As Androkles passed by rows of the small, circular stone houses he was beginning to associate with the entire race of Kelthuars, dozens and hundreds of idle inhabitants watched him with great interest. And it wasn’t even just the knee-highs and the elderly; healthy, strong men and women sat bored and chatted while their children ran everywhere unchecked. The only explanation Androkles could think of was that no one was allowed outside the walls, and there were too many people inside for everyone to keep busy.
The town was bigger on the inside than it had appeared, though; it took him forever to make his way across it to find the inn the guard had called the good one. As the man said, it certainly stood out from everything else here, and not just from its green door. It was the only square building he’d seen, stately and proud, built of even-cut stone and complete with a second story like a manor in the Glories. The painted wooden slats looked well-made and waterproof, although they weren’t hardened clay as one would expect. The only thing it lacked was for the stone façade to be painted, or at least cleanly plastered. All in all, his heart rejoiced to find such an unexpected outpost of real civilization.
Upon entering, the large and inviting common room immediately reminded him of his City and home. The lamps glowed bright and warm, and a good fire in a central fireplace kept the room comfortable and inviting. Sturdy, well-made tables and chairs formed even lines and rows across the common room. Near one corner, a section with proper couches around a shorter table to lay on while eating waited for civilized men to inhabit it.
The fairy squealed in amazement and wonder and immediately began flying around the room to look at everything more closely. The six or seven patrons in the room gasped in astonishment and watched him with their jaws hanging open; one spilled his drink into his dinner and didn’t even care. Garbi, of course, remained unresponsive.
A confident, friendly voice said, “Master, I suppose you’ll be wanting a bath? You look like a Laophilean of the Glories. For only a silver, I can have you washed and tended by servants, in proper civilized style.”
Androkles turned to see a stately and handsome woman approaching him. She wore a long, pale linen dress, decoratively stitched with bright red cloth all around the edges. Her shining, oiled hair was done up in curls, with silver netting. Androkles gathered that a stay here would be expensive, and frankly, that was perfect.
“Yes, tell your master that I and this girl will both want to be bathed immediately, with both water and oil, and I’ll want to have my spear washed and cared for. I’m not sure about the fairy, but he isn’t very big, so don’t worry about him. When we’re clean, I want to find a big bowl of something warm to eat waiting for me, and a pot of mixed wine. I’ll also want a room with a good bed, upstairs with a window, if you have one. See to my needs, and I’ll pay your master well,” he said, happy to be around someone civilized. He shook his coin purse through his robe to let her hear its contents.
She nodded gracefully and said, “I am the master here, and I am honored to have you. I am Gotzone. May I give my servants your name?”
He blinked in surprise, but he supposed it wasn’t too bizarre. If Kelthuars let their women dig in the fields, there was no reason one couldn’t tend an inn. Dikaian widows were allowed to keep their property, but they usually bought slaves instead of working themselves. “I am Androkles Giant-slayer, Son of Paramonos of Dikaia. Remember that name. You’ll be telling your grandchildren I stayed here, someday.”
“Of course, Master Androkles. Will the fairy want a bed as well? Or will he be with you and the girl?”
Androkles smiled in amusement at the thought. “Do you have a bed for a doll that’d fit him? Whether he wants it or not, I’d like to see him in one. Just imagine!”
“I have just the thing, and if you let me see him tucked into it, I’ll give it to you for free,” she said, her composure only betrayed by her eyes, which sparkled brightly with eagerness.
“Deal,” he said.
She nodded again and said, “Please wait for my servants. I will call them immediately.” With that, she left with a polite bow. As she headed deeper into the building, he heard her shouting names of servants to come and tend to matters.
The fairy sat on his shoulder again and asked, “This place has a door, too. Do they want to keep everyone out?”
“No, that door is to keep the warm air in, I’m sure. And to keep rats and dogs out, things like that.”
“What is this place for?”
“I give them silver, and they let us sleep here, and feed us, and whatever else we want,” said Androkles. He wondered if the master had any women for him. And if she did, where he’d put Garbi while he made use of them. Would the little girl even notice, if Androkles had a woman with her in the room? It occurred to him she might recover and remember it someday, and he would be responsible for ruining her by exposing her to adult matters at a young age. She had been far, far too sweet to ruin.
Shortly, a young woman and two young men with shaved faces arrived, all in clean, pale woolen tunics, and led him and Garbi through the common room and into a garden, encircled by the building. Androkles wondered if there was a woman’s garden further on, past the rooms at the far end; Dikaian women, like most others in the Glories, usually had their own quarters and kept the men out. But there were women all over the place here, so that probably wasn’t the case.
The garden itself had faded with the season. Some trees Androkles didn’t recognize littered the stone walkways with colorful red and yellow leaves, and with the walls to block the wind, it seemed warmer here than it had outside the town.
