frowning made the wench’s expression darken further, before she brightened up and redoubled her interest in the knight; if his mere savage hired hand had silver, who knows how much the master might have to spare?
Services bought and sold for coin were well-known to Jispin. The buying and selling of so different an attitude wasn’t. But here in what they called civilization it seemed that money bought a smile as well as a laundress.
“Yes, Sir, a good lesson indeed. Well worth a silver doluer.”
“Thank me later,” replied Sir Andronikos, quaffing his wine.
A minute later Kate returned, acting much friendlier, and apparently not the least bit put off by Jispin’s youth or background. “They put a kettle on the fire to hot up for your bath, deary, and another for your clothes. Do you have some dry things to put on while the others air out, or will we need to dry them over the fire when I’m done?” She poured more beer into his flagon. “Here, hon. Any more stew to go with that?” While she wasn’t exactly deferential, at least she was polite and pleasant. Jispin liked that, even though it was completely false, driven by desire for cold, hard, coin rather than kindness.
“Yes. And some of that good bread if you have more.”
Kate was smart enough to not tell him the scrap they’d served him earlier was hardly their best bread – it was little more than barely palatable to her – but she was happy to bring him another heel of it when she refilled his plate. A regular bottomless pit, the boy was, and he didn’t seem to be the least bit tipsy even on his third flagon.
An hour later, a very full Jispin was in a small tub of hot, soapy water, his dirty clothes had been taken away to be washed as well, and the pleasant warmth of strong ale mellowed his native wariness. Kate had been very nice to him, and deigned to scrub his back for him thoroughly where he couldn’t reach himself and the long-handled brush couldn’t do justice. She commented on the number of scars his young body bore, and the incredible hardness of his musculature, saying that it hurt her hands trying to press hard enough that she could give a massage worthy of the name. That was one thing she said where she wasn’t exaggerating He was more relaxed than he’d ever been in his life.
After drying and dressing in the ready change of clothes, he stumbled into bed to a deep sleep across from Hávarðr, noting the squire wasn’t alone but not caring a whit.
In spite of the full stomach, ale and beer, soft bed, and Hávarðr’s snoring, the cautious footfall on the narrow stairs brought him instantly awake. He’d noted which stairs and floorboards were silent and which were not; the slow approach spoke of caution, and therefore ill intent. The fourth stair down groaned slowly. Jispin silently rose, drawing his long knife from its sheath, and readied himself by the door.