The magic ate at Leedles from the inside as if she’d swallowed an ant’s nest. All she’d done was whisper a tiny chant to clean the smell of manure from her dress before she went in to wait on customers for her Uncle Urt.
The stable smelled of roses. Reeked more likely, the horses tossed their heads and snorted their displeasure. Leedles fled before the magic escaped. Her Uncle’s irritation came close to breaking the Peace of their village.
Not like her parents, no one had ever been like them. Everyone in the village reminded her on a daily basis, as if her family’s shame would serve to tame Leedles. All it accomplished was to fuel her desire to escape.
“Leedles,” Uncle Urt stepped out the door and wrinkled his nose. “What is that smell?” He stepped forward and raised his fist as if only the thinnest of threads held him back from striking her. “You’ve been at it again. Smith forbid you from using magic. You have no discipline, no control.”
“I just didn’t want to stink all night.”
Urt growled wordlessly and tore at his hair.
“The farmers know what a stable smells like, they don’t care as long as you get them the beer they order. Now, you just smell like a tramp. Twenty-two years, and you still haven’t a lick of sense.”
His tavern didn’t look like much, not much bigger than the houses on either side, only completely open on the main floor, with the kitchen tacked onto the back. Urt yanked open door into the public room and pushed her through, slamming it behind them.
“Don’t be so hard on the kid,” Karl leaned back on the rickety chair. As the only newcomer in Leedles’ lifetime he hadn’t earned his way onto the solid benches.
“Do you want to drink, or give me advice?” Urt glared at him, and Karl picked up his mug and made a show of drinking deeply. The rest of the patrons went back to their babble of conversations.
Leedles put on her apron and picked up a tray of mugs. She didn’t wait for the men to ask for a refill. Anyone whose mug sat empty got a full one slapped down in front of them. They watched her move through the room. The Peace Tree knew she was no beauty, pale beside the earthen brown of the men. Her mother’s fault: the betrayer and stranger. The men didn’t condemn her father. Sure, they exiled him, and found his bones in the woods that spring, but they understood.
All night Leedles wove between tables avoiding the lustful or disgusted eyes of the customers. Only Karl, who couldn’t know any better as a resident of the Peace only fifteen years, didn’t eye her with anything more than pity.
“Go to bed.” Uncle Urt closed and barred the door behind the last drunken farmer.
Leedles dragged herself up the steps to the hallways off which her uncle and aunt had their rooms. Their son snored from his room. He’d be up early to make the fire and start the bread. Unless he slept in again.
Leedles slipped through the doorway into her room. Moonlight from the tiny window illuminated the bed. She hung her dress, still wafting rose perfume, on a hook, then folded her shift, and placed it carefully on the stool. With the ants still eating at her, she couldn’t abide cloth against her skin.
The cruel light only highlighted her ugliness. She refused to look at herself. The polished steel which functioned as a mirror faced the wall.
Something had changed. Rom’s snores had stopped. What if he tried to enter her room again? He’d said he’d opened the wrong door by accident and hadn’t known his mistake until he’d laid down on top of her.
Leedles fumbled the wedge out from under the bed and pushed it as far under the door as she could manage. Maybe she should whisper a lock on the door. Only last time, she’d locked every door in the inn, and those on the houses to either side.
She sat in the bed and watched the moonlight slide slowly across the wall. The magic buzzed and coaxed her, but it was a betrayer.