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BEAUTY

Beauty

By C.B. Williams

The proprietor watched the young couple as they carefully knocked the mud from their shoes before entering his inn’s tavern. It pleased him they took the time to do so, bespoke of a thoughtful spirit, he observed.

As they took off their cloaks and hung them to dry, he cleared a table near the fire so they could take the chill off their bones. He motioned them over and let them settle in as he filled two tankards with hot cider.

“Traveling far, ye two?” he asked as he placed the beverages before them. “Need a room for the night?”

The young lad nodded. “Two rooms, please. We’re not married.”

The girl reddened and lowered her eyes before lifting them to gaze defiantly at the proprietor. Her jaw jutted out. “But we will be,” she said.

The lad nodded and grinned. “Aye, tomorrow.”

“Congratulations,” the proprietor smiled. “With the weather being so bad, I don’t have two rooms to spare, but I’ve got one with two beds. Will that work?”

The girl glanced worriedly at the lad who nodded. “It will work fine,” he paused with furrowed brow, “Uh, how much? We hadn’t planned on the storm.”

The proprietor lifted a brow, “Running away, are ye?”

“Only to get married,” the girl said. “We’ll go home after. When they can’t do anything about it.”

“Ah,” the proprietor nodded sagely, “Good plan.”

‘We don’t want to hurt anybody,” the lad said, looking more like a boy than a young man, “It’s … they don’t understand,” he blurted. “Our parents. Her father,” he added.

The proprietor waved his hand. “No need to explain yerslves. We’re all adults here, aren’t we?” He looked at them both directly.

The girl hung her head, her damp hair beginning to curl prettily as it dried by the fire’s warmth. “Next month,” she mumbled.

So young, the proprietor thought. But they had a look about them, one he recognized but doubted very much a parent would. Especially if said parent had designs to marry off his daughter to better himself. “Adult enough,” the proprietor said. “Consider the room a wedding gift and the meal I will bring as well.”

Their smiles were payment enough.

“Drink yer cider and warm up,” he told them, “I’ll bring the food along soon enough.” He motioned to his house girl and instructed her to ready the room he had in mind for the pair.

She bobbed a quick curtsy, glanced at the couple, smiled at the lad, and went about the preparations.

The girl, her blond curls nearly dry, tugged on the proprietor’s sleeve. “Thank you,” she whispered.

“Aye,” the lad said. “Thank you.”

~~~

They watched the proprietor go about his business. Then, both took a sip of their cider, grinning at each other behind their tankards.

“Mm,” Nellie said, wiping her mouth daintily with her napkin. “Warms my insides.” She sighed contentedly. “I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be warm again.”

Bjorn reached for her hand, “I’m sorry, Nells. I didn’t know the storms could come so fast like that. Never been to the mountains before.”

She smiled at him.

To him, her smile was golden.

He lived for that smile.

“We’re warm now, Bjorn. And the man was so kind. I didn’t expect the kindness.”

“Don’t think about that, Nells,” Bjorn said before she could brood, “Most people are kind. Not like your father.” He grinned suddenly. “And now, that life is over. Forget it. Tonight we’re making our own lives together, our own choices together.”

“But—“

“No, don’t even think it. We did it, Nells. We escaped and when we’re married, there’s nothing they can do about it. Nothing.”

She smiled again. “Nothing at all.”

“Nothing at all, you’ll see.”

~~~

The proprietor returned with two bowls of steaming stew accompanied by a chunk of crusty bread. “By the way,” he said as he set the bowls down before them. “I serve as the justice of the peace around these parts. If ye’d like, I can marry ye tonight.”

He grinned as he watched the hope and happiness filling their eyes. “I’ll take that as a ‘yes,’” He said and whirled and clapped his hands. “Everyone listen up! We’ve a wedding tonight. One round of drink is free for everyone.”

~~~

Each year, year after year, Nells and Bjorn returned to celebrate their marriage with the proprietor. And when he died, he left his tavern to them.

And they, in accordance with his wishes, were always on the look out for those with troubles and thoughtful spirits in need of a night’s comfort.

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CYNTHIA BRYN WILLIAMS 2012 to contact, click on following link: cb@cbwilliams.us