Rone could hear the fire crackle in the next room and the water softly splash. A young girl pushed past the curtain holding Charlotte’s clothes, folded into a high stack. Before the curtain could fall back he caught a glimpse of alabaster flesh sliding into the iron tub, the candlelight detailing the delicate curve of a hip melding smoothly into a lower back. Rone took a step closer and peered through the remaining crack in the drape. He heard the clearing of a throat and noticed the young servant, still a few years away from maidenhood, standing idly, doing her best to contain Charlotte’s clothes in her arms.
“What do you want?” he grunted.
“Shall I launder the traveling clothes sir, or were you expecting to have your sister wear something else now that you’ve arrived?” The servant’s face was clean, but her clothes were covered in soot and well-worn.
“Yes on both,” Rone said, finding a polite tone. He pulled a small satchel from his bag, tied in twine “Do be a dear and lay this out for the lady.” He placed a stack of copper coins on the cloth satchel as he handed to the girl. Her eyes widened at the stack of money.
“Of course, sir. Would you like to wait in the dining hall? It will take us a few minutes to draw and heat a fresh bath after the lady is done.”
“No, I prefer to wait here. And don’t worry about the fresh bath.”
“It was her request sir, and I don’t much care to return tips.”
Rone grunted. This girl’s making out well, he thought. Let’s hope greed keeps her tongue from straying. He watched her walk away, then carefully moved up to the slit in the curtain again. He could see Charlotte’s shoulders and back as she worked a sponge over her skin. Of course she faces away. An acid thought crept in and he looked away. You’re pathetic.
The servant girl returned a few minutes later and once again disappeared behind the curtain. This time as it was pulled back Charlotte turned about in the tub. Rone looked in compulsively caught a flash of a breast as she leaned on the side. His gaze lingered for a long moment before he saw a pair of blue eyes, burning bright despite the dim light, looking right at him. Feeling a sudden surge of embarrassment, Rone turned his gaze away, to a dusty table near the kitchen. He felt suddenly hot, and wiped a bead of sweat from his forehead. After another few minutes Rone could hear splashing once again, and a few whispers.
“Come in here a minute Rone,” he heard Charlotte say on the other side of the curtain.
“She’s not decent sir,” the girl said.
“Don’t listen to her!” Charlotte shouted back. Rone stood up and reached for the curtain, then stepped inside. Charlotte was standing next to the tub in a long white gown overlaid with a robe of deep red. Her damp hair was pinned back, revealing a clean white neck. She spun around, and the skirt lifted up revealing her calves and ankles.
“Looks good on you,” Rone said. He eyed the servant as she pulled out the stopper in the tub, letting the water flow into a closed sewer beneath the inn.
“I thought you threw away all my things,” Charlotte said.
Rone frowned and shook his head slightly. He watched the servant walk back out of the tiled bathroom as the water drained.
“Did I say something bad?” Charlotte said.
“I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” Rone said. “As to the gown… well, I thought it would fetch a penny or two if we needed, since it’s silk, so I saved it. I didn’t realize how well funded we actually were when I signed on.”
Charlotte smiled. It was a slightly forced smile, and her eyes still seemed to carry the same sorrow as always. “Thanks all the same. My mother gave it to me. It was supposed to be a gift for my wedding night.”
Rone raised an eyebrow as the servant came back in, unsure of what she had heard. “You’re welcome, I suppose.”
“Will you be attending to him, or shall I?” the servant girl said. She reached into the tub and replaced the stopper, then added a log to the fire beneath the tub. She began to work the pump located beside the iron tub.
“I can attend to myself, thank you,” Rone said.
“I’m used to it, if you’re feeling embarrassed,” the girl said. “Usually doesn’t do much for me. ‘Course most men who come in here are older and fat. Haven’t had a looker like you ‘round here in a while.”
“It’s fine,” Rone said. “I need no help. Why don’t you show my sister back up to our room?”
“As you wish,” the servant said. “Shall I launder your gear as well?”
“Not necessary,” Rone said. He cracked a smile at Charlotte. “Besides, I don’t have anything pretty to wear.”
“You’re putting your clothes in the laundry,” Charlotte said sternly. “I don’t want to smell that old sweaty jacket even one more day.”
Rone took a long, deep breath. “Fine.” He looked at the servant. “I’ll leave my clothes by the door. I have a spare set of trousers in my bag anyway.”
Rone watched Charlotte and the servant pass through the curtain, then he quickly stripped. He hastily piled the clothes on a chair near the curtain, then stepped up and into the bath tub. As he eased himself down, he looked to the crack, half-expecting to see a blue eye staring back at him, but all he saw was the dancing firelight from the hall. He sighed and closed his eyes.