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  • Dan Arman

from The Maiden's Thorn

It only takes a few drops of blood left carelessly on a countertop to set me off these days. And yet there they were. Two crimson beads speckling my otherwise spotless and waxed bar. I surveyed the tavern’s patrons. Most were either peacefully sipping their drinks or deep in conversation. No open head wounds or mangled limbs in the bunch. That was refreshing to see.

“Who did this?” I demanded of the nearest patron, a grizzled old potter named Photta. I rapped on the counter near the blood droplets.

Photta looked confusedly at my fist and then put his mug down. “Who did what, Mistress Tay-oota?”

He slurred my name-- Teuta. It had been a long time since I played at being bar matron, but I could still tell it was too early in the evening for any man to be that sloshed already.

I raised my voice so that all could hear. “Who left blood on my perfectly beautiful counter? I just had it cleaned. Do you know how hard it is to get blood stains out of this wood?”

“Oh,” Photta said, scratching his beard lazily. “That. Well, I guess Ubu and her beau were in here a few moments ago and she dropped a glass. I suppose she cut herself. No need to bite anybody’s head off about it.”

I felt something crunch underfoot and looked down to find bits of broken glass stuck to my boots. Seconds later, a teenage girl wearing her hair in braids and a loose apron around her waist emerged from the kitchen. Behind her, a handsome, square-jawed boy not much older than the girl followed behind with a sheepish grin.

“Oh, Teuta, I thought you were taking a break,” the girl said.

“I was, until I discovered this mess,” I pointed to the blood and the broken glass.

“Yes, we had a bit of an accident, I’m afraid. I lost my wits for a moment.”

Ubu lifted her left hand. She was cradling it in a dishrag sling and part of it was soaked through with blood.

“My gods,” I exclaimed. I grabbed her wrist, pulled away the rag, and examined the jagged cut across the palm of her hand. A piece of glass still protruded from the injury. “Why didn’t you come to me directly? I’ve seen battlefield injuries less serious that led to amputation.”

Ubu frowned. “I didn’t want to bother you for such a small thing.”

“Well, you bothered me with all the mess you’re making,” I barked. I yanked the glass from her hand and laid it on the counter as she winced in pain. “Now hold still and let me fix this.”

I said a little prayer to the Maiden and inhaled deeply. My mind focused on the broken flesh of the girl’s hand and I pushed away all other thoughts, especially the images of battle and death that often accompanied the onset of my particular “gift.” The Maiden’s parting gift. I felt warmth enter my hand and I placed it over the wound. There was a small jolt and I felt my lifeforce ebb slightly as the muscle, tendons, and skin knitted themselves back together. When I released the girl’s hand, the gash was gone. All that remained of the wound was my bloody palm print on hers.

“There, good as new,” I sighed, “which is more than I can say for that poor glass. If you get any clumsier, Ubu, you’re going to have to charge more for the drinks to keep this place open.”

Ubu blushed. She was the owner of the tavern, a mere girl of 19, and I, a woman nearly twice her age and experience, her serving wench. Still, it was a better life than the one I had during the war as a soldier. I no longer had to kill to survive. I had spilled gallons of blood during my days in the king’s army. I was more than happy to clean up a few drops of it now.

The boy nudged Ubu as he slid an arm about her waist. “Tell Teuta why you broke the wine glass. You were so shocked.”

Ubu giggled as he nuzzled her earlobe. Really, the displays of affection between these two kids were enough to make my stomach turn. I watched as the girl fished for something out of her pocket with her good hand and withdrew a small brass ring.

“Davakashi gave me this,” she put the ring on her finger and held it out so I could see. She squealed a bit for emphasis and her eyes gleamed with excitement. “Can you believe it? He asked me and I said yes. We’re going to be mated in the fall. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“You’re both a bit young,” I huffed.

“But we have a business and a steady income,” Davakashi reasoned. “And the country is at peace. Now’s the perfect time to start a family.”

I tilted an eyebrow at the boy.

“Of course,” Ubu patted her fiance’s arm. “We should ask Mistress Teuta for her blessing.”

“My blessing?” I grunted. “Why do you need my blessing?”

“Well,” Ubu wiped the remaining blood from her hand with the towel. “Since Davakashi can’t ask my father on account of his death and you being so much older--”

“Thanks for reminding me,” I grumbled.

“I just mean that you are like family to us,” she continued.

“That’s sweet, but you don’t need my blessing to mate. Young as you are, Davakashi is right,” I said and pointed a thumb towards Photta. “Besides, if you need a blessing from some old thing, why don’t you ask him?”

This caused the potter’s furrowed brow to raise the wrinkles on his forehead. “I don’t want any part of this.”

“Please, Mistress Teuta, it would mean a lot to us,” the boy pleaded.

I looked at the two young lovebirds nestled in each other’s embrace. I had to admit, though I found Kamatari’s wife’s habit of romanticizing matchmaking as more than a bit silly, I could tell already they would have beautiful children-- and that they would have a much better childhood than the one I had.

I placed my hands on Davakashi and Ubu’s shoulders. “Very well. If it means so much, then by the power vested in me by the Maiden and the wisdom of my apparently advanced and decrepit age, I bless your union and wish you many happy, fat babies. Now, let’s clean up this mess.”

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