The tavern seemed darker to her, now that her father was dead. More vacant. More empty.
She decided not to check on the old man. She didn’t need another headache. Instead she cleaned the tavern and prepared drinks for later tonight.
Badan thinks I can’t run this tavern on my own, Trava thought. Tonight would be her way of showing him. She cleaned the bar counter until it shined.
Trava set out some candles, and searched for flint to light them with. She frowned. The flint wasn’t in the cabinet where it was supposed to be. Trava went to her room, thinking she might have left it there. It wasn’t there, but Trava took the opportunity to put the money the old man had given her under her mattress. She also checked that no money had gone missing. Trava sighed in relief. All her coins were still there, around two hundred arks in total. Trava set the mattress down over the coins and exited her room. She still had no idea where the flint was.
I’d better just borrow a flint from Sajag, Trava thought. She couldn’t waste more time on searching for her flint.
Trava walked to Sajag’s hut. It was on the other side of the tavern from where she’d dug her father’s grave.
Trava knocked lightly on the straw beside the doorway. Sajag came out a moment later. His grey eyes widened as he looked up at her. “What’s wrong, Trava?” Sajag asked.
Trava realized her face must still have looked red from crying. I’ll have to clean myself up before this evening, Trava thought. “My father died,” Trava said.
Sajag’s eyes dropped. “I’m so sorry-“ he began.
Trava cut him off. “You have nothing to be sorry about,” she said. “Not everything bad that happens is your responsibility.”
Sajag looked as though he disagreed with that. “Is there anything I can do to help you?” he asked. “Do you need help giving him a burial?”
“I did that already,” Trava said. “But thank you for offering.” She paused to think. “I’d appreciate it if you could be at the tavern tonight,” Trava said. “I’m worried the tenant I have right now might cause some trouble.”
Sajag nodded. “Of course,” he said. “I’ll be there. Is there any other help I could give?”
“Yes,” Trava said. “I can’t find my flint for lighting candles, and it’s getting near dusk. Can I borrow yours?”
Sajag nodded and disappeared into his hut, then emerged and handed a flint to her.
Trava took the flint and exhaled. “Thank you, Sajag. I really appreciate it.”
She turned and headed back into the tavern. She lit the candles, and sat behind the bar. Trava hung her head heavily over the counter. She let herself cry, then washed her face using water from the bucket. She went to her room and wiped her face dry on some of her extra clothing. As she walked back into the tavern, she noticed the old man. “You,” Trava said. She sat back down on the stool behind the bar. “What do you want?”
He sat on a bar stool. “I’m just waiting to see what happens this evening,” he said. He gave her a knowing smile.
“Do you want any drinks right now?” she asked. She didn’t want him messing up her reputation when she talked with Badan and whoever he brought. If she could get him so drunk that he fell asleep before anyone even came over, he wouldn’t be able to mess things up. She’d still have to deal with him in the morning, but that was the price she’d have to pay for an important evening free of him.
“Gladly,” the old man said in his squeaky voice. Trava smiled. She’d thought the old man wouldn’t be able to refuse the offer of a drink. Maybe he’d even pay for it. Actually, she’d insist that he’d pay for it before he drank it.
Trava poured a drink and walked over. “Pay for it, please,” she said. “One ark will do fine.”
The old man looked insulted at the implication he would have to pay for the alcohol he consumed. “I don’t have any money,” he said.
“Don’t lie to me,” Trava said. Keeping her temper was difficult, around this guy. “You’ve got to have some money left over.”
“I might be able to find some if you give me the drink,” the old man said. Trava sighed. Why was he making things so difficult?
“I’m going to go to your room and rummage through what stuff you have there to see whether I can find money for the drink,” Trava said to the old man. She turned around and started walking toward the back rooms. “No, wait!” the old man said. She turned back. He looked scared. “I found a coin,” he said. He held an ark out to her. “The things I have stored in the room are not to be seen lightly,” he said.
Trava figured he was trying to sound impressive, but she didn’t really care. She took the coin and gave him a drink.
He didn’t contest paying her for any further drinks, luckily. Trava did her best to get as many into him as possible. She looked out the small window. The sun was starting to set, and while the old man had started saying ridiculous things, he hadn’t shown signs of passing out yet.
Trava was about to give the old man another drink when the knock came at the door. She set the drink down and rushed over to open it.
Opening the door revealed Badan and a couple of older gentlemen, Axel and Abdullah, who both came to the bar often. Trava hid her frown. She hadn’t realized Badan was going to come early. And bring so much company.
Trava refrained from cursing, but she wanted to. The old man was still here, and he was drunk without being passed out, which was unfair.
