Alyssa could say with absolute certainty that she hated medieval life. Try as she might, she couldn’t find a single redeeming point to anything.
Food had three flavors and only three flavors; bland, raw sewage, and inedible. None of the college classes she had signed up for had been proper history classes. To get her credits, she had taken art history. Which had just enough regular history mixed in as context for the art to understand exactly why the food was terrible. On Earth, entire wars had been fought over spices. Gold showed others just how affluent one was, but spices gave that joy to eating that the poor simply couldn’t have.
Based on her experience in the roughly twenty-four hours that she had spent in the town, Teneville—as she had found out it was called—could use a war or two.
Of course, food wasn’t the only complaint she had. After receiving her instructions from Yzhemal, he had offered her a room to stay the nights in. A simple room made of wood with a simple bed and a long bench against one wall. Within that room, Alyssa had discovered exactly why medieval torture tools were so creative and terrifying. They had to be when standard living was such a pain already.
The first problem hadn’t been too big of a problem. Yzhemal gave her a candle to use while getting ready for sleep. The light from the candle didn’t reach from one end of the room to the other despite Alyssa being able to touch opposite walls at the same time. She had pulled out her flashlight. It was one of the ones powered by shaking, so she wasn’t concerned with running out of batteries.
Which just revealed another problem. The bed had a thin wool blanket. Not modern wool. Rough, scratchy, and reeked of sweat despite the few mint leaves that littered the room. Alyssa had decided to sleep on the bench. Not only was the wood just as soft as the bed, but she was far less likely to wind up with a colony of lice and fleas thriving off her body.
As the night went on, the room turned from mildly chilly to downright freezing. Alyssa couldn’t do a thing about it either. The thin blanket wouldn’t have helped much. Neither would the candle, it was just too small. She couldn’t light a fire in the middle of a wooden room.
When Yzhemal came knocking on her door at far-too-early o’clock, she felt like she had gotten maybe an hour of rest.
Whereupon she had discovered yet another misery of the Middle Ages.
They had no toilets.
Alyssa shuddered just remembering the outhouse as she set down her broom. Sweeping a dirt floor, she thought, bringing up a hand to wipe her brow. The difference in temperature between night and day astounded Alyssa. Hauling around boxes, sweeping every room, and gathering up all the old mint leaves didn’t help with the heat.
Every other room had wooden floors. She didn’t understand why the main tavern room lacked a proper floor. The constant sweeping and walking had trampled it down to the point where there the floor sloped beneath the entry door, letting in a constant inch of daylight across the bottom.
“Here lass,” Yzhemal said, coming up from behind her. He dropped a large wicker basket onto a nearby table. Greenery filled it to the point where leaves overflowed onto the table and her freshly swept floor. “Spread these around once all the old leaves are gone. After, you can have a short break until nightfall. Wander, sleep, whatever.” He started to walk away for a moment before holding up a finger in apparent recollection. “Ah yes,” he said, moving back to the basket. Just to its side, he dropped a series of coins that each landed with a heavy clink. “Your pay for the day. I’ll give you gruel for your meals again without cost, but if you be wanting something better…” His finger tapped the coins a few times before he walked off again.
“Thank you, sir,” Alyssa said respectfully as he disappeared into the back room. She might not like anything about her situation, but it was a job and he was being kind to her so far. No sense being impolite.
Getting down onto her knees, she scooped up the mint leaves she had swept and dropped them into a similar basket as the one on the counter. There wasn’t much chance of mixing them up. Rich green leaves filled the new basket, nearly overflowing. The old leaves were flat, pressed down by the weight of travelers and locals alike. Color had been squashed out of them, leaving them a dull, almost brown green. Part of that might have been the dirt.
Once she finished, she went to inspect her payment.
As expected, she had not been paid in any currency she recognized. They weren’t even coins. She had just assumed from the quick glance and from the sound. They were bars. Three were either bronze or copper ones—maybe a dull brass, but Alyssa was leaning towards bronze. Not that she had any experience in metallurgy. Each of the three was as long as her little finger and, standing them all upright, roughly the same length as each other.
Among the three bronze bars was a single silver bar. It was roughly the same length, but where the bronze bars had four distinct sides, the silver had only three. Both styles were lined up and down in the same symbols that Alyssa had seen in the angel’s notebook. Little tiny runes, some blocky and some round, that she couldn’t make heads or tails of. She had seen the modern English alphabet just outside the inn. A large signboard hung over the doorway with a bed and the word ‘INN’ written along with a drawing of a bed for the illiterate. So the runic symbols must have some special meaning.
All the coins—or bars or whatever they were called—were slightly misshapen. As if they had been pressed in different molds that weren’t identical. The silver one weighed almost as much as two of the bronze ones, but all were fairly manageable.
So she had coins. What to do with them? Not food, obviously. Yzhemal had said it himself, she would still be getting meals. Having been in the kitchen and seen just what he had to work with, none of it would be worth spending money on. Except maybe the meat. However, the meat had to be much more expensive than anything else. Even then, she doubted it would be all that tasty. Not to mention her lack of a reference for how much things in this world cost. Meals might be drastically overpriced in comparison to other goods. It might be more worth it to buy a fur coat or something similar. Something she could keep warm with at night. And something that blended in a little better than her pants and jacket. People ignored her now because they were expecting pilgrims to show up in outlandish clothing like the boy in the violet cloak, but that might not be the case forever.
For the moment, she slipped the coins into her pocket. They were metal and, as such, would still be good later if she needed them.
Grabbing the basket of fresh mint, she ran through the entire inn like some kind of flower girl, spreading them everywhere from the beds to the floors.
On the second story of the building, Alyssa paused her flower girl activities outside a room. Light gray smoke leaked from the cracks in a door in great plumes. The whole hallway had a haze to it and a layer of smoke clung to the angled ceiling. At first, she thought to rush in and extinguish whatever fire was there before it burned down the entire inn. But the smoke didn’t smell like the right kind of smoke; a campfire was what she expected a burning wood inn to smell like. It was more like cigarette smoke, except it stung her nose with a sickly sweet scent. Some kind of a flowery smell as well.
A drug, undoubtedly. The same thing had been present in the air of the tavern last night, but it hadn’t been as strong then. The mint kept the other scents down. Here in the hallway, there wasn’t much in the way of mint except for the leaves in her basket.
Still, if something was burning uncontrollably, she should probably put a stop to it.
“Uh, housekeeping?” Alyssa said as she knocked on the smoking door. No one answered after a moment of standing around, so she pressed open the door.
And promptly staggered back with a sleeve over her mouth. She couldn’t even see through the thick smoke that filled the room. Leaning to the side, she took a deep breath of the slightly fresher air before charging into the room with squinted eyes. There was a window directly opposite from the door which she knocked open with her fist. The windows didn’t have glass, just a wooden shutter. A breeze outside helped to carry the smoke away.
It wasn’t enough.
She dashed back through the room before her breath ran out and into the opposite room, opening the window there. Leaning out, she took in a few deep gasps of clean air.
The air started clearing with the extra throughflow from opening the window. Soon enough, Alyssa turned back to the smoking room to find only a thin mist obstructing her view instead of the thick fog. Inside and on the floor, lying with a smoldering pile of weeds at her side, was the green-haired girl from the night before.
The punk rocker was face down and not moving.