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The common room was quiet as the last notes of song faded away. Quiet for a single moment until the braying laughter began again from the so-called ‘Peacekeepers’ in the corner. Aria Kenson risked a glance at the uniformed men. She couldn’t hold back the grimace at the mess they had made of the huge table they’d commandeered. So much good food lay wasted on the floor or strewn about the table and chairs. Each of the five men had stains marking their rumpled clothing. Out of the corner of her eye, Aria caught her mother suppressing similar disgust as Reina carefully stowed her flute. Aria scanned the rest of the room as she packed her harp back into its protective case. The two villagers remaining in the room hunched over their stew and ate as quickly as possible. No one paid attention to Aria as she rose from her stool in the corner and followed her mother into the shelter of the kitchen.
Keeper Alyse dusted the flour from her hands as she made her way through the room towards them. She snagged two mugs of cider from a counter and plopped them down at the little table out of the way of the women preparing for the evening meal. “I can’t thank you enough for agreeing to play for us tonight. Especially you, Aria, what with your newborn.” She glanced over her shoulder before dropping her voice to a whisper. “Those damned Peacekeepers would have driven away all my customers if I didn’t have you two to draw them in with your songs. Bad enough this lot insists on free meals for themselves and their beasts in addition to the rooms, but they’ve broken a dozen mugs already. Don’t even get me started on the amount of food they’ve wasted or that hasn’t been up to their standards.” Alyse snorted. “I’ll be glad to see the backs of them.”
Reina’s eyes flicked to the other women in the room. The others had worked at the inn for years, but still… “Watch what you say,” Reina cautioned in a whisper. Her light brown hair bobbed as she leaned forward. “You’ve heard the rumors about what the Peacekeepers have done down south… I don’t want anything to happen to you and I certainly don’t want them looking for trouble where there isn’t any.”
Alyse blanched. She darted a glance at Aria. “You mean the rumors the midwife has been spreading?” she hissed softly. “Surely you don’t think someone would tell those men that…”
Aria cut the woman off. “No one else saw what Maggie Rosewood claims she did and there were plenty of other witness at the birth besides the midwife. I’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t repeat the rumors here. Not now.” She glanced at the door to the common room. “Leia doesn’t deserve to be badmouthed before she’s even old enough to talk.” Aria took a long drink of her cider before she let her temper get away from her. “I’m not sure how much good our playing is even doing,” she said instead. “There’s barely been a handful of people passing through the common room and the lunch rush has long since passed. Do you think you’ll get more for dinner?”
The innkeeper sighed. She leaned her wide frame against the counter behind her. “I hope so, but I doubt they’ll notice if it’s just one of you or both. I’ll understand if one of you wants to go home.”
Reina turned to Aria. “Go check on Leia,” she said. “I’ll be fine here by myself.”