From the moment he set foot in the crowded and noisy ale house, Arthur regretted his decision to follow Margisia. It wasn't the work he minded--serving ale and food to the endless ranks of customers--merchants, soldiers. If they had coins, Margisia welcomed one and all. It wasn't the lowly kitchen duties either; the mountain high stacks of p[ots and cups to wash and re-wash. Arthur didn't mind working for his room and board under Margisia's roof, such as that was. They did not lack for food, but room? He and Sian huddled on the floor in the kitchen, trying to stay warm and quickly falling into exhausted sleep.
But Sian had been right about the woman's profession. And Sian had been right not to trust her.
Arthur had even wondered if they would have been better off staying with the slave trader. Then he saw his friend nimbly dodge another groping hand at his backside. It seemed it was the same either way. At least they were still together.
Arthur paused from his tasks to watch a man enter the smoke-filled alehouse. There something different about the man. Different from the merchants and soldiers he usually served. Arthur immediately recognized the man's dress and adornments. And the tattoos. Arthur stroked the hound that had been worked into his skin and caught Sian's attention.
"Sian," he said. "Have a look at the newcomer. That table over there." He had reverted to the tongue of his forebears. What the Saesneg, the English, around him called Welsh. He did not wish to lose that connection to his past, so he and Sian used it whenever possible.
Sian nodded. The boys spoke a few moments, wondering about the stranger until Margisia's shadow fell on them.
"Lazy lie-abouts! I give you food and lodging in exchange for work, not for you to wile away time in gossip." She thrust mugs of ale at Arthur.
He took them as she pointed to a table of merchants a few steps away. The merchants were well-dressed, no doubt wanting to flaunt their wealth in public. They were also already well in their cups when Arthur set the fresh mugs in front of them. He removed the empty cups and began to turn away, when he felt a hand on his forearm.
"You have a pretty mouth, boy," the merchant said, caressing Arthur's arm.
Arthur froze, repulsed by the merchant--his touch, his words.
The merchant's grip grew firmer and Arthur reacted. He twisted free of the merchant, holding his head proud. He did not mind the work, but this? This he would not allow. He would not bebase himself in that way.
The rest happened so quickly, Arthur could bearly make sense of it. One instant, Margisia was hissing an order into his ear and the next the newcomer with the tattos was at their side. Whatever the man's intentions, Arthur knew better than to interrupt the man's lies. Arthur even bowed his head when the man glared down at him in anger. He watched, incredulous, as the man pulled out a handful of gold coins and gave them to Margisia.
The man then spun on his heel, barking an order for Arthur and Sian to make haste and follow.
Neither boy hestitated. They had no belongings to gather.
Sian gripped Arthur's arm as soon as they were outside. "Have we been rescued from one nightmare for another," he said in their native tongue.
"I might be your worst nightmare," the stanger said, also in Cymraeg. "My name is Braith."
Arthur was still trembling from the ordeal. But he was not surprised to hear the same language from the man. Feeling unclean, he stroked his tattoo again.
"Diolch," he said, never feeling more grateful.