“Begging your pardon!”
Charlotte bolted up. Her mind reeled. Quickly, but not quite instinctively, she reached under a pillow and found Mumin’s pistol. It felt slippery in her hands, and she realized that she was sweating. Her palms, neck, and shoulders felt suddenly cold with the moisture. Hands trembling, she drew back the hammer and pushed up the frizzen. A thin coat of powder sat in the pan.
“Relax, it’s just the girl from last night,” Rone said. He appeared from behind the privacy screen that hid the corner privy, looping a leather belt through his trousers.
“Your laundry’s come back sir! And madam!”
Rone raised his eyebrows at Charlotte as she held out the pistol uncertainly. “Do you think she’s heavily armed? Or do you want to tell the girl to stand and deliver? I can follow your lead. Let me fetch a blade.”
Charlotte looked around and took in the small inn room, so much smaller than her old apartments had been. She was free, but not free. Safe, but not safe. She lowered the pistol. Rone gave her a smile and chuckled deeply.
“You’re a heap of nonsense,” Charlotte said.
“My father always said that if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry.” Rone walked to the door and unbolted it. Charlotte quickly hid the pistol back under the pillow and got out of bed. As Rone opened the door a stack of folded clothes were thrust into his arms.
“Here’s your laundry sir, hope it’s to your liking,” the servant girl said.
“As long as it doesn’t smell like sweat and dust I’ll be happy,” Rone said, dropping the clothes on a nearby chair. “Though come to think of it, just doing that would be a hell of a job. I sweat like a horse and smell twice as bad.”
“It wasn’t too bad,” the girl said. “We have good soap, and my ma’ was here to help last night.”
“Poor thing,” Charlotte said, stepping up to the door, her robe wrapped around her slender body. “You must not have slept at all.”
“I sleep plenty, madam. Mostly in the afternoon. Quieter then.”
“Still. Here’s something for your troubles,” Rone said, putting on a friendly smile. He thrust a large copper coin into the girl’s hand. “My name is Munin.” The girl looked up at him with a smile. “Now is why don’t you tell me yours?”
“It isn’t much of a proper name, but I’m Missy. It’s all my pa’ used to call me.”
“Well I think it’s a lovely name, Miss Missy. Now we know each other, and we can be friends, alright?”
“Okay, but I have to go now, lots more work to do before noon.”
“I have a job for you, if you fancy earning a few more of those.” Rone put his hand into his pocket and shook his hand, jingling coins there.
“Okay, but don’t tell Mr. Sevelny, I don’t wanna get in trouble for him thinking I ain’t doing my work.”
“I can keep a secret if you can. All I need you to do is listen. Listen when you come in and out of the common room, or when you walk by the master of the house doing business. You do that already, don’t you?”
“A little, maybe.”
“Good. Listen extra carefully today.”
“What should I listen for?”
“Anyone looking for a couple of slave traders – a man and a woman – or someone asking about a female slave.”
“I will do my best.” The girl looked puzzled. “Why would you be looking for a female slave? You’re married, ain’t ya?” Missy looked to Charlotte, who forced a smile.
Rone smiled warmly. “They are old acquaintances of ours. Looking to run into them for business purposes, but I have a feeling some other friends of ours are looking for them too. Such is the nature of this trade. Nobody likes to do it in the light of day.”
Missy nodded. “Sorry, didn’t mean to pry.”
“Don’t trouble yourself. Just keep your ears open.” He began to shut the door and stopped. “Of course, if anyone is looking for me in particular, you’ll let me know, won’t you?”
“Of course,” Missy said. She smiled and hurried down the hall. Rone shut the door as he watched her go.
“Why did you give her that name?” Charlotte said. She stood behind him, her arms wrapped around her midsection. She was frowning.
“It was the name I gave at the gate. If someone picks up our trail from there, they’ll be using the name of Munin.”
“If someone is looking for us, won’t the innkeeper just tell him everything?”
“I checked us in under the name Melanie.”
“How do you keep track of all the names?”
Rone smiled. “You’ll get used to it. We should get dressed. Lots of business to attend to today.” He picked up the stack of clothes and frowned.
“Something wrong?” Charlotte said, pawing through the clothes while Rone still held them.
“These clothes are known.”