Self-aware. Self conscious. Self induced.

Telling Tales 153

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More Dangerous Than It Seems

Dmitri heaved a sigh of relief when he saw that the kitchen was unremarkable. A stone hearth, nearly the twin of the one in the common room, sat with a fire burning merrily inside it. The main differences were that this one had a spit on which Yevgeny’s pig sat. Two children, one at either end, alternated cranking it over the flames. There was also no old man leaning too close into the fire here.

He continued his survey of the space. The wood floors extended from the other room in here. Wide wooden counters sat beneath wooden shutters, closed to help keep outside’s chill well outside. Knives and forks for carving meat sat at the ready, as did wooden platters, ready for serving. Buckets filled with slowly melting snow rested near the fire, their water for cooking eventually. Only one window was left open for light. Between that and the fire in the hearth, the place was a mix of cool, bluish white, and boisterous orange. The children showed the blend of shadows across each half of their bodies.

“Your children?” asked Dmitri, wondering what he was supposed to be seeing besides the boy and the girl.

The bartender snorted. Who else’s children would they be out here, the snort said. “Look back out there,” she said.

He did. Past the worn, smooth, polished bar were the tables, chairs, the fire, the old man, the staircase. He kept the cocky smile on his face but he let his discomfort show only as the beginnings of irritation. “What exactly am I supposed to be seeing?”

“You don’t frequent the kitchen in your own home,” said the woman. It was not a question.

He scoffed. “Why would I? That’s not my work. It’s not a man’s work at all.”

“Makes sense in a way.” She shrugged, but the smile that played at her lips kept him nervous. “Makes sense that you wouldn’t see how much cleaner the kitchen is than the common room. And you men are filthy, make no mistake. But cooking is hard work. My husband lifts the things I can’t manage. That hog that it took you and your friend to lift – ”

“We’re not friends. We know each other is all,” Dmitri said before he could stop himself. He had nothing against Yevgeny and he certainly didn’t need to say that, but this woman was getting on his nerves.

She went on as though he hadn’t spoken at all. “My husband lifted that himself. He knows physical work the way you know how to trade. So whether it’s a man’s work or not, I guess that depends on what you’re doing and whether or not you care about what you think should be done or what you know has to be done.”

“So?”

“Maybe if the kitchen is not your work, you’ve got a good explanation for why you cleaned this whole room then? It’s cleaner than the great room. Even the grease is gone from between the stones. I’d expect a man who’d not been in a kitchen not to see that. Funny thing that you’d know how to clean it, though, that’s what I thought when you came in here. We could barely get the mop out of your hands before you’d grabbed a rag. Not that we don’t appreciate a helping hand, but from a man like yourself it hardly seemed in keeping with your character.”

Uncharacteristically, Dmitri was silent.

She guided him back toward the bar and away from the listening children. “Looks like you’ve got a secret, merchant. Dangerous thing, those.”

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