Badan looked past her and spotted the old man downing another drink. “It appears I’m not early,” he said. “As you’re already serving customers.”
She considered asking them to come back later, but that would make her look like a jerk since they saw that she was serving alcohol to the old man. She felt flustered. “Come in and take a seat. I decided to open early.” She winced as she led them through the door. All her options had been bad. By saying she’d opened early, she looked capricious. Hopefully the cleanliness of the place will make up for it, Trava thought.
Just then, the old man knocked over his drink and met Trava’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” he said thickly. But with his smile, it wasn’t very convincing. He’s trying to sabotage me, Trava thought angrily. She ran to get a cloth.
“Condolences on the death of you father,” Abdullah said cordially. Trava nodded, then bent down to wipe up the spill.
Another knock came on the door. Trava rushed over to open it. Sajag walked in. Trava smiled at him. It was good to have another person to help her. She walked over to Sajag and bent down to whisper in his ear. “Please watch the old man. Make sure he doesn’t do anything that makes me look bad.”
The old man was still grinning like a madman. Perhaps he was. Trava couldn’t tell.
She walked behind the bar, facing the three gentlemen. She put on as sweet a smile as she was able to, although it felt fake. “Can I get anything for you?” she asked.
Badan shook his head. “I don’t think we should be drinking right now,” he said. “This is, after all, a business meeting. I can understand your temporary tenant being here, as he doesn’t actually have anywhere else to go, but why is Sajag here?”
Trava’s smile froze. She didn’t know what would be a satisfactory answer. If I lie and tell them that I told Sajag that the tavern opened early, I’ll look like I was playing favorites, Trava thought. If she told them she’d asked Sajag to help her with the old man, she’d look like she couldn’t run the tavern on her own. Everything was just going wrong.
No lies, Trava thought. If she got caught out in a lie, she’d lose the respect of these men. And she needed their respect if she was going to continue to run the tavern successfully. “He’s here to show his support of my running the tavern,” Trava said.
She thought she saw Badan’s face darken for a second at that. “Is he going to be the one helping you run the tavern?” he asked.
“No,” Trava said. “No one is going to be telling me how to run my tavern. My father wanted me to take of it,” Trava said stubbornly. She was worried she was being too blunt.
It didn’t seem to matter, as the old man tried another of his antics. He yodeled so high and so loudly that Trava couldn’t hear whatever Badan was saying. She cursed under her breath – they wouldn’t hear it – and got off her stool. She walked over to the old man.
How to shut him up? Sajag apparently didn’t know, as he was just standing there with his hands over his ears. She could physically shut the old man up, by sticking something in his mouth to muffle him, for example. But that would likely come off as a bad way to treat a guest.
But how else could she shut him up without resorting to violence? The old man was clearly out to make sure she didn’t keep the tavern. She couldn’t just ask him to stop his yodeling; he’d pretend to drunkenly ignore her. Or he’d actually drunkenly ignore her.
Trava spoke as loudly as she could so that everyone in the room could hear her.“You have had too many drinks! You are going to go to your room and stay there!” Trava yelled.
Then she grabbed the old man. The old man struggled some, and everyone watched her manhandling him. Trava’s face was going beet red. She dragged the old man to his room, then she called Sajag over. “Make sure he doesn’t leave his room,” Trava hissed. Sajag looked taken aback, but nodded.
Trava returned to the bar, her face still red from embarrassment. She sat and faced the men.
Badan looked her in the eyes and spoke. “You see, you do need someone else running the tavern. That way there’s another person to help you deal with bad customers. And I would be more than happy to help run the tavern.”
Trava’s face kept heating up. “I won’t let anyone else run my dad’s tavern,” Trava said. ‘He gave it to me.”
“You’re already letting Sajag manage things for you right now,” Badan said. “Don’t worry, I’ll do a good job running the tavern. And you won’t be forced out or anything like that.”
Trava resisted the urge to glare at him. “I refuse,” she said shortly. It was her tavern.
Badan and the men with him stood up. “You should keep in mind that none of us are going to come back in here, then,” Badan said. “I wish you good luck surviving without any patrons.”
Trava locked eyes with Badan. “You don’t want to do this,” she said.
He sighed. “Trava, I’m sorry. But you can’t run the tavern on your own.”
He turned to leave, but then there were some thumps from the back hallway. The old man staggered out, Sajag right behind him. The old man was holding a piece of wood and a piece of flint. Her flint.
“Thief,” Trava said.
Trava saw the old man grin. Then he struck the flint against the wood and it caught fire.