The servants led him and Garbi through the garden and down into a small, but not cramped, bathhouse, where two stools awaited them. The young men tended to Androkles while the woman tended to Garbi, as was appropriate. The servants deftly removed their guests’ clothing, setting it aside to be washed. They placed Androkles’s coin purse next to what remained of his robe, where he could see it. Then the servants had them sit while they poured water from a heated metal basin over their hair and bodies, doing their best to rinse off the worst of the grime. They untied Androkles’s braid and combed it, carefully rinsing it bit by bit.
Androkles found himself feeling more content and relaxed than he had in months. Being treated like a noble made him remember his childhood; before his father killed himself, he’d been bathed by servants almost every day. That hadn’t happened much in the army, and Della had never let her handmaid do it when he came home after the war season, but it was a pleasure one never forgot. It brought back the best parts of his life and warmed some of the cold places in his heart.
Garbi, fortunately, did not react negatively to being washed and cared for. She passively sat and stood as she was directed by gentle nudges and whispers from the serving-woman. She still seemed absent, but to Androkles’s eyes, something about her seemed comforted as she began to get clean.
Wolfscar watched with curiosity from a perch on an unused chair. Several times, he flew over to inspect the process, noting with curiosity that Garbi’s hair changed colors as it was cleaned. It turned out the girl’s hair was paler than Androkles thought; in the cave, covered in dirt, he’d thought it a light brown, but it turned out to be even lighter than that, a color like a field of golden wheat. The servant girl cooed over it, and Wolfscar enthusiastically agreed.
Once Androkles and Garbi had been thoroughly scrubbed with warm water and rags, the servants applied a coat of scented oil from head to foot and rubbed the remaining grime away with smooth pumice. Afterward they gently scraped it all off with evenly-sharpened scrapers, leaving the two of them perfectly clean. Then the servants oiled their hair, kneading it in and then squeezing most of it out. Finally, they braided their guests’ hair and dressed them in comfortable woolen tunics to wear while their clothes were cleaned.
Once it became clear the process was over, Wolfscar asked sheepishly, “When is it my turn?”
Androkles asked, “Did you want one too? Right now, I suppose. Which one of you wants to do it?” The two young men seemed nervous, and the young woman eager, so he chose her. She turned a bucket over on a nearby narrow table for the fairy to sit on, then carefully gave him the same treatment while everyone watched with interest. Except Garbi, of course, who stared blankly in the direction of the wall.
When the servant-woman poured a bit of water on Wolfscar’s wings, he shivered uncomfortably and flitted them to flick the water off. Then he tapped his chin thoughtfully and said, “Hold on.” He clenched his eyes shut and balled his fists, and after a second his wings vanished completely, leaving his back as smooth as though they had never been there.
“I didn’t know I could do that,” he said, beaming with pride.
Washing him properly looked rather difficult to Androkles since the fairy was smaller than the average doll, but the young woman was undaunted and extremely gentle, not to mention dexterous, as she cleaned between his toes and fingers and such. Wolfscar kept quiet and still, two things Androkles hadn’t known him to do, and wore a lazy half-smile of pure relaxation and contentment. The fairy clearly loved being pampered—maybe he was more like a regular boy than he looked. When the serving woman was done with him, she found a clean handkerchief and wrapped it around him like a cloak.
The fairy grinned from ear to ear at that, exposing his sharp teeth. He held his new cloak together with both hands and jumped up to twirl around.
“Thank you!” he said with sincerity. Then he added, “Look, princess, I have this to wear! It’s my first clothes. And I took a bath! Now we’re both clean.” He was only a little disappointed when she didn’t respond. He was getting used to it.
Androkles picked the fairy up and took Garbi’s hand as the servants led them back to the common room to recline on the couches, where a heaping dish of roasted vegetables and morsels of meat awaited them, steaming and smelling delicious.
Unsurprisingly, word of Androkles had spread and the inn had filled to capacity, every chair and bench now occupied by a curious patron. The master of the inn looked slightly harried but never lost her decorum and composure as she oversaw a small army of servants. Not all of them looked very practiced, Androkles noted, as they carried wine and food all over the room; no doubt she had hurriedly recruited some local youths to fill in, once she realized how many people would be coming.
Androkles relaxed and ate slowly, making a show of leisure for everyone to remember. He had to hand Garbi each bite because she wouldn’t take any on her own. She had her head down and her arms at her sides, and Androkles wondered if she had any awareness of what was going on, and was just unwilling or incapable to react.
Wolfscar tried a bite of everything. At first, he had tried to pick up a chuck of some yellow vegetable, probably a squash, and hollered when it was too hot for his hands. After that, he carefully leaned over and took little bites out of each bit of food one by one without using his hands. Androkles wasn’t sure if that was actually safer, but it was fun to watch. The fairy still hadn’t made his wings come back, either. He was still having too much fun with his cloak, since he whipped it with a flourish every time he turned around.
A young man came and knelt in front of them, holding out the spear. He had cloth over his hands to keep from leaving fingerprints, demonstrating an impressive attention to detail. “Master Androkles, as you ordered, it has been cleaned and tended.”
He sat up and took it. Once he looked it over, he said, “Excellent.” He set the spear against the head of the couch so it wouldn’t fall over and resumed eating.
The youth didn’t leave immediately, however; instead, looking at the ground, he humbly asked, “Master Androkles, pardon your servant, but everyone wants to know: did you kill the tartalo with that spear? Is it truly dead?”
“Oh, so you heard about that? This is the very spear, and the tartalo is very dead,” said Androkles. The crowd clapped and cheered. It wasn’t exactly deafening, like in an arena, but it was heartwarmingly loud nonetheless.
Wolfscar looked around in startlement, cheeks puffed out with food. He looked at Androkles, then jumped into the air and fell flat on his face. Androkles picked him up and set him on his shoulder. The fairy swallowed hard and said, directly into his ear, “I forgot I made my wings go away. What are they all doing?”
“That’s what humans do when they’re impressed, they clap their hands and sometimes shout. All these people are impressed that I killed the cyclops,” he replied.
The fairy thought about that for a moment while the cheering died down.
“I want to make my wings come back, but then I’d have to take this off, and then I wouldn’t have any clothes on, and everyone else does so I think I should too.”
Androkles snapped for the serving-boy who waited nearby and said, “Go tell your master I want the softest, thin cloth she can find, about the size of that handkerchief, and in a good color. I also want scissors or a sharp knife, and a needle and thread.” The youth left to find what he asked for.
Someone in the crowd asked, “Great Master, we were hoping you would tell us about your fight with the tartalo.”
“I will, just as soon as the young man gets back. I’m going to make my little friend here a nice robe to wear so he doesn’t have to fly around naked,” said Androkles. He wasn’t sure whether the fairy was his, exactly, since he wasn’t dependent, but it wouldn’t hurt to have him properly attired, especially since it might reflect on Androkles. It might make the fairy happy, too, and besides that, all the barbarians watching should learn how to make them.
The fairy patted him on the cheek excitedly and said, “You’re going to make me a robe? What’s a robe? Is that something I wear?”
“It’s like what I had on earlier. Don’t fall off of there, little one. But first,” he said to the crowd, “I want to ask if anyone has seen or heard of a woman named Della. She is about this tall, with red hair and pale skin. She has a sharp nose and freckles, and her eyes are green if seen in bright light. She is a traveler from the Glories, as I am. She is travelling with four bodyguards. It is possible that only her guards entered the town. Maybe just one or two of them, to buy supplies.”
After a moment, it was clear that no one would answer, and Androkles scowled in disappointment.
Someone in the crowd asked, “I have not seen her, master, but would the fairy like some wine? I have some here, if he would.”
Androkles looked at the man who offered it, trying to read his expression. Then he said, “Perhaps later. He needs both hands to hold his cloak shut.” A number of people chuckled at that.
The young man returned and presented Androkles with the finest delicate linen, dyed a pale blue that almost matched the fairy’s skin, then lay the tools he requested on the table. He nodded his satisfaction with the cloth. Then he spread it on the table, had the fairy lie on it and stretch his arms out to measure, and began making the robe, taking care to make everything he was doing obvious so the crowd could learn.
While he sewed, he gave them every detail of his fight with the cyclops, seeing no need to hide anything since he had triumphed. He talked about trying to hide and warn away the youth, about being caught and surviving, about finding Garbi and Wolfscar in the cave, and went into heroic detail as he described his fight in the meadow. The only detail he withheld was exactly where he’d stabbed the cyclops, not wanting the story to end on a comical note. Some of them looked around nervously when he admitted that it was still alive when he left, but no one questioned that it must surely have died.
None of them knew who the youth was whose spear Androkles held, or whose daughter Garbi was. Kelthuars had dark hair and eyes, and Garbi did not; if she was from here, she should have been easy to recognize. He doubted he’d ever learn where she wandered in from before the cyclops caught her.
With the attention of such a large crowd, he decided there would be no better time, so he said, “I cannot stay here for long, and I cannot take care of the girl. I have an oath I must keep, so I have to move on soon. Is anyone willing to take little Garbi into their home? I have no gifts to leave for her, but her courage should be enough. The girl who outwitted a cyclops would bring honor to any household, and her reputation should outweigh any other possible dowry.”
The crowd grew quiet as they nervously looked at each other, wondering if anyone would agree. After a minute, no one came forward, and Androkles thought it strange that no one thought themselves wealthy enough to keep a little girl fed and clothed. This wasn’t just some orphan, after all. She had escaped a cyclops.
Finally, someone said, “I have a place for her, if the fairy comes with her.” He was a balding, older man with a pinched face. He was trying to look compassionate, but he just looked scheming. Several others came forward, making offers such as, “I can give you twenty silver to aid you if you give her to me!” and “I can spare you a donkey to ride!” They were bidding? With the fairy as a prize?
Androkles supposed that was appropriate, since for all intents and purposes Garbi was a slave now, but something about it didn’t sit right with him. Hadn’t he promised to see her safe into the arms of someone who’d take care of her? He got the feeling that the people here were only interested in the fairy, and she’d go by the wayside once they coaxed Wolfscar into a box.
So he said, “Wolfscar will be coming with me. You will only be accepting the girl.”